FIC: The Literary Agent's Case, NC17, H/W Part 2/2

Jun 09, 2012 23:28

Part 1/2 here



Doyle had planned, in that junior games master way of his, a full day's programme for Saturday. We were to spend the morning tramping the estate, the early afternoon at a village cricket match - a neighbouring side versus a local eleven whose star batsman can well be guessed at - and thereafter tea and croquet on the front lawn at Undershaw.

I played my own long game all the day, 'happening' upon guests and conversations, pretending innocent interest in all manner of subjects - a form of disguise requiring a great deal more work than the application of greasepaint and padding - else my real reasons for being here trip a wire. I learned that Ormond and Annette Pierce had spent long periods travelling abroad - probably racking up debts as they went and decamping as they became due - reducing the likelihood that either had masterminded the fraud, since its constant centre appeared to be England. In addition, from their blank looks as I quoted Schiller on the beauty of nature, I gathered that neither had enough German to carry on a conversation or correspondence with Paulus who, according to Doyle, knew almost no English.

Use of an intermediary could not be dismissed, of course, but for the time being I filed the Pierces under 'Persons I Hope Never To Meet Again, Even In Court'. I fancy that its material equivalent is that overstuffed briefcase I use as a step stool to reach the poisons shelf over the door. It is certainly heavy enough to compare.

The Colonel, his lady and the Porters formed a troubling sort of symmetry, a study in preconceptions, if you will. I hold no brief for the uprightness of soldiers as a class. Physical courage does not necessarily confer its moral cousin. There is a simplicity about the battlefield, in appointed ranks and unreflecting obedience to those set above one - whether wise, foolish, or downright insane - that makes the petty, ignoble compromises and stark responsibilities of civilian life especially hard for those out of uniform.

I have seen it first hand. Some come out of that slow fire tested and refined, an essential decency preserved. Others are twisted into misshapes, dragging a charcoal stain with every step. Barclay, Moran, Stark: murderers and worse. Yet my instincts were against the Treadwells' guilt - the Colonel's want of imagination seemed at odds with the crime. However, I lacked cold reasons to dismiss them, just as I lacked them to counter my bias against the Porters.

I have already noted my antipathy to the brother and my mistrust of it. His sister I pitied - abuse of power is a vile thing - but she herself committed such offences against sense and delicacy that afternoon, that I found myself uneasier than I had ever been in a woman's company. I had the misfortune to be paired with her for croquet, and as the hoops were somewhat crowded with players, we had sufficient leisure to carry on a running conversation.

It was a conversation I should have infinitely preferred to avoid.

Whatever influence he exerted over her, it was not a mere parroting of her sibling's views that I heard. Instead I was subjected to an extraordinary discourse on her experiences as a medium and her plans to further this career by adopting the precepts of a certain Ida Craddock. Miss Craddock apparently gave out that she was married to an angel and, in the course of their...relations, was granted insights into spiritual realms closed to the rest of us benighted mortals. It was, of course, only through holy marriage, the joining of male and female bodies in spiritual correspondence to the laws of the universe, that light would descend on this earth. Miss Porter was quite, indeed quite repellently, clear on that score.

I was curious, though not to the point of caring, what she would think were I to be as frank with her about my own desires as she insisted on being with me about hers. She dropped some coy hints that she had already secured her own angel in corporeal disguise. As she had (though I acknowledge I am a poor judge of female charms) neither beauty of form nor grace of person to commend her, I dismissed it in my own mind as a daydream, and her as without either wit or worldliness to work the Swiss scheme.

By such slips do cases founder. Chance, that ally to which I fear I rarely give proper credit, administered the corrective quite soon after. Doyle had loaned us his own dressing room in which to prepare for dinner, saving us a trip back to Haslemere. We were across the corridor from Robert Porter's room. I had just stepped out to go downstairs, when the opposite door slammed open and Amelia Porter fled, her fists clenched in front of her mouth and her eyes wild. It was not some further outrage by her brother that had prompted her, for when I slid carefully across the threshold, the room was empty.

Scattered about the waste-paper basket were the shredded remnants of a telegram and two envelopes. All had been rent so ferociously that I might have needed a good half-hour and a pot of paste had the text been a long one, but it was eloquent in its brevity.

STEFAN WANN WIRST DU MIH ZU DICH RUFEN

which may be rendered: "Stefan, when will you call me to you?"

It had been sent from London and returned unread, in an envelope marked “Postlagernd Oranienburger Strasse Berlin”. It seemed that Doyle and the St Gabriel Sanatorium had not been the only seekers after Herr Doktor Stefan Paulus. By a mere accident, the rejected appeal had been forwarded by some well-meaning servant or neighbour here, where I could read it and decipher its layers of meaning.

I set off after her. I had even less liking than before for a public exposure of the sort I had been set up to deliver. She was all kinds of fool, and if my supposition was true, was part at least of a shabby and criminal deceit: no doubt the law should take its course. Yet what part of justice would be served by making her an after-dinner entertainment? I am not a character in a sensational serial.

In the dusk, her footprints outside the house were hard to trace. Instead I stood stock still and listened. Over the rustle of wind and chirping of sparrows, a human voice keened its misery and defeat. She sat on the grass by an outhouse, beating her hands uselessly against her temples, the ground, the world, until she sensed me standing nearby and sprang to her feet. I held a hand up to stop her flight.

“I beg you, wait. I may be of some assistance to you.”

Her sullen expression and curled lip told me exactly how much assistance she believed I could be. Yet by soft words and soothing gestures, such as calm nervous beasts and grieving women alike, I persuaded her to come back to the house so that I could call Watson and have some security for a private interview. We excused ourselves from dinner, on the pretext that Miss Porter had been taken ill, and took her into the drawing room.

Seeing no reason to beat about the bush, I laid plainly before her the accusation that she had, together with Paulus, extorted money from Miss Leavis. Watson looked at me rather sharply when my words seemed to provoke a fainting fit, but he soon satisfied himself that there was more of guilt than of shock in it. I went on to convince her, by carefully oblique allusion, that I was aware of the peculiar domestic circumstances from which she might well desire to escape, and how the false promises of her 'angelic' doctor must have seemed heaven-sent indeed.

“Nevertheless: Miss Leavis was not to blame for your misfortunes. If you truly possess any spiritual insight you will turn yourself into the authorities at the earliest opportunity, and the innocent victim's funds would be restored to her. in return, I can exert what influence I have to reduce your punishment. Can you lay hands on the money?”

She could not. Paulus had assured her they would be safest in his hands alone: that as a man in the world, though not of it, he could invest them to their joint advantage and send for her once he was settled.

Watson expressed some hot sentiments concerning his fellow medic and what he would like to do with him were he to find himself in the same room.

“I have colder but surer methods, my dear fellow. The agents of the Prussian state and of the Emperor Franz Joseph are not so benevolent, nor so bungling, as our friends at the Yard. If he is anywhere in German-speaking territory he may be found, and though a crime on Swiss soil may be no concern of theirs, he will find that some small suggestion that he holds unorthodox political opinions or allies to radical elements greatly to his disadvantage. Personally, I have no compunction in planting such a suggestion in certain ears who have good cause to listen to me.”

Set a lie to catch a liar. I have never claimed moral purity.

Watson rejoined the dinner party, leaving Miss Porter to consult her conscience as she packed. Being of a less trusting nature, I posted a groom under her bedroom window and picketed the door. When she came out, she asked to use the telephone.

“From one prison to another,” she murmured as we awaited the constable.

“You may at least console yourself with the thought that your lover likewise will not long enjoy freedom.”

She turned her plain, pale face to me and sighed. “And yet I find that I would rather see him free and happy. That when hope and faith are gone, love still remains."

*********************************

“I said that you had forgot love,” Watson reminded me once we were safe home.

I had acquainted Doyle privately with my knowledge before leaving Surrey and found, somewhat to my surprise, that he had from his own pocket already restored Miss Leavis to a comfortable financial estate - comfortable enough to see out the short time she had left. I did not share with our host my plans for Paulus: he would probably have said something about them 'not being cricket'.

I have no interest in cricket.

“For an emotion with such a noble reputation, it seems to be at the root of much that is ignoble at best, at worst downright reprehensible."

"And much that is worthy and true," my companion maintained stoutly. "Really, Holmes, you blame feelings when you ought to blame actions, and character. To speak of love - or anything else - as a motive is not to deny personal responsibility. How could we have any kind of settled law or morality otherwise?"

"Wise words, but I fear few heed them. I recently heard passion - the difference between 'dear' and 'darling', as it was put to me - advanced as a reason to break one's marriage vows. In fact, I was assured that you in particular would understand."

Watson sat up very straight in his chair, putting his hand to his mouth as if guarding it, as if there was some danger in what he might say except he took great care.

"By 'recently' do you mean this weekend just past?"

"Indeed."

"Then I assume you have in mind a certain literary agent of our acquaintance. Holmes, things in that regard are not as they seem. I have Doyle's word that he remains loyal to his wife in the essentials of his promise. And it costs him. He suffers under the judgement of some close to him who know the situation; he feels bound by more than duty to continue to hold her dear who is his in law and in fact."

"He confided in you? I did not know you were so close."

"It was a professional consultation and I have already said more than I ought. Please, drop the subject."

Professional and also personal, I did not doubt. I knew what advice the fearful husbands of consumptive wives were given - that she must not be tired out, must not be 'troubled' by the demands of the marriage bed. I knew what had taken another doctor's young wife long before her time. To have sustenance dangled before one's eyes and be unable to reach for it - well, there is a reason Tantalus was said to be under divine punishment.

I had been wrong about Doyle. I had taken his ease with society for complicity with it, for compromise with its deceits and excuses, with its love of form and its disregard for real justice, especially in the matter of what gentlemen of reputation are allowed to get away with. In this, and in his secret generosity, he had shown himself more worthy of my respect than I had supposed.

It was unlikely we would become friends. As I have said, I am not, on the whole, one to inspire friendship. The one shining exception was never what I deserved nor even lookd for, only what was mercifully granted me, an absolution for so many faults and sins. Yet I could deal more graciously with Doyle; attend to his conversation as closely as to the scuffs on his shoes; encourage his moments of lucid thought and overlook the more extravagant of his flights of fancy.

Perhaps I might even permit him, on some future occasion, to peer at me. It might not be so objectionable as all that: I am, after all, unique.

What he might think, if he knew my secret as I knew his, I should not care to speculate. I shall not tell him, and he will not guess. He thinks too highly of Watson and does not read me well enough. Yet I might hope that a man who deals in so many stories where justice and the law do not always coincide, might not condemn us out of hand.

"Holmes..."

I turned to Watson, distracted out of my thoughts by the tone of his voice and how very close to me he suddenly was - standing right by the mantelpiece where I lingered, tracing with my forefinger the gilded frame of the engraving of the Reichenbach Falls. He cleared his throat, as one who is unsure that what he has to say will be welcome.

"The difference between 'dear' and 'darling'. I believe I can bring some light to bear on that question. That is, if it would interest you."

We were not talking about Doyle any more: we had dropped that subject altogether. My friend took my hand in both of his and pressed it to his chest, over his heart. It beat steadily, not the hectic rush and hammer of his pulses that I had felt in moments in the dead of night: endless moments on the wordless edge of dying from pleasure.

"One who is dear touches the heart. A fond thought, a cherished memory: these are dear. The body - well the body may have something to do with it, but one may couple with someone daily who is 'only' dear, and never lie with the soul's one delight."

It seemed then, that I was 'dear'. Although I failed to see what was 'only' about it: to be dear to John Watson was surely a crown of laurels. But he had not finished. He stood back and rolled up his sleeve, making sign that I was to do the same. He clasped me at inside of the elbow, his thumb just where the skin is thinnest and the veins bluest, and laid his whole forearm along mine. My fingers slid into the like hollow in the crook of his arm.

I waited, but he never moved, never spoke, only trapped me there until my heartbeat quickened as his did, until they were matched stroke for stroke and we could nearly hear the sound under the soft, white skin of us.

"Darling," he whispered so that I stooped to catch it, "beats with every pulse, grows in every cell; is the first thought and the last thought of every day; is a mourning cry of loss and pain. The body - well, the body may have something to do with it, but not everyone is so lucky as to lie so often with their soul's delight. Not so lucky as I am."

Not only, then, as lucky as he had been, but as he was now. I fear I looked very stupid then, my mouth open, not knowing how to answer such an extraordinary declaration. Fortunately for me, he took no notice of any of that, instead kissing me soundly, putting my lips to better uses than some mangled, stammering attempt to talk about feelings when I could not hope to express them half so well as by kissing him back.

Kissing is an entree excellent in its way, especially when accompanied by a good deal of urgent pressing of backs against walls and doors, of walking with limbs entangled towards a bed, of clothing flying this way and that: but when one is hungry after a fast, it takes more than a few bites of honeycomb, however sweet, to satisfy.

The feast is the lush curve of a stocky thigh, hairy rough and skin smooth, muscle and sinew taut under the hand, under the mouth. The feast is how he moves, awkward and endearing, to make room for me on the narrow bed, to lie beside me, under me, on top of me, any way so long as we embrace full-length. No play, no calculation this time.

I wish it was morning already so that I could see him, rosy naked as the dawn, and me a white field, waiting for the dew to fall. Yet darkness and candle-shadow have their merits. The light flickers over his belly, a rounded pot with a ready handle solid in my fist, fit for cooking up all kinds of hot dishes. I sup there, mouth watering; I bend him over my knee and he presses and rubs every last drop of juice out, caught betwen the pestle of one of my thighs and the mortar of the other, groaning under kneading fingers pressing into his ample arse in return.

I had forgot love; I had forgot how hungry I always am to have him in my bed, or to be in his; how starvation makes a man greedy, dreaming of feasts, gobbling down choice morsels instead of savouring them. I will savour him, drink him down, let him nourish me, for I am lean from ignorance and scorn of love; I have wasted away for want of this mating of friends.

Fill me, John: you, who beat in every pulse, grow in every cell. You are the first thought and the last of every day. Fill me, feed on me, carve me into little pieces, only never leave me.

So I learned the difference between 'dear' and 'darling' and I, who have called my Watson dear for years, for decades, have found other things to call him, other words for what he is to me - for nothing need be said, but there are phrases on the tip of my tongue that once...but I repeat myself.

Past time now, to say something new.

END

sherlock holmes, fic

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