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The Sherlock Peoria Pastiche Library

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The Wealth of John H. Watson

By Brad Keefauver
(Originally published in 221B Baker Street, number 3, May1995.)

Thurston bent over the billiards table, lined up his shot, and drew back his cue, ready to strike.

“The problem, my boy, is that you just don't know how to be rich,” he said, looking up at me with that sly grin he favoured when he was winning.

“I can't argue with that," I replied after he had made his shot. "I've had no experience at it.”

"Johnny, Johnny, Johnny," Thurston stood up and shook his head. "You haven't wanted to have any experience at it!"

I gave a start of incredulity, and sent my American friend a questioning glance.

"What on earth do you mean by that""

"Exactly what I said, Johnny my boy," he continued. "Tell me, what was the first thing you did after getting your doctor's degree?"

"Why, I signed up for army surgeon's training at Netley.”

"You couldn't think of a more profitable way to use your skills?"

"I did not Join the Fifth Northumberland Fusillers for profit, Thurston!"

Thurston smiled in a very self-satisfied manner.

"My point exactly," he told me and nodded at something to my left. Porter had returned from the bar with our drinks. Propping my cue against the leather upholstered wingback I had been leaning on, I took the proffered drinks off Porter's tray, thanked him, and told him that was all we'd be needing for the moment.

"You do handle the servants quite well, though," Thurston said quietly after Porter had left.

“I try to treat everyone in the same, civil fashion," I explained.

"You'd have made a great American. if you weren't so damed British." he laughed and took another shot. The billiard balls cracked into each other repeatedly until, at last, came the thump of one of them dropping into a pocket. Thurston's technique was very sloppy, but effective. "But back to my main point. You were educated for one of the most profitable careers that exists, and you decided to take your earnings in patriotism instead of pound-notes! "

“I'm not the first to put Queen and Country before personal gain, and I shall not be the last,” I argued, not at all ashamed of my decision.

"I know, I know, Johnny," he said, taking his drink from me. "A lot of other poor people have done he same. But what about that Doyle business?”

"What of it?"

"Why use a literary agent? He didn't do that much for your writing career, and he took a healthy cut of the profits."

"Yes, but you have no idea how much work Doyle did for me," I took a long, slow sip of my gin and tonic to prepare for the explanation to follow. "He cleaned up mv own roughly written manuscripts. He dealt with publishers whom he was seeing to market his own works. Most importantly, he jeopardized his own reputation bv putting his name on the accounts to protect Holmes and myself from criminal reprisals. Doyle was my partner in every way on those works. He deserved half of the profits."

"HALF!!!" Thurston began coughing, having choked on his last swallow. "You never told me he got that much!"

"I knew you wouldn't approve." The years I had known Thurston since we first met in San Francisco were not without some result. He was as familiar to me as any man, save Sherlock Holmes, and I had learned to avoid certain topics with him, as one does with any close companion.

Thurston's eyes looked ceiling-ward as his mind rapidly ticked off one of the multitudinous sets of figures he kept stored in his head. Pounds and shillings, dollars and cents, they were his own special gift, as remarkable as Holmes's powers of observation and deduction. In an instant, he reached his sought-after sum.

"Seven hundred and thirty-three pounds! Good heavens, Watson, you throw money away like you had it by the trough!"

Ignoring my frend's outrage, I took my turn at the billiard table, missing the simple shot he had left for me and somehow managing to leave Thurston in an excellent position to finish the game.

"But that's all done now," I said candidly, returning to my drink.

"Yes, you've left your readers thinking Holmes died in Switzerland, when he's been back in London for years. You could make a fortune out of his return! Leave Doyle out of it this time around; you're well enough known that the publishers will come to you."

Thurston went silent long enough to concentrate on his shot. Two balls thunked into pockets in rapid succession. I laid a pound note on the rail of the table, which he promptly snatched up and pocketed.

"This is where you and I differ. When I see money laying around, I pick it up," he grinned smugly. "Ready for another go? Double?"

I nodded and he began eagerly to rack up a fresh game.

"As it stands, Holmes is enjoying the freedom that death has given him in moving about the underworld, and Doyle holds the rights to our 'characters.’ I see no reason to return to the literary world. Holmes and I have entered into a partnership since his return, and I am doing quite well. The agency brings in a considerable little income."

"How much did you make this month?"

"A goodly sum. We have had several cases that . . .”

“I repeat my question. Exactly how much did you make this month? He's still got your cheque book locked in that drawer, doesn't he?"

"Holmes handles all the bookkeeping. My share goes into the account whether I observe every shilling and penny or not."

"And he keeps you placated with some cash allowance, doesn't he? You're like one of those married couples where the husband eventually dies and his wife suddenly finds out that he had spent every penny they had two months before."

I must have glared at Thurston, for he promptly turned his attention to the game. "Off that far rail, I think."

Clack. Clack. Thunk. Another ball returned home to its pocket.

"You do marry well, Watson, I will give you that."

If I had suspected that Thurston and I could ever make it through an evening without the subject of our one source of competition coming up, I knew I was wrong. In those youthful days of our friendship, we had both fallen under the spell of the same spirited American lass.

Somehow I knew that this entire conversation revolved around that point in some way, it started with a seemingly unrelated subject and slowly spiraled inward until it came to that wonderful girl who had once come between us.

"A prospector's daughter, the Agra treasure heiress . . . and I've heard you are seeing Lady Brackenstall. Is there any truth to that rumour?"

As much as I appreciated Thurston's refreshing American forthrightness, there were times when he was abrasively candid. But I could be candid myself, and at times it seemed the only answer.

“I've escorted her to two parties and a formal dinner. There are no marriage plans, as she has another suitor who has a head-start on me."

"Oh, really? And her husband has not been dead all that long. It's probably for the best, if you were to marry her, the poor woman's bank would probably bum down. You're the only man I ever met who marries wealthy and then doesn't have a dime to show for it when the spouse passes on."

"Thurston," I said in a tone that threatened another glare, "I marry for the reason a man should marry -- love. I would live in the worst slum in London if it meant I could have either of my precious ones alive and with me still."

"I'm sorry, my frend. My heart seems to pump currency ink these days, you must forgive me."

With that, he struck the shot that finished the current game, and I dutifully laid two pounds upon the rail of the table.

"And I'm feeling healthier by the minute," he added, snatching up the money, "Another game? One more double?"

"I should give up playing billiards and go back to wagering on the horses," I commented dismally. "But I suppose I must, if only to avenge my wounded pride.

"Of course!" he laughed cheerfully, and set the table up again. "And how is our friend Sherlock doing these days?"

His use of Holmes's first name grated on my nerves, even worse than his use of my own. American through and through, Thurston insisted we all call him by his first name, and proceeded to use ours whether we cared for it or not. He even had Holmes calling him “Thurston,” and the two only crossed paths perhaps twice a year.

"Holmes is well. The days of driving himself without food or rest, the experiments with cocaine and morphine, even the prodigious amount of tobacco he used to smoke -- all are well in the past. Temperate living has kept him a healthy man, and though he may complain about the absence of Professor Moriarty from the criminal scene, I think the days of pursuing dangerous assassins into the sewers and giant beasts across deadly moors are all in the past- He talks of retirement on occasion, and I think it may not be too many years away."

"He has made his fortune, then.”

“I would not know. From the work we've undertaken for society's higher echelons, I would have to say that Holmes has built up some considerable amount of money. There has recently been a death in his family, as well, which brought him an inheritance of not inconsiderable size.

"Not Mycroft, I hope."

"No, an uncle in France. I can't remember the name."

"Somehow, I don't think anyone will truly know what Holmes is worth until he himself dies. I've seen fellows like him before, concentrating their whole life on one purpose, sticking their money away here and there, never giving it a second thought. Eventually they pass on, and those left to deal with the estate realise that they were a millionaire many times over, when all the world took them for a common, middle-class working man."

"You put far too much concern into a man's financial worth," I told him, sinking the ball that finally made me the winner. With a grimace of what seemed over-exaggerated anguish, Thurston pulled four pounds from his money clip and laid it on the table.

"You will give me one last chance to redeem myself, won't you, Johnny? Double, once more?"

“It seems only fair." This time, I racked up the balls for a new game, my pocket feeling comfortably fuller with the four pounds residing in it.

The game started, and we were a few strokes into it before Thurston spoke up again. "I just don't understand you, Johnny. Why won't you go into partnership with me on that South Aftican land?"

"You hardly need me to buy it, Thurston. The price of it will hardly put a dent in that fortune you've amassed in the States."

"I know, Johnny, but I've always felt badly that you weren't there for when the California gold started pouring in for me. You could be as rich as me, if only you'd have stayed a little longer. "

This discussion had taken place many times before as well. I had wanted to bring my new bride home to England, and no amount of prospective fortune held the allure of home and family in the mother country. Thurston felt my life had something missing from it as a result, but I knew that I had returned to England with all the treasure a man could hope for. Like so many of the treasures my life has handed me, that one too was destined to slip through my fingers. Thurston's fortunes, tended, could be held in banks, strongboxes, and title offices. Mine could only be held in my arms, and then, for just a moment. had come to accept my lot.

"I left America a very rich man," I told him.

Thurston's eyes grew distant, and a sentimental moistness came into them.

"Have you ever read that Dickens book with Ebenezer Scrooge, Johnny?"

I nodded.

"Sometimes, when I'm low, he looks like my mirror image. I never blamed you for taking her away, Johnny. I knew I wasn't what she wanted. You were. A woman wants to be more than an added source of income. A partner in a business. And that's what I have to offer."

"You're a good man, Thurston," I told him, putting a firm hand on his shoulder. "Women just don't travel in the circles of money and power. Maybe someday they will, but not now. There are plenty of women who would love to have what you can offer them, but you won't meet them in a bank, or a gold field, or a stock market. Take a holiday from the world of finance for a time. Go where the women are. Socialize. You'll be surprised at what will come your way."

He stopped for a moment, a thoughtful look in his eyes.

"I just may do that, Johnny," he replied softly, then pulled himself back to his old self "But now we have some pool to play."

We played for another hour and a half, my luck on the rise and Thurston being a bit too fond of the words "again" and "double." The twenty-tliree pounds, sixteen sliiiiings I came to the club with somehow had turned into five hundred and thirty-five pounds, sixteen shillings.

"You are still a very rich man, Johnny," Thurston said, putting me in my cab at the end of the evening.

I never cared much for billiards, despite a certain natural talent I seem to have for the game. In fact, I never played the game except with Thurston, who could easily afford the geometric rise of our little wagers. One doesn't live on a wound pension for as long as I have without finding some other way to supplement one's income.

And after tonight's run of billiards, I wouldn't have to ask Holmes to unlock the drawer with my cheque book in it for quite some time. Thurston was right, though, I was a rich man, but not because I had over five hundred pounds in my pocket. It's friendships that make us truly wealthy, and I have had some of the best.