21 Jul

I don’t want you to turn cartwheels or do anything as demonstrative as that, Watson, but I do believe I’m in love,” said Holmes, a little coyly as I watered a pot plant on his window-sill from a small jug whilst simultaneously skilfully launching my bowler towards his hat-stand. I missed, which was no surprise considering what he had just said.

Holmes was, in my opinion, incapable of loving anyone but himself.

You are in love?” I asked, hoping that the repetition would be more believable than its origin.

I am indeed, Watson,” he beamed at me as he stood by the window with the sort of smile on his face that I never want to see again. You know what it is with smiles … some are patently genuine and you want to join in and smile with the smiler, and others are as artificial as torn paper snow in June.

I don’t understand, Holmes,” I spluttered.

Then retrieve your bowler from where it is lying on the floor and come with me,” he instructed.

In a kind of daze I did as he told me, and we went down the stairs, Holmes taking them in twos as if consumed with some unearthly joy whilst I struggled to keep up.

It’s breakfast, Mr Holmes,” called Mrs Hudson, holding a laden tray and swirling her pinafore as she tried to intercept us.

Later, Mrs Hudson,” ordered Holmes, ungratefully.

Baker Street was quiet. Even though the first crack of dawn had long departed and noon threatened on the horizon, there were few people about. It was that false quiet between rush hours. The workers had found their shops after last-minute scurries and were standing by their counters ready for any rush that might come their way, and the shoppers were examining their purses, pulling on their street-wear and preparing to buy those little necessities that shoppers require.

This way, Watson,” ordered Holmes, and we walked swiftly along the pavement, passing every other pedestrian as we went, even almost pushing some to one side in our haste.

Our walk was but brief, for we arrived at the Underground station and almost fell down its steps as we found our way to the platform.

Which train, Holmes?” I asked, almost spluttering as a result of breathlessness.

No train, Watson,” he replied, “we’re not going anywhere. We’ve come to see the most gorgeous sight that ever plagued a man’s vision!”

What? In the dark of the underground? Really Holmes!” I ejaculated.

Come here,” he murmured, and pulled me into a small subterranean office.

There was a sign that indicated that lost luggage could be collected there, and a greasy old man lurking behind a counter with what looked like a lascivious expression on his face as he fumbled in a Gladstone bag that seemed to contain no more than delicate silk garments, the sort that ladies of high station like to feel against their gossamer skin, and I had to look away, shocked at such a display of multifarious obscenity.

Is Miss Jones here?” demanded Holmes in an authoritative voice, slapping his walking cane against the counter.

Miss Jones oooh?” asked the greasy uniform.

The young lady I saw yesterday when I was making enquiries about the collection of umbrellas you store here, and whether there was one in puce with the monogram SH on it?”

They’ve gorn,” was his reply.

What have gorn … gone?” demanded Holmes.

The umbrellas. All of ‘em. It’s a mystery to me, but some fellow must’ve collected ‘em, not that there were many to collect. And that Miss Jones woman you’re on about, who’s she?” He winked at me knowingly as if I was party to a great secret. “She don’ work ‘ere … there’s on’y me for my sins.”

But…” Holmes was suddenly flustered. I’d never seen him so flustered, and I’ve known him for some years and witnessed him in many dark moods and darker situations. “But I made enquiries of her only yesterday. And such a sweet creature! Not young, you understand, not a flibbertigibbet of a creature with a nose for trouble … her nose was the sweetest thing I’ve seen, and the fragrance of her … it was quite captivating!”

Eh? What was ‘er voice like? What did she sound like when she verbalised?” asked the greasy uniform, accenting the trisyllabic conclusion to his question as if to illustrate the fact the he was far from ignorant when it came to the English language, and winking playfully at me.

I don’t recall her actually speaking,” replied Holmes, “but she was standing where you are, and I rarely did see such a smile. It was like the windows of Heaven were opened, and she was smiling down on me…”

I had never heard such eloquence from Holmes, who seldom seemed to notice anything charming or attractive about his female clients. This was a new him, and I was astounded.

Holmes, really!” I stammered.

Oh, you mean ‘er as ‘olds the sign,” said the uniform, and his crinkled face broke into a certain smile. “When I’m about my lunch,” he added, “I needs my lunch, for ten hours without it an’ I’m weaker than a dyin’ dog!”

You mean, you employ a lady to hold a notice?” almost shouted Holmes, “then where is she, man! I have a proposition to put to her, one that would most certainly be to her advantage…”

She ain’t ‘ere, squire,” came the reply, “though in a manner of speakin’ she is!”

Now you’re speaking in riddles!” snapped Holmes, “and there’s no man more at home with riddles than Sherlock Holmes!”

You say as she picked and poked in the lost umbrella section?” asked the smiling greasy uniform.

I did. Well almost!”

And was she the young lady with a short skirt, a naughty little frilly thing on ‘er, one as shows ‘er stockings an’ captivating little waist, an’ with a whole plume o’ feathers on ‘er pretty ‘ead?”

So you have seen her!” laughed Holmes, “Why, fellow, you are a card, to have the great Sherlock Holmes fooled like you have! Pray, where is she?”

She ain’t, so to speak,” grinned the other.

Speak no more riddles. Where is she?” asked Holmes in his most imperious voice.

If you must know, she’s ‘ere, behind this ‘ere counter, waiting till she’s called for,” replied the man, still grinning broadly, and I could tell by all the clues he was casting to every corner of that small office with every twitch of his grin that something was about to upset Holmes very much indeed.

Then release her to greet me!” snapped Holmes.

Orl right,” sniffed the other, “’ave it your own way, but you ain’t goin’ to be none too pleased…”

And he reached down and pulled up a life-sized shop’s mannequin with its face painted luridly and dressed after the manner of the sort of showgirl who decorates the music halls nightly. And on her head, as if to stress the point, was a cascade of feathers the like of which would make even a sinner blush.

This ‘ere is Annie Jones, an’ she’s been ‘ere with me since I were young enough to want to kiss ‘er,” grinned the man. “But she’s just a plaster creature with no feelings, so that’s all right. I keep ‘er to hold my sign when I’m called away. Now about that umbrella? Puce, you said, wiv a monogram?”

Holmes was to be poor company for the rest of that day!

© Peter Rogerson 18.07.17


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