The Case of the Escaped Budgerigar
Jem's Bird

“I say, Holmes! There’s the most extraordinary bird under the plane-tree,” I said, doing up my cravat.


Holmes merely grunted and rolled over; I had not expected him to speak, as I was quickly becoming used to his periods of extreme indolence following our sexual encounters. I smiled to myself, remembering just how much energy he had expelled during those last moments as he thrust himself deep inside me, and how he had had to bite into my shoulder in order to keep from screaming. The marks his teeth had left, now covered decently by a clean linen shirt, would most likely remain for a while, and would prevent me from visiting the Turkish baths anytime soon, but I considered the bruises well worth it to see to what depths of frenzy I could drive my lover.


My lover. I blushed heavily at the thought. A scant six months ago, I would have never believed that I should be sharing my bed with Sherlock Holmes. I certainly would not have believed what a passionate, enthusiastic lover I would find in my companion; this afternoon, he had practically torn me away from my writing, dragging me to my bed and tearing my clothes off with wild abandon. I stared out the window at the birds, allowing myself to bask in the memory of his frantic kisses and the sensation of hard muscle under soft skin, slick with perspiration as we rolled together in heated passion.


A flurry of wings brought me back to the present; the bird had been joined by two rock-doves, and the three of them pecked listlessly around the roots of the tree, taking refuge from the oppressive August sun, resting just under the bird feeder I had built for Mrs. Hudson the previous winter.


“It’s going to be a bloody cat feeder if they don’t watch themselves,” I muttered under my breath as I fastened my cuff-links.


“What’s that, old fellow?” Holmes had sat up in the bed and lit a cigarette. I frowned at him in the glass; last week, he had burned a hole in the sheet, earning me a stern lecture from Mrs. Hudson. “A thousand apologies,” he murmured, and rose from the bed in a graceful catlike movement, the cigarette held theatrically away from him until he was well away from the sheets. I watched his gorgeous body parading before me, all thoughts of birds and cigarette-holes forgotten. Holmes, mindful of my admiration, stood a moment in the slanting golden sunlight, displaying his lean muscular form for me, a shameless grin playing upon his lips. “My dear man,” said he, “you are insatiable, aren’t you?”


I shook my head, retrieving my waistcoat from its perch upon my writing-desk where Holmes had interrupted my writing an hour earlier. “Just get dressed and come over here to the window,” I answered. “I want you to identify this bird – halloa, he’s got a few more friends now,” I added, as two more doves and a sparrow joined the gathering at the base of the plane tree. “He’s quite a popular little fellow, whatever he is.” Indeed, the small, white-winged, bluish-grey bird seemed to be holding court, bobbing his handsomely barred head as he approached each one of his companions in turn, squawking and whistling in the most charming manner.


Melopsittacus Undulatus,” Holmes said, peering over my shoulder. “Commonly called the budgerigar, native to Australia. Most likely this fellow is an escaped pet.”


“He couldn’t live in our climate, could he?”


“I shouldn’t think so. But most likely he’ll be eaten long before winter arrives. Pity, really; they are a remarkably intelligent species, one of the parrot family, you know.”


“Do you think we could capture him?”


“Perhaps. They are known for their gregariousness. This one certainly seems friendly enough.” The budgerigar was now surrounded by a small flock of sparrows and doves alike, all pecking at the seed that had been spilled by the squirrels earlier this morning. “If we are to attempt a rescue, we should do so quickly; although I cannot tell for sure from this height, his wings are most likely clipped, and he will be unable to avoid any cat – oh, dear!”


As soon as the words escaped his lips, a large orange tomcat appeared upon the fence separating our yard from that of the neighbouring house. As quick as a flash, Holmes threw open the window. “Hsssht!” he hissed, perfectly imitating the warning call of an angry cat. The orange tom looked up at us once, then, dismissing us as unimportant, turned his attention back to the base of the plane tree, where the budgerigar still stood, looking around for his companions who had flown away without so much as an adieu.


“Quick, Watson! A sheet of paper!”




“I want to frighten the cat away without harming him. Quick, man, if you love birds!”


Sure enough, the budgerigar’s wings, although handsome, were ill-equipped for flight, and the poor thing flopped around the base of the tree, now all too well aware of the reason for his friends’ departure. I dashed for my writing tablet, and ripped a few sheets off the top, handing some to Holmes as I balled up a few of my own.


“Hi! Get off, you!” Holmes shouted. “Hsssht!” He threw a ball of paper at the cat with uncanny accuracy, and the tom jumped and scampered away, its tail puffing out as it leapt over the fence.


“That won’t keep him away long,” Holmes muttered. “You stay here and get ready to throw a few more wads of paper at him if he comes back.”


“What are you going to do?” I asked, balling up another sheet of paper. Holmes had taken one of the pillows off the bed and yanked the cover from it.


“Think, my boy, think! I shall need some kind of sack,” he called over his shoulder, storming out the door with pillowcase in hand.


I kept watch over our diminutive friend, but no further cats threatened, and soon Holmes came out the back door, creeping up upon the bird slowly, calling to him in a soft voice. The budgerigar, of course, did not like Holmes’ proximity any more than he had enjoyed the cat’s approach, and fluttered nervously as my companion closed in upon him. However, the bird’s frenetic attempts to escape were no match for Holmes’ skill, and he managed to get the bird into the pillowcase with a little effort, carrying it carefully to the door.


I rushed down the stairs, meeting Holmes with his bundle at the sitting-room door. I had expected that the bird would be struggling, but the pillowcase was ominously still.


“Is he dead?” I whispered.


“No; becoming motionless is his reaction to fear,” Holmes answered quietly. “And a bird will also become still when covered. It would be best, in fact, if we put him somewhere dark and quiet. I believe Mrs. Hudson has a bird-cage stored in the lumber-room; just fetch it, will you?”


By the time I returned with the birdcage, the pillowcase was whistling and squawking to itself upon the dining-table.


“Well, so much for becoming still when covered,” Holmes chuckled. “It seems our guest is no longer so frightened as to remain silent. I’d say he’s well used to humans. Here, open the door,” he commanded, and gently lifted the pillowcase off the table, and, placing the opening inside the cage, managed to tip the bird somewhat unceremoniously onto the floor of the cage.


The bird blinked a little in the light, looking at both of us somewhat suspiciously as he fluffed up, his wings held slightly away from his belly.


Holmes clucked his tongue. “A bad sign, that. He’s still quite frightened. Well, little fellow, let’s cover you up and see how you fare,” he said, slowly drawing the pillowcase over the cage. “All right, then, let’s see if we can find something for our guest to eat once he recovers from the shock of his ordeal. He’ll need something to eat out of, and something to hold his water – I daresay a couple egg-cups might serve.”


“How do you know so much about budgerigars?” I asked.


“I had one as a child,” Holmes answered absently, rummaging about upon the sideboard. “I’ll have to slice this apple rather thinly,” he muttered, pulling out a pen-knife. “Watson, do you think you could go down to the kitchen to see what fresh vegetables Mrs. Hudson has to hand? Broccoli would be the best, or a leaf of spinach or watercress.”


I smiled to myself as I left the sitting-room a second time; I had long ago realized that I had been born to run hither and yon for Sherlock Holmes. At least now, I reflected, I had a perfect method of revenge. I thought of all the wonderfully naughty and depraved acts I would make Holmes perform tonight to make up for all this running up and down stairs, and as a result, had to adjust my trousers to avoid embarrassment before begging a few florets of broccoli from Mrs. Hudson.


Our good landlady, of course, wished to see her newest tenant straight away, but Holmes convinced both of us that the best thing for the little fellow was a quiet rest away from any human interference, and so he carried the cage into his room and shut the door on it, then sat back upon the settee with his scrap-books, from which he would not budge for the rest of the afternoon.


I decided to take supper at my club that evening, and did not return until after sunset, when Holmes informed me that our guest was doing well. “He should be ready to socialize tomorrow morning,” I was told firmly.


“And are you ready to socialize to-night?” I asked, drawing him into my arms.


“Well, of course,” replied Holmes, a little testily. “I can’t very well spend the night in the room with Albert.”




Holmes blushed slightly, looking down at his feet. “It seemed as good a name as any,” he said quietly.


I shook my head and led him upstairs by the hand. Holmes might be my master everywhere else, but in our loving, he remains surprisingly submissive, more often than not deferring to my lead. Most of the time, I prefer to lead gently, but tonight I found myself inspired by the passion he had shown this afternoon, and treated him much as he had used me earlier, tearing off his clothes as we stumbled to the bed, our mouths crushed together deliciously.


I rolled him over onto his back, spreading his legs wide for my entry; there would be time for tenderness later, but now I took him forcefully, my groans of pleasure mixing with his grunts of passion. In the fire of the moment, Mr. Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John Watson melted away, leaving two lustful beasts that writhed together upon the sheets, clawing and biting at each other in violent abandon.


Much later, as Holmes and I lay wrapped in each others’ arms, I caressed his silky, coal-black hair, and dared to ask the questions I knew I could never ask while we were properly dressed and in our sitting room. My companion, for various reasons, does not like to discuss his past, but I have found him more willing to answer my queries during the afterglow of his post-coital lassitude.


“So what was his name?”


“Mmmm?” Holmes nuzzled my chest sleepily. “Whose name?”


“Your pet budgerigar. The one you had as a child.”


“Stanley,” Holmes admitted. “He was blue and white – their colour varies with breeding; the wild ones in Australia are green, dappled with yellow. Captive ones can be taught to imitate human speech.”


“Did Stanley say anything?”


“I taught him how to say ‘pretty boy’ and ‘hello,’ as well as his own name, of course. But honestly, Watson, do not think that I am unaware of what you are doing?”


I ruffled his hair fondly. “And just what am I doing?”


“Using our intimate relations to pry into the details of my personal history.”


I sighed wearily. “Holmes, the very word ‘intimate’ suggests –”


“Yes, yes,” he interrupted petulantly. “But I have always admired your discretion and restraint. It took you the better part of a month to ask me what I did for a living, as I recall.”


“Well, I didn’t wish to pry,” I replied evenly, “and before you ask me if I do not think I am prying now, I would add in my own defence that it is only natural for lovers to – oh, don’t flinch at the word, Holmes – it is to be expected that two people who know each other as well as we do would also know the details of each others’ past.”


“Expected by whom? Is there some set of written rules upon the subject of which I am unaware?” I could tell by his voice that he did not wish me to press further, but I found myself uniquely unwilling to let the topic go.


I sat up in bed and looked down at him. “Holmes, I shall not force your confidence, but I would think that you would wish to share some of your life with me. And certainly I shall be uncovering no dark secrets by asking you about a boyhood pet.”


“So you think my early life is fraught with dark secrets, Doctor?” Holmes grumbled.


“Your unwillingness to discuss your past certainly suggests that you are uncomfortable with –”


“So if I were a terrific bore,” Holmes snapped, “and told you every little detail of my life before I met you, you would have no curiosity about me whatsoever, is that it?”


I smiled a little at the thought, and lay back down next to him, drawing him into my arms for a gentle kiss. He gave a nominal struggle, more to make his point than anything else, and then surrendered to my embrace, rolling his eyes.


“I am sorry,” I said, “that my questions make you uneasy, my dear. Know that it is not morbid curiosity that drives me; rather it is a genuine desire to know you as deeply as I know myself. I love you –” here Holmes rolled his eyes once more, making an impatient clucking noise with his tongue, “—and I want to be as aware of who you were then,” I continued calmly, “as I am of who you are today. If, as they say, the boy makes the man –”


“All right, Doctor, all right,” Holmes growled. “You’ve made your point. Doubtless you shall succeed in dragging every last secret I have out into the light –”


I stopped his tirade with a kiss, allowing my tender caresses to soothe him where my words had failed. “No more questions, then,” I told him, turning to extinguish the lamp, before taking him into my arms once more.


“Not tonight, at least,” Holmes muttered.


As always, I allowed him to have the last word; sometimes it is the only way we ever get to sleep.


I am not sure when I became conscious of the noise; I know that for some time I wove the sounds of whistling and tweeting into my dreams. As I slowly rose from the mists of sleep, I thought that there must be a songbird right outside my window, perhaps even upon the sill itself.


When I heard the shrieking, however, I jolted right out of bed, throwing on my dressing-gown and bolting down the stairs, taking them three at a time. I burst into the sitting-room, only to find Holmes standing at the mantel, frowning severely at me, with our tiny guest sitting upon his shoulder.


“You startled him, Watson,” said Holmes somewhat reproachfully. “He nearly fell off my shoulder.”


“What was that horrible noise?” I asked.


“That,” Holmes answered with a smile, “is one of the many vocalizations of the budgerigar. In fact, it is a noise he uses to express joy.”


“Joy? It sounded like you were torturing the poor creature.”


Holmes merely shook his head. The bird upon his shoulder fluttered his wings slightly, and then readdressed himself to the task of chewing upon Holmes’ collar.


“Well, he certainly seems fond of you,” I continued, sitting down to the table and helping myself to some toast.


“He is not an altogether unpleasant companion,” Holmes said, joining me at the table. Our guest did not seem disturbed by any movement my friend made, but kept nibbling at Holmes’ clothing.


“Is he hungry?” I asked.


“He already enjoyed some of my toast and eggs,” Holmes replied. “I am certain that whoever owns him has trained him excellently; after his initial shock, he seems quite comfortable with human company.”


“And the company of doves,” I reminded him, scooping some eggs onto my own plate.


“Well, that is to be expected,” Holmes said. “They are both gregarious flock creatures. Budgerigars seem to have a special affinity for doves, in fact; Stanley was always more interested in Mycroft’s pigeons much more than the sparrows he saw outside the windows.”


“Mycroft kept pigeons?” I asked, before I could stop myself. Holmes shot me a withering glance, but answered my question nonetheless.


“He used to race them. In any case, I have inserted advertisements in the agony columns of all the papers; doubtless Albert here is missing his family, and they him. Don’t worry, little fellow, we shall re-unite you with your owner.” And with these words, he placed a finger to the bird’s belly. To my amazement, the budgerigar stepped onto Holmes’ finger without any complaint. “I said he was well-trained,” Holmes told me. “Now, Albert, do you want a bit more toast?” He lowered his hand to the table, and the bird hopped off his hand and onto the tablecloth, casting me a sideways glance before toddling over to the toast-rack.


This was too much. “Really, Holmes, must we have the creature walking upon our dining-table?”


“The budgerigar is a clean animal,” Holmes said reproachfully. “And our guest here is quite the little gentleman. See, he’s only nibbling on the edge of one slice of toast.”


I watched as the bird nibbled delicately at one of the triangles of toast upon the rack, before suddenly becoming enamoured of his own reflection in the coffee-pot. I watched him pecking at the silver, bobbing his head and making a curious purring noise, chirruping and cooing at his reflection, and I found myself smiling.


“Do you think he would like some marmalade?” I chuckled, spreading some upon my own toast.


Holmes’ eyes fairly twinkled. “It’s worth a try.”


I took a dab of the preserves upon my little finger and slowly offered my hand to the bird, who hopped on without blinking an eye. I found the feel of his tiny claws upon my finger slightly disturbing at first, but soon I was watching entranced as the little fellow sampled the marmalade, shaking his tiny head vigorously at the taste.


“I don’t think he likes it,” I laughed, as Albert hopped off my hand and ran to the edge of the table, where he wiped his beak upon the tablecloth.


“Well, I should say that our small guest has – halloa! There’s the bell! Come on, then, Albert, back into your cage, my boy. It wouldn’t do for you to escape from captivity a second time.” The bird rode placidly enough upon Holmes’ finger to the cage, hopping in and continuing his breakfast upon the grass seed that Holmes had procured from the gardening supply-house in Brixton road.


The rather shoddily-dressed man whom Mrs. Hudson showed into our sitting-room gasped in recognition at Albert in his cage.


 “I don’t know how you done it, Mr. Holmes, but I’ll give you credit,” said he breathlessly. “Either you’re the smartest man in all of England, or you’re the devil himself.”


Holmes rose from his chair, a half-smile curling his lips. He looked the very picture of confidence; only I, who knew him so well, could see that he was as puzzled as I by our visitor’s speech.


“I have been called both,” said he in a mild voice, “but I assure you I am neither. But I see that you have something for me.”


The man had withdrawn a small leather bag from his pocket and passed it to Holmes with trembling hands. “There they are – that’s all of them, I swear it. I don’t suppose you’d tell me how you knew I was the one what pinched it from the countess’ hotel room.”


“I have my methods,” Holmes said distantly. His expression never wavered as he tipped a gorgeous necklace out into his palm, all sparkling emeralds and diamonds. “Would you care to tell me why you have come to me? I could still turn you over to the police. Indeed I should,” he finished in his sternest voice.


The man blanched. “Please, Mr. Holmes, I’ve heard tell of your compassion in the good doctor’s stories. I swear to you that that there is the absolute first and last thing I’ve ever pinched. If you let me go, I promise I’ll never even think of stealing. I’ve been scared straight, I have. As soon as I saw your advert saying how you had Edwin, I knew the jig was up.”


“So his name is Edwin,” Holmes murmured, holding the necklace up so that it glittered in the morning light. “We were calling him Albert. Well, my man, I suppose I shall let you go –”


“Bless you, Mr. Holmes!”


“—but only for Edwin’s sake. I can tell by the little fellow’s actions during his short stay here that he has been well-cared for by a kind and gentle owner. I shall attribute your theft of the countess’ necklace to a grave error in judgement. See that you keep to the honest life; as you have no doubt discovered, there is little that goes on in this city which I do not detect.”


“Mr. Holmes, you are a gentleman. I swear, I shall never again –”


“Yes, yes,” Holmes cut the man off with an impatient wave. “Here; you may take the cage with you. Think of it as a reminder of the cage which you have escaped. Good-by, Edwin, keep an eye on your master for us.”


Once the man had left, Holmes collapsed into his armchair, laughing as though he would burst. “It’s a queer world, Watson,” said he, once he had regained the power of speech. “I must confess that I had not the slightest idea that the recovery our diminutive houseguest would lead to the recovery of the Shropshire emeralds.”


“As I recall,” I smiled, “you thought they had been cut up and smuggled to France. You bluffed your way through that encounter rather well, considering. ‘There is little that goes on in this city,’ indeed.”


“Now, now, Watson, you can’t begrudge me a little free advertisement. Doubtless our visitor will tell all his friends, who will think twice before turning to theft as he did. Lady Chance threw me a unique opportunity; I should have been double the fool not to take it.” He grew serious, looking into the empty fireplace. “Watson, do you think I did the wrong thing?” he asked quietly.


“What, bluffing a criminal into handing over an emerald necklace? Of course not!” I sat down upon the chair opposite him. “Holmes, you did what was necessary, just as you always do.”


He nodded in grim satisfaction, still gazing at the grate. “Watson, I must make another confession. Today you have seen the truth; I am a fraud.”


“My dear Holmes!”


“No, no, Watson, I am quite serious. Yes, I have amassed a unique collection of skills and knowledge, and carefully studied the science of deduction. But when all is said and done, the Sherlock Holmes the world thinks it knows is but a carefully constructed façade of mystery and danger covering a rather ordinary man.”


“Ordinary? You? I should bloody well think not!” I retorted.


Holmes eyed me balefully. “You were frustrated earlier with me for not sharing my past, supposing that there is some dark secret I am hiding.”


“Holmes, whatever it is –”


“There is none.”


“But –”


He interrupted me with a wave of a long white hand. “My father was a vicar in Sussex and the youngest son of a baronet; my mother, the granddaughter of a mildly famous portrait painter. They were kind and generous people, who died in a tragic but sadly mundane carriage accident in the winter of ’78. There is no hidden trauma, no strange tale of woe, just a rather pedestrian background devoid of any secrets, dark or otherwise.”


“But why –” a sudden look of pain in his eyes stopped my words, and I got up from my seat, kneeling down beside him. “Holmes, did you think that I would not be interested in you without a mystery to unravel?”


Holmes bowed his head. “Before we … before, I merely kept up my façade as I do for all my acquaintances. But when we became … close … I found that you seemed to be drawn in by your fascination with the unknown. I didn’t mean to deceive you, but once I had established the pattern, so to speak, it became hard to break it.”


I touched his cheek gently. “How did you come to be so uncomfortable with emotions?”


“When I realized that my affections tended toward what our society deems unnatural,” he admitted. “I decided that if I could not love whom I chose, then I would shut myself away from love. My mother was much like you; seeing the change in me, she decided there must have been a trauma at boarding-school. She even went to the headmaster, but could find nothing.” He shrugged. “So, there it is. I’m not the smartest man in England, or the devil, but an ordinary man whose darkest secret is that he has no dark secrets. Other than the obvious one, of course, but I consider that more society’s fault than mine.”


I chuckled to myself as I stood up, reaching out a hand to pull Holmes to his feet and into a warm embrace. “Lack of dark secrets aside,” I told him, “you are still the most extraordinary individual I have ever met. However, you do yourself – and me – a great disservice when you underestimate my affection for you.”


Holmes rolled his eyes. “Honestly, Watson, must we descend into maudlin emotion?”


“Quite the contrary,” I replied, kissing him upon the cheek. “I think an ascent is in order.”


“An ascent?”


“To our bedroom. Perhaps I can show you with actions exactly how I feel for you, since you are so reluctant to hear my words.”


“I shall have to drop by Scotland Yard with the Shropshire emeralds,” Holmes said slowly, “and then I promised Lestrade I would take a look at the Anderson kidnapping –”


I interrupted him with a kiss. “You can do that later,” I said firmly, my lips against his. “I think I should be done convincing you in three hours or so.”


“Only three hours?” he answered, wrapping his arms around my waist.


“Perhaps four, but no longer,” I said, laughing as I led him up to our bedroom. “After all, we don’t want to intrude upon your detection of everything that goes on in this city.”




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