“This was a joy to read. Guy and Max were a triumph and the real stars of this show.” – Ailbhe
Summer 1890. Guy Clements, spoilt, rich and charming, has invited his friend Max Fareham to spend a month of hedonistic leisure at his London residence. Meanwhile below stairs, clever, streetwise Madeleine Peterson is hatching a scheme to lift herself out of domestic service and her brother Michael out of prostitution. A few streets away, amateur spy Louis la Rothiere is gloating over his latest cache which may, just may, turn out to be the scoop of a lifetime.
An apparently straightforward case of domestic pilfering is about to take an unexpected turn involving blackmail, mistaken identity, War Office documents and the love that dare not speak its name – and for once, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson find themselves repeatedly and hilariously wrong-footed.
Guy stopped playing with the melting ice cubes, and Max hastily offered the Doctor a cigarette. Was this wife at the seaside sophisticated and understanding, he wondered, or just ignorant and rather dense?
‘Thank you Mr Fareham,’ said Watson, accepting. ‘Also, I have work to clear which must be completed shortly, as I’m bound by contract.’
‘How tedious for you,’ murmured Guy.
‘Medical work by contract, sir?’ asked Max politely; ‘I didn’t know that was the custom – is it so many patients per month, or something?’
Dr Watson laughed heartily. ‘Dear me, no! What an interesting proposition – a sort of piece work, you mean? A bushel of measles equals a week’s rent? No, I’m afraid it’s nothing so lucrative. I write a little.’
‘Really?’ asked Max.
‘For the Lancet!’ said Guy, putting his forefingers to his temples and speaking in a mediumistic monotone. ‘I see a medical magazine. I see an article on – let’s see now – on bunions …’
‘Shut up, Guy!’ said Max, resting his chin on his hand and sighing. ‘Is he right?’ he asked their companion.
‘Not exactly. It’s a little less highbrow than that. For magazines, certainly – Lippincott’s, The Strand, even Beeton’s.’
‘How interesting! Do you make up the stories out of your own head?’
‘Not at all.’ Dr Watson looked rather rueful, as though he regretted mentioning the subject. ‘I may fudge the issues, but the cases are true enough.’
‘Dr Watson!’ exclaimed Max suddenly. ‘Oh, good Lord! Of course! The weather must have hard-boiled my brain. Good grief, sir, I can’t tell you how honoured I am to make your acquaintance!’ He leapt to his feet, and pumped the amused Doctor’s hand for a second time.
Guy looked from one to the other, agog. ‘What am I missing here?’
Max’s face was flushed, and his eyes shone with excitement. ‘Guy, this is the Dr Watson – the friend of – of Mr Holmes. You know.’ He nodded quickly at his friend, half embarrassed.
‘Oh, good Lord!’ echoed Guy, his voice rising up the scale. ‘You mean the one you’re madly – the one you admire so much? My dear sir,’ he said turning to the Doctor, ‘You’re hardly likely to escape with your life in tact now. There is but one thing in the world that Max Fareham lives for, and that is the chance to kiss the ground that Mr Sherlock Holmes walks on.’
Dr Watson laughed. ‘Oh dear!’ he said.
‘Shall we have another drink? Please, Doctor, you can’t possibly go now!’ Max ordered more drinks, eagerness overcoming his natural shyness. ‘Do you know,’ he said, ‘I’ve read everything you’ve ever written about Mr Holmes. Tell me, is he – is he like you say he is?’
‘How do you mean?’ asked Dr Watson, his blue eyes twinkling.
‘A – a genius. I supposed that’s what I mean.’
‘Well, yes. I can confirm that opinion. I’ve never written less than my true evaluation of my friend’s genius. He is extraordinary.’
Max nodded encouragingly.
‘But what’s he like when he’s not being a genius?’ asked Guy rather insolently. ‘Does he go out? Mother could invite you both to dinner, and then Maxy could swoon at his feet.’
‘Be quiet!’ hissed Max.
Dr Watson chuckled. ‘What a kind offer. But I’m afraid he rarely dines out, and never goes into company if he can help it.’
‘Ah, a recluse. How tedious he must find all this adulation,’ said Guy, shaking his head sympathetically. ‘But doesn’t he get bored, in between cases?’
‘H’mmm. Yes. I’m afraid he does.’
Dr Watson then deftly changed the subject. Max tried his best to steer it back to Sherlock Holmes, but the Doctor firmly resisted all attempts to probe.
‘I must be going,’ he said after a while, pulling out his watch.
‘Oh, we’ll walk along together,’ said Guy sweetly, smiling significantly at Max.
‘Well … ‘ Dr Watson eyed them for a moment and then smiled. ‘If you like,’ he said.
The worst of the heat was over for the day, and the town was exhaling a long sigh of warm air from every brick and paving stone. They walked back through the park, Max and Dr Watson chatting pleasantly while Guy listened. After a while he began to hang back, pouting just a little; it seemed to him that Max was a touch too smitten with his turfy gentleman. This man’s clever friend lent the doctor a halo of romance, and Max was fawning like a puppy; quite disgusting, really. He swished at a flower with his cane.
Max was walking on air. He was aware that he was saying the most foolish, boyish things, that his hair was damp and dishevelled, that his cheeks were flushed. He was conscious of Guy’s disapproval. But he did not care. Dr Waston was talking with him, as an equal – as an equal! – about Afghanistan and the Battle of Maiwand. He was enthralled. And they were all three walking back to Baker Street! Would he invite them in for tea, perhaps? He hoped, he hoped that he would …
Dr Watson was pleasantly relaxed. This outing had done him the world of good. He now felt able to tackle his next story – perhaps even make a start tonight, with a whisky and soda at his elbow. Maybe Holmes would have a case, or have cheered himself up a little. Perhaps he could even suggest dining out … These boys were like a tonic. The young had such enthusiasm, such good humour. Charming. They were quite charming.
They reached the door of number 221B, and Watson paused. ‘Well goodbye, my dear young sirs. It has been delightful to meet you.’
‘Oh, yes,’ said Max flatly. He had convinced himself that the Doctor would say, ‘Won’t you come in for tea and meet Mr Holmes?’ It must have shown on his face, for Dr Watson was saying gently, ‘I’m afraid I can’t invite you up. These aren’t my rooms any longer, you see, and Holmes might have a client. In any case -‘ he wrinkled his nose – ‘the place is in no fit state for visitors.’
Max fumbled inside his jacket. ‘Here’s my card, Dr Watson. Please do call on me if ever you’re in Sussex.’
‘And here’s mine!’ Guy handed over his own card with alacrity. ‘Max is with me for a month, so there’s no need to go to Sussex. Please visit – we’re almost neighbours.’
Dr Watson was about to return the compliment with his card, when the door of 221B opened behind him, and he turned.
‘Oh hello Holmes,’ he said casually. ‘I was just about to come up. Going out?’
Sherlock Holmes looked somewhat surprised to see so many people on his doorstep. As he descended to the street his keen gaze took in Watson’s two young acquaintances, and he bowed slightly.
‘Scotland Yard have summoned me, my dear – a new case, you see. At last.’
Watson noted that his eyes were bright, his expression focussed and alert. He was dressed in immaculate black; he had not dressed properly for nearly a week, nor set foot outside the house.
‘Excellent!’ he said heartily, and Holmes nodded, laying his long white hand on Watson’s shoulder.
‘I must get on, then. Don’t wait up.’ He stepped past the two young men with another vague nod, and whistled for a hansom which materialised immediately.
They all looked after the departing cab. Dr Watson’s astute medical eye took in Max’s sudden pallor, and he decided than an invitation to tea was after all something of a necessity.
‘Well, well,’ he said, ‘He’s obviously not got a client in now, so we can go up. I would be delighted to offer you the hospitality of my old lodgings for half an hour or so.’ He ushered them inside and led the way up the well-trodden stairs to Holmes’ door.
‘Come in, come in!’ he said, adding ‘Please forgive the mess.’
The room looked, if anything, slightly worse than when Watson had left it. For one thing, most of the litter from the mantelpiece had been swept onto the hearth. Guiltily, he retrieved the small Morocco case from his pocket and slipped it back in its accustomed corner. He rang the bell for Mrs Hudson, and motioned the young men to sit down.
‘Excuse me a moment,’ he said as he bent to scoop up some of the debris. He quickly seized the newspapers from the floor and heaped them under a cabinet – a space already partly filled by a jumble of books and papers.
Max and Guy watched, fascinated. They had cleared spaces for themselves on the couch, and Max was gingerly holding fragile piece of chemical apparatus.
‘Oh, here, let me relieve you of that.’ Dr Watson placed it hastily on a small, acid-stained table in the corner. ‘Chemistry,’ he said with a wry smile.
The Stradivarius was sitting disconsolately in the corner of Holmes’ armchair. Max looked at it. ‘Er, music!’ explained Dr Watson unnecessarily.
Guy’s eyes were riveted by a curly-toed, garish slipper balanced on the side of the coal-scuttle. ‘Tobacco,’ said Watson, following his gaze; he indicated the coal scuttle. ‘Cigars.’
Guy slid his eyes round to meet Max’s. He raised one eyebrow a fraction. Max looked up. There was an ornate monogram picked out on the wall in what looked suspiciously like bullet-holes. Dr Watson glanced up at it. He sighed. ‘Revolver practice.’
He did not bother to account for the jackknife, and ignored Guy’s obvious interest in the bottle on the mantelpiece, having no wish to suggest new vices to the young.
About Rohase Piercy
Rohase Piercy was born in London in 1958 and now lives in Brighton with her husband Leslie, dog Spike and a small flock of racing pigeons. She has two grown-up daughters.
Rohase enjoys exploring alternative perspectives in her writing, taking a well-known scenario, partnership or sequence of events and presenting it from an unfamiliar point of view. There’s always another story waiting to be told …
Rohase has written a series of 3 articles for her GoodReads blog about the ‘decadent’ angle of Sherlock Holmes, his relationship with Watson, and how the characters have been portrayed in the media. You can read these articles here.
About Charlie Raven
I enjoy writing but had a habit of chucking most of my work in the bin, mainly because it wasn’t as good as George Eliot’s or Jane Austen’s. I know. Bad, isn’t it? This is partly due to having studied too much Eng. Lit. Therefore my thanks go to Rohase Piercy, who preserved the soggy manuscript of ‘Domestic Pilfering’ through the course of many years and then devoted much time to brushing it up and making it into what it is today. I am now writing again and so there is likely to be more of this sort of thing. Charlie Raven is a pen name.
“…A heartwarming story with some great original characters and a plot that unfolds smoothly.” – Ailbhe