A Gentleman’s Agreement
Only two envelopes from the first mail of the day lay on the breakfast tray when Mrs Hudson brought it up. That was disappointing. Work had been scarce of late and we were in need of a case soon or things were going to become very dire. As I have heard far too many times, idleness leads to the stagnation of a brilliant mind.
Speaking of Holmes, he was apparently still engaged in making himself presentable, although truth to tell, I have seen him mussed and fussed, covered with slime from the Thames or mud from a stable, unshaven and in sore need of a bath and in my opinion, he has never been less than eminently presentable.
Oh, the things I do not say aloud.
I had poured my tea and was buttering a piece of toast when Holmes finally appeared.
He was presentable.
The sight of those two lonely envelopes on the tray made him frown, because clearly neither appeared very likely to offer up a desperate entreaty for Sherlock Holmes to solve an impossible murder mystery or recover a stolen [and no doubt cursed] jewel.
One of the envelopes was addressed to me. It appeared quite ordinary and I did not recognise the handwriting. “Probably a former patient,” I ventured.
Holmes barely gave it glance, which was, of course, all he needed. “A grateful female patient, obviously. No doubt charmed by your bedside manner.”
“And to think that I gave up all that adoration to chase after a madman. Although, I do assure you that my ‘bedside manner’ has received very few complaints.”
Of late, I seem to indulge in far too many verbal games with Holmes. It seems dangerous, because at some point all of those things I do not say aloud might slip out.
Now he only sniffed.
“Your correspondence is obviously of a much higher standard than mine.” The heavy linen envelope was clearly costly and there was some gold lettering in the corner. I blinked at it. “Excuse me, is that from Buckingham Palace?”
“Apparently.” He adopted a tone of boredom. Or possibly he was genuinely bored.
“So the queen is writing to you?”
“Hypothesising without the evidence, Watson? Have I not taught you better than that?” His words were stern, but his eyes were dancing with something like delight.
I refreshed my tea and, because I am a gentleman, also filled Holmes’ cup. “Someone at the palace is writing to you, but not necessarily Her Majesty.”
“Pillock,” I replied mildly.
He smiled at me, then tilted his head towards the envelope with my name on it. “Open yours first,” he suggested. Or demanded. Very little difference, actually.
Just to be annoying, I finished my toast first, then picked up the envelope, realising that there was the faintest hint of perfume wafting from it. Holmes smirked. I opened it and pulled out what appeared to be a Christmas card. On the front was an overly sweet rendition of a happy family gathered around a decorated tree.
“Henry Cole has a great deal to answer for,” Holmes muttered.
“He is the one who originated the noxious tradition of sending cards with bad artwork and maudlin sentiment.”
“Ah.” I opened the card and read the name carefully written inside. Then I closed the card again.
Holmes raised a brow at me.
“Not a patient, as it happens. The card is from Miss Morstan,” I said.
“A forward young woman,” was Holmes’ tart reply.
I decided that this was a conversation that would go to no good place, so I tossed the card back down onto the table, showing how little I cared. “I will not reply.”
There was a pause.
“Are you quite certain that is the path you wish to follow?” Holmes asked and there was nothing of his earlier snark in the question. There was, however, a certain vulnerability that is rarely seen in the man.
I was barely aware of straightening my shoulders. “I have chosen my path, Holmes, and I am content with my choice.”
“Good. That’s very good.” Holmes didn’t quite smile.
“Shouldn’t you see what Victoria has to say?” I pushed the other envelope closer to him.
He sighed, but reached for and opened it. His eyes darted quickly over the words. “It is, in fact, from her.”
“So I was correct.”
He ignored my smugness.
“What does she want?”
“Her Majesty would like to consult with me on a matter of some urgency and great delicacy,” Holmes replied. “Apparently Mycroft passed my name along to her. I am requested to appear at the Palace at two this afternoon.” He frowned. “What if that is not convenient?”
“It is the Queen,” I said. “You must attend.”
“We must attend,” Holmes said firmly.
“Oh, no, I shouldn’t accompany you. Surely you are expected to turn up alone.”
I well recognised the stubborn expression on his face. “Better if the Queen, as well as my brother, realise that if they want Holmes they will also get Watson.” Then he shot me a glance. “Unless I have misread you.”
“You have not.” Never had I meant any words more.
“Fine, then. We both shall visit the Queen.”
After a moment, rather ridiculously, I held out my hand and Holmes took it. We shook like two gentlemen reaching an agreement. Which we had, I decided.
Although the terms of that agreement were still to be negotiated.
Later that day, I stood in the parlour, hoping that my best suit would pass muster at the Palace. Assuming that they would grant me admittance at all. I picked up the card from Miss Morstan. It had been rather brave of her to pursue what she wanted and perhaps it was long past time for me to do the same.
I tore the card and envelope into tiny pieces and dropped them into the receptacle beside the desk. It looked like a small snowstorm.
When I turned around, it was to find Holmes lurking in the doorway, watching me. “When this business with the Queen is completed,” I said, “I would like to dine with you at Simpson’s.” My phrasing was perhaps a bit delicate, but I trusted Holmes to understand my meaning.
He only nodded, then turned to head down the stairs.
I followed him.
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