I had been, to my own surprise,
exceptionally good humour that bright afternoon. The rounds I had made
were challenging both in the nature of the complaints and in the
individual quirks of the patients, but I had experienced one of those
golden periods in which each fresh problem is somehow dealt with deftly
and assuredly. My diagnoses were swift and confident and my treatment
of existing conditions deeply encouraging. I made, in fact, no effort
to conceal the smile which flitted across my face as I turned the key
in the lock of 221, for my exhaustion had reached that hazy state of
well-being which is even more pleasurable than mere idle relaxation.
When I arrived at the top of the stairs, I divested myself of hat and
stick and proceeded to look about me for some sign of Sherlock Holmes.
was not present, but lying in the center of an opened sheet of butcher
paper sat a small wooden box. I was certain it had not been there when
I had departed that morning, and I looked it over curiously. I did not
think twice about reaching for it, nor of opening it. The sharp prick
of the spring's metal edge shocked me into more profound alertness, and
I dropped the object with a start.
My hand bled in a tiny trickle as I stared down in amazement.
device had been loaded, I saw plainly, so as to catch the recipient
unawares, although what purpose such an absurd trick could serve was at
that moment entirely beyond the boundaries of my imagination. I fetched
a clean cloth, washed the scratch, dried it, and affixed a small piece
of sticking plaster. Searching the table for any note which may have
accompanied the clever little trap, I at length determined that there
was none to be found. Whether the box had been intended for Holmes or
created by him I could not tell, but I at length decided that the
grotesque object would be explained to me in the fullness of time.
did not waste any more time thinking about it, I am afraid. Instead, I
settled myself upon the sofa with a medical journal to await my
companion's return in greater comfort. I found my mind drifting almost
instantly, and within ten minutes I was fast asleep.
There are a
number of sounds in this world which are unpleasant to the ear, but
very few that are capable of wrenching a deeply sleeping man into
instant wakefulness; one such sound, I know to my regret, is that of a
beloved friend being startled from ease into panic. The cry he gave
will remain in my mind for the rest of my life. It was a dreadful
yell--one which might have been heard down the street. I sat up
immediately, my skin cold and my hair bristling.
is the matter?" I gasped, whirling about to clutch the back of the
settee with two hands as I knelt on the seat. He had reached me in
three long strides a moment later and taken my face in his hands, which
I was mortified to discover were not perfectly steady, as was their
habit. That he had my face in his hands in the first place, an equally
startling event, I was too drowsy to immediately register. I am not a
man who is discomfited by the nearness of other men. Quite the
contrary, as a matter of fact. I am exceptionally skilled at concealing
this element of my nature, but nevertheless this is so.
tell me you did not open that box," he said rapidly. "Please tell me.
You...." He stopped himself at the sight of the little strip of
sticking plaster and at once covered his mouth with his hand.
I did. I am sorry, for it was very likely yours. But it was only a
spring, my dear fellow, though it drew blood for a moment. Some absurd
joke, no doubt."
My friend's face went utterly white, an event
which was terrifying to observe, for the man was ever pale and
aesthetic at the best of times. "You cut your hand on the spring from
that box?" he repeated slowly.
"The merest scratch," I smiled,
though the expression died when he began to look nothing short of ill.
"My dear fellow, what is it? As you can see, no harm has been done."
there has," he whispered. "No, no, you are right. Perhaps there has
not. Perhaps, in the execution of it--dear God in heaven, may he have
made some mistake--at what time did you arrive home?"
have been two hours ago. Holmes, you must tell me at once what this is
about," I added firmly, for I still could not see what had so terrified
him, and witnessing such chagrin from a man of his stoic nature was
deeply disturbing. I had, from the commencement of our lodging
together, made a scrupulous study of the fellow which bordered upon
outright obsession, and never before in our acquaintance could I recall
him appearing visibly afraid. My sympathy with his entire existence was
such that his fright was positively infectious. "I would have felt very
stupid indeed if the point had been tipped with venom or some such
nonsense, but as you can see I am perfectly well."
"No headache?" he demanded urgently, running a hand over my brow.
"Fever? Muscle weakness?"
"What is going on here? Holmes, who sent you that box?"
ought to have hidden it," he muttered, beginning to pace the small
space between our settee and his chemical table. "Why on earth did I
not put the wretched thing away? I am the most confounded fool in
London. Anyone would have opened it."
"You didn't open it," I pointed out with growing
am not typical of my race," he snapped in return. "I am sorry," he said
immediately. "Watson, do you feel anything amiss, anywhere, at all? It
is most vitally important," he finished, resuming his entirely
unsystematic examination, which consisted mainly of lightly touching my
head and neck as if doing so could assure him I was still present. This
was not an altogether unprecedented development. Holmes, I had realized
very early in our acquaintance, possessed highly sensitive hands and
was more often than not disposed to use them--for emphasis, for
articulation, for effect, and occasionally for no good reason whatever.
The fact that his doing so had a distressingly profound effect upon me
I had thus far managed to keep to myself.
"Am I meant to
understand," I ventured, "that some variety of pathogen was introduced
to that spring before it was placed in the box?"
"I don't know,"
he said miserably. "Yes, I think so. I may be mad, my dear fellow. I
hope very much that I am mad. It isn't likely, but--"
"Holmes," I murmured in dismay, "that box wasn't sent to you from Dr.
Culverton Smith, was it?"
"I can reassure myself in a variety of ways, but it would be absurd to
deny that the package was addressed in his handwriting."
"Good heavens," I gasped, sitting back upon the sofa.
instant I registered the proper anxiety, his own face composed itself
determinedly as he leaned forward. "There is nothing whatever to worry
about. You are going to be fine. I swear it to you. You must help me,
however, and we shall see what is best to be done."
the edge of the settee and seated himself next to me with his knee
drawn up at an angle, barely brushing against my own. I had often been
overjoyed that the object of my single minded devotion had, despite his
aloof nature, a very careless sense of his own space where I was
concerned, but I was by this time far too distracted to be properly
"Let us consider the matter more carefully," he
declared. "At this juncture, we know that Culverton Smith did away with
Victor Savage, whose continued existence would have cost him a
considerable amount of money had he lived a longer and more productive
life. We know that he did so by introducing a disease to Savage which
is unheard of in England, let alone London, and a disease of which
Smith has made a special study. We know that Smith is aware of our
suspicions, to my regret. We know he sent the box, and we know that the
box was addressed to me."
"If we are to reach the obvious conclusion, I am a dead man," I said
"Don't say that," he replied sharply. "That is a preposterous notion."
"Holmes, it is logic."
is fanciful pessimism, and I've no patience with it. If I have anything
to say about the subject, and I most assuredly do, you will die in your
sleep at the age of a hundred and ten. Now, either you have been
infected with the disease or you have not. In the first case--"
"There is nothing whatever to be done."
conclusion is precisely backward," my companion said scathingly. "In
the first case, we shall work out a solution when we are more certain
of our facts. In the second case, there is nothing whatever to be done,
because there is nothing wrong with you. How long, in your professional
opinion, would it take before you grow symptomatic of an ailment
introduced in this manner?"
"I have made no particular study of diseases administered purposefully
via contaminated spring."
"Then extrapolate from other experience," he suggested with exaggerated
"What is the point? If the spring was infected--"
realize you are alarmed, but do me the honour of listening to me for a
moment! I take a spring, and I daub it with a pathogen I have
developed. Perhaps I remember that most germs can exist for only a
short time outside a host, depending upon their environment. Perhaps I
do not recall that is the case, and fail to include an effective enough
culture medium on the tip of the weapon. I am no doctor, but surely you
will own that a bare spring is not the most comfortable of homes for a
As much as I was inclined to indulge in
unhelpful panic, my good sense returned in time to inform me Holmes was
perfectly correct. "If a pathogen has been introduced into my
bloodstream, I would expect to see results no later than tomorrow," I
"Then sufficient for tomorrow is the evil
thereof," Holmes concluded. He leapt to his feet and reached for his
hat. "I shall see you in the morning."
"What?" I exclaimed. "You are leaving me? Where are you going?"
seems to me an important enough circumstance to prepare for the worst
even if we do not expect it," he replied. "I've little notion how long
my researches are likely to take, but I shall return no later than nine
in the morning. I request that you remain healthy, but I will not blame
you if you find it is too difficult a task."
"Holmes, you cannot
find a cure for a deadly disease in matter of hours! Surely you know
that. Stay where you are. Please." I knew well enough why I wanted him
to remain so badly, though I hoped fervently that Holmes himself
remained in ignorance.
"See here, Doctor," he said, returning to
face me with the settee still between us. He leaned his wiry body
against it, and the back of that piece of furniture had never before
seemed to me so very thinly constructed. "Tomorrow morning, we are
going to ring for breakfast and weave our web to ensnare this Smith
villain. He is far too unpredictable and malevolent to be allowed to
roam our streets unhindered. But tonight I am taking precautions." He
cast one more look over my features, and then willed himself into
nonchalance. "Sleep well," he called out as he exited our rooms. I
stared at the closed door for a full five minutes before my head
dropped despairingly on my arm.
It would do no one an ounce of
good to worry, I concluded, and though I could not begin to guess what
Holmes thought he was doing, I set about preparing for bed as
dispassionately as was possible. I intended to fall asleep at once,
hoping vaguely that when I awoke, the whole bizarre incident would
prove to be an exceptionally long nightmare. I intended to meet Holmes
downstairs and order extra rashers with my eggs. I intended to spend
that day, as I had spent so many others, recording every possible
nuance of expression evidenced by the world's only independent
consulting detective, without hinting to that dispassionate gentleman
that I had fallen irrevocably in love with him. I say intended, for by
four in the morning I had fallen into a low fever and had lost sight of
my resolutions entirely.
A gentle knock at
my door brought me back to myself, but before I had time to bid the
visitor enter, he was sitting on the edge of my bed.
Holmes' face hovered above my own with apparent serenity, but I who
knew his every mood could see my own poor health reflected upon his
face. "How do you feel?"
"The first case," I sighed. "The one we are in disagreement over the
possibility of treating."
balled a small amount of my bedclothes into a fist but made no other
sign. "You are certain?" He ran the back of a long hand over my brow.
"No, I am toying with you in an outrageous and unfeeling charade," I
responded. "Of course I am certain."
"How long have you been like this?"
don't know. Four hours? Five? Holmes, this doesn't feel like a
coincidental influenza. The worst has happened. I am sure of it."
"Get up," he said with a positively militaristic air of command.
"In heaven's name, why?"
"This is the worst sickroom I have ever encountered. My bedroom is at
least on the first floor. Now, come with me."
I was considering the justice of this idea, an altogether horrifying
thought occurred to me. "Holmes, get away from me at once."
"I beg your pardon?"
"You mustn't touch me," I coughed. "Leave the room."
what way have I given offense?" he asked suavely. His voice remained as
languid as ever, though I could see that proof of my illness had been a
considerable blow to him.
"I am very likely contagious. You must
keep away from me at all costs," I insisted, my heart beating against
my ribcage at the thought of Holmes, the most elegant, courageous,
intelligent man the world had ever produced, contracting the virulent
disease from me.
He laughed mirthlessly. "Let us lose no time adding delirium to your
list of symptoms. Get out of that bed and come with me."
"Holmes, please," I persisted, flushing in my vexation. "I cannot allow
you to risk it."
you suppose such a consideration weighs with me for an instant?" he
demanded, growing angry in his turn. "What sort of man do you take me
for?" He passed an arm behind my back and physically lifted me into a
seated position, and before I could make any gesture of protest, he had
drawn my own arm across his muscular shoulders and assisted me to my
"Do you think I desire my final act in this world to be
infecting my dearest friend with a deadly disease?" I cried out. "Let
go of me, for God's sake."
"Oh, certainly. Then I shall just
live out my days having watched idly--from a safe distance, mind--while
you--" He arrested his speech suddenly. "You can do one of two things.
You can help, which is to say walk, or I shall carry you bodily down
the stairs. And do not for a moment entertain the thought that I could
not do it," he finished with forced jocularity.
If I was
incapable of saying no to Sherlock Holmes when in perfect health, I
could not expect to do so when weakened and feverish. We reached his
bedroom quickly enough, and though I was mortified at his proximity to
the contagion, I could not deny that his room was far more amenable to
caring for the sick than my cozy little garret at the top of a flight
of narrow stairs. When I had been made comfortable, he disappeared for
some few minutes while I looked about me from the unprecedented
position of Holmes' bed. His pillow smelled so sweetly and subtly of
him that I could almost bring myself to the brink of contentment before
I recalled the circumstances which had led me there.
reappeared after a short period with a glass of water, a cold compress,
and a notebook. The first object he placed on his side table, the
second on my forehead, and sitting beside me, he opened the third
"What are you doing?"
"We are compiling a list. Tell me the most prominent specialists in
tropical disease currently abiding in London."
Jasper Meek is one," I said thoughtfully. "His practice is doubtless
listed in my medical directory. He made quite a name for himself in his
day, traveling throughout Asia making a special study of water-borne
fevers. Penrose Fisher recently returned from Siam and is considered
the final authority on the black Formosa corruption, among other
obscure ailments. But Holmes, what good--"
unwarranted morbidity, I implore you," he interrupted. "It is very
grating to my nerves. I may not know anything about tropical ailments,
but I have, at least, a healthy bank account. Victor Savage called in
neither of these gentlemen, and who knows but that it may have made a
difference. What can I do for you in the meanwhile?"
"Nothing--I am well enough, for the moment," I said in as stout a voice
as I could muster.
fellow. I have told Mrs. Hudson it would be best not to disturb you,
but she'll be up shortly with some broth. She can leave it on the far
table, if you prefer."
"I do prefer. Holmes...."
"What is it, my dear fellow?" he asked from the door.
mind," I said weakly. I could not tell him why his confidence had so
effectively averted my own panic, and neither could I express my
gratitude for it without indulging in far more sentimentality than
Holmes would be prepared to tolerate. "Thank you."
"It is nothing," he dismissed me. "Rest well until I return." I drifted
back into an uneasy sleep.
Jasper Meek and Penrose Fisher, both of whom boasted schedules
unsurpassed for being filled to the breaking point by any other medical
gentlemen in London, arrived within two hours. I stared up at them from
the bed making but scant attempts to conceal my awe at their arrival.
How Holmes accomplished it I have never learned, but after a lengthy
consult with me and with each other, my friend leaning back against his
wardrobe with his hands thrust in his pockets all the while, they
reached the same conclusion I had expected them to reach all along. If
it was a known fever, they could make an effort to cure it, but it was
not yet so advanced that they knew what they were dealing with. If an
unknown fever, the only method would be to hope for the best while it
ran its course, wreaking its particular brand of havoc as it did so.
They were detailing this dilemma very courteously to me when their
eloquence met with an unexpected impediment.
"Gentlemen, I am
sure we are very grateful to you for explaining in such detail what
maladies this could not possibly be," Holmes interjected, after having
swiveled his aloof head back and forth from one to the other. "Indeed,
the fact that it could not be malarial had no more entered my mind than
the fact that it could not be typhus. However, as the factor of time
may well be in effect, might I suggest that you devote yourselves more
passionately to the reaching of a diagnosis? The last person to
contract the disease was dead in four days. That is an outcome we would
be reluctant to consider in this instance," he ended, and there was no
mistaking this time the slim thread of fear running through the biting
The physicians were not overly enthusiastic about my
friend's tone of voice. They suggested a variety of drugs, jotted them
down, corrected one another's suggestions, apologized they could not do
more, and by the time they had left Baker Street my hands had begun
shaking and twitching subtly where they lay upon the quilt. Holmes
settled himself next to me and lit a cigarette.
"It was good of you to bring them, in any event," I thanked him after a
fit of coughing had subsided.
were never our best chance of success," he said with a wave of his
hand. "My researches last night will more likely lead us to our goal."
what way?" I asked. My spirits were utterly depressed, for I was sick
enough to know that the ailment was deadly serious while still well
enough to be cognizant of every detail. "You have made a breakthrough
in modern medicine?"
"Do be serious, my dear fellow. I spent last night chatting up workmen
and housemaids in pubs."
"Of course you did," I replied, closing my eyes in despair.
"It was very profitable indeed."
"How could it have been?" I asked, beginning to lose my temper.
have never yet encountered a doctor who makes a particular study of a
disease merely to admire the artistry of its effects," he returned
acidly. "I gambled that Culverton Smith, having proven a clever enough
sort in his unsullied youth, may well have developed a treatment for
his pet pathogen. Apparently, he talks of little else when engaged in
professional consultations. Or so the downstairs housemaid tells me.
But I am sure you could not possibly take an interest in such idle
"Holmes, forgive my impatience, but this is hardly the time leave me in
suspense, you will admit."
has in the past cultivated a substance, distilled into a serum, which
proved very promising in a large percentage of the natives afflicted by
the disease," my companion said apologetically. Clarity, for Holmes,
was often enough a capitulatory gesture.
"Never mind what percentage--it was more than large enough to invest
our hope in that quarter."
required a lengthy examination of Holmes' ceiling to find the right
tack for coherently venting my profound frustration. "My dear chap,
forgive my doubts regarding your valuable reconnaissance, but this is
still stark madness. So Smith has in the past cultivated a serum. How
is he to be convinced to do so in this case? He was attempting to kill
you. He managed to infect me. But he cares nothing for me. The monster
is positively devilish in his indifference to human life. What are you
going to say to him? 'Pardon the imposition, but your death sentence
has fallen upon the wrong victim. I would be obliged if you would cure
him.'" I was growing more and more irrationally enraged at Holmes,
partly for grasping at what I was convinced was the merest straw, and
partly, if I am honest, because we are all of us determined to live at
all costs and I had fallen prey to a device never intended to hurt me.
"He will never agree to it. Send him a wire informing him he's murdered
me, if you like--I am reasonably sure he won't even remember my name."
are right," Holmes said, a tiny spark of light illuminating his eyes.
He tossed the stub of his cigarette into the fireplace as a sly smile
broke the chiseled planes of his features.
"Yes, I am. Blast it all, Holmes, what could you possibly look so
"It is a marvelous idea, my dear Watson." He grasped my hand and had
shaken it firmly before I could protest.
"In the name of all that is good in the world, what idea?" I cried out
after him as he made for the door.
"It is me he wants, after all," Holmes said cheerily. "That is very
isn't helpful in the smallest degree!" I snapped at his retreating
back. "I've merely proven rhetorically I am nothing more than a bloody
I regretted my display of temper immediately, but was
afforded no opportunity to apologize for it. I would give a great deal
to report that he returned to reassure me, or that he acknowledged my
outburst at all, but the door had shut behind him almost before I had
finished expressing it.
I awoke far
less aware, and in a great deal more pain than previous. My joints
throbbed, my head ached, I was desperately cold while fully aware I was
burning within the bedclothes, and it was difficult to keep my thoughts
linear. There had been doctors, I recalled, but they could do nothing.
My hands twitched uncontrollably. I had been helping Holmes--or had he
been helping me, and what had we been doing? Despite many efforts, I
failed to form a single coherent thought before I registered the door
opening and my friend's measured step approaching the bedside.
I took one look at his face and gasped in horror. "Holmes, what has
"Nothing," he said calmly. "I--"
infected you," I whispered in despair. "I never meant to. Forgive me,
my dear fellow, but I told you to stay away. Why did you not stay away?
I asked you to. I remember that much. I never wanted you near enough
for this. You ought to have been further away, much further away."
in the back of my mind I registered that I was being far from
articulate, but I was assured such was the case when Holmes stared back
at me in blank alarm. "Be still, my dear fellow. I am not sick, I
"But look at you!" I cried, and then subsided into
a series of wracking coughs. "You cannot see what you look like, but I
can, and I tell you--"
"It is nothing," he said emphatically. "I'm perfectly sound."
"I can see, I can see for myself--"
belladonna in my eyes, a great deal of white powder to pale the
complexion, and beeswax where the Vaseline would not suffice," he
replied. "Look closely, and you will see that it is so."
are trying to keep me from concerning myself about it, but I know you
are lying," I groaned. I cannot recall if Holmes' disguise was to blame
or my own incoherent state, but I was fully convinced he was as sick as
I, and that I would hold myself to blame for the short time remaining.
"Feel this, Doctor," he said, lifting my hand to his face. "I've no
increase in temperature. Do you seriously imagine--"
"But I have, and so there is nothing less reliable than my own judgment
he said rather less patiently. He turned my hand over and pressed my
fingers to the pulse point of his carotid artery. "Shall I count with
you, or can you still manage that? I am dying without the slightest
aberration of pulse or temperature. It does not seem particularly
probable, does it?"
He was right. I did not believe him because he was right, however. I
believed him because I trusted him.
"You cannot get sick," I said breathlessly. "You cannot."
kindly meant wish is granted, as it happens, even if I do not deserve
it." He allowed my hand to fall back to the bedclothes, but somehow his
own remained intertwined with mine, resting there upon the coverlet. It
did not feel strange, merely pleasant and absurdly natural.
"Why are you like this?" I asked him. "I mean, why have you made
yourself sick? Why...."
is a necessary part of our campaign to improve your health," he
replied, his grey eyes taking in every fleeting thought which darted
across my mind. Or so I imagined, for Holmes knew everything. He had
always known everything. Not only did he know everything, but he was
still insisting I would live. It seemed at that moment the best comfort
I could wish for.
"I don't understand it," I confessed.
"You don't need to," he smiled. "Go back to sleep. I will explain it to
may be unforgivably obtuse, but I cannot imagine what it means," I said
drowsily. "But Holmes, are you sure you are all right?" I was repeating
myself, I knew. I cared but little. It seemed particularly important to
me at the time that Holmes not rely on my assistance out of a mistaken
belief in my own grasp of the situation, and that he remain free of the
malady which I knew by then would take my life if something drastic
were not done to prevent it.
"I am well, and you needn't know what I am doing. I promise you," he
may have continued speaking, or he may not. I was making every effort
to listen attentively. The moment I believed he did not require
anything of me, however, I lapsed back into feverish dreams.
A great many things happened then which I
do not recall
with any clarity. There was a hoarse, screaming voice which carried
through the walls. For a brief period I thought it was angry at me, but
soon enough it was proven to be angry at Holmes. It shouted all manner
of abuse at him, to which he responded with regal indifference. I set
this event down as a hallucination. I could still walk, I know, but I
could not drink water without assistance, for my hands were more often
than not quite useless. Holmes was equally as sick, I thought on
occasion, but we would both come right if only they would bleed us into
one bowl and then put it back again. There was the beginning of a
horrible pain in my torso, which twisted and pressed me until I felt I
would never stand straight again even if I did recover. And there was
cold, petrifying cold, such as I had experienced once before. I had
lain ill with severe fever following the Afghan campaign, and it was
becoming increasingly difficult to understand why I felt so terrible if
I had not been wounded in action. It was morning, I saw through the
window. And then it was night again. It seemed very important to sleep,
and all at once it seemed far more essential to remain awake at any
When I came back to myself, Holmes was standing over me with a haggard
countenance, administering an injection in my forearm.
"Is that a cure?" I managed.
is morphine," he said very quietly. "You were...." He stopped and
looked at me intently, his face astonishingly grave. "That is you,
isn't it? I haven't seen you for many hours, my boy," he added. "I am
almost sorry you are aware of anything."
"Don't worry about me." I don't remember registering the absurdity of
"Unfortunately, that is one request I do not think I shall be able to
meet," he smiled.
"What is the time?"
"It is nearly midnight. Has the morphine taken any effect?"
think so. If I am uncomfortable, I certainly don't know it. What are we
doing?" I then inquired, recalling there was a campaign of some sort
still in the works.
"We are waiting."
"Are we?" I asked. It was terrible to see his face, lined and white
with strain as it was. "We've given it up, then?"
"No!" he exclaimed, horrified at the suggestion.
"Why haven't we?"
aren't dying," he replied, his eyes as set as if they had been carved
out of marble. He sat down next to me. "I won't allow it."
"Holmes," I whispered, "I don't believe you have half as much to do
with it as you think."
"Nevertheless, you will do me the courtesy of not directly
contradicting me, I am sure."
you insist upon it." I drew my knees up so that they curled around his
seated form. It was not an action I would have taken under less dire
circumstances, but I was rapidly growing too ill to care about secrecy
any longer. "You are an extraordinarily stubborn individual," I
"That is perfectly true. I have always been so." He looked troubled.
"You had better not waste your energy talking."
want to talk. I may not--that is, it seems a rare opportunity," I
corrected myself. "But you are right, I suppose. Perhaps you had better
bear the weight of the conversation. Have you given Smith my regards?"
"In a manner of speaking," he assented.
"Need I know anything about it?" I coughed. "Have you hopes of success?"
"No. I have expectations of success. I am going to set this right if it
is the last thing I do," he vowed.
"That would indeed be foolish, for then we would still be deprived the
pleasure of one another's company," I pointed out.
well, then," he said, smiling at me with unaffected warmth. "It will
not be the last thing I do, merely the most important."
not listen to Holmes speak this way about me, my inhibitions shattered
by morphine as they were, without very great danger. "If there is
anyone who can best Smith, it is you."
"He is an exceptional
miscreant, Mr. Smith, as are all doctors when they go wrong, but I mean
to have the better of him. I have every confidence that he is slowly
coming round to my point of view, despite his criminal pedigree. You
must promise me you will never turn your energies to the pursuit of
"I will not, if you would prefer it," I agreed with a smile. "Who was
the first criminal doctor you encountered in your career?"
"That was not a particularly riveting case," he shrugged.
"But if doctors truly are so apt in wrongdoing, the affair must have
held some feature of interest."
it did not. In fact, it held fewer features of interest than the
Cartwright embezzlement case, which I need not remind you caused even
the most staid of investigators to weep with boredom."
"Come, it must have been unique in order for you to have taken it on at
"Yes, I suppose it ought to have," he sighed. "Shall I fetch you
anything? Are you hungry at all?"
thank you. I am sorry--I did not realize you would not wish to speak of
it," I apologized, in a sudden panic that he would leave me to myself.
"Not at all. The facts are simply unbearably tedious," he said
"I enjoy all accounts of your early work, no matter how tedious."
"You know that I do."
cannot imagine you will enjoy this account, no matter that it involves
a brother medico. My father was a doctor, you know," he stated in a
"Was he?" I asked incredulously. "My dear fellow, you
have never spoken of him before. I had thought your ancestors were
"So they were. We had far more land than money, I am afraid."
Holmes, I had asked about--" I stared at him in disbelief. "You cannot
mean that--my dear fellow, I am sorry. I am too ill to think, and I
fear I have not followed you."
"You followed me exactly." He was
no longer looking at me, but gazing, his eyes unfocused and unseeing,
into the fireplace. I would once have given anything for my companion
to have told me about his upbringing, told me anything at all, but
something in the dead chill of his demeanor gave me pause.
"Holmes, you must forgive me," I said all in a rush. "I've really no
wish to pry into your private aff--"
father poisoned a young girl from the village with a compound of
arsenic and tranquilizers. We did not long wonder why he had done
so--it was discovered at her autopsy that he had the clearest of
The world, which was already spinning slightly, made a violent
revolution at this ghastly statement.
"My dear Holmes," I murmured. "I never...." I reached for his hand.
"Don't speak of it, old man. I am so terribly sorry."
"It isn't important any longer," he replied without inflection. "The
wretch is dead, after all. What did your father do?"
was a solicitor," I told him, making a Herculean effort to pretend
Holmes had not just told me of the most hideous event I could imagine
befalling a youth. "And an unspeakable drunk. But he was damnably
clever all the same. He practiced in Australia. I've no relations left
in England, and my immediate family have all passed away."
I remember. The watch," he smiled. He looked more himself by the
moment. I wondered who, after the Holmes brothers had gone to the
trouble of completely drowning themselves in the anonymity of London,
they had told of their parentage apart from myself. "You thought it was
"Now I know better what you are capable of
accomplishing. Which is to say, nearly everything, short of cheating
death itself," I said fondly.
"I'll do even that if I have to. I am not averse to a challenge."
"That does not mean you will win," I told him kindly. "I am as mortal
as my father and my brother, after all."
"How the devil can you be so stoical about all of this?"
"I gather I was not so stoical before the morphine."
"You were delirious, and in agony," he said gently.
have faced death before," I reflected weakly. "I am not so very
stoical, but I have learned to manage it. I cannot help but think the
undiscovered country would be worth seeing."
"Stop it this instant," he pleaded. "You are staying in this
you must tell me something." The morphine, which my system was entirely
unaccustomed to, had drawn a veil between me and the world at large.
Only Holmes existed, and to my immense relief there he sat, despite my
having forced an abhorrent confidence quite by accident.
"What is it?" he asked, his voice greatly weighted.
"No! It hasn't anything to do with your--with what we just spoke of," I
assured him hastily.
"Then we are in agreement, and I positively must tell you something,"
he conceded. "What am I to tell you?"
haven't any patience with the softer emotions," I pointed out. "You've
said so. You claim to be complete stranger to love, and everything akin
to it. But you are far more sympathetic, and a better caretaker, and
far more kind, than many a man of my acquaintance who has conducted
four affairs a year quite unfeelingly. Granted, you are very cold in
your manner from time to time, but you would do for a complete stranger
what few worldly men would do for their own siblings."
me far too much credit--in fact, it is rather in the way of being
outrageous credit. But that isn't a question," he pointed out in all
seriousness. I had half expected him to draw away, but he remained
where he was.
"I know." I re-formulated the query. Doubtless I
would never have been so insanely bold had I not been so ill that I
could scarcely see, and newly hovering on a narcotic cloud. "What I
mean to say is, how can you conduct yourself with such depth of feeling
if you have never loved anyone?"
"That is a very logical argument," he acknowledged, his eyes glowing
strangely. "What do you infer from it?"
"That you are not as immune to love as you claim." The pain was
beginning to return, but I pushed all thought of it aside.
are you asking me?" he inquired with some amusement, although his eyes
were still deeply somber. "You are perfectly right, of course. I know
all about it."
"You do?" I faltered. I struggled to see him properly. "I had hoped you
look at me. Watson," he repeated urgently. "Why should it matter to
you, an ardent admirer of womankind? You cannot be that selfless. Why
should it matter at this moment, when any other man would be thinking
"I don't like to see you alone."
"I'm not alone. Not when you are here," he whispered.
"I didn't want to leave without telling you."
"Telling me what?" he cried. "Watson? Please answer me."
My eyes fluttered closed again. I clutched at consciousness, but it
eluded me like a stream of pipe smoke upon the breeze.
last time I awoke I was aware I was screaming. I dimly sensed another
injection taking place, and the world grew quieter, and a great deal
further off. I drifted for a time, until another spasm shook me and my
eyes were forced open by the shock of it. Holmes was sitting there once
more, or perhaps he had never left. He had one of my hands in both of
his, and he hadn't bothered to adjust my sleeve where he had rolled it
back. I was barely aware of him, but I knew somehow that he was in a
far deeper hell than I was.
"Watson, listen to me," he said
desperately. "You can hear me, can you not?" I don't know if I nodded.
Perhaps he knew without a sign. "You must do something for me. You must
live until tomorrow. Victor Savage was not half the man you are.
Doctor, do you hear me? I am begging you," he whispered fiercely. His
eyes shone more than usual, though I could not think why. "Tomorrow you
are free to do whatever you like, but you will live until then, damn
you. You have always done what I asked. I categorically forbid you to
die tonight. You will do that for me, won't you? Please say that you
will. Say anything at all, my dear fellow."
"I will try," I said
in a rasping murmur. "I would do anything for you." Then I drifted back
into pain, and cold, and knew nothing more.
awoke the next evening to the sort of physical exhaustion I had once or
twice experienced after horrendously grueling rugby matches, and to a
tremendous headache. It was warmer on the right side of the bed than on
the left, and I soon determined that this was due to my lying
half-cradled on the body of a soundly slumbering consulting detective.
Finding this out without moving was a difficult task, and for several
seconds, it was too joyous an event to comprehend.
At length I
realized that I must move or do myself injury, so I disentangled us as
noiselessly as possible and made my way to refresh myself. When I had
done so, drank a draught of water greedily, and splashed cold water
over my face, I stared into the mirror in disbelief. I was fine. I was,
as Holmes had phrased it, perfectly sound. He had performed an outright
miracle, and he had done it to save my life. A lump sprang into my
throat at this thought, and then another portion of my anatomy entirely
hardened when I recalled wisps of the conversation that had taken
place...yesterday? The day before? I hurried back to the bedroom.
was still asleep. More aptly, he was deeply unconscious, for I doubted
not that he had drifted off mere hours before, and that he had not
slept prior to that for several days. If I were a kinder man, I would
have let him be. Instead, I fairly leaped on top of him and he awoke
with a gasp.
"You've done it!" I crowed. "You ought to be sainted. How in God's name
kissed me so hard that I was dizzy in a matter of seconds. Then he
pulled back and stared at me blankly, finally letting out an absurd
little laugh. It was not his usual inward merriment, nor his barking
exclamation of irony, but something altogether unprecedented.
course I am alive, you imbecile." He looked as if he had been run over
by a carriage, and he was the most heartbreakingly beautiful thing I
had ever seen. "You are possessed of dark magic, or unworldly cohorts,
or perhaps you are in league with the very devil himself."
"Not far from it," he agreed. "Smith is well in the running for the
worst man in London."
"Smith saved me?" I marveled. "That is preposterous! You are having a
joke at my expense."
when I think of what--" he clutched me to his chest as if I were a
lifeline and threw me back upon the bed, the whole long line of his
body crushing mine. "My God. It worked. I didn't think it would work."
wait a moment!" I protested, breaking free from another ardent kiss
with reluctance. "You were completely assured. Never once did you own
that I could--"
"Of course I didn't! You would have given it up! I couldn't for a
moment let you see I was terri--"
fooled me into thinking I would live so thoroughly that I survived?" I
shouted up at him, for the joy of the occasion was such that we did not
even consider tempering our voices. "Holmes that is ridiculous!"
"No it isn't," he corrected me, gasping with laughter, and fighting me
off casually as I attempted to roll him over.
"By Jove! I remember. You wanted me to live until this morning. Or was
it last night? You were very set on my living until...?"
"Eight o'clock this morning." He could not stop smiling, and I could
not stop mirroring his expressions.
you were ill!" I exclaimed, finally forcing my way on top of him so
that I sat straddling his torso. "Or you made yourself up to be. In
God's name, what for?"
"To lure a gloating Smith to my bedside."
"With what in mind?"
"It was essential I convince him to produce a serum capable of giving
you a chance."
"But for Christ's sake, Holmes, what has the one to do with the other?"
"Once he was close enough, I employed very persuasive arguments," he
I grasped either side of his head by his shining black hair and
whispered, "What did you do?"
"I stabbed him with a sharpened spring."
I regarded him for a very long, exquisitely tense moment. "You didn't."
"I most assuredly did."
"And it took until eight o'clock this morning for the serum he was
working on so desperately to develop?"
"You have a very clear grasp of what took place. He sent it by
messenger the instant it was ready."
"Holmes! What if the serum had not worked at all?"
"Then we would all three of us be dead, for I began exhibiting symptoms
"Oh, my dear Holmes," I cried out softly. "What of Smith? Is he cured?
What if it did not work on him?"
"An interesting question. I have not given it a moment's thought," he
"What if the serum had not worked on me?"
one way or another, I promise you Smith would be dead." He was making
short work of the buttons on my nightshirt, never once taking his
burning eyes off mine.
"You would have killed him?" I whispered,
throwing his waistcoat to the floor and beginning on his shirtfront.
"Holmes, that is mad. What would you have done?"
"If he had died
of your ailment, I would have left it at that," he announced as he
pulled me down for another kiss. The instant my head tilted downward,
he swept my nightshirt off in one sleek movement. "If he hadn't, I
would have devised something equally painful. In the rare moments I
allowed myself to think of it, his demise involved a fire iron."
looked up at me kneeling above him, the last of my scant clothing
crumpled on the floor, and the set of his mouth was so unforgivingly
deadly that my breath caught in my throat. "So you would have murdered
"I am sorry if I have disappointed you regarding my
character, but you--I cannot be expected to live without--" All at once
he was kissing me with both his hands pressing the back of my head so
that I could scarcely breathe. I had robbed him of everything but his
trousers, but I was beginning to realize that it was difficult to get
the upper hand where Holmes was concerned, in this matter as in every
matter. He turned me so that I was lying on my side quite helplessly as
he kissed his way leisurely down my back and spine.
told me," I moaned when his tongue hit my lumbar curve. "Why did you
never tell me? Dear God, Holmes--" I abandoned speech when his hand
snaked around to cradle my manhood firmly.
"It isn't the sort of
thing one brings up over breakfast. 'My dear fellow, I'm aware that
it's a criminal matter, but I would like nothing better than to spend
four hours a day investigating the intimacies of your anatomy. If you
wouldn't mind passing the butter...'"
"How long have you been this way?"
flipped me onto my back once more after having kicked off the last of
his apparel and lowered himself onto my body gracefully. "In love with
you? That is hardly a fair question." I dug my nails into his back as
he ravaged my neck with his mouth.
"No--are you really?--I mean attracted to men," I gasped.
"In theory, forever. In practice, I was seventeen."
in love with me?" I could hardly believe that the incredible world I
had awoken to was real, but I had every intention of exploring it for
as long as it remained.
"I should give an approximate guess at
four years. And I am hardly to blame for not having brought it up," he
added, running hand over my upper thigh. "How was I to know you
indulged in this vice? You have an experience of women spanning three
continents. I read about it in the Strand."
believe everything you read. I love you more than anything." I drew in
a sharp breath as his warm mouth descended over me. Struggling to
maintain control of myself, I ran my fingers helplessly through his
hair. "Did you don your disguise in here, or in the sitting room?" I
His eyes flicked up to mine curiously. "Here," he said. "You are
"No, I am not. Where have you left the Vaseline?"
why on earth would you ask that question?" he purred, abandoning me
momentarily to open the drawer of his nightstand. He shook his head in
rueful disbelief. "If someone had told me a week ago that you even
dreamed of such things.... Now. It has been some time, I fear. Let us
see whether I can recall what to do with this. It belongs in this area,
does it not?"
"That's the general idea," I gasped. He lay on
top of me and traced my brow line with his thumb while he worked into
with his other hand.
"Look at me."
I did so, and he kissed me languidly. He did this for several minutes,
until my very bones ached with desire for him.
yet. We've done with secrets from now on, are we agreed? There must be
nothing between us. To be perfectly frank, I cannot recall having ever
felt this way about anyone. I adore you. When I give you longing
glances, I shall do so openly, when I can, and not via silver-plated
"I said not yet." He
kissed me again, and I feared my weakened, trembling body would burst
into flames if he kept going as he was. "Perhaps you weren't listening.
You are mine now, and I am quite dictatorial with my possessions. I
fear you are going to have to become accustomed to me doing as I wish
with you. Daily, when my schedule allows it. Twice on Sundays."
"I would like nothing better," I moaned.
"That is excellent news," he smiled.
"Holmes, please, for the love of heaven--"
"Patience is a virtue that provides its own rewards."
"You just want to hear me begging you," I whispered hoarsely.
is a secondary advantage," he allowed, but he shifted his weight and
when I felt the tip of him I knew he would at last do as I asked. It is
difficult to describe what remains. He made love to me with painstaking
slowness, his head buried in the crook of my neck, and when at last we
had spent ourselves in great, shuddering gasps, I lay there in silence,
amazed at the wonders to be found in the world.
isn't dead, if it matters to you," Holmes remarked the following
morning, curled in his chair with a heap of newspapers at his feet.
isn't? Culverton Smith?" I replied, looking up from the medical journal
I had been attempting to finish. Our plates had not yet been cleared
from breakfast, and the pleasant clutter of our untidy sitting room was
familiar enough, yet somehow, everything had changed. In my
it had changed inexplicably and marvelously for the better.
had a wire inquiring after your recovery. No doubt he wished to know
whether he ought to fear further reciprocity. I infer from his ability
to communicate via telegram that he is alive and well."
"Thank heaven--that is wonderful news."
should you wish him well?" Holmes inquired rather testily, reaching for
his pipe and tobacco. "The devil take him, as far as I am concerned. He
very nearly killed us both."
"Do you know what I would be doing
at this moment if he hadn't infected me?" I asked calmly. "I would be
watching your every movement in absolute secrecy, and soon would be
sifting through that pile of newspapers beneath you so that I could
have an excuse to brush your leg. It was not a bad life, I assure you,
and quite tantalizing in many of its aspects, but I vastly prefer my
new one. I would not be nearly so deliriously happy just now if it were
not for Smith and his little wooden box. So I say thank God for him."
you?" Holmes smiled back at me. The sun was streaming through the
window so that his face was in shadow, but I did not need light to know
the way he looked. "Then I say thank God too."