June 17th, 2009

Summer of Change, part 1

The public has been long aware that it is my habit to document the cases which my friend Sherlock Holmes and myself have undertaken on behalf of our clients upon whom all manner of troubles have visited. It has also been my habit to adhere to the standards present in our culture, both in a literary sense as well as social, in order that the Strand should see fit to publish these stories for wide public reading. However, in the recent past, such a profound change occurred in my relationship with Mr. Holmes that I feel I must put pen to paper, in hopes of retracing our footsteps through the events that led  to this change. As my motivation for recording our adventures was always borne of  a need to set things in their proper order—a habit that can be no doubt attributed to in part to Mr. Holmes himself, and the methods of logic upon which he constantly expounds—it also comes from a deeper urge to recite the often extraordinary events in which I find myself and the world’s greatest consulting detective constantly mired. That this particular story will never be published hardly matters to me, for it contains some of the most personal facts I have ever recorded, as well as  memories which I shall forever cherish. Should this text ever fall under the eyes of a stranger, it is my sincere hope that he will be living in a time when such things may be considered a normal and acceptable part of the human condition. Until then or the time of my passing, this document will remain under lock and key at the behest of both its primary subject and myself.

                                                                        --John H. Watson
London, July, 1895


“Fancy a few days in the country, Watson?” Holmes called out to me as he bustled into his bedroom.

“A case?” I called back.

 “Yes,” Holmes emerged again wearing his dressing gown. “In Kent. A certain Lady Beresford has summoned me to uncover some priceless family heirlooms that have gone missing. She’s anxious to avoid involving the police. She’s an old childhood friend of Lord Holdhurst’s, apparently.” Holmes continued to flit about our rooms in his usual state of energy. I often think his mind is several steps ahead of his body the way he moves so fluidly from one thing to the next without pause.

 “And whereabouts shall we stay?” I asked him as I closed my book and rose from my chair.

 “She’s generously offered us rooms at Chesterfield Hall. Rather a curious circumstance. She’s hosting a handful of guests this week, and desires that we should conduct our investigation unbeknownst to both the village and the household. No less than a considerable challenge, I should say. Now, where is my ‘B’ volume…?” He disappeared again into his bedroom.

 I shook my head and smiled. I went over to the bookcase near the far window and plucked it off the shelf. For a man so fastidious about his personal maintenance, my fellow lodger had a habit of forgetting where he kept the simplest of articles, which rarely migrated from their accustomed posts unless their owner flung them about in a fury of pursuit.

 Holmes nearly collided with me as I stepped in his path. “Will this do?” I asked, holding it out for him.

 “Oh, capital,” he said, by way of thanks. He barely paused long enough to take the book from my hands, open it and resume his pace. 

 “Let me see…Baxter…Bentley…ah, here we are. Beresford.” He trailed off as he read about the family history with furrowed brow. I waited.

 Holmes finally looked up. “I’ll have a cab downstairs in half an hour. We can still catch the two o’ clock train from Waterloo.”

 I nodded, and trotted upstairs to pack my things. It had been months since a case had bade us to leave London. As much as I was fond of our rooms at 221B Baker Street, I did relish the opportunity to assist Holmes in new surroundings. And the summer months in our fair city were growing hotter by the day.

*          *          *          *

“You must be Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson,” said the maid after she opened the door to the Hall.

 “Miss Saunders, I believe,” Holmes returned cordially, and we handed her our hats, gloves and sticks.

 “Yes, sir. Lady Beresford has gone in town this afternoon, sir. She will be back in time for supper. Allow me to show you to your rooms.” We followed her up a grand staircase, and she stopped at the first door on the left hand side of a long hallway, carpeted in deep red.

 “Your room, Mr. Holmes, sir,” she announced, and motioned for Holmes to enter. It was quite a large room, with two massive latticed windows on either side of a tall fireplace. The writing desk and chair overlooked the estate’s expansive back lawn. On the opposite end, a large bed with great piles of plush pillows stood regally between two small end tables, each adorned with a delicate candelabra. It was a beautiful place.

 “I take it this used to be the master bedroom before the family left England?” Holmes asked the maid as he strode casually into the great chamber.

 “It was Lord Beresford’s room, sir, and his father’s before that,” she replied. “I hope you shall find it adequate, Mr. Holmes. Dr. Watson, your room is just down the hall, sir.”

 I followed her into a smaller, though no less charming room two doors down from Holmes. It would be more than sufficient for my simple needs. “Dinner will be served at seven-thirty sharp, sir, followed by a soiree in the south garden,” she said with a curtsey before she exited my room.

 Though I knew virtually nothing of this case, save the spare facts that Holmes recited to me during the train ride, I was prepared to enjoy myself thoroughly. The crime, it seemed, was so far relatively victimless, as Lady Beresford had hinted that the theft of her heirlooms happened within the household in the past week. It was left to Holmes and me to find the cache and the thief before all the guests departed.

 There was a knock on my door. “Come in!” I called.

 Holmes opened the door and stepped into my room, every feature of his face alive with excitement. “Ah, Watson, this case has already presented some trifles of great interest. If you’re through unpacking, Saunders has asked us to meet Lord and Lady Steffington in the sun room.”

 “Half a minute,” I told him as I proceeded to hang up my dinner jacket in the closet. “By the way, Holmes,” I started as I emptied the contents of my suitcase one by one, “were you aware that there is to be a soiree tonight?”

 “Ah yes, Lady Beresford mentioned it in her letter. I believe she wants us to use the opportunity to discreetly examine her guests’ quarters. Of course, I shall do no such thing. I can infer far more from conversation than I can from idly pawing through a makeup kit,” Holmes replied with good humour as he languidly pressed his lean frame against the wall. “And there you shall me invaluable to me, my friend,” he added, as he extracted a cigarette from his tiny silver case. 

 I smiled. Though he had said as much before, I never tired of hearing that Sherlock Holmes found me indispensible. For three long years whilst Holmes eluded death on the Continent, I found the dull routine of my practice less fulfilling than ever. As much as I mourned the friend I believed had perished in Reichenbach, I also missed the thrill that assisting him in his cases offered me. I missed the way our companionship seemed to thrive in every new twist and challenge, no matter how perilous they became, and I was not loathe to admit that Holmes’s death grieved me more than the passing of my dear wife, Mary. When he suddenly returned, it took me some months to recover from the shock of seeing my friend emerge from the dead. I did not sell my practice and move back to Baker Street right away, despite what I have written of our cases since then. In actuality, I required far longer to forgive him his deception. Holmes said he understood, and did not press the matter even when I declined his first summons for my assistance. When the affair in Norwood arose, however, the facts of the case proved so compelling that my desire to once again assist him outweighed my anger. Now it was with renewed fervor that I resumed my position at his side as his trusted friend and colleague.

 “I am at your service, Holmes,” I said, when I approached him with a light.

 “Splendid,” he replied as he leaned down and puffed his cigarette to life. “Now, let us meet this cast of characters, shall we?” And the two of us descended the stairs to commence the case.

 Lord and Lady Steffington were a friendly enough pair, if a little detached from their surroundings. Lady Steffington especially seemed rather distant as we made formal pleasantries. For his part, Holmes was charming as ever, careful to make his direct questions seem like casual conversation and not the pointed inquiries I knew them to be. He was quite capable of attracting attention, whether for his eccentric manner or striking features it did not matter. It was often the commencement of a case that brought out the finest qualities in him, which permeated both his physical and emotional states. His clear grey eyes shone like fiery jewels, his whole body radiated with energy, bringing an astonishing grace to his already deft mannerisms, and his keen mind seemed endlessly capable of leaping from one subject to another without sacrificing so much as the merest trifle along the way. I must admit that I love to watch him in this state.

 Gradually, we met Lady Beresford’s remaining houseguests, who made polite if guarded conversation throughout the afternoon and evening. Dinner was superb, yet, despite my repeated pleas for him to permit himself some food, Holmes waved every course aside, preferring instead to smoke throughout the meal as he chatted innocently with the guests at the table. I was making some effort to remain focused on their replies, but it was not easy as I was becoming quite taken with our surroundings. Chesterfield Hall was one of the oldest manors in Kent, and had fallen into some considerable disrepair when the Lord Beresford died ten years ago. Lady Beresford retreated to the Continent for some time after that, and it was only in the last five years that she decided to return to her former home and take on its renovation as a kind of lifestyle. In her travels, she had procured the finest rugs, carpets, furniture and art, which certainly breathed new life into it. Her taste was excellent, as she favoured deep, rich colours in enough abundance to create a majestic atmosphere, but not overmuch as to appear ostentatious. The rooms were large and airy, with great windows, and her chosen scheme of burgundies, midnight blues, purples and forest greens, all delicately ornamented in gold brocade lent each room just enough weight to balance the contrast. There seemed to be a palpable sensuality about the place that was growing more intense with the fading light of day. Perhaps it was the presence of so many elegant candelabras, or the time of year. Either way, I was enjoying an especially intoxicating sense of romance that permeated the atmosphere.

 After brandy and cigars, we were ushered into the sprawling south lawn, which had been strung with Chinese lanterns. A small group of musicians was warming up on the patio, and clusters of servants were putting the finishing touches on long tables of food and wine for the guests. Or little dinner party looked rather pathetic in the presence of such volume, but the numbers soon expanded with the arrival of more party guests, to which we were roundly introduced. I’m afraid that the countless names that were announced to me faded almost immediately upon the first handshake, though it did not appear that Holmes was having the least trouble keeping pace with the barrage of newcomers. He looked stunning that night in his summer tails, black hair neatly slicked back from his chiseled face, bowing to the ladies and offering his hand to the gentleman with his usual elegance. His scintillating grey eyes were alert, narrowing keenly at every fact that presented itself with possibility. Though he usually abhorred social gatherings, he showed no signs of discomfort, and I began to surmise he was as taken with the setting as I was. It was a thrill for me to watch him, but I could not have articulated at the time that this was due to a growing attraction that crossed the bounds of friendship. I put it down  to enduring gratitude that the friend I once believed dead was more alive than ever.

*          *          *          *

 “Ah, Watson, there you are,” said Holmes, offering a friendly smile at me. I had been chatting up a charming woman who lived in the next village, and was attending the party with her elderly aunt. I refilled my drink and found Holmes visiting with a Mr. Dalyrimple near the entrance to the patio.

 “Mr. Dalyrimple was just regaling me with tales of his adventures in India. Dr. Watson here practiced medicine in India when he was attached to the fifth Northumberland Fusiliers,” Holmes said conversationally, as he raised his cigarette to his lips and inhaled deeply.

 “Indeed, Doctor?” Dalyrimple responded with great interest spreading across his round face. He proceeded to ask me as to my specific whereabouts, when I happened to glance over at Holmes. His expression brought my conversation to a halt.

 “Holmes, whatever is the matter?” I cried. His face had frozen in a kind of shock I’d never seen on him before. He was staring past us to a pair of men who had just entered the patio, and they were making their way towards us on the heels of our tireless hostess. He evidently had not heard me, but I would soon find out what had affected him so.

 “Mr. Holmes, Dr. Watson, Mr. Dalyrimple, allow me to introduce Mr. Leighton Ashbury and Mr. Victor Trevor,” and just as breezily as she had descended upon us, Lady Beresford excused herself once again and disappeared into the rose garden.

 We all dutifully shook hands and re-introduced ourselves. When his gaze turned to Holmes, Mr. Trevor registered an unmistakable look of recognition, and an arrogant smile spread across his features. I took an immediately disliking to this man.

 “So, Holmes, we meet again. What has it been, twenty years?” he asked, as he clasped my friend’s hand. Victor Trevor was tall and lean like Holmes, but unlike my friend’s dark features his were very, very light. He had a shock of blond hair, which was cropped short. His large almond-shaped eyes were bright blue, and his narrow chin dropped rather dramatically into a pointed V.

 Holmes glared at him as he shook his hand. “I believe you’re correct, Trevor. I am as surprised to see you, for last I heard you had taken a villa in Scotland and conducted research from your home.” Never had I seen Holmes look so stricken or taken off his guard. It was not a little disturbing.

 Trevor laughed a trifle too loudly for the occasion. “Well, in my line of work one never knows where one will find an opportunity. Funding hasn’t been easy to come by in this economy. Of course, I’ve read of your cases with great interest, and it is with even more interest that I meet your erstwhile biographer. How do you do, Dr. Watson?” he bowed his head and turned towards me.

 “Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr. Trevor,” I returned, attempting to sound jovial in spite of the grave tension that descended upon our little gathering. “I gather you are a friend of Holmes from his university days?”

 Trevor stiffened. “You might say that,” he replied cryptically.

 Suddenly, Mr. Ashbury grabbed Trevor by the arm. “Ah, here’s Miss Stone! She must be home from school again. Do let me introduce you, Trevor, for she’s interested in botany and would like to speak with you, I’m sure.” With curt nods all ‘round, Trevor and Ashbury left the three of us where they found us, though I’m afraid we were now at a loss as to how to continue our previous conversation. I was dying to ask Holmes about his acquaintance with Trevor, for there was obviously more history there that was alluded to in the rather painful social overtures we’d just endured. However, when Holmes politely excused himself, I felt that it would better I stayed put. With some effort, I visited with Dalyrimple about India, and even found we had some mutual acquaintances. But my thoughts continually turned back to Holmes, and the disturbing implication that he had a dark past about which I knew nothing.

 I could not dwell long in my thoughts, for earlier that evening Holmes had directed me to conduct a sweeping search of the guests’ quarters at a time when my absence would be little noted. As the crowded lawn grew even more so, I slipped away and cautiously climbed the stairs to the wing of the hall that housed the guest rooms. To my great relief, no one approached the premises to retrieve a hat or cape or cigar case, and I made a swift investigation unobserved. I paused to write a few facts of interest in my notebook, and proceeded back downstairs.

 When I saw Saunders making her way towards the kitchen with a tray of empty glasses, I inquired as to whether she had seen Mr. Holmes.

 “Not in a little while, sir. I last saw him go into the library with that tall gentlemen who had just recently arrived,” she told me.

 I could not account for the growing sense of urgency that stirred within me upon learning that fact. I thanked Saunders and turned towards the library.

 The house was positively glowing now, inside and out. The garden party tableau looked like an impressionist painting, with the flowers and ladies’ hats resembling daubs of bright paint against the blackness of the night. Inside, the candelabras had been lit, and the rooms on the ground floor were welcoming, with clean ashtrays strewn about the end tables and windows cracked just enough to allow the breeze to waft in.

 I found the door to the library slightly ajar, and I heard the unmistakable dark, rich tones of Holmes’s voice emanating from within. I stopped short of entering, leaned in and listened.

 “….have been kind to you. At least you had the wherewithal to put your mind to some use,” Holmes said in a low voice that betrayed a measure of spite.

 “Still holding a grudge, then? A pity, that. Your career has reach unprecedented heights and you’ve apparently suffered not a whit since leaving university,” Trevor replied evenly.

 In a voice so low I had to strain to hear it, Holmes spat out, “What do you know of suffering? You left your mess without accepting so much as a shred of responsibility and I escaped punishment by the skin of my teeth.”

 Trevor’s voice remained steady. “Maybe I did you a favour, eh, Holmes? How else would you have found that doctor of yours?” When Holmes made no reply, he continued. “From what I gather of his stories, he’s as taken with you as you appear to be with him. Found yourself in the throes of love again, I’d say, though he’s far from your intellectual match. Tell me, does he show you as many compelling reasons to stay with him as I did?”

 There was venom in Holmes’s reply when he hissed, “He shows more integrity and kindness in a single gesture than you could achieve with years of cowardly effort. As for his intelligence, he can hold his own with a roomful of scholars, but has humility enough to let that fact show itself.”

 I couldn’t help blushing at these compliments, and my heart was racing.

 Holmes spoke again, this time with more restraint in his voice. “As much as I’ve enjoyed catching up with you, Victor, I really must be getting back to matters at hand. I have but one request for you.” Holmes must have drawn nearer to Trevor, for his voice was nearly inaudible when he uttered his parting words.

 “Do not dare approach my friend and speak to him in such vulgar tones as you have addressed me tonight, or I will see fit to dispense with you in the most unceremonious manner possible, do you understand?” Holmes growled.

 There was a long pause before Trevor responded coldly, “Careful, Sherlock. I’d keep my wits about me if I were you.” I held my breath as I heard the door at the opposite end of the library open and close. I do not know how I would have navigated the situation had he exited the door nearest myself and found me standing there.

 What was I to do? Enter the library and confront Holmes? Pretend I hadn’t heard a word? Confess my eavesdropping and beg his forgiveness, and by the way, what the hell happened between you and Trevor? Before I could reach a decision, I heard the door open and close again, and I knew the library was empty. I slowly walked back to the garden. Scads of questions continued to enter my mind, but there was one thing in their conversation that pressed upon me more heavily than anything else.

 Trevor had accused Holmes of being in love with me.

 Holmes had not denied it.