A Love Story
sat next to me in a hansom cab
rattling through London in the dull light of evening, making an effort
not to tilt his head in my direction often enough that I would take
note of his mood. As it ever was for him in those days, it proved a
losing battle. I shifted my weight and made a prisoner of the hand
which had been lying dormant at my side.
"What is troubling you?"
"Nothing," he answered. "Nothing that can be mended, in any event. I
was just thinking of Mr. John Turner."
"I confess that he had passed from my thoughts," I replied. "Not
without effort, mind."
watched as he made an effort to organize his ideas. The day
had been a
trying, albeit an arresting one--a complex problem, a compelling drama,
and a conclusion less dire than might have been anticipated.
plight had struck me briefly, as it must have done to any man with a
remotely functional heart and mind, but I have always been many degrees
further detached from the world than is my companion. I rely
detachment for many things. I realize, however, that the
feign indifference even if he tries. It must be a tempestuous
existence, I reflected, not for the first time.
realize that there is nothing to be done about it, but I cannot help
but think that an unfortunate mistake of moral judgment made when the
fellow was quite young ought not to prove cause for a lifetime of
"As I said at Boscombe Valley, 'there, but for the grace of God....'"
know it. It is all too true. Still, it is small enough comfort to be
aware that such unfair fortunes could equally befall any of us." He
looked out the window as the featureless brick streets blended into one
"Mistakes are all too like their Biblical
metaphors--objects thrown into water will ripple whether we desire them
to or no. Such laws are akin to the laws of physics. They are not
cognizant of individual intentions."
"Universal indifference is hardly a desirable trait in a Deity."
"You never speak of God," I remarked, "and seldom enough even of
"It isn't very flattering for you to be surprised by it, for all your
depth," he smiled. "I am a very complicated man."
"Yes, you are." I commenced smoothing out a muscle in his palm with my
thumb. "Are you coming back with me?"
should like to, very much," he answered cautiously. "Anstruther has
promised to see to my practice through tomorrow afternoon."
"And you have no other pressing affairs to see to this evening?"
was once a regrettable habit of mine to avoid mention
of his wife at
every possible opportunity, perambulating around her existence as if
she were a relation who had been irrevocably disowned, save for the
rare instances when I was forced to be more direct. Then I
particular care to refer to her in such explicit terms that I fear the
deficit on other occasions was more than met. I had grown so
in this quirk of nature that I once managed to
spend the better part of
two months periodically in and out of Watson's presence
acknowledging that he was married at all. This practice was
which he was beginning to tire, although he also knew full
well it was
hardly fair of him to be irked by it.
"Mary insisted I accompany you in the first place. I look pale,
apparently. She told me so."
"How alarming," I exclaimed.
what the merest deliberate mention of her name could do to me, and
after years of exposure. It was an arena in which my
legendary detachment failed me utterly. I am not
proud of the fact.
"It is nothing of the kind."
"Are you feeling better?"
"I am fine."
Heaven. I am glad to hear it. And yet, as serious a matter as
health may be, surely you detect the compliment to myself. Do you
really sicken when away from me?"
"Holmes," he warned me. I
ignored him. He could have expected a sudden descent into a
when he mentioned her name, but preferred, stubbornly, to be surprised
by what ought to have been rote cause-and-effect. I had once imagined
that my impossible situation would grow more possible with the passage
of time. Instead, it had grown less. This development angered
as it saddened me. Whether I was more angry at myself for a blind fool
or at the world for a bitter joke I could not say. It was difficult to
be angry at Watson for any appreciable length of time.
"Or is it
the other way 'round? Are you perfectly well when at home with the
estimable Mrs. Watson, until a fit of evil blood strikes you and you
are pulled inexplicably to my side, as if I were some sort of recurring
"I have made a considerable study of disease. You must
concede my superior training in that arena. You are nothing like
He offered me a cigarette as he gazed placatingly at me in the
near-darkness. I ignored this as well.
"I am not a detriment to your leading a hale middle-class British life?"
clarify, I have nothing whatever against the middle-class British
lifestyle. But I loathed the notion of the Doctor living
art, without chaos, without tempests or triumphs or
passions. In short, without me.
"Am I really meant to make any sort of reply to that?"
"Surely if you are suffering from an aberrant condition, it would be
wise to have it seen to."
and disease have very little in common," he said, beginning to rise to
his own defense. "You've a capital example of such in your
some men join special clubs in order to sit in perfect silence for
hours on end."
made a show of checking my pocket-watch in the fading light through the
some men join special clubs in order to commit deviant acts with the
same gender. I only wish I had taken up with such a person."
face froze in a mask of hurt as he sat there, evidently trying to work
out a way for my statement not to have meant what it very obviously did
mean. I make monstrous pronouncements at times, but at the very least I
regret them. After a moment's consideration, I
placed an arm around
his shoulders and buried my nose in his brown hair. I remained so until
his eyes closed and he relaxed back against the seat.
"That was rather horrid of me," I said, making an effort to sound
charming. I don't imagine I succeeded.
"Yes, it was."
is my way, you know. I seduce men into my rooms thus. You said you
would like to accompany me back to Baker Street, but sounded unsure. I
then took the unprecedented step of insulting the fellow I would very
much like to take home. It is that shocking counter-intuitiveness which
has led to so many past successes."
He rubbed at one temple
wearily. "You have hoodwinked other men into sleeping with
accusing them of not being homosexuals?"
I laughed against the top of his head. "I have a great many tricks up
my sleeve, as you can see."
"They are not all particularly effective," he pointed out.
"No," I agreed. "What would it take to convince you to come
back with me?"
stared at the floor of the cab, resignation and a sort of mournful
culpability chasing one another across his face. "I didn't need
convincing. I never do, and you know it. I was thinking of an
Watson lied to his wife a great deal, but he cannot lie to me and has
very wisely never tried.
If he had been able to prevaricate with me, it would have been
different. Perhaps I would not have been able to stand
it. Perhaps we
would have enjoyed far more peaceful relations. I cannot
say. I can
say for a fact that the ever-present knowledge that I was hurting him
merely by being alive was a difficult cross to bear.
"My poor fellow,"
I said after a pause. "I'll go over the case notes for an
hour with you, shall I?"
"That would be helpful," he conceded.
do care about your health, you know," I added softly. He searched
within for traces of anger at me--I could see him do it--but as was
usually the case, they had paled all too quickly. "I fear that I wish I
were the only one who paid it any mind."
"I know," he said. "Mistakes create ripples. I know it all too well."
"My mistakes reverberate as much as anyone's, my boy."
"But mine more than most," he stated flatly. "Mine more than most."
devoted the remainder of the cab ride to the warmth of his head as it
lay against my face. It would not be there for long, after
drama of the following tale speaks for itself, for there are deaths,
intrigues, sacrifices and one miracle. It was a tragedy in
senses, a morality play in others. But I shall let my friend
for his other life was the spark which set off Mt. Vesuvius.
Watson has recently placed in my possession a brown leather diary which
contains the daily accounts of his existence just before I disappeared,
and bears every sign of having been under near-continuous lock and
key. He said he wanted me to have it. I cannot
think why he wants
such a thing, for I spend as little time as possible dwelling upon my
life before I died, but I cannot deny it touched me he should trust me
so far. There is no better way of commencing the story than
it, for if there is one thing the Doctor can do with verve and
atmosphere, it is begin a story. It is the middle and the end
one usually runs into trouble. He wrote in 1891:
it is unusual for Holmes to make any mention of my wife, it is far more
unusual for her to interrogate me regarding my activities while in his
company. Mary possesses, in a far more advanced degree than any I have
ever seen, the desire to help others be happy, and it is this quality
more than anything else which worries me like a chain around my ankle
when she merrily desires me to tell her the tales of my latest exploits
with 'Mr. Holmes.' She has never pressed me, never acknowledged the
slightest suspicion, which maddens even as it relieves me. For Mary is
not stupid. She is less stupid even than she is malicious, which is to
say not at all. But she seemingly enjoys my accounts, greatly abridged,
of my adventures with Holmes so innocently that I cannot but think her
an unwitting pawn. My friend, meanwhile, would prefer a week
stocks to speaking of my wife at all. The fires of my guilt
stoked from both directions, I pass a weary week without even
attempting to see Holmes, then succumb to my desires and begin the
heinous cycle afresh whenever an unrepentantly demanding telegram
recalls me to his side. This downward spiral has continued
uninterrupted until last Tuesday morning. But I've had the
extraordinary news, and I cannot but think that the significance of the
event will somehow shake me from my placidly sinful existence.
Coincidentally, that very day also happened to merit an unannounced
visit from Holmes.
strode with easy grace into my consulting room last night as I sat at
my desk staring before me, wondering what on earth I was to do. That
Holmes would be injured somehow was certain; that it would alter our
lives together, even more certain. Most certain of all was
would find it out one way or another, but these considerations
senselessly paled before the image in my mind of how he would react
when I broke it to him. Then suddenly there stood the man himself,
looking for all the world as if he had not slept more than three hours
since I had last seen him a fortnight previous, and had lost five
pounds he could ill afford to have misplaced."
take note of three items in particular in the above account.
the Doctor liked and admired his wife. He was not in love
but there are far worse marriages in the British Isles.
Second, I was
making his days a misery. And third, logical considerations
the Doctor when in my immediate presence. In other words, he
little able to look out for his own best interests when in my
These are salient points.
To resume the narrative, I did indeed arrive as he has written, looking
less than my best.
"Holmes, whatever is the matter?" he exclaimed, pushing back his chair.
I have been using myself up a little too freely of late," I replied,
making my way very slowly around the walls of the room. "Have you any
objection to my closing your shutters?"
He stopped me as I
advanced and pushed me into a chair. Exhausted as I was, I made less
protest than I would have otherwise. He then turned his back
on me and
fastened all the shutters himself. He bolted them as he did
drew the blinds. When he had finished, he returned and stood
before me, his warm, capable hands situated behind his back judiciously.
"You are afraid of something."
"Of course not," I scoffed.
never come here. You consider this house Hell upon Earth; what is more,
you were treating my windows just now as if they were dire hazards. You
are afraid of something," he repeated. It was a nice piece of
reasoning, and I could say nothing against it.
"Well, I am." I shrugged nonchalantly.
what?" he asked, beginning to lose his patience. I cannot blame the
dear fellow. There I sat resembling nothing so much as a
justice, with an expression on my face of utter calm. It must
"Of air-guns," I said shortly.
"Air-guns. Whose air-guns?"
"Colonel Sebastian Moran's, to be precise."
you are bleeding," he said in distress, taking my hand and looking over
the battered and bloody knuckles. He made at once for a drawer in which
I surmised he kept a number of emergency supplies. He hates
when I am
injured, at least until he can determine I'll come right in the
equally hate to see him fuss over me, for I am perfectly capable of
taking care of myself, but it is very difficult to remain terse with
such a person.
"I apologize for calling so late," I murmured when he had returned and
set about putting my hand to rights.
He kissed my fingers. "Never mind that."
was surprising. I do not know any of them intimately, but I
that housewives tend not to go in for that sort of thing. I
single brow at him. "Is Mrs. Watson in?"
"She is away on a visit," he replied. He flushed slightly in
spite of himself.
"Indeed! A walk to see the neighbors, perhaps, or to take in the air,
"She is in Hampshire."
"Is she?" I retained my dispassionate tone. "You are alone?"
"Not any longer," he returned dryly. "You are here."
touch!" I laughed in spite of myself. Watson is not the
I have ever encountered, but his timing is impeccable. "And a perfectly
factual observation, to boot. I am here."
"Holmes, what does this mean?" he asked as he sponged away the
semi-coagulated blood from my two burst knuckles.
had been a difficult day. The day before that had been nearly
I could not allow my vigilance to falter much, I knew. But
watched him cleanse my hand, something like peace and rather more like
exhaustion washed over me. Finding I could not speak for some
I closed my eyes.
"It is no airy nothing, as you can see," I reflected at length. I'd no
desire to talk of it--any of it. "When will she return?"
He glared at me. "I recall having asked you what this all meant in the
not long distant past."
"You are avoiding the question."
"You are changing the subject."
was too tired to argue. "Do you remember Professor Moriarty
manuscript you titled somewhat hysterically, 'The Valley of Fear?'"
"The criminal mastermind or the mathematics professor? For God's sake,
Holmes, tell me what has happened!"
"Nothing, as yet. He is making an effort to end my life."
sat back, his impossibly blue eyes wide with concern. "You've completed
your investigations? You have him in your power? Or is this a
"No, not preemptory by any means. Merely
the next logical step. They set fire to our rooms--to my rooms," I
corrected myself. It had not been intentional, so I carried
he had not noticed. "You may have seen a note of it. No doubt
imagined that either some of the papers or your humble servant were
contained within. They were mistaken on both counts, and I am deeply
gratified to report that Mrs. Hudson is perfectly sound, and in a
ghastly rage over the event."
The moment I told him, I wished I had not. He had to know, of
course. But he looked quite grey with worry.
"Holmes, this is outrageous," he stated at length, applying
disinfectant to my hand. "You must have them arrested."
"Not before my plans mature."
"Your plans are worth more than your life?"
"My plans are very important indeed, and my life safe enough for the
regarded me pensively as he began to wrap a bandage around my fingers.
Distracting him would be no easy task, but I relish a
is she doing in Hampshire?"
"She is remaining there for a fortnight," he sighed. "Holmes,
permit us to remain on the topic of--"
"That is very intriguing indeed."
"Actually, my dear chap, it isn't nearly so intriguing as the topic of
your planned assassination."
I recall your having once told me you had comfortable bachelor
accommodations for one? I could fill a vacant peg, with your
permission, as you have no gentleman visitor at present. Your hat-stand
proclaims as much."
"What are we going to do?" he demanded, rising and returning his
materials to their case.
must here interject that, whatever impression has been previously given
of our relations during Dr. Watson's marriage to the admirable if
infrequently mentioned Mary Morstan, we were very seldom
is, we were seldom so very alone that Watson and I managed to lose
track of the sense of sand through the hourglass. We had used
six or seven hours at a stretch without a word exchanged between us in
the sitting room, and the time felt like the barest minute.
when we were friends. Before I had ruined it, and very nearly
him. Before he'd abandoned me in a fit of misplaced
my time with him was marked like the minutes before a
hanging. But I
had already determined that we were now so very alone that I might make
an effort to forget the clock.
"I have several ideas," I
assured him, rising as well. I undid the knot of his cravat
slight tugs, a trick mastered as an undergraduate, and tossed it behind
him. I then commenced ridding him of waistcoat and collar.
"What are we going to do about the danger you are running?" he asked,
stilling my hands emphatically.
are going to the Continent." It was going to prove more arduous than I
had anticipated. I picked up his clothing and strode toward
staircase which I knew full well housed the guest bedroom although I
had never once occupied it. This maneuver left
Watson with the choice
of either following behind me and continuing the conversation or
remaining alone in his own sitting room. He did not take long to think
I reached the top of the stairs and then paused in
the hallway. It was not difficult, by perusing the carpet, to
the sewing room, and by process of elimination the guest
threw the door open with complete confidence and stepped
could feel Watson trying to work out how I knew which room it was from
behind me, and knew my task was nearly at an end. Having
the deductions themselves were of no small value when it came to
seducing the Doctor, I occasionally indulged in quite inexcusable
"But where on the Continent?"
Once he had joined me in the room, I shrugged diffidently.
"It is all one to me. How often is this aired?"
"Once a week. Holmes, do be serious--can you have led any of them here?"
"The men who attacked me are, without exception, both gaoled and
unconscious. There are three Yard men guarding your home."
"What?" he asked, startled.
put them in place before I began any of these risky undertakings." This
was quite correct; it had been the very first task to which I'd
attended. I could not see any of them, of course, for there were quite
luckily no windows in the Doctor's guest room. Seeing his
still unyielding, I began removing articles of my own clothing, one at
a time, until the fact that I stood before him clad only in my shirt
and trousers prompted Watson to do what I had intended all
is, to shut the door.
"I am glad to see you making yourself comfor--"
was not permitted to finish the sentence, I am afraid. I'd
favourite method of interrupting him. An instant after he had
door I had also, quite purposefully I admit, turned the conveniently
placed key in the lock.
It may occur to one to
question the wisdom of collecting the Doctor and parading him over
Europe, making him, effectively, as marked a man as I was. My
answer to this is that he was universally known to be my closest
confidant, and if Moriarty's henchmen had spirited him away or
questioned him or tortured him or any number of other measures, I could
do nothing about it if we were on separate land masses. I am
self-confident enough to pronounce he was far safer two feet away from
me. The more complicated answer, of course, is
obvious. But I
maintain that the simple answer was more than reason to bring him
along. It was meant to be a mere three-day jaunt, after all.
from the world's foremost criminal mastermind ought to have been a
harrowing experience from the very outset, but spending two days
completely alone with John Watson in Brussels, watching the slow
progression of the Senne and sitting in pleasantly situated French
cafes under whimsical stone buildings, is hardly the worst event which
can befall a person. Particularly not a person of my
was one unfortunate incident upon the Rue Haute when a spot of quick
thinking on my part prevented the designs of an agent
of evil with a
pistol, but I was still in the phase in which danger merely heightened
my appreciation. It was the same for the Doctor, or so I
the attentions he showed me later that afternoon. Taken all
despite the constant low anxiety, it was a perfectly marvelous
We were in Strasbourg when that situation altered.
Strasbourg is a charming city, no doubt, but I had spent that day in
such a state of nervous anticipation that I fear Watson had abandoned
the project of getting any sense out of me. I'd wired the
constabulary that morning, and was quite preoccupied wondering whether
we should the next day depart for home, and what steps I would be
required to take against the gang legally when we arrived
walked through the city arm in arm for several hours, as we were wont
to do in London before the appalling interruption of marriage, and when
we returned to our snug little hotel, there the telegram lay waiting
I tore it open when we'd reached our room and read it.
Then I said something worthy of a Thames dockworker and threw it in the
grate before sitting on the settee with my head in my hands.
"What is it, Holmes?"
"I might have known it," I lamented.
"Whatever has happened, we shall manage." He sat beside
me. "Has the gang been secured?"
"Then what is troubling you?"
"Professor Moriarty and Colonel Sebastian Moran have escaped."
He grasped my shoulder, his face grim. "He of the air-gun?"
"The very same."
out a slow breath, he allowed, "That is bad news indeed. Of
when you left the country there was no one to cope with either of
them. I had not expected them to prevail once you had laid
but we can hardly be surprised."
I stared at the window numbly.
I had to find them, of course. But I'd little doubt finding
prove the least of my concerns.
"Where shall we go now?" Watson
inquired with that blithely courageous look he adopts when we've been
dealt a considerable blow. It is a very endearing expression,
was far too chagrined to appreciate it.
"I shall continue on to Switzerland, I imagine," I said slowly.
"Then let us pack." He squeezed my shoulder affectionately
and made for his bag.
"You, my dear fellow, are returning to London as soon as is possible."
He stopped, looking back at me in surprise. "Surely you know
I shall do nothing of the sort."
me to explain something to you," I sighed. "These men, before
crushed their criminal organization, were after me in an effort to
prevent that very occurrence. They were distracted, laying
traps, battling my own. They were beset with a thousand
essential tasks. There were legions to command, measures to
Now, my dear Watson, they have nothing. No distractions, no
empire to run. There will be one thing on their minds, and
only, and that is doing me grave bodily harm."
"And this is the
moment you imagine I shall return to London?" he asked with a look
resembling amusement. He stopped to light a cigarette and
easily against the mantelpiece.
"Yes, it is."
are mistaken. It does not happen very frequently, but may I
you do happen to be wrong, you are very wrong indeed."
would never do, I reflected. Running from appreciable danger
finite period is one thing, and dragging one's dearest friend (among
other things) through a veritable sea of trouble is quite
assumed a stern expression, and employed the last ounce of truth I
thought might make a difference.
"I have no desire that you should accompany me. I shall be
very put out if anything happens to you."
"Nothing will happen to me, and I intend to guarantee the same for you."
"I'll travel much more fleetly alone."
"It is a shame, then, that you will be burdened with a companion."
do not know who gave you the impression this was a democracy, but it is
not, nor is it a debate or discussion." I was beginning to
far stronger measures would be required to convince him to return to
the relative safety of England--or rather, anywhere that was not in my
immediate vicinity--and I dreaded the tactics I would be forced to
employ. But convince him I would, one way or another.
"And neither is it goodbye, for I'll have none of it."
was nothing for it. I shifted tones immediately.
"You are hardly my
ideal choice at this juncture, in any event," I continued
"You will do nothing but hinder me. If you were blessed with
most intuitive skills at observation and deduction, you might be of
some use, but sadly you are not. Nor do you possess any other
qualities likely to aid in preserving my life."
"I am a doctor, you absurd fellow," he insisted.
are a half-pay army surgeon with mediocre qualifications whose
experience treating life-threatening injuries lasted all of
week? Two? How many lives did you save before you
got yourself shot,
"Mocking my army record may be a creative way of convincing me to leave
you, but it is not going to work."
Damn the fellow and damn
his serene self-assurance, I
reflected. His voice was strained, but steady. He
threw the cigarette
stub in the grate with an air of casual finality that was so endearing
I felt my pulse quicken slightly. I considered briefly
his life was worth being cruel to him and found my answer all too
"I cannot think why you desire to slow me down so
effectively, but doubtless the end result will prove much to your
"Whatever do you mean?"
"I will be dead,
and you can return to that paragon of English virtue, Mary Watson, and
live your pedestrian little lives in peace. Go home now, save
a week or a month of trouble, and allow me at least to live if I cannot
live with you."
He looked as if I was physically hammering away
at him. I very nearly caved at that moment, but
clenched my teeth and
held my tongue.
"I cannot leave. You know full well I cannot," he said
back to your wife. At least to her, you can serve some
have heard that the marital act occasionally produces the most
"Holmes, please spare me your remarks upon the institution of marriage
even if you are to spare me nothing else."
the last time, go back to your wife," I growled at him.
"Leave me. It
isn't as if you don't know how it's done. It will be all the
enjoyable the second time, I assure you."
This remark landed
where I intended it to, and his kindly face twisted as if I'd plunged a
dagger into him. How I loathed myself at that moment, but how
enjoyed saying it. I may well be cold, but I am not
cruel. After his
return, I had made every effort not to punish him. But I
miserable half-life at times, and we both knew it. It was far
to spit venom at Watson than it should have been, I realized at that
moment. The words had emerged as naturally as breathing.
his resolve remained in place, though he had paled slightly and his
brows taken on the expression he gets when his shoulder will not permit
him to move in any direction without pain. "I will not
you understand?" I snarled, standing and approaching him
threateningly. "I don't want you here! I am sick to
death of the
weakling who is so blind to his own mind that he has spent the last
three years married to a fool while sodding his former
you leave me in peace?"
He had placed a stalling hand on my
chest when I stalked toward him, and as he gazed at his own appendage
holding me back, his eyes slowly closed with the weight of my
At long last, without opening them, he spoke once more, his voice more
stricken than I care to recall.
"If you wanted me gone, you
would simply have left me. I am not capable of tracking
performance was excellent, I assure you, and no more than I
You ought to be sick to death of me." He looked up at
me. "I am sick
to death of myself. But you and I are going to see this
After, when we return to London, you may rail at me however you like,
or leave me if that is the only solution. But if you truly
gone, you are going to have to disappear, Holmes. I will not
my own volition."
What was I to do? I held him to me fiercely
and silently cursed myself for the imbecile that I
was. I am in
entirely over my head where John Watson is concerned.
"How could I have been more convincing?" I asked at length, my fingers
in his hair.
"If you actually desired to be alone at this moment, you would be
alone," he repeated. "I am no match for you."
occurred to me that teaching the Doctor logic may not have been
entirely in my own best interests. Of course, I
could not take full
credit--he was always shrewd enough on his own.
"You are the
most damnably stubborn wretch I've ever known. Why can you
to reason? Now I've upset you, and all for nothing."
"I shall survive it, I imagine. I am an old campaigner, as
well as an old friend."
am sorry I called you a weakling." I turned his face up and I
him. How the devil I was to get us out alive, I could not
But I was so relieved it hadn't worked, and so touched by his loyalty,
I was very nearly happy.
"Yes, that was one of your more
unforgivable moments," he conceded. "I must remind myself
were making an effort to protect me. That is what you were
"That is what I was
failing to do, certainly."
"It is not so ignoble a
goal," he granted. "For that, as well as for several other
things, I love you."
love a coward," I whispered. For he had been right all
along. If I
sincerely wished to protect him, why had it not dawned on me simply to
"I love the best and wisest man in England," he said. "Come
along--help me gather our things."
And so we packed our bags, left in the night, and fled to
Basle. The coward and the weakling, running for their lives.
was rather less beautiful than it could have been, as I spent much of
our time scanning crowds, taking subtle precautions, and attempting not
to picture one or both of us lying cold in a wooden box.
Still, I am
forced to admit it was highly invigorating. We hiked over
snow-drenched trails, stopping at rustic inns to seize cups of hot tea
between our fingers, watching as the first buds bloomed below us in the
valleys of the Alps. We had been traveling for nearly a
told when we approached the village of Meiringen, and my life as I knew
it came to an abrupt halt. It was a day I am exceedingly
recall, but one cannot leave out key elements of plot due to mere
We had been largely silent that morning, preferring to
walk side by side in the crisp mountain air. Dr. Watson drank
atmosphere of springtime, surprised on occasion by a profusion
wildflowers pushing up through inhospitable ground, appreciating his
immersion in nature even as he watched me failing to appreciate
in turn, having been newly energized by the inevitability of the
challenge, strode forward determinedly. I could take our foes
still, I was sure of it. And once I had, we would return home.
notion struck me with a very unexpected pang of dismay. Since
relations had altered, I had never once possessed him for such
lengthy, continuous period. I was growing quite accustomed to
up with a flood of warm satisfaction, his leg over mine or my arm
tucked about his waist. We would return home, he to his wife
and I to
my dead fireplace.
"Have you ever wondered what it would be like to keep going?" I asked
Dr. Watson turned to look at me quickly, for I had not spoken a word
for over an hour. "Whatever do you mean, my dear fellow?"
berated myself silently. I already regretted the question,
but I could
not very well back out. Choosing instead to make light of it,
selected my words carefully. "It is nothing of importance, my
is merely an intriguing proposition: what would befall us if we spent a
year abroad? Or five? Or failed to return,
for stability? It is the merest fantasy, of course, but not
interest. Lands in which fountains of youth spring and rivers
with gold are not very likely either, but they are still considered
admirable topics for reflection."
My companion remained silent,
his eyes upon the path we were treading. I was greatly
had never once asked John Watson to abandon his wife in favour of his
friend for two very excellent reasons. One, he could say
no. Two, he
could say yes, and he would no longer be the paragon of decency I
admired so wholeheartedly. The former would wound me
latter would likely bury us both.
When we had reached the town
and then the most suitable inn, I engaged us a room under a pair of
false identities. There were two beds, the proprietor assured
that we might both rest in perfect comfort. I was duly
After I turned the heavy key in the lock,
I dropped the satchel I had been carrying with a sigh of
relief. I had
wished for a likely place to think, and the comfortable, well-appointed
little room seemed ideally suited. Then I felt Watson's arm
round my waist.
I locked my fingers with his. "Which bed would
you prefer? The smaller, so as to repose in peace?
Or the larger,
which entails an element of risk? I intend to spend five or
smoking, but that does not imply you will pass an uneventful night."
"The larger then, certainly," he replied. "I am a sporting
man. Holmes, may I speak with you for a moment?"
"I would be honoured," I said absently, digging through my pack to find
a small black pipe and a pouch of tobacco.
"The topic concerns the proposition you made me earlier, when we had
nearly reached the village."
located the pipe, I shifted my attention to the Doctor's
were deeply careworn, and no less apprehensive. They were not
the lakes we had observed at a distance, shockingly blue and
mist-obscured. Stuffing the pipe with shag, I shook my head.
"There is nothing to discuss. The remark was not made under
"I understand that," he said gently. "However, due
consideration or no, I feel I must speak with you upon the subject."
for?" I protested irritably. "I am infrequently given to
romance as it is, so it seems most uncivil to hold me to the one
statement I've made in weeks which was free of reflection."
"I know, my dear fellow, but free of reflection or no, you meant it all
the same. Did you not?"
I narrowed my eyes at him, for something about his pressing me seemed
very disquieting. "I should drop it if I were you."
I would like nothing better than to travel the world with you," he said
hoarsely. "That is what I must speak to you about.
It is not a viable
My unease was rising, for I had only hitherto
survived as Watson's paramour by failing to press any of the points
which worried me like a stone in my chest. I abhorred
thinking of his
other life. I loathed that I saw him three and four times in
But of the matters which needled me incessantly, I very practically
kept my peace. He was clearly about to discuss one of
them. He or I
would give ground. The other would take it. The
would be upset. One would be slighted, the other
appeased. It was bad
all round, and I gripped the stem of my pipe the way I clung to
ignorance and indifference as the only sure way to keep him.
only was it not a viable proposal, my dear chap, but it was never a
serious proposal. If you are finished, I should like a little
don't understand," he said. His hands were shaking ever so
which caused a cold sensation to strike my spine. "I love you
than anything. But there is a very good reason why I cannot
away with you."
"Yes, you are married. I assure you that I had
already noticed," I snapped, growing unexpectedly impatient.
it was better than him saying it, after all. I sat down
desk. It was an animal's instinct of placing a large, solid
between itself and danger. Smoking would be a comfort, I
proceeded to strike a lucifer. "If that is the confession of
must purge yourself, I grant it is a considerable one. I will
back in London with the week, I assure you."
"My wife and I are expecting a child."
ceased the effort to light my pipe and simply held it in my
Words escaped me for a time. I simply could not think of any.
"Congratulations," I said at last.
I must make a small detour and confess something which I have never
confided to any living creature. It is not for nothing that I
years schooling my mind into strictly regimented obedience to order,
for when it gets away from me it is a far worse experience than I can
easily describe. Such interludes happened often when I was
it was a supreme effort to train myself to keep my own imagination
under control. As a child, it seemed as if I was seeing
visions--whether they were based in practical fact, such as looking at
the flour upon the floor in the kitchen and suddenly hearing the
argument between the cook and the scullery maid, or something as absurd
as waking in the night absolutely assured that not one but several
highly aggressive hydra were stalking our grounds, the results were the
same. I could see nothing and hear no one until the vision
and due to one or two trying but irrelevant circumstances, the monsters
were more frequent visitors than I should have liked. Grecian
notwithstanding, it is a terrifying thing when your mind gets away from
you, and that is precisely what happened immediately after I
congratulated the Doctor.
The first image flooded my brain with
the force of a supernatural torrent: Watson was in his consulting room,
at his desk, light from the window striking the papers he was
shuffling. His child had been born; I could not see the
infant, but I
knew it all the same. The maid poked her head round the door
him that his wife was taking tea, and to deliver a telegram I had sent
to him. When he saw what it was, his brows tilted curiously
as a fond
smile touched his lips. He looked pensive, tapping it against
for a moment. He opened and read it. Folding it in
half twice, he
slowly dropped it in the dustbin.
thought forcefully, and blinked my eyes. The vision was gone.
"Holmes, are you all right?" he asked me.
I was walking down a street in London on an errand having to do with a
case. I was focused, purposeful. Turning a corner,
I suddenly found
myself nearly face to face with the Doctor, who was accompanied by a
young lad of seven or eight. His hair was flaxen like his
but his face was the perfect mold of that which evidenced a startled
smile at the sight of me. Watson's eyes shone for a brief
then dimmed when he remembered himself. At first he merely
air of pleased surprise, but a flash of panic crossed his face when he
glanced at the observant young boy next to him, hoping he had seen
nothing, or that if he had seen something, it would not occur to him to
question his father about it. He nodded at me and pressed my
then they both walked away.
Stop this, I
ordered myself. My heart was pounding. All was
lost, and I knew it.
"Of course I am all right. I am well aware of the many
miracles of the human anatomy. It isn't as if I assumed...."
I lost my train of thought.
was in the drawing room of Watson's home. I was standing
Morstan Watson, whose plain, genial, expressive little face was twisted
as if it had been made of wax and I had melted it. She was
black, a colour I had never once seen her wear before that
insisted on knowing how it was done. I wanted to comfort her,
stood there as if carved out of wood. She needn't worry, I
She needn't be anxious about her home, her finances, the
would see to everything. But she would want no assistance of
could hardly blame her, under the circumstances. She would
house, sell everything, and begin a new life far from London.
walked out into the cold afternoon air, I knew I would never see his
child. I was nothing to them. Worse than
nothing. I could send them
funds, perhaps, if they were not returned with a cold note of thanks
and a dismissal, but I would never know what his boy or girl looked
like. I adjusted the mourning band tight against my
No, no, no, no, ten
thousand times no.
"Holmes, please say something. Anything you
like, only speak to me."
looked down at the pipe in my hands and realized I had snapped the thin
stem in half. I dropped it and closed my eyes once more.
would not have informed you this way, so suddenly and without warning,
but when you spoke of us leaving..." he said. He looked
have told me, wracked with sympathetic concern, but not ashamed of the
news. I was glad of that, though I didn't know it at the time.
would live an extravagantly fuller life without Baker Street, without
the burdens of a twisted passion which stabbed as often as it soothed
him. He would live in every way better without me, and I
to die than to be without him.
There was a thought.
"You are right, of course. You must go back to London
eventually. Sooner rather than later, I should think."
I could hear my own voice, I had no idea why it rang
out so icily
cold. It often sounds so, even to me. But not
generally when I am
speaking to the Doctor.
"Well, naturally, my dear fellow--we
will be through with this blasted business soon, and back in Baker
Street. But that has nothing to do with what I've just said
"I will be back in Baker Street," I corrected him dully.
"Alone, or so I imagine."
"Not alone," he said firmly. He was very pale. A
part of me pitied him.
"I suppose Mrs. Hudson will be there."
clenched his hands briefly in frustration and chagrin. It
that I was not making it any easier than he'd imagined I
will join the two of you as often as I can, if you will allow me."
"Very well. As you wish."
do wish it," he protested, flushing. "I have always, save for
grave misjudgment, desired to be near you. But I have been
understand it is also as you wish, Holmes. If
you crave my company, it
is yours for the asking."
"But not mine for the taking."
wondered if it were possible to feel worse than I did at that
Then I realized that I had been quite unbearably unhappy for a very,
very long time.
"You are right to blame me for this, but it has happened nevertheless
and we will try to make the best of it."
"Forgive me, my dear fellow," I murmured, "but the best of it isn't any
managed to startle him with that observation. He drew a deep
"Holmes, you know the way I feel about you. If I hadn't told
might have deduced it from the mere fact of my being here.
believe me when I tell you that I knew you would be deeply affected by
"Not as affected as you are going to be. How would
you prefer I introduce myself to the child? As an odd student
took digs with would be best, I suppose."
"My dear fellow, it would behoove you not to mark me just
now. In fact, I suggest that you feign ignorance I am even
"Why must you be this way?" he demanded. He was asking about
my hatefully clinical tone of voice, not my actual speech.
and misanthropic?" The wind rattled the shutters outside our
set the tree boughs dancing. I stood up and retrieved my
am always so. I manage to disguise it from time to time."
"That isn't true. You are charming and sympathetic, at least
one or two days in the week."
He attempted to smile at me, but I was miles away from him already.
I am," I hissed. "Coincidentally, you are in my presence one
days in the week. Doubtless there is some hidden
connection. Be that
as it may, I am terribly sorry to be acting the part of the slighted
courtesan--you must excuse me for it. I cannot imagine
tedious, but after all it comes of long study. It is no easy
being John Watson's literary muse by day and kept concubine by night."
"Stop it," he snarled at me.
"Why? I should not like to. I am quite admirably
suited to both."
you truly imagine I don't care what it is like for you?" he
is forever occupying my mind. I eat, sleep and breathe it,
and on your
"How touching," I said frigidly. "Is it on your mind while
you are pleasuring your wife?"
I regretted it nearly the moment I said it. Nearly.
Not precisely, however. I turned away from him.
"Where are you going?" he asked, masking his distress as best he could.
"I have one or two little matters to attend to, if you would consent to
had nearly made my escape when he reached out and grasped me by the
hand. He pulled me closer to him, and I allowed it.
His hands were
cold, which was unusual, and there were deep circles under his
knew why I had not deduced it, of course. Watson was an
had been so for the majority of our journey, but I had imagined he was
so haggard because armed men desired to murder us in cold
there could have been something else on his mind never even occurred to
me. I placed my hand at the back of his neck and kissed him
"I never meant to hurt you," he whispered.
I believed him. After all, he cannot lie to me. I
broke away from him and opened the door.
"I know," I said. "But you've quite a talent for it all the
same, haven't you?"
cannot recall very clearly what I did that afternoon and
determined to check up on one or two snares I had set in place as we
traveled, to determine how far ahead of trouble we were.
telegrams waiting for me at the office and I retrieved them; Moriarty,
Moran, and perhaps other agents would catch up to us the next
This news, taken in stride with other news, was almost
sat in a dingy little public house of sorts over several glasses of
whiskey and forced my brain back into submission. I wandered
outdoors after that, without object, simply leaving prints in the snowy
woods. The sky was clear and my tracks sharp. I
could not have lost
myself out there, no matter how hard I tried. I made a number
decisions about the way I would act when presented with several
scenarios regarding our enemies. I made still more decisions
my friend. When I heard the distant bells toll nine, I had
erased the feeling of the mourning band strapped around my
this time it was dark, and on my way back through the town, I stopped
by a chemist's just as he was closing up shop. I purchased a
morphine and a tiny syringe and put them to their ultimate
Throwing them away immediately after, I returned to our lodgings and
made my way back to our room.
There were no lights. I found my
way in the dark. Watson had taken the larger four-poster, the
cot unoccupied. I stood over him for a time, my head finally
succumbing to waves of otherness--it was not peace, not happiness, it
never had been, but neither was it pain and it was that otherness I had
needed so very badly. When he noticed I was there, he looked
me. Then he pulled me down into his arms.
He didn't say anything.
What was there to say?
Our decision to leave the next morning was
but I admit it required a measure of orchestration. I handled
carefully, for Watson was observing me even more closely than was
usual. But he soon fell in with my plans.
The breeze on the
undulating ridges and vales was cold, but the air bright with
When the lad approached us with the message from Steiler regarding a
sick Englishwoman at the hotel, I confess I had initial doubts as to
the wisdom of allowing the scheme to play out. The note was
perfectly tailored to appeal to Watson's good nature that I at first
feared a trap for him rather than for me. But I very soon
that could not be the case. For one, it would be known that I
his side, and capable of seeing through any such ruses. And
importantly, I was the important one. I always had
been. To Moriarty,
in any event. He wanted a dramatic conclusion to the story, a
the death with a wildly tempestuous backdrop, a battle worthy of his
ego. Watson would figure nowhere in the picture.
And what is more,
Moriarty was never a man for a fair fight. With Watson gone,
present, my chances were still slimmer.
So be it, I determined.
read the note through twice before looking up at me. It was
decision. When I took it from him, it was with a steady
village boy stood waiting at a distance.
"What do you think of it?" he asked.
"I think that, as a doctor, you can hardly say no," I
this day I can hear myself saying it and to this day I do not know how
I could have brought myself to say such an impossible thing.
"I am not entirely sure what to make of this," he stated slowly.
nudged a rock from the path with the toe of my boot. "It
perfectly clear to me--some invalid Englishwoman who has been advised
to take in as much Swiss air as is possible has taken a turn for the
worse due to an overabundance of traveling. Not a case worthy
skills, my dear fellow, but for charity's sake I am willing to forfeit
your company so long as you promise not to take more than two hours."
"The sacrifice is on your part, then?" he asked, no longer worried,
"Of course it is. You are my doctor, not hers."
"You have never once accepted an iota of medical advice from me," he
"I did not mean to imply that you were my doctor.
Only that you are mine, and she will be keeping you from me.
certainly have no intention of treating her, or of observing your
"I suppose you will want to go on ahead
and I will catch you up," he reflected. "I do not pretend to
master of deductive arts that you are, Holmes, nor do I profess any
skills at single-stick, but will you be quite safe if I return to
I drove my Alpine-stock into the earth with a
smile. "I have seen nothing but goats for these three days,
they turn hostile, I promise you I shall seek out adequate cover."
"If deadly mountain creatures do manifest themselves, I would much
prefer to be with you."
if any birds or jackrabbits give themselves away with suspicious
behavior, I shall return at once to fetch you. In any event,
I saw the lady in question's baggage arrive last night.
Either she is
a particularly burdensome traveler or she is very ill indeed."
shook his head at me indulgently. "I will not be
long. I shall see
you at Rosenlaui, and if you've already begun your supper by the time I
arrive, I will be quite put out. Very well, my boy!" he
"I will go with you."
When he actually turned to walk away,
something snapped which I had not known even existed. I am a
unsentimental person. But it could not be like
that. It could not be
so casual. Every part of me protested against what I had
done. I could not go through with it without some sort of
But I could not say goodbye to him either. I never had been
able to do
that with any success.
"Watson, wait a moment!" I called out. "Go on, lad.
I require a moment of the doctor's time."
The child shrugged and disappeared over the hilltop. He was
not an agent, I knew. Merely a pawn.
"What is it, Holmes?" Watson asked me when we were once more face to
Oh, the things I could have said. But I sought safety in
would have had a very bleak time of it if you had gone over that ridge
without the knowledge that I regret the majority of my actions
yesterday. I have been searching my memory for a good turn or
they are nowhere to be found. I would be very grateful if you
"Holmes," he said softly. There was no one nearby and he
grasped me by both arms. "Of course I forgive you."
"Thank Heaven," I sighed. "I do not know that, in your
position, I would be so generous. I was altogether
"But you were only telling me the truth."
the truth is ugly," I said. "And that is not the way I think
Please understand that, my dear Watson. You are never ugly."
stared at him as I would stare at a specimen under a
microscope. I was
seeking out anything I had missed. A wisp of his hair, a
expression. But I had missed nothing. I knew it all
"Dearest fellow, why ever are you studying me like that?" he
asked. "What is the matter?"
"Nothing," I said softly. "I cannot believe you are here."
kissed me then, and he meant it to be brief, but I returned it with
absolutely everything I had. At last, he broke away from
me. He still
possessed a measure of calm caution, after all, while I had none left.
"Do you believe it now?" he asked me with a slight glimmer of humour.
safe," I whispered. "Please. For me. If
there is a single hair on
your head out of place when I see you again, I will call upon the
highest resources of the British government to enact terrible and swift
"Would you prefer to accompany me?"
"No," I said. "Go on. Someone needs you."
turned to go for the second time. When he had nearly reached
of the hill, I turned around so that I could not see him any
And then it was done.
I did not die at the Falls. But I did die a little on the
hill above the path which led back down to them.
have been accused by many parties of staging my own death. I
nothing of the kind. There is a difference between never
return and staging a death. There is also a difference
into mortal peril with the intention of using the event as a way to
disappear and walking into mortal peril not caring one way or the other
who would survive it.
When I saw the Professor standing by the
Falls, I registered no surprise whatever. Presumably, my
of his arrival did not startle him much either. He stood
there with a
tight little smile upon his lips, his head slowly swiveling, his hands
twitching ever so slightly with rage.
It all felt perfect, somehow. Like an elegant parable or a
"Well done, Mr. Holmes," he hissed at me. "Well done indeed."
"Thank you," I said. "It was quite an effort, but I pride
myself it was thoroughly done."
or two small loose ends may present themselves in time," he pointed
out. "For example, you are not very likely to survive this
"Danger is part of my trade," I said smoothly. However, my
muscles tensed in spite of myself.
almost believe you!" he cried. "Can you truly be so careless
own existence? It is nearly at an end, you must
realize. In the
unlikely event I do not kill you, Colonel Moran certainly
even apart from Moran, your destruction is inevitable. Have
idea how many connections I have made through many years of careful
toil? How many men long for the end of your career?
I have alerted
every brother criminal organization in Europe of your appearance, your
tactics, your measurements, your voice--and it may not surprise you to
learn that these bodies of men were only too eager to offer me their
wholehearted assistance. Some of them even appeared to
personal grudge against you. It is almost as if it is in the
interests of every such company to end your life as swiftly as is
The sound of the spray dashing against the rock walls
in no way impaired my ability to understand this grim fact.
perhaps it acted as a natural buffer of sorts. In any event,
deduced it all before. Whatever his domestic entanglements, I
honestly think myself man enough to have left the Doctor without the
assurance I was about to be the death of him. In any event,
setting was superb, and rendered aforementioned grim facts
The Falls of Reichenbach are elemental, extraordinary, the sort of
Nature even I am unable to ignore. It is a hellish cauldron
bare rock with such violent force that one cannot imagine it.
single drop of its water I could, if a pure logician, have deduced its
It ought to be perfectly clear to all concerned by now that I am not a
"I grow weary of this," I sighed.
fear, for it is nearly over. Have you any other matters to
Any instructions to leave behind?" he queried with an evil glint in his
"If I had, would you escort me back to the inn?"
"Do not imagine I don't appreciate your courage," he sneered.
"I do. I admire many things about you, Mr. Holmes."
"Not enough to preserve them, of course."
Holmes, your aplomb in the face of certain death is very impressive
indeed. I might almost wish your friends could see
it. It verges on
the unfeeling, for your star was still rising, after all. You
have been a triumph, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, in many arenas. You
that as well as I do. It is a pity, undoubtedly.
But you, sir, will
never set foot in London again."
"Be it so, then," I stated. "I am ready."
Madly, he rushed at me, and I--well, I cannot say that I retained any
he threw his long arms around me, clutching at me with ego-maniacal
vengeance in his fingers, there was a moment when I could have fallen,
indeed should have fallen. But I discovered that the will to
is not like a feeling or a decision or even a passion--it is something
built into us, as simple as breathing, and before I quite knew what had
happened, my superior knowledge of fighting meant that I was alone on a
cliff edge with a horrifying scream ringing in my ears.
into the Falls in shock. There could be no surviving that
descent. The cauldron had taken him; my nemesis was dead.
I had done it, then.
But it would only be a matter of time before the air-guns presented
hands were shaking and my breath coming in ragged gasps. I
moment to pull myself together. I stood staring up at the
for some time, judging my prospects. They were just a shade
than hopeless. I had already placed my hand on the wet stone
queer sensation stopped me.
It could have been ego, or vanity,
wanting to leave something behind for posterity. It could
have been a
desire to comfort him. It could simply have been the
the end of the sentence, the closing of the dramatic curtain which I
have so often (justifiably) been accused of manipulating.
Moriarty himself had put it into my head.
I don't know what it
was. I found I could not, however, take so much as another
that cliff wall without writing John Watson a note--slightly
fictionalized, of course, and more detached in tone than I would have
liked, as I had no idea who would find the object.
But I signed it very carefully, so that he could not help but
Believe me to be, my
Very sincerely yours,
I placed it under my cigarette box and leaned my stick against the
rock. And then I began to climb.
I climbed, I ran. The air-guns arrived in due
course. Along with
falling rocks and other such pleasant traps. But they were
It is very difficult to kill a man who doesn't care if he lives or dies.
I felt a new being, as light and as elemental as the rawest newborn
child first exposed to a breath of fresh air. I was not
anymore, but alone, and whole, and utterly free. It was
in the woods, even running from death, and it was still more ethereal
as I made my way down the mountains, drinking from streams and stealing
bread from deserted hostelry kitchens. I had not been so
years, so purely at peace. On the third day I determined I
least far enough from Moran to justify the use of the few
in my pockets to engage a room and so, endeavoring to
be as presentable
as I could make myself, I washed in a stream, smoothed back my hair,
straightened my collar and set foot upon the streets of a minuscule
My buoyant bliss lasted until the very moment I set
eyes upon a fellow human being again (an aged cobbler by the
his hands and shoulders) and realized he was not the Doctor.
only was he not the Doctor, but I would never see the
This was not a new realization, but it was enough to force me to catch
my breath in an effort to keep my features free of the blinding,
wrenching pain of it.
is impossible for me to set down what it meant to lose him once more,
and of my own choosing. I am no poet. But there was
a part of me that
only he had ever seen, and that I knew no one would ever lay eyes on
again, for it belonged to him, and
I acknowledged from that moment I
could only ever be a stranger. I was no one's lover, no one's
or son or friend. It would improve, I knew abstractly, but
degrees. The rift would never be breached. I was,
at last, alone.
might have been completely intolerable, but I am an adaptable
creature. I have certain advantages which aid me in this--it
simple trick for me to focus upon one thing so as not to focus upon
another, for compartmentalization of mind has been a habit of mine for
many years. I can very easily distract myself, for there was
good deal in the world which was of interest to me, even as a dead
man. Two weeks into my new life I purchased the first vial of
cocaine. It was six months before I resorted once more to the
morphine. But I treated it with care and it did me little
did I do? I have been asked. I did a number of
things. Some of them
were things I have been trained to do, such as musicianship or
chemistry or studying ancient documents. Others were less
time in Tibet, for example, was very unlikely indeed. I
crimes in three years, not because I desired to do so but because I
could not help myself. I explored mountains and
deserts. Most of the
time, of course, what I was ostensibly doing was secondary to what I
actually doing: that is, running for my life.
I slept with other
men, of course. I'd no intention of ever returning home,
and I could not quite accept the notion that my years of discovery at
University and my years of passion with Watson would comprise the
entire narrative of my love life.
Love life. It was no such
thing, of course. In many respects, it was the very
opposite. But I
am less a saint even than I am a poet, and no one was burning a torch
for me back in England. Mortals are not faithful to dead men,
been unfaithful on countless occasions whilst I was still very vividly
alive. This was precisely the opposite way I ought to have
situation, and I knew it, but no one was harmed by my own backward
terminology. When struck by such dour moods, I allowed myself
picture him, in London, and happy. I never doubted he was
I visualized it, he was walking with those easy military
strides down a
cobbled street after seeing a client, his hat bulging with his
stethoscope and his gallant face roughened by a brisk wind.
shoulder wasn't troubling him, and his gaze was clear and
He was alone too, in my mind's eye. I allowed myself that
he was happy.
The other fellows were pleasant enough in their
own way. With my eye for detail, they were absurdly easy to
which made the task of conquest far safer than it ever is for most
men. There was a young brother-violinist when I was
filling in for an
orchestra of some note in Florence, an Italian musical
a taste for rough handling. We were
involved for two months before the
web caught up with me and I at length fled to Tibet. During
there, I had but scant time to see to such needs, but when I reached
Norway and changed my name once again, there was a brilliant
under-chemist whom I both amused and infuriated for a time.
were other men, in Montpellier, in Khartoum of all places, in every
city I cared to find them. Men for whom love meant nothing
nod, a tilt of the head, an appointed time and place, and then a hasty
coupling in a filthy hotel room or against a brick wall or behind a
pile of warehouse crates, deeds which could leave one aching and sick
at the ways of the world.
They none of them touched me. I was a ghost, to all of
them. How can you harm someone who isn't there?
have never worked out through any system of logic the exact
relationship between God and man, and as several far wiser men already
failed in the task long before I was born, the admission holds scant
shame. But I have seen one miracle in my
life. It happened in 1894 in
a bizarrely appointed garret room just beyond the
busiest suburbs of
Prague. The universe may exhibit tendencies towards the
these eddies are a means to an end, I am sure of it. I must
be sure of
it. There is simply no other explanation for an
I must make clear that my brother was
sent occasional instructions to wire me funds, but as I am capable of
supporting myself in a number of fashions, such requests were very
rare. I never once gave him any means of contacting
me. These few and
far-between notes, in which I had conscience enough to send him
assurances of my good health, were a communion which moved only in one
direction; I received no news of England and desired none.
could not have stood it. Mycroft could no doubt have traced
me if he
had set his mind to the task, but this would have required him leaving
his lodgings and asking questions of living human beings, a venture to
which he is very poorly adapted. No doubt he also recognized
anyone in London knew of my whereabouts, no matter if that person was
my own brother, I could far more easily be killed. When I
money, he sent it. Such was my communication with mother
Then the miracle took place.
I was lying on a disheveled bed at
the time, on my side, having tucked my lower body under a quilt in an
effort to ward off the chill. The gentleman sharing
the bed with me
was a typesetter, a penniless aristocrat, a bibliophile, and an artist
to boot, whose lengthy poetic masterwork was unfinished, uninteresting,
and unintelligible. His walls were lined with stacks of
from every country upon the globe, dates as arbitrary as their
of origin. Eccentrically enough, he desired them solely for
typesetting, and for the details of the printer's trade. He
good looking in a blue-blooded, diminutive, active sort of way, at
least a foot shorter than I, eager to please, having in fact already
pleased me to the point that I had lost all interest in him.
"Are you all right?" he asked me, in Hungarian.
"Certainly," I told him.
Hungarian is not very fluent, but whenever I could not speak like a
true native, I had developed the habit of drawing the French
part of my
brain to the surface and riding roughshod over the tongue of
in the Gallic fashion. Thus my Danish, Flemish,
Hungarian selves all spoke with decidedly French accents.
This was far
safer, I had decided, and in any event, more amusing. It had
my surprise--increased my success rate among my own gender by several
degrees. But I digress.
"I have not offended you in any way?"
no means. What do you intend to do with these?" I asked
him. I rolled
to the edge of the bed and gathered up a sack tied with twine.
"They are examples. I look at them, I learn. I
could discard them, but they make excellent kindling."
doubt." I opened the front page of the first newspaper, dated
It was German, and thus perfectly comprehensible to me. I
through it in a desultory fashion. I adore newspapers.
"Are you cold?" he asked me.
The next edition was an Italian daily, 1882, smothered in
black headlines. I read the first article, then skipped ahead
personal columns. Several coded messages leapt to my
eyes. I smiled
and threw the paper to the floor.
"You can read German and Italian?" He sounded quite unduly
well," I lied. The next was an evening edition of a
paper from 1892, executed in French. It was amusing, in its
"You are a man of great talent," he said seriously. "A man of
flitted across my mind that perhaps I was being entirely uncouth in
ignoring a fellow who had just very graciously put my cock in
mouth. I decided, unfortunately, that I did not
care. I flipped to
the marriage announcements in silence. The would-be Casanova
as an itinerant fiddler. Musical men may indeed have hidden
but I knew perfectly well the depths he desired to
plumb. I tossed the
Swiss paper aside and picked up another.
"I am only a musician," I told him. Then I drew in a quick
breath, and slowly let it out again.
"What is wrong, dearest?"
was holding an English newspaper. I did not allow myself such
ever. It was a copy of the Times, 1891, and it was like
piece of British soil, letting it sift through
my fingers. I knew the
bloody typeset like I knew my own face in the mirror. I could
hot surge of pain, there, of all places, in that horrible little room
shared with a trite little man. My anger at
discovering a British
newspaper could still wound me so was profound, but my chagrin at being
caught in my distress was a far more immediate concern.
"It is nothing. I am well," I said, my voice quite careless
"You must tell me," he insisted. "Do not shut me out."
the notion of throttling the creature managed to take the
actually doing so. Livid at myself, I threw open the edition
it in defiance of the damage I knew it would cause.
financial reports, and a lurid murder in Cheapside. I thumbed
usual political posturing, the society gossip, the fashionable cant of
three years previous. It was dated mere months after I had
at the Falls. A robbery had occurred. Silver,
coins, plate. The Yard
knew nothing, but felt assured of their future success. An
had taken place between Lady Helena St. Stephens and a nobleman I knew
slightly. There was unrest in South Africa, and a dispute
prices. There was work continuing on the
underground. The wretched
fellow was speaking to me again.
"What?" I demanded.
dearest, nothing. I only am gratified the paper interests you
hope when you are through with it, I can interest you once more
myself." He ran a hand over my bare shoulder.
that if he employed one more repellent term of endearment, I would take
a passionate French offense at nothing and storm out. Then I
and the paper fell from my hands as the world took a sickening
It was an obituary notice for one Mary Elizabeth
Watson, formerly Morstan, who had died in childbirth along with her
infant. She was survived by her husband John Hamish Watson, a
physician and the biographer of the late Mr. Sherlock Holmes.
no. No, please, not that," I said in perfect English, and
snatched up the column once more. My hands were trembling
"For Heaven's sake, what is going on?" my companion inquired, urgently
I read the print three more times before I could convince myself it was
dead. And all this time. He lost
everything. Dear God, I didn't
know. I never meant for--I must leave. At once,
this instant. I
didn't know, I didn't know."
When he stared at me in utter
dismay, I realized first that I was babbling incoherently, and second
that I continued to do so in English. It was not my most
moment. I bounded out of the bed and into my clothing.
has happened to you?" he cried. "Are you all right?
frightening me! It is an old newspaper, a very old newspaper."
"Of course it is," I gasped, one more in Hungarian.
"You spoke English a moment ago," he accused me angrily.
"Just how many languages--"
"Six passably, and four fluently," I snapped. "What is it to
you, may I ask?"
"Did you learn something from the paper? You have
I have," I admitted. He was not a paid informant, I knew, for
very careful, but at that moment I would not have cared if he
one could stop me from reaching London. Not Moran, not his
spies, not the agents of hell itself.
"Your family--or a friend? Perhaps a lover?"
"He is all of those things," I managed breathlessly as my fingers flew
over buttons. "I must leave you. I am sorry."
"Do you need assistance?" He seemed to be in earnest, and I
spared him a grateful look.
Thank you." I pulled on my boots, my mind wheeling to and
fast could I reach England? What precautions need I
take? Would I
live for longer than a week once I arrived? None of it
was going, and as quickly as steam could take me. I draped my
around my neck and threw on my frock coat.
"Will I see you again?"
stopped on my way to the door. "No." I managed to
say it kindly.
"But thank you. Thank you a thousand times. I am
I shook his hand as he gaped at me, and then I ran as fast as I could
for the nearest train depot.
journey home was a terrible blur. I took precautions, but
fewer than I
ought to have. I raced from train to train. I
caught an express from
Berlin to Lille, but was delayed for two days at the coast due to
viciously poor spring weather. I would have shaken a baleful
the heavens, but I had only to recall the newspaper to still my
impatience at Providence. Nevertheless, every second I was
not at home
proved more excruciating than the last, for I happen to be blessed with
a very vivid imagination where John Watson is concerned. He
me. I had never truly doubted it. He had also loved
her. He would
have loved his child, had it lived. And he has the
largest heart of
any man I've ever known.
For such a man to have lost all three within a matter of six months
could have been no less than the blackest pit of hell.
maintained my urbane mannerisms with clerks and with ticket agents, but
turned quickly away from them when they caught the haunted look in my
eye. I had never felt so open, so raw and
scrutinized. Once I had
gained the ship, I could at least attribute my ghastly appearance to
seasickness. There was little I could do, in the absence of
And morphine I would not stoop to, no matter that I--like the coward I
felt--longed to be a ghost again when my fear and regret seemed more
than one man could bear. I had cared for nothing and no one
years, and suddenly the floodgates were open. My mask cracked
It was a difficult journey. But no more than I deserved, or
less than I expected. Men do not rise from the dead unscathed.
I landed at Dover, I invested in a suitable disguise, for actually
sighting the cliffs again had impressed upon me the difficulties I
would encounter in staying alive. I slept for an hour,
then, for the first time in three years, I boarded a train bound for
The newspaper under the Hungarian's bed in
Prague was a miracle. London is where Dr. Watson resides, so
it is no
miracle that I bumped into his very leg upon the street as I made for a
suitably shabby hotel. But it was a considerable surprise,
had registered that I was being followed, and was in the act of taking
the necessary steps to lose my shadow. Then some clumsy fool
all the books out of my hands and I looked up in a fury.
thinner than I recalled, almost resembling himself when we had first
met, when the fever had robbed him of all health. His skin
but still darker than mine, his hair full and glinting nut-brown in the
sunlight. One glance into those blue eyes convinced me all my
prevarications were in vain.
"I am terribly sorry," he said affably. He bent down to pick
up my books.
was not prepared to believe he had not recognized me. I soon
remembered that when in disguise he almost never recognized
me. Then I
recalled that I was dead. If there was any piece of my heart
shatter, it occurred there, watching him lean down to pick up a
deformed old gentleman's books without knowing who I was.
straightened and handed them to me. "I ought to have looked
was going," he added when I stood there dumb, "but I do not think any
of your books have been harmed." He smiled. It was
the same smile I
had cursed for being branded upon my brain.
I hadn't the time to
think. In the supreme acting moment of my entire life,
question, I snarled something vicious at him. Then I turned
away, limping at the top of my reduced speed down the street.
hailed a hansom, escaped out the other side while tossing a coin to the
driver and silently urging him onward, and was hidden behind a cart in
time to observe my follower hail his own cab and take flight after the
empty vehicle. When I rushed back to the intersection, I
make out the Doctor's back as he made for Park Lane. I
No doubt I could have discovered where he lived in a medical
directory. But that would not have been my style.
He spent some
time staring up at an unknown dwelling before heading for
home. He led
me at last to Kensington. When he entered his practice and
door behind him, I stood upon the pavement for some moments without the
smallest semblance of a plan. In fact, all I could register
feeling dreadfully ill. I had returned to London to see he
right. I had seen him, and now must speak to him. I
visualize what I would say. Each option seemed equally
I was considering the problem, my feet began moving unconsciously, and
in another moment I had rapped upon the door and communicated my desire
to see the Doctor to the maid.
One must grasp the nettle, after all.
There he was, in his study, in a perfectly tailored brown tweed
suit. He was surprised to see me.
are surprised to see me, sir," I croaked. I felt as if my
stop at any moment. I was prepared to be very gratified if it
longer than five minutes.
"I am indeed," he said with concern in his warm voice. "Have
I inadvertently damaged one of your books?"
put it to the world whether there has ever been born a more superlative
example of the British gentleman than Dr. John Watson.
not," I denied, stalling for time. "But I've a conscience,
sir, and I
thought to tell you that if I was a bit gruff in my manner, there was
not any harm meant, and I am very grateful you picked up my books."
change came over his face--not a shadow, but the set, intent look he
adopts when his interest has been arrested. He regarded me
closely, and then drew back with a slightly pained expression.
"Are you all right, sir?" I whispered.
"Yes, I am sorry. You reminded me of someone." He
shook his head and turned away toward his bookshelf.
removed the wig. It made no sound. I stood up
straight, my back
aching, my breath arrested and contained tight within my
dropped the gloves and the scarf which had been muffled around my face,
and they fell to the floor.
"Of who, may I ask?"
turned back to respond, I watched as a look of complete disbelief
washed over his face. And then it appears I must have
regrettably not for the first time in my life.
I awoke, I was lying upon the settee in my friend's consulting
My collar ends were undone, my shirt unbuttoned. I could
and see the whitewashed ceiling. And once I was able to
focus, I could
see the Doctor.
He was sitting on a footstool next to my head,
his face a chalky white. I felt tears spring to my eyes, and
nothing to prevent them. I opened my mouth to speak to him.
he said hoarsely. "Whatever you are, stop. Do not
speak to me." He
closed his eyes, opened them again, and continued. "I have
last half an hour labouring under the profound delusion that a very
great friend of mine fainted in my study and is lying on my
know this cannot be true. I know that when you speak to me,
it will be
with someone else's voice, the illusion will crumble, and he will be
dead once more. For heaven's sake, don't speak to me and
you are not Sherlock Holmes. If I am mad, let me be mad a
The Doctor claims that I am eloquent, but this left me
absolutely speechless. I reached for his hand, and he took
pressing it hard.
"If you are Sherlock Holmes, on the other hand," he added, "you have a
very great deal to answer for."
He was not mistaken in this. I still have a very great deal
to answer for.
"You aren't mad," I told him.
winced as if I had struck him, and then emitted a sound that resembled
both a laugh and a sob. What had I been thinking, to shock
him so? I
struggled to sit up, and quickly realized it was not yet
satisfied myself with regarding the Doctor. If Alexander the
wandered into his consulting room, he could not have looked more
"Holmes," he said at last, "you are dead. What are you doing
"I've come home."
in my wildest..." he murmured. "I prayed for so many
things. I prayed
to find your body and bring it back to London. But to see you
"I didn't know. I swear to you I didn't know," I said, the
words catching in my throat.
"What do you mean?" He was clutching my hand as if it would
"Your family. I did not know."
"Wait. Stop a moment," he pleaded. "How did you
come alive out of that awful abyss?"
"I never was in it," I confessed.
the terrible realization dawned upon his face, he leaned closer to
I took his hand in both of mine and pressed it against my chest in a
medievally superstitious effort to keep the necessary life functions
operating. I don't know when I have felt so ill.
"I must understand this," he said slowly. "You staged your
"Not exactly, but that was the final result." The
tears were flowing silently now. I wondered how long they had
there, waiting. I have not wept since I was five. I
was close to it
when the Doctor left me, and when he came back, but this was different.
allowed me to think you were dead, in order to leave me.
the danger you were running. Because I refused to be sent
was one thing when you were mine, when you were my friend, before I
abandoned logic for senseless, futile devotion, before any of it, but I
had to face facts, my dear fellow. It was impossible,
could not continue risking your life. Not when you were to be
"Because of my child," he finished. "Because we could
not go on as before. And in the all or nothing fashion I know
in you, you left every part of your former life behind."
been so long since I had shared a moment with a man who knew me well
that I choked back a new wave of feeling. "I can do nothing
as you have learned."
"And now you are here, because...."
"Because of a miracle."
"I beg your pardon?"
"A miracle in a Hungarian's lodgings."
"I am listening," he said patiently. I tried to sit up
again. It was, once more, a losing battle.
"He had a newspaper," I managed. "An English newspaper."
"I see. What was the date?"
"September twentieth, 1891."
have always been able to read Dr. Watson's thoughts upon his
countenance. But in this case, whether it was my own
self-doubt or he
himself did not know what he was feeling, I could discern
This was very disquieting, not to say disturbing.
"And so you
returned, after reading the obituary column from nearly three years
ago," he said softly. He narrowed his eyes at me
I could not bear to think of you alone." I
finally managed to sit up,
and I swung my legs to the floor. There was a short silence.
"You are here to pick up where you left off, then? Now that
she is dead?"
I exclaimed. "My dear--no, never, I only thought that if you
in fact leading the idyllic life I had pictured for you, that perhaps
I...." I stopped, for it would be better to begin
afresh. "I am not
expecting anything. You must believe me. But not
knowing whether you
were all right was more than I could stand."
Dr. Watson stared back at me, his nobly formed features a perfect blank.
are still being hunted, aren't you?" he asked me, seeing no further
avenues of the previous topic he cared to explore. "I could
against Moran on my return, for he was most often abroad. You
know that I tried. They were pathetic efforts, no
doubt. I had him
hounded in every way I could think of, but to no avail. He
to stop me--he must have enjoyed it, knowing you were alive and that I
was ignorant of it. He was the only living soul I could hold
responsible for your death. I even threatened his life once,
in one of
my madder periods. There were a number of those."
I waited for
him to elaborate. His temples were greying very slightly, and
were lines around his eyes from care and grief. Absurdly, I
myself responsible for all of them.
"What are you staring at?" he asked evenly.
"Nothing. At you. You have changed."
"Three years is a long time," he replied. "But you must know
that as well as I do."
prompted terrible new thoughts. What if three years was
long for him not to need me at all? It struck me that my
practice of thinking everything through meticulously before acting
would have served me very well in this venture. I had never
to waltz back into his life and demand my former place in it, but I am
forced to confess that neither had I ruled out he still might want
Now I reconsidered. He could easily have found someone
else. I had
been possessed with the desperate urge to ascertain that he was well,
and there he sat before me, perfectly sound. What if that was
of it, and I had risen from the dead only to fade back into my ghost
life again? I wondered whether I would not prefer to throw
the nearest bridge.
"I had to know you were well," I said. "And
to express my condolences. I would not wish on my worst enemy
friend has suffered." The tears were rising again and I
rubbed at my
"Are your expressing condolences for the loss of my wife and
child? Or of my dearest friend?"
"Watson," I exclaimed, horrified.
"It was not easy," he admitted quietly. "I was responsible,
indirectly of course, for both of your deaths."
"How can you think that?" I cried.
"The madder periods were difficult," was his vague yet very sensible
"You did not deserve this. Any of it," I told him fervently.
"I know that now," he said with a small smile. "I took some
convincing, but I have come to feel the same way."
I am a prideful fellow, and I have been told more than once that I am,
it is because I possess certain finely honed skills which others do
not, the result not only of natural aptitude but of arduous
here admit that, regrettably, pride does not disturb me so much as it
ought. I have never counted humility among the virtues, in
But there are consequence for such indulgences. I had allowed
on the boat, to picture what it would be like to see Dr. Watson once
more, and in those daydreams I had comported myself with more poise
than the scene which I have just set down. In other words, I
arrived, promptly lost consciousness, and then allowed three years of
pent-up emotion to be released at once. I had retained
control of both
my wits and my headlong feelings. As I slowly regained my
the difference between the daydream and the reality grew rather
"I should not have interrupted you this way. I ought to be
going," I said.
"Where do you intend to go?" he inquired. He looked quite
touchingly curious, but he hadn't contradicted me.
"I've a hotel."
would you need with a hotel?" he asked. It was not an
knew at once, merely a question, and it struck me as a vicious
question. But I was swiftly gaining the upper hand of myself,
of the circumstances.
"I can see to it no one knows I've been
here, and I will not be observed when I leave, that I can assure
I've no doubt I can make it to my lodgings unmolested. And
I stopped, for I hadn't the faintest notion how to
end the sentence, and placed my face in my hands so as to prevent my
caring what was displayed upon it.
"My God," the Doctor whispered. "It can't be true."
is it?" I asked, startled enough to look back up at him.
shocked him as badly as my ill-conceived reappearance, yet we remained
the only ones in the room.
"I don't believe it," he muttered, as if to himself. "You
really haven't any plans, have you?"
"You have observed already the pitiable extent of my plans," I snapped,
wondering what cause he had to needle me thus.
I saw you," he said, growing more and more agitated, "as I told you, I
thought myself mad. Afterward, a number of things fell into
will have to elucidate them for me over oysters some day when we can
find the time," I returned bitingly, but he appeared not even to hear
me. He had regained his colour, indeed far more of it than
for him, for he was blushing furiously and his closely cropped military
moustache fairly twitched with urgency.
"I tell you, Holmes, I
assumed I understood. I imagined I knew what you were
after. I am
sorry. But to think that you truly did return, at great
on the mere chance that I was unhappy...."
"Forgive the element
of self-flattery, my dear fellow, but I did imagine the odds you were
unhappy to be fairly high for a number of reasons," I pointed out
bitterly. I made a motion as if to stand. He
grasped me by the wrist
and continued passionately.
"Holmes, please listen to me! You
are not here to reclaim your old life, and to move back into Baker
Street. It's still furnished--exactly as it was.
But not at your
behest. I can see you knew nothing of your brother's
fancy. It was not part of your designs. So you are
not here to begin
your practice anew--to take revenge on Moran, who has likewise only
recently returned to London. To solve the murder of Ronald
That is all a complete coincidence. It isn't opportunistic at
You were telling me the truth. You are here only because of a
newspaper you read in Prague."
"Who the devil is Ronald Adair?"
I asked, standing up at last. Then I stumbled and would have
again if Watson had not reached out and steadied me. Suddenly
leaning nearly half my weight against his body, my forearms resting on
his shoulders, and my head quite naturally fell forward until it came
to rest against his. Surely there was something severely
wrong with me
at this point, for I found myself once more forcing back the lump in my
throat. I discovered that if I shut my eyes hard enough, I
retain some semblance of dignity.
"When did you last eat something, Holmes?"
I considered for several seconds. "I think I was in Prague."
"What about water?"
"I don't know."
arms were around my waist, preventing me from swaying. I
faces were inches apart, but I kept my eyes tenaciously closed that I
might sense his form against mine all the better. For that
so that I might not fall to pieces again like some gin-soaked half-wit.
"It feels wonderful to pose that question again," he said at
"Does it?" I asked desperately.
"Yes," he told me. "It does."
"Will you do something for me, please?"
He had reached up to cradle my face in his hand. "I am at
your service, Holmes."
me not to go. Whatever the danger, which you clearly are
apprised of than I, we can manage it, can we not? I deserve
and I know it. Only please tell me not to go."
"Do not go," he said.
I was only too happy to do as he asked.
are entirely dehydrated, and half-starved," he declared later, in his
bedroom, as he put the stethoscope in a drawer. "But let us
that to distract us from the equally serious points that you are
running a fever, and that your nerves are all in shreds." He
sitting on the coverlet next to me. I was lying on top of
prescription do you suggest?"
"A little food, and some water, which we have seen to already, followed
by many hours of uninterrupted sleep."
had been, to be truthful, years since I had partaken of what could be
termed "many" hours of sleep at one go, for my mind if not my body had
been ever on alert.
"I am not sleeping here for long. You will run too great a
risk," I said at once.
you like," he shrugged. "Contract pneumonia or tuberculosis
fever. You are skirting the edges of a complete breakdown as
"Forgive me for
mentioning it, Watson, but you sound almost happy to report these
am more pleased about them than I can easily express," he replied
amusedly. "It means that you are alive. Corpses do
I had been so very anxious about him
that the question of whether or not he would be glad to see me had not
truly entered my mind until I was standing terrified outside his
dwelling. For my death had been a monstrously cruel trick,
practical motives impelled it. Yet here I was, in his room, a
wreck of a man and deliriously happy. I still had very little
of what to say to him, but the fact that he had not chucked me out onto
the street in a rage was deeply encouraging.
"Believe it or
not, I am far more alive than I have been in years. I did not
to be so alive again, in fact. I am quite taken aback by it."
smiled at this remark. "You are not the only one taken
aback. I have
always had the greatest respect for your capacity to surprise me, but
I think you have reached your limit this time. We
are going to take
care you are not given the opportunity to surprise me in this
particular manner again."
"And have you
really worked out the threads of a mystery which might help lead me out
of this morass?" I inquired.
returned to London some four months ago," he replied slowly, his brows
contracting at the memory. "No doubt he had previously been
you from the Continent, but finding himself in need of funds, he
resumed those underhanded card-sharping activities of which you had
informed me already. I will not bore you with my early
enact justice upon him, but short of setting a gun to his head in the
street--which was tempting, I admit to you--I was forced to bide my
time. I knew of the air-gun, of course, for he has used it
years, and the peculiar soft-nosed revolver bullet discovered at the
scene of young Ronald Adair's murder could have come from nothing
else. All signs pointed to Moran, for they played cards at
club, and the sniper's methods employed were certainly his.
addition, the murder room was undisturbed, Adair had not been robbed,
and the window was unmolested, pointing to the air-gun yet
had Adair been killed? The answer was clear enough.
I imagined he'd
discovered Moran had been cheating at cards, and the threat of such
exposure was enough to warrant a death sentence from such as Moran, who
had little else in the way of livelihood. This morning, when
followed me--I did not see you, but I suppose you followed me?"
nodded. My head was aching. In addition, it was a
serious shock to be
lying in London on the Doctor's bed listening to him expound upon a
series of deductions. He sat there with a somber visage, worn
many trials but fit and sound, failing completely to see the irony of
it. Despite my ill health and many deeply founded
desire to pounce on the poor fellow was growing startlingly strong.
you followed me, I was taking a look at the window to ascertain Moran's
possible vantage points. I was thinking over the case as I
home. I had nearly all the pieces in my hands, and had fit
together well enough, but I was working out whether to call in
Lestrade. I am no lawyer, and could not have known whether my
would have stood up in court. Besides, as Lestrade well
knows, I'd a
very personal vendetta with the man."
The idea that anyone, let
alone Watson, would have sought vengeance at my supposed demise had
literally never crossed my mind. It was, taken all in all,
touching. I placed my hand over his and left it
there. If he wished
it gone, he was going to have to remove it himself.
"What do you think of a wax model?" I asked.
"Whatever do you mean?"
mean a decoy--if your theory is correct, and I can prove Moran killed
Adair, the mastermind behind all my tormentors will be rendered quite
impotent. But would it not make for a touch of the dramatic
could, at the same time, have him arrested for the attempted murder of
He regarded me with blank surprise. "You have
never once, in all the years I have known you, confided in me your
schemes regarding a case."
"Relish the moment while it is yours," I suggested. "I am not
well, as you have very astutely noted."
"It is nearly
enough to make me suspect you some invidious impostor," he
He looked nearer to his old self than I had yet seen him.
"Well, really, Watson,
with the evidence you've furnished, I could say the same of you."
caught my meaning at once, and his eyes regained still more of the
thoughtful sparkle I remembered. "It was a very simple
matter, my dear
Holmes. In any event, I may not be the same fellow I was
before, but I
can assure you I am no impostor."
"You are the
same fellow," I told him. I was growing more and more
exhausted as we
spoke, but did not so much as dream of abandoning the
activity. "I was
wrong when I said you had changed. And you were always
clever, you are
simply being more visible about it today. It was your world
changed, my dear fellow, not you. Your world grew quite
dark, but you are as constant as the North Star."
"You aren't making a great deal of sense," he said gently.
"Perhaps not. But you are the one fixed point in a changing
"That does not leave much room for self-improvement," he observed dryly.
I agreed. "Quite superfluous, I assure you. Was I
especially visceral dream earlier, or did you say that Baker Street was
"It is just as it was," he grinned. "I
thought your brother mad, but now I see he was merely exceptionally
wistful. Mrs. Hudson must have thought him a lunatic, but she
along with him nevertheless. The bearskin rug is there, the
slipper, the table and the basket chair and the window and the
bullet-scarred wall. To wander into it, one might have
thought it a
particularly immaculate museum. No less is your room the
wardrobe, your rogues' gallery covering the walls..."
fear that I did not hear the remainder of Watson's speech regarding our
former residence, for I lost the tenuous hold I'd had on
consciousness. Doubtless this was for the best. I
cannot be certain
that it was anything more than a long wished-for dream, but I had the
very vivid impression that while I was asleep, someone kissed me, and
that person was possessed of a moustache, a pair of very warm, gentle
lips, and an unaccountably comforting presence. I never
determine if this was a fancy of my overwrought brain or no, but
neither have I ruled out that it was real, and that is the way I prefer
to think of it. I could always ask him, I suppose.
But there is no
reason to risk ruining one of life's perfect moments, even if it
occurred whilst I was sound asleep.
When I awoke, a
number of things surprised me. I was in England, for
one. It was
clearly the next day, for the sunlight seemed to have run backward
rather than forward and there was all the freshness of morning about
the air drifting through the crack in the window. I was
longingly of food, which does not happen very often. And in
there was a set of my own clothing, three years old, pressed and quite
clean, lying on the chair next to me. Tailored black cutaway
coat, pinstriped grey trousers, a clean white shirt, fine black woolen
waistcoat, silk tie, cuffs and collar. This was bizarre, but
enough I recalled that I had left a change of attire at the Englisher
Hoff when I had died. I had not thought I would ever need it
It had evidently not been thrown away.
It sounds very queer to
say such a thing, but after I'd washed and dressed and smoothed back my
hair, I caught a glimpse of myself in the glass, and was absolutely
dumbfounded. It was Sherlock Holmes looking back at
me. I was
Sherlock Holmes again. I hadn't seen the fellow in years.
not see the Doctor downstairs, and his consulting room door was
This fell into my plans, for I was beginning to see my way clear out of
the mess I'd been in for so long. I placed an apple in each
from a bowl in his hallway, and slipped out the front door into broad
daylight. The top hat from the old bookseller's costume was
completely out of place, and so I set off down the street for a
haberdasher's I knew of down the road. I would be entirely
again, and within half an hour, I thought fervently. All the
would know I was there. And then I would see what was to be
did a number of errands that day. I stopped by Baker Street
Mrs. Hudson into violent hysterics. It was
marvelous. I visited a
designer of wax models I've known for years, quite an artist in his
way, and remained there for some few hours as he worked. I
I was being watched, and for the first time in three years, I did not
care. The spies were finally irrelevant. I
necessary items, as I hadn't packed when I left Prague. I
in on my brother.
"What do you intend to do, Sherlock?" he asked
me after our familial greeting had been accomplished. We
stood in the
Stranger's Room of the Diogenes Club, exactly where I knew he would be
at the time. It was terribly good to see him.
I told him. He looked worried, then approving, and then
world has missed you, you know," he smiled. "England has
It has been far too sensible since your demise. A great deal
dramatic captures, elaborately wrought traps, impenetrable mysteries
solved by observation of a stray wisp of dust."
"I have missed
England as well. And it will have to deal with me again, like
no. I will not live as I have lived all this time ever again."
"I should hope not," he sniffed.
"Mycroft..." I said hesitantly.
"What is it, my dear boy?"
you. For Baker Street. It is...." I
struggled to express myself, for
there was far too much to say. "It is the best thing you
possibly done for me. You have always done a great deal for
this--I cannot tell you what it means."
"I thought it would be of use sooner or later," he smiled.
"But what do you intend to do?"
"You've already asked me that, and I recall having answered you."
"Not about Moran," he stated. "About the other matter."
shall wait," I said softly. "I don't know what else to
do. I shall
wait, and I shall observe. Those observations will either
lead to more
waiting, or to something else, or to something else entirely.
worst is over, isn't it? It must be. Now I must
wait, for good or for
He nodded, and clapped a large hand to my arm. "Don't run
your head into danger. Be very cautious. You are
right, my boy--the
worst is over. But for God's sake, don't let that go to your
is one other great love in my life. I have not yet spoken of
that is the city of London. It could have taken me thirty
reach the Doctor's practice from my brother's club, and I saw to it
that it took me two hours. I dove in and out of streets and
breathing in the air, listening to the crowds, recording what had
changed. I memorize the things I love and London is no
Here was a new butcher shop, there a florist, a building damaged by
fire, a new fence, a gate where there had once been a door. I
through obscure corridors utterly thrilled that the names still fell
through my mind in perfect order. This was home.
This was London. It
had changed too, of course, but not so that I could not navigate
When I neared Baker Street, a series of mews and stables brought a
sudden flash of inspiration to my mind. I looked up at the
old house and smiled. It had been the offices of a factory
left. There it stood, empty and quite marvelously
reversed my direction, having drunk my fill of the city, and was
hanging my new hat in Dr. Watson's entryway a quarter of an hour later.
turned swiftly to regard the Doctor, standing in a doorway having just
heard me enter. He was very agitated and attempting not to
When he does this, he purposefully slows his breathing and presses his
hands together, and then drops them casually to his sides once
It fools many people, but it does not fool me.
"My dear Watson, how are you?" I asked, deeply concerned. I
approached him. "Who has been here? What has
between men are a strange thing. If I had been his friend, I
have pressed a hand to his shoulder and left it there for appreciably
too long, as I had done in the eighties. If I had been his
would have kissed him. If I had been an acquaintance, I'd
his hand. As it was, I stood there like an imbecile.
"Nothing," he said more calmly. "Nothing has
happened. And you--are you all right?"
"I am far better, thank you. Your cure has been a marvelously
is excellent news," he said. He was taking me in, dressed in
attire--or I ought to say, my old attire. He seemed every bit
struck by it as I had been. "You look...better."
"It is astonishing how fast a fellow can recover when placed in the
"I am very glad."
"Watson, what is wrong?" I asked him gently. I wanted very
badly to touch him, but I did not.
"There is something, I think."
"It was quite foolish, no doubt. Let it be."
"Tell me what it was."
"It was the merest trifle, my dear fellow."
"I happen to think trifles tremendously important," I pointed out.
sighed and shook his head slightly in resignation. "Well, I
that I am very fanciful, but when I could not find you this afternoon,
and I could find no trace of the old bookseller, and your clothes were
gone, and--it was foolish. You will laugh at me, I trust."
will do nothing of the kind," I told him softly. "I had
matters to see to today, and I had determined to see to them as
myself. Thank you for the clothing. It was very
thoughtful. I threw
the old bookseller in your dustbin, and no doubt that imaginary chap's
gear was burned after breakfast. The books are under your bed
you would never think to look for them."
"No, I did not. And you were gone again."
I willed myself to stay still. I waited.
was absurd," he shrugged. "I could not force myself to
yesterday had been real--that you had truly returned, that you were
alive and relatively well and had been sleeping in my room some few
minutes earlier. The maid had already seen to the bed, you
everything was just as it was before you came back."
"Except that my clothing was gone, and you've two fewer apples in your
hallway," I said kindly.
"I did not observe the apples," he said, smiling a little.
"But Holmes, the thought that I'd dreamed it all--"
nodded. "I ought to have left you a note. It must
have been rather
horrifying to wonder if you'd temporarily lost your mind."
don't give a damn whether or not I lose my mind," he cried.
you, I have lost it before this. It wasn't me. It
was you--to think
you were still dead, and that I had--"
"I am not dead," I said
instantly. One more statement like that from him and I would
self-control. "I wish I never had been dead. I
shall not be dead
again for a very long time."
"I am delighted to hear you say
so," he told me. The wretched fellow was so impossibly
standing there willing himself into calm. "I shall make an
"Watson," I vowed, "I give you my word of honour
not only am I alive, but I have no immediate desire to relocate myself
in a geographical sense. I am here with you. You
yourself over the wrong issue entirely, in my opinion. I
ought to worry about the lengths you may have to go to get rid of
That is your present conundrum, friend Watson, and not the
course, if you tell me to go, I shall do it with all possible
But you need not wonder whether the fancy will strike me of my own
"I am sorry if I appear to be forcing you to repeat
yourself," he said breathlessly, "but it you leave, if you ever leave
me again, I don't know that I would survive it."
limits to a man's self-control, every man's, and that statement happens
to have been mine. My mouth was on his an instant later, my
pounding in my throat, and his hands hesitantly removing the clothes
he'd kept hidden away during three years of suffering. I did
anything, and neither did he. But he pulled me backward into
consulting room and locked the door and I set about learning every inch
of him all over again. The fire was blazing, the carpet
the settee impossibly narrow, so many salient details, but I could pay
nothing any mind except for him. I had him, all to
myself. He was
mine again. I finally had the only thing I had ever
I didn't deserve it. But I've learned very few of us indeed
get precisely what they deserve.
"What was this
one?" he asked later.
was a good while later, actually. We had at long last
repaired to his
bedroom, then into our attire and back downstairs when he insisted we
both partake of some refreshment, then up the stairs again to remove
said attire for the third time and continue with what we'd been
I was now lying on my stomach, the Doctor sitting next to me, limbs
rather pleasantly tangled, having the sort of desultorily intimate
conversation other men have many times attempted with me to absolutely
"That was a knife," I answered, twisting so that I
could see what he was looking at. It happened to be the back
rather fleshless left arm. "From a hired brute in
Egypt. Sadly, he is
no longer with us. His betters were quite distraught to learn
not killed me."
"The poor soul," he said wryly. "What did you do in
Egypt? What possessed you to go there?"
was part of a team engaged by a scientist in Mecca to investigate the
theft of a priceless Muslim artifact. The Khalifa was very
his own way. I communicated what I could of my stay to the
Office, anonymously of course."
"How did they know you were a criminal investigator?" he asked
"They didn't. I was a French scholar of ancient documents."
He shook his head at me, smiling. "And this?"
I asked, swiveling again. "That was my own fault. I
was thrown from
my horse and gashed the back of my leg on a stick."
"How was it your own fault you were thrown from a horse?"
"That is a very, very long story, my dear fellow."
"But you will tell it to me?"
you insist upon it, certainly. With all my heart.
It involves a
Norwegian damsel in distress, so I know it will appeal to your finely
honed British chivalry. But it will take at least an hour to
do it any
"Perhaps another time. Tell me about this one."
peered at the mark on my hip which Dr. Watson's fingers were exploring
with fresh interest. "That happened at the Falls,
actually. I was
scaling the rock wall, and at one point I fell several feet onto an
outcropping. I hadn't the proper tools for
climbing. I don't imagine
it would have scarred, but I couldn't dress it properly for days."
is because you had left your doctor behind," he said. I
quickly up at him, but he was only hectoring me, one side of his mouth
vaguely amused. "This faint mark, over your shoulder and down
back. What did this to you?"
I reached up for him and pulled
him down on top of me, but he quickly freed himself enough to continue
his perusal of my collection of scars. "You've seen that a
"I know," he said quietly. "I never asked you about it."
sighed and rolled onto my side. "I was in a fight with two of
village lads, and one of them had a horsewhip. You will be
to learn that I won the battle, but I was young enough for it to
I convinced my parents to let me add fencing to my usual boxing studies
after that, and the situation has not repeated itself."
"Why did two of the village boys come after you with a horsewhip?" he
I'd advised them to discontinue beating our stable-boy
were a pair of cretinous wretches. I haven't thought of them
"How old were you?"
"Twelve. Really, Watson, my childhood was far, far less
interesting than you imagine it, I assure you."
"If that were the case, you'd have told me of it by now," he corrected
me, but he was laughing as he said it.
preoccupation with my body caused me to glance down once myself and
take stock of matters. I looked just as I always had--every
defined, every bone visible. I am far more like an anatomical
than a person, so it was only fit I should be studied so. I
my attention to the worthier form, for Dr. John Watson is
broad-shouldered, muscular, perpetually tanned, and in every way a
fitter subject for the eye. How a creature like me managed to
himself to a man who is very, very visibly an ex-rugby player as well
as an ex-soldier is utterly beyond my powers of comprehension.
"What happened there?" I asked him teasingly.
"I was shot in the Afghan campaign, actually."
you were a soldier," I added languidly, solely for my own
had made no secret of my admiration, after he'd learned my true
nature. Soldiers are no uncommon weakness, after
all. "You haven't a
military photograph, have you?"
"Holmes, do be quiet," he smiled.
such an object existed, I would go to very great lengths to obtain
That would be the Holy Grail of my existence, friend Watson."
"The object does exist," he admitted. "It's in a trunk
you never thought to tell me of it?" I cried. "That is one of
cruelest omissions I have ever heard tell of, and perpetrated on me, no
less. How could you keep such a treasure from me?
It is monstrous. I
demand you hand it over."
"I shall, if I can find it," he laughed.
"And so, let us return to the scar. When did you obtain it?"
"The Battle of Maiwand, I believe it was."
you developed a fever, and nearly died, and were sent back to England,
and I am very glad of it, for you would never have come to London
otherwise," I recited, yawning.
"What on earth is this?" he asked, tracing a white line which now ran
down my lower back.
"Watson, if you want me to recite every event which has befallen me in
three years time, you cannot expect it all at one go."
can expect whatever I like," he corrected me, crawling into the crook
of my arm. "I expect a great deal, if you want to know the
"Ah. Well, then, it was the end of a sword-stick hidden in a
how did it come to seek out your spine?" he asked me. I was
hand down his shoulder, reflecting that I ought to be rather more
surprised to be alive, in a physical sense.
"I let something
slip, and there was a hired tough within earshot. He followed
me to a
river embankment, made his little effort, and wound up in the
I am very lucky to be alive, my dear fellow. It was rather a
exertion, and for a very long time."
"Yes, a very long time," I
heard him say softly. "Far longer than my wife's struggle,
instance. And you won. I cannot tell you how glad I
am you won."
knowing whether he wished to say a thing about it, I only held him to
me. Finally I said, "If you wish to tell me, I am here."
long time, I thought he would ignore my offer. In fact, I
believe him asleep. He stirred slightly at long
last. "There is
little to tell," he said. "She developed complications, at
She could not survive them, and neither could my son. There
nothing we could do but ease her pain. It is a very painful
die, you know."
I said nothing. What could I have told him that would have
made such a thing any more bearable?
did not think it could happen that way. You were already
all. I did not think it possible for life to be so
heartless. You were dead, so one or both of them would
live. That was
what I imagined. But I was wrong."
"I would have saved them if
I'd the power--I would save them now, if I could," I told
imagined you safe, and happy, with them. It kept me
sane. You have to
know that, whatever else I've done to you."
"I believe you. But
they are dead now, and there is no undoing it. As much a
you are, they are beyond my reach. I saw them buried, in the
grave. A small cedar coffin and a smaller wrapped bundle
did not sound emotional at all, or even grieving. He was
reciting facts. The part of him that had mourned he had
somewhere, and I wondered if even he knew where it was
is something I never told you," I said slowly. "There wasn't
opportunity, and I was a damnable villain at the end. But you
have made a wonderful father."
He was silent for some time. "Thank you," he said at
last. "May I return the compliment?"
"You may not," I laughed.
are several splendid reasons. For one, the thought of making
love to a
female, any female, even the most exceptional example of feminine kind,
is utterly repugnant to me."
"So I have observed. In fact, your
opinions on the subject could not possibly be more clear.
really never known a woman?"
"I made an effort at it once, as an
experiment. I don't think two people have ever felt so
unsatisfactory. The project was aborted forthwith."
she was simply ill-prepared for such an elemental force," he pointed
out equitably. "But I don't concede your argument.
Simply because you
would never engage in procreation doesn't mean you wouldn't make an
"Watson, don't be ghastly. I would be an
utter disaster. I am designed so to prevent my making a
of a fellow human being."
He sat up on one elbow and looked
sternly into my eyes. "We will neither of us be
parents. But I have
seen you with the Irregulars--they idolized you. More than
them loved you. You are commanding, and sympathetic, and
brilliant, and you listened to them, Holmes. They were all at
memorial. You would have made a wonderful father.
And a wonderful
godfather, if--if given the opportunity."
I cleared my throat,
which appeared to have tightened in a curious manner. I did
to think of the Irregulars. They would be a collective thirty
taller and would all have forgotten me by then, I was certain.
"Tell me about this one," I said instead, when I could speak
"Here?" he asked. "I was shaving, and the candle was
"How very shocking. What did you do then?" I
grasped the edge of the quilt and pulled it over us.
The plan went every bit as effortlessly as I'd expected.
it was, its perfectly sculpted head marred with a single hole, the
window a wreck of shattered glass. I am accustomed to my
working out well. But I don't know when I have been so
was over. Moran would hang, and the rest of them would
cease. And I
could go back to being me again.
I don't know how long it had
been since the Doctor had seen Mrs. Hudson, but they embraced as if it
had been an age. Indeed, both of them were acting fairly
and I soon determined the fault was probably mine. They would
gaze at an object there in our old sitting room, or lose themselves in
thought, and I would be once more forced to reflect that my existence
was only unsurprising to myself.
"Did you observe where the bullet went?" I asked Mrs. Hudson eagerly.
sir. I picked it up from the carpet. Such a noise
the window made
when it shattered, but I never heard a gunshot at all. But
yourself--here it is."
I took it from her and held it out to
Watson. He did not take it, only looked down at my
genius in that, Watson, for who would expect to find such a thing fired
from an air-gun?" He nodded but made no reply. When
I looked at him
curiously, he turned away toward the window.
"All right, Mrs. Hudson," I said. "I am much obliged for your
"It was nothing, Mr. Holmes," she replied, her eyes shining.
"I was that glad to do it--I can't even say. Welcome home,
she had left us, I threw my old dressing gown from the dummy over my
shoulders with yet another sigh of relief. I was still
profoundly content. The world had never seemed such a
Indeed, my mental life had been so full of the Doctor for so long that
I was shocked at how good it was to see everyone else--Mrs. Hudson,
Billy, who had grown distressingly tall, even Inspector
had not even realized I'd missed him. I hadn't missed him, I
But that did not make the sight of him any less pleasurable.
must congratulate you, my dear Watson," I smiled, reaching for my
pipe. "A very complete case, and the credit is entirely
course, I rather rashly gave it to Lestrade. But if you like,
wire him and see that your praises are sung from the morning dailies."
thank you," he replied. He was still staring out the
window. "I have
quite enough to think about without such distractions."
been quite inscrutable for some time now. I traced back in my
find the moment his mood had changed, and the path led me to Moran's
capture. I weighed the benefits of approaching him and
decided to stay
where I was for the time being.
"Surely you are rather proud of
it," I suggested gently. "I could not have worked it out
myself, and the case was a singular one."
"It was far simpler than any case you have ever termed 'singular' in
"But I've you to thank for resolving it," I insisted. "You
wrapped it up splendidly, my boy."
"I am very happy you are so pleased."
"How could I not be pleased? I am quite safe, and all because
"He had his hands on your throat," he said quietly.
was curious. It was true enough, but the Doctor isn't one to
physical danger. In fact, he derives a certain visceral
it. It makes him the single best fellow in a tight spot that
"Of course he did," I shrugged, lighting my pipe.
"His dream of seeing me dead was fading rather quickly. But
you mention it, I've reason to thank you yet again. I have
anyone beaten about the head with a pistol who deserved it so very
"I have been considering doing rather more businesslike things to Moran
with a pistol for some time," he said through his teeth.
This, I surmised, was more to the point.
"Have you?" I asked him softly.
"Yes, I have."
was beginning to grow clearer, and still my mind rather balked at
Here was yet another thing for which I was responsible, yet another
thing which had hurt the Doctor and his fine sensibilities, another
grief placed squarely upon my shoulders. He had mentioned his
for revenge upon Moran, but there was still a part of me that would not
believe I could inspire such an emotion. And if I had, as
obvious, how does one go about convincing a fundamentally good man of
his own nature? Good men are far harder on themselves than we
"And earlier, this evening," I continued hesitantly, "you felt so
again, perhaps." I watched him very carefully.
cannot deny that shooting him would have brought me considerable
It is a terrible thing, perhaps, Holmes, but there it is.
When one is
left with nothing, one creates ways to fill the void. I have
told you that Moran was very frequently in my thoughts."
wondered briefly whether, even if I managed to make up to Watson what I
had done to him, I could ever forgive myself. My intentions
been to protect him. What I had done, in essence, was prevent
creature from exposing itself to the harms of the wild by breaking all
of its limbs. How does one apologize for such an act?
needn't avenge me any longer," I pointed out. "I am alive and
in your debt. You needn't harm anyone, my dear
fellow. You would not
have done so, in any event."
"Would I not?" he snapped. "No,
perhaps not, but that does not mean I never entertained the
also, I have discovered, does not mean the desires have
"A desire to do something
is a very different matter from actually acting upon the impulse," I
is also true. Why didn't I, then?" he cried. I do
not think I have
ever heard him sound so strained. "I had every cause to hunt
the same way he'd hunted you, but I failed completely. For a
time, it was all that I wanted and I did nothing. I am a
weakling, that much seems quite clear."
that is the most ridiculous remark I have ever heard you make," I
exclaimed, setting my pipe down. He was beginning to worry
"Self-control and weakness do not even resemble one another."
"He took you away from
me, and I wasn't even man enough to punish him for it."
aren't listening! I am standing right in front of you, and
seen to it he'll hang. You can't kill him more than once,
changes nothing whatever. You are the one who caught him at
looked down at the wax model I'd commissioned and a small spasm crossed
his features. "Look at this," he snarled, clenching his hands.
have. It worked perfectly," I began to say, but before I
Dr. Watson had picked up what remained of the bust and thrown it
savagely to the ground.
In another moment, he was beating it
violently with his weighted stick. The head fell to pieces at
for it was hollow, and my features shattered into smaller and smaller
fragments on the floor. There went my eyes, and then my brow,
my neck, smashed into malformed bits. There went my angular
and my widow's peak and my high cheekbones and my arched nose.
"Watson," I said, by now very alarmed.
did not care about the model. In fact, I thought he might be
off in the long run thrashing an effigy of me to pieces. It
perfectly valid activity. I should certainly have done so
if our positions were reversed. But when he threw the bulk of
the broken window, and then proceeded to sweep up the broken shards in
his hands and jettison them as well, I dove toward him.
did not hear me. Or perhaps he did, and simply failed to pay
mind. When I put a hand on his shoulder, he twisted away in a
picked up another handful of glass and wax. I had him by the
another instant and was wrestling him away from the window.
is a strong fellow, Watson, but I have a certain kind of wiry tenacity
which makes my grip very powerful indeed. In fact, my main
not that he would escape me but that in his struggles against me I
would somehow hurt him. He was gripping the wreck of my head
tightly that blood was dripping to the ground from the splinters of
"Watson, drop the glass. Drop it, and I'll let you
You are hurting yourself. Watson? Drop the glass,
my dear fellow.
At last he relaxed, and allowed the bits to fall from
his hands. He had cut himself rather badly in several places,
see at once. But instead of escaping me, he simply turned his
my shoulder helplessly.
I had been expecting something of the
kind. How could I not? John Watson is a very
feeling individual, and
his lover had just risen from the dead. To be frank, I had
storms of outrage, bitter arguments humbly conceded on my part, furious
recriminations, and all before he would consent to take me
Nothing of the sort had happened, and I was grateful only a waxen
version of myself had been duly abused. But I knew when his
sought out the edge of my collar the crux of the matter was at
held him very close. Needless to say, it was nothing like a
to me. He smells of cigarettes and wool and a sweet, clean
unlike paper. I love him more than anything and I always
"What is it, my dear fellow?"
took a moment to respond. "Why did you not simply leave me?"
at last. "I would have accepted it, I promise you.
You cannot know
what it was like, Holmes. Why did you make me believe you
was not the phraseology I had expected, for it nowhere contained the
word "callous" or "heartless" or "monster." It was a valid
however, and an easily answerable one.
"That is very simple, love," I told him.
"Well, one day I hope you can make it clear to me."
"I shall make it clear to you at once. I died because I could
never have left you while I lived."
statement does not bear up well under the scrutiny of pure logic, but
the Doctor understood me. And for all its nonsensical veneer,
perfectly true. I could never have left Watson as a living
required a ghost to manage such a feat.
He was gripping me by the shirt, and eventually raised his
"I've covered you with blood," he said a little ruefully.
"I've been covered with blood several times for less worthy causes," I
shrugged. "Let me see your hands."
"Don't worry about them, I can see to it."
give me your hands or I shall lose my patience," I said
turned them over. I pulled a vicious shard of glass
out of his right,
and threw it in the fireplace. "Sit down," I
ordered. I strode
towards the desk and retrieved the small medical kit we had always kept
there. Then I poured a large glass of brandy and returned to
myself next to the Doctor.
"Which hand would you prefer I deal
with first?" I inquired, handing him the tumbler. "The other
employed to provide you some refreshment."
"I am sorry I lost control of myself," he sighed. "I don't
know what came over me."
You've every right to be distressed. I have subjected you to
of serious shocks by my unnecessarily dramatic reappearance.
I am only
glad you threw the bust out the window and not me."
"Forgive me, my dear
fellow--that must have been an exceptionally bizarre spectacle."
busied myself cleaning the cuts. They were bleeding freely,
of them were jagged, which was helpful. He wouldn't be able
anything heavy for several days. There were four I could see
right hand, and more on his left, but only one was deep enough for any
concern. "As a matter of fact, it was rather unprecedented,
but I hope
it proved beneficial. You are welcome to take a swing at the
article if you like, provided you don't employ your walking
Fists only, and not the right one. This is a nasty gash, my
"I have no desire
whatever to strike the genuine article," he smiled.
"I can't think why not. But
"That needs stitches," he mused
thoughtfully. "The others will be fine on their own."
"Agreed. Where is your bag?"
by the door." I retrieved the bag and began rummaging around
needle and thread. When I found it, I cauterized the
needle and tied a
small knot at the end of the slender line.
"You realize, of
course, that if you were any other man, we would be seeking out a
doctor," he laughed. "I happen to know that you are
dexterous with your fingers, and it isn't as if the principle is
difficult. But be aware that your talent
for mastering practically
everything is the sole reason I am not rather nervous just now."
"It is true. I am a very convenient sort of chap to have
around the house. How many?" I asked.
"Four ought to do it, I think. Holmes?"
He hesitated, watching me sew him back together. "That
Hungarian in Prague with the newspaper."
That was not a conversation I desired to engage in. "What
"I was thinking...."
"Yes?" I repeated.
"I was only wondering," he said slowly. "You had no
plans. You raced here on impulse."
"On a whim, in fact."
"It was a particularly compelling whim."
"So you left everyone and everything very suddenly. Without
warning or reflection."
expressed a short and silent prayer of thanks that I possess
exceptionally steady hands, for my friend was doing a very poor job of
keeping perfectly still. The second stitch went quite well,
in spite of this difficulty.
"Yes, I did. You might go so far as to say I disappeared."
"Was it...." He stopped abruptly. "Was he important
please don't ask me questions of this nature. You will not
answers reflect well upon myself. Nothing was important to
began again. "Holmes, you must have had a life of some sort
time, even if it was a very dangerous one. I am not demanding
me your secrets. But now that you are back, and that damnable
will hang, what are you going to do?"
I knew what he was
asking me then, and it had nothing to do with jealousy. It
touching, not to mention a relief. But I pretended not to
"Do you mean, am I returning to Prague to enact
bittersweet farewells with all my beloved acquaintances? Or
my blissful existence as a fiddler? I have not purchased any
tickets, if that is what you are wondering."
"I am merely interested in your plans."
I shrugged nonchalantly. "My dear Watson, you know already
that my plans are quite minimal."
nodded. "What happened between us when you returned occurred
any sort of consideration. But now, surely you see that
you've a great
many choices to make, my dear fellow. I have done a number of
to you over the years of which I am not proud. Still, I am
anxious to hear whether you intend to...."
He appeared to lose
his focus. I smiled to myself. I have never
stitched up a gash
before, but I reflected as I finished the task that it was one more
thing I could now consider myself rather good at. I took the
out of the Doctor's other hand and had a self-congratulatory sip.
I have not had long to consider the question. But this is
propose." I was quite finished with his hand, but I kept it
did not think he would begrudge it to me much. "I have
reside in London. I am going to live here, in Baker
Street. It is a
very comfortable suite of rooms, I know where everything is, and Mrs.
Hudson is hardly ever startled when questionable characters pay me
calls. Of course, I shall need some money, and that
occupation. I rather think I might try my hand at being an
consulting detective. Scotland Yard does not appear capable
every problem on their own, so it is only right that someone should
assist them. I am going to purchase some fresh shag, because
need to smoke if people are approaching me with conundrums.
And I will
need a partner, of course."
"Will you indeed?"
find a chap who is also interested in the study of crime, an
intelligent, courageous sort of fellow, but not so very skilled at
deduction that I pale in proximity."
"You could not possibly pale in proximity to anyone."
"My blushes, Watson."
doubt there would be a large number of candidates for such a position,"
he continued quietly. His eyes were still
glimmering. "Surely there
are many such qualified individuals. You may even have met
your travels. A great deal depends on you, of
course. I am not being
possessive, Holmes, far from it, in fact--but I must know what it is
you want. We were not on exceptionally good terms when you
left, and I
am too battered not to look at this sensibly."
I think it was my lighthearted tone which prompted this
speech. I adjusted accordingly.
you like to know what I want more than anything I have ever wanted in
my life?" I asked him, encasing his hand lightly with both my own.
"That would certainly interest me."
"I want my friend back," I said.
He smiled guilelessly at this, and then cleared his throat, and nodded
"This partner you speak of, where will he reside?"
think I might enjoy the company of a medical sort of fellow.
going to sell his practice, and all unnecessary belongings, and move
into his old room upstairs. At least, he is going to
belongings in such a way that it appears he lives in his old room
upstairs. In fact, rather more is going to be required of him
a typical business partner."
"How intriguing. Where will he live, in actuality?"
"I'll show you," I said, standing up. "My bedroom is just
through here. I require a change of clothing, in any event."
"Then by all means lead the way."
I added gravely, "if you like it, along with my other little proposals,
it is yours. All of it is yours. I have a great
many shortcomings of
which I am well aware, but there is only one thing in this world I want
and that is you. I will not say it enough, I shall remain
incorrigible, I will neglect any number of things you no doubt consider
important, and I will prove distant, abrupt, and cold when I least wish
to do so. But if you consent to be with me again, that
fellow will be yours body and soul for as long as you want
him. Do you
think you might be happy with such an arrangement?"
He set his glass down and stood up to join me. "We shall find
out, won't we?"
"You must let me know what you think of it, periodically.
When you've had time to reflect," I murmured. I kissed
"I shall do just that, periodically. Over the years."
"Good," I said. "Then come with me."
now, no doubt, you will have realized that I wrote this for
was an admirable notion to give me your diary, and I thank you for it,
but surely you know you were not the only resident of the house longing
for confession. I hope this makes all clear to you.
It includes more
information than you desire, no doubt, and I apologize if any of it
hurts you. I am very afraid some of it will, which is not my
intention. But I was never one for half-measures. I
can only appeal
to you to forgive me my debts as I forgive my debtors. For I
heartily do, my dear boy, I assure you. I am very preoccupied in my
efforts to bring the murderer of Robert Jamison to task just now, and
you have doubtless felt it. But rest assured I read your
through, and I understand you perfectly.
I am returning you your diary, with this wedged into it, so that you
may burn them, and good riddance to them both.
you are loath to burn them as a precautionary measure, then burn them
as a funeral pyre. You deserve a measure of peace, and I
myself I deserve at least an easing of the burden. You are
too hard on
yourself, and too good a man. I am too much preoccupied with
and too culpable for our troubles. Burn them. Be
done with it. I am
not asking you to forget, but to lay our pasts to rest. If
you will do
so for my sake, I will do so for yours.
Let us turn our minds to better matters.
Sherlock Holmes, 1894
I have not forgotten that a military photograph of you in your late
twenties exists, and that it belongs to me. The next time you
spare moment, I strongly suggest you hie yourself to the lumber room
and locate it. You have quite a nerve to have put the task
off for so
long. I am not made of stone. --S.H.