January 19, 2008

In Canidae Veritas

“The Clue of the Trevor Terrier”
by nlr alicia

<< This story is 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: This is an extra scene set after the close of events described by Doctor Watson in his chronicle The Gloria Scott.


Content Warnings: Slashy thought bubbles. Terrier angst. Victor Trevor.


“Those are the facts of the case, Doctor, and if they are of any use to your collection, I am sure that they are very heartily at your service,” my friend said with a satisfied air.

I considered the story he had just told me. The startling dog bite, the open-hearted Victor Trevor, the proud father and his dark past, the riveting tale of high-seas treachery, and the abrupt ending. It all flowed together, yet something in it struck a curious note. Something just at the edge of my mind.

Holmes bent forward and reached out for the fire iron. As he did, the cuff of his quilted purple dressing gown slipped back exposing the pale skin of his wrist. It took on the warm glow of fine Jaipur marble in the firelight.

I had long since decided Holmes’s wrists were among his most striking features. Slender to the point of gauntness, an artist could easily render a complete anatomical study of the carpals by simply observing Holmes’s wrists in repose. Although, I amended to myself, repose was not an attitude in which one would normally find them.

He lifted the edge of the topmost log with the crook of the poker, shifting it up and back to better catch the blue-white heart of the flame.

“Do you know,” he said, withdrawing the poker and regarding it thoughtfully, “I don’t believe this iron has ever quite recovered from the gentle ministrations of the late and unlamented Doctor Grimesby Roylott.”

He sat back and held it lengthwise on his arm, sighting along it as if it were a rifle barrel. “No,” he said under his breath. “Decidedly out of plumb.”

He turned the implement and grasped it at either end, being careful I noticed, not to touch the crook where charred black ash still clung. His eyes narrowed and his nostrils flared as he puffed a breath out through his nose then, soundlessly, he twisted his wrists outward as if giving the iron bar a sharp snap like a razor strop. The only sign of effort was the jump of a clenched muscle in his jaw.

I watched as he again turned the poker to rest along his arm and gazed along its length.

“A marked improvement,” he said.

Through all this he seemed serenely unselfconscious and unaware that he was being observed. I, however, enjoyed a distinct advantage over the casual observer.

I knew from experience that Holmes behaved entirely unselfconsciously during only two activities. One was in the gathering of evidence. At those times he would hurl himself on the ground, scuffle among leaves, scent the air, and become some fantastical creature of pure instinct.

The only other activity during which my friend was perfectly unselfconscious was in the throes of passion. Then, too, he was a fantastic, animal thing – fingers clawing the sheets, gasping out wild inarticulate cries, head thrown back, lips wet and red, black hair against white linen–

I blinked and shifted in my chair. I had allowed myself to be distracted from the story surrounding the mysterious tale of the Gloria Scott… Distracted.

That was it, I realized on a sudden. Holmes was trying to distract me.

He leant forward and slotted the poker into the open tool stand with barely a clatter. As he no doubt intended me to, I watched the muscles of his shoulders flex under the purple satin fabric.

As he sat back again he looked over to find me regarding him from my chair on the other side of the hearth. He cocked an eyebrow questioningly. “Doctor,” he remarked, “You have a most curious expression on your face. Do tell me what is on your mind.”

I lifted the small tarnished metal cylinder in my lap and turned it thoughtfully between my fingers.

“I was just thinking,” I said abstractedly, “That was a most remarkable performance.”

A flush colored his high cheek bones. “Oh, well,” he began, “It is a simply a matter of lever–“

“No, not just that,” I interrupted, “Although I like nothing better than to watch you bend metal rods with your bare hands. No,” I went on as his eyes narrowed. “I was thinking of the whole of this evening’s performance, right up until this last effort to deflect my curiosity. There’s something you don’t want me to notice in the tale you told of the tragic crew of the Gloria Scott and I can almost put my finger on it.”

“I’m afraid, dear boy,” Holmes said, straightened his shoulders and shaking out the sleeves of his dressing gown. The cuffs slipped down, covering his wrists. “Your naturally suspicious bent has-“

“Ah!” I exclaimed. “That’s it. I’ve found the dangling thread.” I pointed the metal cylinder at him. “Show me your ankle,” I demanded.

Holmes stared. “I beg your pardon,” he said flatly.

“Your ankle,” I said. “The scar where Trevor’s dog froze on your ankle to use your phrase. If it was as bad as all that there must be a scar. I don’t remember seeing it and I should like to. Just out of curiosity, of course,” I added, smiling broadly now.

“Really, Doctor,” he said. “I believe the port has gone to your head. Perhaps if you moved your chair away from the fire a bit.”

He bent toward the arm of my chair as though to push it back and allowed the front of his robe to fall open. I remembered the first time I saw his bare chest by firelight. I had gasped aloud at the beauty of his finely sculpted muscles, at the power in his lean body–

“No, I’m afraid not,” I said, and gave his shoulder a firm push. “You won’t get around me that easily.”

He subsided back into his chair as I spoke on, warming to my subject.

“I question the veracity of your story of the dog bite,” I intoned, tapping the metal cylinder against my knee to punctuate the point. “And, in fact, harbor skepticism as to the existence of the bull-terrier in toto.”

“Have you any reason to doubt my story?” Holmes asked, regarding me with Buddha-like impassivity.

“Two very good reasons,” I answered, ticking them off with taps of the cylinder. “First, I should like to point out ‘Doctor’ is not my given name, but a title and it brings with it a certain amount of medical expertise including but not limited to the fact that I am aware a dog bite of the magnitude you describe is not a minor injury.”

“Second,” I said, hurrying on before he could respond. “I’ve had ample opportunity to observe your ankles at close range, both separately and as a set, and I have oft noted their near perfect symmetry of line and form. They’re quite striking and quite unmarred by dog bite.”

“Your theory of an imaginary dog is interesting,” he answered coolly when I paused for breath. “Do enlighten me on one point. Why on earth would I see fit to invent a bull-terrier?”

“That is puzzling, I grant you,” I said, tapping the cylinder against my chin pensively. “Why the bull-terrier? For what purpose? It frames– no, launches the story, but the dog never appears again in the narrative. His usefulness is expended once he releases your ankle. The whole preamble to your tale is colorful, certainly, but if a client were to tell you a tale in that round-about way you’d grind your teeth. It’s additional information, but not directly germane to the case. You might have simply said, ‘My friend Victor Trevor invited me out to the country for a month of the long vacation. There I met his father,’ and carry on with the mystery.”

“I had thought,” Holmes put in coolly. “You might find a small insight into my college career of personal interest. However, if it is simply extraneous information I’ll be sure to omit such embellishments in future.”

“You misunderstand,” I said equably. “On the contrary, I don’t think it extraneous at all. I think you can’t tell this story without framing it in the context of your friendship with Trevor. So if we assume that the bull-terrier is a mere will-o-the-wisp…” I shrugged. “I’m afraid the story of how you met Trevor is exposed as a tissue of lies without the phantom bull-terrier to pin it on.”

“That is not only an aspersion on my character,” Holmes said, planting his hands on his knees as if to rise, “But a series of hideously mixed metaphors. I’m going to bed.”

“All right,” I said genially, “I’m quite content to sit here and speculate in your absence.”

He sat back in the chair regarding me with a sort of curious apprehension. “What if I assure you,” he said, “That there was a dog.”

“Then I’d ask you, what was his name?” I said simply.

“Digger,” he answered promptly and with nary a flicker of his eyes.

“Digger,” I said. “Very creative. So here we have our vicious bull-terrier, Digger. Or was he vicious? Perhaps he did not freeze on your ankle at all. Why else would Trevor come to call (if we also accept that part of the narrative is true). Ah, ha!” I exclaimed, “I’ve hit on the key. The story is not about the poor, maligned Digger or the wicked Hudson or even the ill-fated Gloria Scott. The story is about Trevor!”

Holmes’s face became as impassive as a cigar store Indian. I took this as encouragement that I was on the right trail.

“The pitiably maligned Digger nipped at your ankle one morning as you were crossing the quadrangle,” I said. “Let’s assume you did not deliberately provoke it and it actually thought you a tall, lanky rabbit. What then? Trevor is there. The two of you are huddled shoulder to shoulder on the fragrant spring grass. You want to strike up a conversation with him. He helps you to your feet–” I nodded to myself. “Yes, he helps you to your feet and you are favoring your ankle. I’ve seen your performance as ‘man with twisted ankle’ and I found it entirely convincing. Trevor is completely taken in and so, aghast at the behavior of his normally good-humored pet, helps you back to your rooms.”

I allowed my gaze to drift and rest on the molded plaster florets decorating our ceiling. “He comes to call,” I went on. “He comes again. By fits and starts you find some points of commonality between you. You demonstrate your powers of deduction. He is floored. A fast friendship is formed. Why? You were comfortable with your solitary experiments and study. Why cultivate Trevor’s friendship? Because…” I slapped my knee. “Because, you were infatuated with Trevor! Hearty, full-blooded, spirited and energetic Trevor!”

I dropped my gaze to his face, grinning with delight at my new-found powers of reasoning.

Holmes was frozen in the same attitude of wooden attention. Only the flare of his nostrils and the jump of a clenched muscle in his jaw gave him away.

My grin faded to a smile. I gazed at him for a long moment before I went on.

“Trevor,” I said quietly, “Delighted with his talented and charmingly unsophisticated new friend, invited you to spend a month of the long vac with him in the country. It was everything you could have hoped. Immersion in Trevor’s vivacious personality and an effortless camaraderie unknown to you before. It would have been perfect had not Trevor exhorted you to demonstrate the powers he found so amusing on his father, who promptly fainted into the walnut shells.”

I kept my eyes fixed on Holmes but he had turned to studying the cuff of his dressing gown.

“Now Trevor was torn,” I went on. “He liked you very much, but he worshipped his father. It was untenable. You had to leave. You came back to London where you buried your hurt and embarrassment in abstruse chemical experiments. Trevor called you to his side again, but in a professional capacity this time. Soon after, he left England. He still writes occasionally because he is a big-hearted chap and not entirely foolish and, just possibly, he worked all this out for himself.” I let my smile broaden, “One would hope so for the sake of the dog.”

Holmes was silent, picking at a thread on his cuff.

“I’m sorry about Trevor,” I said.

“Have you ever been infatuated, Doctor?” Holmes said, and looked up.

“I am very much so,” I said, “And have been ever since I looked into your eyes one afternoon in the laboratory at Bart’s.”

“That is a charming thing to say,” he answered evenly.

“Nonetheless, it is quite true,” I answered. “This stunning display of deductive reasoning was brought on solely by the fact that I am utterly fascinated by your smallest thought and movement. You amaze and delight me. And I will never leave you for a bull-terrier.”

The corners of his mouth quirked at that and I gave a light laugh.

He cocked his head curiously and said, “You’re not put out of humor by the idea that I might have found someone intriguing before I met you?”

“Not at all,” I said honestly. “I recognize that you now reserve your full-blooded, spirited and energetic attention entirely for me. That is all I could desire and infinitely more.”

“You’re quite eloquent tonight, old boy,” he said, his smile widening and touching his gray eyes.

I chuckled. “So what do you think of my deductive abilities?” I asked.

He gazed into the distance for a moment.

“I think,” he said at last, “That they are based on an entirely subjective understanding of my nature and are not deductions so much as a series of intuitive leaps which depend entirely on the behavior of a possibly mythical bull-terrier. It is conceivable,” he went on, “That due to distraction and low light you may have simply never noticed the white tracery of scars around my Achilles tendon. As I have remarked before, you see but you do not observe.”

I nodded thoughtfully.

“You make a fair point,” I said. “It is always a mistake to reason without evidence. And I can’t deny, it is possible that under the circumstances you describe I failed to gather all the facts.” I cocked an eyebrow. “Perhaps I need more empirical data,” I said.

“We could conduct a small experiment,” Holmes remarked.

“Once again,” I said, smiling. “You arouse my curiosity.”

“Then come along,” he answered, rising from his chair. “The laboratory awaits and I would like to learn how far I may indulge your curiosity before I hamper your reason. In fact, I would like to do both repeatedly and at great length.”

“In the spirit of the evening,” I said, rising and dropping the small metal cylinder into the pocket of my dressing gown. “I will respond to you in code.”

I gazed into the fire for a moment composing my message then I turned to him.

Take it from me,” I said haltingly. “The work to dig… flower bed will exhaust and make you render a sigh. Me thinks it senseless to approach with very much ecstasy.”

Holmes pursed his lips then said sadly, “My dear boy, I’m afraid you haven’t much aptitude for this. “Methinks’ is one word. And ‘ecstasy’ rather gives the game away entirely.”

“I bow to your superior talent,” I said, taking his arm. “And we are wasting valuable time that could be better spent in investigation of the finer points of your ankles. You know,” I added as we crossed to the bedroom. “I did quite like the sea story. It was an absolutely ripping yarn.”

“I’m glad you approve,” Holmes said graciously. “You may feel free to embellish it further in your narrative. No one involved will object.”

“Not at all,” I said, opening the bedroom door and following him inside. “I plan to copy it out exactly as you told it. No one but I will ever see through the charade of the bull-terrier that did nothing in the quadrangle. And I will, of course, excise this conversation entirely.”

“I bow to your superior talent,” he said and leant forward to kiss me as I gently closed the door.