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Kissing Sherlock Holmes

This excerpt is unedited.
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CHAPTER 1

“My dear Watson, how does one go about kissing a woman?” My friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, seemed deadly serious.

"You're joking, old man. You don't know how to give a woman a kiss?" I stared at him. I’d never expected such a revelation.

"It's hardly been an area of pressing study." He arched a brow, indicating I should have known better than to make such a statement. I’d not applied his methods of deduction and reasoning in a manner that suited him. Not for the first time. Nor doubtless for the last.

The spring of 1896 marked a wealth of fresh cases for my friend. His fame had grown to such an extent requests came from all quarters, our morning mail littered with missives bearing crests and seals from all over Europe and the empire. Most were refused. Wealth and title in a client meant nothing to Holmes. The lowest street sweeper’s problem had as much chance of peaking his interest as that of a king. I often thought a lowly person actually had more of a chance, for my friend had no great fondness for the arrogance of entitlement.

So I found some with some surprise then an invitation for me to join him at the estate of the Viscount Toddington as soon as I might be able to do so. In his usual fashion, he’d telegrammed me. It lay for two days, waiting my return to the Baker Street rooms I’d so long shared with Holmes from an extended trip into Northumberland. I’d not heard a word from him in the over two weeks I’d been gone.

Before I’d left Baker Street, Holmes had been deeply involved in a case, forsaking our rooms in the pursuit of clues. I’d seen little of him, hearing him come in late at night and leave before I arose in the morning. In the midst of this, a friend from my army days requested I come down to his country place and give my opinion on his young wife’s aliment. Though I doubted I could do any more than the excellent physician he’d already engaged, I’d gone for the sake of a friend in distress.

Sadly, my prediction had proven correct and I’d been forced to agree with my colleague’s diagnosis of tuberculosis. Nothing would do my friend but that I must stay and help map out a course of treatment and advise on a plan of relocation to a healthier climate. All in all, it had been nearly a fortnight since I’d left London, and twice that since I had any meaningful conversation with Holmes. It struck me as odd that the telegram asking me to come down to the borders of the great Weald, that remnant of the ancient forest once covering our fair isle, had waited two days for my arrival. Holmes knew my direction and could has easily have sent his message to Northumberland.

Still, a call from Holmes was a call from Holmes and indicated his need of my services and companionship. I seldom refused him either. So it was that, without bothering to unpack, I found myself on a train to the Vale of Holmesdale at the foot of the North Downs of Surrey. The dismal rain of grey London didn’t dim the bright new green of an English springtime countryside. Indeed, intermittent breaks in the clouds allowed the sun to set the world aglitter, swaths of bright flowers showing on the hillsides and pastures. As my train rolled through the awakening landscape, the bursts of sunshine grew more frequent and the sadness of a lovely young woman ill with an incurable ailment lifted a bit from my soul. My earlier inclination to brood over the unfairness of fate vanished and a keen desire to aid Holmes in whatever drew him into the glory of our verdant island grew in my heart.

Such was my mood as the Guildford-Redhill Line delivered me to Shere, a quaint and quintessential Surrey village some five or six miles from the larger town of Gomshall. A collection of several old houses and shops, a church, a smithy, and pair of pubs made it the center of local life. The Tillingborne, a small stream, ran through the middle of the tiny hamlet, rendering it an attractive and altogether pleasing spot.

I stepped off the train into sunlit mist and the clean scent of rain-washed greenery. Holmes waited for me at the station, a faint smile on his lean face. He clasped my hand in warm welcome and consigned my bags to the care of a dark and rather gloomy man in the dress of a coachman. Holmes indicated this individual would convey my baggage to Toddington Oaks in the trap while we would take advantage of the end of the showers by enjoying the fine afternoon and walk there. I found his suggestion very much to my liking. This lovely place would chase the last of the wet chill of Northumberland from my soul.

I waited until the taciturn worthy rattled out of the station in his black trap before turning to Holmes and asking why he’d asked me to so out-of-the-way though picturesque a spot.

“I need a best man, Watson.” He started off through the village, grey coat buttoned against the crisp spring air. “I’m to be married in a week.”

“Married!” The shock of it stopped my pace in the midst of the street. “Holmes, I’ve only been gone a fortnight.” A rather uncomfortable memory seized me. “This isn’t another charade in the name of a case, is it? I do hope you’re not once again toying with some poor girl’s affections only to stomp on her sensibilities once you’ve got your man. Really, Holmes, it’s not worthy of you at all.”

“Oh no, not at all.” He took my arm and we began to walk again, the gurgling stream pacing us. “The lady is well aware that I am Mr. Sherlock Holmes of 221B Baker Street. In fact, she’s quite fond of those little flights of romantic fancy you publish. I daresay you’ll be asked for an autograph at the very least.” The few houses fell away as he led me along the narrow lane at an energetic pace. “I have been courted and won by Miss Winnifred Farnham of Toddington Oaks, the most fair granddaughter of a duke and an earl, renowned throughout the land for her beauty and her headstrong nature.”

Her name was vaguely familiar to me, though I recalled little more than the usual pursuits of a young and wealthy girl. I also recalled some mention of her comeliness. Not that any of that would matter to Holmes. From the qualities he’d just listed, she certainly didn’t sound like the sort of woman who could woo and win him. I’d not thought a woman existed who could have, not even the enigmatic Irene Adler for all her bravery and blinding wits. So surely not the headstrong daughter of ruling class nobility some fifteen or more years his junior. It simply did not make sense.

I tried to reason has he’d taught me. The problem was I lacked data, a state of affairs he’d often bemoaned himself. I considered him from the corner of my eye. A faint smile graced his thin, mobile mouth. A spark lurked deep under the heavy lids of his grey eyes. His whole being exuded a sense of restrained joy. Only one thing brought that sort of elation to my friend. “This does have something to do with a case, though, doesn’t it? I know of nothing else that would bring you to Surrey. You hate holiday.”

“It began with a case, yes.” He kept our stride quite brisk. “A rather delicate and serious one, of great concern to Whitehall. The crime, my dear Watson, is espionage.” No one should look quite that pleased over so terrible a crime. I was long inured to Holmes’ rather inappropriate glee in such things, though.

“Espionage? Well, that explains a little. But way out here?” The village fell away, dropping behind us as we entered a section of very pretty roadway bordered on one side by a massive holly oak hedge and on the other by a great stretch of forested parkland.

“The country is not immune to dark intrigues, Watson. I’ve often remarked on that to you.” He swept up the bucolic prospect about us in a wave of his arm. “What better place to pass along information? You may invite only those you wish to have about you. A stranger will be noted immediately. There is far less chance of the the police or an agent in disguise spying on you. The country is always ripe for crime.”

“And how in heaven’s name did a case of espionage lead to you...being courted?” I tried my best to not seem too shocked, as I had no wish to hurt Holmes’ feelings if this truly were genuine. “Forgive me, old friend, but I simply cannot imagine you swept off your feet by love. You’ve said yourself women are not to be trusted, even the best of them.”

“I’ve not said I trust Winnifred.”

That sentiment didn’t surprise me either, though it saddened me. I never expected Holmes to marry, but if such was his intent, then so cynical and nearly cold-blooded a stance regarding his wife wasn’t shocking. I already felt great sympathy for the unknown Winnifred. Life with Holmes could be a thing of great joy—save on those occasions when it was utterly hellish.

We turned from the main road onto a footpath leading through the park. Great trees, ancient and mossy, surrounded us. Shafts of sunlight pierced their leafy canopy, bright on the mist swirling about their great trunks.

“Really, Holmes. That’s hardly the proper attitude to take toward one with whom you intend to spend your life.”

Holmes employed his walking stick to great emphasis. “Nonsense. It’s perfectly rational. I do however, trust her more than her half-brother, Robert Adair Chilton, Viscount of Stepney. My investigations have led me to that worthy. I believe he has developed a web of informants who provide him with tidbits that, while meaningless in themselves, can be put with other tidbits to form a whole that would be valuable to those outside the empire. Oh, it takes a keen mind to place all the puzzle pieces together, but it can be done. Witness brother Mycroft. What I cannot lay my hand on is proof of this and how this Lord Stepney communicates his findings to his buyers.”

“So you met Miss Farnham in the course of your investigation.” There was something he hadn’t told me. Either he couldn’t, because of the case, or he was waiting for me to figure it out on my own. “And she...caught your attention?”

“More a matter of forced my notice.” A faint smile played about his lips. “As I rather expected her to. In the course of investigating Lord Stepney, I found that it is a widely known fact his sister is more than enamored with your scribblings, old man. So much so, it borders on the fanatical. I daresay you might have a letter or two from her in that bag your publisher sends over monthly. I reasoned that if I presented myself in a place where the lady might be, the rest would follow suit. And it did. Mycroft procured an invitation to an afternoon soiree and the rest, as the saying goes, was history. The lady finagled an introduction within five minutes of discovering my presence and has seldom been more than a footstep away since.”

The visual that presented left me quelling a smile of my own. “I am sorry, Holmes. I had no intention of turning you into a spectacle. But how did you get from having an adoring shadow to engagement?”

“Winifred considered me a challenge. You see, she’s of a very forceful character and there is nothing more appealing to her than something she can’t have. I well remember her first words to me. ‘Doctor Watson says you don’t care for women. Well, I dare say I could make you care for me.’ I will admit it had a unique, if brash, quality.”

Now things started to make sense. I could well imagine such a direct, almost masculine approach to courtship appealing to Holmes. No pretenses, no girlish games. A simple statement of intent. I chuckled. “With such a force in pursuit, I’m surprised she hasn’t taken it upon herself to kiss you first.”

“Oh, she has. I just haven’t reciprocated. I have, instead, lectured her on the proper behavior of a young English noblewoman upon finding herself alone with a gentleman.” A smile twitched his lips. “Winnie—for so she insists I call her—finds me a horrid stick in the mud and not nearly as much fun as I should, or indeed could, be. She has therefore issued an ultimatum. I must prove to her my manly prowess in the arts of physical love at the very next opportunity or she’ll have none of me.”

“Then why are you marrying her?” I confess I was hard-pressed not to laugh at his matter-of-fact narrative.

“Aside from her traitorous brother, she really is the most fascinating creature. She’s possessed of a truly startling beauty. The more besotted of her admirers write poems to her wealth of pale gold hair and cornflower eyes, to her milky skin and dainty form. Yet for all her delicacy of body, there is not a single bit of such in her personality. She has none of the die-away airs you’d expect of so frail a beauty. In fact, she’s in all ways a very modern girl and feels herself up to any exploit a man might tackle. She uses neither tricks nor subterfuge, but rather her own very forceful personality to achieve her ends. Witness our engagement. I was quite startled by her proposal.”

“Oh, do tell!” I stopped beneath the deep shade of an enormous oak tree, easily the oldest one directly around us. A carved stone bench sat among ferns and intense blue flowers opposite it. A break in the forest allowed for a view of the valley. Great stretches of grassy knolls and swaths of mighty trees swept down to a ribbon of water, glittering in the fitful sunlight. Faint trails of smoke marked homesteads and hamlets. “Holmes, you cannot just stroll along here spinning a narrative of such interest without giving me some details.”

“What more do you need? I assured we would meet, knowing the lady would pursue me. She did. She, however, proved a bit more than I expected.” That little smile appeared again. “I’d honestly thought to gain entrance to her parents’ household and little more. From there, I could observe her brother more closely, see what his habits are, see who he spoke with. Winnie rather altered those plans. I gained my entrance, but not in the way I expected. Her pursuit was the most vigorous and the most straightforward I’ve ever heard of. I’ve found myself quite bowled over by it.”

“I see.” I could not imagine such a woman putting up with Holmes’ erratic schedule, nor having me around at all hours. A strange knot formed in the pit of my stomach, but I refused to let Holmes see my distress and instead clapped him on the shoulder, forcing a smile to my lips. “Well, then, congratulations are in order. Well done, old chap. I’d be honored to stand as your best man.”

“True as ever, my dear fellow. However, that may not be necessary if I can’t come up to Winnie’s exacting standards in the art of kissing.” A watery sunbeam found a path through the dense leaves above us, settling about Holmes head and shoulders, haloing him in softest gilt. He faced me with the oddest mixture of wry amusement and chagrin. “My dear Watson, how does one go about kissing a woman?”

"You're joking, old man. You don't know how to give a woman a kiss?" I could not countenance such a thing. For all his misogyny, surely, at some point in his life he’d had congress with a woman, at least enough to exchange a kiss.

"It's hardly been an area of pressing study."

I didn’t doubt the truth of that. Unless it aided his pursuit of deductive reasoning and criminal investigation, it held no interest for him. Still...

“Surely, at some point in your career, in your disguises among the lower elements if nothing else, you’ve been forced to...ahm...consort with a certain class of woman?” I hadn’t intended it as a question, but his raised brows rendered it such.

“I have always endeavored to avoid intimate dealing with prostitutes, Watson. Filth and disease hold no attractions for me whatsoever.” The term forbidding was the mildest I could think of to describe his tone and expression. Then both lightened and faint smile appeared. “In any case, one does not kiss whores, old man. It just isn’t done.”

I started to speak, rethought the advisability of it, and simply shook my head instead. A multitude of things kept life with Holmes of more than ordinary interest.

“Unlike you, dear friend, I am no charmer of the fair sex. I normally leave such matters firmly in your expert hands. Flower seller or duchess, they all find you of the greatest attraction. I’ve none of your considerable experience, though.” He sighed. “I need a teacher, Watson. And quickly, for I expect Winnie to corner me when I return to the house.”

So walking back rather than taking the carriage had other motives than just enjoying the day and the beautiful scenery. I could sympathize with Holmes; I would not wish to be a man under the glass of the woman he’d described. "Well, in the interest of rescuing you from banishment, I suppose I could give you a lesson."

"A lesson?" Holmes' rather contemplative expression gained a flash of smirk at the corners of his lips. "I had no idea you cared so very much for my happiness, though I had rather hoped you might. You’ve offered to make a great sacrifice, old man."

"I’ve always cared about your happiness and your well-being. Heaven knows I’ve hounded you enough about those awful stimulants." I laid a hand on his shoulder and steeled myself for what I must say. “It’s hardly a sacrifice to help you win the regard of the woman who’s captured your fancy at last.” I still couldn’t quite grasp that concept. Holmes, married. In love. No longer in need of my help or companionship. I pushed the unworthy thought away as best I could.

"Indeed." His shoulders lifted and hunched in a swift motion under my hand. "You’ve ever stood my friend. But how, pray tell, you do you plan to teach me the fine art of kissing a woman when there are no women presently around and I have severe doubts that my intended would tolerate her lady’s maid—who seems to have a fondness for me as well—filling in." The sun lit his eyes, sparkling on the surface, the deeper layers hidden. I wonder if anyone, even I who knew him so well, could ever plunge all their depths. Amusement reflected from their surface. “I’ve little doubt she’d toss us all in the courtyard fountain.”

I ignored the small cramp in my middle and focused on his request. "It's quite simple, Holmes. We'll have to use a substitute." Surely it couldn't be that hard to come up with some sort of idea. If the odd breathlessness would leave me, I’ve no doubt I could. “Hmm...well. There are several smaller trees around here. You’ve a vast gift for seeing beyond what the rest of us do. Simply imagine the tree is your intended.” I managed to speak the last word over the growing knot in my stomach.

He stared at me for a long moment, then his left brow climbed. “A tree.” The brow slowly lowered. He sank onto the stone bench, hands clasped over the silver head of his cane, so he could glare up at me. “Really, Watson.”

“Well I can hardly suggest one of the neighborhood cows.” Of all his tones, the one insisting I was the village idiot always irritated me more than any other. In the present state of my nerves, it rankled even more. “And since I know you well enough not to even suggest a verbal description alone, what do you recommend, out here in the middle of nowhere?”

“Whatever it might be, I’m certain it would be more useful than that of a tree or a cow.” He drew himself very erect, his gaze out among the ferns. “I see that extended visits to the country are not salubrious to your thought processes. You should remain in town where the hubbub can stimulate your brain.” He cast me a look of utter disdain from low-lidded eyes. “A tree.”

“Fine.” Of all the maddening, annoying, obstinate men ever born! “You want a lesson, fine.” I rested one knee on the bench, caught him by the nape of the neck and crushed my mouth down onto his, my exasperation with him overcoming all else.

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Copyright © 2006 T.D.McKinney. All Rights Reserved.