capt_facepalm: (Festive)
[personal profile] capt_facepalm
Title: Christmas in London, 1883
Author: [info]capt_facepalm
Rating: PG
Fandom: Sherlock Holmes (Gaslight ACD)
Characters: Dr John Watson, Mr Sherlock Holmes
Summary: Work is the best antidote to sorrow: Watson tries to fill his time while Holmes is in France.
Warnings: (none)
Word Count: 2200
Author's Notes: WAdvent 2016 Open posting: Recycle Title: take the title of a favorite holiday film and use it as your inspiration.


.oOOo.

Monday December 24 1883

The telegram arrived first thing in the morning of December 24th.

APOLOGIES WATSON STOP
STORM ON THE CHANNEL STOP
STRANDED IN CALAIS STOP
HOME SOONEST STOP
SH FINALSTOP

Dr John Watson put the telegram down with a sigh. Mrs Hudson had sent the maid and the page home to their parents for the week and then, convinced by assurances from Sherlock Holmes, had departed for Brighton to be with her sister. Watson would be on his own for Christmas and a feeling of emptiness crept into a corner of his heart. Yes, he had been alone for the holidays several times in his life and had not been particularly bothered by it, or so it had seemed to him at the time. Somehow, this was different. He had spent the last two Christmases in Baker Street with his fellow-lodger where their celebration was simple and understated; reading and quiet conversation in the sitting room, a toast to the Christ child at midnight,

.oOOo.

It was the day before Christmas; the morning hustle and bustle was more intense than typical for a Monday and Watson had to get across the City. Illnesses and accidents did not pause for the holidays although many of the doctors, nurses, and orderlies took time away to be with their families, leaving the hospital short-staffed.

The Royal London Hospital’s charity ward was never short of patients so Watson’s day was full and by the end of it he was looking forward to a quiet night alone. The idea that perhaps Holmes had managed to cross the channel was dashed from Watson’s mind when he stepped outside for a break. Alternating periods of rain and sleet throughout the day had put a damper on the city’s denizens and their Christmas preparations. The direction of the strength of the wind ensured there would have been no boats in the channel that day and with no trains running on Christmas Day, Holmes would be away for another day at least. Tired as he was, Watson volunteered to return the next morning for another shift and then headed for the underground.

221 Baker Street was a cold and dark homecoming. It was when Watson paused in the foyer and listened to the unnatural silence that a dread sense of loss filled his heart. His family, his friends, his brothers in arms: where were they all now?

‘Must not dwell upon such things!’ he scolded himself as he made his way up the darkened stairways to his little room.

It was too early to settle in for the night so after a change into dry clothes and dressing gown, Watson went down to the kitchen to inspect the bounty Mrs Hudson had left for them.

.oOOo.

Watson opened the larder and found meat pies, smoked fish, a variety of cheeses, boiled eggs, and a large cooked ham. Several freshly-baked loaves of bread and a jar of fancy biscuits sat on the counter beside a fruit cake and bottle of quality brandy bearing the note in Mrs Hudson’s precise handwriting:

Happy Christmas, Gentlemen

There was more than enough food for the two lodgers, especially now that one of them was away, and the amount left over could feed a small army. Fortunately, Watson knew a small army, and that one was perpetually hungry. He returned to the sitting room and hung a light blue handkerchief in the window.

Watson knew that not all of Holmes’ young assistants had a home to go to and some of them would be in the street and see his signal. Sure enough, it was not ten minutes later that he heard the frantic ringing of the door-bell. Down the steps he went, and opened the door to see Fast Eddy, one of Holmes’ ragged children, looking both comic and tragic in his three-sizes-too-big shoes.

‘Evening, Doc. I saw your flag.’

‘Edwin, good evening. Come in out of the rain. I have a job for you and the boys. Are many of you out and about tonight?’

‘I’ve seen a couple and I know where Gillie and The Flash hole up in the rain--’

Eddy’s reply was interrupted by the door-bell. Watson opened the door and there stood another street arab, known to him only as Buttons.

‘Okay, lads, a shilling for you,’ said Watson, handing coins to each, ‘And a tanner to each boy you bring within an hour. Now, go!’

.oOOo.

Watson spent his time rummaging for handkerchiefs, small boxes, and newspapers which he assembled in the kitchen. He removed the brandy to the upstairs flat for safe-keeping. All in all, seven urchins arrived and were invited into the kitchen.

‘I have a problem which I need your help with,’ Watson told the little gang. ‘There is too much food for one man to eat. I have made up these packets for you. There is no need to save them for Christmas; you can eat them now if you wish and come back tomorrow evening for more. I expect to be back from the hospital by seven o’clock. Now here’s your sixpence and your packet.’

The boys’ amazement overcame their natural distrust and they left Baker Street hooting and hollering of their good fortune and singing off-colour versions of beloved Christmas carols. Only Buttons remained long enough to say thank you to Dr Watson before adding his whoops to his pals’ chorus. Two of the leftover food packets were missing. Ever prudent, Watson checked his pockets for what else might be missing. To his relief, neither his wallet nor his pocket watch had been ‘lifted’ this time. The doctor retired to bed with the feeling of accomplishment.

.oOOo.

Watson woke to a cold Christmas. The coals he set on the night before were spent. Condensation collected on the windows and although the rain had stopped, the sky was overcast.

‘Happy Christmas,’ he murmured to his reflection in his shaving mirror. His shivering hands were too unsteady for the job. It was his usual custom to dress and shave before joining Holmes in the warm sitting room where his fellow-lodger, the earlier riser, would have laid on the coals. There would be no such warmth today. His whiskers were fair: shaving could wait.

.oOOo.

Christmas morning at the Royal London Hospital was quiet until eleven o’clock when a steady stream of police carriages and ambulances began to arrive loaded with all kinds of injured people. There was a house fire in Bethnal Green. In an area rife with poverty and, with many squatters, there was no telling how many people were in the dwelling at the time. Early casualties had been overcome with smoke; their lungs and eyes experiencing the worst of it. Others had broken arms and legs where they had tried to jump, or in the case of children, had been dropped by their parents, from second and third storey windows. Bodies of the dead were left lying in the streets and the news only became more horrific as evening approached. Three men of the Fire Brigade were caught as the house collapsed. One died immediately; the other two arrived with multiple injuries.

Sitting on a bench outside the surgical theatre and shaking with exhaustion after assisting with the amputation of a man’s arm, Dr Watson suddenly remembered the food packets. He pulled out his pocket watch. It was ten-thirty. He had broken the promises he made to a bunch of poor children. It was probably too late but he had to return home. Watson’s thoughts were of how ineffective he was at the hospital and how he had also failed to keep his commitment to the Irregulars. His futility felt like a cold stone in his gut. A ride with an ambulance returning to Charing Cross followed by a brisk walk to Trafalgar Square, and a cab, Watson finally arrived at Baker Street.

A small figure emerged from the darkened doorway. It was Wiggins, the captain of Holmes’ little army.

’The boys got tired of waiting, Doc,’ was all he said although his tone was laced with accusation.

‘I am truly sorry. It was never my intention to mislead them. If I give the food to you, can I trust you to distribute it amongst your friends?’

‘Sure, Doc. Freddy’s still around. He’ll help, but how can you be sure I won’t take it all for myself?’

‘Three reasons. The first is that every good captain looks out for his troops. The second is: if you took it all for yourself, news would spread, and you would lose the fragile trust you have amongst your gang. And finally, even if Mr Holmes didn’t insist that you were trustworthy, I have known you for a couple of years now, Wiggins. You are as generous as circumstances permit. I certainly do trust you in this.’

No doubt young Wiggins had never heard such words in his favour. He could not think of a response.

Watson filled two boxes with the remaining food and sent Wiggins and Freddy on their way.

.oOOo.

Tired though he was, Watson could not get to sleep. The day’s activities filled him with a profound sense of futility. He felt cold despite the amount of coal he added to his fire and he ached from hours of standing in the wards and operating theatres. The analgesic was ineffective so he lay there, empty except for self-doubt and memories of tragedies past and present.

.oOOo.

Daylight seeping around his curtains heralded the dawn of a new day. Watson’s room was warm and he felt no discomfort. This was a much better dream than those which disturbed his sleep throughout the night, and it even smelled of coffee... Coffee?

‘Good morning, Watson. I thought it best to let you sleep so in the meantime I made coffee.’

Watson rubbed his eyes and looked over to see Sherlock Holmes sitting on the chair beneath the window, looking up from his newspaper.

‘Whaa? Holmes! How? When did you arrive home? I didn’t hear a thing.’

‘That, my dear fellow, is what you should expect to hear when I am trying not to disturb you. I see that you have had a rough couple of days.’

‘I won’t deny it, but how can you tell?’

‘Doctor, you are a creature of habit and any disturbance to your routine is a sign that I can read like a book.

‘Your old injuries are plaguing you and you placed your cane is beside your bed, whereas you normally hang it on the back of your door.

‘You left your shirt and suit folded over the back of your chair where you habitually hang them in your wardrobe.

‘The residue in your cup is from an analgesic and you were in such a hurry to take it that you did not wait for it to fully dissolve.

‘I do not know why you did not shave yesterday morning, but it is another indicator of your change in routine. Does any of this have to do with that fire in the East End? The early edition has devoted the front page to the tragedy.’

‘The shaving had nothing to do with it. The rest, well... I was at the Royal London Hospital when the first casualties arrived and they just never stopped. I tried... We tried... our best but we were short-staffed for Christmas. It was mayhem for over ten hours. I got home and... Damn!’ Watson paused. ‘Holmes, I may have given away all of our food.’

Holmes raised an eyebrow. His fellow-lodger, whose knowledge and use of profanity was extensive, rarely resorted to blasphemy. There was nothing for it. Holmes’ chuckle grew into a laugh. Not one of his sarcastic barks either; but a genuine, heart-felt laugh. ‘I’m sure you had a good reason! And we shall not starve. Calais does not boast the best of wines but I have discovered three delightful cheeses from that region that more than make up for the shortfall in their œnology.’

Watson gratefully sipped his coffee. ‘I’m amazed to find you back and am so glad you are here. How did you manage it?’

‘It is a tale of high sea adventure to be sure! Last evening the winds seemed to die down and I arranged transport with a captain of a small boat of opportunity-’

‘You mean a pirate?!?’

‘-More of a smuggler, I believe. He refused to put in at Folkestone or Dover. We were halfway across the channel when the winds picked up again. I had to man the tiller while he set the sails. The seas were rough but the real challenge was getting ashore in the high surf. We made landfall near St Mary’s Bay where my cheeses and I found shelter in an inn and a carter bound for Folkestone before daybreak. From there I caught the six o’clock to London. Et, me voilà!’

‘That seems like quite a risk when you could have waited another day or two for a safer crossing.’

‘Perhaps, perhaps. But my hosts in Calais were very dull which taxed my patience to no end. Winter in London may not be the best, but it is what I am used to. And you, my friend, I know how you struggle with the Christmas season. I did not want you to be home alone.’’


.oOOo.

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