wheeled me into the funeral; I was too ill and frail to walk even from
the car. When I had heard, I had wanted more than all else to
there; upon arrival, I would gladly have been any place but
recognised no-one save the guest of honour; his fourth and most recent
wife had passed the year before. He lay in the simple oak
skin sunken and yellowed. Those graces that age had not yet
to eat away from his person had been consumed by the ravages of a
tumour, which had grown within him with neither his knowledge nor
consent. In that body, I saw precious little of my
there had once been muscles and lines proud enough to challenge any god
of ancient Greece, now there were only sagging folds and liver spots.
regarded my own frail hand where it rested upon the edge of the
coffin. It appeared every bit as withered and spent as the
lay within. It was an eerie feeling, to say the least.
still air of the chapel was thick with the predictable scent of
chemicals inadequately concealed by the cloying scent of vulgar
perfumes. Once I could have identified each odour with a sniff and
matched it to a selection of samples from my chemistry bench.
noxious inhalation made me gag and choke upon my own phlegm.
had long since been betrayed by its intimate association with my pipes,
much as the fire in the pipe-bowl must ultimately smother upon the
ashes of the flame which first gave it life.
My chest heaved
in futile effort; my spine creaked under the sheer force of the
My arms shook so with my effort to raise my lungs away from
that Langstrom interceded and wheeled me outside in alarm.
the yard the country air was cold and damp; dirty rain fell in a grey,
impotent drizzle. It was a good day for death, I thought as
breathing slowed to the point where I could talk. A fitting
"Do you want to go back in?" Langstrom asked when only my
usual wheeze remained.
"No. No, I'm quite finished here."
said our good-byes long ago, if not precisely in word, then in
For better or for worse, that had always been our way; all the most
important thoughts--and feelings--remained unvoiced and unconsummated
within us by mutual mute agreement.
As it stood with
Parliament, our affections could offer us nothing but the dock,
therefore he married with my blessing. When that marriage failed, and
the next, and the next, he came back to Baker Street. By then
quite intolerable; no bee could sting sharper than the silence that had
grown between us, and so I left Baker Street behind for my bees.
the war, I saw him scarcely at all. Each time we parted, it
the promise that the next visit would come sooner, but they only grew
further apart. It would relieve my mind to say that it was
permitted the drift despite the fervour my most valiant efforts, but I
could never balk from the plain truth during my career--and I am far
too old to change my habits now.
"We came a long way. Would you not like to speak to the family and
friends, sir?" Langstrom jarred me back to the rain.
would--very much--however those friends we had in common have all
preceded him. If I am to be given to speak with some of them
will be in a better place than here. There is no-one there
He looked at me oddly. The two things which had not
failed me to date were my mind and my ears. With the latter I
frequently overheard his whispers with Martha as to their joint fears
for the state of the former. To my infinite regret, those
Given the choice, I would have gladly allowed
brain to pass before body; it is a hard thing to watch one's self grow
old. But it was my brain that I chose to cherish and nurture
many years at the great expense of the health of my flesh, and that
choice could not now be undone.
"Home, sir?" He arranged me in the seat of my car.
"Larkspur cottage, Langstrom." It was my residence, but 221b
would ever be my home.
Langstrom settled me in my bedroom within easy distance of the
nightshirt lay out waiting, like a ghost beckoning me to the last
sleep. It needn't appear so eager, I though as another round
my chest; it would be a short wait--a short wait at best. I was so
"Will there be anything else, sir?"
"Just one thing--my syringe, then you may go."
He spoke to me as one would a child. "I can't sir.
I promised the doctor."
"The doctor is dead. It is unlikely in the extreme that he
will have anything to say on the matter."
"I think he meant--"
"I know what he meant!" We waited for the next attack to
caught my breath. "I know more of the doctor's whims than any
ever lived. And now that doctor is gone along with everything
known or valued in my life. So, if it is not too much
you kindly fetch me the morphine?"
Langstrom nodded and brought
the phial without another word. He brought also carbolic acid and a
tourniquet. I had no need for the latter; I could easily fashion one
from my garments--they hung loosely enough on my frame--but I took the
gesture for what it was nevertheless.
If it wouldn't have
cost me several breaths, I would have laughed at the absurdity of the
former. Applying an antiseptic in preparation to administer a
That it was on the advice of a certain late physician--an early
proponent of the theories of Doctor Lister--I had no doubt.
loyalty would be such that despite our separation of over a year, he
still looked out for me from the grave.
The rheumatism in my
hands nearly confounded my efforts with the tourniquet, but such lonely
skills are not easily unlearned. I flexed my arm and pressed
Christmas Day 1929 was the last time I had
taken morphine purely for release. That was three years ago,
sensation immediately wrapped me with the comforting familiarity of a
threadbare jacket. From the prick to the skin to the flash of
back-blood to the glow as it permeated my cells, I knew this friend,
Morphia, and I welcomed him back with alacrity.
dropped from my hand. I leaned back in my chair and to savour
welcome nothingness. Once that bottle had contained both joy
euphoria, but that was many years and milestones ago. Now the
brought only an absence of pain and loss and regret. I was
a position to be particular; I would accept any peace that I would be
A sudden spasm wracked my stomach and it tossed
precariously in my throat. I pushed for the washbasin,
chair in the process. I reached up for it, but my stomach
first, and I retched onto the Daily
News. The retching
choking, and the choking, gasping. I pushed myself back with
and collapsed upon the rug, waiting for the effect to
first few experiences with the drug had wrought similar effects upon my
digestion, but I soon mastered the fine art of dosage. In
Dr Freud had written of the phenomena of tolerance and withdrawal, and
the perils of overdosage upon later resumption of use. Dr
Freud is a
brilliant man, and I saw no cause to doubt the veracity his
tried to crawl for my telephone, but my limbs chose not to
Perhaps they were the wiser of us. I wiped my mouth with the
my hand. There was blood--from my mouth? No, from
my arm. From the
puncture wound ran a rivulet of thick, dark red. I was so very tired
and the morphia more seductive than any lover--any lover real or
imagined. I lowered my head to sleep.
A voice that I hadn't heard in decades jolted me awake. I rolled to my
side. "John? John Watson, is that you?"
He chuckled. "Naturally. Who else would abide you
in such a condition?"
knelt down beside me, and the finest hands I had ever known cradled my
chin. The sweetness of that caress was everything I had
dreamed. Why now, so very many years too late? I
he mistook it for a spasm, for he cradled my head upon his knees and
stroked me until it passed.
"Watson, how can it be you?" I murmured into his lap.
"The wisest man I have ever know once noted that whatever was not
impossible, must be reality."
"You are imprecise as ever, Watson. Those were not my words
"And you have not changed either; you presume I spoke of you."
His tone was kind and gentle and I laughed to banter with him once
again. This time there was no cough to
there's something I have come to tell you." He soothed my
the heat of his hands. I sunk into the moment, lost in the
rapture of the hold of the morphine and the hold of my only
All at once, it was too much and not enough both at the same time.
twisted my face away. "Oh, Watson, not now. For
pity's sake, have
some compassion. What's done is done. We had our
chance. That was
half a century ago; we were ahead of the world then, and we still are,
my friend. Nothing has changed in all that time."
arose to a stand. "I suggest you not be so sure." He chuckled
manner I had missed so keenly and so often. "I did have
tell you, but I perhaps I should show you instead."
He extended a hand down to me. "Come, Holmes."
I sagged back to the rug. "I cannot. I cannot move
"Try." He touched my knee.
To my surprise, I arose in one easy motion. There
was neither pain nor wheeze; my joints made no protest whatsoever.
"Your medical skills have improved, I note." I tested my body
and found it sound and limber.
He smiled. "I had a modicum of help this time." He
took my hand and pulled me closer to him.
"Where do you propose to take me?" I asked.
gave me what I could only describe as a scandalous leer--most
unbecoming of a gentleman--and my heart flipped and seemed to stop. He
bent down and kissed me with the unspent passion of fifty years, and I
know my heart did stop then.
Then I could breathe easily once more.
"You'll find out. Come." He tugged at my
I looked down where our fingers joined. His hand was thick
and muscled, mine lean and pale, unmottled by time or disease.
From a very great distance I thought that I should be afraid of this
wonder, but what could there be for me to fear when Watson held my hand?
shook his head and chuckled "No. Good gracious,
no! I've waited
fifty years to be the one to lead you into a mystery. You
possibly believe I would spoil it now."
He tugged on my hand
again, and this time I went willingly. He led me through the
into the streaming sunshine of my little garden patch.
"Come, Holmes; the game is afoot."