Though the victim's study was
small, it was not uncomfortable,
the room boasted a window through which I could glimpse the pines on
the far edge of the lawn. Fortunately for me, the papers
had asked me to peruse were financial in nature, and thus negotiable to
a doctor equally as well as a criminal expert. I had been
hours over them, Holmes sniffing about I knew not where, when I began
work on the final box. A gentle knock at the door interrupted
however, and I looked up to see Lestrade approaching the desk where I
laboured over figures, a pensive expression on his
face. Without preamble, he sat down in the chair opposite me
folded his hands in his lap.
"You're being a little hard on him, aren't you, Doctor?"
It was in all likelihood the last question I would ever have expected to emerge from the lips of Inspector Lestrade, and in tribute to the enormity of the event, I dropped what I was doing to stare at him in blank unease.
"I haven't the slightest notion of what you mean," I replied.
merely shrugged equitably. "I may well have the
wrong end of the
stick, Dr. Watson, and I'll be the first to admit it if it's
I am barging in where I don't belong, you have only to say
assure you I meant no offense."
"None taken," I replied, but the inspector had not finished.
"The fact remains, it seems clear enough that you and Mr. Holmes have been at odds since his...unexpected reappearance. Perhaps I am mistaken."
As he stared at me, I realized uncomfortably that neither was I capable of lying to Lestrade, nor was I inclined to. Without a thought of steering such a volatile conversation in another direction, I rested my chin in my hand exhaustedly.
"You are not wrong."
"Would it trouble you if I asked a personal question, Doctor?"
"That would greatly depend on what it is."
He chuckled at this and shook his head. "No, no, Dr. Watson. I mean to ask whether you are angry at Mr. Holmes for the obvious reason, or for some other reason."
I could think of nothing inherently unsafe about this query. "It is the obvious reason, if by the obvious reason you mean that he pretended to be dead for three years."
The little inspector nodded sagely, as if many people pretend to be dead for lengthy periods of time. "It was hardest on you, of course," he said quietly. "We all of us were grieved, do not mistake me, but you worked more closely together than Mr. Holmes ever worked with anyone at the Yard. A terrible blow, I always said, but for you--It must have been monstrous, Doctor. I do not think even Mr. Holmes' brother was as deeply affected. To have lived for three years imagining him dead would naturally bring about--"
"I did not imagine him dead for three years," I said in a hoarse undertone, and then let my hand slide up over my eyes.
"No?" Lestrade asked. He regarded me with frank sympathy which now mingled with curiosity. "I am afraid I don't know what you mean by that, Dr. Watson. Of course, we all hoped he was alive--"
"I knew he was alive," I said, expecting my eyes to blur as they did every time I thought of it. To my relief, there was only a long-dead tone to my voice. "I thought him dead for two weeks, until the memorial service here in London. Afterwards, I knew. I knew it all along."
Lestrade was now staring at me in appalled shock. "He told you? He sent you a letter, or--"
"His brother." I could not identify the voice which spoke, for it was not my own. It sounded like the voice of a ghost. "His brother told me. After the service."
"Dear God in heaven," Lestrade whispered. "So all the time he meant us to think him dead, you knew him to be...."
"Yes, I did."
"Dr. Watson, I am afraid that is one of the worst things I have ever heard."
"It is certainly one of the worst things I have ever experienced."
His eyes narrowed at me. "Does Mr. Holmes know that you were aware his death was a sham?"
"No, indeed," I replied with bitter mock enthusiasm. "He is convinced that his plans were enacted superbly, as ever."
"Small wonder you have not gone back to Baker Street."
When I shot him a horrified glance, the inspector had the decency to look down at his boots, brushing a speck of ash off one of them, returning it to its former high polish. Then he scrutinized the other as if to reassure himself it was equally spotless. When he gazed back at me again, I had recovered much of my composure.
"Lestrade," I said slowly, "I must ask you what you mean by--"
"No," the diminutive official said firmly, "you mustn't. I am, as you are well aware, a Scotland Yard Detective Inspector. You may also have realized by now that I joined the Force in an effort to do some good in the world. It remains my goal to this day. In that light, therefore, I assure you that you must not ask me what I mean by that."
It was this statement, and not the recounting of my own bitter struggle, which brought a sheen of moisture to my eyes. I took a deep breath immediately and managed to bring myself back to the brink of normalcy.
"It can hardly matter now," I began, but Lestrade interrupted me at once.
"You must ask him about Moran."
"I beg your pardon?" I asked, already dazed.
"Dr. Watson," he said softly, all the eager, grasping qualities having somehow drained from his face, "you are, I have always thought, an admirable gentleman in every way. Mr. Holmes is halfway to a lunatic and will no doubt end his life in an asylum. I have little notion of how you tolerate him, and no notion at all why I tolerate him. Be that as it may," he continued calmly, "you and I are both reasonably clever men, even if we do not know when a man works as a costermonger or to what degree salt water affects false teeth. There must be some reason we grant him our company. If you can recall such a reason, if you have any desire to, you must ask him about Colonel Moran."
"Why should you know such a thing?" I demanded ungratefully. "Why should you be privy to what he keeps from me, and if you are, why should I stoop to ask him about it?"
Lestrade rose and crossed to the door, his normally impatient features still infused with an inexplicable kindness.
"I know because, as you will recall, I arrested the Colonel. If you manage to learn of the matter, you will do so from the other side of the fence, if you will. The information is not mine to dispose, but it is worth knowing, I assure you. In fact, I must insist that, however it may distress you, if you value anything about the madman currently running roughshod over my evidence, you will ask him about Colonel Moran," he finished. Lestrade then gently shut the door behind him.
I agreed to share a cab back to Westminster with Holmes that evening. That such an action went against everything I had once promised myself appeared to matter less and less. As some sort of initial rite, we shared our findings, hesitantly at first, as if we had forgotten how to do it. The conversation, after a disgracefully brief five minutes, blossomed into a hearty and full-blown discourse.
"...and despite all of this," I finished perplexedly, "I can find no such valuable deeds amongst his belongings."
"That, my dear Watson, is peculiar in the most deeply gratifying sense," he replied. "You are certain that they were not present?"
"Not only were they not present, but as I have said before, it is shocking they were not accounted for, as many significant payments had been made over to this Mr. Cornelius fellow."
"Large sums, each and all, you said?"
I nodded. "It is a wonder no one seems to know who this man is, for it is quite astonishing that a retired builder should make over so many hefty figures to a stranger. Perhaps he was being blackmailed," I added as a quick flash of inspiration struck.
"Perhaps," Holmes conceded. "And yet, perhaps there are fewer players in this game than we imagine."
I would have questioned him further about this odd pronouncement, but realized to my dismay that we had already drawn up to the very door of 221 Baker Street. Holmes promptly descended the cab, then extended a hand to help me out of it. It was a vaguely risky gesture, though not an overt one.
"I had better be getting back to my practice," I said, knowing as I did so it was futile.
"Come in and finish relating Mr. Oldacre's financial data, and you will be a free man," he said easily.
"I am not kissing you again, and neither am I going to indulge in any other of your whims," I pointed out.
He smiled, though it was meant for my benefit and not because he wished to do so. "I have not asked you to. I am not such a hedonist, after all. What care I the number of months--nay, years--are you going to get out of that cab, or would you prefer I lose the use of my right hand?" he finished impatiently.
There was nothing for it, I thought glumly. I took his hand and before I knew it I stood in the darkened sitting room, pitch-black due to the lack of necessity for fire in the month of August, at a complete loss over what to do with the slightly sunburned, ferociously energetic man before me.
I regarded him as if I had never seen him before, realizing that I had not truly allowed myself to look at him since his dramatic return. He was thinner even than was usual, and several hairs in his temples had faded to a shimmering grey in his absence. After turning up the gas, he talked only of the case, although I must own I scarcely took in a single word he said. As he spoke, he busied himself sifting through correspondence, though he never opened a single letter, and then settled himself enthusiastically in his armchair, throwing me his cigarette case as he lit one of his own.
"Well?" he exhaled at length. "What do you think of it?"
"Holmes," I replied, making my voice as even as was possible, "I am meant to ask you about Colonel Moran."
He did not react in any instantly telling fashion. I had not expected him to. But he did draw slowly upon his cigarette, stating, "I have not the vaguest idea how you came to make that remark, which will no doubt be deeply gratifying to you."
"Lestrade told me."
"Lestrade?" he exclaimed. "Oh, I see it," he said an instant later, his panicked brow clearing. "Of course he did. I ought to have anticipated as much...." Holmes stopped abruptly, then glared at me without intending to, as he often had before. "Has Lestrade expressed an interest in our former regard?"
It was a mark of the man's appreciation for the ironic that he posed the question in such a manner. "Not precisely," I replied with care, "although I would be remiss in implying he is unaware of it."
"Bloody hell," he muttered, the first time I had ever known him to employ the phrase.
"I am equally obliged to tell you that Lestrade betrayed no interest in the affair whatsoever."
"If he did not," Holmes replied dryly, "it is the first lucky event to have befallen me in over three years time."
"Holmes," I said, swallowing hard, "if it helps in any way, I am willing to tell you something of which you are unaware before you embark upon an explication of the Colonel."
My erstwhile friend's eyes narrowed at me in stately suspicion, but he soon made an effort to clear himself of all expression. "I cannot think what you could possibly have to tell me which could justify my speaking at any length about the manifestly despicable Colonel Moran."
"I knew you were alive," I said. I said it before I could think twice about it, before the myriad reasons for not saying it could fly across my mind like so many geese.
Holmes made no reply. It seemed he could not, for many seconds. Finally he requested, "My dear Watson, for God's sake, please tell me that is not true."
The words flew out of my mouth far faster than they had for Lestrade. Small wonder, for Lestrade had never been as close to me as I liked to imagine Holmes had. "We had a memorial service here, in London. No doubt you heard of it. There were countless Yard men in attendance, former clients of yours, relatives of former clients, those who had read of you in my accounts, in the papers. There were so many that the ceremony was held in a public square. We didn't need to worry about the actual burial, for there was no--" I stopped myself before I lost the thread of my narrative. Holmes' face was gratifyingly drained of blood. "Many people spoke. They spoke of your courage, and your love of justice. They asked me to say a few words--they said it would only be right, but I did not find myself up to the task." I drew a deep breath. "At length, the crowds dispersed. There was a memorial stone, Holmes, entirely buried under the flowers. Rich and poor alike brought them--bouquets of white orchids and tuppence violets all mingled together. Perhaps you didn't realize that. It was quite deluged by them all.
"I was one of the last ones there. When you brother approached me, he was very sympathetic. I felt for him deeply, knowing you had no other kin. When he kindly inquired how I felt, I thought it the most natural thing in the world.
"'I will not speak of how I feel,' I said, for there we stood in an open square. 'But the one thing I know for certain is that I will never write again.'
"He looked shocked at my words. Too shocked for a grieving brother. He asked me to say again what I had just sworn, and when I did so, he shook his head slowly. He asked me to give you a proper send-off, implored me to do you justice in one final, spectacular problem. Your brother said you would have wanted me to write, for all your jests and epigrams at my expense. He even said it was one of the things you loved about me--that I could capture you so fluidly. At last I apologized and told him that my pen had died with you."
Holmes stared back at me as if I were slowly twisting a knife into his chest, but what I had started, I reasoned, I had best finish.
"He admitted it. I believe he saw that there was nothing else to do. He told me you were alive, and he said it was an integral part of the plan to bring you back that I write an account of your death."
My friend winced as I had never seen him do before, and like a flash of lightning I experienced the old, familiar, urgent desire to keep him from pain. I ignored it and went on with my story.
"I could not do it," I said flatly. "Knowing you were alive, that any moment you may come back to me, to write of your death? It was inhuman, Holmes. I wrote of your forgiveness in the matter of the identical geese. I wrote of your heroism at Stoke Moran, your defiant Bohemianism in the Lord St. Simon affair, even of your earlier cases, the ones I was not privy to directly. I wrote of your cleverness, and your nobility, and every second I was writing them I thought madly that one of those phrases, if I could craft it well enough, would bring you back to me."
"But none of them did," he finished for me. I was beginning to wish desperately that I could stop. I had seen Sherlock Holmes seconds after one of his clients had been killed, and moments after he'd received a telegram regarding the death of his father. I had never seen him look as he did now.
"At length, I considered your brother's request. I knew you must be in danger, after all, and I had no desire to ruin your schemes. But I could not, simply could not think you capable of such--it was as if, once I wrote of your death, I would at once find myself diminished to a pawn in one of your games. I could not make such a thing come true. I am a very poor actor, I know, but I am a good writer, Holmes. I could have done it without the deception. I did do it without the deception. I could not think you would inflict those two hellish weeks on me. To say nothing of three years...and every time I left my practice, I found myself the object of condolences, often from perfect strangers. They were kindly meant, but they only reinforced...." I stopped lamely, arresting a narrative which had begun chronologically and ended a ramble of convoluted distress. "I ought to have told you before the Camden House matter, but by then I--"
"Despised me," he said. He nodded slowly.
"I am sorry, Holmes, but--"
"What have you to be sorry about? You are in the majority, though your conviction is not of the first water. You cannot despise me half as much as I despise myself."
"That was not my intent," I said humbly.
"Of course it was not. You are everything that is sympathetic in this broken world. Watson," he added almost inaudibly, drawing both his long legs up to his chest, "do please leave me. Do not think me angry, but I fear cannot prolong this interview."
I wished more than anything at that moment to see his face, but he had rested his high forehead on his knees. "What of Moran?"
"It will not excuse me. Do not imagine it will. I ought to have thrown myself over the edge before I allowed this to happen."
"Do not say that," I cried.
"Why on earth not? Now, if you would only go home to bed, my dear fellow, my already staggering gratitude for your kindness will double."
"I do not wish to leave you like this," I said helplessly. I was more than a little shocked to find that it was true.
"Watson, please," he said. Tilting his head a little, I could barely make out the edge of his left eye. "You have many things to forgive me for already, but while you are at it, forgive me for saying I would give half my fortune for you to be somewhere else just now. I do not deserve your mercy, but please get out."
"Holmes, I cannot simply--"
"As you are a gentlemen," came the muffled voice. "Get out."
I numbly collected my hat and stick and opened the sitting room door. I thought of looking back at him, but I knew that if I did so, I could never obey his request. My feet made no sound as I walked down the carpeted stairs to the front door. Indeed, from the time I left his rooms to the time I arrived at my nearly renovated offices, ironwork pried out to be collected by street scavengers, all the teeming world was silence in my ears.
When I awoke the next morning--I say awoke out of convention, but as I did not sleep, perhaps it would be better to say I arose--I knew what had to be done. Two men other than Sherlock Holmes knew more of Colonel Moran than I did. Mycroft Holmes, I had no doubt, would take a bullet through his wide head before he revealed a fact his younger brother had deemed a secret, now that he was alive once more. Lestrade, on the other hand, had already proven himself vulnerable upon the side of altruism. It was the inspector, slight of stature and superior of demeanor, to whom I would apply.
I dressed hastily and descended the stairs, narrowly avoiding a collision with the three workmen who were, under the supervision of Mrs. Garrison, replacing my old, battered desk with one which looked under the wrappings to be finest mahogany. I had not the time to spare them more than a glance, but when I reached my doorstep, I nearly trod upon a bundle of flowers. It took me a mere instant to realize that they were white orchids cut quite close, then encircled entirely with a riotous profusion of twopenny violets. I hurried back into the house.
"Will you put these in water, Mrs. Garrison, at once?" I asked my long-suffering housekeeper.
"Of course, Doctor," she said gaily. "What a delightfully unusual design. Is it a new style?"
I very much fear that she received no reply, but Mrs. Garrison was never overly attentive to my words, in any event.
"Make for Whitehall, my good man," I called up to the driver when I had procured a cab. I thus rode directly toward Scotland Yard in the bright glare of the summer morning. Lestrade considered his Lower Norwood case closed. If he was not in his offices, they would at least have some idea of where he was.
"I am really not at liberty to discuss it with you, Doctor," the good inspector said with exaggerated long-suffering in the cool dim of his Scotland Yard office. His desk was, as ever, meticulously neat, every paper carefully filed and each lead pencil lying in a row. "Did you approach Mr. Holmes?"
"There I made a tactical error," I admitted grimly. "I told him of my secret before I elicited his."
"No, you are right there," Lestrade mused, running a finger over his sharp chin. "It is best to have leverage when dealing with that fellow."
I very nearly laughed aloud at this but diverted my mirth into a sudden wracking cough. "Precisely, Inspector."
"How did he take it?"
Thinking back upon the night before, I considered drawing a veil over the truth, and then realized that I was far more likely to get what I wanted if I did not. "He looked as if I had broken him in half."
"Oh," said the inspector. "That is...well, a raving Bedlamite he may well be, but...I am sorry to hear that, Doctor."
I smiled back at him tentatively. Lestrade, I thought, was an ally of Holmes an an ally of myself. He had done a clever job of disguising the fact under perpetual pompous annoyance, but his allegiance was growing ever more obvious. I decided to be obvious in return.
"He threw me out of his rooms in a fit of self-loathing. I asked him once more about Moran, but he insisted it could in no way affect my judgement of him. You, however, feel differently. What is it that I need to know?"
Lestrade drummed the tips of his fingers together, looking for all the world like Sherlock Holmes when he is considering the better of two evils. Finally he said, "I am doing this with your positive assurance that Mr. Holmes will not cast us both off like two old boots when he learns of it."
"I promise you he will not. I will see to it."
"Are you certain?"
"I am certain, I swear to you."
Lestrade sighed and rearranged the pencils on his desk so that they formed the same rigid formation on the opposite angle. "I have certain facts, Doctor, but they lead into the realm of theory. I am not fond of unfounded theory, but I will tell you the facts, and see if you draw the same conclusion from them."
I accepted his proposal and begged him to continue.
"Colonel Moran was most distraught when he was arrested. He insisted, for lack of a better word, that he was most affected by having been bested by two godless sodomites."
My jaw dropped open in sheer terror at this admission, but Lestrade quickly held up a hand.
"Slander by those who have been taken into custody is a well-documented phenomenon. There was nothing in it, and we have made no reports of his revolting accusations. You, Doctor, are after all a grieving widower. But it made me wonder certain things," he mused, his shrewd brown eyes on his desk. "It made me wonder where Colonel Moran could have heard such sordid rumours. It made me wonder, after he escaped our best-laid nets, what Professor Moriarty intended to do for revenge other than to kill Mr. Holmes. It made me wonder why Mr. Holmes would have pretended to be dead for all that time when Moran knew full well he was alive. And it made me notice, Dr. Watson, that Moran only let his guard down enough to be caught for a hanging offense after you had written Mr. Holmes was dead."
I was by now two steps ahead of the dear little inspector, and the old constriction in my breast tightened violently as I realized what I had mistaken for egotistical machinations.
"If he was dead to you, he was clearly dead to all of England, let alone London," Lestrade continued. "So much is clear. You are an open person, if I may say so, Doctor, and no one would expect you to write such a thing unless you thought it was true. You fooled me, and my cap is off to you for it. But let us suppose Sherlock Holmes knew nothing of your talent for fiction," he added. He had picked up a pencil and was beating its end softly against his desk. "You realize, of course, that this is all theory, and theory is as good as rubbish to the methodical man, but never mind that now. Remembering that Mr. Holmes admits to a conversation with the Professor before they fought, let us suppose that the Professor referred to certain habits of yours and Mr. Holmes--gambling, let us say," he added hastily as my colour rose. "And let us say that it was Moran's task to expose those habits when Mr. Holmes returned to London. What if Mr. Holmes, in order to keep his love of gambling--or, better still, your love of gambling--a secret, decided in a split second not to return."
Lestrade stopped in some confusion. I have no notion of what my face must have looked like at that moment, but I recall my cheeks were damp and that I did not care. "Go on," I whispered. "Please, continue with your...theory."
"Well," the fastidious fellow faltered, "if he could not return then, he must have wanted to return...eventually. But perhaps he had to be cautious, because if this rumour of gambling were made public, it would have ruined you, Dr. Watson, as well as himself. It is interesting that Moran only let his guard down enough to commit a hanging crime after you published the account of Mr. Holmes' death. It is as if, after you acknowledged the fact, Moran thought Mr. Holmes had fled England forever. That's when he shot Ronald Adair. And I assure you," he added emphatically, "Mr. Holmes has the thing sewn up. He will be hung, make no mistake. And we none of us are much inclined to heed insults flung by such...scum. Dr. Watson, are you quite all right?" he finished in some distress.
"I am," I said. For a single moment, I loved everything about Inspector Lestrade, from his polished boots to to his supercilious eyebrows. "I have been terribly faithless, and remarkably blind, that is all. Lestrade, I do not know how I can ever thank you for having delved into the realm of theory."
"You needn't thank me," Lestrade said hastily. "And you needn't tell Mr. Holmes, either. Or Gregson. For God's sake, don't tell Gregson," he added with a tiny roll of his eyes.
"I won't," I promised, standing and shaking his hand solemnly. "You have my word. But I fear that Holmes will work the thing out on his own."
"Will he?" Lestrade replied apprehensively. "Of course he will. In any event, I--oh, to hell with it all. He has tormented me with theories long enough. I may as well get a little of my own back. He is a fair enough fellow, and even he will admit it's only just. Good morning to you, then, Doctor. And best of luck." Lestrade then turned are replaced the displaced pencil back into its accustomed formation.
Standing outside the headquarters of Scotland Yard, I momentarily considered hailing a cab and making straight for Baker Street. When I had admonished myself to be calm and think it through, I saw that such was not the most likely road to success, as I had dealt with Sherlock Holmes in the midst of his black humours before. With my goal in clear view and prudence in my designs, I made for the nearest telegraph office before returning home.
"Mrs. Garrison," I said, as the impossibly large team of men finished installing elaborately wrought iron railings upon my doorstep, "please take the rest of the afternoon off, and Sally as well."
"Oh, Dr. Watson," she exclaimed, her fat hand flying to her breast. "How generous! But--"
"I cannot brook any delay, Mrs. Garrison, for I have a client who greatly desires to maintain his privacy in the throes of a monstrously compromising ailment."
Mrs. Garrison, though foolish, was kind-hearted, which was the reason I tolerated her. "Of course, Doctor," she said firmly. "At once. The poor soul. Shall I get rid of all these workmen and tell them to return first thing tomorrow?"
"Mrs. Garrison, I would be most grateful if you would do exactly that," I replied.
The admirable matron nodded as if she had been ordered to command a battalion. "Right, Doctor. I will see to it that no one is left to interrupt you within these ten minutes."
"Thank you, my dear lady," I replied. I hastened to my office and shut the door.
Swiftly enough, the sounds of work being carried out faded. Rather later came the stringent instructions to the maid to behave herself, not to speak to men without a chaperon, and to return by nine. Moments after this I heard Mrs. Garrison shut the front door soundly behind her and I emerged from my office to pace the length of my recently refurbished entryway. I had not long to wait. Within another thirty minutes, Sherlock Holmes flew through the door without knocking and came to a confused halt upon my new rug, which he had obviously chosen with great care.
"You sent me a telegram," he said.
"Yes," I acknowledged.
He recovered his composure at once, or at least he pretended to do so. "This little yellow scrap of paper reads, if my eyesight does not fail me, 'I need you most urgently; there is no time to be lost; meet me at once in my offices.' The matter sounds pressing if not dangerous, does it not?"
"Yes, it does," I assented, attempting to betray nothing of what I felt. I gave it up as a bad job then and there, for I was not, nor could I ever be, Sherlock Holmes.
"Watson," he said breathlessly, "if you do not explain yourself at once, I shall draw my own conclusions, and I very much fear that they will prove unwelcome."
"Draw away," I said happily. I felt a new man, and yet more like myself than I had been in three years time.
"You must be a trifle more explicit," he said with touching urgency.
may reach any conclusion you like," I obliged him. "I know
and Lestrade is wholly right. He has always been right about
I never had the sense to see it. You are a
lunatic." I was by this
time so moved that an occasional tear betrayed itself, but there was
such a smile on my face that I dismissed them as a
fluke. "You are a
lunatic for ever having made such an absurdly self-sacrificing gesture,
and three times a lunatic for having thought it would not matter to--"
I fear I did not get any further, for suddenly there were very strong, wiry arms encircling me and a raven-haired head resting on my shoulder, sending tiny jolts of pain through my ancient scar. After a long moment, he lifted his head and then kissed the old wound through my frock coat.
"I did not think I would ever see it again." He let go of me and then stepped back some three feet for a better vantage point of my features. "I do not deserve it, you know. You must be aware of the fact already, but still, I reiterate--"
"We neither of us deserve it," I returned as gently as I could. "I ought to have trusted your definition of the word 'only,' and you ought to have afforded my literary skills slightly higher praise."
He laughed at this assessment, a laugh I had not heard properly since 1891, and drew me into his arms again. "It was a mad scheme, I admit it. I could think of no other way. I ought to have, but my intellect failed me entirely."
"No," I corrected him, "it did not. You could think of no other way which delegated the danger solely upon your own shoulders. The grief on mine, the danger on yours. Be advised," I finished, taking his face in my hands, "that I prefer a mixture of both danger and grief to either factor when isolated."
"Understood," he said softly. "You will decide such affairs henceforth, for I wash my hands of them."
"Do you?" I asked, for I had become aware that he was slowly, as if I would not notice, unbuttoning my shirtfront. "Does that mean you wish us to work once more in tandem?"
"If you will allow it," he replied, making an effort to look into my eyes while his own kept darting down to my exposed collarbone.
"I will certainly allow it, but I am suddenly at a loss as to where I should live. My offices have recently become far more habitable thanks to an anonymous benefactor."
"Dear me," he said sympathetically, throwing my cravat upon the ground. "Surely you can bring yourself to part with them? They will fetch you a far higher price now, after all."
"Holmes!" I exclaimed indignantly. "Is that what you intended all along?"
"No, no," he protested, letting go of me once more as if prolonged exposure to his touch might harm or in some way offend me. "Nothing of the kind. You were concerned about it, however, and I was moved to relieve your anxiety. Still," he added impishly, "you can now command a tidy sum for the place."
He had never appeared so clever, so fearful, and so courageous all at once, and when he approached me once more I pushed him away just so that I could look at him properly, the way I had used to.
"Holmes," I said falteringly, "I never stopped--"
"No," he said at once. He placed two thin fingers over my lips and shook his head. "I know you did not. You don't have to tell me. Please, don't tell me."
He laughed once more, though his grey eyes were infinitely serious.
"Of course I knew you had not stopped. Why do you think I sent you so many telegrams?"
It is now a matter of public record that I returned to live with Sherlock Holmes, and that he located a buyer for my newly extravagant medical practice and then funded the purchase with his own money, a fact I was only made aware of in 1901. This newly revealed secret, I will admit, led to a brief but heated argument between us. I was angry for a period of five minutes, and then concluded for the hundredth time that I ought not to set myself against Holmes once his mind is made up, and left it at that. There are secrets, after all, and then there are secrets. Lestrade, for his part, was mistaken about John Hector McFarlane, as Holmes and I proved beyond a shadow of a doubt the afternoon following my telegram. This did not make the slightest difference to us. The inspector had been right about enough far more important things to endear him to me--and, I may add without fear of perjuring myself, Holmes--for the remainder of our acquaintance. I will not say that we did not often enough find ourselves at cross purposes. But there are some favours, like some crimes, which run deeper than life or death. His was one of them. My forgiveness of Sherlock Holmes, I can say without unwarranted pride, was another. And his of me was a last, infinitely blessed, third.