Chapters 10-15, because I want to get my plot to London and start the case! 🙂 I probably haven’t looked this through nearly enough, but I got in the bits I wanted and the next chapter will be London and Lestrade and Sherlock being his irritating self! 🙂 Total word count, 15776. Still way too far behind (about half of where I should be) but hopefully the plot will make me write faster. ? Hope, hope.
John crawled under the thick covers of his bed that night with little promise of sleep. The man he was to marry was unusual, extraordinary. More changeable than the wind. One second he was annoyed, the next, nearly flirtatious. Perhaps he was just awkward and unsure of how to act; John certainly was. Still, John didn’t get the impression that Sherlock Holmes thought too much about what others thought of him.
John had gone in search of his company tonight, he thought, to get to know his intended a little better but the man was a mystery and John had no idea how to talk to him, what to say. What did he learn so far? Sherlock and his brother got along less well than John and Harry. Sherlock had a much more forthright personality, brilliant and demonstrative of that fact. And last, something had happened to make Lord Sherrinford demand that his brother marry and Sherlock wasn’t going to volunteer the information. He was upset by it. How very curious.
John sighed and turned his head to the side and imagined the man in bed next to him. He’d be on his side, head propped up on his hand, covers pulled up halfway over his bare alabaster chest. He’d have that twinkle in his eye, a playful grin on his lips. He might reach one hand towards John, his husband. He’d say his name, “John,” in that voice that made John’s insides writhe like a happy puppy.
God, John, stop it, he scolded himself. Don’t start fantasizing. You don’t know that he will ever choose to share a bed with you. While socially and financially fortuitous marriages between men were common, particularly among the aristocracy, the rules of marital intimacy did not apply. If they both chose to do so, they could share a bed, share love. More frequently, though, there were mistresses and illegitimate families, nearly separate lives. Marriage between men, so often younger brothers, preserved the elder brother’s direct line of inheritance, since there would be no legitimate issue to divide the estate or monies.
There would be no children born of this union. If John wanted children, he would have to go elsewhere. And what sort of life would that be for them? As a couple, they could foster the children of a relative, perhaps, or take in a ward. Did Sherlock even like children? Did he already father some? Could that be the scandal his brother so desperately wanted to tamp down?
John wondered what Sherlock Holmes thought about him. What such a dynamic man thought about being married to a man who couldn’t easily descend a stair. Would he want a man whose leg was twisted with scars, who would always limp, who couldn’t sleep the night. They couldn’t share a bed without injury, probably, even were Sherlock so inclined.
John blew out the candle by the side of the bed, always worried that his restless sleep would knock into a lamp or candle and start a fire. The glowing coals in the fireplace offered some light in the middle of the night, but not always enough for John to awaken from his nightmares and realize exactly where he was. A lamp would be better, but John worried.
This line of hypotheticals vastly dampened any fantasy John might have indulged in about Sherlock. He turned onto his back, one arm above his head, and sighed. What would life be like with Sherlock Holmes?
Despite a sleepless night, John woke early with unusual energy. Perhaps he was just anxious to see what would come out of Sherlock Holmes’ mouth today, but John slid out of bed as soon as he jerked the bell pull. His bad leg almost crumpled as he tucked his feet into slippers and wrapped his thick dressing gown about himself.
The maid who answered seemed surprised to see him shuffling about already. She set his tea tray by the fireplace and stirred up the coals.
“I’ll take my tea here, but I’ll be breakfasting downstairs today, Abby.”
“Oh, yes, sir,” she said about his change of plans. Captain Watson always broke his fast in his rooms; but of course, there was company, and when there wasn’t, Sir Harold rarely showed his face until midday so there was little point. “I’ll let Mrs. Richardson know.” She bobbed a little curtsy and dashed out the door.
Moments later, without being summoned, the butler Meade rapped at the door. He’d been helping John and Sir Harold dress since there was no one else anymore. John thought momentarily about tipping the staff generously with the wedding purse for all they’d put up with in the past months, years, probably, and their loyalty. He couldn’t even imagine how much would be enough.
Lord Sherrinford – John would have to ask him to provide the traditional purse for the staff and villagers. Harry likely wouldn’t have the funds yet and wouldn’t think to ask.
John forced himself to pace back and forth in his room despite the pain in his leg. It was always worst at night. The cramps and spasms would wake him if the nightmares hadn’t already. Sometimes he spent an hour or more hobbling back and forth in the dark before the pain eased enough for him to lie back down.
Meade made short work of dressing John for the morning, once John had decided what he wanted to wear. And maybe Meade smiled just a bit too much at John’s consideration of his appearance. In the end, he chose a dark blue waistcoat under a light brown jacket with buff breeches. Meade fussed a little with his cravat before making sure John found his way steadily enough down the stairs.
Lord Sherrinford and Harry were already dining, though Harry didn’t seem to be enjoying his toast and tea. There was much of importance to be discussed yet, despite Lord Sherrinford’s innocuous and pleasant conversation.
John was seated, bid the two good morning, and received his customary plate. Sherlock breezed in when his meal was half over.
“Good morning, Sherlock,” John ventured, only to be rewarded with a bright smile.
“Good morning, John,” was the hearty response.
If John had spared a glance for Lord Sherrinford, he would have noticed quite a peculiar expression on the man’s face. Sherlock tucked into his egg and toast without being urged, further annoying his brother with the normalcy of it.
“Did you see the grounds sufficiently yesterday, Sherlock, or would you like a proper tour? Of course, Lord Sherrinford, you are welcome as well.” To see what you are buying with all that money, John added to himself. But really, how could he be churlish and bitter about the Watson’s rescue?
“Mycroft won’t come along, John. It may require exercise,” Sherlock scoffed. Lord Sherrinford ignored his brother and replied smoothly.
“I fear your brother and I have too many details to discuss regarding the marriage contracts, Captain Watson. We may well be closeted in the study the entire day. Thinking of all the work to be done wouldn’t allow me to properly enjoy a countryside jaunt, but thank you.”
Harry just looked miserable, and John was a bit glad of that.
“I, on the other hand, am dreadfully bored. Let’s go.” Sherlock jumped up from the table, stuffing the last of his toast into his mouth.
John marveled on how energetic Sherlock was. Even now he tapped his foot as they waited for the butler to bring their outerwear.
“I apologize if our hospitality is insufficient to keep you occupied.”
“Oh, don’t be so stuffy, John. Etiquette is boring. I am away from the city, away from my experiments, away from life. Of course I’m bored. You shouldn’t take it personally.”
John hadn’t, not really, but he didn’t know Sherlock well enough to know if he should have.
“Do hurry, John,” he said as soon as they were wrapped up against the late autumn chill. Sherlock darted out the doorway and down the steps, reminding John of a retriever he’d had as a teen. Harry hadn’t said what happened to the dog while John was away, but he supposed he must have died. It seemed likely, one way or another, since Harry had disliked the spirited pup, and the feeling had been mutual.
“I’m injured, Sherlock, you’ll just have to learn to be patient.” John felt surprised that he felt so comfortable calling Sherlock by his Christian name, even, and especially, after their short conversation the night before. He’d only had the privilege with a few childhood pals from the village and none since he’d gone away to school.
Sherlock scoffed, but bounced at the foot of the steps as John made his careful way down them.
“Nonsense, you are not injured. Your leg has been healing a six-month, so your scars are probably fading to pink. You’ve been taking long walks about the estate to help recover your strength after your bout of fever. Exercise only helps with the stiffness, even if it tires you still.”
“Very well,” John chuckled. “I am not injured. Which direction do you prefer?”
“You pick, John. I only explored the immediate area yesterday. Lead me somewhere you enjoy.”
“Very well. This way, then.”
John headed around the side of the manor house and then straight to the east where the meadows were harvested and quiet. There was a stream a few stiles that way and a pretty little woods had sprung up around it. It was the deep, dark forest of John’s childhood, where he’d explored and played at Robin Hood with some of the town children.
They walked in companionable silence for some time, Sherlock only opening his mouth to verify which crop was planted in which field, and sometimes narrate interesting facts about the hibernating wildflowers that grew along their way. John couldn’t tell by their dry stems what they were, but Sherlock seemed certain.
Sherlock vaulted over the stiles with a whoosh of his greatcoat, but paid great care that John would not stumble on his way. John said nothing about it and tried to change the topic even in his own mind.
“So, we know why I agreed to this marriage, Sherlock, but why did you?”
Sherlock had paused to pluck some remnants of clover from the ground.
“Sheep?” he said.
“What? Oh, yes, we graze sheep in this field sometimes. Did you hear my question?”
“Why does anyone marry, John?”
“Is that meant to be rhetorical?”
“Freedom, John! Is that not what we all want? Freedom to live our lives, to come and go as we please, to direct our surroundings to our greatest pleasures. Mycroft promised me a home of my own, out from under his watchful gaze, and if I’m to be saddled with a keeper, so be it!”
John wondered vaguely if Sherlock always spoke with exclamation marks.
“I’ll try not to restrict your pleasures, then.” Of course Sherlock didn’t want this marriage, John, neither of you did. Don’t be stupid.
“Oh, don’t be that way, John. Besides, we both know that Mycroft has already asked you to spy on me. You don’t need to confirm it.”
“That doesn’t mean I agreed to do so.”
Sherlock abandoned his long stride and John continued walking quite past him. For the first time, he was ahead of the man, as much as he was guiding the tour.
After a moment, Sherlock jogged to catch up to him. This time, the hand he placed on John’s elbow was much more pleasant.
“You said ‘no’ to Mycroft?”
“I take it that doesn’t happen often. He seemed put out, even through that polite mask of his.”
“I’ve never known anyone to do so, except me.”
They resumed walking, Sherlock silent and lost in thought for several minutes.
“I never wished to marry. I’ve always found young ladies, even if they might have had sharp minds, bred and nurtured to be simpler than their idiotic husbands. I cannot tolerate insipid conversation. And the very few men whose conversation I can tolerate have never enticed me. And either way, I prefer to be alone.”
And there, right there, John could foretell the lonely state of their marriage.
Sherlock’s sharp eyes caught something. “What are those?” And he was off running. John took his time ambling along until he was about twenty feet away from the curious objects which had Sherlock so fascinated.
“You keep bees!” Sherlock said with no little awe.
“Yes, we have hives scattered over the estate grounds.” This one was surrounded by a little copse of trees. There was a half-rotted stump nearby, plenty of overhang from the trees for shade and protection from winter snow. “This hive was wild, in the tree here. Our beekeeper managed to move it when I was a boy so we could more easily harvest the honey.”
Sherlock glanced around, but the brisk autumn sky held nothing but clouds.
“The bees are packed away for the winter, otherwise they’ll freeze. Take off your glove.”
Sherlock didn’t ask questions, immediately removing one of his gloves. John tugged on his hand and led him right up to the hive.
“They’re loud,” Sherlock observed. “And warm!” John had put his fingers over a vent hole in the top of the hive cover. “Fascinating.” John could see Sherlock’s mind working, trying to imagine the inside of the hive, the sheer number of tiny bodies wiggling and humming, keeping warm and sipping honey stored in the combs.
“We must come back in spring, then, when they’re open. I’m sure Mr. Gilmore would be amenable to answering your questions.” Maybe not all your questions, thought John, but the man did like to talk bees.
After dragging Sherlock from the beehives, John led the two of them to a little copse of woods.
“I’d play here as a child. Explore for ancient treasures. Hunt the big, bad wolf.”
“There are few wolves left in Britain.”
“I know. I got the last of them by the time I was nine.”
Sherlock started a bit, then realized the joke and laughed along with John. He really was much more comfortable today. Sherlock wondered why that was. Perhaps out here, away from their brothers, he could be more himself. Perhaps he, as a man of action, felt smothered indoors, straightjacketed by the need for propriety.
Sherlock thought that the woods were not only perfect for exploring and wolf-hunting, but with enough imagination, could pass for a perfect spot to bury pirate treasure. And he said so. This made John laugh, and Sherlock was inordinately pleased with himself over that.
“Look, just there, where the fallen tree crosses the other! We should dig there; ‘X’ marks the spot, you know!” Sherlock gamboled to the top of the recently fallen tree and peered at the ground around him. “Well, perhaps not. It doesn’t appear that the ground here has been disturbed since a badger abandoned its nest.”
“Badgers? Oh, Sherlock, do come down from there.”
“Why? They’re long gone.” Sherlock crouched down and poked into the shallow burrow. “Likely they’ve found somewhere deeper and more secure for the winter.”
“No need to tempt fate.”
“What else is there to do but tempt fate in life, John?” What other thrill is to be gotten?”
John didn’t answer. After a few moments of allowing Sherlock to explore the hollow, he said, “We ought to head back.”
“Oh, are you getting tired, John?”
John clearly wasn’t going to admit it, but Sherlock had noticed his pace had begun to slow and he stood a little stiffly now. In his pride, they would likely take a roundabout route back.
“I’m fine.” Liar. “It’s just the fresh air inspires my appetite. I’d love to see if Mrs. Richardson has any of those tartlets left.”
“Of course, John. Let’s be off.”
Thirty long minutes later the manor’s gravel drive finally stretched before them and John took a deep breath before heading towards the house.
“Oh! Are you going to the downstairs or upstairs sitting room, John?”
“I had thought to go to my room for a while, actually.”
“That’s near enough the upstairs sitting room. Leave your door ajar.”
“What? Why?” But Sherlock had already dashed up the stairs and into the house, and by the time John made it there, he’d disappeared somewhere into the house.
John looked up the broad staircase. He’d overdone it with Sherlock in the countryside this morning. He wanted to do little but rest. And he had absolutely no idea what Sherlock had in mind when he so elegantly sprinted away.
Meade took his overcoat and followed him up the staircase making sure he wouldn’t fall. Once John was safely in his room, he abandoned his jacket and cravat with Meade as well, and let himself fall into his favorite chair by the fireplace. Meade helped him lift his leg onto a low footstool.
“Leave the door ajar, Meade.”
“Sir?” When it became clear John didn’t have an answer for him, Meade responded, “Yes, of course, sir,” and left the room.
John closed his eyes and let himself slump into the chair. He hadn’t slept much lately. He might do for a nod in the chair after gamboling about all morning. Perhaps it might even be restful.
And then, music. That was something he hadn’t heard in this house in years. Even when he had, it was inexpertly played pianoforte at a small entertainment, nothing grander. But this lone violin was quite grand. John almost got up to explore the source of the melody, but realized it simply had to be Sherlock. Harry never took to an instrument and John couldn’t imagine Lord Sherrinford playing with such fervor.
John listened to the music creeping in through his door until his eyes grew unaccountably heavy and he fell asleep.
Sherlock and Lord Sherrinford had joined John for breakfast the following morning. Harry stumbled down just after Sherlock had pushed aside the remains of his toast. John was still dug into a much heartier breakfast. Harry studiously ignored the contents of his brother’s plate, requesting strong tea and nothing else.
The morning post arrived. Mycroft’s eyebrows lifted as one letter was placed beside his brother’s plate. Sherlock snapped it up with undisguised delight while Mycroft calmly flicked through the dozen or so letters that had arrived for him.
“Mycroft, ready the coach. We must leave for London at once!” Sherlock shot out of the room in a flurry of coat tails. Lord Sherrinford plucked up Sherlock’s letter, still fluttering from Sherlock’s wake.
After a brief perusal, he said, “I apologize for this abrupt and untimely departure. My brother’s presence is urgently required in London. He has, on occasion, consulted with Bow Street on certain matters. It appears something out of the usual course of things has occurred.”
“Yes, of course we understand, Lord Sherrinford.” Harry’s hangover gave way to fluster. Sherlock’s baritone bellowed in the hall for his luggage to be packed and to please be mindful of the violin.
“We’d better make haste, or he will begin running there on his own two feet.”
John and Harry pushed away from the breakfast table as Lord Sherrinford stood.
“Worry not, Sir Harold. I will send the final paperwork around with my solicitor in a week’s time and we can pick a date as early as the reading of the banns allows.” Harry dropped back into his chair at this, definite relief on his face.
“Captain Watson, I expect I’ll see you at the ceremony, if nothing else. Good day.”
John bowed politely before Lord Sherrinford left the room.
“Heavens,” Harry breathed.
“Indeed. Excuse me, Harry.”
John left the room to find Sherlock donning his greatcoat in the foyer. The amount of servants seemed to have tripled, bustling down and back up the stairs, both with and without luggage.
“I’m sorry our visit was cut so short, Sherlock.”
“Doesn’t matter. We will be married soon and you’ll be in London and, I imagine, heartily sick of me by summer.”
John smiled, wishing there was more he could say.
“Could I write to you?” Where had that come from? What would he have to say in letters to this man?
“Do as you will, John, but I’ll likely be too busy to read them. I may make the time if you write about the bees. I may just pour over your letters, then!”
“Will you write back?”
“I don’t have time for correspondence, John.” He said it like it was a foul word. “There are nefarious deeds in London!”
Sherlock shook John’s proffered hand and disappeared out the door, likely startling the horses that were pulling up the carriage outside with his shout, “Mycroft, do hurry!”
Once the Holmes brothers had left, preparations continued in good faith. The banns were posted with their intention to join the families. A notice appeared in several of the newspapers that trickled in from London. Congratulations and sometimes gifts were thrust upon John as he walked through the village. Mrs. Phillips, formerly John’s nurse Miss Abernathy, handed him a rather bulky parcel tied with twine.
“Some good, warm jumpers, Captain Watson.”
John suddenly missed her voice calling him ‘young Master Watson’ and sometimes ‘Johnny’ when no one else was around to hear.
“Wear them in good health, young man.” She fussed a bit over him like she used to do. “I daresay you’ll make the most handsome groom since my Tom.”
“I wouldn’t say that, Mrs. Phillips. You haven’t yet laid eyes on my intended.”
“So, it’s like that, is it?” Her faded brown eyes sparkled with delight.
“No, no. We’ve only just met.” John blushed, wanting to pull at his high collar and choking cravat, but couldn’t due to the weighty woolen parcel in one hand and his cane in the other.
“Well, I hope Mr. Holmes appreciates his excellent fortune, then, Captain Watson.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Phillips.”
When John returned to the manor house, he unwrapped the bundle and admired the warm jumpers he’d been given. One was a natural oatmeal color, thick and knit with a twisted cable design. One was a darker blue and the third, green. They were for informal settings – John had one or two he wore in spring and fall when walking about, or had done, but they were wearing in spots and had not entirely escaped moths in his absence to war.
John sat down that afternoon to write to Sherlock, whether Sherlock planned to read it or not. He dipped his pen to ink a dozen times before writing any more than the salutation. Nothing really happened to him. What could he possibly have to say beyond, ‘My old nurse knit me several sweaters,’ or ‘I walked back to the copse of trees and the badger was indeed back in her den’?
The next day he relented and visited Mr. Gilmore, taking comprehensive notes for Sherlock on the proper winterizing of bees.
A week later, the final documents for Harry to peruse and sign arrived with the morning post.
Also on the tray lay a fat fold of paper with Captain John Watson’s direction scrawled upon the outside layer.
“You’ve got a letter?” Harry inquired, looking away from his dismally thick package.
“I suppose so.”
“Must be a long one.” The papers didn’t seem to want to be folded, so they were tied with twine instead of sealing wax to keep them together. “Who sent it?”
John flipped it around. Barely legible was the name.
“Sherlock Holmes.” He wrote back. He actually wrote back. John was sure it was stupid to be so giddy about it, but he couldn’t help himself.
“Oh, well, didn’t he say he’d write? About time, then.” Harry seemed about to try the egg on his plate, but pushed it away at the last moment.
“No, Harry, he quite specifically said he wouldn’t.”
John wanted to tear open the letter, so much so that his ears heated up. He carefully severed the twine and let the pages fall open.
The contents of the letter were unusual, to say the least.
John glanced through the pages. It wasn’t a letter, not exactly. It was, what, notes? Of what? Autopsy, perhaps, but only of hands. Hands, why only hands? John started over at the beginning before starting to laugh.
Sherlock was incapable of writing a normal letter, like he’d said. But he still wanted to tell John what he was doing, so he mailed him case notes. And apparently, someone had found a bagful of hands and Sherlock had meticulously attempted to deduce the deceased owner of each one.