<< 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.
Content Warnings: Chaste slash with a dollop of innuendo on the side. Champagne and oysters. Louche behavior. Guaranteed 100% train-free.
When I arrived at the stage door there were already some dozen men arrayed along the wide, swept and watered alley. Like strangers in a lift, they stood apart from one another so evenly spaced they might have been marking points along a ruler. Each man, in near identical dress of evening cloak, shining top hat and lacquered stick, had selected a direction in which to stare that would ensure he did not meet the eye of any other of his fellow loiterers.
After some consideration I chose an unclaimed post under a flickering gas lamp, reasoning that it was safe to stand where the light might fall on my face for I was unlikely to encounter anyone I knew while lurking outside a Parisian cabaret an hour past midnight.
Truth be told, I was less surprised than I might have been to find myself in such an outré position. Holmes, in a rare spirit of forthcoming, before leaving on his current investigation three weeks and a day before, had told me precisely where I might find him. I still believe, despite his many protests to the contrary, he divulged his plans less for the sake of any desire to lessen my worry than because he was so very pleased with himself for constructing the alias of Will Sherrinford.
Sherrinford, member of the chorus at in the theatre company at the Chien Bleu cabaret in the Marais district of Paris had obtained an extended contract based on the combined merits of being the possessor of a fine tenor voice and his ability to fill a seat in the orchestra should one of its notoriously unreliable members miss a performance.
So delighted was Holmes with his alter ego I suspected he was a little put out he’d have to employ it in the service of his country rather than simply indulging in the pleasure of taking on a role that suited talents he was so rarely called upon to exercise in the course of a case.
But his sense of justice prevailed, if his sense of duty followed a near second, and he promised his brother Mycroft to bring in the needed evidence on the man suspected of dealing government secrets with the Northern powers.
Had I but known the case would take him away from me for such a duration and that the all-too brief kiss on parting at the door to our flat in Baker Street would be the last we’d share for three weeks and a day I might have been somewhat less sanguine. Furthermore, I might have insisted on a rather more comprehensive farewell.
For although I tried to distract myself through the irksome days and interminable nights from my longing for the taste of his lips on mine, as the three week mark drew near I had to admit the desire barely left my mind.
So it was when I received a terse telegram on Friday night with the instructions “STAGE DOOR SECOND PERFORMANCE IN EVENING DRESS” I was packed and waiting at the travel office upon its opening on Saturday morning.
Still, with week end travel being what it was, I’d arrived in Paris with only enough time to secure a suite of rooms in the Hotel Saint-Georges, dress as requested, and make my way to the Chien Bleu in time for the final curtain.
Being somewhat distracted by planning how best to bundle Holmes into a cab and off to the hotel at the best possible speed and musing on what would be my first choice of action once I had him there behind closed doors, I was startled when the stage door swung open spilling a banner of electric lamplight across the alley floor, its blue-white brilliance casting the alley into even deeper shade by contrast.
There was a general shifting among those waiting in the half-light as the members of the troupe began to emerge and cascade down the short flight of stairs in groups of two and three, their bright laughter echoing down the alley like music.
Men in evening clothes of the latest cut, brushed to a shine, chatted merrily among themselves and with the several women of the company. The fairer sex, for their part, were equally modern, their hair done up in loose, tumbling curls and decorated with sparkling jeweled clips and marabou plumes that danced on the warm breeze from the open door.
One by one they separated from their companions with a light kiss on the cheek or clap on the shoulder. The dozen or so with escorts waiting moved across the alley with a seemingly unerring sense of direction toward their partners. Not one had to glance about to find the particular bewhiskered face or brilliantined head that waited especially for them.
So absorbing was this dance resembling a cotillion in its formal informality, I might have failed to observe Holmes’s figure as he appeared silhouetted in the doorway had not my nerves been tuned to a high, vibrating pitch by anticipation. As it was my heart registered his advent even before my head had the chance to echo his name. I think I sighed aloud as he descended the stairs, elegant and sleek and leaner than ever in his trim, tapered suit.
He was within a few paces before the electric light behind him gave way to the glow of the gas lamp above and he at last emerged from shadow. I think the trappings of his disguise, subtle though they were, might have given me pause under other circumstances, but disguise couldn’t hide the thousand small signs I knew so well as belonging to Holmes alone.
The way his straight shoulders angled back as he walked toward me, the slight tilt of his head as he studied my face and, once he stood before me in the gas light’s glow, the peculiar way his mouth curled at the corners when he smiled for me alone, all these were as dear to me as the fog gray shade of his eyes.
And were all that invisible I would still have known him by feel of his skin as he bent forward to brush his cheek against mine and by the way his fingertips traced over my hand before he leant away. I would know his touch in the dark were I deprived of all other senses.
So entranced was I that his name was on my lips before I could martial my thoughts enough to still it. But an expressive quirk of his eyebrow forestalled me and I managed instead to whisper, “Mr. Sherrinford.”
His half-smile widened and he said in answer, “Doctor Johnson how wonderful to see you.” The next instant he affected a small moue and murmured, “You did not bring flowers.” His eyes widened in surprise. “Or a token of any kind I see. How disappointing.”
I glanced about and saw that most others of the members of the troupe who remained were now gazing with rapt admiration at small bouquets or velveteen covered boxes. “I’m sorry,” I said under my breath. “I didn’t realize it was expected. Does it present a problem?”
He gave a negligent toss of his head and answered, “Not at all. A viscount brought me a remarkably fine pearl tie pin last week, but we shall simply say you are a bit unworldly, not to say backward, in these affairs.”
I did my best not to openly stare, but I think I must have been unsuccessful for Holmes promptly flashed an insouciant smile and, linking his arm through mine, turned me toward the street.
“You’re not serious about that viscount,” I hissed as we stepped out into the glare of the theatre marquee.
“Of course, I am,” he said loftily. “You can’t imagine I’d make a very successful show of my persona if I didn’t allow myself to be squired about occasionally over the course of three weeks in the theatre company, do you? Really, Doctor. One would think you’d never escorted a member of the chorus before.”
“Holm- whoever you are,” I whispered in a dangerous undertone. “You do not mean to say– ”
“Calm yourself, dear boy,” he said lightly. “I regretfully returned the tie pin.” He leant toward me and whispered, his breath tickling my ear in a manner most calculated to defuse my rising temper, “My heart belongs to another, you see.” He leant away and gave a light laugh. “Try not to look quite so outraged, Doctor. People will think I’m a poor companion indeed. Now do be a good fellow and wave down a cab, would you? Or I may begin to think you’re not much of a gentleman after all.”
I clenched my teeth firmly together and hailed the next passing hansom. As we mounted the cab, Holmes making a point of allowing me to hand him in, I said evenly, “Judging by your current mood, I suppose it’s too much to hope we might go back to my hotel now?”
“You’re right on that count, at least,” Holmes said pleasantly as the cab started away from the curb. “You, dear fellow, are about to treat your enchanting companion to champagne and oysters. And,” he said with a meaning glance, “I would advise you to select a rather better vintage than your usual if you expect to have any hope of furthering our arrangement.”
On our way, Holmes refused to answer any of my questions about the progress of his investigation, making only oblique references to “excellent progress” and an “imminent conclusion” and remarking that our current destination had proved an excellent vantage point for observing his quarry both at a distance and quite near at hand.
At my rather tersely worded query regarding whether the tie pin-proffering viscount was in fact the man he’d pursued to Paris he only remarked blithely, “Oh, no, this was another fellow entirely. The one to whom you refer gave me a Tiffany cigarette case. It’s quite lovely. Would you like to see it?”
Thankfully, before I could answer our cab pulled up at the address Holmes had instructed me to give to the driver. I knew immediately that my temper would not soon improve. Our destination proved to be an unmarked door set along a dimly lit avenue in a none too salutary neighborhood near Montmartre.
Belying the exterior appearance, the interior was as expansive and glittering as any brasserie along the Avenue de l’Opera, but I felt another flare of irritation as Holmes was greeted at the door with effusive warmth by a rather oily individual apparently serving as maitre d’.
As I stood to the side to hand my stick and our hats over to the boy at the coat check, the man leant close to Holmes’s ear and whispered. The knowing smile Holmes returned him quite brought my blood up once again.
We were soon trailing behind this unctuous personage as he led us down the passageway to the main salon. As we emerged into the cavernous room, the sound of laughter, conversation, and clinking glasses would have been deafening enough without the exuberant accompaniment of a string quartet. I reflected grimly that the saving grace of the noise was that I wouldn’t be forced to whisper. The advantage was mitigated, however, by the fact that I was finding it difficult not to grind my teeth.
“You’ve been here before,” I observed tightly as the maitre d’ led us past several tables where patrons inclined their heads or flashed a subtle smile of greeting at my friend.
“Several times this week,” Holmes replied airily. “My quarry has spent a great deal of time here while in Paris. Incidentally, old boy, perhaps I should have warned you, but you had best cross our friend’s palm with silver if you have any hope of a table more secluded than that in the center of the room.”
As soon as he spoke I saw that the maitre d’ was indeed leading us toward a table under the spreading crystal chandelier that dominated the decor. I cast a dark look at Holmes who was, I was in no way pleased to note, grinning broadly.
I stepped forward to engage in a quick negotiation with our escort and, after paying what I suspected was something over twice the market value for such consideration, succeeded in diverting our progress to a semi-circular banquette at the edge of the cavernous room.
Once we were ensconced in the brushed burgundy velvet and assured that a bottle of the “finest” champagne was on its way, I was able to take the opportunity to truly study Holmes’s appearance at last. I turned to him with that end in mind only to find him regarding me with a rapt attention that was disconcerting in its open admiration.
“Holmes,” I began slowly. “What- ”
“Dear me, you are out of practice at this,” he said, giving me a slow and alarmingly provocative smile. “Surely you know my role in this little tête-à-tête is to provide my undivided attention. I grant you, it’s not a difficult part to play. I am with the most stunningly attractive man in the room.”
“You continue making reference to my prior experience in these matters,” I said, pointedly ignoring his last remark. “I would very much like to know to what experience you believe you refer. I have never frequented stage doors, even in my younger, I am tempted now to say wiser, days, and I have certainly not made a habit of ‘squiring’ as you so delicately put it members of the chorus of either gender and furthermore I’d very much like to know why you are still wearing your stage makeup.”
I paused long enough to breath heavily and was gratified to see Holmes looked decidedly nonplussed. My illusion of having penetrated his infuriating manner was soon exploded, however, when he replied haughtily, “It is not my stage makeup, it is my street makeup. There is a vast difference, I assure you.”
I believe I frankly goggled at this statement for I distinctly saw him suppress a grin before he looked upward to better show off the kohl shading lining his eyes.
“I think it’s quite beguiling, don’t you?” he asked casually. “Ah, here’s our champagne.”
While the ice bucket, champagne and glasses were set about with due ceremony, I had a moment to brood over his assertion and had to admit that the effect was striking. The dark shading dramatically enhanced the cool gray of his eyes. I would, however, rather have bitten through my tongue than admit the fact at that moment.
Instead, once the small cadre of waiters who had attended the champagne presentation departed I remarked. “Your hair is rather long, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” he agreed pleasantly. “I’m fortunate it grows so quickly. I take it you don’t approve.”
“Not particularly, no,” I said as he slid closer to me on the banquette and leaned in so our shoulders touched while he made a show of straightening my tie. “Holmes, I assume we’re here as part of your surveillance. Do you have an idea how much longer– ”
I was unable to finish my question because as I posed it Holmes casually draped his hand across my thigh. My start of surprise nearly overturned the champagne bucket.
“Not precisely, no,” Holmes said regretfully, apparently answering my half-voiced question. “But I must compliment your performance as trusting naïf in the hands of a dangerous and debauched hedonist.”
“That is because,” I said flatly as I removed his hand from the reaches to where it had strayed. “I am not acting.”
He leaned close to my ear. “Yes,” he breathed, “I feel quite as if I’m ravishing you. It’s remarkably invigorating.” He made the mistake of meeting my eye then and glanced away just a fraction too quickly.
“Holmes,” I said with deadly calm. “Is the man you’re after here tonight?”
He leant away and reached for the ice bucket. “Would you care for more champagne, old boy? You seem to have spilled most of yours.”
I took a long, steadying breath. “He’s not here,” I said flatly. “Is he.”
Holmes refilled my glass before he answered, “Ah, no. He isn’t.”
“You’ve already caught him, haven’t you.” I exhaled slowly. “How long ago.”
“Two days,” Holmes said. “What can be keeping those oysters?”
“When were you planning to tell me?” I asked evenly.
“Definitely after the oysters, if not the second bottle of champagne. I did telegraph immediately,” he said attempting a conciliatory smile that was strikingly unconvincing. “It was a very exciting chase. Would you like to hear about it?”
“Come.” I said sliding out of the banquette even as the waiter approached bearing a huge salver of oysters. “Now.” I held out my hand and Holmes rose giving me a rather apprehensive look.
“To the hotel, I presume,” he said mildly while I withdrew a quantity of bills from my pocket book and thrust them at the astonished waiter.
“Yes,” I said, taking Holmes by the elbow and steering him rapidly toward the outer passage. All along our way heads turned in undisguised fascination. “I believe I am owed a bit of ravishing,” I went on. “I have not yet decided who will be the ravishee.”
“May I make a suggestion on that count?” Holmes said mildly as I pulled him past the gaping maitre d’ and propelled him through the door.
“No,” I said grimly. I turned back long enough to retrieve our accoutrements from the grinning coat check boy and stepped out onto the curb to find Holmes standing quietly, gazing out across the empty road.
We stood in silence waiting for the next cab to appear. After a moment I looked over to find Holmes watching me from the corner of his eye.
I pursed my lips then said quietly, “The kohl is very nice.”
“Thank you,” he said.
I cleared my throat. “You returned the tie pin, but you kept the cigarette case.”
Holmes shrugged. “I like a souvenir.”
“You didn’t have to– ” I began. Thankfully, he interrupted for I wasn’t quite sure how to finish the question.
After a breath I said, “You’d tell me.”
We stood there for another long moment in which a cab failed to appear.
“Would you be amenable,” Holmes said carefully, “To a mutual ravishment?”
“Not initially,” I answered. “I haven’t seen you for three weeks,” then went on against my better judgment, “And I have not had any squires to entertain me in the interim.”
Holmes puffed out a breath then said calmly, “Whereas, I have not seen you for three weeks and have had to endure being entertained by several squires and have been forced to partake of champagne and oysters with people who were not you, therefore I submit that I have an equal claim to ravishing.”
“I offered to take you back to the hotel an hour ago,” I pointed out.
He pursed his lips then said flatly, “You are correct. I forfeit my claim.”
“Thank you,” I said graciously. In the spirit of harmony I asked, “It was an exciting chase then?”
“Quite exciting,” Holmes agreed. “There were boats involved.”
“Really?” I said turning to him.
He paused. “A boat. A house boat.”
I sighed and returned to my fruitless study of the empty street. “Do you suppose the cab will take much longer?”
“It is rather early in the morning in a somewhat disreputable neighborhood,” Holmes answered. “A prudent cabman may think twice before venturing this way.”
“It is, unfortunately, a long walk to Hotel Saint-Georges,” I remarked.
“The Saint-Georges?” Holmes said with interest.
“Fond memories,” I said.
“Yes,” Holmes agreed thoughtfully. We stood in silence.
“I don’t suppose your friend inside would…” I began.
“No,” Holmes returned. “I believe he’d consider it outside his realm of expertise to interact with cabmen. This is most trying.”
“Yes,” I agreed.
“I must get some rest,” he went on. “I have a matinee performance tomorrow.”
“Very likely,” I said dryly. “But not at the theatre.”
Holmes was silent. “I am going to have to make a point of infuriating you more often,” he said at last.
“I would reserve my decision for a few hours,” I suggested.
“You refer to the ravishment,” Holmes said.
“I see,” he said thoughtfully. “We should have stayed for the oysters.”
“Three weeks,” I reminded him.
“Hum. Perhaps if I tried the next corner- ” he began.
“Oh, hang it,” I interrupted and, turning, pushed him roughly back against the wall and, with all the passion of three weeks and a day’s anticipation, kissed him comprehensively and with such vigor that we both failed to notice the advent of a cab until there was a cough, or possibly a second cough, from the cabman.
I stepped back and took a long, satisfying moment to appreciate Holmes’s flushed cheeks, parted lips and the slight smudging of the kohl below his eyes. Then I reached out a hand and guided him into the waiting cab. I paused long enough to retrieve our hats from where they’d tumbled to the pavement before I climbed in beside him and gave the hotel address to the expectant cabman. He was grinning broadly, I noted with only vague interest. The majority of my attention was reserved solely for my companion who reclined against the seat, breathing rather heavily.
“This ravishment,” he said at last, staring somewhat dazedly ahead. “More of the same?”
“Yes,” I agreed.
“Government service has its rewards,” he said thoughtfully.
“Your brother would be pleased to hear you think so,” I remarked.
“Yes. I suggest we not let on.”
I nodded. “Agreed.”
And so the three week’s absence came to a close, marked by thorough ravishment on both sides and a veritable surfeit of oysters and champagne provided by the always charming staff of the Saint-Georges.
Holmes retired from the stage after his brief but successful turn as a member of the chorus although, at my request, he kept the kohl pencil on hand for special occasions. Showing unaccustomed judiciousness, he never again offered to show me his Tiffany cigarette case.
For my part, immediately on our emerging into the sunlight again, which was not on Sunday, I took him to Boucheron where he selected a sapphire tie pin that set off his eyes remarkably and drew many an admiring gaze as I squired him about town at great length and to wonderful effect. The viscount was never heard from again.