A New Leaf
A New Leaf
By Claire Daines
Watson usually closed his surgery early on Christmas Eve – no matter how carefully one planned, there always seemed to be last-minute shopping to do – but this year he had something very special in mind. Mary had told him during their courtship that she adored Fox Brush orchids, a flower she remembered fondly from her childhood in India. Watson was determined to surprise her with some this Christmas, though it had taken him ages to find a place in Covent Garden which sold them, and at a shocking price, too! Still, nothing was too good for his Mary, and the look on her face alone would be worth it.
With visions of his wife’s shining smile still dancing in his head as he entered the marketplace, Watson completely failed to hear the angry shouts and footsteps ahead until somebody cannoned into him headfirst, sending them both toppling in a shower of... white petals?! Watson blinked, trying to get his breath back, finally getting a good look at his assailant, and his eyes widened. “Alex? What in the world...?”
The Irregular looked absolutely horrified. “S-sorry, Doc, Oi din’t...”
“There he is!” Two men were running towards them, one of them clearly a constable.
Watson quickly took hold of the boy’s jacket before he could bolt again; he had an awful suspicion where this now somewhat ragged bouquet of daisies had come from. “Alex, please tell me you paid for these,” he said slowly, though without much hope – even flowers like these were expensive at this time of year. It broke his heart to see the boys regressing to old habits after everything he and Holmes had tried to teach them.
Before Alex could answer, the shopkeeper caught them up, seizing the boy by the collar. “You young devil! Thank you, sir, much obliged. Constable!”
The policeman nodded at Watson in recognition as he came forward. “Doctor Watson.”
Watson was immensely glad to see a familiar face under the helmet. “Why, Constable Travis, good evening!”
Travis smiled back faintly – unlike Holmes, Watson took the trouble of learning every new face on the police force, and it usually paid off. “One of yours, Doctor?”
“He is indeed,” Watson nodded gravely, recognising that the constable would be only too glad to have an excuse not to take the lad in, thus escaping the wrath of their employer. “And Alex was just about to explain why he forgot to pay for his flowers,” he said, giving the frightened boy a pointed look.
“Forgot?” the shopkeeper spluttered. “Constable, if you’re going to simply...”
Travis held up one hand. “Hold on now, Mr. Harker – I know you’re upset, but we don’t want to be acting too hasty, like. Let’s hear it, lad.”
Alex nodded, hunching his shoulders miserably. “S’our Mam, Doctor. She ’ad t’go back to ’orspital after the babby came, and the doctor said she won’ be comin’ ’ome fer another week, an...” A very real sniff escaped.
“Well, that certainly sounds reasonable to me,” Watson said sympathetically, trying hard to keep a straight face, which was made all the more difficult by the sight of the shopkeeper’s incandescent one. “Constable?”
Travis nodded. “You be more careful in future, young man, d’you hear?” he said sternly.
“Yessir.” Alex hung his head, the very picture of meek contrition. “Sorry, Doctor, Oi wasn’ lookin’.”
“I gathered,” Watson said dryly, reaching into his coat. “Which no doubt explains how your purse fell into my pocket. How much did you say the flowers cost, Mr. Harker?”
Walking swiftly away from the still bristling shopkeeper with Alex firmly in tow, Watson sorrowfully counted his remaining change – he was quite sure that Mr. Harker had doubled the price of the daisies, knowing full well that Watson wouldn’t be inclined to haggle once the charges had been dropped.
“Oi’m orful sorry, Doctor,” Alex mumbled, staring red-faced down at the pavement. “Y’ goin’ t’ tell the Guv’nor?”
Watson sighed as he put his wallet away. He certainly hadn’t planned to say anything, although Holmes would probably find out anyhow, with his usual apparent omniscience. “No, lad, I’m not... but I would strongly advise you to do so.” He gripped the lad’s shoulder gently. “Holmes will be disappointed, yes, but not so very angry, not if you tell him the truth. After all, we’ve all done things that we’re not proud of.”
“Even you an’ the Guv’nor?”
Watson’s lips twitched, but he answered solemnly, “Yes, Alex, even Holmes and I.”
Alex nodded, eyes still downcast, but there was a new resolution in his face that made Watson feel a good deal more cheerful.
“Well, you’d better go and take those flowers to your mother while they’re still fresh,” the doctor went on kindly. “And you give her my best wishes for a speedy recovery, all right?”
“Oi will,” Alex said shyly, then suddenly flung his arms around Watson, flowers and all, and hugged him for a moment, before dashing off again. At the corner, he suddenly stopped, turned and shouted back with a sheepish grin, “Hi, Doctor! ’Appy Christmas!”
Watson sighed again, waving back and smiling. “Happy Christmas, Alex.” The boy hadn’t actually said ‘thank you’, but he’d meant it, and that was enough. And now he’d better go and see how far he could make five shillings and sixpence stretch. A nice poinsettia would help to brighten up the sitting room, and it would last longer, too...