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Miracle at No. 5, Garden Place, or the Further Adventures of Dr. Matsumoto Jun

Chapter Text

London, 1892

Beginning, I find, proves difficult. But I’ve had luck with beginning again. Indeed, I can with all honesty write that my life began again the day (amateur) detective Aiba Masaki returned my stolen top hat into my arms, and then again on the morning that the former detective awoke from his long illness (both catastrophes, I should note, traceable to the scheming of his former lordship Ninomiya Kazunari).

Since I find that I have met with such success in beginning again, I am determined to grant Professor Aiba’s wish that I take up my pen once more to record the adventures that befell us at No. 5, Garden Place over the Christmas holiday of 1890. As might have been expected by anyone familiar with this gentleman, the first Christmas that I spent with Aiba was in equal measures merry and perilous.

 

*

 

To locate the start of our adventure, I will return to one particularly dreary night in early December of 1890. The wind was bitterly cold, the streets full of slush, and my heart was heavy as I wound my way out of St. Giles towards Garden Place—I feared I should be called back to the bedside of my patient within hours to watch over his death

But I continued trudging forward through the mud, determined to spend at least some hours of my evening in the cheerful presence of the former (amateur) detective (as any devotee of our adventures will recall, it had been Aiba’s firm decision to return to his life as a zoologist after recovering from his illness).

I was not disappointed; the upper windows of Garden Place glowed with inviting warmth as I approached, and my entrance was met with a series of “halloos” from the upper storey that warmed me from within. Ascending the staircase to our living quarters, I discovered a fire in the grate and a tea service laid out.

But something was amiss. To all appearances, it was a perfectly ordinary evening at Garden Place. Holmes was stretched out before the fire, industriously shredding the London Times with evident satisfaction. Watson was making a general din from his cage in the corner of the room. His former lordship Kazunari lay stretched across the hideous orange sofa that I had long ago banished to the furthest reaches of the room, his face and hands smeared with ink as he scribbled madly at the latest installment of his “Tales of Terror.” Aiba was seated in his usual chair (of a much more becoming shade of orange) before the fire.

But I felt a strange unease. My dear friend greeted me with his usual gentleness and even poured me a cup of tea as I assumed my own chair, but I recognized at once that Aiba was greatly troubled. Rather than drinking his tea or inquiring into the details of my appointments, or sharing the results of his own experiments, he gazed into the fire with an expression of perplexed distraction.

A distracted Aiba was not, indeed, so unusual—when he was passionately engaged in any task or in the working out of some problem of zoology, I had often discovered my friend in a state of abstract contemplation (even, unfortunately, when in the middle of frying eggs). At times, I was amazed by the flow of conversation between myself and Aiba, which could, if left unchecked, continue into the early hours of the morning. But we were equally likely to pass an evening before the fire in contented silence.

But now I read a real sadness in Aiba’s countenance, and—almost fearful of whatever trouble could so disturb Aiba’s usual good humour—I strove to discover through my own mental exertions the cause of Aiba’s distress. As I reflected, I noted with alarm that Aiba, reaching for his tea cup, raised first the sugar dish and then the cream to his lips, evidently not recognizing his second mistake as he continue to gaze into the fire.

Perhaps Aiba was missing Ohno’s presence? The valet had disappeared into his studio in a frenzy of inspiration ten days ago, and since then he had only been in contact with Nino, who brought him his meals and slept in the studio at night. Ohno’s artistic leave had certainly put a strain on the running of our household. I did what I could as a cook, but calls often obliged me to leave in the middle of a recipe, and more often than not I returned to find my roast embellished beyond all consumption by Aiba’s kind assistance.

But Aiba usually responded to Ohno’s intermittent absences with easy cheerfulness, taking on the challenges of washing socks and ironing trousers with enthusiasm (if not skill).

Perhaps, I meditated after taking a sip of my tea and recovering from the subsequent coughing fit (in his absence of mind, Aiba had placed five lemon slices in the small cup), Aiba’s apparent sadness this evening was only a symptom of the more general malaise that had fallen over him during these cold winter months; although my friend did what he could to conceal it, I knew he suffered from his lack of work.

Aiba had spent last winter and spring recovering from his injury and illness and, in spite of my protestations that he continue to rest, had thrown himself wholeheartedly into the completion of his scientific treatise over the summer and autumn months. I could not but relent when I saw what joy the work brought Aiba, and he produced a piece of scholarship so inventive and fine as to secure him a new professorship at a local university—even as I write these words, I feel my heart swell with pride at the remarkable work he completed, and I can assure the reader that I feel not only an emotional but a rational satisfaction in its many excellencies. I suggest all interested parties to peruse Man is Animal: On the Correspondence of Emotional Life between Man, Chimpanzee, Dog, Parrot, Cat and Others at their earliest convenience.

The trouble was that Aiba’s professorship would not begin until the new year, and since final publication Aiba seemed at a loss for how to expend his energy. I had forbidden Aiba to accompany me to the more dangerous sections of the city where I worked, fearful that he should contract another fever in his vulnerable state. And our side of London afforded only so many cases of stolen and lost domestic pets (indeed, I was contemplating having a local street ruffian of my acquaintance kidnap Holmes just for the pleasure it would give Aiba to track him down). To my horror, Aiba had even tried his hand at the sensational stories that Nino produced for the yellow papers, but Nino had soon declared Aiba’s style of writing too clear and straightforwardly sensual for publication (“He has no notion of how to tease the reader with committing any actual impropriety,” Nino proclaimed).

Now, witnessing Aiba’s depressed manner, I felt a keen stab of regret that I had so positively denounced Aiba’s latest series of household experiments the evening before—if Aiba determined that he should dye our bread green or affix all the mirrors in the house to his person and lurk at the top of the staircase to surprise me, had I really any right to interfere in pursuits that brought him pleasure and a sense of utility?

I was about to gently inquire as to the success of Aiba’s attempt to cultivate a cherry blossom in winter when I was forestalled by Nino’s sudden inquiry from his sofa, “I’ve got to write that my heroine is surprised, but I’ve only been able to manage, ‘she started from shock, her blood curdling in her veins.’ But I’m confident that we can do better than that, gentlemen.”

It was a game we played often—Nino was paid by the word, and it usually required a great deal of creative description to bring him up to his quota while at the same time forestalling any real plot advancement that would bring the series to an end. Aiba was an enthusiastic if often misguided participant in the game, his suggestions generally introducing too much real character development and plot interest to be useful.

I observed Aiba from the corner of my eye as I replied, hoping to make Aiba laugh with my suggestion, “Write that ‘her hair started on end as she experienced a blood-curdling shock the likes of which she would never experience before or since’.”

Nino made a noise of satisfaction followed by a rapid scratching of pen on paper, “Admirable, doctor! Not only is it frightfully long, but it is grammatically unsound and the meaning utterly confused,” he mused.

I glanced at the detective; he only stood and, sighing, wandered toward the window that looked over the street, coming to rest with his forehead against the pane.

Now I was seriously alarmed. Perhaps the detective felt the pain of his old injuries, or was even experiencing trouble breathing again. Abandoning the inedible tea cakes (another sad effect of Ohno’s creative furor), I joined Aiba by the window, loosing the heavy curtain so that it fell to screen us from the rest of the room. I reached out a hand to tip Aiba’s forehead back from the glass, “Please, detective,” (I never quite lost the habit of addressing Aiba as “detective,” somehow), “you will make yourself ill.”

Aiba turned towards me. I was relieved to see his expression warm and soften as he looked upon me, as though seeing me for the first time that evening—I, at least, did not seem to be the cause of his distress, and my interruption was not entirely unwelcome. He lowered my hand by taking it in both his own. “I am well, Jun,” he replied simply.

“Then tell me what troubles you.”

There was such hesitation in Aiba’s features that I was instantly convinced that he had intended to keep some very important secret from me. Most likely from a desire to spare me from some pain or difficulty. “I will feel more uncomfortable, detective, if I think that you insist on being in distress alone,” I urged him.

Aiba managed a weak smile, “All right, my dear fellow, put your eyebrows down,” he ran a finger lightly across the offending brows, “and I will confess all.” I allowed myself one last threatening glare before composing my features.

Aiba continued in a low, rough voice, “I think Horatio has not long to live, Jun. I convinced the zookeeper to allow me to see him this afternoon, and I found him very, very ill.” Aiba’s shoulders trembled; he was clearly exerting himself to remain calm, “He will die in a cage…I knew…but I had always hoped…” Aiba let out a long breath, grimacing so pitifully that, as heart-rending as it would be, I thought I would rather see him weep.

My friend’s distress was now comprehensible; Horatio was the chimpanzee, currently the property of the London zoo, who Aiba had worked with for many years in his former position and who had provided much of the data for his study. He had been sold when Aiba left the university. I knew Horatio’s fate was Aiba’s keenest regret. I had often visited Horatio with Aiba, watching from what I judged to be a reasonable distance (animals have never favored me) as Aiba reached through the bars to shake Horatio’s hand and engage in dialogue with him using a sort of sign language that the two apparently shared. Horatio had fallen ill this winter; I knew Aiba’s fondest wish was to return Horatio to a more open and natural environment when he assumed his new university position. But now Aiba must fear that his rescue would come too late.

“I know almost nothing of veterinary medicine, but perhaps he can be made well?” I offered.

Aiba shook his head, unshed tears giving a watery glow to his eyes, “He has received excellent veterinary care there, I must admit. But he is,” Aiba swallowed, “old, and death seems now fairly certain.” He gave a manful sniff; I produced my almost threadbare handkerchief, “I only wish I could make him more comfortable before his death,” Aiba continued, “they keep him locked up so that he hardly has room to move, and nothing to see or touch.” Aiba turned to gaze out the window, but if he wished to conceal his sorrow from me, he failed; the streetlamps softly illuminated his heartbroken countenance. “But there is nothing to be done,” he concluded.

At that moment, I would have done anything to bring a smile to the detective's face. But I hesitated to even mention the solution that presented itself, knowing how unlikely it was, “Could we not…purchase Horatio?”

Aiba’s eyes told me the answer before he spoke, “I did speak to them, dear fellow. Begged them, in fact. But they have already had offers, and the cost is…prohibitive.”

I knew what Aiba (with great delicacy) had alluded to. That winter was a very lean time, as the Americans say. I had few paying patients and a great many non-paying ones just then. Most of my inheritance was consumed in the upkeep of Hayworth, my family home, and the salaries of the estate manager and groundskeeper. Aiba’s small private income kept us in Garden Place, but treatments for his illness had sorely taxed it. Ohno had refused his wages for the past eight months, knowing that they could only come from Aiba’s small savings. Indeed, the only thing keeping the four of us in food and fire was Nino’s wildly popular newspaper serial, “Taka’s Tales of Terror” (written under that pseudonym of "Yuuji," a name now familiar to every reader of the London serials).

Even with the income from the paper and Nino’s surprising affinity for bargaining and his general skinflinted-ness, our wardrobes were growing sadly tattered and out of date; Aiba’s cuffs were in a constant state of unraveling while my top hat was egregiously out of season. What little spare money I had was saved to purchase a typewriter for Nino; Nino thought it too extreme a measure, but I had too often discovered Ohno massaging and soaking Nino’s cramped fingers in warm water, and even applying a shoe brush to Nino's fingers in futile attempts to remove the ink from beneath his fingernails.

I cannot say that we were poor, or suffering, but we all looked forward with great eagerness to Aiba’s salary in the spring, not least because of Aiba’s flamboyant taste in patches and darning thread.

After some time spent in a (dissatisfying) mental review of our currently available funds, I finally inquired, “How…prohibitive?”

Aiba’s next words were a low whisper, delivered as he cast down his eyes and intertwined our fingers more tightly together, “Ten thousand pounds.”

My heart sank. I had known the purchase to be impossible, but the degree of the impossibility ached. More so because I knew that Aiba had no intention of asking me to sacrifice Hayworth, or of asking anyone for a sacrifice of any kind.

Aiba’s arms were about me; I made an effort to stroke his back in a comforting manner. His warm breath was at my ear, and I felt the rise and fall of his chest against my own—a sensation that never cased to thrill me after how near the detective had come to never breathing again. “Thank you, Jun. I feel lighter after sharing my grief with you.” He broke from me, and said in a voice that strove for levity, “Come, we should help Kazu, or he’ll never have five thousand words before midnight and Ogura will threaten to break down our door again.”

I was not deceived. Almost from the first hours of our acquaintance, I believe that I have been able to distinguish Aiba’s false smile from his true one. I felt a strange warmth coursing through me, and a rising sensation of recklessness; long dormant since my youth, the impulsive wildness of my nature has been resurfacing with greater intensity the more time I pass in Aiba's presence.

Then I shall go to the zoo and bring him myself to Garden Place. The nonsensical declaration was hovering on my lips when our interview was interrupted by the ringing of the doorbell.

I sighed, holding Aiba’s cheek in my palm for a moment before pulling back the purple curtain, “It is my patient. But I should be back before dawn.”

Aiba brushed my hair rather firmly back from my forehead, almost as though he were petting Holmes, “Take a cab,” he commanded. “Your leg must be in great pain,” he implored softly, waiting for my nod of assent before turning back to the window.

I collected my bag and coat on my way out, sparing hardly a glance at Nino, who now seemed to be attempting to finish his installment from underneath the horrendous sofa while Holmes made himself comfortable on his feet.

I was certainly in no very agreeable frame of mind as I answered the door, and my mood plummeted further upon discovering, not the relative of my patient, but MP Sakurai Sho, white-faced, mud-splattered, and wild-eyed. “It’s all up with me, doctor,” he gasped in a hollow-sounding voice, “Gone. Everything—gone!” he choked out, beating his fist against brow, the very portrait of despair.

I think I may be justified in writing that my hair started on end as I experienced a blood-curdling shock the likes of which I would never experience before or since.