Okey doke, now we get into something a little less grim. It starts out sad, but if you can push through that there’s Mrs. Hudson waiting at the end and she’s always a breath of fresh air.

Oh, and it will be a few days, I expect, before I post Chapter Three – it’s a key chapter with a special appearance by you-know-who and *gasp* plot! (You were beginning to wonder, weren’t you.) So I think I’m going to run it through the editing shredder a few more times. That’s it. See you on the other side.

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Chapter Two: Stamford’s Advice

“We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over. So in a series of kindnesses there is, at last, one which makes the heart run over.”

– James Boswell
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Mourning is a strange state. By the custom of our society, public mourning has a beginning and an end. Black crepe is worn and rules of behavior are followed. Friends come to call and are quiet and respectful. Those around you speak in lowered voices when they speak of the loved one who is gone. These things say in unspoken language “you may grieve now, you may sorrow for this length of time, you may do it quietly and with good grace, and then you will cease to grieve and return to your life and make of it what you may.”

The heart doesn’t understand rules of public mourning. It aches and sobs. One moment it is a wild, screaming thing clawing at the back of your throat for escape, to burst out on this quiet world and shake the walls with impotent fury. The next it lies still and leaden, pulling at your limbs, dragging you down with its weight as though it could pull you through foundation and earth to the still center of the world where light and love will never touch your face again.

The heart doesn’t recognize black bordered calling cards and tailored crepe. It only sees the empty place where a loved one used to stand and look into your eyes and hold your name upon their lips and breath. The heart does not know time. It only knows that forever onward life will never feel quite the same.

I did not require public mourning for Holmes. And yet, there was something like it in my home. Mary would touch my hand when the breath caught in my throat and lay her palm against my forehead and stand beside me until the throbbing ache passed. Friends came to call and would speak quietly and talk of other things.

When Mary passed many of the same faces appeared at the door of my home in Kensington and sipped their tea and filled the times when I could not speak with conversation about the normal things of life outside.

The world rolled on and the times when I couldn’t breathe or speak or think became fewer. And familiar faces still came to call and after a while we could laugh and talk in normal voices and even say their names.

So it was that evening in February of 1893, my friend Stamford and I sat in comfortable chairs on either side of my fire, smoking cigars and sipping brandy and talking of many things.

I couldn’t really call him “young Stamford” now that he was a physician and settled with a practice in his own right. But he was still the same young Stamford who took me to the laboratory at Bart’s one afternoon to meet a man named Sherlock Holmes. Little did he know how that moment would remake me.

Now Stamford’s laughing brown eyes regarded me over the rim of his glass as he flashed his familiar lopsided grin. He swirled the brandy and said, “So what are you writing these days, old man? I keep hoping you’ll be inspired by one of those seafaring novels you like so much and write one of your own.” He took a puff on his cigar and exhaled saying, “You’d be a dab hand at that kind of thing if I’m any judge. Let’s hear it, give me a taste of what’s in the works.”

“Not a thing at present,” I said, smiling. “I’m afraid there’s not much adventure to be had in the quiet life of a residential physician. As you should know, my boy.” I quirked an eyebrow at him. “Although as a dashing young bachelor your experience may be different.”

Stamford snorted. “I wouldn’t read about my life if you paid me good money to do it.” He grinned and went on, “But you’ve lived John, what’s the count – three continents? Write about those if you’ve got nothing to write about here.” He took another sip of brandy then said. “Personally I’d like to hear more about those scads of women you claim to have known over ‘many nations’ to use your phrase.”

I laughed and said, “That was a long time ago, my boy. No one’s much interested in the reminisces of an old army surgeon.”

Stamford took a long drag of his cigar and exhaled slowly. “You’re selling yourself short, John,” he said. “You always have. You’ve got an adventurous streak a mile wide. You’ve just forgotten where you left it.”

He leant forward in his chair and studied me with a quite uncustomary seriousness. “I’m going to give you some advice for free and it’s probably worth what it cost,” he said. “Shake the dust of the town off your feet. Do something for the John H. Watson we know and love. You’ve no one to please but yourself.” He grinned. “And then write it down, for heaven’s sake. I’m starved for entertainment.”

He sat back while I whittered on obligations and responsibilities. When I’d done he went on as if I hadn’t spoken.

“Personally,” he said, regarding the glowing tip of his cigar. “I like tales of dark intrigue and romance. Mistaken identity is always good, too. Throw in a ravishing damsel and you’ve got yourself a corker.” He paused and pointed his cigar in my direction. “You’ve got a sea novel in there and you know it,” he said sententiously. “Now get out there and don’t come back until it’s done.” He grinned. “Doctor’s orders, old boy. You’ve got to take those seriously.”

The conversation moved on then, but Stamford’s words kept coming back to me as winter turned to spring. I hadn’t been away from England, or far from town for that matter, for five months short of three years. And he was quite correct, I realized, when he said there was nothing holding me in London.

As a young man, travel had come second nature to me. I’d ranged over continents with no fixed destination in mind. I was not the same untested youth of those days, but I was nearly as free. I could shut up my practice for a time, maybe as long as six months if I managed my funds carefully.

Mary, rest her sweet soul, had sold off the small collection of pearls that was the only legacy of her father and the last remnants of a great treasure. I had thought the money long gone – expended for specialist care and other necessities. It was a surprise, therefore, when I’d heard our solicitor list the terms of her will. She had held a little of the money aside and marked it out for me. I was overcome by the gesture, though I couldn’t make sense of its meaning at the time.

For many months after her death I didn’t spare it a thought. I had no needs that couldn’t be met by the small sum my medical work brought in. But over time I found I was not putting the energy into growing my practice that I once did. If I kept on as I was I knew I’d eventually be forced to draw on that fund.

In truth it crossed my mind to take the balance to the track and try my luck. I discarded the plan almost immediately. Luck had never been a steady companion of mine and besides the idea planted by Stamford had begun to grow into a plan. Why not, I thought, use part of the money to travel? It would be gone one day either way. I might make some pleasant memories from it instead of just another account book.

Colleagues would be glad to take over my patients while I was gone. Mrs. Hudson, our landlady from Baker Street days, doubtless knew of someone in need of lodgings who would keep my house looking lived in.

If I had thought to calculate such things I would have known it was two months short of the third anniversary of Holmes’s death when I sat down with the banker to arrange a withdrawal of funds. But I had long since stopped measuring each day from the cliffs of Reichenbach. The significance of the date barely crossed my mind as I signed the papers.

After that it was a certainty. I told Stamford as much over lunch a few days later. He jumped to his feet there in the Adelphi dining room and clasped me by the hand.

“John, John,” he said feverishly as the other diners looked around in curiosity. “You have no idea how much good it does me to hear it. If you knew the time I’ve spent rotting myself up over– but you’re going and I’m standing here making an ass of myself, aren’t I.”

With a laugh he relinquished my hand and spared the room a rueful smile as he sat back down. The waiter who’d been waiting with discreet impassivity came forward to clear the remains of our lunch. Stamford spoke over the rattle of china.

“You’re leaving soon?” he said eagerly.

I allowed that I was thinking of leaving in a month if my plans worked out. The coffee arrived and as it was poured I told him of the arrangements I’d already made.

“Where are you going first?” he asked. “Someplace exciting, I hope.”

“First?” I said, laughing. “It’s not a Grand Tour, old boy, just a protracted holiday.” I blew carefully over the surface of my steaming cup. I took a small sip and found it was still too hot. I turned the cup in my hands as I spoke. “I thought I might go someplace with a bit of sun. Spain, perhaps, then maybe Greece.”

“Spain? Greece?” Stamford said setting down his cup. “Those spots are fine for sitting around on verandas and the like. But you can do that in Blackpool for half the price and a fraction of the trouble.”

I grinned as he went on.

“Tell me you’re going someplace with a little adventure, John,” he said earnestly. “If you want sun they’ve got piles of it down in, oh, I don’t know, Africa. Yes,” he said, his eyes brightening. ”You’ve never been to Africa have you?”

I agreed that I hadn’t and he went on with growing enthusiasm. “Well, then,” he said grinning broadly. “Add another continent to your collection. I’ve always thought Morocco had a nice ring to it. Or Mauritius. It’s fairly French but it’s got a good reputation anyway.”

“I know a couple in Mauritius, actually,” I said thoughtfully. “Violet Smith, or I should say Morton now, and her young man Cyril. I’ve wondered how they’ve been getting along since Holmes–“

“No, now I think of it, maybe Mauritius is too French after all,” Stamford interrupted setting down his cup. He stared up at the sparkling chandelier over the center table. “Marrakech. Yes, it’s got a fair number of French in it, but they don’t make much of a nuisance of themselves from what I understand. I recommend Marrakech and then maybe a spot of Algiers. And Egypt’s close by that part of the globe, isn’t it? Go be this year’s David Livingstone. Don’t stint yourself, old man.”

“Well,” I said, smiling over my cup of coffee, “Since it was your idea to start with, I suppose I’m bound to take your advice. I’ll ask my travel broker to look into Morocco at least, although I don’t know a thing about the place.”

“Excellent,” Stamford said and slapped the tabletop enthusiastically, again causing heads to turn in our direction. He lowered his voice and whispered earnestly. “You won’t regret it. You’ll have loads to do. Camels all over the place down there and very good coffee I hear.”

And we talked on, piecing together what little we knew about Marrakech between us, I mentioned that I’d read a book once called Timbouctou, Voyage au Maroc – translated from the original French, of course, for I was hopeless with the language.

“I’ll wait your book,” Stamford said, pushing his cup away. “It’ll be far more exciting.”

“I hate to disappoint you,” I said, smiling, “But I don’t think I’ll write that sea novel of yours while I’m away.”

“Well, write something, dash it,” Stamford said taking up his teaspoon and brandishing it at me. “That’s part of the cure.”

“Now, look Stamford,” I said seriously. “I’m following your advice as far as I can, but the fact is I have nothing to write and a change of scenery is not going to make much difference.”

“John, let’s get this out on the table right now,” he said as he leant forward. “You’ve got a complex. You’re buying into all that ‘latter-day Boswell’ hokum and it’s not true besides which it’s not healthy. Surely you can see that by now.”

“Really, my boy,” I said as I began to arrange the silverware in a regular order, “I’m being honest when I say, my writing days are behind me. And I’d hardly compare myself to Boswell.”

“No,” Stamford said calmly. “Because he wrote a lot more than a biography of some chap he met in a West End book shop. Have you read his stuff? Not the Life of Johnson, every school boy reads that.”

“Well, of course,” I protested. “I do read more than sea stories, you know. I enjoyed Dorando quite a bit.”

“You haven’t read his Journals, though,” Stamford said. “If you had you’d know what I mean. I read them as a lad and I’d never gone in for reading much beyond Boys Own and the occasional penny dreadful. I’ve got the old man to thank for it.” He tapped on the table to emphasize his point. “He had a set of Boswell’s Journals in his library and he flat out forbad me to read them. Naturally, I went to them like a shot. The old man was quite right. It was dashed ripping stuff and I daresay ruined me for life but there you are.”

He grinned and went on, “Boswell wasn’t the simple-minded courtier of popular legend. He was quite the devil with the ladies. Lost a fortune at the table and died of a French disease. I wouldn’t follow him that far,” he said quickly as I raised my eyebrows. “But the man lived, you’ve got to give him that. Here’s some more advice as long as you’re putty in my hands. Get a journal. A new one. Write in that and see if the knack doesn’t come back to you. That’s it,” he said, leaning back and throwing his napkin down on the table. “I’m done. I’ve used up my store of advice for the year and here it is only April.”

I smiled in spite of myself for I knew he meant well. Then with a few words of thanks on my side and exhortation on his side to consider all of his advice (putting special emphasis on the “all”) Stamford and I parted warmly.

There was no question of actually writing, of course. It was a pleasant idea, but in leaving London I’d be stepping outside the life of John Watson the former biographer.

That man lived in London. He didn’t box up his files and hand them on to colleagues, shop for luggage or study Continental railway timetables. He certainly didn’t buy a traveling suit of light linen and a pair of stout walking shoes. John Watson the biographer had no need of those things.

I did think about Stamford’s advice on buying a journal, despite my conviction that it was a waste of valuable luggage space, but as with all of his advice, it nagged at me until I decided there was no harm in purchasing one as long as it was light to carry. I could always give it away in my travels if I found someone who could use it. So I tucked the decision in the back of my mind and went on with my preparations, which were absorbing enough.

Besides the travel arrangements, which were extensive (I discovered it was still rather challenging to get to North Africa even in our technologically advanced times), I had a steady stream of well wishers stopping at my door over the next few weeks. So many, in fact, I began to suspect Stamford of taking out an advertisement. My maid, Bess, I was sure, was growing weary of answering the bell.

As the days to departure dwindled down to a few, a most welcome figure appeared in my doorway. Mrs. Hudson bustled into my sitting room in her usual efficient manner looking, as ever, like a porcelain effigy of the perfect landlady. From her perfectly coiffed steel gray chignon, to her raven’s wing shantung gown with suitably old-fashioned collar, to her sensible, polished boots, she was a fixture in time. I’d no doubt she’d look just the same in a hundred years, long after I was gone.

I welcomed her heartily and we were soon sitting on either side of the hearth, laid with fragrant laurel branches for the warm summer months, and chatting merrily. I thanked the good woman for sending her nephew Thom to me and complimented his choice of a bride for Eleanor seemed a most suitable mate for such a bright young man. I hoped they’d be happy biding in my small town house while I was gone.

“Oh, bless you, sir,” she said in her slightly Northern-inflected accent (from a few miles east of Burnley Holmes had once assured me and I had no reason to doubt it). “They’re that grateful to have such a fine place to stay while they get their feet, as you might say, in the town. Our Thom’s all at sixes and sevens what with looking for a position and Eleanor’s been round every few days asking after advice. I tell her, pet, all a man ever wants is a welcome face by the door and an ear to listen to his– but hark at me going on like the original Oracle,“ she said, and gave a little laugh. “I must be getting into my second childhood.”

I tutted. “Nonsense, Mrs. Hudson,” I said warmly, “And Eleanor couldn’t have wished for a better font of wisdom. Mary went round to take lessons at your knee a more than once as I recall.”

“That she did, sir,” the worthy lady said, studying the sheaf of laurel branches. “That she did though I had little enough of use to say to the girl when all was said and done. But,” she said, and went on in her usual brisk manner, “I’ve stopped in this morning to pass along more than the prattlings of a foolish old lady, I’ve got messages for you.”

I waited curiously as she sat up in her chair and rested her tea cup on her knee. “Old Mr. Timms in the next house but one sends his best and says, ‘Don’t eat ‘nothing over there,’ bless him I think his gout is playing up on him. Mrs. S. Brown says she’s just put up a new store of your favorite pear marmalade and hopes you’ll stop in to try it when you get home. Mrs. C. Brown says she hopes you’ll come round with lots of exciting stories, poor dear she did used to love traveling with her Mr. Brown. And young Mr. Albert Dennis says he’s been reading up on Morocco and he thinks you’ll need money for bribes, but he’s always a bit prone to worry, isn’t he.” She put a finger to her lips and said, “Now, I’m forgetting someone for certain, oh, that’s it, the Abbingdon’s are moving to Bournemouth for the sea air and they say you’re always welcome if you find yourself down that way. And, of course, you’ve got the various folks in the shops who send their warm regards so I’ll include those as a lump.”

I laughed as this litany drew to a close. “Goodness,” I said still smiling broadly. “It seems as though you’ve stopped at every door in the street to collect good wishes on my behalf.”

“Lor’ bless you, sir,” she said with an effort at looking severe that was most unconvincing. “I did nothing of the sort. Word of your holiday got round and every living one of those folk made special effort to send their best. Doctor,” she went on giving me a steady look, “You can’t help collecting friends. You’re that openhearted they take to you like bees to clover. Just you remember that.” She smiled again, the warm smile that always reminded me of my dear mother, and said, “And just you be sure to stop in at Baker Street when you get home. I’ll have a candle burning in the window for you.”

I agreed that I would plan on it and although I stopped short of promising, I hoped that by then I would be brave enough to do it.


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~ Coming Soon ~
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Chapter Three: Meaning and Saying
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