I’ve decided to post Chapter 39 on its own mainly because it’s a longer chapter than I’ve been writing for this story and because my friends are bugging me to get on with it 🙂 If I post this chapter now, and write the next couple on Monday on my day off, then I won’t feel like I’m torturing them (so much).
Also, I’ve begun to worry that I’m researching too much! I keep finding bits that I want to add in and they’re just not important, so if I post the chapter, I won’t add more crap in, no matter how interesting. Worse, I started reading a book that is EXACTLY what this chapter is talking about, the anatomy research and practices of the day, as well as electrical research in regards to the body. I mean, geez, I’m losing my mind! 🙂 It’s so perfect. So some of the stuff in the following chapter is vaguely based on fact (or wikipedia, which is almost the same thing, though the time period isn’t exact and I am just not going to go crazy with dripping research all over this. Be thankful. 🙂
At the end, I’ll post a picture of the machine I’m talking about. Oh, and also, I changed the last line of the last chapter to put John and Sherlock on their way to Lambeth, as I needed them to cross the Thames on their way home.
The address in Lambeth was about three times the size of their home on Baker Street, but less well-maintained. The exterior was chipping and the first of the stone steps wobbled when John prodded it with his cane. It wasn’t entirely dilapidated, for the windows shone and the walk was swept, just somewhat neglected.
“I feel I must warn you, John. The Professor is one of the few men in existence whose genius nearly matches my own. His genius borders on madness.” Sherlock mounted the front steps two at a time and used the knocker.
“So, if you are the more intelligent, does that make you mad?” John says this with a teasing grin, surprising Sherlock into a grin.
“Some seem to think so.” Sherlock winked and John felt a little guilty for thinking him mad on the morning of their wedding. Was that only yesterday? Granted, he had just cause, but Sherlock was a vivid, brilliant man and shouldn’t need to explain his reasons for the things he did.
The door opened on an ancient man, skeletal and hunched over with a sunken chest.
“Is he at home, Marley?” Sherlock asked.
“Yes, sir, tinkering away with his latest contraption.”
“Excellent. We’ll find him in a good mood, then.”
The elderly butler took their overcoats and left them to find their own way. Sherlock seemed to be a frequent enough visitor that he familiar with the butler and had the run of the household.
“What is that humming, Sherlock?” John asked as soon as they were alone in the foyer. Sherlock turned as he opened a door to their left, eyes alight.
“That is bound to be his latest machine. This should be exciting! Come along, John.”
John entered the next room after his husband, but he was stopped by the utterly stunning clutter of the room. Large globes hung from the ceiling in what John surmised was a model of the solar system. Books and loose papers were stacked in piles three feet deep in corners despite an abundance of bookshelves. The shelving held other things, notably taxidermied animals John had never seen in his life and pickled punks, two-headed pigs, four-legged cats and the like. Glass eyes stared out from the shelving as well, often on their own and not encased in any skull.
Bones littered the place, too, but in a way that suggested something crawled up to the hearth and was allowed to die there. There was no smell beyond the typical coal smoke and dust and paper smell of a library, so John supposed that could not be true.
Sherlock walked confidently through the mess as if he’d seen it all before and opened a door on the far side of the room.
“He’s what one might call a theoretical anatomist. Taught me everything I know about the subject. He was the only lecturer at university worth listening to, but of course they quietly tossed him out a few years ago.”
John didn’t ask what for; he wasn’t sure he really wanted to know.
Sherlock disappeared through the door, leaving John to follow or not. John bravely threw himself into the next room, breath held in a mixture of dread and anticipation.
“Good afternoon, Professor!” Sherlock called above the oppressive humming. It made the fine hairs along John’s skin stand up and a strange pressure throbbed through the rest of him.
“Holmes, lad, good to see you, good to see you! Give me a few minutes and I’ll be right with you.”
John still couldn’t see the man for he was hidden by a huge machine that took up the center of the room. It consisted of huge glass disks, spinning with a crank, brass globes, glass cylinders, and metal tubing. There was a definite chemical smell in this room, as well as the acrid scent of burnt hair. That smell was coming from the body of a dog on a nearby rolling table.
John glanced at Sherlock, whose bright eyes were taking in every inch of the fabulous machine before them. He moved entirely around it, eyes calculating how it worked, how every part moved and would be taken apart. There was only one way to describe how Sherlock gazed at that mysterious apparatus: he was enraptured. And John was entranced by the keen look in his husband’s eyes, until he reminded himself not to be. He cleared his throat. Back to the machine, then.
“What is it?”
“It’s Martinus von Marum’s electrostatic generator. Well, a replica, anyway,” came the hidden voice again. This time the gentleman came around the tables that held the generator, wiping his hands on a stained cloth. He was thin, older, perhaps in his mid-fifties with thinning hair fading from brown to gray. There was nothing spectacular about his appearance other than his eyes. They were dark and quick and flicked about much like Sherlock’s. “Who have we here, eh, Holmes?”
“Husband,” Sherlock replied, distracted, his head awfully close to the glass wheels at the center of the device.
“Don’t touch, Sherlock,” the man reminded him. “Wait, did you say husband? Whatever happened with that Victor lad you used to come around with?”
Sherlock’s head popped up. He strode over to the two of them and placed one hand on John’s shoulder.
“Doctor Watson is a finer man than Victor Trevor could ever hope to be.”
This was the first time Sherlock had ever referred to John as anything other than John; it was also the first time since he’d joined the army that someone had referred to him as other than his rank. Captain outranked doctor, and like the gentry, the highest title preceded any others. John found he liked hearing Sherlock call him Doctor Watson. It almost distracted him from wondering about Victor Trevor.
“John, this is James Moriarty.” John extended his hand.
“Please call me Professor. Everyone does.” The Professor shook his hand, smiling widely.
“Good to meet you, Professor. So tell me about this generator of yours? What is it for?”
The Professor didn’t take much prompting. He began a lengthy explanation of the machine, the gist of which was that it rubbed two pieces of wool or other materials together to create a spark of static electricity. The charge could be stored in a battery, the bank of Leyden jars. John tried to follow along through terms like dielectric and corona discharge, whose meanings he could guess at but his education on the theories of electrical charges was limited.
“By any chance, are you relation to Sir William Watson, formerly of the Royal Society?” The Professor stopped in mid-ramble to ask, his speech patterns much like Sherlock’s.
“No, sir, I don’t believe so.” John was fascinated by the generator, but he felt overwhelmed. It was a relief to answer a simple question.
“Shame. I would have loved to get my hands on anything he might have left cluttering up his attic when he passed. He improved the Leyden jar, you know.” The Professor gestured to the several racks of metal-lined glass jars on a small table pushed up close to his generator.
“But what does it have to do with the dog?” Sherlock finally interrupted, impatient in his curiosity.
“Ah, yes, the dog, poor thing. His heart gave out this morning. I’ve been trying to test my theory that electrical stimulation to the heart might invigorate the muscle.”
“And did it?” The Professor had both John and Sherlock’s attention at this. This might have potential to resuscitate the dead.
“Oh, a few twitches, about as effective as salt on a frog leg. Pup was nearly stiff when I could manage the experiment. Have to try with a fresher body next time.”
Sherlock was immediately knuckle-deep in the dog’s body, smoothing the fur away from the wires and the edge of the entry into the dog’s chest.
“I have hope for the theory that electrical pulses from the brain to the extremities control our movements.” Galvani’s nerve theory, that was something John was at least fleetingly familiar with.
“Extraordinary. I can see why Sherlock thinks so highly of you, Professor.”
“What about reattached limbs?” Sherlock interrupted again. “Do you think that it would be possible to regain function in a limb completely severed?”
“Were surgical techniques improved, I do believe so. However, the reattachment and regrowth of the proper nerves and veins would be quite delicate, far more so than we are capable of at this time.”
John and Sherlock exchanged a look.
“Has there been any talk of such an experiment lately, Professor?” For if someone were to embark on such a thing, surely their first stop would be to the home of the theoretical anatomist James Moriarty.
The man seemed to think about this for a second.
“No one has discussed anything like that with me in quite a while. I suppose you could ask around at the Royal Society…”
“Banished,” Sherlock said, waving away the idea with a flung-out hand. John squashed a smile.
The Professor was a fascinating conversationalist, if you could follow him. One could almost see the anatomy in front of them as he spoke, see the cuts and delicate surgeries he described, imagine it all being possible. Sherlock and John stayed well past tea and sunset listening and observing demonstrations of several contraptions around the vast laboratory. Sherlock continued to insert questions that might be relevant to his case without mentioning the case directly and John abetted his subtlety.
“Sherlock, I believe we have distracted the good Professor from his work for too long,” John finally said. The evening had progressed to nearly night. Lamps had been lit long ago and John was hungry. This did not seem like the sort of house where an invitation to dinner seemed forthcoming, especially if the Professor was anything like Sherlock in his refusal to adhere to proper mealtimes.
Sherlock nodded sagely, as if realizing he’d spent too much time distracted from his case by the Professor.
“Yes, I really must be getting John home. Professor, it’s been enlightening, as always.”
“Do bring your young man back, Sherlock, anytime. We must encourage his scientific curiosity, eh?”
“I’ve no doubt we’ll be frequent visitors, Professor,” John said with a smile.
“Oh, Professor! I meant to tell you that Edger’s will have delivered my terrarium today.”
“Excellent, dear boy. I’ll start separating out a colony of dermestids for you in the morning.”
They had said their good-byes and left before John asked. The night was crisp for once, instead of damp and foggy. They began to walk towards the Westminster Bridge, thinking it more likely to find a hack near Lambeth Road or hovering near the House of Parliament on the other side.
“Use your Latin, John.” But Sherlock hummed happily to himself.
“Skin,” John said thoughtfully. “Oh, Sherlock, skin eating insects? Tell me I’m wrong.”
“No, you’re absolutely correct! I’ll be able to clean my own specimens right at home. Mycroft would never let me bring them into the house.”
“What makes you think that I will?”
Sherlock stopped dead and gave John such a pained, pathetic look that John almost laughed. Still, he kept a straight face.
“Give me one good reason I would allow such a creature, much less a colony of them, in our fine house?”
“They won’t get out, I swear to you, John,” Sherlock rushed to beg. “I must have them for my work! I can examine bone fractures in more detail without the flesh getting in the way. I’ll keep them in my laboratory. You’ll never even see them.”
“They’ll eat the hairs on your violin bow if they get out. You know that right?”
Sherlock’s lips twisted in a grimace.
“It is unlikely that the Professor will give me mere bow bugs when I need them for cleaning flesh from bone.”
“Very well, I agree to your condition – they will stay in your lab and I will not see them.”
“Technically, that’s two conditions. Wait, yes?!”
“Yes, fine, Sherlock, if they’ll make you happy. You can consider it a wedding gift from me.”
“Oh, excellent, John.” Sherlock began rubbing his hands together as if plotting something truly heinous and thrilling.
“I have another condition, as well.”
“The deal has already been struck. You cannot add conditions after the fact.”
“Alright, then, answer me a question in the spirit of conversation, or as a wedding gift from you.”
“Hardly a traditional gift, the answer to a question, John. Go on, then.”
“Who is Victor Trevor?”
Too much research. (I could have put in a MUCH more disturbing experiment that I read about today, but I won’t, you’re welcome.) And a teaser ending. 🙂 Sorry. 🙂