Disclaimer: I do not possess any rights to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's works, nor to any adaptations be they book, film, or otherwise.
A/N: Allow me to apologise for any historical inaccuracies that may take place within these stories. I am not a native of London (or Great Britain, as it is) and I am obviously not from the late 19th/early 20th century. I have done the best I can, however, with the resources available to me and I hope you enjoy the development of this story.
It was cold the day before my seventeenth birthday. This wasn't terribly uncommon as most days in London were cold - one of the few things I missed about the season I'd just spent in America was the warmth the southern territories offered - but today seemed somehow more biting than others. Perhaps because it was snowing though it was the middle of March, but more likely it was the errand I was on that made the world seem more miserable than it really was. On the eve of my birthday, I was trudging through the ice and snow to the police station because I hadn't the sense to hail a hansom. I wish I could say that this was a rare occurrence (both visiting the station and neglecting to employ a cab), but that would be a lie and I was raised better.
Much to my dismay there was a sergeant with whom I'd never spoken before posted at the station, which meant going through all of the official chatter before finally collecting what I'd come for. "Hold there, miss," he said as I approached, voice low and rough as if he had stones at the back of his throat. Baton in hand he barred me from moving forward, "Young thing like you's got no business in a place like this, surely."
"Might I speak with Inspector Hewitt?" I asked as politely as I could, referring to the man who'd taken Lestrade's position when he'd finally seen fit to retire.
The sergeant cocked his head to the side, much the way one dog would upon meeting another. "I asked you what's your business here, young miss. Surely ain't nothing you need to be bothering the busy inspector with." He seemed set in hearing the purpose for my visit (which I easily could have given him but he'd irritated me and my stubbornness would not allow me to offer him a single word of information) and it was clear that he had no intention of fetching Hewitt otherwise.
I did a quick sweep of the sergeant, studying him from his ill-fitted shoes to his prematurely wrinkled face, before folding my hands together at my waist and taking a small step forward so that only he might hear me. "I don't mean to alarm you, sir, but I'm afraid your affair may soon be found out."
His brow furrowed over his watery blue eyes. "Come again?"
"Your affair, sir," I repeated, being careful to remain soft in tone. "With the wharfinger's wife. Surely you've noticed that you're wearing his shoes. Ah," I said when a moment passed without reply, "I can see that perhaps you hadn't realized. After all, they are the same length as your feet so why shouldn't you think they are yours? However, being such a slender man you haven't the width to fit them properly so I imagine you've had a hard time of walking today, though you likely attributed it to the multiple fingers of whiskey you had last night - six, to be exact. I might say that it was the drinking that led to a one night indiscretion with a married woman, but no man is so unpleasant after such a night. This leads me to the astoundingly obvious conclusion that you were ordered out - in a bit of a rush, I imagine - this morning, causing both the confusion of shoes and the foul mood."
The sergeant stared at me for a very long time but I never looked away. I waited for him to get his head on straight, and when he did he asked, "How could you possibly know any of that?"
"It's all quite simple really," I told him with a shrug of the shoulders. "When you stepped up to me your knees bowed out to allow you extra balance, from which I inferred that your shoes were too large, but since this did not register on your face it led me to the conclusion that you believed them to be yours, so they must fit in length. The whiskey I gathered from your undershirt." I reached out to tug on the left cuff of his white shirt. "Being sober with the first glass, you spilled none. With the second, you spilled a drop but had the sense to wipe it off, but when you spilled another with the third, you left it. I can see both stains but one is darker than the other. I knew it was whiskey from your collar. Also gathered from your collar is that you were with a woman last night, as she left a smudge of lipstick as well as the scent of whiskey.
"How did I know she was a wharfinger's wife?" I asked for the sergeant, as he seemed too dumbfounded to speak. "Once I deduced that your shoes were not your own, it was only a simple matter of identifying the ring of dried mud around the soles. It is too iced over for you to have walked through any today, and if they were left like that at a home then I can infer that the wearer is so often around mud that he doesn't bother cleaning it off of his shoes. Your run of the mill labourer would not afford shoes so well made as these, and if he did he would take special care to keep them clean. All of this leads me to believe that he is a man of decent occupation who works around dirt and water very often. This ultimately led me to one who owns a wharf and is constantly assisting boats to dock. He's undoubtedly been gone often as of late, as boats require a lot of care when it's cold out, and he's probably taken to wearing boots rather than the shoes we now find on your feet, sir."
I stepped back, pleased with deduction. "As for my business, sir, it is mine to share with whom I wish and I wish to share it with Inspector Hewitt."
Still looking rather dazed, the sergeant turned slowly and started away, shoes slapping noisily on the ground. I waited patiently for a few minutes until Hewitt appeared in the distance, though the sergeant did not return with him. "Have you been traumatising my men again?" He asked, though not unkindly, as he drew closer. Arthur Hewitt was a decent man, young enough to let some things pass easily but wise enough to be better at the job than Lestrade had ever been. He was still on the late side of his twenties, with dark hair and eyes that stood out on his strong, smooth face. He looked like the sort of man who would never laugh, though he did laugh, and often.
"It wasn't my intention," I told him sincerely, "I just found him insufferable."
Hewitt smiled thoughtfully to this, eyes crinkling at the edges. He nodded for me to follow him through the station and to the holding yard, where no less than a dozen haggard men and women wandered about, not speaking to each other or looking anyone in the eye. "Ah, Ramona!" Another familiar face - Lieutenant Ericson, a funny old man with a cataract eye - greeted me as I neared the yard. "What brings you here today?" He didn't have to ask, but I knew he, like most of the officers, enjoyed hearing the answer.
"On behalf of my father, Dr John Watson," I recited, loud enough to draw the attention of several imprisoned, "I am here to collect my insensitive, irresponsible, stupid, reckless, pain-in-the-ass godfather." Looking past Ericson to the man I'd come to bail out, I apologised, "I do assure you, Uncle Sherlock, that those are my father's words and not mine."
From where he sat on a mound of snow, my godfather waved a passive hand, "No matter, my dear. I have heard far worse words to my character from far worse people."
I looked back to Hewitt. "How much was it?" I asked, untying my purse to pick out a few notes.
The inspector shook his head and held out his hand, "Let's just call it a tanner and be done with this business."
"Only a tanner!"
"He only caused a small explosion, after all," Hewitt assured. "No one injured and there are plenty other streetlamps in that area."
Suddenly I couldn't wait to hear the details of my godfather's arrest, for he only ever blew things up when he was on to something interesting. "Bless you, Inspector," I reached out to smooth over his lapel the way I'd seen my mother do every time she'd come to fetch Sherlock from the yard. I handed him a sixpence and followed him to the fence gate.
"Your goddaughter has been harassing my men again, Sherlock," the inspector told him as he unlocked the gate.
"Is that so?" The private detective stepped through and collected his pipe from Ericson, promptly lighting it and having a few pulls. "Which one was it this time?"
"Ah!" Sherlock fixed me with a delighted gaze, "I believe I saw him this morning. What did you make of him, my dear?"
Not wanting to divulge the sergeant's secrets in front of his superior, I left out some details. "Mrs Wharfinger, six fingers of whiskey and bad shoes."
Hewitt glanced between us. "All right, off with you two now. I'll not have you speaking your riddles around the yard; you know how it disturbs the other regulars" he nodded to the few prisoners who were gathering at the fence to listen.
At that, Sherlock Holmes offered me his arm and I readily took it, wrapping a hand around his elbow as we hurried along. We'd made it one street over from the station before he finally spoke again, "It wasn't Mrs Wharfinger, my dear." I glanced at him in shock, rethinking my deductions.
"No, no," I shook my head, "I assure you, Uncle Sherlock, that it was. She left lipstick on his collar."
He smiled and tucked his pipe into his coat pocket. "You were correct about the wharfinger and the whiskey, but it was not an affair. Think back. Think about the lipstick specifically." I did, pulling up the memory easily but I could come up with no alternative result. Sherlock patted my hand and said quietly, "It was a tryst with the wharfinger's daughter, in fact."
"It's very apparent by the shade of the lipstick. A brilliant reddish-orange, much too bohemian for the wife of a middle-aged dock worker."
I substituted this knowledge in my mind to find that it fit perfectly, and I allowed my head to sink onto my godfather's shoulder. "Oh, Uncle Sherlock!" I dismayed. "I have been at this for as long as I can remember and you still manage to make me look like an imbecile every time!"
"Surely you go on, dear Ramona," Sherlock said with a hint of scolding. "Why, your father has known me for more than two decades and he wouldn't have even noticed the mud on Sergeant Harrison's shoes."
"You're just trying to make me feel better."
"When have you ever known me to do that?" We stopped and stared at each other for a moment before simultaneously melting into fits of laughter as we continued down the street.
When we arrived at 221B Baker Street, I said a quick hello to Mrs Archer, Mrs Hudson's niece who'd inherited the property after her aunt passed seven years before, and followed Sherlock up the stairs. Immediately I busied myself by tendering a fire and putting a kettle over the flame, preparing a pot of tea for us to share. "Uncle Sherlock," I called as I rummaged through the cabinets, "Haven't you any food to have with tea?"
From the sitting room, where he was already diving back into work by scribbling some notes onto the wall with black ink, he called back, "There may be some cheese and bread under Wort's cage." I looked to the wire box where a fat gray rat was sitting perfectly still, watching me, almost daring me to make an attempt on his cheese.
"Uncle Sherlock, that is not the place for food," I said as I lifted the cage to retrieve the misshapen parcels beneath.
"Why not?" The detective inquired as he made his way through the kitchen in search of a new inkwell.
"It's not clean."
"They're wrapped in waxed paper!" He argued, shifting around some mess. "Anyway, should you be preparing tea for two? Surely your father's instructions were to bail me out and be on your way, not to stop for tea."
I cut several thick slices of bread and laid them over with cheese, scraping off any growths of mould where I found them. "My father can instruct all he wishes," I told him as I made a tray and took it to the sitting room, placing it on the table between two chairs. "I will be seventeen tomorrow; he'll have to start trusting me to my own devices, won't he? And I hardly think that having tea with my godfather - the man he himself entrusted me to, in fact - is something that should incite alarm." I went back to the kitchen to take him by the arm and steer him to the sitting room, depositing him into his chair. "After all, I am very curious to hear about the streetlamp."
"Ah, the streetlamp!" He fidgeted in his seat and it was obvious that he desperately wanted to be moving about still, finishing his notes and reattempting his experiment. He took his tea regardless and drained the cup in two gulps. "I have been very interested in organic compounds as of late. This particular one was a simple combination of clay, gunpowder, and a few choice minerals. It is most unfortunate that I underestimated the blast but as the inspector stated, there are plenty of other lamps on that street."
I poured him a second cup of tea. "Has this anything to do with the explosion in Shoreditch, Sherlock? The abandoned warehouse where the waifs had taken shelter?"
"One in the same," my godfather told me in his inappropriately cheerful way. "No less than seven squatters lost to the rubble and a great deal more injured."
"I didn't know the police had taken an interest in the case."
"Well the building did belong to the city," he said blandly, having gone back to looking around impatiently. "They pay no mind to those injured in the blast but there will be hell to pay for the man who brought down the building and inconvenienced the roadways for a time." He placed his cup back on the tray and jumped up, re-examining the scribbles he'd made on the wall. "I dare say I should have this all cleared up and the culprit in custody by morning, if I am allowed to continue my work." He said this last part pointedly, but I took no offence.
I brushed a few crumbs from my skirts and onto the floor - it was littered with scraps of paper and food alike as it was - and took a sip of my tea. "Uncle, you know perfectly well that I am not inhibiting you in any way. It will take you only minutes to figure it out; your aggravation is due only to your own impatience."
"I am an old man, Ramona," he said exasperatedly, pulling at the single tendril of gray that shot through his otherwise dark hair. "I may only have minutes left on my life; allow me to continue my work! I would so hate to leave anything unfinished."
"You are fifty-one," I told him with a wave of my hand, "Hardly at death's door. And if you were, I should think that you would much prefer to spend your remaining moments with your goddaughter, niece and protégé rather than dawdling away on a case."
He raised a single finger, "Now Ramona, you know how your father despises the word protégé."
"Yes, yes," I mumbled sullenly. "He'll have me married off before I ever get to university, wasting my days as a chambermaid or a teacher. Nevertheless," I sighed when I caught sight of the clock on the wall, "Mother and Father will be expecting me soon; we are destined for the opera tonight." I stood and straightened my skirts, checking that my boots were well laced and my coat buttoned. "You'll be rid of me now, then."
He smiled at me, relieved to get the peace he so desired, though I wager what he had in his solitude was the furthest from true peace. "I'll see you out," he offered politely, taking me at the elbow and walking with me down the steps. At the door, he gave me the lightest brush of a kiss on my temple and waved me off.
"Sherlock," I called to him just before he shut the door. "Do hurry on the case. Tomorrow is my birthday and I fear I will not easily forgive you if you miss it, or if you are even a moment late."
"My dear," he called back, puffing out his chest proudly, "When have you ever known me to miss an engagement?" I nodded to him and started down the walk, but I fear I couldn't contain myself and fell into laughter again before he was out of earshot. He harrumphed and stomped back into the house, the door swinging shut sharply behind him. I smiled to myself and continued on my way.
There are things about which I am very sarcastic to Sherlock Holmes, and missing engagements is among them. My father has told me many times of how often his friend was either dreadfully late or altogether absent when they'd arranged to meet somewhere, and I had witnessed firsthand several occasions when he was to be at our house to accompany my parents somewhere and failed to make an appearance. Despite this, however, there was never an event of which I was the centre that he wasn't present and prompt for. This alone always seemed to be enough to make my father forgive any other absence.
It wasn't a surprise, then, when there came a knock at the door the next evening, at exactly half-seven. I heard our servant girl let him in and take his coat, attempting pleasantries with him as she always did. "Still rather bracing out there, isn't it, Mr Holmes?"
"Indeed it is, Johanna," he answered. He must have solved the case and was therefore in a sociable mood, for he rarely replied to any of Johanna's conversation. "I fear that by the time this winter is over, the next one will be upon us!"
"You said it, Mr Holmes," our servant girl could be heard chuckling, "We'll be no more than a great city of ice come next year."
He laughed in return. Oh yes, his mood must be great. "Would it be terribly rude of me to kick off my shoes here at the door, Johanna? I find that I am most clumsy tonight and I walked straight into a snow bank. It went right up to my ankles."
"No bother at all, Mr Holmes," she said politely, and I heard the tell-tale thunk-thunk of two shoes hitting the floor. Not a moment later, my barefoot godfather rounded the corner and announced himself to the sitting room, shaking hands with my father and kissing my mother's cheek before plopping down rather unceremoniously next to me on the sofa.
He pressed a medium sized box, wrapped in crisp brown paper and tied with cord, into my hands and kissed my cheek as well. "Happy birthday, my dear, and was I at all late?"
"As it is, you are right on time," I told him, holding the box up at eye level to examine it. This was a sort of game we'd played for as long as I could remember. Every birthday, whichever of us was receiving a gift would study the package and try to determine - not guess, never guess - what was inside before opening it. There was really no prize for being correct, nor a punishment for being incorrect, but there did stand a matter of pride and shame.
"Holmes," Father said as I turned the box over in my hands, "I trust you stayed out of trouble today."
"Of course," the detective said earnestly. He then reached into the pocket of his trousers and flicked a coin into the air, which landed in the centre of my father's palm. "That's the sixpence I owe you, by the way."
"Inspector Hewitt will eventually tire of doing you kindnesses."
"Ah, but you always said the same of Lestrade."
"I still believe you drove that man to retirement."
"Sherlock," Mother interrupted before one of their famous spirited debates came about. "What if the explosion in Shoreditch? Ramona tells us you were hot on the culprit's trail."
I tossed my present into the air and caught it in a flat palm, weighing the impact of it. Sherlock said, "Indeed, Mary, I was. This morning I turned the man over to Hewitt and explained all. Shall I go through it again?" Without waiting for an answer, he pressed on, "All right, since you've asked. It was a real estate man by the name of Henry Elliot. Dear Henry wanted the building to come down so he could construct apartments at the site. Unfortunately he was not offering enough for the city to cooperate, but these are all unimportant details. What really matters is how he did it! It was quite simple, really.
"The walks in Shoreditch are in bad shape as you know, and it isn't so rare to find earthy clay about. As you also may be aware, there is a great deal of violence in that area, always gunfire and therefore gunpowder is spread about the place like ordinary dirt. With a little bit of digging, I discovered that Elliot's brother-in-law is a man called Albert Fischer, who teaches Sciences at the University of London. His specialty is natural minerals. Through a little experimentation - interrupted briefly by my arrest - I discovered the exact compound that would cause an explosion large enough to bring down a warehouse building. All Elliot had to do was use the clay that surrounded the building to seal in the gunpowder and a specific crystallized mineral - which I shall leave unnamed, lest anyone get naughty ideas - and then wait for someone to give it a good sharp rap. The smallest spark would set it off and he didn't even need to be present, thereby always having an iron-clad alibi."
"Then pray tell, how did you know it was Henry Elliot at all?" Mother asked, swatting my hand lightly as I began to noisily bang a corner of the package against the floor.
Sherlock frowned, "That is where a bit of luck came in, I'm afraid. I hate it when it's luck, you know; it does nothing for the scientific mind. While I was at the site last night, I saw an older gentleman hanging about looking positively sick with grief. I began to follow him but as soon as he became aware of me, he broke down and begged me not to turn him over to the police. He said that he knew not what his brother-in-law would do, but confessed to telling him about a few of the more insidious properties of certain elements."
My father began laughing, openly and rather loud. "Sherlock Holmes was confessed to without having solved the case first, oh, I love it when this happens."
"You're a cruel man, John Watson," my godfather grumbled. "And I would have had him regardless."
"It's a book!" I finally determined, holding the package up proudly. "I can tell as much by the equal weight distribution. The faint smudges of black on the paper here tell me that it is one of yours, and that you looked through it one last time before placing it in the box and wrapping it. It's very thick, I can tell by the heaviness and the hollow sound it made when I hit it against the ground, so I can infer that it is several hundreds of pages long. A detailed knowledge of your bookcase allows me to conclude which are big enough to suit this deduction but then, you have many large books. But which are you so reverent of that you would have to give them one last read before giving them away, and which would you think well to pass on to me? I think-"
"You think?" Sherlock cut in, appalled.
"Apologies, Uncle. I deduce," I amended, "That this is the first volume of your beloved gazetteer."
He studied me with an unreadable expression as I came to my conclusion and I shifted anxiously under his gaze, desperate to know if I'd done well. Finally he waved to the package, "Let us open the gift and find out if you are right."
My mother and father both leaned in, for - as much as they were against my learning Sherlock's trade - they couldn't help but get swept up into the mystery of it all. I untied the cord and stripped away the paper, opening the flimsy box within and lifting the book from it. "Volume one," Sherlock said over my shoulder, beaming. "One of my most prized books that has done me well over the years."
"Fantastic, Ramona!" My father gushed, covering one of my hands with his own. "You're positively brilliant!"
They sat with me a while longer as I read some passages from the gazetteer and spoke aloud the notes Sherlock had scribble in the margins, some overlapping each other so thickly that they were indiscernible to anyone but him. At eight we moved to the dining room to take our dinner, but we'd hardly made it through the first course when there was a sharp tap at the door and Johanna answered it.
"I understand that Sherlock Holmes is here." Even at a muffled distance, Inspector Hewitt's voice was easy to recognize.
"He is, sir," Johanna replied, "But you see, it's the young Miss's birthday celebration tonight and if there is any way it could go undisturbed-"
"I am sorry, Miss Green," Hewitt said, "But it is rather important."
A moment later Johanna stepped into the dining room, hands folded and chin against her chest. "Very sorry for the interruption," she said sincerely, "But Inspector Hewitt is here to see Mr Holmes. Says it's urgent."
Across the table, Father gave Sherlock a tired look. "What have you blown up now?"
"Don't I wish it was regarding that," Hewitt chimed in, shaking his head sadly. "Mr Holmes, we need your assistance."
"Can it not wait?" Father asked. "Even for another hour?"
"It's just," Hewitt moved his weight from his left foot to his right, "We've found bodies, sir. Three of them in the Thames."
"People jump into the Thames all the time," Sherlock dismissed.
"Yes, sir, but these were all women. More specifically young, lovely, blonde-haired women." His gaze flicked quickly to me before moving back to my father and godfather. "You might do well to come too, Dr Watson. I'm sure we could use your medical knowledge."
It was then that, for the first time in years, both men departed together on a case.