Fanfic Title: The Book of My Enemy has Been Remaindered (Pt. 4 of 7)
Pairings (if any): None
Summary: When Jefferson Poole discovers that his bookshop has been mysteriously rearranged, he goes to Sherlock Holmes for assistance. In the process, he draws a hitherto undrawn conclusion about the relationship between Holmes and Watson.
Warnings: Minor character death
Author's Notes: This story is not Watson-bashing. If it seems that way, I have done something wrong. Also, the title comes from Clive James's brilliant poem of the same name.
Word Count: 1660
Previous Chapters: Chapter 1; Chapter 2; Chapter 3
In which Mr Poole’s nephews and nieces cause some discomfort, Martha Lake is a conductor of light, the tides of business at a cab stand prove to be of interest, and a strawberry roan dislikes his harness.
Although Dr Watson’s motivations are suspect in every regard, his advice in this case seemed sound, so I did end up staying with my sister, Martha. She hasn’t my energy or drive, either in business or (in her case) marriage, and as a result lives in poor lodgings off York Rd. with a hideously noisy herd of children and a husband whose success has been so poor that well after his fortieth birthday he still works as a clerk underneath some appallingly low fellow who runs a paper business. I might also add that he keeps sherry indistinguishable from vinegar.
For a day or two I did nothing but sit in the kitchen, worrying about my shuttered bookshop’s finances and fretting about what would happen to it if my undiscovered enemies were successful in putting me out of the picture. My chair next to the stove was not the pleasantest place, but any other room was overrun with children, and I decided that the torments coming from my sister’s constant jabbering was preferable to the noise emitted by her offspring. It might not be more sensible, but it was less shrill—at least when she wasn’t excited. To take my mind off my troubles, I put myself to work considering how I might aid Mr Holmes with his own. I considered asking my sister for advice, but concluded in the end that there was no need to involve a woman in the matter. They prattle on happily enough about the latest hansom crash and the gruesome murder that had happened—
“My word just down the street from here fancy that we shall all be murdered in our beds one night it’s an awfully good thing my Mr Lake is always home at night or I declare I shouldn’t sleep a wink but then you know what a good man he is Jefferson you never liked him very much but I daresay you might have softened over the past few years he is such a good father dotes upon Matthew and Susan he does and I never feel so safe as when he’s in the house and for that matter I do wish you could find someone to settle down with it’s not right a gentleman like you living alone in hired rooms at your age too I declare—”
but when they actually see a spot of blood it’s all fainting and hysterics. They are tiresome creatures, of no use for my purposes.
But no, I suppose that’s not quite right. I am, above all, a fair man, and Martha’s endless rehashing of the sensationalist news did give me a few ideas for how I might proceed. An omnibus accident, or something similar, might be just the thing. Her dwelling’s proximity to the railroad made for a loud, unpleasant, grimy existence, but it did put me quite close to the King’s Cross station (and the Gas Works and the railway depot—truly a dreadful location), which proved a valuable location. Indeed, I could see one of the station’s cab stands from the window in the back bedroom, where, as my patience with my sister’s incessant speech wore thin, I began to spend increasingly more time. I made a study of the stand, and before the week was out I found I had acquired quite a detailed understanding of the individual cabbies, the temperaments of their horses, their schedules and regular customers, and most importantly, the times at which they would slip across the street for a pint and ask another driver to watch their cab.
I took to loitering just around the corner from the cab stand, and my designs finally settled upon a brown-and-white speckled beast whose temperament seemed none to pleasant, and whose driver was more apt than the others to patronize that pub across the street. I began considering how I could make use of such a promising pair, when fate dropped the opportunity right into my lap.
It was another rotten day, less wet than when I had first met the doctor, but windier and colder. The entire population of London seemed to have decided that there was no reason to venture out of doors, leading to a marked lack of business for the hansoms. The horses were all restless, especially after they had been standing for an hour or more unsheltered in the wind, and the cabbies were no happier about it. My chosen driver languished in the back of the line. He had been in the pub several times already that day, and during this absence the colleague who was watching his cab began directing fewer glances at the horse, and more yearning glances across the street. Suddenly Dr Watson himself emerged from the station, his arms full of multiple bags that bulged like old laundry. Before he had got three steps along the sidewalk his satchel slipped from his grasp, scattering its contents upon the pavement. A few bystanders stepped forward to help, and only just in time, for as he bent to collect his effects the fastening on one of the bags gave way, dumping old linens and blankets on top of the bottles.
The fluttering fabric made my chosen beast even more nervous than before, and by the time Dr Watson had gathered together all of his items, it was quivering next to me. The doctor loaded his items into the first cab in the line, and I heard him direct the driver to the St Pankras workhouse. As he climbed in himself, I knew I had only moments to act. I seized the whip from the empty cab next to me and lashed at the speckled horse, which started and bolted down the street, and before I could draw another breath it ran fair into the cab that had just left from the front of the line. There was a satisfying crash, full of ladies’ screams and men’s shouts. Splintered wood spun through the air, and the horses went down in a tangle of reins and shafts.
For a moment, no one on the street moved; aside from the snorts and stamps from the remaining cabs at the stand the the soothing murmurs of the remaining cabbies, the whole block was frozen like a gruesome Christmas tableau. Then, as one, the shops emptied and the entire populace descended upon the scene of the crash. My horse (as it were) was thrashing on the ground, but the other did not move. The two cabs appeared completely wrecked, but I could not see what had happened to their occupants.
A moment later, the truant cabby emerged from his pub and ran towards the crash, gabbling incoherently about a new hitching. From what I could gather, he was attributing the behavior of his charge to some new harness or bit that the horse did not like, and I found myself relaxing when no one moved to contradict him and announce a different cause of the sudden runaway. The people parted to let him through, but their attitude towards him was decidedly cold, and promised to become ugly. In a moment he had the horse unhitched and on its feet again, seemingly unharmed, but no one moved to let him lead it away. In fact, a number of largeish fellows closed in on him, and the quiet mutters of the crowd grew louder. Women started bemoaning man’s intemperance, and a few of the better dressed men began to speechify about the lack of dedication to duty found in the lower classes. The other cabbies astutely read the development of the crowd’s mood, called loudly to each other about the disturbance upsetting their own horses, and departed. I considered following suit, but since no one else seemed ready to leave the entertainment, I decided I would draw less attention by remaining nearby. And, to be fair, I was quite curious to know whether I had succeeded in my aim.
I pushed towards the front of the crowd, and my heart leapt in jubilation as I saw a small group huddled around a body crumpled on the ground. One of them was breathing into its mouth, but after several minutes he stopped, sat back and shook his head. Everyone around me let out a collective groan, and then as one surged towards the detained cabby. In the gabbling roar around me, I heard the same phrases passed from mouth to mouth, gaining in volume and fury with every repetition—criminal negligence, should have known better, had no business walking off, decline of morality, as surely as if he’d shot him, can’t let him get off, shall surely hang, his own best mate.
That last phrase, produced with especial bitterness, gave me pause. In what way was the doctor acquainted with the negligent driver? I had seen with my own eyes his disgust with the lower classes; there was no way he’d befriend or be befriended by any member of them. I fought back against the flow of castigation to return to the body, and saw to my dismay that it was not the doctor’s, but instead the driver of his cab who had perished. Indeed, it had been the doctor himself who had been laboring over him as he died, and as he stood there, dazed, wiping his hands upon his shirtfront, our eyes met. Although I pray God that this may be the only way in which I ever resemble that monster, at that moment I am sure our faces expressed identical grim comprehension of our respective failures. Before either of us could speak, the unmistakeable sounds of a riot erupted around the dead man’s colleague, and I fled. The doctor did not follow.