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.
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: 1326
Previous Chapters: Chapter 1; Chapter 2; Chapter 3; Chapter 4; Chapter 5
In which Mr Holmes is distracted, Dr Watson is a source of distress, Charlie Lauridson cannot hold down a job, and the cat is once again discommoded.
I did not have the opportunity to talk with Mr Holmes for another week. He finally visited me early one afternoon when I was engaged in some writing, and I was shocked at how haggard he looked. Obviously the doctor, with the peevish poor temper during illness that characterized people of poor moral fibre, had been running him ragged, and perhaps increasing his price for silence about Norbury. I commented upon his appearance, but with a gentlemanly reserve he waived away my concerns. Then he appeared to reconsider, and said,
“I must confess, Mr Poole, that I have been neglecting your case in a most unprofessional manner recently. I have been engaged upon an investigation of a more personal matter that has required a good bit of my attention. But—”
He stopped suddenly and looked extremely sharply at me. I could not mistake the hidden meaning he intended, and I was delighted. Although my own poor efforts had been thus far unsuccessful, he had evidently taken enough heart from the knowledge of a comrade-in-arms to launch his own attempts to free himself from the monstrous doctor. His next words confirmed my suspicions:
“In any event, I was successful in placing the object of my other investigation under the watch of someone I trust, and I expect no further activity in that area to interfere with your case. In fact, I am pleased to report that I am prepared to clear up nearly everything as regards your own case. Would you care to accompany me on a final errand before I introduce you to your enemy?”
I agreed heartily, and we set forth. To my surprise, we did not head towards my shop, or indeed towards Mr Whithers’s or Mr Mahew’s establishment, but rather straight toward the blighted Marylebone workhouse. When we arrived at the front door I tried to find a way to position my handkerchief over my nose and mouth, but Mr Holmes, in one of his few gestures of discourtesy towards me, ignored my discomforture and walked unswervingly up the steps. At his knock some steely-faced warden opened the door to us, revealing a gloomy hallway behind, doubtless crawlin with vermin. Mr Holmes opened his mouth to say—but I never found out what, for at that moment we were both thunderstruck to see Dr Watson poke his head out of a room into the hallway and greet us cheerily.
“Ah, Holmes, I thought you might be here before too long! I’ll just finish this injection and be right with you.”
Mr Holmes was furious to see the doctor away from whatever custody he had been in. His face turned first red, then pale, and then red again. He muttered unceasingly under his breath and paced back and forth, ignoring the warden who waited for us a short period, and abruptly left, remarking only that he would be at our service when needed. When the doctor finally emerged Mr Holmes pounced upon him.
“Watson, what on earth are you doing here? I asked you to stay with Mycroft for your own safety! If you do not have the judgment to appreciate the danger you are in, at least have the manners to cease distracting me in my work.”
I thought he was unwise to speak in such a way. The protection story was clever, but blatant rudeness in his last comment was likely to annoy the doctor, which was a bad idea when we were so close to defeating him. To my surprise, however, the brute simply laughed.
“Your own astonishment at my presence indicates that I have hardly distracted you over the last week, and surely you can understand my concern about the poor boy. You told me at dinner yesterday that Mahew hasn’t seen his messenger for days. The boy has been working for a would-be murderer. If he is not already dead, he must be found, and where else would he go to hide but his old home? You’ve been looking at those publication records for days now without any sign of finishing, and there was no time to waste in finding him.”
“You didn’t think me capable of doing that myself?”
“Oh, I certainly know you’re capable. All the same, I did get here first, didn’t I?” He moved closer to Mr Holmes and lowered his voice. I did not catch everything he said, but a few words did reach me: “ . . . too slow for poor Blessington.”
Mr Holmes said nothing for a moment and then nodded quietly. Evidently Dr Watson’s hold upon the detective was not limited to Norbury alone, and perhaps this Blessington disaster was even more damaging. Dr Watson continued in a louder tone,
“And the lad is here, by the way. His name is Charlie Lauridson, Mr Poole. The warden thought he might have a chance to make something of himself when Mr Mahew came looking for a messenger boy, and was quite disappointed when he wandered back in two weeks ago, saying only that the job did not suit him.”
Mr Holmes rang the bell for the warden, and when he appeared, asked, “Could you bring Charlie Lauridson to us?”
The warden walked off, leaving us to wait in a constrained silence. Eventually he returned with a boy whose appearance I see no need to describe since it is known that he lives in a workhouse. He introduced us to this Charlie, and Mr Holmes gave him a coin and explained that we needed the boy for an afternoon. He agreed readily enough, and in short order we were once again on Marylebone road, walking towards my bookshop. The boy dragged behind us, and I reveled in the ability to breathe freely once again. Mr Holmes and Dr Watson walked ahead of me, talking quietly. As we paused in front of the neglected window of my shop, Mr Holmes started to speak.
“I say, Watson, did you bring—”
He did not get a chance to finish, for Watson whipped out a revolver and Mr Holmes stopped short. I froze in my tracks, terrified of what my happen if I tried to interfere. I could not tackle the doctor without risking the death of Mr Holmes, and there was no chance of disarming him from behind. I was gathering myself to run (for a constable, of course), when to my perplexity Mr Holmes simply nodded and Dr Watson put the revolver away. I gathered myself to spring upon him, but Mr Holmes put out a quieting arm, and said,
“Gentlemen, it appears that our visit here has been anticipated. Please remember the nature of the man we are seeking, and be extremely careful. I will go first; Watson, be so good as to provide a cover.”
There was a snort from Charlie as Mr Holmes spoke, but one glance from the detective silenced him. Mr Holmes quietly unlocked the door and threw it open, bounding into my shop with a violence that made the bell ring tinnily. Dr Watson was right behind him, and I put aside my proprieties enough to rub shoulders with Charlie as we peered curiously around the door frame. The scene that met us was remarkably anticlimactic: Mr Whithers was sitting at my desk, breathing asthmatically as he looked up from my ledgers, which he had been examining. There was a thumping from the alcove that I knew from experience indicated the cat taking refuge from the sudden commotion—in biology, from the sound of it, probably underneath the shelf devoted to Henry Gray. And to my fury, I saw that Mr Whithers had not only made himself free with my bible, but completely emptied the flask.
“Gentlemen,” said Mr Holmes, “please meet our invalid friend Mr Bunbury.”