This Pen ~ Androcles and the Lion
Although the weather outside on Friday evening was rather fine for the last day of March, the weather inside 221B Baker Street was decidedly turbulent, as Holmes stalked around our sitting room like an angry lion with a thorn stuck in its paw. He did not reply to my greeting when I returned from my surgery, nor did he acknowledge my presence, but kept on pacing upon the hearthrug, smoking that foul cherry-wood pipe I have come to despise, occasionally stopping to snatch a piece of paper from one pile, read it, then throw it into the air with a disgusted snort, letting it flutter to the rug. I felt I had played Androcles once too often of late; after twenty minutes of this, I got up from my chair and reached for my coat and hat.
“Where are you going?”
I paused at the door. Holmes was standing by the cane-back chair, his eyes glowing strangely in the dimming sunlight from the window.
“I can see that I am underfoot,” I answered, pitching my voice to intimate that I was willing to hear otherwise.
Holmes turned away and resumed his pacing. “For once, your observations are correct; you are underfoot,” he growled. “But I did not ask you why you were going; I asked you where you were going.”
“I thought I would find some more convivial company,” I snapped. “Perhaps I’ll try Upper Swandam Lane.”
“Well, if you grow tired of brilliant and witty conversation of the opium dens,” Holmes replied evenly, stopping at the file cabinet to pluck a months-old telegraph from its perch before tossing it over his shoulder, “you might want to drop by Scotland Yard. Lestrade was looking for you.”
My curiosity out-stripped my ire, and I stepped back into the room. “Lestrade? What does he want with me?”
“You remember last month when we were delayed at that public-house in Torquay last June, and you and he passed the time playing darts?”
I smiled despite myself. “As I remember correctly, I gave him a proper trouncing.”
“Precisely. Apparently, he wants you to be his partner in some darts tourney one of the precinct-houses is running tonight.”
“But I’m not a member of the official police.”
“You needn’t be for the one night; his regular partner couldn’t make it and he needed a replacement. You’d better hurry,” he added. “Lestrade said he was off-shift at seven.” This last was said with a cloying smile that dissolved my anger.
“Why don’t you come with me?” I asked.
“I believe,” he chuckled dryly, “that you were leaving in order to get away from me.”
I stepped toward him and reached out a hand. “I could stay in,” I offered.
He did not take my hand, but spun upon his heel and resumed his pacing. “I have an extremely important matter to attend to,” said he in his most imperious tone, “and, quite bluntly, Watson, your absence would considerably simplify my task.”
“William Sherlock Holmes, you are the most –” I forced myself to stop; sometimes love is in what you do not say. I turned and left in silence, deliberately shutting the door behind me as quietly as possible.
I paused upon the pavement below, glaring up for a moment at Holmes’ reading lamp glowing in the first-floor window, and then, under my breath, uttered the words I would not have said to my lover’s face.
“Good heavens, Doctor, I know you used to be in the military, but that was truly astonishing.”
I spun around to see Inspector Lestrade standing just behind me. He smiled to see my expression.
“I trust Mr. Holmes is being his charming self again,” the detective continued, shaking my hand.
“No more than usual,” I laughed. “But the Great Detective did condescend to speak with a mere mortal long enough to impart the news of your darts tournament.”
“You’re a far more patient man than I, Doctor Watson. So what about it? I’ll stand your drinks,” he offered.
I bowed theatrically. “I should be honoured, Inspector Lestrade.”
Thus it was that I spent a rather convivial evening with lively companions, good-natured competition, and some excellent ale thrown into the bargain, and I returned to Baker Street in high spirits, in the small hours of Saturday morning. As I alighted from my cab, I looked up to see the sitting-room window dark and sighed in relief; if Holmes had retreated to our bedroom, it meant that the storm had passed and all was well again. I leapt up the seventeen steps to the landing, peering in to the sitting-room to see that it was indeed vacated, and then up the sixteen steps to our bedroom, where I opened the door to find it deserted.
I stared at the empty bed in some consternation, and then, after checking for a note and finding none, descended to the first-floor landing once more and into the room he still kept as his own private sanctum and extra wardrobe. This, too, was uninhabited, but he had pulled out – and packed – his steamer trunk and enough luggage for a long journey. I stared at the boxes and valises in dismay. Was this “important matter” of his going to be taking him out of town for a while? Even since the early days of our association, Holmes would traditionally invite me along on his excursions outside of London, if he thought there was any possibility I could come along.
Apparently, I was not needed this time. Or wanted.
I heaved a weary sigh and wandered through to the sitting-room. The fire had long since gone out, and so I turned on the gas-jet and threw myself down into my favourite armchair, picking up the novel I had been reading that morning, resolving to wait up until Holmes came to retrieve his luggage, and possibly to remind him that I was more than inconvenient baggage to be left behind until called for. I held the book in front of my eyes without taking in a word from the page; in my mind, I was already forging the links of my argument with Holmes.
I do not remember falling asleep, but I was shaken awake in the same position by Mrs. Hudson a few hours later when she came to set the morning’s fire.
“No, he hasn’t come back,” she replied in response to my question. Something in her tone sounded a trifle odd, and I gently inquired if there was anything amiss.
“That man is a trial, and no mistake,” she huffed, laying down the rest of the dishes, and without a further word, stomped down the stairs.
I did not need her to elaborate; I often felt the same way myself, and still do. I ate my breakfast in silence and walked to my surgery, trying to put away the feelings of abandonment and frustration that had marked the early morning. When I arrived at Queen Anne Street, I was met at the door by my colleague, Dr. James Anstruther, who often took over my practice when I was called away to accompany Holmes.
“Hello, Anstruther,” I greeted him cheerfully enough. “What are you doing here?”
He regarded me rather oddly. “Hullo, Watson,” said he in a puzzled tone. “I was about to ask you the same question.”
I chuckled a little. “Well, old fellow, this is my surgery. Where else would I be?”
Anstruther paused. “If I didn’t know you better, I’d think you having me on, old boy, this being the first of April and all, but it’s not your sauce to bring a fellow out of his way for nothing.” He shot me an odd look, then pulled a telegram out of his pocket and thrust it at me. “Did you not send this?”
I took the form from him and was struck dumb by the words upon it:
ANSTRUTHER – [it ran]: CAN YOU TAKE MY PRACTICE FOR TODAY AND NEXT WEEK? MUST GO WITH HOLMES TO CONTINENT, WILL RETURN ON MONDAY TENTH APRIL. WATSON
I gritted my teeth. “Holmes,” I spat. “You arrogant, deceitful, manipulative –” I broke off, suddenly remembering where I was.
Anstruther laid a hand on my shoulder. “Look, my boy,” he began slowly. “How long have we known each other?”
“We were together at Netley,” I sighed. I knew where this was going; after all, at one time, we had been more than friends ourselves.
“Why do you stay with him?” he asked.
“Because I love him, James.”
Anstruther gave my shoulder a squeeze. “I know; there’s a dozen times a day my Violet drives me round the bend, and I wouldn’t trade her for the world.”
“She’s a good woman,” I agreed, still staring at the telegram. MUST GO WITH HOLMES … Must. I shook my head. I might love him, but there were limits.
“Are you going to the continent, then?”
I took a deep breath. “This morning, I was angry with him when it looked like he was going without me. And yet, his sheer presumption is so aggravating, I’m tempted just to take the ten-fifteen to Edinborough and send him a telegram of my own,” I muttered.
“I don’t think they’d send what you’d want to tell him,” Anstruther laughed. “After all, we can’t be corrupting those innocent telegraph boys with such language. Look, old friend, let me ask you something. Where do you want to be, all presumption aside? Do you want to hang about here and tend to London’s springtime sniffles, or do you want excitement and adventure on the continent with Sherlock Holmes?”
“He’s playing me like his damned Stradivarius,” I grumbled.
Anstruther clapped him on the back. “His Stradivarius should be so lucky,” he chortled. “Go to him, John.”
I was halfway home before I realized that Holmes had not yet deigned to tell me our destination, let alone asked me to come; he had merely arranged matters, once again. I paused upon the pavement, glaring up at a streetlight in fury as I thought of all the times – before and since we had become lovers – when he had simply assumed he would have my complete cooperation and support.
And I had not once failed to live up to his expectations. I shook my head wearily and continued on my way, vowing with each step that, from now on, things would be different. By the time I arrived at our digs, I had worked myself up into a proper froth.
When I heard Holmes upstairs playing some placid etude, my anger knew no restraint. I flew up the steps and burst through the door.
Holmes had laid down his violin and turned to greet me. “Good morning, old fellow! I’m glad you’re back so soon; I have some paperwork I need you to –”
“Don’t ‘old fellow’ me, Holmes,” I snapped. “Aside from presuming to send telegrams in my name, assuming that I will accompany you and put aside my own obligations, and not even bothering to inform me of your intentions, your behaviour over the past twenty-four hours could try the patience of a saint.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“Furthermore, the sheer callousness with which you dismissed me last night borders upon the – what?”
Sherlock Holmes stood before me, an uncharacteristically contrite expression upon his features. “I know that I have presumed upon you in the most unacceptable manner,” he said quietly. “Time and again you have dropped everything and followed me at the slightest notice, providing your sterling service with nary a complaint. I realize that I have compounded my usual thoughtless actions with my hurtful manner; although I did indeed require your absence from this flat last night, I did not need to snap at you like a swamp adder in order to procure it. I also left you no communication as to my whereabouts, which is the one thing I know you hate most of all, and then I sent your colleague a telegram in your name without consulting you as to your wishes in the matter. I apologize most deeply and sincerely, John. You deserve better treatment. I cannot promise,” said he solemnly, “that any of these offences shall not happen again. I can only hope,” he finished, stepping toward me, “that you can find it in your heart to forgive me when I forget, and remind me so that I may make amends.”
I closed the gap between us, slipping my hand behind his neck and drawing my mouth to his.
“Well, I see you two have made up,” Mrs. Hudson said, bustling in with a tray of dishes. We jumped apart guiltily as our landlady began setting the table. “You know, I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times,” she continued brightly, “lock the door when the girls are in the house. I won’t be held responsible for their wagging tongues.”
“Ah, but then, Mrs. Hudson, we would miss the pleasure of your impromptu visits,” Holmes shot back, fully recovered to himself.
“And did you or did you not request an early lunch be served no later than ten-thirty sharp? Apparently, you have a boat to catch,” she continued, turning to me, “and less than an hour to eat and pack your bags.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Hudson!” Holmes barked at our landlady’s retreating back “You eat,” he told me with an apologetic smile. “I shall pack your bags, that is, if it would not be too presumptuous of me.”
I sat down to the table and lifted the tray to reveal one of Mrs. Hudson’s excellent omelettes. I looked up at Holmes, who was regarding me with one of the most sheepish looks I have ever seen. I could not help but laugh. “Well, what are you waiting for, my boy?” I said, mimicking Holmes’ theatrical manner. “Get packing.”
The bell rang, and Holmes’ head wheeled round in response. “I am afraid I shall have to delay the packing your bags for just a moment,” he declared. “That will be Mr. Cox.”
“Your solicitor?” I asked. I had met the man once, upon the occasion of the death of Holmes’ father over ten years ago, and had thought, at the time, that the man was not long for this world himself. Mr. Jeremiah Cox had acquired a venerable age a decade ago; the man whom the maid showed in looked as if he had come over with William the Conqueror.
“Doctor Watson,” the sage greeted me with a voice that creaked with long decades amongst legal tomes and financial contracts. “It is a pleasure to see you – no, thank you, I have just had a splendid breakfast. Mr. Holmes, I have the documents ready to sign, but of course, you will need two witnesses. Perhaps this young lady will oblige,” said he, bowing slightly to the girl, “and if you would ring for Mrs. Hudson –”
“Certainly I will suffice as a witness,” I began, and stopped at a gesture from Holmes.
“This is the contract we were discussing last week, doctor,” said he with a meaningful look, “the one that shall make you a full partner in the Agency.”
The patriarch raised an eyebrow. “If you have not fully discussed this with the doctor –”
“I was momentarily confused,” I said quickly. “I have had a hectic morning following a rather late night, I’m afraid. I should like to read it over, of course. Will you not at least have tea while I scan the document?”
The contract was surprisingly brief, covering only a few sheets of parchment back and front, in large, easily read script. It was a fairly straightforward affair, granting me an equal share of all assets earned from his practice. I looked up at Holmes, who gave me an enigmatic look before turning to ring for Mrs. Hudson.
“It seems in order,” I said, patting my pockets for a pen. “Shall I sign now?”
“You barely read the document,” Cox frowned severely.
“I have trusted Mr. Holmes with my life, and shall again,” I answered coolly. “If I cannot trust him upon a simple piece of paper –”
“Just so, just so,” the solicitor croaked, with a sudden quirk to the corner of his mouth. “Do you need a pen?”
I gave up my search in frustration. “I seem to have misplaced mine.”
“Here, use this,” Holmes said, handing me a fountain pen.
I waited until the girl returned with Mrs. Hudson, then stooped over my desk to sign where the man pointed. That done, I returned to my breakfast while Holmes and the women affixed their signatures to the document, only rising to give Mr. Cox the briefest of farewells before falling to my lunch again while Holmes bustled about cheerily, whistling as he ascended the stairs to our bedroom.
I finished the omelette in record time, and joined Holmes upstairs. I looked at the bags open on the bed. “Swimming trunks … morning coat … peasant shirt … good heavens, Holmes, where are we going?”
He kissed me briefly on the nose before returning to the suitcases. “You will be catching the S.S. Granada to Lisbon.”
“Lisbon? What kind of case takes you to – hold on, aren’t you coming with me?”
“I shall be joining you, but I must take a separate route.”
“I say, Holmes, I know you play your cases close to the vest, but –”
With a catlike spring he was upon me, his tongue invading my mouth sweetly as he pushed me up against the wardrobe door. He pulled away, brushing a lock of my hair away from my face. “You were so loyal in defending me to my family’s solicitor,” he purred tenderly, bowing his head to kiss my palm. “If you trust me with your life, then trust me in this.”
“Will you be in disguise?” I whispered, drawing his lips to mine.
He smiled against my mouth. “I shall enjoy seeing how soon you recognize me,” he chuckled, and gave me a single seductively lingering kiss before turning to bend over the luggage once more.
I could not resist the temptation, but Holmes darted away playfully. “You’ll miss your boat.”
“I’ll take the next.”
“Absolutely impossible, old man, your reservation’s already made. Come on, I’ll get Mrs. Hudson to hail a cab. Mrs. Hudson! Mrs. Hudson!” he shouted, sweeping out of the room and down the stairs. I smiled as I finished packing my bags.
Whatever the case was, it was bound to be interesting.
 In “The Man with the Twisted Lip,” the low opium den where Watson found Holmes was in Upper Swandam Lane, described as a “vile alley.”
 Watson underwent training for army surgeons in Netley.
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