from The Lestrade Chronicles series
by nlr alicia
<< These stories are inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s tales of his immortal characters, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John Watson. The content shared here is the responsibility of this author.>>
On style choices: I use Americanized spelling and punctuation because I’m not confident I’ll always remember to use Anglicized alternatives and the possessive “Holmes’s” as Doyle does in the Strand version of HOUN because I like it better.
Setting: The first in a series of stories exploring the friendships between Holmes, Watson, Lestrade and the Lestrade family. All of the Lestrade Chronicles are based on documents entrusted to the care of Samuel Lestrade by various first-hand sources.
Content Warnings: Variably visible slash. Angst. Violence. Lestrade POV.
Being from the personal papers of G. Lestrade, Commissioner, Scotland Yard
Property Samuel Lestrade, Genoa
Excerpt from a Letter to Glynnis Lestrade.
4th of March 1882.
You may remember I have mentioned to you a certain Mr. Sherlock Holmes. He’s the young fellow who calls himself a “Consulting Detective,” whatever that may be.
I had the idea to call him in on a most unusual case today. Gregson argued at the start. You know how old fashioned he can be. He said, “Mr. Holmes has had his little successes to be sure, but I think we can do very well without his airy theorizing on this occasion.”
But I stood firm. “Holmes may have his peculiarities,” I said to Gregson. “But he does get results, after a fashion, and we in the official force cannot afford to ignore any little advantage that may be put in our way where the safety of the public is concerned.”
Although, to be honest, I’m afraid in this case Mr. Holmes may be just a little out of his depth. It’s all well and good, as I said to Langdon when I got back to the Yard, to throw oneself around the scenery sniffing and scratching and poking one’s nose into corners like a bally great bloodhound, but its good old shank’s mare and a bit of shoe leather that will get the job done in the end.
Besides, says I, when Langdon, a nice enough boy, but not a bright spark, as they say, just nodded, Mr. Holmes found himself a little out of his depth in this Lauriston Garden case and I fancy he was a shade quick to dismiss the most advantageous clue.
It was your dear brother who discovered the letters “RACHE” written on the wall and – you’ll pardon this gruesome detail for I know you like to have all the particulars – written in blood.
Mr. Holmes said it was the German word for “revenge.” That may be, and I’ll warrant you could find a Hottentot word with the same letters in it that means “butter churn,” but I think it’s a sight more than coincidence when you find the best part of a lady’s name at the scene of a crime along with a gold wedding band. Yes, there’s a female at the back of it, mark my words.
It’s my belief our Mr. Holmes played down the importance of my find for the sake of impressing his new friend, Dr. John Watson. I believe this young man is to be Mr. Holmes’s new apprentice since that other young man took himself off so suddenly. No doubt Holmes wanted to fill the vacancy as soon as could be arranged.
I have observed Dr. Watson in Mr. Holmes’s new accommodations at Baker Street recently and noticed he kept his distance while I put a few particulars of this case or that in Mr. Holmes’s way for the better convenience of sorting them out in my own mind. My guess is Mr. Holmes is trying to break the lad in gently.
Dr. Watson kept himself in hand in the face of that none-too-pretty corpse, as you’d expect from a medical man and a former soldier, but I don’t think I imagined he looked a bit green toward the end. It’s certain young Dr. Watson will need a touch more seasoning before he’s a fit partner for one so cold-blooded as Mr. Holmes.
It’s a question in my mind whether he’ll stick long enough to get the chance. The young Doctor’s a handsome lad and a favorite with the ladies, if I’m any judge. Let’s just say I’ll want to get to know him a sight better before I let him near you, dear sister.
I don’t expect such a one as this Watson is likely to stay a free man in the Town for long at any rate. As well you know, the gentry prefer not to take a comely girl into service for fear she won’t be at her post long before some high-stepping boy from the next block has her down at the church signing her name next to his. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Mr. Holmes doesn’t find himself in a position to fill the extra room in his suite at Baker Street, as well as the post of apprentice consulting detective, before the summer is past.
But it was a caution the way our friend put on a show for the young Doctor. I have described to you before his queer way of prodding and poking around the scene of a crime like he could make it sit up and tell him its name and its reason for being there.
I imagine all that show helped young Watson keep his countenance. He did seem more than a little taken up with watching Mr. Holmes at his business and I don’t think Mr. Holmes was unhappy about the attentive way the Doctor followed his progress. Exchanging glances with Gregson, I judged he was thinking along the same lines.
Mr. Holmes was ever a one to get caught up in his work, but I have never seen him as energetic as today – snuffling around, peering at this and that. He used his lens on every bit of fluff there was to find and a good deal of it there was in that dusty place.
I have observed before Mr. Holmes uses his glass where a pair of sharp eyes might do duty just as well. I wonder if our consulting detective isn’t too vain for the wearing of spectacles. He is certainly taking more care with his appearance since moving to Baker Street. It could be he is thinking of finding a likely lass for himself. If so, he will have to think along the lines of finding a more regular line of work. Not many a girl would put up with so harum-scarum a way of sorting one’s bread and cheese. I shall be curious to see what developments we may see in that line.
For the time, however, he seems happy enough to put his strange assortment of specialist knowledge at the disposal of the official force and we are not too proud to avail ourselves of every opportunity to rout Johnny Criminal off the street. If he keeps up this service I don’t doubt Mr. Holmes will make a fine constable one day.
Personal journal of G. Lestrade.
2nd of October 1888.
Traveled back to London at close of Baskerville case. Shared my compartment with Dr. Watson as Mr. Holmes departed immediately after what he considered the end of the investigation leaving me to scrape up witness statements as best I may.
Watson stayed behind to see to care of Sir Henry who he seems to have struck up a friendship with over recent days. Have noticed, although he is generally rather quiet fellow, Watson makes friends easily. Yet another way he differs from Mr. Holmes who seems to have few friends beside the good Doctor.
Compared notes of the case with Watson on the train as he has great memory for details and often observes in ways a policeman’s mind cannot. Have noticed his flair for describing weather and the like.
Must remember, next time visiting Baker Street give Watson word to the wise not all at the Yard take kindly to descriptions such as “lacking imagination” and similar. No doubt he is only copying out words of Mr. Holmes, still not everyone so forgiving as myself. The boys have been known to hold a grudge and I wouldn’t like to see the Doctor find himself in Queer Street for the sake of Mr. Holmes.
Mentioned to Watson my idea of writing up a few of my experiences to see if a magazine might like to print the policeman’s view of crime in the Town. He was very encouraging. Offered to review my first story and make any useful suggestions that occurred to him.
Will be interested to see how Watson writes of Baskerville case as it does not show his friend to best advantage. Not going too far to say Holmes behaved rather badly to the Doctor. I would not have taken well to being made to feel a fool for carrying out an investigation as a blind. When said as much to Watson was not too surprised when he jumped to Mr. Holmes’s defense. Curious how long Watson will put up with these high-handed tactics. Judge that his patience is not infinite.
For now Doctor still very attached to Holmes despite shabby behavior of same, but it cannot last. No doubt Watson will meet his lady before much more time passes. Two hearts have a way of finding one another as Glynnis likes to say. Wouldn’t be surprised if Watson meets her at Baker Street as many a young lady comes to put her problems before Mr. Holmes and he doesn’t seem to have much interest in that direction himself.
Expect Holmes will be one of nature’s bachelors. Seems to have few interests apart from work and hobbies and no interest in making new friends. Constable Morgan much dejected after Holmes dismissed idea of taking him on as unofficial apprentice. Will be curious to see if Holmes changes his tune when Watson finally shakes off bachelor status.
Hope to find myself in that happy state soon if Miss Teresa Benedict will have me. (nb. Pick up flowers for Mrs. Benedict before Saturday supper. Ask Teresa what sort. Hope not more orchids. Courting proving to be hard on pocket book.)
Personal journal of G. Lestrade.
8th of June 1889.
Was surprised to see Dr. Watson get off the train with Mr. Holmes this morning. Mrs. Watson remarkable woman to be so understanding of her husband’s dedication to his old flat mate. Suppose it comes from gratitude to Holmes for bringing them together.
Holmes seems to have asked his friend down to Boscombe Valley on flimsiest of excuses. Case is clear cut though Holmes unusually dedicated to making it obscure as possible. Expect he’s overreaching himself this time. We have more than enough solid facts without contribution of his theories and showy methods.
Was reminded strongly of Lauriston Gardens by sight of Holmes snuffling around in the dirt like bally great fox hound, whipping out glass at every opportunity and poking at assorted tufts of grass. No doubt Holmes pleased as punch at having his best audience on hand. Doctor Watson as fascinated as ever.
Even so, Watson unusually quiet today. Have noticed Holmes moodier as well. Expect it’s nostalgia for pleasant bachelor days. (nb. Pull Doctor aside at first opportunity and ask advice on Teresa. Seems unusually hot-tempered even for woman in her condition. Hope situation will improve when Mrs. Benedict moves in at end of month.)
Surprised Holmes has not yet found new flat mate. Should remind him beggars must not be choosers. Not many men as willing as Watson to put up with his peculiar habits.
Morgan did not take well to being rebuffed a second time. Seems to have turned his face from Holmes at last. Holmes may regret being so unyielding with the lad. Morgan has connections in Curzon Street and has made use of them before when frustrated in his career.
Excerpt from a Letter to Glynnis Lestrade.
3rd of October 1893.
I lunched with our friend Dr. Watson again today on the pretext of showing him the latest draft of my new serial. Tarleton has shown some interest in it and I am convinced that is due to Watson’s advice on the second chapter.
Poor Watson, though. It would hurt you terribly to see him so broken up. He looks a shadow of his old self. You remember how hale and sunny-featured he’s always been. Today he looked very thin and pale. What with Mr. Holmes and then his wife taken so suddenly, he puts on a brave face as you might expect, but he never was a solitary creature and living alone does not agree with him.
I hope it was as good for the Doctor as it was for myself to be out with an old friend. It was frankly a relief to get away from the house what with Teresa having her tempers again. Confinement does not agree with her any more this time than last.
Watson was kind enough to say these fits of hers are normal. Still I cannot help but think her mother is not a good influence in that regard.
Perhaps once the newest Lestrade has made his appearance (well you may laugh, my girl, but I am sure it is to be another son) and is on his legs I may look forward to Mrs. Benedict moving back to Birmingham at last.
I’m having trouble remembering what it was like to have a house to one’s self. I almost said as much to Watson, but you would’ve been proud of your brother. I managed to exercise a small amount of the tact you say I have none of.
I have invited Watson to come with me to see your latest paintings next week. He’s greatly looking forward to it. Do you think that young friend of yours (Louisa, was it?) might be free to meet us for tea?
Personal journal of G. Lestrade.
16th of May 1894.
Hope Watson doesn’t take it into his head to move back to Baker Street in light of second coming. No doubt Holmes is encouraging it. Must have been hard for him to go three years without his own personal audience. Wouldn’t be surprised if he left a string of John Watsons from Switzerland to Himalayas all pining away for their Svengali. Fortunate the Doctor has his practice and so isn’t able to jump to Holmes’s tune.
Turned down another invitation to dinner at Baker Street today. Am sure Holmes not fooled by excuse of having to tend to Teresa what with Old Baggage back in the house again, but not overly concerned about what Mr. Holmes may think.
Suppose I will have to make it up with his nibs at some time in near future. Would like to get his opinion on Carruthers-Wilmont case. Perhaps would not hurt to stop off at Baker Street for brandy and cigars tonight. No doubt will find Holmes sitting up playing damned violin. Mrs. Hudson will be glad of few hours quiet.
Must pick up roses for Mrs. Hudson on the way. Pink is her favorite? Glynnis has good head for such things. Will ring her up. Must not get her on subject of Watson and Holmes rooming situation. Tired of arguing it’s not unusual to find widower in company of bachelor friend of an evening. Probably not as frequent as it seems. Was a mistake to mention to her in the first place. Cannot imagine where she gets such strange ideas. The man was married after all.
Am sure she is only being recalcitrant when she says she has no other friends among the young women in her circle whom she can introduce to him. One would think that Harriet would be willing to develop mild cough for sake of meeting eligible bachelor Doctor. She is a fine, athletic girl and would be very suitable.
Will take Watson up on offer of dinner Friday. Glad now I mentioned that Teresa and Old Baggage will be in Cardiff on holiday. (nb. Stop at arcade to get roses for Mrs. Hudson, cigarillos for Watson. Also blocks for Samuel, tin car for James.)
Might ask what he thinks of Doyle as literary agent. Have noticed Doyle tends to stamp his own name prominently on Watson’s work. Not sure whether Watson has noticed same and is just too polite to mention it. Looking forward to telling him about new letter from American publisher. Seems he was right about Americans being interested in policeman’s point of view.
Personal journal of G. Lestrade.
19th of August 1894.
Sgt. Morgan has his knives out for Watson now. Will not drop subject of his moving back to Baker Street. Some damnable nonsense about morals charges from what Langdon says.
Convinced Morgan is at the back of rumors Holmes funded purchase of Watson’s practice. How would his father know? Real estate records not stored in Curzon Street last I checked. Tried to bring up subject with Holmes while in Norwood. Non-starter, of course.
Not surprised to find Holmes back to same old tactics of showing off for his friend. Convinced he devised whole bonfire inspiration as ploy just to see Watson’s face when that devil Oldacre came charging out. Would have been just as easy to send constables down the hall to test walls for hidden room. Half tempted to caution Holmes for obstructing justice if was not sure it would alarm Watson.
Still astonished at how quickly the Doctor was willing to forgive and forget Holmes disappearing from face of the earth for three years. Seems quite cheerful just to have his friend back. His broadmindedness toward Holmes and his ways is clearly beyond th
Good God. Glynnis was right.
Personal journal of G. Lestrade.
10th of December 1895.
Watson plainly convinced Holmes is due for knighthood. Must admit retrieval of submarine plans a feather in his cap although secret nature of case will no doubt keep Watson from writing of it for many years.
However, compelled to point out knighthoods not generally doled out higgledy-piggledy to men in the dock on burglary charges. Surely Watson still has sense enough to see dangers of Holmes’s picking and choosing of laws he will observe. That attitude has never won friends at the Yard and now that Morgan has been made Lt. it seems he has got his whole squad watching out for Holmes to make a slip. Am sure it was on his orders Stiles has been making “discreet” enquiries.
Meanwhile, Watson apparently completely unconcerned about professional standing. Seems to have given up idea of returning to practice altogether. Cannot understand how he could let himself be railroaded in such a fashion. Remember once thinking of Holmes as “Svengali” type. Perhaps closer to mark than I suspected?
Mycroft may shield brother as best he can but so far shows no definite sign he’ll extend same courtesy to his brother’s friend. Holmes, as ever, blissfully unconcerned about consequences for self and others. Between break-ins and the rest he puts Watson in increasingly dicey position.
But as Glynnis suggests will try to set aside for sake of Christmastime. Must remind Watson not to be too extravagant with gifts for boys this year. Heard James dropping hints about microscopes. Meanwhile, Samuel will be happy as a clam just to hear his Uncle John sing carols. And Loch Lommond. Those boys are chalk and cheese. (nb. Ask Glynnis if she thinks I’m expected to invite Mycroft for holiday supper. Hope answer is no. One Holmes about the place more than adequate.)
Excerpt from a Letter to Glynnis Lestrade.
10th of June 1900.
Our Mr. Holmes may be arrogant, selfish, and several other things I’ll not mention in your company (yes, even though you have no such scruples, my girl), but I will state for the record he knows his trade better than any man alive. Better than your brother and I am not ashamed to admit it.
There’s no way around it, for all the unrepentant flash, that business of the plaster Napoleons was some of the most impressive work I’ve seen in many a long year on the job. It would be nice to think the triumph of it was enough to shut up Morgan and his cronies once and for all, though I do not suppose it is possible to call off the dogs this late in the hunt.
But if you had seen the unveiling of the pearl of the Borgias, my dear, you would have stood up with us to applaud. And I do not doubt for a moment you would have wept to see the joy on Watson’s face at watching Holmes get his due. Holmes has no idea what a friend he has there. The man would walk through fire to see him happy.
I will not deny I think it is no great shame the feeling is all on one side. Try as you may to convince me otherwise, it is the case. You always did let wishful thinking get the better of you and I suppose you and Dr. Watson are alike in that regard as in so many others.
You know I do not agree with the state of things, but I do my best to look beyond it. You were right when you said I mustn’t throw away my friendship with Watson because he has views I disagree with. Although I think this stretches the limits of that theory, I admit I would hate to lose him as a friend because of it.
And you were right when you said I cannot take one without the other. If I can have a civil working association with Mr. Holmes for the sake of the job there is no reason I cannot have a civil personal association with him for the sake of my friendship with Watson.
In spite of all that I still hold out hope Watson will one day come to his senses where Holmes is concerned. He cannot fail to recognize his friend is simply not capable of being part of an… I’m not sure what to call it. I know you favor the term “affaire de coeur” but frankly I think you are making more of it than it is. Infatuation is closer to the mark, although I’ll grant you it is a long-standing one.
I invited the pair of them around to dinner next week. If you can come we will make a little party of it. It will do you good, I am sure, to see John again. I know you have not been feeling quite yourself lately and there is no one better at lifting your spirits than he.
I can see you raising your eyebrows, my girl, and no, Teresa will not be best pleased at having her house filled up with “my people.” Frankly, I do not care.
I look forward to the boys’ excitement at seeing their Uncle John and his friend again. They will be beside themselves to hear Watson tell the tale of that murderous Italian. I’d be tempted to write it myself. Of course, I mustn’t say that to Watson or he will insist upon it. Generous to a fault is our friend John.
By the way, I will be curious to see if you agree with me about Holmes’s sight not being what it once was. I mentioned to you that he seems to squint more than usual and it seems his glass rarely leaves his hand. If it’s a case of being too vain to wear spectacles perhaps you can have some influence with him. It may help if you start off by talking about that portrait you want to paint. You know John is very excited by that idea. I think he might help you tie Holmes to a chair if that would get it done.
Personal journal of G. Lestrade.
25th of June 1902.
Took Watson “get-well” gifts from James and Samuel. Must tell Samuel his Uncle Watson particularly pleased by his drawing of grapes. Said, “Art in the blood, Lestrade. It will come out, won’t it?” (nb. Mention same to Glynnis. Surely will make her smile.)
Holmes still nowhere in evidence. Watson says Holmes has been away because he is angry with himself for “letting” Watson get shot, but could not hide his low spirits. Glynnis always said there must be more to Holmes than we know, but fear she has always been as misguided as the Doctor in that regard.
Certainly just as well Holmes not here. Would like to give him a good shake. I don’t have to make the same allowances for this kind of behavior. Disappearing while on a case is one thing, but I know full well his work has dried up lately. Our old friend Captain Morgan and his cohort have seen to that.
Cannot be long before Morgan’s rumors start showing up in the newspapers. Mycroft must have his hands full keeping the dogs at bay. (nb. Ask Langdon to keep an ear out for Morgan meeting with Fleet Street friends. If nothing else at least can give Watson forewarning.)
Watson asked about Glynnis and her care. He was quite saddened to learn she cannot hold out much longer. Will give her his good wishes. Possible she will hear. Told him there is no reason he should go down to visit. Expect he will go regardless.
Asked him if he thought I should take boys to see their Aunt before the end. Not sure if they are old enough yet to understand she’s still the Aunt Glynnis they love so. Maybe better to let them remember her as she was at last visit with face shining and all that wonderful red hair.
John said I should ask the boys and let them decide. Believe he would have made good father.
Personal journal of G. Lestrade.
16th of September 1903.
Quick lunch before going round to gather Langdon and his squad. Trust intelligence from Holmes is accurate this time. Since Lady Francis business he’s been hot to recapture Peters. Cannot say I blame him. Affair was a debacle from start to finish.
Unbelievably shabby behavior toward Watson. Shades of Baskerville case. Still cannot understand why Watson puts up with it.
Wish I could bring myself to be confidante for him as I consider him my greatest friend. As much as I miss heart to hearts with Glynnis, I have Watson to let me bend his ear and a world of good it does me. His advice on writing career, managing Teresa, raising boys, all sound. Just as important is having him ready to listen to my questions.
Am afraid I will never be as good at listening as John is or as Glynnis was. Still cannot manage to overcome dislike of my friend’s… suppose I must now call it affair. Wish I could apologize to Glynnis for doubting her so many years.
Maybe should ask Watson to come along on holiday with boys next month. Would be good chance to talk and Samuel would think it a great treat to see his favorite Uncle. If can arrange the time might organize a fishing trip.
Would no doubt do John good to get away from the city. Never thought London particularly agreed with his temperament. He does love the fresh air of outdoor life. Do not suppose he is ever able to pry Holmes out of the Town without a fight.
Time to go. Sudden urge to write note to James and Samuel. Glynnis would call it presentiment. I would call it dyspepsia if she was here but cannot help feeling of worry.
Must warn squad to be highly cautious. Since Langdon put his hands on Mrs. Peters yesterday no doubt Peters himself will be feeling the pinch. Men will do desperate things when cornered as well I know by this ache in my knee.
Letter to Doctor John H. Watson from G. Lestrade.
16th of September 1903.
John, I don’t have your talent for words. As much as you have tried to help me along in my writing career, I know I will never compare to your ability for telling events not just as they happened, but as they should be remembered.
Maybe I am too much a policeman. Perhaps I simply don’t have the imagination, as Mr. Holmes always told me. But I will do the best I can to record events exactly as I saw them and, Lord willing, I will be able to give this to you when you’re well again.
Now I must get down to it for I hope any minute the doctor will come out to tell us you’re past the worst danger and I want to commit this to paper while it’s still fresh in my mind.
I’m not sure how much you will remember so I will start from the beginning. You will recall, I imagine, how we arrived at that empty row of houses at sundown just as Mr. Holmes planned. You may also remember Morgan and his squad were there beforehand, no doubt hoping to get the jump on us. Don’t imagine I’ll fail to include that in my report for Morgan is more to blame than anyone for what happened tonight and I intend to make sure that’s known upstairs.
Morgan had a few men in the street and back alley, but he hadn’t the wit to see, as Mr. Holmes and I did, it would be easy enough for Peters to get away via the top floor to the next house and so thread the maze of connecting passages to the end of the block. Morgan never did appreciate the value of understanding how Londoners really live and I dare say he had no idea the “modifications” folks are likely to make to avoid going out to the street on a cold winter’s night when they want to visit Pat in the next house but one.
Regardless of how he came by being so foolish, Morgan completely neglected that avenue of escape but we knew Peters to be far cleverer. He didn’t elude Scotland Yard for so long by being your run of the mill confidence man.
Mr. Holmes suggested you and I take the house on the right and he and Langdon would take the left. As I think of it now, I believe he thought he knew which way Peters would break cover and no doubt he had an idea he could keep you out of harm’s way. I imagine he would have been right in his guess had Morgan not seen us go in and taken it in his head to claim the glory of capturing Peters for himself.
We’d barely gotten ourselves hidden behind a tumble of broken furniture and boxes in that top floor room when Morgan and Stiles burst through the street door of the center house and rushed up the stairs. Peters had no choice but to jump for a door and by chance it was the one on our side.
I should have dropped him the moment he showed his face, but instead, like a fool, I followed procedure. He got off two shots to my one and although I got him in the shoulder if I’d known how badly you were hit I don’t know if I would have held myself back from taking a second shot.
You made a noise something like a heavy breath after Peter’s first shot, but it was not the sound you’d expect after a wound. I’ve seen men get shot in the leg and the arm and the first sound they generally make is a curse, so I didn’t anticipate anything of the kind when I heard a thump and turned around.
From the moment I saw you everything seemed to move exceedingly slowly. You looked surprised as if you didn’t quite understand why you were on your knees. It was pure chance I managed to get to you before you tumbled over.
I think it was about the time I was trying to ease you down with one hand behind your shoulders and the other on your throat that I heard Mr. Holmes come through the door. He must have heard the shots for he wasn’t six seconds behind Peters.
He saw Peters first. He couldn’t fail to with the way Peters was moaning and writhing. Mr. Holmes gave that tight little smile of his then he glanced around for you.
I’ll always remember the look on his face when he saw me holding onto you and all that blood on the floor around us already. The change that came over him, Doctor… Well, I’ve heard of men looking like they’ve been pole axed, but I don’t suppose you know what it really looks like until you’ve seen it.
All the color dropped from his face and he gave a strange shudder as if everything under his skin was jerked out at once. I think another man might have fallen to the floor at that moment but Mr. Holmes always was one of the strongest men I’ve known. I don’t remember him taking a step but he was beside me before Langdon came through the door.
I remember yelling to Langdon to blow his whistle for help. Then Morgan and Stiles came through. Morgan only had eyes for Peters as I recall though Stiles looked a little taken aback to see the three of us there.
Langdon was blowing his whistle and Morgan was trying to give Peters his caution and Stiles was standing there looking like the fool he is and I think I remember yelling something at Langdon like “Get them out,” or words to that effect.
Langdon, bless him, has always been a man to rely on. He was hoisting Peters, still screaming, by the arm and pushing Morgan and Stiles out the door before they knew what was what. I lost interest in them after that because I’d gotten my handkerchief out and was trying to hold it to your throat.
I’m ashamed to say when I saw the way it soaked through before I could even touch it to your skin I came close to fainting. I think I froze for Mr. Holmes reached past me and closed his hand over that awful wound and held it there.
I must have come to myself then for I had the presence of mind to shift out of the way while Holmes was moving his other hand to the back of your neck to brace you. I fished in his pocket for a fresh handkerchief and found it but I saw quickly it wouldn’t be any good to put it to the wound. Mr. Holmes was doing a better job at stopping the blood although it was still seeping around his fingers.
It was so quiet and still in that room at that moment I could hear your blood drip to the floor. That’s when I realized Mr. Holmes was holding his breath, waiting for you to breathe.
You were staring up at the ceiling, still looking dazed, as though you thought it might all be happening to someone else. You drew in a deep breath through your nose and when you opened your mouth a gush of blood came out.
Doctor, I have never seen so much blood. It seemed to be all around us on the floor and on our hands and our clothes. I remember thinking it was dark red and that was good for some reason although I couldn’t think why at the time.
Thank heavens Mr. Holmes had his wits about him still. He said, “Turn his head.” I knew he was afraid you would choke on the blood so as carefully as I could I moved your head just a bit. You blinked then because I think you must have felt something and I remember thinking that must be a good sign as well, though I believe I would have taken anything short of seeing the Grim Reaper himself as a good sign at that moment.
After that I felt rather helpless and I looked to Mr. Holmes to tell me what to do next. He started speaking and I thought at first he was talking to me, but I couldn’t make sense of it. Then it occurred to me he was speaking to you.
He spoke very softly, but his voice carried in that still room. There was nothing but the sound of his words and your blood dripping on the boards and the three of us trying to breathe.
Mr. Holmes will probably not remember what he said. I think he was simply putting together words he had thought earlier that evening. You may remember all this when you wake up. I don’t know. In case you don’t, I’ll write it down just as I heard it.
John, don’t forget we’ve got tickets for the Lyceum tomorrow night. I plan to put on my glasses just to please you. Once the lights go down of course.
I must insist, I entirely disagree that they make me look distinguished. They might be appropriate for use with a schoolmaster or country vicar disguise, but I can hardly go around in a clerical collar at all times. Although I dare say that would please you, too.
I suppose I’ll have to cancel our table at Martini’s. I had already called ahead to get a bottle of that terrible Scottish whiskey you like so much. I think Mr. Martini was actually offended at the idea, but he could hardly refuse. After twenty years of champagne and oysters we must have paid for a good part of his summer home in Deauville.
Do you know he offered it to us for a month this spring? I’m sure I forgot to mention it. I do realize I still owe you a trip abroad. I regret that it was necessary to mislead you about Lausanne. At the time I thought of it as sort of a busman’s holiday, but I understand that’s not how you saw it.
And I do apologize for that misunderstanding with Mr. Green, although I stand by my assertion you were largely at fault. You’ve always been hot headed where damsels in distress were concerned. I know I promised to stop harping on that point, but I really don’t see how you can blame me.
I do seem to be putting you in harm’s way much too much lately. You may think that’s why I’ve been talking about retirement more and more frequently but that’s not the chief reason.
Not to put too fine a point on it, I want to spend more time with you and I’d like to do so in the country where we will not have to worry about who’s going to knock on the door at all hours of the night and whether some up and coming bright spark who fancies himself the next Moriarty is going to take it into his head to send us a bomb in the post.
But I must say I weary of fighting about it. I know you think you’ll miss the bustle of the city, but I promise to keep you busy with long walks and bicycle rides and stargazing and all the things you won’t admit you enjoy more than watching me question cabbies at four in the morning.
You must realize there is very little I won’t do to please you, John. Again, I point to the spectacles. But almost from the very beginning it’s been true. I remember very distinctly the first time I made you smile at me and I’ve been an utter fool for the experience ever since.
We had been two weeks at Mrs. Hudson’s. One night I burned a hole in the carpet with some very important experiment or other and drove us out into the street for an hour while the stench cleared. When we came back in I could see you weren’t best pleased with me so I thought I’d make it up to you with a bit of a concert.
I played you a very fine composition of mine on a theme of Paganini and you listened politely, but all the while your fingers gripped tighter and tighter on the arms of your chair as if it was only sheer willpower that kept you from bolting from the room and hailing a cab to the Adelphi.
At that moment I realized, for some reason that I couldn’t begin to fathom, I desperately wanted to do something that would persuade you to stay. So I wracked my brain for the lowest form of musical detritus I could find and came up something I’d heard played on a squeezebox outside a pub in Soho. I learned later it was that shining example of the art of Mssrs. Gilbert and Sullivan, “I’m Called Little Buttercup.” I played it very badly. But you seemed to like it and you smiled.
I believe that must have been the moment. You asked me once and I couldn’t say because I really don’t have your head for remembering such things as you well know, but looking back I’m sure that was the moment I knew. John, please. I love you. Please don’t go.
At that very moment the light came back to your eyes and, so help me God, you gave a little smile.
The look on Mr. Holmes’s face… I can only say it was like the sun after a storm when everything is gray and wet and suddenly the light breaks through and the water shines and glistens. It was just like that, Doctor. Exactly like that.
The next instant there were boots on the stairs and six lads burst in with a board between them. Langdon, bless him, had run all the half mile to London Hospital and brought back an ambulance.
I had a hard time getting Mr. Holmes to let go, but the lads knew what they were doing and they had a dressing on and were carting you toward the door quick as Jack Robinson.
You appeared confused then and you looked around for Mr. Holmes. When you saw him standing to the side with me you relaxed, as if you hadn’t been sure he was really there, then the boys were galloping down the stairs.
I expected Mr. Holmes to run right after them, but he didn’t. He stood studying that lake of blood on the floor where you’d been. I thought he might want to be alone with his thoughts so I coughed and said I’d just go see that Peters was on his way to the cells. Mr. Holmes stared around, kind of startled, as if he hadn’t known I was still there or even exactly where he was himself.
He was as white as linen and there was no color in his lips nor even his eyes as I remember it and he was shaking all over as if he was freezing cold. I know what shock looks like so I took him by the arm and guided him over to a spot away from the blood, sat him down and fished out my flask. I held it out to him and after a second he took it. While he was taking a draught of it, I slipped off my jacket and put it around his shoulders. He passed me back the flask and looked up at me and he looked… empty is the best way I can describe it.
I wanted to say something. To tell him you’d be all right, that I’d seen worse wounds, although it would have been a bald-faced lie, but I couldn’t think of a thing to say. So I asked myself what Glynnis would do. I think she was there in the room with me because I knew.
I put my arm around Mr. Holmes’s shoulders and he leaned into me and put his head against my chest and he let go, like men do, just his shoulders shaking, but no sound coming out except ragged breath.
When it was through he sat up and I remembered I still had his clean handkerchief in my pocket. I gave it to him and moved away, pretending as if I was looking for the mark from Peters’s second shot. After a minute I heard Mr. Holmes stand. He cleared his throat and said in a perfectly normal voice, “I think I shall follow on to the hospital. You can see to Peters?”
I said, yes, I could and I’d be down in a moment. Then he nodded and went out the door. He’d left my jacket on the box so I put it back on and followed. I got down to the street right behind him. He looked like a stretcher case himself, covered in blood as he was.
Morgan was still there taking Peters’s statement. I guessed, and correctly from what Langdon said, that he was making sure Peters’s account put him in the position of being the one that could claim the credit.
When Morgan saw Holmes I’ll be damned if he didn’t call out, “Shame about your friend, Mr. Holmes. Are you sure you don’t want to stay here and give your account of this affair? Just to set the record straight. We wouldn’t want people to think you, in your civilian status, were in any way responsible for the tragedy. People do like to talk, don’t they?”
Mr. Holmes, to his credit, only gave Morgan one of those frozen stares, you know the one I mean. Then he turned around and kept walking.
I’m afraid I wasn’t quite so cool headed but, Doctor, should I lose my job over it I’ll happily drive an omnibus for the rest of my days just for the memory of the look on Morgan’s face when my fist hit his jaw. He went down like a sack of bricks. I stepped over him and walked after Mr. Holmes. No one said a word.
So we’ve been here in the visitor’s room for… five hours now. Mr. Holmes hasn’t checked the clock once. He just stares straight ahead with a kind of set look in his eyes. Every time the door to the surgery opens he sits up straight, but we haven’t heard anything yet. I imagine by now the boys from Fleet Street are outside with their pencils nice and sharp, but I’ve got a couple of lads blocking the door to all but official traffic.
It sounds like there’s another medic coming so here’s hoping it’s good news at last.
Letter to James and Samuel Lestrade.
21st May 1917.
James and Samuel, I’m copying this out for each of you. I know you haven’t always seen eye to eye. I know you’re chalk and cheese much of the time. But one day you will find what you can really count on in this world is the love of a good friend. When that time comes you’ll be glad to have someone who will stand by you through the years. I trust this letter will make sense to you then.
When it comes down to it, I’m just an old copper with not much imagination. But I do have wit enough to know whatever success I’ve had in this world as a policeman, as a father, and as a man, I owe to my friends and most especially to your Uncle John and Mr. Holmes.
I drove down to Sussex to visit them today. James, keep reading. I know you don’t want to hear this. I know your mother has put ideas in your head I’d like to pry out again – you know how I feel and I’ll say no more on the subject.
But if you don’t listen to anything else your old man has to say, listen to this. What you make of this letter today is not what you will make of it in five years or ten years or twenty. So when you’ve finished it, put it away. Go back and look at it again from time to time. I don’t doubt it will mean something different next time and the time after that. I hope you’ve got enough of your Aunt Glynnis in you to give it a try.
Samuel I’ve described the cottage to you, but James, I’d like you to have a picture in your mind. It’s a white stone house, small, with only a few rooms below and fewer above. There’s a thatched roof, the kind you see along the coast, with a stone chimney in one corner and an old-fashioned weather vane in the shape of a sailing ship. I don’t doubt that’s your Uncle John’s.
Most of the grounds have Mr. Holmes’s stamp on them. There’s a kitchen garden at the side and a flower patch beyond that where Mr. Holmes grows roses and lilacs and a dozen other blooms I couldn’t name if my life depended on it.
There’s a big oak tree with a pergola under it and a few bentwood chairs. A gravel track runs off the lane and loops through a stand of elms a half mile away. It runs up to a second cottage over the next hill. I imagine it’s much like the first, although I haven’t been there.
The main cottage is surrounded by meadow. Today it was pink with clover blossoms and Mr. Holmes’s bees were everywhere. The buzzing was tremendous. I heard it as soon as I pulled up at the gate.
I arrived a little before tea. John had the door open before I was three steps up the walk. He looks half his age, unlike your old Dad who looks twice his. He still has a full head of hair and since it was always fair now that it’s gone white it doesn’t look much different. The same can be said for his mustache, which never seems to change and looks timely no matter what the current fashion, I suppose because it suits him so well.
His eyes are still bright blue and he was all over smiles when he met me on the porch. He walked right past the hand I held out and gave me a great embrace. When he stepped back he glanced over my shoulder and I said, “Teresa couldn’t come along today, but she sends her best.”
John’s smile softened a little at that, but he just nodded at the parcel under my arm and I said, “A few things from Town. A sort of a care package.” He grinned and shook his head as he showed me inside.
The front room is the main one on the ground floor. There’s a kitchen off to the side, a library at the back and Mr. Holmes’s workroom at the very back, no doubt so the rear door and windows can be opened to let out any unexpected smoke.
The main room is very comfortable with simple furniture, a stone hearth with two big chairs in front of it and some smaller chairs here and there. You won’t be surprised to know your Aunt Glynnis’s portrait of Mr. Holmes hangs over the fireplace. I don’t expect that pleases Mr. Holmes as much as it does your Uncle John.
John still has many of the military pictures you admired so much, James, and the ships in bottles as well as the adventure books you adored. He sent a box full home with me. I’ll keep them here until you tell me you want them.
Mr. Holmes wasn’t in the front room or the kitchen when John showed me through. I wasn’t surprised by that, but John gave a roll of his eyes and tipped his head toward the back of the house.
I don’t know if you boys recall what a fine, deep voice your Uncle John had. You probably remember him singing when we would sit around the piano at Christmastime. Samuel, you used to always ask for Loch Lommond, you’ll remember, I’m sure, because everyone kidded you that it wasn’t a carol. Still that’s what you wanted to hear and John was happy to oblige.
It’s a shame the doctors couldn’t save his voice, but somehow he makes himself perfectly plain without saying a word. I had no trouble following along as he showed me the few new things there were to see. Mr. Holmes apparently has taken to doing miniature busts in clay recently. He always did like to keep his hands busy.
Samuel, I think you would be impressed. It was marvelous to me he could render each one perfectly from memory. I recognized several familiar faces, your old Dad among them, although the company was not what I might have chosen. You’ll remember the names Moriarty and Moran from your Uncle’s stories. There were a few other names you wouldn’t recognize but their faces would be well known around the Yard.
We were at the end of our tour when I heard the door at the back of the house and Mr. Holmes came down the hall. He looks just as he always did only more so, if you can imagine what I mean. Tall and thin, straight as a birch tree, although he’s darker than I’ve ever seen him, no doubt from working outdoors amongst his flowers and bees.
When John saw him coming, he set down the bust he had been showing me on the table beside us and quick as you please Mr. Holmes said, “I know where he is, thank you. I had assumed you weren’t playing hide and seek. How are you, Lestrade?” and he walked right up and stuck out his hand precisely where mine was. With anyone else it might have seemed uncanny, but you get used to uncanny things when you’ve spent some time with Mr. Holmes.
Do you boys remember the way Mr. Holmes had of staring you up and down? James, I know you remember the time Mr. Holmes walked up to you in the parlor and said, “Surely, young man, there are better places to keep your insect collection, fine as your assortment of lacewings may be, than at the back of the kitchen pantry.” The display box he sent over the next day seemed to make up for the scolding you got from Cook.
It is still strange not to have him fix me with that stare of his, but Mr. Holmes has a personality that soon makes you forget he’s looking past your shoulder while he speaks.
Your Uncle John caught my eye, cocked his head toward the kitchen and started off in that direction. “Have you shown him the new garden?” Holmes said after him.
Boys, I heard no sound or any sign from your Uncle John as he was leaving the room, but without missing a beat Holmes said, “We’ll be under the oak, then. Would you care to leave your parcel, Lestrade?”
It took me a moment to catch up, but then such was always the way with Mr. Holmes. He waited with his eyebrow cocked. Of course, he’d heard the paper rustle under my arm, but it seemed remarkable all the same.
I said I would bring it out with me and with no further conversation Mr. Holmes walked past me and held open the door. Your old man may not be the brightest penny in the stack but I knew enough not to try to help but to stand back and let Mr. Holmes lead the way.
He showed me around the vegetable patch and pointed out a fruit orchard some distance away and told me about his latest strain of bees, all of which, of course, was far beyond me. I think Mr. Holmes was just pleased to have a chance to explain it all. I’m sure John knows all he cares to know about fig trees and drones.
We were settling on the chairs under the oak when John came out with tea and the three of us sat in the shade talking. I told them all about what you two were up to as far as I know it. Mr. Holmes was very interested in your trip to Venice, Samuel, and recommended several books you should take along. I wrote them down and I’ll tuck the list in your envelope.
John’s chair was close beside Mr. Holmes’s and every now and then as we talked, he put his hand on Holmes’s arm. Holmes would tilt his head to the side, John would lean over and put his mouth to Holmes’s ear and, although I never heard a sound, Mr. Holmes would sit back and ask a question or make an observation on John’s behalf. Soon it seemed so natural a part of the conversation I answered Mr. Holmes’s questions while looking at John as if he’d asked them himself.
After a time I opened my parcel. I’d brought a few things I thought they might enjoy. Some phonograph albums of violinists I’ve never heard of but that the lad in the music store told me were best and brightest this year. I brought John a copy of my book that will come out at the end of the summer because I knew he’d ask for it. I gave them one of your newer watercolors, Samuel. I didn’t think you’d mind. And a few other bits and bobs I thought wouldn’t go amiss. The shadows were growing long when I came to the bottom of my parcel and pulled out the envelope I had tucked there.
I know you boys remember visiting Uncle John after he was hurt so badly. Well, the night it happened, while Holmes and I were waiting to hear that he was all right, I wrote down an account of the events because I wasn’t sure how much your Uncle John would remember and I thought he’d like to know. And, to be honest, because I needed to take my mind off worrying.
I had never had the courage to give it to him before. I was a bit embarrassed by it and I wasn’t sure Mr. Holmes might not think I’d taken a liberty. He is a very private man.
But, as I say, when you get older you look at things differently and it dawned on me at last that John might very much like to have it. So I took a deep breath and handed it to him.
Holmes must have noticed me growing anxious, but he didn’t say anything, only cocked his head a little to the side. John looked curiously at me as he took it. I hadn’t given enough thought to how I would explain it so I did the best I could.
“The night you were shot,” I said while John opened the envelope. “Holmes, do you remember me scratching away in my notebook while we waited outside the surgery?”
“Vaguely,” Holmes said in that dry way of his. “Although it didn’t occupy my thoughts overly at the time.”
John shook his head and started to read the first page. He couldn’t have gotten more than a paragraph or two in before he looked up at me and… well, it was a different smile than I’d ever seen on his face.
A lot of things made sense to me then I only thought I’d understood before. All I can tell you, boys, is if you ever see someone look at you with that light in their eyes, you’ll know it.
Holmes appeared as calm as ever but I noticed he was particularly still. It took me a moment to realize he really wasn’t sure what I had written. At the time I didn’t know how much he’d remember. It seemed I was right to be unsure.
I expected John to lean over to Holmes and have one of their silent conversations, but instead he handed the papers back to me without reading any further and nodded his head toward Holmes. I understood he wanted me to read it aloud so they could both hear. I hadn’t prepared myself for that and it took a moment to gather my thoughts.
I stumbled at first, but once I got started it became easier. They sat and listened and after a time Mr. Holmes reached for John’s hand. They sat very still, John holding Mr. Holmes’s hand in both of his, both looking off at a point I suppose was long in the past.
I finished reading and we sat like that for a time. Mr. Holmes spoke first. He cleared his throat and said, “I’m grateful you were there with us. Deeply grateful. You are a good friend.”
Boys, those few words meant more to me than every pretty speech I’ve ever heard rolled into one. I couldn’t find any response and didn’t really trust myself to speak anyway. I tried to pass the papers back to John, but he just smiled and shook his head and held tight to Mr. Holmes’s hand. I understood he wouldn’t need to read it again.
Holmes cleared his throat and asked a question about my next book and the conversation drifted until the shadows started to blend together. John noticed me looking at the sky and he leaned over and said something to Holmes. That was the only time I saw Holmes answer directly. He turned to John and said, “He won’t.”
John patted his arm and Holmes looked back toward me. “I’m meant to ask if you’d like to stay over. You’re welcome to make yourself at home in John’s cottage. No one ever uses it, but it’s aired out regularly. There’s cheese and cold ham for supper. It will stretch for three.”
I would’ve liked nothing better, but your mother was waiting me in Brighton so I made my apologies and promised to go back soon. When I left I had far more items than I’d come with. I have clover honey and books and goodness knows what all for you boys.
When we had everything loaded into the car I took my leave at the gate with another hug from John and handshake and clap on the shoulder from Holmes. As I drove away I looked back.
They were still standing by the gate. Holmes had his arm around John’s shoulders and his head was tilted to the side to listen to John’s whisper. Just before I reached the end of the lane I saw Holmes pull John close. They were standing like that when I turned onto the road and lost them from view.
That’s really all I had to say, boys. I wish you would go out to the cottage and visit before too much time passes. It would mean a lot to me and to your Uncle John and to Holmes and, I believe, to your Aunt Glynnis for I know she’s still watching over you.
I think by and by it would mean a lot to you as well. There are things you can read about and things you can be told. But often times there’s nothing like seeing a thing for yourself to really understand it.
That’s the way it is with friendship and with love. It’s important to know what it really looks like. Sometimes that’s the only way you can recognize it when it’s standing right in front of you.
Your loving dad,