once left both Baker Street and Sherlock Holmes because of an illicit
affair he was conducting with a fellow called Hastings. I
bring myself to wish that no such ghastly occurrence had ever taken
place, but I have come to believe it is through just such crises that
our loved ones' true characters are revealed, and that if I had not
stormed out that day I would not now posses a fraction of the blessings
to which I am privy. Indeed, I was myself to blame for the
share of the trouble, and as a great contributor to the event, I cannot
be ungrateful for the lesson it taught me. If such an outlook
overly optimistic, or even simplistic, in the light of day, I fear it
is not in my nature to dwell upon the past's small tragedies except to
see in what ways they have aided me since; and thus, in an attitude of
instruction I am taking it upon myself to record the events as they
unfolded. In any event, the story was so exceedingly dramatic
bears a second look on the merit of adventure alone.
of the matter were so convoluted in their presentation to me that it is
difficult to know where the wretched business truly
suppose it began when I arrived home to our flat at Baker Street one
frigid winter's day a few weeks before Christmas to discover Holmes
perusing a letter. The scene was perfectly domestic, even
dull if any
room could be called dull which housed Sherlock Holmes, but his
expression as I entered was most peculiar. He was reading
with a look
of wonderment mixed with a large degree of affection (which was hardly
typical of the man) and that even contained, if I admitted it to
myself, a trace of fear. It was the oddest sight I had ever
subjected to on reaching our flat, and my mouth dropped open in shock
when I realized that he, the man whose senses rivaled those of the most
agile predator, had not even heard me come in.
"Afternoon, Holmes," I said to him. I set the bags I was
carrying on the floor.
dropped the letter in surprise and then quickly picked it up again,
folding the writing over upon itself and stuffing it in the inside
pocket of his coat.
"Watson. How are you?" he said shortly.
am well." He still was not looking at me. Instead,
his grey eyes now
wandered freely and pensively over the carpet. I approached
placed a hand on his shoulder. I was beginning to fear
could not even say what. It was an eerie sensation, as if I
into a private sanctuary or eavesdropped on a sordid
"Are you quite all right, my dear fellow?"
"Me? I am fine," he
smiled. Rising, he kissed me briefly on the mouth, and then
toward the fire and began to resurrect the dying blaze.
glad to hear it." I fought the impulse to touch my lip with
fingertips. The kiss had been more than welcome, but I had
expected it. Sherlock Holmes was not a fellow who thought
bestowing physical affections; or rather, and I had not yet worked out
which, such expressions were so trivial to him that it did not occur to
him to distribute them more frequently. "May I ask what you
when I arrived?"
"I was reading," he said, and raised his brows as if asking why I
should make such an obvious query.
know. You appeared preoccupied." I do not now know
why I was pressing
the matter. It was unprecedented on my part--as
perhaps, as his expression had been.
"Did I?" he asked more impatiently. "What do I look like when
I am, as you term it, preoccupied?"
"Your brows grow rather unruly, and you set your mouth as if in the
face of a cold wind."
very vivid, if unnecessarily poetic, account," he said dryly.
me know when you have thought up more such stirring literary epigrams
to describe my features when I am distracted."
"I did not mean
anything by it, my dear fellow," I said hastily. I regarded
even more curiosity than previously. Sherlock Holmes had an
temper, and my own relationship with the man was--at the time, in the
winter of the year 1884--an object so bizarre it could have easily
qualified as an exhibit in the London Zoo, but I did not usually need
to tread lightly where he was concerned. We knew one another
"If you did not mean anything by it, why are you asking?
In any event, I was reading a letter written by a new client of
We are to investigate the fellow who is making her life a
know but little of the blackguard thus far, but enough to assure you
that it is an endeavor worthy of our attention. She is not
poor soul to fall victim to his designs."
"Oh, I see," I replied.
"No, you don't," he sighed. "But I shall make it clear to you
soon enough. Now. What have you been about these
was accustomed to my friend's high-handedness, and even to his
dismissive affectations, but they did not put me in a communicative
humour. In any event, the subject had been altered
with no very great skill. I seated myself in the basket chair
rubbed at my shoulder, which ached naggingly in cold weather.
followed my professional hours with a few errands around town," I said
"You've stopped by Covent Garden."
"How on earth did you know that?"
can smell the contents of your parcels, and at least one of them is
brimful with pine," he returned amusedly. He seemed to have
himself back from the edge, for which I was grateful, for once Holmes
has fallen into a black humour, it is devilishly difficult to haul him
"You are a man of keen discernment."
cannot afford to ignore any one of the senses, even if it may seem a
peripheral one. Our very lives have depended upon that maxim,
more than one occasion. An alert sense of smell is essential
"I give in. I have purchased pine."
"I know you have. Now, what shall you do with it?"
shall distribute it about the room, my good man," I smiled at
"Unless, of course, you prefer to burn it, or build a table, or perform
mystic rites with it, or put it to some even less orthodox purpose."
I am quite content with orthodoxy as regards seasonal decor," he smiled
in return. He strode to the bag and began tearing off strings which
bound various limbs of foliage into bundles. Whistling to
selected two boughs of nearly the same weight and tucked them behind
glass frames on either side of the mantel. Then he proceeded to find
similar homes for other sprays of needles.
"I can do it
myself if you'd rather not," I pointed out, though I felt at that
moment far too contented to leave the chair. A cloud of
seemed to have settled over me. Holmes had done an excellent
re-kindling the fire, and his mysterious letter was quickly fading from
my mind as I watched his slim, muscled form wander the room with scraps
"Do I look as if I'd rather not," he asked wryly, "or do you delude
yourself you could produce a more artistic effect?"
was nothing for it; the gauntlet had been thrown. "I realize
more justification for the sin of pride than any man living, but do try
not to fly too close to the sun," I retorted teasingly.
opened the second bag and drew out a branch. "I am a very
"As a matter of fact, you are only a doctor of
medicine. I have art in the blood," he shrugged as he wound a
into a wall fixture. The incorrigible fellow was right, of
Within five minutes, the room had already taken on the atmosphere of a
winter's woodland glade.
For twenty minutes or more, we circled
the room, fighting over materials and insulting one another's efforts
good-naturedly. I could hear the ringing of many bells
frosted glass of our window, and the muffled clatter of hooves over mud
and sleet. The quips flew nearly as thick and fast as the
snow had the
"That pine branch is altogether too near the painting."
"You have degraded a holiday wreath into a circular stick."
"Were you raised in a barn, or do you merely prefer such agrarian
"Oh, very well, my dear fellow, hang a piece of dead wood over a gas
lamp. I thought you'd adventure enough in your life."
half an hour had passed, the room was a thing of beauty
were nearly through our stock of supplies when I extracted a little
spray of leaves and approached Holmes with it, looking up pointedly at
"You are far taller than I, and much better qualified to hang this."
the devil should I hang it?" he inquired innocently. "It
ought to go
just there, and fill in the gap between the books on the third
Put it next to the Almanac."
"But you never stand below the Almanac, or the third shelf," I
protested, moving even closer to him.
that is obvious, my dear fellow. I tower above it, in
fact. Here," he
directed, twirling the stem in his elegant fingers before returning it
to me, "if you've no love lost on the bookshelf, put it in that vase on
"But that will still not accomplish anything."
"Put it above my chemical table."
"You are missing the point," I said fondly, putting my arms around his
you are missing the point," he argued, his arms twining around my
waist. "That isn't mistletoe--it is common English holly, and
to know what you think you'll gain by it."
"Of course it's mistletoe," I protested. "Holmes, the two
look nothing alike. Don't you think I can tell--"
did not get any further, for he kissed me. It was warm, and
breathtaking, and when he stopped, it took me a moment to realize my
eyes ought to be open.
"--what mistletoe looks like?" I finished breathlessly.
squinted at it as he returned to the business of trimming an unruly
branch. "Right you are. My mistake, my
boy. Hang it above my door
frame and see if anyone thinks it amiss."
As I laughed happily,
I reflected he was perfectly right to remind me of the necessity of
caution. I busied myself with the finishing touches on our
never looking up until I had completed the task, for I knew my feelings
were at that moment loudly represented on my countenance.
Holmes and I
had been indulging ourselves in the release of what I can only call
unnatural urges for over a year at that time, and we'd been friends for
years longer; but that day he had kissed me twice, in the middle of the
sitting room, as if it were nothing--not in the context of a seduction,
before languidly ordering me out of my clothing, or even after the act,
sweat-soaked and heavy-lidded, a token reward--but simply to kiss
As if my presence were reason enough.
I could not have felt more
satisfied with my afternoon or with my eccentric friend under any
circumstances. I was just turning to the fire to burn the
way of discretion when I saw a flutter of chalky ash drift up toward
the flue. It was what remained of Holmes' letter. I
knew it at once.
His back was turned toward me when my eyes flew to him, and I swallowed
hard. Whatever it was, he had not even wanted me in the same
it. He preferred it to be burned. I added the
mistletoe to the scrap
of cream paper noiselessly, and ran a weary hand over my eyes.
was not afforded any fresh clue to the matter until three or four days
later, just after Holmes and I had returned from one of our walks about
town. It was a perpetual delight for me to wander the city
friend, his arm linked with mine in an easy, companionable manner, and
I was in such a pleasant mood when we arrived home that I did not
immediately connect the letter lying on our table with the incident a
few days previous. I merely glanced at it casually, and was
in the act
up picking up the calling card resting upon it when Holmes pounced on
both objects and removed them from my grasp.
"Holmes, what are earth are you doing?" I asked irritably.
"Who has called while we were out?"
slid the letter inside his jacket without reading it and read the card
with an expression of great disgust, throwing it to the floor when he
had finished. I picked it up again.
"Who is Charles Augustus Milverton?" I asked.
worst man in London." My friend lit his pipe and then began
about the room distractedly. "Is anything on the back of the
"He is to call at six thirty," I replied. "What is the
He glanced at me quickly. "It is a facsimile of one of the
missives with which he intends to blackmail our client."
He is a blackmailer? Small wonder you hold him in such
nodded. "I cannot myself think of any lower
vocation. And who is our
"Lady Eva Blackwell." He fell into his chair, his eyes
unfocused and his expression pensive. "She is to be married
Earl of Dovercourt. This fiend has several imprudent
letters--imprudent, Watson, nothing more--but they would suffice to
break off the match. He is nearly due, and I am to make her
terms that I can." He looked up at me. "Are you
was not a question which I had ever before been asked, and I was at a
loss how to respond. In the past, Holmes had demanded my
even when clients questioned trusting their delicate information to
another party. I could not tell if he desired my enthusiastic
or my discreet exit; in fact, I could hardly fathom the query at
I only knew I did not like it.
"It is up to you, of course, Holmes," I said. "Can I be of
"Yes, perhaps. I cannot say whether--" He cut
himself off at the sound of the downstairs bell.
had only a moment to wonder why Holmes should have hidden the copy of
Lady Eva's letter from me, for almost immediately we heard someone
ascending the stairs. When the door opened, it revealed a
man with a large, benevolent bald head and sparkling eyes behind little
gold-rimmed glasses. He approached Holmes with his hand
which my friend stonily ignored.
Milverton laughed and removed his coat. "This gentleman," he
said in reference to me, "is it discreet? It is right?"
Holmes hesitated, but replied firmly, "Dr. Watson is my friend and
stared at Holmes, for while his response had been entirely in
character, his brief pause had not. Milverton, his eyes
upon my friend, paid me not the slightest attention.
"Very good, Mr. Holmes. It is only in your--"
"Lady Eva's situation is already known to the Doctor," Holmes
Eva's?" Milverton asked with a malicious smile. "Ah, of
Lady Eva Blackwell, on whose behalf you are engaged. I only
be certain. I was going to say it was for your sake I
Holmes. The matter is so very delicate, after all."
Watson has already heard
it," Holmes insisted.
was a form of communication taking place between the two men which did
not match their speech. Though they were yet early days for
us, I had
already been partner to Sherlock Holmes for far too long not to notice
when he was deeply distressed. I knew that bandying prices
scoundrel must have been terribly degrading for him, but I was
convinced before any more words were spoken that something was being
purposefully hidden from me. I watched the two of them argue
tones as a strange discomfort seeped into my breast. That
was replaced by fear when an appalling new thought struck me, regarding
both the hidden letter and the client, and I struggled to concentrate
upon what the two men were actually saying.
"Then we can proceed to business. You say that you are acting for Lady
"Yes," my friend replied coldly.
"Has she empowered you to accept my terms?"
"I have eight or ten
similar cases maturing," Milverton purred. "You may, in fact,
of one or two of them. Possibly the details are known to
you. In any
event, I assure you that Lady Eva--or any other client who should fall
under your care, for that matter--would do well to seek every
opportunity to settle the matter quietly, for exposure indirectly is of
the greatest use to me."
Holmes was grey with anger and mortification. "It is
impossible," he said.
surely you see if it was circulated that I made a severe example of
Lady Eva--for example, though there are other possibilities for such a
purpose--then I should find my new contacts much more open to reason."
"Get behind him, Watson!" my friend cried. "Don't let him
out! Now, sir, let us see the contents of that notebook."
sprang into action at once, barring the door with a chair in easy
reach. Holmes had long known me ready to do whatever was
me, for I trusted his judgment wholeheartedly, and in any event
whatever dark evidence Milverton appeared to possess I knew could be no
trivial matter. It was written all over my dearest friend's
Mr. Holmes," Milverton smiled, having darted to the wall and opened his
coat to expose a large revolver. "What an amateurish
effort. I have
been expecting you to do something original, but this...you appear to
be deeply unsettled. My apologies for any undue distress I
caused you. And now, with your permission, I shall take my
you. I have one or two little interviews this evening, and it
long drive to Hampstead." He exited, shutting the door behind
could hear his little feet descending the stairs and resisted an urge
to fly after him and make my opinion of him known in a more physical
My friend clenched and unclenched his fists several
times and then finally leaned with both hands against our
I approached him apprehensively and put my own hand upon his shoulder.
"Holmes," I said, "you must tell me one thing."
made no reply, but neither did he move away from me. "My dear
you are clearly deeply moved by this affair." I hesitated yet
for I little knew how to pose such an unthinkable question.
begun to fear that.... Milverton has not--he has not found out anything
"About what, for Heaven's sake, Watson?" He turned around and
rested his long forearms lightly on my shoulders.
Raising his dark brows, he replied gently, "Whatever gave you
are upset. You are far more upset than I can recall seeing
you in the
presence of an antagonist. I have made every effort to be as
and as circumspect as is humanly possible in regards to our...."
"Our what?" he prompted, his expression one of honest curiosity.
activities," I swallowed. That Holmes was a great deal more
mere activity to me I thought manifestly obvious, but there was such an
authority about him, an air of command coupled with a blinding
intellect, that the thought of saying more shook me to the center of my
being. "As I say, I cannot imagine any way in which he could
discovered us, but if something of the kind has happened, I believe I
deserve to know of it."
"Of course you would," he said
distantly. He stopped touching me and reached for his
pipe. "If our
activities, as you so aptly term them, had been exposed, I would
certainly tell you. It would be most ignoble of me to do
You will be delighted to learn they have not."
"Then what is the
matter?" I asked him. His even reply had done nothing
whatever to calm
me. "And why have you hidden the letters?"
He glared at me.
"They are from our client. They are compromising.
Are you truly so
prurient that you would wish to see them?"
"I am not prurient,"
I insisted. "You know that I am not. There is more
to this affair
than you have made clear, for why else would you take the trouble to
hide from me what I would not usually concern myself with?
Can you not
see that if you are in trouble, then I am in trouble as well?
distresses you vexes me equally, particularly where a professional
blackmailer is concerned. My dear fellow, you must show them
am not at all certain what you are driving at, or what fanciful notion
has flitted into that head of yours, but the letters were entrusted to
me and you are not laying a single finger on them," he said in a very
frigid tone. "Do not ask me again. That is
according to the express
wishes of our client."
I think I must have looked as if I had
been struck. That Holmes was amused by me I knew and that he
attracted to me seemed clear; and hitherto, it had been equally
apparent that he implicitly trusted me. He trusted me with
and what is more, he required others--perfect strangers in the throes
of pitiable distress--to trust me as he did. He demanded
maids trust me, and prime ministers, and crown princes. At
trust felt nearly as good as love would have. That trust was
closest thing to intimacy I had of him, closer even than his body, on
the occasions I was granted it, and the feeling of it being withdrawn
was unspeakably painful.
"I understand," I said numbly. "I am
sorry to have pressed you. Do you require anything further of
have my services been rendered for the afternoon?"
please," he sighed, catching my hand as I turned to go.
"Don't take on
so. I haven't any choice in the matter. And I am
far more repulsed by
this Milverton rascal than any of the fifty murderers I've had to do
with in my career. I realize my reactions may appear extreme,
swear to you neither my life, nor yours by proxy has been compromised."
looked into his eyes, but could see nothing there except grey
Holmes is an exceptional actor. That he could lie to me I
"I have never lied to you," he growled, dropping my hand as if it had
"I didn't say anything," I protested, startled.
"No. You thought it without saying it, which is
stalked away from me, making for his bedroom. I could think
to say, for the fact he was hiding something significant was so
monstrously obvious I could not bring myself to apologize to him, even
if I had done him a wrong.
When he emerged, he was no longer
Sherlock Holmes, but a rakish young workman with a goatee and a
swagger. I stood precisely where he had left me, deep in
stopped to look at me intently, but when I still said nothing, he lit
his clay pipe at the lamp and strode to the door.
"I'll be back some time, Watson," he said. Then he vanished
into the night.
the course of the following week, stormy and snow-flecked as a child's
toy globe, I saw very little of my friend and soon came to regret the
line I had taken in interrogating him. As for Holmes, he had
such a slight at my implied mistrust that his long absences seemed to
me, left at Baker Street to brood, to be deliberate and personal,
rather than, as I knew them to be, professional and directed wholly at
Milverton. I asked him with genuine concern where he had been
evening, and after replying, "Hampstead," he took himself off to his
bedroom. The next night, when I proffered the same conciliatory
interest, he assured me his time had not been wasted and would not
speak another word for the two hours I dared to remain in the sitting
room before retiring in despair. From this lack of
could only conclude that my friend was either still in such a rage he
would not consider speaking to me on any subject, or that his case was
going badly and he had no desire to commiserate with me.
scenario was depressing, and soon enough my own mood had dropped as far
below sea level as my friend's, despite my earnest attempts to remain
in good spirits.
The wind was blowing at gale strength against
our windows and the shutters protesting loudly against the driving
sleet three nights before Christmas when Holmes arrived home in his
labourer's attire, gently tugged his goatee away from his chin with the
aid of a little jar of cream resting on the mantelpiece, removed his
soaked overcoat, and sat down before the fire laughing silently to
himself as he rubbed his face with a clean handkerchief from his pocket.
was reading a book in my armchair when he arrived. I did not
where he had been. After the same question has been rebuffed
of three times, one grows less willing to pose it. But I did
eyebrows at his mirth.
"How are you, my dear fellow?" he asked at length, after his laugher
had subsided slightly.
"Fit as a fiddle," I replied dryly. "May I inquire after your
own state of affairs?"
"Of course. I have been hard at work, but we have made some
"Have we?" I asked, merely to repeat the pronoun.
we have," he insisted merrily. He tugged at an ancient
kerchief he had
tied round his neck, and placed it on the table. In his heavy
boots, woolen trousers, and rough cotton shirt buttoned only so far as
was absolutely necessary, he was unconsciously devilishly
The rough waistcoat he had not bothered to button at all. His
which was usually brushed back meticulously, had fallen in damp,
tousled waves, which smelled all the more strongly of pipe tobacco and
that faint, languid scent which was all his own for being
wet. I could
see the hollow where his neck met his breastbone, and the mole which
perched just below his collar. When I realized I was staring
at it, I
"Well, what have we been accomplishing?" I inquired.
me a moment to change out of this disreputable attire, and you will
command my full attention," he said, winking at me
apologies for keeping you waiting--I would not take the time, but my
trouser legs are soaked through. If you will excuse
disappeared into his bedroom, the door of which, I immediately noted,
he did not shut entirely. When he reappeared, he was his
dressed self, although he had not taken the time to run a comb through
his hair. He ran a palm over his head in an effort to subdue it on his
way to the sideboard.
"Have a whiskey," he said affably, pouring one for each of
us. "I've missed you."
"You have?" I replied in shock.
"Certainly. Hard work is tedious when enacted solo.
I much prefer to investigate with a partner."
felt myself blushing, though there was little enough I could do to stop
it. "Then why have you imposed solitude upon yourself in this
He laughed again and approached me with the tumbler,
which I gratefully took. "You would have been unbearably in
My recent investigations could not have been effected in
tandem. I was
obliged, for the sake of the case, to act alone."
"Really?" I asked with interest. "And what have you been
his own glass to his lips lazily, he reached out and brushed an
imaginary speck of dust from my shoulder and then proceeded, quite
unnecessarily, to straighten my cravat. "You would not call
marrying man, Watson?"
"Ah...no." I watched his hand as it left my cravat and
commenced running lightly down my chest. "No, indeed."
"You will be interested to hear that I am engaged."
could not prevent a shout of laughter from escaping me. "You
engaged?" He had slipped his hand under my waistcoat in the
was now gently brushing my spine through my shirt with the tip of his
"Yes, I am."
"Well, if you are engaged, I must congratulate you," I said with a
disbelieving smile. "Tell me, to whom are you engaged?"
"To Milverton's housemaid."
he had been looking at my features and not at the curve of my shoulder
at that moment, he would have seen the expression of utter dismay which
at once swept over my face. I have since that time grown even
accustomed to Holmes' outrageous acts when in pursuit of a
villain--including self-poisoning, living in a cave, and even feigning
infection by tropical disease--but on that night of all nights his
disregard seemed intolerable. I had never believed Holmes a
sentimental man, but this was entirely beyond my capacity for
endurance. I knew immediately that he was telling me the
he had left me after a painful argument to seduce a young girl under
false pretenses, using the considerable assets at his disposal until he
had procured what he wanted, whatever it was that he wanted.
wondered, dazed, what he had been after, and then realized that the
fact that I did not even know what he desired of her was worst of all.
"What in God's name do you think you are doing?" I demanded.
He looked at me, startled. "Watson--"
you mean to tell me that for the past several days, every time I
inquired after your activities, you were fresh back from Hampstead and
your newly fledged affaire de coeur?"
He took a step
back in confusion at my vehemence. "I would not put it
so. In fact,
to put it so is rather farcical, as I told you exactly what I was doing
in Hampstead. I was working on the case."
"You told me nothing
of Hampstead," I snarled. "You said the word Hampstead,
time was well-spent, and then you told me precisely nothing.
nothing of relevance, such as the fact that you have foolishly exposed
yourself to blackmail, or a horsewhipping by her father or brother, or
a stint in Reading for breach of contract. I suppose in light
severity of the other consequences, we must hope for the thrashing."
am more appreciative of your concern for my person than I can say, my
dear boy, but none of those events are remotely possible," he pointed
out coolly. "As a matter of fact, they are each of them
"It was unspeakably dangerous." I was shaking with anger, but
I strove to control it.
"I beg to differ. It may have been a trifle risky, but it was
the girl, Holmes!" I cried out in a rage. It was not the
cause of my
anguish, but it was a valid point. "You have taken advantage
young woman's affectionate nature for purely mercenary
reasons. It is
He was beginning to lose his temper, which was
not an event which boded well for either of us. "If I am
cruel, I beg
you to inform me of the other, spectacular qualities which compel you
to remain in my company. I would not tolerate associating
with men of
cruel characters myself, and thus marvel at your ability to overlook
such a significant flaw."
"You are not cruel," I conceded grudgingly. "You are
"I, unfeeling!" he snapped in return. "Very well, just as you
like. I would not presume to contradict you."
what you will! I am cold, I am tantamount to mechanical, but
the client! She'll be ruined, Watson, her life torn to
shreds, and in
an effort to prevent this occurrence I have courted a woman whose
advances are of the most selfish variety."
"An empty justification--"
is nothing of the sort!" he cried. "I know little enough of
I grant you, but I am not so callow that I cannot tell when one person
is using another person as a bargaining ploy. I would never
it otherwise. She only ever looks at me when her other suitor
within sneering distance, and I've twice overheard her remark to him
what a difference it would make if he, like me, had the gumption to
start his own business. Imagine it! I am pursuing a
female whose sole
thought of me is to gain fiscal leverage over her beau! I had
an ounce of--"
"Of what?" I demanded. "Of sympathy? When,
without a word to me, you have commenced 'pursuing' a girl of
questionable designs? For God's sake, man, you are engaged to
Which of your many talents have you employed to get so far, Holmes?"
"Any of them which were necessary at the time," he replied with a dash
of additional venom.
expected no less from a man so dedicated to his craft. Tell
is her name, this female who is using you as an example of ideal
manhood? Which, by the way, is a perfectly reasonable role
for you to
play," I added bitterly.
His entire face altered at this. "Her
name is Liz," he replied. His eyes took on a far kinder
"Watson, I do beg your pardon for posing the question, but--please
assure me, you cannot be jealous of the creature?"
the furthest thing from my mind," I asserted coldly, "although I should
certainly have appreciated being made aware of your
intentions. As, no
doubt, would she."
"Watson," he said gravely. He moved back to
me so that we were nearly touching and looked me full in the
"You needn't ever be jealous of anyone. Do you understand
human being in this world. Not where I am concerned."
I drew a
deep breath and made a supreme effort to calm myself. He
speak in earnest. He had never said as much, and my distress
appear to have an effect on him.
"I am not jealous," I repeated.
face changed at once to a neutral interest in my response; and may I
state for the record, I wish I had not said so. It seems a
lie when I
look at the denial, but I believed it to be true. What I
him was too deep to express, and simply because Milverton's parlor maid
did not claim his heart did not make my situation any more
It existed outside of her--it lay in the fact that it had not even
occurred to him to tell me, that he kept letters hidden in his inner
pockets, that I wished to tell him everything that had ever happened in
my life just to watch his expressions as I said it, and that he did not
even love me. It was as simple as that.
Holmes took a swallow
of spirits, walked past me, and rested his weight against his desk,
regarding me with a gently amused expression. "My dear
have never met my fiancée, but if you ever are subjected to
experience, you will concede that she is not worth our
breath. To say
nothing of my feelings, which are of course negligible, yours are far
too valuable to be touched by the likes of her. It is my
course. I ought to have told you. I ought to have
told you, and in
addition I have been very, very preoccupied with the case of late,
which has exacerbated the problem."
It was as close to an
apology as I was going to get, and far more than I had
expected. I do
not ask the impossible, only the improbable. "Then let us not
"Indeed, no," he smiled. "Let us do something else."
I had intended to return weary and dispirited to my book and my
armchair, but his tone rooted me to the floor.
"What have you in mind?" I asked slowly.
"Let us play a game," he suggested.
game he had in mind I dared not ask, but I knew at once that it would
be of his own devising and reflected for a moment upon my friend's
aptitude for invention. I desired simply to say no, and was
of doing so for a number of reasons. But however many reasons
for being compelled to obey Sherlock Holmes, a single factor would have
more than sufficed and that factor was his voice. His voice,
entreating, was positively mesmerizing--I say so by virtue of long
experience, for I have had the opportunity to observe its effects at
close quarters and upon many subjects. It could hold a person
bird in the thrall of a voracious cat, and no one succumbed more
quickly or completely to it than I did. The fact that this
embarrassing did not make it any less true.
"Holmes, I am hardly in the mood for games," I sighed. "This
evening has already proven a great strain."
I think you will enjoy this game immensely. I would even go
so far as
to suggest that it will alter your mood for the better."
the full force of his eyes upon me, and I had not been with him in any
degree of intimacy for the week that he had been brooding over
Milverton and doing God knows what with his maid. In short, I
"Please?" he said with charming self-deprecation.
"You appear to be under some strain, and I have been having a
despicable time of it with Liz, after all, if you will forgive my
mentioning her. It will do us both good, I assure you, my
wondered briefly how far a woman of her designs would go to procure an
engagement from a rising tradesman. The thought of her hands
made me want to tear his shirt from his back and have my way with
This was a goal which would never be realized, I knew. The
irrelevant. No matter the content of the indecency, I knew
the conductor of the orchestra. No man has ever had his way
Sherlock Holmes. I made one final effort to escape his
"I cannot imagine any game you could propose that will improve my mood."
twisted his lithe torso and reached behind him for a lead pencil which
lay on his desk. Then he pulled his left sleeve up a few
rested his right hand over his cuff to take notes.
you to answer a series of questions, without your attempting to elicit
further information from me, and I shall record your responses."
"Trust me," he purred. "Now, then. Your bedroom, or
Damn the man, I reflected, for his ingenuity, and damn him for using
ploys guaranteed to pin me like a butterfly to a card.
cleared my throat, for it seemed to have constricted
I answered. We had never used mine, and the notion of doing
intimate and somehow deeply heartwarming. He may even fall
there, I thought, as I had never once dared to do in his
was not an opportunity to be thrown away.
He recorded my reply on his cuff. "Light, or no light?"
"Light," I said. I never missed a chance to see him in the
"You, or me?"
"In regards to--"
"Watson," he said with a patience that was somehow overwhelmingly
alluring, "it is a game. I cannot tell you."
"I have to choose you, or me, without knowing what I am deciding to
do?" I clarified.
"That is the general idea."
"But I can assume that the endeavor, whatever it is, is likely to be
sordid in the extreme, and perpetrated upon the other."
"You have grasped it exactly."
"Very well, then." I fear that the effects the game was
having on me were already profound. "You."
"Oh, capital," he smiled, writing it down. "You won't regret
that, I promise you. Bound, or blindfolded?"
It was becoming very difficult to appear nonchalant. "To
which of us are you referring?"
really." His exasperation was entirely feigned. In
fact, he was
looking at me with undisguised affection. "How many times do
I have to
explain the sole rule of this game? Ask me again and I shall
invent undisclosed consequences."
"I beg your pardon," I said stoutly. "Bound."
"Interesting. Fast or slow?"
did not know what on earth he meant by this, only that it could not
have been the obvious. Holmes was never obvious.
trusted my instincts and replied, "Slow."
"Delighted to hear it. Candle or wall?"
"I beg your pardon?" I choked.
"You are going to have to decide," he said sweetly. He tapped
the tip of his pencil against his sleeve.
"But I don't actually understand the question."
"That is irrelevant. We are nearly through, and you are not
required to understand the question."
"I--if you--wall," I told him.
"As you wish. Now, or later?"
question may seem like another tease, but it was asked in earnest, I
believe. On the many occasions that Holmes and I did indulge
completely inexcusable conduct, we each deemed it amusing to torture
the other for as long as it was possible and safe to do so.
evening, however, I had reached the limits of my capacity for suffering.
"Now, please," I declared.
well, then." He jumped up and strode towards his
bedroom. "I shall
meet you upstairs in ten minutes. Then in another hour or
perhaps just slightly longer, you can tell me whether the game was a
success." He waved cheerily at me from his doorway.
I do not
think I have ever experienced such a complete reversal. I was
startled by the evening's events by that time, I could scarcely recall
whether or not I'd had supper, or what I had been doing when he'd
arrived, or whether I needed to put out any pipes or cigars.
I made my
way up the stairs to my room alone, my heart pounding rapidly and
forcefully at the thought of what I had gotten myself into.
dream of waking up next to Sherlock Holmes was realized that glorious
morning, two days before Christmas, on December 23rd 1884. I
general, a light sleeper, for combat had the effect of heightening my
senses even if I would never register the minutia my friend was able to
discern. I was very surprised, therefore, to awaken before
with the icy rain still hammering against our roof, and realize Holmes
had been lying on his side watching me in the near-darkness for Lord
only knows how long. I reached out for him sleepily.
is the matter?"
whatever," he said. We had neither of us bothered to replace
clothing and I grasped his bare arm below the blankets. It
was one of
the happiest moments of my life.
is the time?"
don't know. I should make a guess at five, but the skies are
too stormy to tell."
are you doing?"
are very inquisitive in the early morning," he smiled. "You
that it is rather charming. I was thinking what a splendid
were you thinking that?" I whispered, opening my eyes a little.
me, another question. The elements are greatly to my
satisfaction, for one. I do hope it holds throughout the day."
like this weather?" I inquired skeptically.
suits my purpose. Watson, I mean to burgle Milverton's house
that was it. The seduction of the maid held no more
mysteries. He had
required a mental floor plan and had procured a fiancée in
obtain it. It was not the oddest thing Sherlock Holmes has
I opened my eyes fully and edged closer to him. The charcoal
behind the plane tree outside my window were flecked with occasional
Heaven's sake, Holmes, think what you are doing."
dear fellow, I have given it every consideration," he assured me,
reaching out and smoothing back a strand of my hair. "You
I suppose, the action is morally justifiable. You yourself
willing to help me take his pocketbook."
yes. It is morally justifiable so long as our object is to
articles save those which are used for an illegal purpose."
have put it perfectly, as I knew you would."
fact, it is far more morally justifiable than seducing a parlor maid."
more of that, if you please," he said amusedly. "Our time has
out. I must act regardless of risk, for Lady Eva's period of
at an end."
do we start?" I asked. I rolled into him and lay with my back
contently against his chest. I could feel him tense slightly
are not coming."
you are not going."
he said, encircling me with his arm, "you can't help me."
don't know that."
course I know that."
don't know everything--you can't tell what may happen."
know that I am leaving without you, and there is nothing you can do to
there is a great deal I can do to stop you," I replied drowsily.
dear boy, I have no wish for you to place yourself in such a false
do I, but if it must be so, I am ready and able. I shall wire
and give you away at once if you protest a moment longer. I
my word of honour."
had raised himself on one elbow, but I felt him recline once more in
resignation. "Well, then, be it so. I can deny you
nothing," he added
man can make a term of endearment sound more like a scathing satire
than Holmes, but for once it did not pain me. "Thank you," I
contentedly. "Now, get some rest."
was nearly asleep again when a subtle movement of Holmes' chest
awakened me, and I felt his breath in my hair. It took me a
discern he was laughing.
is it now, my dear fellow?"
I was only reflecting that we have shared the same room for a number of
would be amusing if we ended by sharing the same cell."
laughed, and then lay still again. I should not have minded
nearly so much if I were to share a cell with Holmes. At that
I was happy nearly to the point of delirium to be sharing a
could have been bounded in a nutshell with him, and counted myself a
king of infinite space. When I awoke for the second time that
he was gone, but that did not matter. He was making
was sure of it. I could only assume we would have great need
regards to the most painful part of my tale, I will be brief.
already written of the storm, the masks, the theatre attire, the
breaking and entering, the silent shoes, the safe. We made
into Milverton's chambers as quietly as ghosts, and when I looked about
me, I could almost believe our worries, whatever they were, were nearly
at an end. It was richly yet tastefully decorated, gilded
suffering of others. I watched as Holmes opened the door of
box. When he heard footsteps, my eyes were scanning a number
documents on Milverton's desk, and he forcefully pulled me by the arm
behind the curtain with him. Only I could see that the safe
hadn't swung to.
I resolved to care nothing of consequences. If
Milverton's gaze fixed on the door, I would pin him down and Holmes
would see to the rest, of that I was certain. When the
woman arrived, I felt Holmes start, but in another moment he linked his
hand with mine to assure me all was well. As, indeed, it was
When she killed Milverton, I began to walk forward,
I admit. It was an unthinking reaction. Holmes
pulled me back and
held me to him fiercely. He was right, of course.
It was too late,
and she was killing a vile being. Had already killed him, in
instant she disappeared, Holmes leapt out from behind the curtain like
a bullet from a gun and began carrying armfuls of papers to the blazing
fire. I returned to the desk in the interests of
good it would have done us to burn all the letters save the ones he'd
There the paper lay on the table, the words scribbled
plainly. It was headed, "Pending
A series of dashes below indicated people from whom Milverton expected
money within the course of the month of December, the victims marked
with a star:
and Hamilton (letters) --- 7000 pounds
Camberfield and *Smythe (letters, one telegram duplicate)
-- 12000 pounds
*Holmes and Hastings (letters) --- 6000
*Waring and Greaves (witness) --- 3000 pounds
stared at it in horror. That the notation referred to my
never doubted, for his behavior had been that of barely restrained
panic all along. This line of print explained everything--his
letters, his helpless worry, his newly acquired fiancée, the
housebreaking itself. It only remained to discover what it
Holmes had been far from virginal when we met. He had even
told me of
one or two past sexual partners, in an anecdotal fashion, and would
never have thought to hide another from me--I was certain of this, no
matter how sordid the letters proved. God knows, Holmes had
enough sordid deeds upon me, to my lasting satisfaction, that I could
not imagine being shocked by their contents. No man ought
censure another for the acts which take place before ties have been
formed, after all. As for the acts which take place after....
affair was current; I was not his sole lover. It was the only
explanation. I knew it as surely as I knew our address.
coherent memory was that of Holmes crying out to me from the
fireplace. I looked up in confusion.
"What is it, man? Quick, they are coming!" he shouted.
handed it to him dumbly. He did not even glance at it, but
put it on
the fire with the others. Then he grasped my arm and pulled
from the room.
We ran like the wind that night. Once, in the
garden, a servant nearly caught up to me, but at the sound of his
footsteps, Holmes turned around and struck him so hard he fell to the
ground. We continued on over the wall, panting, our thoughts
to freedom and the outside world. I think we ran two miles
outer grounds before I stopped, my shoulder throbbing as if it
newly injured. I embraced the pain. It distracted
me from my
thoughts. It did not distract me much, but it was a welcome
my friend noticed I had stopped, he turned back to me, his chest
heaving in frost-accented gasps. I hadn't noticed the
cold. Now I
welcomed that as well.
"Watson," he said when he was able. He
grasped my good shoulder firmly, but my eyes were cast resolutely
downward. "Can you make it much further?"
"Not much," I admitted.
way," he said, taking my hand and setting off once more, walking this
time. I followed him. After all, I'd no idea where
retired immediately that night. Our cab ride had been a
Holmes looked relieved, and more at peace than he had in a week, but
also struck by the shock of the night's events. I did not
him. Indeed, I could not. The thought of speaking
at all was
loathsome to me. When we arrived home, I made at once for my
"Watson?" he called out to me, still at the sitting room
door. "Is your arm all right?"
"Yes," I told him.
events of the evening have upset you," he added with discernible
kindness in his usually steely eyes. "I am very sorry for
it. I would
not have had you witness a cold-blooded murder, no matter the cause."
know you would not." I would not, could not look at him for
of time. I kept my eyes on the banister. It was a
blessing indeed he
thought me affected by Milverton's death.
"I wish to be alone. Good night, Holmes," I said.
know he watched me ascend the stairs, though I did not glance back, for
the room below me remained silent and still. I could not have
at him, for if I had, he would have been witness to a face as marred by
grief as the widow who had killed our adversary.
reached my room, I locked the door. Then I sat on my bed and
determined to face facts. That I loved Holmes was, I was
to us both. Therein lay the crux of the matter.
We had never
treated our relations like a contractual obligation, and indeed men of
our sort at times dashed from partner to anonymous partner with total
aplomb. This I knew from experience, for we had both done it
in our youth. But that had been before the night he'd invited
his room, long before he'd fallen asleep in my bed. My
in a state of total confusion, memories piling upon memories, a series
of whirling images of our lives together. I religiously
waited up at
night until my friend was home, and safe. Holmes often picked
instantaneously out of crowds. I had lent him
cuff-links. He had
thrown blankets over me when I fell asleep on the settee.
When I could
not fall asleep on the settee, he played wistful airs on the
had once left our rooms late one night while he was deep in thought and
he had called out that if any men of my former acquaintance encountered
me, I was to inform them I was a kept man. I had laughed, and
cherished the memory, marginally insulting though it was. We
said anything. But if I was not enough for him, he could not
very thought made me sick. I quailed at once. Was I
unreasonable? Was I, as Holmes had suggested, a jealous
unnecessarily so? Was that the very reason he had not
dilemma? Had my feelings grown so unwieldy because of my
obsession with my friend, or had the flaw been there all
thought of Hastings, whoever he was, and the sickness morphed into a
fever. The fact that he could have been anyone enraged me
further. Perhaps he was an intelligent, admiring young
learning both the art of detection as well as other more tangible arts
from my friend, grateful as much for the pleasure as the enhancement of
his career. Or perhaps he was a former client, a lawyer or
struck irrevocably by Holmes' comprehensive charms. Or more
fine-featured, elegant aristocrat, generous with his time and his
funds, as amusing, as subtle and as glimmering as Holmes
would kill him, I thought. But I could not kill him, whoever
I couldn't even claim any grievance. I had no right, for we
said anything. I hadn't a leg to stand on.
Then I recalled that Holmes had lied to me throughout and I buried my
face in my quilt.
was not my bravest moment. But I recovered. By the
time the dawn had
risen, and I had bathed and shaved, I was nearly myself again, or
looked like myself save for the gaping hollow I could feel in my chest.
heard me descend the stairs that morning, and looked up with some
phrase upon his lips which I shall never be privy to, for it died there
you've a valise and carpetbag in your hands," he said. The
was streaming coldly through the window, doubtless doubly refracted due
to the fresh fall of snow which had ended the storm. Holmes
sitting in his armchair in his slippers and dressing-gown, reading a
newspaper, every crease and detail in its proper place, eyes sparking
under shimmering black hair. The sight turned my knees to
I gripped the handles even tighter, as if they might lend me the
strength to speak to him. "I am leaving."
had worked through that step," he said easily, but I could see he was
exceedingly surprised. "Where are you going, and when will
return? I should be very grateful if you were back by New
am not returning, Holmes." I was as shaken as I had ever been
following a battle, but I was determined to see it through.
paled, which I confess I had not expected. "What sort of
appalling jest is this, my dear fellow?"
I will own, was what sent me over the edge. Knowing what I
knew of him
and what he had done, for him to have posed such a monstrous question
was more than I could bear. I had allowed him to toy with me
enough, I reflected, without allowing him to cheapen the shred of
dignity I was fleeing to maintain.
I snapped at him. "Don't try anything of the kind.
It is not a jest, and you know it full well."
eyes widened at my anger. "Yes, now I know it is not a
jest. It would
not have been in your style, in any event. It does not fall
usual vein of pawky humour."
is nothing whatever humourous about it," I said icily.
wholly agree with you," he assented swiftly, rising from his
"In fact, that is a vast understatement. It lands squarely
side of tragedy. Now, tell me what it is about."
think you can work it out on your own if you cast your mind back over
the past few weeks."
I?" he demanded, seemingly stunned. "My dear Watson, if
entering has ruined your conceptions of--but you were willing to do it,
I had thought, I was sure of it! I'd little enough desire for
endanger yourself in the first place, but I would never ask you to
perform an act which you consider morally repugnant."
glared at him, utterly disgusted. "The morally repugnant acts
I am thinking have nothing whatever to do with housebreaking."
sat down heavily and leaned forward over his knees. "Watson,
you, I thought I made it clear she was only a stepping stone for me,
and I equally for her. You must believe me, my dear fellow,
thought nothing of it, and I less than nothing. I am heartily
not to have told you beforehand. It was a matter of such
to me that it escaped my attention, I swear to you, as I would forget
to tell you whether I had taken tea or coffee that morning. I
her. Twice. It was horrifying the first time, and
doubly so the
second, for then the act was compounded by dread. Surely you
she was the wrong gender entirely to inspire the treasure of my
regard. Can you honestly believe I spared her a moment's
whom?" I growled dangerously.
do not think I have ever seen Sherlock Holmes appear so hurt and so
confused. I had often wondered what it would be like, and in
darkest moments desired to see it, but now the expression was before me
I derived no satisfaction from it whatever.
you," he whispered. "Who else would I think about?
Who else do I ever think about?"
am not inclined to remain here as audience to a litany of lies," I
pronounced shakily. "I was there with you last night, and all
to me. I can certainly see why you'd no desire for me to
the devil are you talking about?" he cried, standing up once more and
approaching me looking rather terrified.
are a heartless, cold, selfish being," I told him. His eyes
like the polished silver of our coffee urn, glistening and bright, but
I hurried on. "I cannot fathom why you continue to
prevaricate, but I
despise your attempt at duplicity. I could have--" My voice
I carried on. "I could have been something to you.
I think I could
have, in time. But that's ended now."
have been something to me?" he repeated incredulously. "What
name--Watson, are you quite mad? Or is this some elaborate
forcing my hand? Very well, I'll own it and gladly--you are
to me. Now drop those bags and stop tormenting me
so. It isn't like
me one good reason why I should stay with you," I whispered.
and walked toward the door. It was festooned with a holly
had placed there with great precision. He pounced in front of
barred my way.
can very easily give you seven," he said frantically. "It is
economical. It is far less trouble than sending for your
Your mail will not have to be re-directed. Baker Street is
to St. Bart's. Mrs. Hudson is already well aware you loathe
am desperately in love with you. And if you leave, I--"
will be fine," I said furiously, stunned by his words yet feeling
violently manipulated. "You will use someone else.
Step out of my
way. It is over."
please..." he pleaded vehemently, leaving the door to grasp me by the
arms. "Don't do this. You cannot."
"It is your own doing, not mine."
"In the name of Heaven, tell me why, at least! I could begin
to solve it if only--"
took one final look into his eyes, and it nearly ended me.
be no solving it. We are finished. You and Hastings
have seen to
that," I managed. I broke away from him and fled from the
took me several deep breaths of freezing air once I had closed the
front door behind me to feel presentable enough to hail a
were several proceeding down our street, and I whistled for one after I
had pulled myself together. Then, as I did so, I thought of
the man in
the room above, who had just said with a mad gleam in his eyes he was
in love with me, and I was undone all over again.
had just settled myself in the cab when a very thin, tall figure came
flying out of the front door adjacent without his hat and strode
through the damp snow in slippers and dressing gown for my newly
Station, driver!" I called out.
will go no such place!" Holmes declared ringingly, physically grasping
the side window. "Watson, get out of that cab and listen to
have forfeited the right to command my attention."
have done nothing of the kind!" he exclaimed. "Now, come back
upstairs and I shall make all clear to you."
please proceed!" I attempted. I was in a very dangerous
there was such a power in Holmes' stricken face that I was actually
beginning to entertain the lunatic notion of allowing him to explain
remain where you are. Watson, I have never before seen you
unfair, half-considered role before, but it does not well befit your
nature. Come with me and--"
back upstairs," I told him more gently. It would all have
been so very
much easier if I hadn't loved him so. His feet were buried in
"You'll catch your death of cold."
don't care!" he cried.
never think of your health, but I warn you--"
don't give a tinker's damn what you have to say about my
health. You are not my doctor.
You are--if you would only listen for--"
cannot listen," I whispered, wracked with pain. "Can't you
You'll win. There will be no contest. I will have
to share you with
him, and I'll hate myself even more than I hate you. If I
you'll convince me, and what will I have left? Drive on!"
here!" he said imperiously. "Watson--"
high above, I heard a series of expletives delivered by the cabby, the
gist of which implied that my friend was a lunatic who had best step
back from the cab or risk being either trampled or beaten, or more
probably both. The horse began to walk forward.
will do as I say, damn you!"
Sherlock Holmes drew a half-sovereign from his waistcoat and threw it
at the man contemptuously. The horse stopped.
he said breathlessly, low enough so that the cabby could not hear, "I
know why you are angry now, and I understand the cause. I am
preoccupied by you, I assure you. You mustn't feel
alone in that
respect. Everything reminds me of you. Tweed suits,
cravats of a
certain shade of brown, magazines, coffee pots, fountain pens,
soldiers, stethoscopes, syringes, fine weather, bad weather, blue eyes,
blue dressing-gowns, bearskin rugs. It is absurd, I grant,
suffer from it equally. There are now very few things in
I saw the name Watson, I would think of you at once. But that
does not mean you are the only one in the world."
had felt disgusted before, but now I was revolted at his ludicrous
effort to absolve himself of blame. "Do you mean to excuse
I scoffed, "by claiming to have been worried sick over letters--letters
which you went so far as to burn at great personal risk--which, while
written by a man named Holmes, were not written by--"
stopped. He looked at me, his brows at their fullest
swallowed, for my throat was suddenly very dry. And then I
saw it all,
and I knew which of us had been heartless.
he said softly, "please do me the very great favour of getting out of
descended slowly. He waved the cabman on. We walked
together back to
the door of our flat. I felt ill, and numb, as if I had
innocent man to torment. As, in fact, I had done. I
through the door. When it had shut behind us, I reached for
hand and collapsed upon the stairs, holding it lightly in mine and
staring at it in a mortified daze.
were they written?" I asked.
years ago," he said.
your brother imagined they had disappeared entirely?"
knelt with a single knee on the step below the one on which I was
seated so that we were almost two pieces
interlocking. "Yes, he did.
It was a terrible blow to know they had not."
he consulted the best man in London to assist him. As did
flatter myself their trust was not unfounded," he returned without
forwarded you the copies of the letters being used to blackmail
him. And I wanted to see them."
you demanded to see them," he corrected bitingly, "which placed me in a
very vexing position, you must know. Mycroft had elicited my
to show them to anyone. He is even more private a fellow than
myself, which as you well know is an astonishing feat. Of
little notion that you'd hatched such a depraved theory over the matter
or I would have told you at once. I will not say that there
certain points in your hypothesis' favour, but confound it, Doctor..."
he trailed off sadly. He did not appear enraged--only
be this way," I murmured, pressing his hand.
"Please. Be angry, be
formidably, terribly angry at me, for that is what I deserve for
calling you a liar, but do not be forlorn and understanding."
think I can decide, as if I had a chessboard laid out in front of me
and I was deliberating a move!" he snapped at me, standing up and
drawing his gown more tightly around his shivering form. "As
body were some grotesquely elongated marionette, my sensibilities
dictated to by the mastermind above! What in hell do you
think I am
made of? I do not decide how I feel any more than you do,
stopped, calming himself with an effort. "You don't know me at all, do
I agreed, my eyes brimming once again, "but I should like to.
With your permission. Very much."
he questioned dully, leaning back against the wall. "There
would be no
excitement in it, you know. Reasoning machines are a rare and
thing, and I desire nothing in the world at this moment so much as to
be one in truth, but in fact I am nothing to speak of. I am
man. That was your error, I think. I am a very
pedestrian fellow when
all is said and done."
stumbled forward to where he stood flat against the wall and I kissed
him as hard as I could. He fought me for a moment and then
his lips frigid and the folds of his dressing gown icily cold.
I said at last, "I am so deeply and terribly sorry."
have tried many times to make clear to you before that it is a cardinal
error to theorize in advance of data." He still
looked stricken. I
would make it up to him, I thought, if it was the last thing I did.
managed a tiny smile at his admonition. "I had a great deal
but I am far too stupid to be allowed to theorize over anything."
be absurd," he sniffed.
think it's clear enough I haven't the brains for it."
theory fit the facts moderately well. It had none of it
occurred to me, but I can see how it looked."
stood there staring at one another for a moment, at a complete loss
over what to say.
God, Holmes, you must be freezing," I exclaimed, startled out of my
confusion. "Come upstairs at once, and dry your feet."
made no answer, but turned and walked up the stairs. I
followed in his
wake wondering whether anything I could say would ever begin to make it
up to him, and if I were in his position, whether I would not feel
inclined to tell myself to send for my things later and to take full
advantage of my packed bags. When we had reached the sitting
stopped before the fire and kicked off his slippers.
I said softly, "I am willing to take any steps necessary if only you
will forgive me. But you are the most intelligent man I have
encountered. Why did it never occur to you that I would
was simple enough. Before my engagement, it hadn't struck me
you could be jealous of my attentions."
stared at him, at an utter loss for words. His face was
having darted between freezing and warm temperatures, one lock of black
hair had fallen over his forehead, and he still was struggling to
regain that composure which was his natural manner. He was
most desirable man I had ever seen, and also the most inexplicable.
you tell me why?" I asked him at last.
treated me so gingerly," he said slowly. "As if I were a
courtesan, or a pet."
heart nearly stopped. When I viewed it from his perspective,
he was perfectly correct.
were so circumspect. I watched you, constantly editing
came to believe you saw me as rather more an erotic pastime than a
spiritual one. And there were the cases, of course, which
for our day-to-day relations."
before my eyes, at last, was the truth of the matter. The
otherworldly part of the whole event was that, the instant Holmes
explained himself to me, I at once saw the way my manner had affected
him. I felt an instantaneous sympathy, far too late, that he
have spent so long with a partner consciously determined never to show
his heart. When I remained dumbstruck, he smiled tentatively.
suppose in light of recent events that I reached the wrong conclusion?"
should say so," I blurted without thinking. "A conclusion
nearly as wrong as mine, in fact. I was terrified of you."
laughed at this, and seated himself on a footstool, pulling his long
legs into his body. He regarded the fire in silence for a
Then without looking at me, he asked, "Isn't there anything you'd like
to say to me?"
approached him at once and knelt on the floor immediately beside
"I said so many cruel things to you that I cannot begin to imagine how
I could make it up to you. But know, please, that I regret
no," he declared, shaking his head. "I forgive you.
You needn't speak of it."
"But my dear fellow, you must allow me to express--"
should be very grateful if you would consent to leave off apologizing,"
he insisted. "That is not what I meant. If I
endeavor hard enough to
see it in the proper perspective, I ought to be flattered, after
I never knew you to be so possessive. But I--perhaps you
recall that I
shouted something at you just before you left, which...I should like to
know--" He sighed and ran both his hands through his hair.
love you," I said at once. "I do not believe I have ever
this way. The thought of you touching someone else was like
on fire, and every other literary cliché I know that you
the thought of leaving you--I cannot even speak of it. You
life. I love you so wholeheartedly that I never once told you
it. And for that, finally, I am most sincerely sorry," I
rested my body against his seated frame. "Rest assured it
put an arm around my back and drew me close to him. I think I
have broken down wholly at that moment had he not done so.
Sherlock Holmes is a very kind fellow, whatever he says in the heat of
his fiery opinions.
had better not," he breathed at last. "I have quite reached
the limit of my tolerance for such errors."
I, love, I assure you," I told him. "As have I."
would be remiss if I wrote that the case of the master blackmailer
ended as quickly as it began, for Holmes displayed an edginess in my
company for the remainder of that day which pained me more than I can
express. That I had been guilty of nothing more than reaching
reasonable conclusion he assured me without hesitation, but he
still--against his own will, I am certain of it--evidenced a sort of
wounded discomfort at the fact that I had thought him faithless and
unfeeling which made itself known in small ways that only I could have
noted. Indeed, when I did notice he was acting strangely, I
at my own prior tendency to overlook the tiny gestures which had become
habitual for him. I had been seeing him all the while without
observing his most affectionate quirks. He did not offer me a
cigarette when he lit his own. He made no effort to
brush my leg or shoulder. When we walked down the street to
photograph of the woman he had divined was the murderess, he failed to
take my arm. Indeed, when I touched him, he would pat my hand
and then move unconsciously away. I had begun to dread that I
ruined far more between us than we had gained despite moving
declarations when Holmes at last spoke to me just after dinner.
"Do you know what day it is?"
did, though I hadn't thought of it. "Why, it's Christmas
replied at once. "Happy Christmas, my dear fellow.
Mad as it sounds,
I had entirely forgotten."
He was silent for a while, drawing
upon his pipe. "I am afraid I've neglected to purchase you a
my esteem," he said with a sad little smile, and something
approximating his old sardonic formality. "I was rather
"I am shocked and embarrassed to own it, my dear
fellow, but I seem to have committed the same offense." I
two glasses of sherry and approach him with assumed good
cheer. "I was
also harried, but for a much more ridiculous reason, as it turns out."
Holmes ignored the reference. "Whatever the reason, I should
have liked to have something for you."
"Never mind that now. I have everything I desire in this
world, after all."
"Do you really?" he inquired dryly, taking the glass. "That
is rather an outlandish claim, isn't it?"
it is perfectly true," I stated. I was silent for a short
period as I
struggled to find the right way to make myself clear to him.
"Yesterday I had your friendship, and your trust, and your company, and
occasionally your physical attentions. All of these
things made me
very happy, but I could not bring myself to tell you I wanted far more,
because I was a damnable coward. Today I have your regard--"
he corrected with a wry smile, one eyebrow cocked critically at
believe that in the English language that is the closest approximation,
although you could employ 'heart' if you desire a more metaphorical
effect. Let us use the technical terms, now you have found
reserves of courage. One cannot underestimate the value of
"Love," I allowed, my voice thickening slightly, "and what is more,
your forgiveness. Both are incalculable."
"Watson, that is a very hyperbolic thing to say," he pointed out softly.
those two things are so splendid, my dear fellow, that I am incapable
of imagining needing a single other thing for the rest of my life."
"Then you have a very pedestrian imagination," he asserted.
"Come here. Sit down."
did so, with an incredible sense of relief. Now he was
hectoring me, I
knew he had forgiven me more surely than any other combination of words
could have done.
"My imagination is a good as the next man's. But your
importance to me cannot be exaggerated."
that the reason you were disinclined to celebrate my impending
nuptials?" he inquired innocently. "Oh, dear me--I haven't
gift for my fiancée either. That is
am an appalling
lover, aren't I?"
"You are perfectly tolerable," I said, nestling into the crook of his
very gratifying," he laughed. "Well, I suppose I must thank
your imagination is as poor as it is, for if it were any better, you
would be easily able to conceptualize a vastly more satisfying partner
and I should be all alone."
"I cannot conceive of a finer man any more than I can conceive why I
never noticed your brother was an invert."
drew back in mock dismay. "You must not think that my
feelings for you
give you license to cast such shocking calumnies at my own flesh and
blood. I cannot be responsible for what I do if you dare to
again that my brother enjoys the sort of perversions you yourself
favour. The very idea! There is one sodomite in my
family, and I
think you can guess who it is."
"But your brother is unmarried. Why--"
"Sarah Hastings was as female as womankind can be. In fact,
she was a dancer."
"Then I do not understand."
letters written to her by my brother made occasional oblique mention of
events, without ever giving them their name, which would nevertheless
have cost him his entire career in Whitehall had they been sent to the
I thought about this for a moment. "How did Mil--"
passed away some time ago and her correspondence was never
It was typhoid fever, quite swift. My brother now lives as
already observed," he added wistfully, with a marked grief in his grey
eyes. "That is to say, he exists from day to day, and exerts
continually. He does very little else."
While I had never
dreamed such was the case, it explained everything about Holmes'
world-weary, distant sibling. "I am very sorry to know of his
troubles," I said.
"It is kind of you. But it can't be
helped," he sighed, setting his glass down on the table and lying back
so that his dark head was supported by my chest. "We Holmeses
the same. At least, my brother and I are."
I leaned down
carefully and set my own glass on the floor so that I could enfold the
impossible, maddening, sublime fellow in my arms. "Whatever
"We are the world's foremost in the arena of observation
and deductive reasoning. We are very secretive creatures, I
and far too stoical for our own good. And we are some time
but once we have made up our minds, there is only one person for whom
we live and breathe. Permanently. It was Sarah
Hastings for Mycroft,
the poor wretch. I can only pray that you remain in good
far, far longer."
I kissed the top of his head and looked about
me at the festive, dimly lit sitting room. The windows behind
blinds were caked with frost, I knew, and I knew that outside carolers
were clapping their gloved hands together against the bitter wind as
they sang further down the street. I could not catch the
the moon would rise and coat the snow with a sparkling sheen, and I
would stare at it from our window, very nearly pained by the beauty of
it. I tried to recall what we had been doing the previous
Eve, and found it obliterated from my mind entirely.
"I will live for as long as you like, provided it is with you," I said.
is a very generous offer," my love replied softly. He turned
slightly and closed his eyes as if intending to sleep there.
to hold you to it."
attempted the words in my mind, they made precious little
sense. I sat
there silent until he glanced up at me, tilting his dark head
"I know it is an asinine line of thought," I said
slowly. "But I have loved you for a terribly long
time. Come to that,
we have been together for over a year. And even so, I never
dreamed it could be like this."
"I have already told you that your imaginative faculty is sadly
lacking," he pointed out.
"But did you ever picture it this way? I mean to say,
"This complete, you mean?"
"Yes," I said, relieved beyond expression that he knew what I wished to
say. "That is it exactly. Did you?"
"I had hoped it would be," he replied thoughtfully. "But
this, just now, was beyond even my capacity to imagine."
"Which makes it...."
"As-yet unfathomed by humankind. Yes."
smiled at this, and closed my eyes. It was doubtless foolish
in such a position when we were both bone-weary, and skirting the
boundaries of complete emotional exhaustion. But nevertheless
it was some few hours before we abandoned our nest, the crackling of
the fire, and the smell of the forest still lingering about the walls.