Fandom: Mary Russell
Prompt: pallor, ocean, deceiving
The Christmas holidays were never a source of any pleasure for me while my aunt and nominal guardian was living in my house. I had no objection to the holiday on principle, but my aunt’s focus on the holiday to the complete exclusion of her and, not-so incidentally, my Jewish faith grated heavily on my nerves.
So when December 1919 arrived, I seriously considered locking myself in my rooms in Oxford and hibernating until Hilary term. But my absence would cause more troubles with my aunt than my presence, so I steeled myself for the trip. I did bring as many of my books as I could carry so I could truthfully excuse myself from most of the festivities because of work.
On arrival to my family home on Sussex Downs I immediately regretted the decision to come. My aunt greeted me with brittle cheer and I bore the brunt of a barrage of introductions to obscure family members and my aunt’s circle of friends. I made my excuses and my escape as quickly as possible and passed out in my room upstairs.
When I woke the next morning I was shocked to find it was already one in the afternoon. The festivities downstairs seemed to be on hiatus for the moment, so I made myself a sandwich and escaped out the kitchen door to the Downs.
The weather was not ideal for a hike. The sun was hidden behind a thick layer of clouds that threatened sleet, but never delivered. I almost immediately regretted my decision to sneak out, but the cold was preferable to making idiotic small talk with my aunt’s friends.
I followed the slope of the land down to the sea. The pallor of the clouds contrasted painfully with the dark and foreboding ocean waves. It matched my mood perfectly, I thought sourly. I couldn’t have articulated it properly at the time, but I felt this vague sense of dread I suspect is experienced by every university student when they suddenly realize that they must make this degree into a career.
I was a student of theology. I loved my work, and would not have given it up for the world. But the career of professional student was an uncertain one. My practical side said that my inheritance was more than enough to fund a lifetime of burrowing through dusty stacks and incunabula. But the idea of being dependent on my parents’ money for the rest of my life was distasteful.
It was all Holmes’ fault, of course. This time last year I was fleeing for my life because of a series of assassination attempts against Holmes, Watson and myself. Holmes and I washed up on the shores of Palestine, where we again found ourselves fighting for our lives alongside two Arab brothers. Holmes’ detective work was dangerous, difficult, and incredibly seductive.
A gust of wind blasted across the Downs, finding all the little chinks in my woollen armour. I shivered and took myself inland, aiming for Holmes’ house.
I saw the smoke from the chimney before anything else and allowed myself a small smile. The façade of Holmes’ simple country cottage was deceiving. Electric lights shone brightly from the kitchen, while the sitting rooms were light by the softer glow of firelight and another gust of wind carried the scent of bread and cinnamon.
Mrs. Hudson greeted me with food and exclamations about how I ought to take better care of myself. I grinned, my grim mood forgotten.
“He’s not here, dear.” Mrs. Hudson told me while my mouth was full of scone. “Off to Heaven knows where on some case or another.
“He’s not here, dear.” Mrs. Hudson told me while my mouth was full of scone. “Off to Heaven knows where on some case or another. And what I’m to do with all this food, I don’t know. Not that he eats that much anyway, I might as well be feeding only myself.” I murmured something sympathetic. Mrs. Hudson was well-acquainted with her employer’s eccentricities, but she never lost a chance to bemoan them.
I spent the night in the guest room and woke up at a decent hour. The noise of glass beakers clinking together in the laboratory down the hall announced Holmes’ sudden return.
I nipped downstairs for a cup of coffee and went to say hello to Holmes. I found him bent over a rack of test tubes, so I stood in the doorway to watch.
“Is Christmas with the family as bad as all that?” He asked without turning. I had made no noise, but had not reckoned on the reflective surface of a row of glassware.
“It’s a Jewish family, Holmes.” I said, with more annoyance than I meant to show. “A menorah wouldn’t kill her.”
My vehemence surprised him, and understandably so. Despite being a theology student, I wasn’t terribly observant of the rituals of my faith.
“I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m doing.” The admission escaped my mouth as soon as I thought it, and I instantly regretted it.
Holmes carefully capped the reagent bottle, set his experiment aside and turned to look at me.
“What is bothering you Russell?”
“I don’t even know.” I sighed. “I’ve been working so long to get to Oxford, and now that I’m there it seems like it’s just more of the same.”
“You are no longer interested in theology?”
“No! It’s… hell; I don’t even know what’s bothering me.”
“The wide uncertain future stretching out before you, like an abyss on the other side of graduation?”
And that was it exactly. I stared at him, stunned. “How do you know?”
“You forget, Russ. I was a University student once.” Holmes said, turned back to the lab bench. “I couldn’t stay at the University forever, but I felt there was no career that could hold my interest. I considered following in Mycroft’s footsteps, but he was still a clerk in the Intelligence office at that time, and I found the idea of working for someone to be distasteful. I wanted to investigate crime and still be my own master. I was rather impatient.” He added with some amusement.
“Somehow I don’t think theologian and freelance detective have much overlap.”
“Perhaps not. But you needn’t let that stop you. Hand me the perchloric acid, would you?”
I returned to Oxford in January with renewed enthusiasm. The essential problem of what I was to do with myself once I had a degree in hand had not been resolved, and would not be for several years, but my doubts were assuaged by Holmes’ easy assertion that there was really no problem at all. He tended to have that effect on people.