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Stranger than Fiction

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Had the day given any warning of being as spectacularly unusual as it turned out to be, Watson should have stayed in bed. As it was, he was properly dressed and presentable just as Mrs. Hudson set the morning spread on the table.

But a pot of tea, as well as kippers and toast were simply not sufficient repast, particularly for the events that were to occur without fail, shortly after breakfast. The bell rang just as he was tucking into his newspaper with the happy sighs of a man well-contented with the world. Folding down a corner of the newspaper, Watson found his flat mate was still not present, and flapped the corner back up.

The second pull on the bell heralded a black blur from Holmes’ bedroom, and Watson breathed out slowly.

“Good morning, Holmes.” He called, not quite hiding behind his newspaper, but near to it. If he had looked up, he should have seen Holmes perched on his toes on the window seat, as he scarfed a piece of toast liberally coated with jam and butter, eagerly surveying the street.

“A client of a most unusual sort, this morning, Watson.” Holmes crowed, rubbing his hands together as he rocked back and forth eagerly. Clearly, Watson thought, Holmes was establishing an new persona as an escaped patient from Bedlam, and he’d best play along. “Several clients in fact, four to be precise. All of them most unusual.” The sound of footprints on the stairs signaled Holmes’ return to his armchair, carefully lounging as if he had been well established.

The four children that entered were, in fact, unusual. They wore clothing that was most odd, in both colour and make, unlike any Watson had ever seen. They ranged in age from about six to about fourteen, though the similarity in their faces and colouring suggested they were all siblings. Watson moved to lower his paper, as Holmes spoke.

“Good Morning, your majesties.” The younger boy, with darker hair and a secretive cast to his face, looked startled. The taller lad, towheaded and comely, shot a look to the younger boy.

"I'm afraid - Mr. Holmes - we're quite lost. Displaced out of time, you might say, as well as out of place."

"It happened rather by accident, you see." The youngest and smallest girl said, with a sweet and pure tone.

"Indeed, Miss Lucy." Holmes said, quite matter-of-factly. "Well, I should say it is the day for it, I suppose." He leaned forward as Watson surreptitiously checked the time, and tried to figure out the cycle of the moon. Was it the waxing phase, or the waning phase that induced madness? No -- quite definitely the full moon -- Watson thought, and consulted the small tidal chart tucked into the corner of his desk.

"Watson, please refer to my volume on 'N,' if you please, though it may be placed under 'A'." Watson hastened up, his curiosity fighting with his good sense.

"Now." Holmes exclaimed, with a glint in his eye. "What word have you from Aslan? Is the cupboard involved again this time? I should think not, the great Lion is very clever in that way. No, I suspect your current predicament is more Adam in origin." He chuckled privately at that.

"There has been some murmurs of late." The tall, towheaded boy said.

"Peter!" The last girl spoke, though she was more of a woman than a girl, with an extraordinarily beautiful face. "That was not of our doing."

"No, it wasn't." The younger lad said seriously. "Not of our making."

"But perhaps, you are the victims of it, all the same." Holmes nodded as Watson handed both 'A' and 'N' volumes. "Now, your majesties, let us consider the matter more carefully."

***

Watson decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and retreated back behind his newspaper, with a very strong cup of tea. He quite pointedly did not look up, and might even have been said to to be dozing, until half past eleven, when there came a long, drawn pull on the bell. Though he was certain Mrs. Hudson should have let their client in, he did not hear hide nor hair of them until there came a light rap-rap at the door.

Giving in to his good manners, he rose and drew open the sitting room door to find no one. Looking confusedly about, he made to shut the door, until there came a small clearing of throat from the floor  below.

"Excuse me." Came a small, reedy voice from somewhere near his shoes. "Are you Mr. Sherlock Holmes?" Watson retained his jaw, but it was a near thing. Sitting calmly on the floor was a small, brown rabbit, clad in a blue jacket and shoes, and looking most piteously upwards.

"I am afraid not, sir." Watson decided he should be locked away for addressing a rabbit as sir, but considering his flatmate, thought it all part of a day's work. "I am Dr. Watson. May I inquire as to your name?"

"Peter. Peter Cottontail." The rabbit murmured, rubbing at his coat buttons. "And I am here to see Mr. Holmes." He said simply. Watson stood aside, and the rabbit hopped into the sitting room swiftly. Holmes looked at the rabbit with curiosity.

"Mr. Cottontail. You've been having more trouble with Mr. McGregor I see." Holmes said solemnly, as the little rabbit hopped up on the settee, carefully letting his long rear paws dangle over the edge.

"That is so, and I've come for your advice about the matter. He has been most dreadful lately, and I am at my wits' end, particularly with the children.

"You have not been stealing from his garden again?" Holmes ejaculated as he stood by the window, seemingly looking out into the street.

"No, though the thought has occurred. It is most tempting. But I have not, nor the bunnies. I have warned them, time and again."

"I should think it might be more Mr. McGregor's trouble than yours," Holmes said piercingly, as he turned from the window. "Mrs. McGregor is a fierce sort of woman."

"I know that, Mr. Holmes, but what is it to do with me?"

"What do the travails of a woman have to do with any man?" Holmes laughed, then corrected himself "Rabbit, that is. Only, Mr. McGregor's foul mood may be a result of her ire. I should recommend avoidance, if you can, and retreat if you must. I should not like to put you out of your home on account of Mr. McGregor."

"Nor should I." The little rabbit said, rubbing his paw over his ears. Watson stared as the rabbit hopped to the floor. "Thank you for your time, and your advice, Mr. Holmes." The little white cottontail lingered on Watson's retinas long after the image of the rabbit had faded, and he wondered if he had dreamed the whole thing.

"Quite an excellent client, Mr. Cottontail." Holmes remarked, picking up a vial of hydrochloric acid. "His wife's preserves are a most welcome Christmas present. Her knitting too, is most fine. " He said, drawing out a pair of knitted dark mittens. Watson gulped as he saw them, for he had remarked of what excellent quality the mittens were.

***

A normal client did call that day, though Watson should have thought it was more a case for Inspector Lestrade's lot than Holmes, but it was certainly turning out to be a backwards sort of day.

“You see, Mr. Holmes” The little girl said firmly, with a hint of spoilt in her voice, “I must have your help in finding the White Rabbit.” She was barely bigger than Holmes’ navel, yet she gave the impression of being nearly two miles high. She was clad in blue, with yellow hair and earnest, large blue eyes. Watson sat at his desk, pencil poised, though he knew at once this story should never be referred to again, much less published.

“Have you checked his hole, Miss Alice?” Holmes said, folding his hands over each other as his brow furrowed in thought. "I should have thought that was just the place for the White Rabbit, that last time I read -- excuse me -- looked for him."

"He is not there and I have looked everywhere for him." Alice pouted, flouncing on her seat with all the impatience of a young girl. Watson was desperately trying to decide how to keep his notes, and gave the matter up for a bad job.

"Including the court of the Queen?" Holmes asked eagerly, drawing on thin leg over the other.  The little girl, Alice, looked thoughtful.

"I should not like to go back there again." She said simply, a slight frown touching her sylph face.

"But that, I suspect, is the place where you shall find your White Rabbit."

"Quite." Alice replied, and extended her little white hand for Holmes to take. "My gratitude for your help, Mr. Holmes."

The door swung shut behind her as Holmes remarked, "Mr. Dodgson simply must take better care, Watson, otherwise I shall have to have a word with that man. The curious peculiarities of mathematicians and their infinite capacity for creating irksome annoyances." He mused thoughtfully, and Watson hoped that this Dodgson fellow was not as bad as Moriarty. One archenemy was sufficient for a lifetime.


***

Peace reigned over Baker Street, and Watson consumed a wonderful lunch of stewed mutton, steeling himself for the inevitable vagaries he knew to be ahead. He thought that the worst had already occurred when the bell did not ring for several hours, but by some hidden instinct, Holmes drew himself up erect.

"Ah." He said mysteriously, brushing off his jacket. "Another client." Watson could not resist the urge to sigh as Holmes headed for the door, swung it open with some force, and made for the stairs with a bound. When Holmes did not return upstairs with the client in tow, Watson manfullyresisted the urge to follow after him down but his curiosity bit at him.

A few minutes later, he conceded, putting down his book to go over to the sitting room door, to look - only to look mind - at the street, and so fulfill his curiosity. But there was no client in the stairwell, and shaking his head at Holmes, began to return to his book. But just as he sat, a terrible thought came to him, and he rushed to the window and threw it up.

Sticking his head out over the street, he covered his eyes with his hand for an instant, then threw it aside again. Yes, Holmes was standing in the street next to a carriage, conversing. However usual that might seem, it was the black horse in the traces that Holmes was whispering to, and Watson retreated to his chair, feeling weak.

Less than a quarter hour later, Holmes returned to the sitting room, dark tails swinging behind him as he pounced on his pipe.

"It is a most interesting problem." He declared, throwing his match into the fireplace and drawing on his pipe. "Most curious."

"Are you sure that you are feeling well, Holmes?" Watson ventured hesitantly, taking in the frantic energy and darting movements.

"Well? Of course, I am well and in very fine fettle. Unlike our dear friend in the street, I am most energized." When Watson looked at Holmes with curiosity, Holmes elaborated "He has had a nasty fall recently, both in figure and in status." He mused for a moment on the cruelty with which many treated their horses. "He is quite a black beauty."

He puffed at his pipe, until a circle of smoke wreathed his head, seeming content to sit and be still. It was a well into the evening before he moved again, and Watson had quite lost hope of having a usual day.

***

At half past seven, Holmes dashed down to send a telegram with Billy the page, and Watson began a slow retreat up to his room to change for dinner.

"Watson!" Came a yell from the sitting room. "I have need of you." It was a smug tone that summoned him, and Watson assumed that he had solved the horse's case. He entered the sitting room to some dismay, for Holmes was holding the paw of a small, brown bear that lay prone of the sofa.

"It does not hurt, you know." The bear was saying. "Just an odd feeling of trickling down my back." He said thoughtfully,  a slow look passing over his face. Looking over Holmes' shoulder, Watson saw the long split down the bear's back, and feeling much like a nursemaid, went to find a needle and some fine brown thread.

"Now tell us old boy, what has happened?" Holmes said gently, letting the paw drop to the sofa.

"I was in the Hundred Acre Wood, you see, and I believe I ran into a heffalump. They are very scary, and I was frightened and ran, as best I could. I cannot say when my seam split, only that it did."

Watson finished the last stitch, tied it off, and cut the thread, drawing the patient -- the bear up into a sitting position.

"It should be alright, Mr. Bear."

"Pooh, if you would be so kind."

"Pooh." Watson corrected. "If you should not stretch them for some days, I believe all should be well." With a chiding look. "Perhaps less honey, and more exercise if you please." Pooh had the grace to look chastened.

"I shall try." Pooh said, rubbing his paws together as he stared at the roundness of his belly under his red shirt. Holmes blew a smoke ring as he settled back into his pipe, steepling his hands.

"What is your case?" Holmes enquired, and Watson finally sighed.

Then sighed again, and seeing as no gazes were coming his way, from either bear or man, went on tiptoe up to his room, drew back his covers, and retreated under them.

It was, after all, that sort of day.