A Man of Good Repute (Sherlock Holmes) Title: A Man of Good Repute Recipient: arwen_kenobi Author: tetsubinatu Oevre: ACD Canon Beta/Brit Pick: my dear friend A Pairing: Holmes/OMC, some discussion of Holmes/Watson Word count: 3000+ Rating: Mature Warnings: homophobic attitudes consonant with the attitudes of the time Summary: Watson becomes aware that Holmes has had indecent liaisons with young men.
Given my general debility at the time of taking lodgings in Baker Street, I find myself unable to blame myself too sternly for my failure to notice what should have been obvious to the most obtuse of men, especially given my recent service with some of the most degenerate, if brave, footsoldiers of the Empire. Yet so it was that when I first took up residence with Holmes, I mistook his lack of interest in all petticoated humanity for a natural misanthropy. Perhaps it was a symptom of my general disinterest in life at the time, or perhaps a more deeply rooted despair at a future which seemed in those first months so entirely lacking in all that I held desirable. The ball which had ripped my previous health from me took also my natural assumption of a pretty, young wife and any normal domestic future, for at that time it seemed impossible to me that any woman could look upon my mutilated form with anything other than disgust.
In time, this assumption was overturned by a more healthful attitude, and finally, of course, entirely dissipated by my dear wife's untainted affections. Yet for many months I met Holmes' distaste for all womanhood with an attitude that, at least superficially, matched his point for point. How little I understood him then, or cared to understand.
Yet, having commenced to share lodgings with him, gradually my health improved and yet my sensibility to his most private nature remained obstinately unchanged. I can only explain this peculiar blindness as being that which we do so often acquire regarding those matters and items which are so close and so often relied upon as to become, in effect, invisible by reason of their very familiarity. So it was with Holmes. That which may have struck a healthy, fresh observer as noteworthy, came insensibly to be so taken for granted by me as to be rendered utterly unseen. Holmes, too, came to so regard me, I believe, taking my acceptance - nay my approval - of his way of life, as granted - other than those small matters of his health which, as a doctor, I must necessarily deprecate and had done so from the first days of our acquaintance.
Yet there came a time when the scales were, perforce, ripped from my eyes, and I must render judgement upon my dearest friend as a civilised man, and a Christian.
I am embarrassed, even now, to record that this time did not come for more than a year after I first commenced sharing the lodgings at Baker Street, and - for entirely different reasons - I am further shamed to set down that the inevitable realisation did not come quietly or unmarked by discord and estrangement from my dearest friend and colleague.
It was a cool, autumnal evening. Outside the rain fell lightly, yet in sufficient strength that I was considering abandoning the informal gathering of friends that I had planned on attending that evening in favour of a quiet evening by the fire. Holmes was deep in study of a manuscript which had lately arrived from the Continent, his forehead furrowed as he muttered what could only be imprecations upon the writer's intelligence and ancestry. He did not raise his head as I did when I heard the sharp note of a police whistle, unexpectedly close by. There was a scatter of footsteps along the cobbled street below and then the unexpected creak of a door - our door - opening and softly closing below. I opened my mouth to call out but a strong grip on my wrist caused me to revise my plan. Our landlady was from home this evening, as we both knew, and the door should have been locked. If it had been, I wonder how much longer that evening's revelations would have been postponed.
Holmes shook his head warningly and I subsided. Even as I feared that some intruder lurked below, I trusted his judgement implicitly. He listened, crept catlike to the door of our sitting room and sniffed the air, upon which his shoulders relaxed, and mine with them.
"It is an acquaintance of mine, I believe," he said. "If you would be so kind as to retreat to your room, dear Watson, I will engage to take care of the matter as quickly as possible."
But this I would not allow. Trust him as I might, still that first primal fear lurked unassuaged. I insisted upon remaining for fear that he might be attacked. When Holmes saw that I would not be moved he shook his head. "It would be better if you would go, Watson, but I see that I cannot move you in this. Remember, it was your own choice to remain."
And with that he called softly down the stairs. "You may come up."
The footsteps which crept slowly up the stairwell were light, and I think I thought it may have been one of Holmes' ragged band of Irregulars, but the person upon whom the light of our sitting room eventually fell was not a child but a youth. His costume was ripped, and yet not ragged with age and neglect as were the garments of the indigent poor, but of flashy quality, rent by recent violence. His lips were swollen and red, and his attitude combined belligerence with fear.
"Mr 'Olmes" he said with a familiarity that bordered on insolence. "Good to see yer. It's been a while. I 'eard you 'ad a new friend." And his eyes slid across to me with a look I could not mistake. My mouth dropped open in outrage, but then the rest of his meaning came to me and I looked to my fellow-lodger for his response.
"That's sufficient, I think, Henry," he said with calm authority. "You were in the Square, I take it, when the Police raided it."
Henry sniffed. "Over the railing, I had to go and quick about it. Just look at me! This shirt cost me..."
"It cost you nothing," Holmes stated. "You stole it after your companion fell asleep, knowing that he would have no redress."
Henry's face fell, but his mouth pursed stubbornly. "That's as may be. It's still ruined." A cunning look crossed his face and he angled his young limbs provocatively. "You could make it up to me..."
"I'm letting you stay until the raid is over," Holmes conceded absentmindedly. "Another half an hour should suffice. Sit there and stay quiet. I'll let you know when it's safe to leave." And with that he returned to his manuscript.
Henry sat, somewhat sulkily, and I returned to my own seat, however my pleasure and comfort was spoiled. I turned the pages of my book idly, but all my attention was on the restless youth who fit so ill into our cosy room. When the clock chimed the hour, Holmes gestured and Henry rose.
"What if..." he whined.
Holmes merely looked at him. Henry nodded jerkily, then darted down the stairs and out the door leaving behind only the somewhat unpleasant scent which he affected. I followed at a more sober pace, locking our residence against future intrusion.
"He did not even say thank you," I grumbled as I re-entered the room. Holmes did not appear to register that I had spoken and I regarded him in the flickering gaslight. He looked as ascetic as always, the shadows of his long limbs spiderlike along the carpet before him.
"Well, goodnight," I said awkwardly.
Holmes looked up at me, his eyes dark and knowing. "Goodnight my dear fellow," he said softly, before dropping his head once again to his reading.
* * *
That night I lay awake, thinking on what I had seen and heard. There could be no mistake. I had seen enough in India among the troops and their hangers-on to know what Henry was and did, and read enough in the papers to know that it happened here also.
This was still some few years before the infamous Cleveland Street Affair, and yet when I read the account of that in the papers in 1889 I was irresistably reminded of Henry and wondered if he was, or had been, a telegraph boy. It did not seem unlikely.
At the time, however, I took him for a prostitute, plain and simple, and from his words, one who had serviced my fellow-lodger. And not just the one time, but somewhat regularly, from his attitude; either he or others known to him - frequented him often enough that Holmes had known the cheap scent he favoured. And furthermore, this indecency had stopped at a time which he associated with my advent upon the scene.
Well, Holmes had moved his domicile at that time. His habits had necessarily altered with his lodgings. There was no necessary connection with myself.
And yet, I brooded. The custom, let us not be coy: sodomy in India had been more widely practised among the rank and file than among their superiors. Most of the officers regarded it with disgust and disdain, and those of higher rank who practised it were usually similarly regarded. Some few exceptional officers, possessed of both superb military skill and personal charm, were more lightly censured. "Poor chap," another officer might say. "A good soldier, but..."
I myself found the practice inexplicable and distasteful, although not much more so than the seemingly unexceptional custom of keeping a mistress. I did not - I do not - claim celibacy, but to keep a woman as a sort of temporary wife without the natural regard and respect that must adhere to proper matrimony has never seemed right to me.
Holmes, it seemed, was a 'poor chap'. And I, by living with him, was similarly regarded by those aware of his proclivities. An instinctive recoil lodged firmly in my chest that I might be so adjudged. That Holmes had allowed me to be placed in such a false position, was unconscionable!
I started from my bed, determined to have it out with him, only to find that the sitting room was dark and abandoned, Holmes either retired to bed or abroad on his own business. Uneasily I wondered about the nature of that business, before retiring again to my chamber for an unsettled night's slumbers.
Morning brought no lessening of my outrage. If I could but have spoken to my fellow-lodger I would have brought the matter to a head at once, however he did not appear before I was forced to leave upon my own errands for the day, and thereby doomed to further brood upon the matter during the course of the day. By suppertime I had worked myself into a black rage, and Holmes' footsteps upon the stair were the trigger for my explosion.
I wish I did not remember what I said. It was unfair, and extremely unpleasant. Holmes went white, and then red. When I had finished my tirade he said, quite in his usual voice. "I take it that you will be leaving then. I shall advertise for a replacement on the morrow."
It took me aback. Perhaps I had expected protestations, excuses. I should have known better. Instead I removed myself to my chamber and packed myself a gladstone bag of necessities for the evening. Hurling myself in righteous rage from Baker Street and Holmes, I hailed a cab and directed it to that same private hotel at which I had resided when first we met.
It was in the early hours of the morning, after my temper had cooled, that reason returned. The many instances which should have informed me of Holmes' nature began to assert themselves in my memory: a casual word from an acquaintance, a few phrases with only the most tenuous claims to ambiguity, Holmes' entire way of life, barely veiled beneath the polite usages of society.
I damned myself for a blind fool. But surely Holmes had realised that he was taking advantage of my ignorance. The way he urged me into my bedchamber on that fateful night, seeking to keep me from meeting Henry... oh!
Another explanation, surely the correct one, occurred forcibly to me. Holmes had believed my ignorance to be deliberate avoidance, cultivated for the sake of politeness. His white face when first I let fly my opinions of his nature gave evidence of unfeigned shock, which would surely not have been the case if he had realised the shock I had myself received. He had believed us living in unspoken harmony, while I had puddled about in self-absorbed ignorance.
My conduct of the previous day, which even at the time I knew to be somewhat overwrought, now assumed a monstrous aspect. To have turned upon my best friend as I did seemed unforgiveable. I had misread the situation, that was plain. Now I lashed myself, remembering how I had reproached him, how ill-used I had declared myself to be.
His behaviour, being both illegal and immoral, I could not condone, nor understand, but mine was likewise indefensible. As dawn rose over the heart of England's Empire, I prepared myself to offer an apology to the friend I had wronged.
* * *
At eight o'clock I could wait no longer, and ventured forth to Baker Street, however my trepidation was wasted as Holmes was not there. Our landlady, Mrs Hudson, could not say when he had left, or when he would return, so I began the process of separating my books from his, for surely, whatever his reception of my apology, we could no longer rub along in easy amity as we had previously.
A little less than an hour later an urgent ringing on the bell was met with gruff words from Mrs Hudson, followed by an annoyed shriek as whoever was at the door came pounding past her and up the stairs. The miscreant proved to be Wiggins. "Dr Watson, come quick!" he said, tugging at my sleeve with a grimy hand. "Come quick before they kill him!"
My heart leapt to my throat. I could not doubt that the 'him' referred to was Sherlock Holmes. Pausing only to find my pistol, still fortunately stowed in my bedchamber, I followed my guide through grimy alleyways until we came to a deserted, half-burnt tenement.
"In there," Wiggins directed, babbling of thieves and opium until my head spun. From diverse corners of the building came a flood of boys, giving me advice and opinions on what next I should do, but it was all wasted as a tremendous cracking sound heralded the demise of the tenement's back wall. All of us ran for cover as bricks and timber came crashing into the alley where we had stood. As clouds of brickdust choked the alley, a man came staggering from the wreckage, coughing so hard as to endanger his lungs.
It was Holmes.
"Watson?" he whispered, before his legs completely failed him and I was obliged to insert myself quickly under his arm, half-carrying him clear of the site. From somewhere, Wiggins produced a cab, and we managed to get Holmes into it. He was so covered in red brick dust that it was difficult to see if he was injured, the more so since he appeared barely conscious. I attempted a brief examination, however the fact that he had brought himself out of the building was the best guarantee I had of his state of health.
By the time we reached Baker Street, he seemed a little recovered. "I'm fine, Watson," he said irritably. He was not. He had taken a severe blow to the head, resulting in a fine goose-egg, and I suspected three cracked ribs. His wrists and ankles were severely abraded, also, apparently from rope burns. With the light coating of red dust which completely covered him, he was almost unrecognisable, save for his height and the unmistakeable tones of his speech.
Mrs Hudson, I sent to run a bath, as quickly as possible, while I attended to Holmes' injuries.
After initial protests he sat quietly under my ministrations, his lips drawn into a tight grimace of pain or distaste. "I thought I was an unnatural monster who had taken advantage of your good nature," he remarked, after some little time had passed.
I paused in my attempt to examine the responsiveness of his pupils.
"Upon reflection I can see that my reaction was immoderate," I said quietly. "I came today to give you an apology. I should not have responded as I did, and I deeply regret the things I said."
"Why?" he asked, his manner still cold. "I have not changed in the few hours since we last saw each other."
I rubbed my face wearily, having had little sleep in the past two nights. "My response was due to my feeling of betrayal, but a little reflection has shown me that you must have believed that your secret was no secret to me. I saw, but failed to observe."
His countenance lightened a little. He understood, I thought, that the betrayal of our friendship ranked higher in my thoughts than the essential inversion of his nature.
"And yet," he repeated, "I have not changed."
"I know," I conceded. "I cannot say that I understand."
"It is no great mystery," he said. Mrs Hudson could be heard from the bathroom, turning off the taps and rummaging in the cupboard. "Just as the masculine holds no sensual appeal for you, so the feminine awakens no chord in me. It differs only in that, in no other particular."
I dropped my eyes, trying to understand. When Mrs Hudson returned we had not moved, neither closer nor further apart.
That night, as Holmes reclined upon the couch and I maintained a watch over him for fear that he had been more damaged by the building's collapse than he appeared, I thought upon his words, and lines from a sermon upon Christian Love which had been my mother's favourite, came drifting up from the depths of my memory. 'A wise and wilful blindness', the preacher had written of God's love, and 'the large, calm gaze of (Christian) love'.
I did not understand my friend, but when had I understood him? His heart had not changed, nor any other part of him. That about him which was previously admirable remained admirable, and that which made him fallible mortal was alike unchanged.
I must have drifted off a little before dawn, for I awoke sitting in my accustomed chair, Holmes' clear gaze upon me. "Do you stay?" he asked.
I breathed the scent of home. "If you still wish it," I replied.
A small smile flickered upon his lips. "Then stay," he said, and my heart swelled with gratitude to think that he had forgiven me a trespass so egregious.
"I'll collect my things after breakfast," I said. "And Holmes..."
"My dear fellow!" he interrupted. "It is done. Let us speak no more of it."
It was to be long years before we ever discussed the matter again, long indeed.