Fic: Miss Fatima's School of the Orient, H/OFC, H/W implied, R

Jun 23, 2011 20:06

Miss Fatima’s School of the Orient

Author: tweedisgood

Verse: Book canon

Pairing: H/OFC, implied H/W

Rated: R

Summary: in which things are not as they seem.

Word count ~ 6,000

Disclaimer(s): Holmes belongs to ACD, I just like to make him suffer; ‘Gently Johnny’ is adapted from a traditional English (or possibly Scottish) folk lyric. Latin quote from the Carmina Burana.

Notes/warnings: Edwardian Orientalism/casual racism, het, prostitution, coarse language, substance misuse. Indirect insulting of handicrafts. Gratuitous reference to a work by Plato that is *not* the Symposium, just because I feel like it. Biggest beta thanks to mad_with_july Er, I changed a few words, sorry, hon.

Please take time first, ladies and gents, to properly admire the beautiful illustration crafted by karadin especially for this story. I am honoured and privileged. Go forth and fangirl her.


Nice tall glass of beer, please, Albert. Fanny, as I live and breathe. Where have you been, my lovely? Me? Mustn’t grumble, you know. Another glass for my dear friend Fanny, if you please. Come and sit over here with me, that’s the ticket.

I’m glad to see you, dear girl, now you must tell us all your news, and how are you, Mrs. Roberts? Oh. Oh, dear, I am sorry. Wasn’t so steady after all, then. Bastard. Left you any money? Twice bastard. Look, I’ll see you the rent this week; you’ll need to find something else sharpish, though - old tricks might be best, eh? You’re not…he didn’t leave you in any trouble? Well, that’s one mercy. If you’ve a mind, I could put a word in for you at the School - Miss Fatima’s School of the Orient. That’s where I am now, Mondays and Thursdays excepted: those are still my tumbling days. Mind you, it’s hard to get an acrobatic turn onto the billing nowadays. It’s all agents, agents and who’s nobbling who at the Halls.

‘Course it’s that kind of school. Can you see me marshalling a lot of brats to learn their times-tables? Exactly, I stick to what I know: tumbling and…tumbling. There’d be a place for you, dear, I’m sure. It’s a cushy enough billet, for what it is. Not above four gents a day; guinea a go, some of them, and that’s just the girls’ take. They come for something special. No, no: it’s not that kind of school. I don’t go in for beatings, taking or dealing out, never have. It’s the… ambience, that’s what it is. The ambience of the East: silk rugs on the floor, crimson velvet on the beds, frankincense burning in the front hall and sweet mint tea served on a brass tray from Petticoat Lane. Well, that’s East of here, at any rate. All girls certified clean as a whistle. The doctor sees you monthly - nice old dodger, doesn’t take liberties.

Miss Fatima - old Sally Gilligan to her friends - she trigged out her old place new as ninepence. She went to one of those Empire exhibitions and watched all the men panting after the nautch girls and stomach dancers at the Pearls of the Orient show. A peacock shawl from Liberty’s and a tulipwood lamp later and she was away. Moved more up-market: strictly proper toffers inside, only proper gents through the door. No riff raff, no one allowed in who’s in drink, no tick, no arguments.

My quarters are what’s called the hareem. It’s a beautiful place, like a vision of paradise; you never saw the like, Fanny. Only thing is, they pluck you clean as a Parson’s nose, yes all over. It’s in the paintings, you see, done by Frenchies in the main. Sets up expectations.


I am not sure what to expect; I nearly miss the place. To outward appearances, this is an ordinary London street of large, brick-built houses, arranged not as a terrace but standing a little apart from each other, most bearing the winking brass plates of professional men. As the engraved words on one such plate sort themselves out in my brain I understand that the “School of the Orient” does not offer lectures on the origins of primitive Sanskrit or the proper way to interpret the Glorious Qu’ran. Two weeks ago, I contrived to overhear two regulars at the Turkish baths talking of a house of resort, clean and in some sense more refined than its fellows. They did not name it outright but described its flavour, and the means of getting there, in terms that match location and identity readily enough. Three weeks to consider; two weeks to decide; less than an hour to make the journey.

At this school I will be a pupil. In an hour or so, I will know what Watson knows.

Inside it is warm, the air foetid with incense and the odours such places must always have, I suppose, however grandly they are decked out: the animal smells of men and women about animal pursuits. I am determined not to falter, not to change my mind now it is set on this course. Not by any means to turn tail and run - out of the door, down the shallow stone steps and back home to Baker Street: shabby, cerebral, bachelor-bare, for all its clutter. Empty again but for one old lady and one impossible tenant, to whom no-one else in their right mind would let a set of rooms.

The person who greets me in the guise of ‘Miss Fatima’ is an Irishwoman of faded good looks, her flinty, calculating blue eyes smudged with kohl and red with gin and smoke. Everything here has the skin of authenticity, yet lacks its sinews. The hangings are not from Madras but by Morris and Company, Merton Abbey Works, Wimbledon. That beaten brass tray and the vessels standing upon it were made in Sheffield and bought from a cockney’s barrow not two miles from here. The huge Negro who stands guard in the hallway never saw the Ottoman court, nor any place further south than Bermondsey, in his life.

Nevertheless, I pay my dues in coin (rather a lot of it) and attention as she bids me sit and drink sherry wine with her and speaks to me of the wonders within, of the exotic pleasures of the East available to discerning gentlemen here in the beating heart of our great Empire. She sways as she talks, flirting, winking, smiling: imagining in some corner of her mind that she would, were it not for the need to keep watch over her charges and see to the smooth running of the establishment, still be well up to entertaining me herself.

My guts are a ball of ice. I command my feet to remain precisely where they are. At last she cocks her head to one side, appraising. I wonder: do the felons whom I have regarded as she is regarding me now feel like this, outraged and diminished, précised and dismissed by a glance? She claps her hands, as if she holds the power of life and death over the Negro, who comes and kneels before her, his head touching her feet.

“Our guest is welcome to the hareem. Show him the way, Hamid."


Famous? No, we never get famous men at the School. Cabinet ministers, Bishops, High Court judges: there’s no end to the well-known folk who never, ever enter the door, nor would ever think to do so, perish the thought. Really, Fanny, where do you get your ideas? No names, no pack drill, see?

But we do get some interesting customers, ho yes. I had a strange ‘un the other day, matter of fact. Jimmy - ‘Hamid’, as we’re supposed to call him - opens the door, bowing low like he was taught. ‘Hamid’’s the palace eunuch, y’see. Of course, yes, just for show - although he might as well be the genuine article all the time he’s at the School. Strictly no touchee girlie, Mister Jim, says Sally Gee. How Jimmy sees it, he’s a “pocket eunuch” - “I got the balls, but I ain’t got the brass”.

In steps this bloke: maypole-tall, broom-cupboard pale, thin as dry sticks. Not bad looking, in a beaky way. On the way to losing his hair, which is black while his eyes are light, the colour of a dove’s back. His aspect’s stern to the point of being fierce. I try, when I first meet a gentleman, to work out some idea of him - where he’s from, what he does for a living, maybe: what he wants, certainly. Why he’s here. Apart from the obvious, that is. If I get it spot on, it gets their interest, it impresses, so it’s good for my reputation, and for my purse.

There’s the young ones, all brag and britches, voices not hardly broken yet, whose pals have put them up to it, or whose fathers have bought them a birthday present their mothers don’t know about. You get the new husbands, whose blushing brides hadn’t the first idea what was going to happen when they put down the orange blossom by the honeymoon bed, and didn’t think much to it when they found out. There’s older, sadder ones who love their missus and she loves them back, but she can’t face falling for a child again. There are some that pray from relief afterward and some that pray for forgiveness before. Most of ‘em pray - in a manner of speaking - during; well, you’ll know that yourself.

For a moment I think this one might want to ‘rescue’ me, or preach against the wickedness of our ways. He has the look of a priest or a scholar about him, peering down at dirty little humanity from a great height, wishing it was… tidier. I had an Oxford don once, tried to make an argument from Plato’s forms, whatever the devil they are. Well, then, sir, promise me a decent living for the rest of my life and you’ll earn yourself a hearing. ‘Til then, save your words, or at least be a little more even-handed when you dish ‘em out. It takes two to tangle.

But as I look more closely into his face, I see that’s not it. He’s afraid: afraid and more than a little at war with himself, and Mars never sat easy with Venus, for all it’s said they sired the little imp with the arrows.

He’ll need careful handling; I can see why Miss Fatima sent him to me. I’m a performer, to my core, on the boards or in the bedchamber. Lady Alice can become anyone you choose, sir, in a moment, courtesy of the magic of the mysterious Orient - that’s to say, one of my wigs and a quick change behind the cherry-wood screen in the corner. Presto-chango, I’m Cleopatra, I’m Kali (less a few arms), I’m the Sultana of Baghdad.

Until then, I’m a female Pasha in a turban and men’s clothes. Men’s clothes of the East, that is: peacock-blue silk robe, yellow trousers (I’d swap my corset for ‘em any day) and curly-toed Persian slippers. He’s looking at one of those slippers, swinging about as my leg dangles off the end of the divan, and one corner of his mouth turns up, just a bit. His eyes, though, grow even more distant.

Now, if it’s feet he wants, I can certainly oblige. No need to fear I’ll think less of you, sir, for having particular tastes; but let us have a little light conversation first, to keep up appearances.


What she believes we could possibly have to talk about, I cannot imagine. If only there were a case here, some intrigue amongst the fripperies: hidden gems, a den of spies, a cheated heiress reduced to selling herself. Such a plight would surely stir Watson’s chivalrous instincts, if he were here with me. He would know how to cajole and reassure the ladies as I prodded and probed for the truth. But he probably would not be here even if there were a case. He has, once more, pledged himself to a higher loyalty. That I am in this impossible situation is entirely his fault.

No. That is unjust. It is my own need to understand which has driven me here.

“So, sir, as we have not been introduced, we must introduce ourselves. Alice is my name, and may I have the favour of yours?”

She pours mint tea as she speaks, dipping the pot towards the glasses over and over, double brewing, reserving, adding the too-much-sweetness. Since Alice is certainly not her name, and mine is too rare, and by now too well-known, to be safely dropped in such a place, I, too, must conjure one.

“My name …”

My mind is a virgin sheet, a foolscap of panic. Nothing occurs to me that fits this place; not Captain Basil, nor Tom Escott, nor any of the cast of characters that stride so confidently through the pages of the Strand but, it seems, nowhere else.

She stares at me, amused, waiting, bold invitation in her smile. Her teeth are very white and sharp, her lips rosy with painted colour. She passes her tongue across them to catch a drop of liquid and save the silk of her costume. I wonder if she expects me to try to taste them. My throat closes and I choke on a sip of tea; the sugar is grit on the back of my tongue. I must say something, anything, to prevent her looking at me so.


Now it is said, I can hardly take it back.

She raises her brows a fraction, as if to acknowledge our mutual deception at the same time as she contrives to be a trifle pained at my lack of imagination. Such a common name.

“Shall we be plain ‘John’ and ‘Alice’, then, in the midst of Persia?”

“Madam, I have been to Persia. It is nothing like this.”

She laughs aloud then, and bids me tell her what is Persia like, if not this?

“A land where men live and work and pay taxes and die, as here. Streets and covered markets built of mud brick, where not so much as a woman’s face may be seen, although they are ever present: chattering, bargaining, inspecting from behind their veils. A place that smells less of incense and silk and more of heat, dust and camel dung.”

“But the courtyards, the palaces, the gardens? Surely inside…”

Free public access to art galleries has a certain amount to answer for.

“A photograph of Buckingham Palace would hardly prepare a savage for the reality of Bethnal Green or of a Durham pit village. Yet far more of England’s sons and daughters live in those other places and ones like them.”

With a toss of her head, she allows me that, but waves a soft hand at the gaudy room as if to say “and yet, better a mock palace than a real hovel...”

“Why don’t you sit down, sir? If you cannot be enchanted, I would at least have you be comfortable here.”

Yes, it must come to this: to sit, to lie down, to do the thing at last. I strip off my shoes, socks, coat and waistcoat, tie, collar and cuffs, my back turned to her. I lay all on a padded footstool that is the room’s only other furniture besides the enormous divan. There is nowhere now to seat myself save on that divan; she coils and stretches to move back and make room, graceful as a queen cobra, reclining amongst the great cushions arranged at its head along the far wall.


He’s oddly graceful as he takes off his clothes, for all he held himself so stiff and straight when he came in, plucking at his sleeves and fussing with his watch chain. He folds himself with care onto the foot end of the divan, sitting cross-legged like a tailor, bare feet tucked neatly under his thighs, hands on his knees. I can see that the Beast is still fast asleep inside the well-cut grey trousers. Time to do something about that: we can’t be here all day.

I copy his pose, then lean forward and make the Syrian greeting as I’ve been told, touching breast, lips and forehead. As a rule, a man’s eyes can scarcely help following my fingers, especially as they linger at breast and lips just a little longer.

“Although you may have no interest in the matter, madam, I must point out that a Moslem would account the use of that greeting in this context as bordering on blasphemous.”

What an odd fish.

“Then I must account myself lucky no Moslem is present, must I not? So, now we have seen to your comfort, what will be your pleasure, sir?”

He starts, clears his throat loudly, takes a shallow breath and dives straight in.

“I wish to experience…coitus.”

All right, never heard of that one. I’m all greased up, front and back; a dish of Condy’s fluid sits ready for him to see to Percy’s ablutions; a sponge soaked in alum against any stray seed taking hold, but it’s best I’m prepared for any little extras. I nod and smile, as if anything he wishes will be quite acceptable; I let my feet slide from their slippers and wiggle my painted toes, in case that’s what he means. He doesn’t so much as glance down. Not feet, then.

I look at him, hoping he’ll cough up some more clues. He looks at me - some of the time, when he’s not counting the threads in the damask bedcover. A difficult silence plucks at us both for a while. Then he sees I haven’t taken his meaning and tries again.

“Er, carnal connection? S-sexual congress?”

Oh, fucking. Why didn’t you say so in the first place? Education: nothing but a fancy name for leaving people more confused at the finish than they were at the start, if you want my opinion. I’m about to ask if he wants to come in by the grand staircase or sneak up the tradesman’s entrance, offer perhaps a little hand-work to get him started, when that word ‘experience’ sits up and begs my attention. He looks to be twenty years my elder - no, more. Careful now, a man has his pride. I’m about to open my mouth to ask the awful question when he forestalls me with a sigh.

“You have surmised correctly. I am forty-nine years old and I have never…” - he sweeps his lips with restless fingers, strangling the words as he births them - “…coupled with a woman.”

Mother Mary. Forty-nine.

“Not once?” That was stupid. Clumsy and stupid, and he rolls his eyes. It’s nigh on funny, taken with the furious crimson flush on those sharp cheekbones, but I stop myself from laughing.

“That is, I believe, the usual construction of the word ‘never’.”

Never ask why, that’s one of Sally’s, er, Miss F.’s, hard-and-fasts. It’s not your place to question what a man does; you’re paid to oblige him, otherwise find other rooms. No-one hurts my girls or cheats ‘em, but none of my girls leaves a man feeling less of a man - always more. But forty-nine? Why so long? And why now? Lucky for my curiosity, he’s ahead of me again.

“Specific knowledge only becomes necessary in specific circumstances - that is all. I did not require to know this before. Now, I do.”

A last wish, to know this before nothing more can be known at all? I’ve not had one die on me yet and I don’t plan to start now.

“I venture to hope it’s not because of bad news from your doctor, sir?”

He frowns, as if it might well be the case, but says he is in good health and expects to remain so.

“The circumstances are these. I have a friend whom I have known, and lodged with off and on, for more than twenty years. He has married, a second time. One might excuse it once” - although to him it is clearly an unforgiveable folly - “the novelty of finding oneself master of a respectable household, the hope of progeny and so forth. But at past fifty? What reason to leave the comforts and companionship, the freedom, the variety of life with m- of a bachelor life, to sit in a parlour with someone who may well be charming and kind, but who buys a coat for her bulldog, who favours country dancing, who crochets?”

Oh, dear. Someone’s been turned over for a new toy.

“Had you not thought that perhaps your friend fell in love?”

He snorts. “’In love’? A fantasy of imagined sympathy, an invented gloss on the desire, at base, to do what we are here to do.”

And there I thought none could beat me for looking at the world with a hard eye.

“Then why did he not come here, or a place like it, instead of to the altar?”

“W- he has a regrettably conventional and romantic outlook, of which I have so far, and despite my best efforts, failed to cure him. Married or no, he has never lacked female company. He is an enthusiastic admirer of womankind, and that species returns the compliment. He might have found many a congenial bed without having to take the house that goes with it: I can only conclude that marriage was a condition insisted upon by the lady in question.”

“So, since you think marriage no different, ‘at base’ from any other way of men and women finding their way to a bed, if you try out for yourself what they do there, you’ll understand why your friend should want to marry again?”

“You have it exactly.”

No call to sound surprised, sir. A whore may have a mind as well as a muff.

And a man may be very clever and yet be a fool.

What marks me apart from a two-shilling street slut isn’t my looks (although they pass inspection, I’ll grant you that), nor even the fancy house I work in. It’s what I know: about the world, about men, about their desires and all the hundred and one pretences they hedge them round with. Most of all, it’s how I winkle out their deepest wishes and serve them up piping hot and ready to feast on. A word, a gesture, a costume can be enough to start them down the track their mind already wants to run on.

Others need guiding, even a bit of a shove: some don’t really know how to find that track, and there are one or two who, though they see it clearly, don’t want to know, or at any rate to admit to knowing. This one, he thinks he can choose his own track by sheer force of will. He’ll learn better, by and by.

Time to break out one of the secrets of the Orient, my dear. Give that busy head a holiday: listen to that body you’ve spent the last thirty years and more fighting against, and that heart you’d rather you didn’t have.


How is it that I know what I want to do, have made it plain to myself and to this woman, she is willing, it is past time we were about it, and still my flesh disobeys me? I ought to be its master, it is my own body; yet it seems it is easier to deny it - I have, after all, denied it in other ways many a time - than to set it on. It is not incapacity. I need to take myself in hand upwards of once in every week. Leaving off that for the last three should surely have been enough to achieve success in this venture. Ability, forward planning and will: nothing appears lacking.

Nothing, save the recalcitrant limb.

“Perhaps you might care for indulgence of another kind, before the main course: something to whet the appetite?”

Evidently, I must take what help there may be.

She offers me a clay pipe fixed to a long wooden stem, its wide, shallow bowl packed with golden-red shavings of hashish. Once I have the stem in my mouth, she lights the herb for me with a long spill caught in the gas lamp. Her face is grave, almost noble with concentration as she serves me. I am just taking in the first draw of heady fumes when she takes another pipe from somewhere behind the cushions, fills it with I know not what, thrusts it between those strong, white teeth and lights up, sucking with delicate precision on the narrow stem and rolling the fragrant smoke around inside her mouth and nose with practiced ease.

I have never seen a woman smoke in my presence before, but I find I am neither shocked nor offended. In that garb, with that candid, challenging stare, her voice muffled and quavering in the haze - this is strong resin, very strong, and there is something else in with it that I cannot immediately place - she might as well be a man.

What a ridiculous notion. Were she a man, I would scarcely be here.

“And is music also one of your joys?”

Of course: he…she must have seen the calluses on my fingertips as she passed me the pipe. I draw again upon it and sublime music explodes in my mind’s eye and ear, coloured flames dancing round the harmonies. I should startle, but it seems only right, expected, that beauty should be on fire, so that I only nod dreamily and smile.

“I cannot sing a song of the East, as I know none truly; you would see through the veil to the bare face of my ignorance. But I know a song of England well enough,” and she begins to hum a languorous tune that thrums and beats, slow as a man’s pulse, that wants a drum or a flute to follow and shape it.

Just as I wonder where I have heard it before, for surely I have, long ago when I was a thing fit to be sung to, she puts to the tune words I never heard with it until now.

“Gently, gently, gently Johnny, gently Johnny my jingalo…
He put his hand on my hair, and I said ‘well, I like it there’…
He put his hand on my knee, and I said ‘do you want to see?’
Gently, gently, gently Johnny, gently Johnny my jingalo”

What will be your pleasure, sir?

There is a drum, there are bells, tiny temple bells ring with every heart-beat note, a tambourine of longing. I am very far from here and very near, my body expands, stretches to fill the distance between. I have been in Persia; I am there, I am nowhere, I am home at my own hearth and he is there also. He wants nothing of me save that I remain myself, and I want…I want…

“Gently Johnny, my jingalo...”

I stand by the hearth at Baker Street, very far from here and very near, a painted egg from the Russian Steppe in the palm of one hand. I hold the egg and I am the egg, cracked open, hard-boiled, shell within shell, yolk upon yolk and there is a yoke which weighs me down under many layers of being and disguise, layers of my own as well as others’ making, some even of his.

What will be your pleasure, sir?

“He put his hand on my thigh, and I said ‘do you want to try?
He put his hand on my belly, and I said, ‘do you want to fill me?’
Gently, gently, gently Johnny, gently Johnny, my jingalo…”

There is a lamp by the window still, and a fair head bent in the act of writing. His hair is still cut, after all these years, military-short at back and sides, shorn like the fields at harvest. Fields: I remember fields, long ago when I was a thing fit to be held by the hand; bees amongst the clover, rosemary for remembrance and poppies for forgetfulness. What must be remembered and what, never forgot?

What will be your pleasure, sir?

“Gently Johnny, my jingalo…”

I am aflame in a burning house, searching for my most valuable possession, that I may show myself where I hid it. The floodwater rises: my treasure is carried away, over a great waterfall in whose plunge I am tumbling, turning over and over, choked and blinded by smoke and spray, borne away to a far shore, drowned, fetched, beached, breathlessly dying of hunger and thirst, lonely to my bones…

“…and I said, ‘do you want to fill me? Gently, gently, gently Johnny…’”

Liquid warmth pools down low in my belly, between my thighs. The pipe stem is taken with infinite care from my hand. My lids are heavy, so heavy, I cannot lift them, but my blood is up; my pricking flesh remembers that I am after all a man….and though we are parted, I will never forget the worth of this man’s only friend: steadfast and patient, upright and courageous, noble and kind…worth a wound, worth many wounds. He wanted nothing of me, and I want…I want…

“Johnny my jingalo…”

What will be your pleasure?

The hunting call within me rises as my member rises - in an instant, from a murmur to a howl. The only thought left is to seek relief.

Novus, novus, novus amor est quo pereo, quo pereo.


Humming, holding the tune well, he sways to the rhythm of the song, throbs to the steady beat of the tambour. He is a king cobra tamed, somnolent with the drugs, glassy eyes drifting closed, rising up at long last, dragging off the last of his clothes save only his shirt, crawling on hands and knees towards my back as I turn away. I unwrap the turban and show him my nape, fair hair cropped military-short (for the wigs, you see), bending my back forward so that my brow rests on the pillow and my arse is in the air.

I take a covert look before I untie the string at my waist and let the yellow silk trousers fall away - they are parted at the seams, so that a single movement bares me, or bares as much as is needed, for I do not think this one would be more stirred, indeed ever was stirred, by the sight of a woman’s breast - just to get the measure of what he means to put in me.

Nothing to boast of, nor nothing to shame him: only a clean, well-made tool, ready to plough its first furrow. Bless him, the lamb: I’d feel nigh on sorry for all that lost time, if I thought he’d come to me for sympathy. I wish to blazes, though, that he’d take proper aim instead of all that poking about back there - either open his eyes or make up his mind where he really wants it, and no, my girl, wonder all you will, I’m not saying where he found his roost at the finish: you’d only guess wrong. Gently, Johnny; there, that’s it: there you go, another push, all the way. Oh, that’s a funny sound: a little sob of surprise and discovery from the back of your throat. I can hear how your jaw’s set so as not to let too much escape, even now.

Better than your fist, is it, sir? I’d be shamed if it weren’t. There’s the wonder a lifetime of tumbling does for the muscles: free and strong movement in every part. I give the Devil’s ride for a man’s money and that’s God’s truth. He takes it at full tilt, starched linen rasping on soft, bunched silk, thrusting it against the skin of my back. Braced on his long arms, his fingers twist in the sheets beside me then tangle in the trailing tails of my robe, undone by his body, a blind urgency that makes him pull himself upwards and inwards, any way he can. But only his body’s present: he's all but silent, only breathing hard through gritted teeth, thinking of Lord alone knows what. His mind will be elsewhere for a good while yet. By and by, he starts to murmur and whisper: odd words that I can barely make out, save the one that’s a name, the one he gave out as his. It comes once and then again, his voice scratchy and sweet as a moss rose, so rough and tender with loss and longing that the air fairly aches around it…

Now, I can guess as well as the next girl, and as sure as death and taxes, his name isn’t John, no more than mine’s Alice, but I reckon as I know the name of his friend.

And do you understand now what you thought you would, hmm?

My head’s straighter than his; I never put too much in a pipe. Just enough to make a little juice - for the ones that want to make-believe they seduced instead of bought me, and so I’m not rubbed raw into the bargain. Just enough to hang a gauzy curtain between myself and their wet breaths, their bony knees and hairy bellies: all that heaving, sweating, urgent effort. Stretches out the time, though. I do my best by ‘em, don’t think I don’t. I earn my bread, don’t care if it’s greasy, and I earn it well, and can’t I be a craftswoman while I’m about it? But for all the stories they bring in with them, all the wants and dreams and pretences, at the finish the act’s the same at my end, as it were, and soon I’m just looking for this one to spend himself and have done with it.

He needs something more to get there. The drugs are holding him back now, for all they were needed to set him on. It’s not in my mind to frighten him: he didn’t ask to want what he wants. It would have done him, nor his friend, no good to know it before, and there’s only regret in store for him from knowing it now.

All the same, there’s no help for it. I didn’t ask to be born poor and female neither. We must all meet our troubles in our own way. I can hope at least the fog in his brain may soften the blow. I pitch my voice low, as low as I can take it.

“My dear fellow, beloved friend; please, take all that you want…”

Over he tips, shuddering and gasping: God’s name, then his friend’s, in a single breath. Most of them pray, like I said. Mankind’s an animal that prays: maybe he’s the only animal that needs to.

Then he sleeps off his physic, sprawled in a great, gangly heap, snoring softly. Haven’t I had nights just like that - gone to bed fed but still hungry, waking to no prospect of being satisfied?

Poor sod.

I don’t like to watch them dress, after. We might catch each other’s eye by mistake, and I can’t be doing with that.


Damn. Where is my watch chain? Ah, there, on the floor. Swathed in a sheet of Tyrian purple, looking steadfastly at the far corner of the room, it is apparent she wishes me gone, and swiftly, or I would beg a sample of the contents of that pipe for the purpose of chemical analysis. All of it (what little I remember) arrant nonsense, of course: mere drug-fuelled madness. It was an error to accept that pipe; more time would no doubt have cured my attack of nerves and enabled the experiment to proceed within the prescribed parameters. As it is, I have learned nothing of real value. I cannot think that Watson and his amiable, pedestrian little wife habitually inhale hallucinatory substances before repairing to the marital couch.

I must simply take at face value his assurances that he took this step clear-eyed and of his own volition, for reasons that seemed good to him. Even I cannot understand everything.

As he has found himself a home, so perhaps I will follow his example and see about making one for myself. A set of rented rooms may serve well enough for temporary quarters, but in my fiftieth year, it is high time I looked for permanence.

Not in London; I should be continually bothered by people seeking help which I find I am no longer particularly interested in giving, or issuing dinner invitations that I do not especially wish to accept.

In the country, then: some southern county should provide an equable climate. I will find a house near the sea. Somewhere amongst fields, where there will be rosemary, and poppies, and the sound of bees in the clover.


Read the sequel: Found

sherlock holmes, fic

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