Character(s): Holmes, Watson, Mrs. Hudson, OFC
Summary: Holmes explores methods of reducing friction.
Author's Notes: ACD-verse. Fill for the July 1 writing prompt.
Word Count: 1119
On the first day of the experiment, Mrs. Hudson awoke to the noise of shattering glass. This was not terribly uncommon, but usually the sound of her lodgers originated in their lodgings. Today, she discovered, the sound of shattering glass was the result of glass shattering at the foot of the staircase. When she went upstairs to demand an accounting of the matter, Mr. Holmes said nothing, leaving Dr. Watson to explain that it was for an experiment. No, he did not know the purpose. No, he could not say how long it would last. Yes, he would do his best to keep the activities from depositing more glass shards outside their rooms.
On the third day of the experiment, it was only the presence of a set of pillows at the foot of the stairs that saved Mrs. Hudson from a nasty sprain when she discovered a wire stretching the length of the banister, exactly at the angle to catch an unwary foot that veered to far from center. From the top of the stairs she heard Mr. Holmes’s annoyed voice: “Not yet, Watson! don’t release it until I have set up the rigging!” Before she could rise, she saw their doors open. Riding on a pully system attached to the wire that had tripped her was a glass bottle, suspended along the length of the banister, and emitting puffs of vapor at regular intervals as it descended the stairs. The vapor condensed on the banister in a fine, even coating of a liquid that smelled, oddly, of old socks. In accordance with Dr. Watson’s promise, the bottle did not shatter when it reached the foot of the stairs, but whether that was due to the cushioning of the pillows or of Mrs. Hudson’s ample midsection was not clear. For the rest of the day she smelled of old socks.
On the fourth, fifth, and sixth days of the experiment, a scarecrow would follow the bottle, sliding down the greased banister with remarkable speed that only grew faster as Mr. Holmes manipulated its weight, the material of its trousers, and the trajectory of its initial push.
On the seventh day of the experiment, Mr. Holmes himself slid down the banister. He landed neatly upon the pillows, but no amount of bellowing could persuade Dr. Watson to follow suit. The rest of the day was filled with heavy thumps at the foot of the staircase, punctuated by the occasional whoop of glee. As she had so frequently told the numerous small children she had watched over the years, it only ended in tears. Mr. Holmes had absent-mindedly gripped the banister as he raced up the stairs to start yet another run down them. By now they had been so lubricated that he did not merely stumble, but described a complicated arc with at least one complete flip and two or three twists as his right arm flew in the opposite direction of his legs. He was entirely stonefaced when he finally came to a halt on the cushions, but both Mrs. Hudson and Dr. Watson had soaked a handkerchief each when they had finished laughing.
The next day, Mr. Holmes discarded his entire store of the concoction in the bins in outside the kitchen door. In principle, Mrs. Hudson approved of this decision, but the fact that his bottles leaked quite copiously led her to describe the goings-on to her friends in terms showing a conversance with language that a gentleman would have been astonished to discover upon the lips of a respectable woman. The resulting odor had the salutory effect of ridding the yard of the various vermin that congregated when the bins had not been emptied recently, but also rendered the kitchen practically unusable.
Fortunately, the solution to this state of affairs almost literally fell into Mrs. Hudson’s lap, in the form of a fourteen-year-old would-be cat burglar (name of Jesse), who had come upon the bright idea of climbing the bins in the kitchen yard to reach the first-floor windows from. On her first attempt, she thought her foot had slipped because she was clumsy, and resolved to take a better grip on the bins. On her second attempt, both hands and her foot slipped, and she collapsed among the bins with a resounding clatter. The refuse spilled around the little kitchen yard, coating her ankles with carrot peelings and onion skins, all mixed with a curious liquid that smelled like old socks. By the time Mrs. Hudson found her, Jesse had attempted and failed to rise so frequently that she was thoroughly coated in the stuff. She could not stand, and could barely sit upright. It took three buckets of soapy water before she could grasp a window ledge and haul herself up, and the entire time she was discovering that her life on the streets had not supplied her with nearly as much expressive language as Mrs. Hudson demonstrated in ten minutes. Her diatribe included the morals of youth, the habits of lodgers in general and certain consulting detectives in particular, the weather, the shape of human noses, the construction of city sewers, and the propensity of strawberries to rot after ten minutes.
The lodgers, of course, had rooms that faced the street, rather than the kitchen yard, and neither heard nor smelled the commotion. They did, however, notice enough of a change in the consistency of the scrambled eggs and the increased presence of Mrs. Hudson in the upstairs portions of the house that Mr. Holmes remarked a few times that she must have hired someone to take over in the cooking entirely. Dr. Watson was unfailingly polite when he saw the new face lurking below stairs, but he privately remarked to Mrs. Hudson that the new maid could stand to have her clothes washed more often. There was a scent of old socks that lingered about her, and surely that wasn’t healthy? Mrs. Hudson answered their comments blandly, and as the weeks passed and the scent faded from the kitchen, the matter dropped entirely.
It wasn’t until Jesse’s wedding to the dustman, years later, that Mrs. Hudson had reason to refer to the events of that week. Much to Jesse’s secret disappointment, Mrs. Hudson displayed none of the linguistic creativity that had characterized their first meeting, their subsequent quarrels about potatoes and days off, or their frustrations of the previous month as they had frantically tatted lace in an attempt to have Jesse’s wedding gown ready in time. All Mrs. Hudson said was, “I met Jesse because my lodgers failed to clean up properly after their experiment, and I will be grateful to the end of my days that they did not.”