by Katie

The ideas of my friend Dr. Watson are, although almost universally valid in and of themselves, of a somewhat limited nature. And yet, I err in saying so. That they are limited to his own perspective goes without saying. It is equally certain, however, that I myself am confined in scope to my own experience, even if that experience may take in more surroundings than many of my fellows. For the purposes of this exercise, therefore, written solely for clarification and liable to be incinerated upon completion, I will strive to be equitable in my judgments. That Watson makes an effort to be fair is widely known, but my own far more impatient nature requires a stronger hand at the reins.

I suppose the primary impetus for my setting pen to paper--although I've a strict habit of recording all criminal matters which come within my purview--is my companion's latest publication, entitled in his habitually dramatic fashion, "The Adventure of the Speckled Band." That he wrote it in such an abbreviated manner is commendable; and yet, I fear losing the thread of the true facts. My freedom from the demands of a public audience will no doubt make my task far easier, and more objective. No matter, after all, if only I shall ever lay eyes on the thing. My friend suffers under the onus of widespread scrutiny. He does not suffer overmuch--but still, it remains a factor.

I knocked on his bedroom door far more softly that morning than was required to awaken him, and stole into the still dim bedroom. It was as calm as the grave there, and more peaceful. The sun was just beginning to make efforts on behalf of day, but had not yet afforded him enough light to arise of his own volition. I grant I took advantage of his deep slumber, standing over him until the sheer force of my presence was enough to arouse a former soldier from his dreams. He woke with a start and looked me over in astonishment.

"Very sorry to knock you up, Watson," I apologized. It was a lie, for I wasn't. I was an accomplished liar in those days...or perhaps it is better to state that my evasions were immaculate.  In either case, it was an untruth; I had knocked him up six separate times previously and had relished every one of them. "It's the common lot this morning. Mrs. Hudson has been knocked up, and she retorted on me, and I on you."

He had the decency to look alarmed. "What is it, then? A fire?"

We had been rooming together at that moment for slightly over two years time. I am aware of the exact number of days, but that is doubtless irrelevant. More to the point, he was not actually surprised that I had roused him from his sleep, nor did he suspect conflagration the cause. In turn, I am afraid I did not find his prevarication vexing in the slightest.

"No, a client," I returned.  "I have hardly ever encountered anyone so eager to see me. She is positively adamant. Should it prove to be an interesting case, you would, I am sure, wish to follow it from the outset. You know the value of first-hand testimony.  I thought, at any rate, that I should call you and give you the chance."

It would have been a fuller disclosure if I had owned that, from the instant Mrs. Hudson brought me news of an early-morning caller in deep distress, I had been looking forward keenly to his reaction--to his reaction, still in his bed, with me hovering above like a perverse spirit. One cannot pay for such small pleasures; they arrive out of the blue, or not at all.  But no matter if my ardor was masked. He provided the correct response anyway.

"My dear fellow, I would not miss it for anything."

To say that Dr. John Watson knew me intimately at that point in our relationship would no doubt be perfectly true. To say that I knew him intimately would be an understatement of the grossest character. I had memorized him. What so gratified me at that moment was that he had admitted the exact truth. He would not, in fact, have missed it for anything.

"Let us be off, then," I declared. "Mrs. Hudson is showing her in as we speak and declares her in a pitiable state."

I think he imagined I would leave the room and await him downstairs. I did not. My manifest eccentricities afford me greater freedom than the duller fellow can lay claim to. I crossed my arms and leaned against his wall and assumed an air of aggrieved impatience and wondered what crumbs would be thrown me from the feast upon the table this time.

I knew him an invert from the start, of course. It was as clear as a pane of glass. He never hid it from me. I may as well have said to him, "You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive, where you dallied with other men," for it would have saved us both a mountain of trouble. No one else could have begun to recognize it, for he is irredeemably masculine, but I have found it fruitful to study where men's eyes wander when they are first introduced. This habit not only garnered me multiple trysts in my youth, but has solved six cases without requiring me to arise from my armchair. The system is a simple one: I look initially at the eyes, and at the shoes, and at the knees of the trouser, for I am first and foremost a criminologist. Dr. Watson looked discreetly elsewhere, for therein his interest lay.

"She'll think it amiss if you arrive in your nightshirt," I said when he appeared at a loss how to proceed.

He wanted to be annoyed, but recognized he had no viable cause. He is reasonable in that way. I was merely another man, after all. I wanted to pity him, but was enjoying myself far too much. At last, he rolled his eyes, drew back his quilt with a flourish, and proceeded rapidly to throw on his clothes. I did not seem to observe him, but Watson has never quite grasped the principle of sight lines, and thus had no notion of what satisfaction I drew in that interim from the highly polished mirror above his basin. Or, to be fair, he did--but there I enter the realm of unfounded conjecture. In any event, he was ready in a few minutes to accompany me down to the sitting room, and in those few minutes, I had gathered enough fresh images of defined pectorals, square shoulders, solid neck, and muscled back to last me a fortnight.

At length, I threw open the door for him and followed him down the steep flight of stairs.  I can recall a deep sense of underhandedness in our relations at that time, at least upon my part, which caused me fitful slumbers and uneasy mornings.  His presence altered me in ways I had not expected when we took rooms together, and there was so much unspoken between us that at times I felt duplicitous merely sitting across from him smoking my morning pipe.  He had seemed an amiable sort when we met, self-assured and intelligent if still seriously ill, and the reason for my agreeing to share digs with a man of his sexual proclivities was the obvious one; I needed the money, and if I myself were found out, he would not wire the Daily Telegraph or contact the nearest police station.

That was before I had spent any time with him.  Spending time with John Watson is not an affair to be lightly taken up.

The girl was indeed in a sorry condition. I made an effort to be cheery, for she seemed a perceptive sort and likely to recover herself when in self-assured company. It is always useful to appear confident with clients, and often useful to give them the opportunity to ignore their own nerves. I asked her to draw nearer the fire.

"It is not cold which makes me shiver," said the woman in a low voice, changing her seat as requested.

"What, then?"

"It is fear, Mr. Holmes. It is terror."

She lifted her veil.  I had been mistaken in my optimism. She was terrified, and for a very good cause. In this case, I have discovered that it is best to make a series of small deductions, informing the client of one's prowess even as one learns more about the subject. I think I prattled of trains and dog-carts. The topics hardly bear repeating. In any event, she had calmed visibly within two minutes conversation about the merest trivia, and after a few casual remarks about the friend who recommended her to me, she was ready to proceed.

The Doctor has already given a very thorough account of that interview, with his characteristic regrettable additions of style. See, for instance:

"A vague feeling of impending misfortune impressed me. My sister and I, you will recollect, were twins, and you know how subtle are the links which bind two souls which are so closely allied. It was a wild night. The wind was howling outside, and the rain was beating and splashing against the windows."

Helen Stoner was, to be sure, an expressive female. However, I recall that morning vividly, and I believe she said:

"I was frightened, and for no valid reason. I was afraid most of all for my sister, and the weather did nothing to calm my shattered spirits."

Watson enjoys speaking of souls. He believes in them, and so he must, for his own is so very present. But he will go on about weather quite unnecessarily. The elements can be of use if footprints are involved, or other such impressions, but he may as well introduce the sky as a character in the majority of his narratives. It is all quite useless. But in any event, she told us her story, and told it remarkably well.

And what a curious story it was! It was the motive which most concerned me at the time--the motive, and of course the whistle. A clear motive for killing both young ladies, and a correlating event preceding their marriages. The gypsies could not begin to account for any of it, though they may well have been allies of her tormentor. And of course, she had been cruelly used. I wondered if she were screening her stepfather. I pushed back her sleeve in order to prove it.

Miss Stoner coloured deeply, but regained her dignity in an instant. She declared her stepfather did not know his own strength. I pitied her, and masked it. Those most deserving of pity, I have found after long study, are most likely to shun the sentiment. I glanced at Watson. He pitied her, and in an effort to mask it exuded a positive cloud of quiet sympathy. If the man were, Heaven save us from it, to be autopsied, I believe the coroner would find he is made of better materials than most. Such kindness is not to be feigned.

"If we were to come to Stoke Moran to-day, would it be possible for us to see over these rooms without the knowledge of your stepfather?" I asked at length.

"As it happens, he spoke of coming into town to-day upon some most important business. It is probable that he will be away all day, and that there would be nothing to disturb you."

"Excellent. You are not averse to this trip, Watson?" I did not need to ask him, but I will confess I desired his answer.

"By no means."

"Then we shall both come."

She left us, with all necessary assurances. I was alone once more with the Doctor.

"And what do you think of it all, Watson?" I mused, leaning back in my chair.  I had slowly grown to value his opinions as a foundation for more advanced speculation.

"It seems to me to be a most dark and sinister business."

I offered my assent.

"Yet if the lady is correct in saying that the flooring and walls are sound, and that the door, window, and chimney are impassable, then her sister must have been undoubtedly alone when she met her mysterious end."
He is quite systematic in his thoughts, Watson, even if his deductions are poor. "If the lady is correct," and other such caveats are often enough our bread and butter, for most mortals take such adjectives as "impassable" for granted without subjecting them to test. But in this instance, we had not long to ruminate pleasantly before the fire over the grotesque tale Miss Stoner had spun for us. The door flew open and a man dressed half as a farmer and half as a stockbroker burst in upon us.
"Which of you is Holmes?" asked this apparition.
"My name, sir; but you have the advantage of me," I replied. I was not much concerned about the ruffian once the initial surprise had passed, but I made no effort to prevent the Doctor's slow progress toward the drawer in which the pistols were kept.
"I am Dr. Grimesby Roylott, of Stoke Moran."
I invited him to be seated. I wanted a better look at him.  And it is always to one's advantage to observe the niceties, after all.
"I will do nothing of the kind. My stepdaughter has been here.  What has she been saying to you?"
I concealed a smile at this.  If the villain imagined he could elicit my client's story from my lips merely by banging through my door, he had fallen into a serious error. "It is a little cold for the time of the year," I observed. I made an effort to steer the conversation away from Miss Stoner and toward seasonal flora. Yes, I was needling him, but such a man is more dangerous when he is calm than when he is angry.
"Ha! You put me off, do you?" said our new visitor, taking a step forward and shaking his hunting-crop. "I know you, you scoundrel! I have heard of you before. You are Holmes, the meddler. Holmes, the busybody! Holmes, the Scotland Yard Jack-in-office!"
I could not refrain from laughing at this attempted calumny, for I am none of the above. He may as well have insulted me by calling me a mouse, or a garden beetle. It was in fact a thinly disguised blessing--my friend's brows had furrowed in defensive irritation, so if anything, I was grateful for the impetus.  "Your conversation is most entertaining. When you go out close the door, for there is a decided draught."
"I will go when I have had my say!" he cried. Then he did something rather unprecedented, I admit. Hurling threats at my person if I should have anything more to do with Miss Stoner all the while, he proceeded to bend the steel poker propped before our fireplace in half. Then he stormed out the way he had come.
Watson replaced the gun in the drawer the instant Roylott had slammed the door behind him. "He seems a nice, amiable fellow," he remarked ruefully.

"Quite so--and unafraid of expounding upon his opinions with force and conviction," I smiled.  "He had a very arresting way of stating his arguments."

"I am grateful it was only a poker."
"I cannot suppose you would have allowed him any further freedom of movement," I pointed out.  "I imagine we both rather draw the line at housebreaking with vandalism."
"No, I would not have tolerated much more. The shovel and the steel brush were safe, I assure you."
I was awash in the exhilarated feeling of having experienced a bizarre occurrence with the perfect companion. It was very amusing indeed that the brute had bent our poker in half, but the event would not have had a fraction of its value if the Doctor had not still been dividing his incredulous gaze between me and the door. Then I did something which I am rather loathe to admit.
"I am not quite so bulky," I stated with amusement, "but if he had remained I might have shown him that my grip was not much more feeble than his own." I then straightened the ruined implement out again.
It was a gesture worthy of a twelve year old boy in a schoolyard, or a peacock fanning its tail before a potential conquest--and if I am severe with myself, so much the better.  I was twenty-nine at the time, and old enough to know my own faults thoroughly, an essential undertaking if one is to walk through this cold world with any degree of safety. I am under no illusions about my own vanity, for it is profound, and at that instant I would probably have entered an archery contest or a steeplechase if I could guarantee the Doctor would be attending.
Not all of love is selfless, after all, or noble. Some is it is quite sickeningly egocentric.
"That was rather impressive," he said in some surprise.

I have not yet, nor do I think I ever will, grow tired of surprising Watson.  His brows lift incredulously, his whole body assumes an air of tolerant amusement, and his eyes squint at me as if he could work it out if only I would give him a hint in the right direction.   It is more than worth while to spend half an hour staring at him in order to break into his thoughts, or detail casually where he has been in London that afternoon, or refrain from noticing him for three or four days before subjecting him to a day in bed.  The last example was not yet, of course, part of my repertoire.  But when I could surprise the Doctor, I did so.  He enjoyed it so much I could scarcely help myself.

He glanced at my upper frame, which is just barely broad-shouldered enough not to be termed skeletal. "Do you know, just when I imagine there may be something you cannot do, you generally do it. I had thought you could not attempt Russian composers, but was proved wrong last week. I had thought our poker irredeemable," he went on good-naturedly, "but I was mistaken."

"I am not to be underestimated," I assented, "but I cannot speak of it further.  The element of mystery is essential, you will admit." 

I was teasing him, but it was perfectly true.  My best results are almost always intriguing rather than genuinely impressive.  Lord knows they are not difficult.

"You surprise me all too often.  But you must run out of tricks eventually."

"I should not drop my guard just yet, if I were you."

His eyes grew rather wistful. "You've other talents lying in wait to shock my system?"
I wanted to tell him. He spoke so dangerously at times. I had, on the other hand, vowed not to tell him. "I am an accomplished pickpocket," I admitted, clearing my throat, "and a rather dab hand at chess. I only trust that our little friend will not suffer from her imprudence in allowing this brute to trace her. And now, Watson, we shall order breakfast, and afterwards I shall walk down to Doctors' Commons, where I hope to get some data which may help us in this matter."
He let it go, as I knew he would. He would always let it go. Whether for fear of me or fear of himself, I could not say. We went about the business of preparing for the journey to Stoke Moran.

It was a pleasant enough little jaunt from Waterloo, under the wisps of white cloud and the occasional shadow of a great oak. The only passersby were sheep, and the only sound the clop of our horse's hooves. Dr. Watson had fallen into a reverie of sorts. I knew it the moment we disembarked from the train. He was contrasting his innocent surroundings with the evidently dark purposes we had arrived to combat. I was in a similarly non-communicative state, my hat pulled down to my brow and my arms crossed thoughtfully, casting him an occasional glance.
It is a great defect of his stories--among many defects--that he never once makes his physical presence felt in his narratives. John Hamish Watson could be a Red Indian for all we know of his looks from his tales, while my ghostly angles jut out at every opportunity, like some grotesquerie in a Punch and Judy show. He never lost the subtle browning from the desert sun even after he had regained his health and figure, and his close-trimmed military moustache is only two or three shades darker than his lip. His jaw is square and confident, and his upper body more graceful than his lower, due to his still-uncertain leg. He has a fine brow and cheekbones, all smooth planes and rectangles, and his eyes are blue except when he is moved by something--then they are very, very blue indeed. They are like water in that you can see straight to the bottom of them. I do not mean to imply that nothing is there, only that what is there glimmers beneath the surface like a lost coin or trinket, to be spotted in an instant. They would be innocent eyes if they had not seen so much war. His hands are steady and calm, and his hair the exact shade of the mud between the Paddington underground stop and the adjacent apothecary. The reference may be isolated, but it is an apt one. It is as easy to elicit a smile from him as it is to tell a sailor from his palms, his chin brings our female clients (and a few of the males) to tears, and yet with all this, I have never once seen his gaze arrested by his own reflection. It boggles the mind. I closed my eyes and attempted a few minutes peace.
The ride from the station could not have taken more than fifteen minutes. Miss Stoner was very distraught when she learned Dr. Roylott had traced her, as well she should have been. I assured her she was in capable hands as we three stood outside under gentle breezes at the front of the grey stone estate. Indeed, I was beginning, as I always do, to take the matter rather personally. I do not like to see women browbeaten so, and if she had been a sister of mine, I would have done more with the poker than merely to have straightened it out again. I recognized very early in our acquaintance that Dr. Watson enjoys a bully even less, if such is possible, than I do, and so the activity we were engaged upon at the time thus held a deep-seated interest for us both.
We walked about the grounds and had a look at the windows. She led us into the room which had been hers, now under construction. Then we saw the room which had been her sister's, in which she was now sleeping, and my heart began to race.
"Where does that bell communicate with?" I asked, pointing to a thick belt-rope which hung down beside the bed.
"It goes to the housekeeper's room."
"It looks newer than the other things?"
"Yes, it was only put there a couple of years ago."
"Your sister asked for it, I suppose?"
"No, I never heard of her using it. We used always to get what we wanted for ourselves."
Watson will tell you that I made a very thorough examination of that room, from the floorboards to the ventilator, but I can say just as readily that it was unnecessary. A crisis had occurred, but I did my level best to bite my tongue.
I led them to Roylott's chambers, where a saucer of milk awaited us.
"What's in here?" I asked, tapping the safe.
"My stepfather's business papers."
"Oh! You have seen inside, then?"
"Only once, some years ago. I remember that it was full of papers."
"There isn't a cat in it, for example?" I inquired hopefully.
"No. What a strange idea!"
It was indeed a strange idea, and one I had made half in jest to see whether she knew to what creature the milk belonged, but my heart sank nevertheless. When I found the dog-leash, I asked Watson why it should be tied, and he could conceive of no good answer. I could think of a very good answer indeed, but feared that answer was about to cost me the only thing of value I'd yet encountered in all my years in London.
Finally I could perambulate no more. We returned outside and I faced Miss Stoner. "It is very essential that you should absolutely follow my advice in every respect."
"I shall most certainly do so."
"The matter is too serious for any hesitation. Your life may depend upon your compliance." I was speaking to her, but I was looking at Watson. He stared back at me quizzically.
"I assure you that I am in your hands," Miss Stoner assented.
"In the first place, I must spend the night in your room."

Both Miss Stoner and Watson gazed at me in astonishment. I cannot say I blame either of them. They are not trained in deductive reasoning, as am I.
"Yes, it must be so. Let me explain. I believe that that is the village inn over there? You must confine yourself to your room, on pretense of a headache, when your stepfather comes back." I gave her full instructions regarding signals and lamps, latches and hasps. She appeared quite disquieted when I was through, but ready to comply. I think she would have done far more to be released from the hell in which she had been living. Watson listened quietly and made no outward sign, but he knew something was amiss.
"The rest you will leave in my hands," I told her. I then turned on my heel and made for the Crown inn, Dr. Watson following behind me.


From the second I saw the bell-pull in Helen Stoner's chamber, I knew I would have to reveal my true nature to the Doctor, or find a new flat, or perhaps both. That much was elementary. But perhaps the steps bear repeating, simply as an exercise in logic. The points were all quite clear in and of themselves.
Miss Stoner's sister Julia had died unnaturally due to an element introduced into her bedchamber. That the element was repeatable and not isolated was evident from Miss Helen Stoner's abrupt removal to the same environs. So far so good. The bed was fastened to the floor, the ventilator communicated with another room in the house, the bell-pull was a sham, and the saucer of milk had been laid out for an imaginary cat.
It could not have been a vapour introduced through the ventilator and making a whistling sound, for a deadly atmosphere is not avoidable--the whistle would have been heard once, and neither sister would ever have lived to repeat the experience. The whistle, therefore, was a signal to a creature that could fit through the ventilator. Scorpions are not trainable, and neither are spiders or other venomous insects. Mammals are highly impressionable, but when they are poisonous, as in the case of hydrophobia, they are impossible to control. Deadly fish exist, but require the medium of water. Birds were out, for birds have no need of bell-pulls. I could reach only one conclusion.
Is there one among us who has not felt a creeping, shrinking sensation when one stands before the serpents in the Zoo, and sees the slithery, gliding, venomous creatures, with their deadly eyes and wicked, flattened faces? I am not implying that I have any fear of snakes. I loathe snakes, yes, and have done since childhood. There is very little to redeem them in my estimation, and I will go far out of my way to avoid their company. But this snake was guaranteed to be a monster, a poisonous villain of a snake trained to kill the occupant of the bedchamber I intended to guard. It was probably half-crazed and half-starved, purchased and reared for the sole purpose of inflicting a horrible death on its victim, and I would no more allow Dr. John Watson into that bedchamber than I would pick up a knife and stab him myself. If it is to be snakes, I thought, let it be snakes. But I shall go alone.
I had imagined that I could live with him safely, if blissfully. But I had been mistaken. There are certain perils to lives like mine, and the Doctor's, and one of the greatest is co-habitation. If two men are observed parting company on a darkened street in an over-familiar manner, all could be lost, but often no one is the wiser regarding their identities. There the matter dies, an isolated event between isolated men. With men lodging together, it is another matter. The instant even a hint of scandal were to touch the household, the whole of it would be engulfed in flame like a house of matchbooks.  That he was fascinated by me, I knew, and had cultivated, fool that I was. I would have cut off my arm rather than ruin him, however. I truly believe that was so.

Yet I realized that afternoon I had spent so much time in observing him that I had neglected to keep track of myself, with bitter and unexpected consequences.  It had taken all my power, once I had divined the snake, not to evacuate him bodily from the room.
Dr. Watson's limits I had drawn up some three weeks prior as a private gesture of retaliation after having spotted my own chart from two years previous in the papers on his desk.  It had not been published as yet--indeed, none of his tales had at the time--but I had seen his draftwork on a regular basis:
1. Knowledge of Literature.—Extensive. Everything from Horace to yellow-backed seafaring novels.
2. Knowledge of Astronomy.—Tolerable. Can find his way in the woods.
3. Knowledge of Politics.—Indifferent.
4. Knowledge of Botany.—Generalized. Knows something of herbs, and something of poisons. I would credit myself for the latter, but his original medical training was far from shoddy.
5. Knowledge of Geology.—Nil.
6. Knowledge of Chemistry.—Limited to medicine.
7. Knowledge of Anatomy.—Immense.
8. Knowledge of Sensational Literature and Criminology.--Improving.
9. Knowledge of Arts.--Appreciates music spiritually even though he cannot play an instrument if his life depended upon it. Can make the sort of empty remarks about painting expected of any gentleman. Is a fluent and engaging writer if also a sensationalistic one.
10. Is an excellent shot with a pistol, a decent boxer, and can run, swim, or otherwise perform physical activity with the best of them now his health has recovered, excepting some residual tenderness in his leg.
11. Is without a doubt the best man in London.
My own truly dangerous limits I could have summed up for the reader far more effectively than Watson's meandering notes, I thought that day as we walked back to the inn:
1. Is an avowed invert.
2. No longer feels capable of keeping his devotion entirely secret.
"What is it, Holmes?" The familiar voice broke in upon my reverie, warm and companionable. He does not often interrupt when I am thinking, and I love him for it. But I do not often look the way I did just then.
"This is a very serious matter," I managed to growl in return.
"So I have gathered. You have evidently seen more in those rooms than was visible to me."

"No, but I fancy that I may have deduced more." I am not a pleasant fellow when I am anxious, but I can do little to stop myself. "Your eyesight is more than functional. I imagine that you saw all that I did."
"I saw nothing remarkable save the bell-rope, and what purpose that could answer I confess is more than I can imagine," he replied patiently.
"Allow the question of spatial relations to seep into your mind. The bed, the rope, the wall. You saw the ventilator, too?"

I was talking with my hands, as I always did with Watson. My hands are the one thing about me which might even be termed alluring. When I allow them to get away from me, the results can be positively baroque.  I shoved one in my pocket furiously and gripped my cane with the other.
"Yes, but I do not think that it is such a very unusual thing to have a small opening between two rooms. As for spatial relations, what on earth can you mean? Is there a danger in the position of the bed itself?" A light entered his eyes. "And why have you said that you would be keeping watch in her room? Where shall I be positioned?"
"I am considering the matter." Not on the street. Dear God, we could not begin to broach the subject on the street.
"There is a great deal of danger this time, isn't there?" Watson said quietly.  He is far too clever at times.

"I am not certain. Perhaps I will manage to work it out when you have ceased asking me fruitless questions."
"You have already worked it out," he protested with some warmth. He lowered his voice at once, but I knew he was angry as we stormed past a carriage house and made our way into town upon the cobblestones. "You worked it out in Miss Stoner's bedroom, and you confirmed it in Roylott's."
"At last, inferences!" I exclaimed. "And a pair of them, at that! Now lead me through your steps of reasoning, if you would, Doctor. I have been longing for this moment. Pray continue."
My tone was wounding him cruelly, and I could not see my way to stopping. If I stopped, I would tell him something far worse.
"I know your habits," he said with averted eyes.
"Very disappointing, Doctor," I continued as we passed a small tobacconist's and made a turn. "Lacking in logical structure and incorporating a factual fallacy to boot. You do not know my habits."
"I had thought that I did," he ventured, but beneath the mildness there was steel this time.
"If you knew my habits, you would know what this is about," I said heartlessly, "and therefore I leave you to your studies, your lunch, and your newfound deductive reasoning. I wish you well with the lot. I am engaging us a room, and I beg that you will not be in it for at least two hours, as I must needs be free from meaningless prattle. Make it a three-course meal."
Casting that final parting shot at him, I strode into the Crown. I must have looked perfectly serene. I've a habit of looking perfectly serene. Often when I manage to appear calm, I can actually achieve it.  It is a trick I picked up from my acting days.  But I was half out of my senses by that time. When I reached the room, I curled up in a heap of pillows on the floor and sat there smoking until I could form coherent thoughts once more. As anticipated, they were all of him.

He returned at around five in the afternoon and entered the room without a word. I leaped up from my throne of cushions and grasped him by the hand. It is a necessary skill of men with regrettable tempers that they be able to make pretty apologies when called upon, even when they are in the right. I am usually in the right. But in this case, I knew precisely what the trouble was about, and it had both nothing whatever and everything in the world to do with Watson.
"My dear fellow, forgive me. I am barely tolerable at the best of times, and I pity those who see the worst. If you would prefer it, I shall engage a second room for the evening, as it must feel to you like sharing a chamber with a wild boar."
"I am not afraid of wild boars," he said warily.
"Stout fellow," I smiled. Then I recalled what I had to do, and I felt the smile drain away. "My dear chap, I must have a word with you. It is a matter of some urgency, and has to do with the case this evening."
"Well?" he said, sitting expectantly. "What are we to do?"
"Do you know, Watson," I said, drawing a very deep breath, "I have really some scruples as to taking you tonight."

"What do you mean?" he questioned me, looking suddenly fearful.

"I mean that I prefer you to return to London.  There is a distinct element of danger."
I said it as firmly as I could, and when that occurs, I sound positively imperial. It is an asset lost on those who know me well, which makes it fortunate that I can identify only two such men, one of them a sibling.  Mycroft generally laughs when I attempt the maneuver.  Watson narrowed his eyes at me thoughtfully. They had turned the colour of the designs on Mrs. Hudson's best china.
"Can I be of assistance?"
"I prefer to work alone tonight, my dear fellow.  It is the best course for all of us."

"You imagine me a liability?"  He was making every effort not to sound hurt, and failing extravagantly.
"Of course I do not.  But I do not wish you to accompany me."

"You invited me.  And I had asked whether or not I could be of assistance, not about your wishes," he pointed out.
He would accept no explanation other than the true one, and I had known it for hours.  It would take most men decades to know me, and it had taken John Watson, a near-invalid medical man with no exceptional skill at logic, a mere six months.  I could lie to him and prolong it, I thought, or tell the truth and be done. I am not a coward, but I felt like one at that moment.
"Your presence might be invaluable."
"Then I shall certainly come."
"It is very kind of you, but I am afraid you shall do nothing of the sort."
"Holmes, what on earth is this about?" he demanded. "My dear fellow, are you all right? You look as if you've taken ill."
"I am not ill," I said quickly. I picked up a leaded paperweight from the desk and tossed it from hand to hand. I set it down again. I felt very ill indeed.

I must not give the impression that I had never felt a passion for anyone before, but before the passion was always well worth the risk taken. Risk had been nothing to me once, which is the reason I had given it up.  I wanted Watson safe--safe from vipers, and safe from me. I felt so tenderly toward him that I could scarcely breathe.

"You will forgive me, my dear fellow, but the risk to your person outweighs the benefits to the operation in question. It is my case, and my client.  I appreciate your help, but it is out of the question."

"If you appreciate it, it is at your disposal."

"Simply because you are generous does not require you to be foolhardy."
"You speak of danger. If it is too dangerous for me, it is too dangerous for you," he argued, beginning to look very anxious.

"I will be fine, I promise you."

"If you cannot guarantee my safety, how the devil can you feel so assured of your own?" he cried, rising and approaching me.

The Doctor employs logic at the most inopportune times.  I would also be lying if I said that the effect he had upon me, standing there with his heart in his eyes and his arms crossed over his chest, was...significant.  "The responsibility for resolving it lies in my corner, while you would merely be throwing yourself in harm's way purposelessly."

"You imagine I think it purposeless to share the danger with you?" he inquired breathlessly. 

Watson hovers very near perfection, but confound the fellow, he has a habit of forcing points.  It has to be now, I thought, or he will do it himself and rob himself of the choice. 
"That is the other trivial matter I wished to bring up," I exhaled. You comprehensive fool, I reflected. Small wonder I had said never again to the softer emotions. Little wonder I had shut myself up like a penitent in a monastery. Watson once wrote rather unkindly that grit in a sensitive instrument would be as upsetting as a strong passion in a nature as aloof as mine. He was unwittingly quite accurate, for grit in sensitive instruments worries me exceedingly.  But this degree of consternation was altogether unprecedented.
"What matter?" he whispered. His face was open and honest and trusting and to me it looked quite fragile.
"I feel that I must warn you," I said slowly, "that my regard for your safety, and as important to me as--that is to say, more important. You mean more to--I am going without you. I must put a stop to this. But at my own risk, not yours."

I will never forget what he did for as long as I live.  He closed the gap between us and stood perfectly still.

"What is it that you want of me?"

"You can't guess?" I laughed.  It was a bitter laugh, but I pride myself it was the last of them.

"I have been making an effort to work it out," he said simply.

"As have I," I conceded.  Watson's hand grasped my arm just above the elbow.  I shook him off, but gently.  The worst was over, but I would be damned if I could not get through it myself.  "I want a number of things.  I want you to be utterly safe from the laws of this wretched, glorious country.  I want you to be happy here.  I have watched you recover and have developed an equal enthusiasm for the project, so I desire you to remain safe from physical injury.  I also want you in every other conceivable sense."  I had reached the truth, and it is the approach to truth which is painful, not the actual event, and so I looked straight into his eyes.  "I want to protect you, and to endanger you.  I am at a loss how to explain it any better, my dear fellow, and for that I apologize.  I want you to belong with me.  You do belong with me, after all.  I want you to forget every man you've ever known.  I can--"

Saying that much to Watson, dragging him into an illegal liaison in such a manner, was difficult for me, even painful, no matter that I had said it first and allowed him the power to accept or reject me.  But I was given to understand from his reaction at that moment how difficult my previous meanderings had been for Watson.  For when he kissed me by way of interruption--and I would likely have gone on far past the point of efficiency otherwise--I understood everything.  I am not slow of study.  He had loved me.  I had noticed everything about him save that.

As we walked together down the darkened path to the Manor, I mused, not for the first time, upon the disadvantages which accompany intimate relations.  Before he had kissed me, there were tools at my disposal which could prevent the Doctor from standing guard in an evil, deadly room; after he had kissed me, he simply refused to listen.  It was all very irksome.  Still more so when I thought of his hand reaching up to the back of my neck, pressing me down harder against his mouth.  I would not lose that hand for anything, and yet I was no longer the captain of the vessel.  It was a ludicrous position, and the timing of it could not have been worse.  I could only hope the waters ahead were relatively smooth.

The wind in our faces helped me somewhat in recovering my clarity of thought.  I had just worked out an appropriate speech when he spoke softly.

"Shall you tell me what we are lying in wait for?"

I swept some stray weeds out of our way with my cane and drew a deliberate breath.  "You have your revolver, I trust."

"Of course."

"You, Doctor, are going to do exactly as I tell you."

"Naturally."  There was a smile in his voice which I ignored entirely.

"That room is a death trap, and I intend to rob death of its sting.  Your pistol will be useful only if Dr. Roylott proves disagreeable, but that will occur after our vigil.  Our attention is to be fixed upon the ventilator, and I shall be the one to deal with what will emerge from it.  You will remain where you are.  You will not venture close enough to shoot it unless I signal you to do so, for there will not be enough light to draw aim.  Am I perfectly clear?"

"I am yours to command, my dear fellow."

The newly recovered clarity of thought fled once more.  I had broken away after the first two minutes of aching kisses had threatened to develop into more concrete events, as there were a number of activities I adamantly refused to enact in a public house, with an unknown and potentially vocal partner, with our names loudly printed upon the register.  I am no stranger to postponing satisfaction.  Pleasure deferred is merely pleasure enhanced, after all.  Instead, we had had a very remarkable conversation.  I cannot imagine, in fact, trading that conversation for anything in the world.  The things we had not yet done, however, left a seared mark like a brand upon my brain in a way no other half-consummated encounter ever had.

We made it to the grounds of the Manor, easily accessible through the ruined stone wall.  Creeping noiselessly along, we glided through the trees as we headed for the window of that horribly situated room.  Just when we had nearly reached our goal, a hideous creature like a leering gargoyle darted across our path, and I flung my arm out to seize Watson's wrist almost without thinking.

"My God!" he whispered.  "Did you see it?"

I had, and I laughed softly.  I pulled the Doctor close to my side and put my lips directly against his ear.  "A nice household," I murmured.  "It is the baboon."  I then dropped his hand and completed my journey to Miss Stoner's window. 

It was not a subtle revenge, but it was an elegant one. 

I felt sick at heart even entering that room, but I am not one to dwell upon tragedy where none yet exists.  My senses would have to be alert, my mind focused as sharp as the tip of an arrow, and thinking about snakes, or about Watson, would accomplish neither.  After I had situated the lamp as I wished, I drew his head near to me with the length of my body against his, and whispered very softly in his ear, in earnest this time.

"The least sound would be fatal to our plans."

He nodded, and put a hand against the small of my back.

"We must sit without light. He would see it through the ventilator."

He pressed me against him to show that he had heard.  I think if I were to put a fiscal value on how badly I wanted to be alone with the Doctor in any room on earth other than that one, it would have come to over ten thousand pounds sterling.
"Do not fall asleep; your very life may depend upon it. Have your pistol ready in case we should need it. I will sit on the side of the bed, and you in that chair."

I placed a long, thin cane upon the bed beside me, along with a box of matches and the stump of a candle. Then I turned down the lamp, and we were left in darkness.

It was absolutely wretched.  I cannot say precisely how Watson felt about it, but I do not believe he enjoyed it any more for his ignorance of our foe.  When Roylott at last lit his dark lantern, I fancied the grueling wait was over, but for half an hour more I sat in the dark, the only force between the Doctor and a venomous beast.  Finally, I heard it before I saw it, for I had been listening with all my might.  There was a low hiss, and then the scrape of downward movement against the wall.

I was up in an instant, thrashing at it like a madman.  Watson insists I struck a match first, and that I cried out whether he saw it, but I imagine that portion of the brain normally reserved for recording memory was entirely blotted out in my frenzy to kill the wretched yellow thing for good and all.  It was terrible to look at, thick and bloated yet supple in its strength, its diamond visage glaring malevolently at me as it reared its neck back to strike the thing that was beating its body. I landed a blow across its head and it thought better of attacking me, though it curved back upon itself as if it would lunge.  Just then a low whistle sounded and it slithered with a swiftness I would hardly have given it credit for back up the bell-pull.

"What was it, Holmes?" Watson asked, his face aghast.

I made no answer.  We waited in silence for a moment.  Then a scream of deepest agony assaulted our ears.

"Quick!" I shouted, and we were in Roylott's room in an instant, Watson two paces behind me with his revolver.  I dropped the stick with a clatter when I saw Roylott's head, the eyes empty and staring in horror, wreathed with a sickly yellow crown.

Watson very kindly writes that I whispered, "The band!  The speckled band!"  In truth, I muttered, "Bloody hell," lunged for the dog leash in the dead man's lap, procured the snake, which looked back at me balefully, and threw it from three yards distance into the safe, which I at last shut upon it.  I then collapsed into the nearest chair.

"Holmes!  Holmes, are you all right?" Watson demanded.  He gave me his flask, and then a look of panic marred his handsome features.  "Dear God, Holmes, you were not bitten? Please--"

"No, no, no, no." I gasped.  "Be still.  I'll be all right in a moment."  I took a sip of the brandy and the world began to resume its usual shape.

"Holmes," Watson said more gently.  He was crouched before me with his hands on my knees, his countenance pale from the gruesome ordeal, his blue eyes wide with concern. 

"Roylott is quite dead, I imagine."

"Yes, quite.  I cannot think of anyone who will mourn his loss."  Watson is far from callous, but he was very worried at the time.  "My dear fellow, you must tell me what is wrong.  I have never seen you look like this, and it is frankly terrifying me."

"I'm terribly sorry for it, but it will pass," I replied with great impatience.  "Kindly step back and give a man some air.  I do not require an audience."

Watson's face suddenly cleared and darkened all at once.  He seemed to measure his words with care.  "Holmes, have you a fear of snakes?"

"Of course not!" I snapped.  "Don't be ridiculous.  I simply cannot abide being near them."

"Ah," he replied slowly.  "I understand you.  You are not afraid of them at all. You merely harbour an intense hatred for their kind."

"Precisely so," I murmured.  "That was a swamp adder.  Roylott perished in ten seconds.  You wanted to come along, and it was a swamp adder.  Christ in Heaven, what could have happened...."  I dropped my head between my legs and lifted my hands to support it.  Mere seconds had passed before there were very warm, gentle fingers in my hair.

"I'd no idea you felt this way, but you are in the right, my dear fellow.  It was a loathsome creature."

"Don't speak of the snake.  Speak of anything but the snake."

"Of course."  He paused for a moment.  "When you are feeling more yourself, we had better alert the local constabulary."

"Yes, that is undoubtedly necessary," I breathed. 

"You are known to them, of course?"

"I very much doubt it, but Miss Stoner likely enough has had dealings with them on behalf of the late Dr. Grimesby Roylott."

"Sadly, I imagine you are right.  Shall I tell her, Holmes?  She is awaiting news, and no doubt Roylott's scream terrified her."

"No," I sighed, sitting up again.  "I am much better, thank you.  Let us go." 

"You need not hurry," he said soothingly.  He placed his palm against the side of my face.  Watson has a surgeon's hands.  They are rather exquisite, in fact.  "I can go in your stead.  I can remain here.  Whatever you like, but you needn't overtax yourself when you've just--when you've witnessed so dramatic an event as this."

I had normalized my breathing by then, and I was willing my pulse into its usual rhythm.  The Doctor had insisted on danger twice that evening, and at least one of the choices had ended in our favour.  Perhaps the other would go as well.  I looked deliberately at the ceiling and emptied my mind of all things reptilian.

I rose and offered him my arm.  "We will go together," I said.  And so we proceeded down the hall.

These are the events as they actually occurred at Stoke Moran, and while I would certainly pale at the thought of this narrative in the public view, I feel that much of what Watson left out was the more important subject matter.  I do not mean to say that he does not inject hints at our actual conversations into his stories, some of which tempt me to blush when I recall their true contexts.  Three excellent examples include:

"I am here to be used."

"What steps will you take?"

"I do not see the point."

I fear I digress.  We spirited the quietly sobbing Miss Stoner away to a relation's residence by train to Harrow, after Watson had assisted in her packing to the degree it was discreet, and I conducted a lengthy conversation with the local Inspector.  I insisted the safe remain closed during this interview.  Blessedly, I did not know the combination, and the fact I can crack a safe in a matter of seconds was not information I volunteered to the Inspector.  At last, at close upon ten the next morning, we boarded a train for London and locked ourselves into a private compartment.  I settled myself in the corner and soon was treated to the unprecedented sensation of Dr. Watson's head resting on my shoulder.  I am five inches taller than he, and it fits perfectly.  It could not have fit more perfectly if both statures had been designed so.  Perhaps they have.


"What is the matter?" I asked.

"Why didn't you approach me before?" he asked softly.  "I had thought I was going mad at times.  The way you looked at me from the beginning, and you never said a word.  Two years I was waiting.  Surely you knew I...?"

"Well, yes, my dear fellow.  I knew that much."

"It isn't obvious, is it?" he started.

"Of course it isn't.  You are speaking to a highly trained professional.  In both arenas.  But certainly, my boy, I knew all along.  You were every bit as convinced of my own depravity, I've no doubt.  It was ill-concealed, after all."

A word on that subject, as I draw to a close.  I am not a publicly demonstrative fellow by nature; and in my case, to be so would be tantamount to breaking the windows of office buildings every time I stroll down the street, or openly beating hapless strangers.  It is not impossible to tell, however, in the privacy of my own home, that I harbour certain affinities, even if I am proud and abrasive.  If I spent every day lost in meditation, or awash in cocaine-induced melancholy, or making ironic remarks about my flat-mate, he would doubtless be a very unhappy soul.  I do all three of these things on occasion, but even throughout them I am absolutely devoted to him.  Watson saw the value of crafting a personality very like my own, distant and supercilious, and publicizing it--he has even been asked by old army acquaintances how he has tolerated me so long.  His portrait of me, for our benefit, is the one point of true artistry in his writing.  I wish to state for the record that it is an unparalleled achievement. 

"Then why?" he inquired again, although he sounded already half asleep.  "You didn't want me?"

This was laughable, and my chest moved involuntarily, but I managed to divert it into a slight cough.  "I thought I could look without reaching," I corrected him.  "Desire is a wonderful sentiment, but I am well accustomed to taming it.  I suppose I could have looked without reaching, but then I began studying.  I could not study without admiring, and soon enough I could not admire without adoring, and that is a different thing from a casual affair.  Affairs are simple, and often enough anonymous.  This could ruin us both." 

"I know I am very tired, but I fear I do not follow you."

"Love is dangerous," I told him.  "You are very dangerous, John Watson."  He is still dangerous, of course.  If someone were ever to use him to get to me--but I cannot think of that.  It isn't worth the nightmares.

"That is absurd," he whispered, his voice leaden with sleep.  It is a baritone, with a rich, soothing timbre.  It is a voice other doctors would pay for if they could, as it would earn them an extra hundred quid a year.  "I would never hurt you."

"No, I don't think you would.  I don't imagine you are capable of such."

"Then why did you not--"

"You don't know why I left University," I sighed.  "No, it wasn't that," I assured him when his eyes raised up to mine in alarm.  "I was never found out.  I am thought far too cold-blooded for such activities.  I am also rather clever, you may have noticed.  But he--he was found out," I finished very quietly.  I realized I had never spoken of it before.  Whom could I have told?  "I left soon after, without having completed my studies entirely.  It mattered but little, for there is no independent consulting detective course at Oxford."

"What happened?" he asked, taking my hand.  He was already appalled on my behalf, I mused, and he only knew the half of it.

"Must I?"

"No, of course not.  But I am grieved you went through it nevertheless."

He deserved to know, I reflected.  "He was discovered on the grounds, and I suppose I ought to thank my stars every morning, noon and night he wasn't found with me.  That said, I am afraid it did not strike me so at the time.  It struck me very differently, in fact.  It was the most agonizing stroke of good fortune I've ever had.  He was sent to South America where he later died.  I sent myself to London, where I live as you have seen."

"My dear Holmes," he said to me.  Watson says my name when he desires to be comforting.  He does this without thinking, like a mantra, as if saying my name will improve my mood, or condition, or situation, which of course it does not.  It does not even make me feel any better, but it is another reason I love him.

"It's all right, my boy--it was simply a profound blow to my pride.  We were never close enough for it to strike any deeper, but I confess news of his death struck me as an overly harsh punishment for the crime committed."

"I could not agree more," he stated.

"I do not reflect upon it overmuch, but it sobered me, I will confess.  Sobered and humiliated," I added in an effort to lighten the mood.

"I cannot imagine a man who could have you would ever waste his time with lesser creatures."

"My blushes, Watson, but don't be absurd."

"I was not.  You are breathtaking."

I am not breathtaking.  I look like a Dickensian undertaker, though to be just I am not hideous either.  I am tall, and gaunt, and raven-haired, and pallid, with eyes the colour of tin.  I have already pointed out, however, that the Doctor's perceptions are deeply tinged with romanticism.

"Very well, then--if I am breathtaking, I will be spared the experience of sharing you with an Irish-born rugby player with a deep affinity for Keats.  He was expelled as well, of course."

I was jesting, but for once Watson did not laugh.  "It must have been horrible.  If that is the reason you did not at first desire this, I swear to you I would never--"

"Cease speaking," I advised him.  "I imagined nothing of the kind.  But we live together.  I could inadvertently do you harm, and that would be far worse."

"Is that truly what worried you?" he said fondly. 

"Of course it was.  We must keep upon our guards at all times.  I've no desire to risk your freedom."

"You think too much." He slipped his fingers between my longer ones.

"Do I indeed?"  I was slightly nettled by this remark.  "I do not call it over-thinking when I spend a number of months considering making a vast change in both our lives.  A change that may well cause us both great harm, at that.  I also would argue, Doctor, that the instant I realized my position clearly, I took steps to make it equally lucid to you.  In any event, if I am not allowed to think more than most men, my only perceivable asset goes flying out the window.  Thinking is my sole day-to-day skill, for the opportunities to engage combatants in single-stick are few and far between, and I have largely given up boxing.  I can play the violin, for what it is worth to you.  Surely you are not labouring under the delusion that I am handsome, or amusing, or wealthy for that matter?  I require a second income to pay for my digs, you recall.  If you are not drawn to my brain, I fear I have nothing left to offer."

"You battled a swamp adder for me," he murmured.  "No one has ever done such a thing in my life.  I am in your hands.  I am yours entirely."

I sought a reply to this remarkable statement for several minutes, but by the time I had formulated a coherent response, he was fast asleep.  Logic had clearly abandoned the Doctor in the newness of our intimacy.  (To be fair, as I have sworn to be, he is still rather less than logical where I am concerned--at times he is stark mad--but as it is nearly always in my favour, I have given up attempting to show him reason.)  Of course I had battled a snake for him.  It would have been monstrous cowardice to allow him anywhere near the thing.  I made up my mind not to press my advantage too far where the Doctor was concerned, when I could help it.  He had clearly been cursed with inferior partners in the past, and was now impressed by the merest trifles.  Or perhaps it was simply another facet of his generosity to be so moved by nothing. 

I sat marking his breathing, and thinking of home.  It seemed more like a home than it ever had on that journey, as the mile posts flew past us.  I still have not worked out why Watson should have been so moved by a course which would have been obvious to any gentleman, but if an inspiration strikes me, I will lose no time in adding it to this narrative for posterity.  In the meantime, I shall chalk it up to his being the best man in London.  For so he still remains, and I can see no end of it in sight.