Of the scant good fortune I had been granted in those days, the fact that I had set up my practice next to a music teacher turned out to be one of my greatest comforts. In the busy first months of my practice, I’d taken little notice of my neighbors. It was not until I reduced my patient load after my return from the Continent that the harmonious strains from the other side of the wall finally reached my ears, and I began to make it a regular habit to be in my consulting room every Tuesday between the hours of three and five, when Mr. Hapsburg’s most singular vocal student took his lessons.
I distinctly recall the first time I occasioned to hear the extraordinary talents of one Mr. Maxwell Jarvis, for I instantly stopped what I was doing and pressed an ear to the wall in order to perceive every nuance of his extraordinary phrasing. His clear, pure baritone seemed to burst forth with no effort at all, and the small studio in which he practiced must surely have trembled under the power of his sound, which I imagined must be coming from someone of equally formidable girth. I was therefore surprised to see him leave the premises that day in the person of a tall, gaunt man of just under thirty, with a shock of jet-black hair and a lanky gait that belied the refinement of his musical skills.
Every week at precisely the same time, Mr. Jarvis appeared at the front door of Mr. Hapsburg’s building, a sheaf of music tucked under one arm, and rang the bell. Minutes later, he would be warming up with the aid of the piano, first in a series of sustained tones, then onto more ornamented variations that exercised the high and low ends of his range. When twenty minutes had lapsed, he would move on to simple folk tunes and English ballads, songs I knew from the time I was a boy, but his renditions were so full of fresh zeal that I felt I was hearing them anew.
The real performance began at sharp, when he turned to the more complex repertoire of the operatic stage. Had Mr. Hapsburg sought to exact a fee for the privilege of listening to him from the comforts of my own consulting room, I should gladly have paid him, for there could be no greater talent in all of
One Tuesday in late spring, Mr. Jarvis auditioned a new piece, a series of short songs that seemed to echo something I might have heard before. I cannot account for precisely why or how it was so, but I knew, I always knew, that they reminded me of Holmes.
The piano opened with a descending melodic minor theme that foreshadowed the melancholy to come. When Jarvis began to sing I was utterly transported.
Fremd bin ich eingezogen,
Fremd zieh' ich wieder aus.
Der Mai war mir gewogen
Mit manchem Blumenstrauß.
Das Mädchen sprach von Liebe,
Die Mutter gar von Eh', -
Nun ist die Welt so trübe,
Der Weg gehüllt in Schnee.
I do not speak German, but I did not need a translation to understand that this was the tragic lament of a lonely, isolated and restless soul. I surmised the subject was unhappy love, for what other sentiment could be so deeply felt? The final line, uttered first in a major key, then repeated in the darkened tones of the minor was so evocative of a broken heart that I held my breath as the piano finished the phrase.
An dich hab' ich gedacht.
I remembered Mary had a German phrasebook, and I ran to our sitting room to retrieve it. It took some concentration, but I pieced it together.
That I thought of you.
When Mr. Jarvis left that day, I watched from my window as his figure disappeared into
For several weeks, Mr. Jarvis and Mr. Hapsburg rehearsed those songs. On occasion, they would stop mid-phrase to discuss some means of improvement, but I never minded. The repetition boded well for me, for I soon had my favourites memorised. One in particular, so simple as to be little more than haunting, motivic fragments, barely ventured above pianissimo and explored the lowest range of the voice, which was quietly sidestepped by the piano’s accompanying whispers.
In die tiefsten Felsengründe
Wie ich einen Ausgang finde,
Liegt nicht schwer mir in dem Sinn.
Bin gewohnt das Irregehen,
's führt ja jeder Weg zum Ziel;
Uns're Freuden, uns're Wehen,
Alles eines Irrlichts Spiel!
Durch des Bergstroms trockne Rinnen
Wind' ich ruhig mich hinab,
Jeder Strom wird's Meer gewinnen,
Jedes Leiden auch sein Grab.
My hand instinctively flew to my heart upon its completion, for there was something inherently and disturbingly truthful within those lines that my soul seemed to recognize even as my mind still struggled to comprehend the words. At I walked out my front door, and caught Mr. Jarvis taking his leave.
“I beg your pardon, sir,” I called to him as he descended the steps.
He turned a friendly face to me. “Yes, sir?” He looked nothing like Holmes, and for some reason I was relieved to see this.
“I am Dr. John Watson, Mr. Hapsburg’s neighbor. I must tell you how much I greatly enjoy hearing you sing. You are blessed with a marvelous voice.”
He blushed and extended his hand. “Thank you kindly for saying so, Dr. Watson. My name is Maxwell Jarvis and it is my hope that one day all of
“I’ve no doubts about that, Mr. Jarvis,” I said, shaking his hand warmly. “May I ask what piece it is that you and Mr. Hapsburg have been rehearsing these past few weeks? I’ve scarcely known anything more moving.”
Jarvis smiled knowingly. “Ah, who else but Schubert could render a tragic poem by Wilhelm Müller with such romantic delicacy? It is called Winterreise, and in my opinion one of the composer’s finest achievements. I am performing it next Friday at St. James’s Hall.”
“Indeed? I know the venue well.”
“Perhaps you would like to come, Dr. Watson. I would be glad to reserve a couple seats for you and a guest at no expense to yourself.”
“How kind,” I said, shaking his hand again. “My wife and I have not attended a recital in some time.”
“Consider it done, sir. And I thank you again for your complimentary words.” I granted him a farewell nod and watched him proceed up the street, dodging pedestrians with the absent-minded clumsiness of someone for whom art is the only plane of existence.
The following Friday, Mary and I found our reserved seats near the front of the hall, which afforded us the best view of the performers. Upon our seats were two copies of Müller’s poem, one in the original German and the second an English translation. Within a few minutes of our arrival, Mr. Hapsburg and Mr. Jarvis took the stage, both looking shiny and polished in their formal wear as they bowed before the audience.
When Hapsburg played the brief introduction to “Gute Nacht,” Mr. Jarvis lifted his face towards the distant horizon and began to sing the words I knew so well. For the first time, their meaning was clear to me.
I came here a stranger,
As a stranger I depart.
May favored me
With many a bunch of flowers.
The girl spoke of love,
Her mother even of marriage -
Now the world is so gloomy,
The road shrouded in snow.
I had been correct—it was a sad song about unrequited love and lost opportunity. Why it had stirred me so became increasingly evident, and I do believe my heart stopped beating at the start of “Irrlicht” or “Will o’ the Wisp.”
Into the deepest mountain chasms
A will o' the wisp lured me;
How to find a way out
Doesn't worry me much.
I'm used to going astray,
And every way leads to the goal.
Our joys, our sorrows,
Are all a will o' the wisp's game!
Through the mountain stream's dry channel
I wend my way calmly downward.
Every river finds its way to the ocean,
And every sorrow to its grave.
I suddenly recalled where I’d heard its melody before. It was the moody lullaby Holmes had played repeatedly late that night when I had returned from my outing with Mary. Suddenly the faceless narrator whose laments had only resounded to me in musical tones took on the features of Holmes, and as Jarvis sang I watched my friend hopelessly wandering through a cold dark labyrinth, broken-hearted and alienated, looking for a passage that would lead him from his impossible angst.
I can scarcely recall the remainder of the performance, though I know the pair received a standing ovation at its end, and I am dimly aware that afterwards I offered some words of gratitude to Mr. Jarvis, who looked rather ill at ease amidst a swarm of female fans whose adoring gazes never left his face even as I fumbled past them to shake his hand.
The tide was coming and I was desperate to stay ahead of it just long enough to find my way into seclusion. Once we arrived home, I brushed aside Mary’s inquiries as to my well-being and hastened towards the guest room. I locked the door from the inside, sat in the chair by the window and waited.
I came here a stranger,
As a stranger I depart.
It began as a painful stab into my heart, spread into my stomach and soon had me in its inescapable clutches. Heaving sobs wracked my body so violently that I clung to the chair for support, soon gave up, and sank to the floor. The reaction was as much for Holmes as it was for me and my unforgivable ignorance of the stark truths about him that I’d failed to observe when he was alive.
I did not leave that room for three days.
* * * *
Sherlock Holmes was sitting cross-legged on a rug in a great
“You say you are a logician,” said the Lama.
“That is so,” said Holmes.
“You are seeking enlightenment,” said the Lama.
“That is so,” said Holmes.
“You have taken the fast,” said the Lama.
“I have, your Holiness,” said Holmes.
“Then let us begin,” said the Lama.
And so Holmes told the Lama of his travels, his incarnations, his accomplishments. He spoke, too, of his days as a consulting detective, renowned for his stellar logic and reasoning skills, his cunning and intuition.
“But there is more,” said the Lama.
“I have told you all,” countered Holmes.
“You have not. There is significant imbalance within you,” said the Lama.
“Your Holiness, for years I have enacted numerous teachings of the Buddha. I have held detachment and reason among my highest goals. I have avenged much crime and wrongdoing in the world, and devoted my life to aiding others in need.”
“But you do not live fully among sentient beings,” said the Lama. “There is more you must learn.”
“Pray continue, your Holiness.”
“Compassion and forgiveness,” said the Lama.
For one month, Sherlock Holmes meditated. He considered the ideals of altruism, compassion, the plight of sentient beings upon this Earth. Visions of all forms passed in and out of his mind. When he arrived at forgiveness, he only saw one person.
You are just back from
How on earth did you know that?
There was his young, tanned face, full of astonishment and awe.
Oh the cause is excellent!
Then I am your man.
There he was leaping from his chair with excited energy.
You have erred, perhaps.
It seems to me I have done you full justice in the matter.
There was his wounded expression, always somewhat strained as though the full measure of his pain was held somewhere else.
I really have some scruples taking you tonight. There is a distinct element of danger.
Can I be of assistance?
There was his unyielding courage overtaking the fear that turned his eyes from sea green to sapphire blue.
You could not possibly have come at a better time, Watson.
I was afraid that you were engaged.
There was his gentlemanly respect and humility as he bowed out of the sitting room.
I suppose you mean to take Miss Morstan for your wife.
Yes, that’s right.
There was his indignant glare as he braced himself for the insults that were sure to follow.
Holmes, if there’s to be something more between us I’ll—
You’ll what, Watson?
There was his hopeful and longing gaze betraying affections that went beyond friendship.
How can you forgive a man for loving too much?
Holmes faced the Lama again.
“Your Holiness, for one month I have meditated upon your teachings, and the teachings of the Buddha. I have internalized altruism, compassion and felt the plight of all sentient beings upon this earth.”
“You have done well,” said the Lama.
“Yet forgiveness eludes me,” said Holmes.
“It does not come without love,” said the Lama.
“I know love,” said Holmes softly. “I have loved.”
“But you are missing a vital link in the chain,” said the Lama.
“You must love yourself.”
Holmes’s eyes widened.
“The capacity to love oneself or be kind to oneself should be based on a very fundamental fact of human existence: that we all have a natural tendency to desire happiness and avoid suffering. Once this basis exists in relation to oneself, one can extend it to other sentient beings. For many, this is a singular challenge in the path towards enlightenment.”
For another month, Holmes meditated. At first, his visions centered again on John Watson, but then something shifted in his mind and he saw someone else instead.
He observed a curious man sitting behind his chemistry set, fascinated with the elements and formulas that constitute the sum of life. He saw a brave man risking his life to save a Greek and his interpreter from sulphurous poison, a governess from a brutish employer, and a young woman from her murderous stepfather. He saw a kind-hearted man dismiss a jewel thief in an angry fit of sympathy. He saw a sensitive man playing the violin, his chin resting against the instrument in solace, long fingers shaping the notes that helped to remind him of the possibility of humanity’s redemption. He saw a desperate man tie off his arm and inject himself with a seven-percent solution of cocaine. He saw a wise man bow his head while a French government official placed a medal around his neck. He saw a courageous man wrestling the Napoleon of Crime on the banks of the
He opened his eyes.
* * * *
I sat at my desk staring at the letter I had just received from the editor of the
I was confounded as to how to tell him I had lost my muse, that I had no desire to write of old cases without their subject there to chastise me for embellishing the facts with an overabundance of romanticism. Doing so would only remind me, once again, that those days of excitement and fulfillment were long gone.
“You loved him, too, didn’t you, John?” said Mary’s voice behind me. She had been sitting in her chair reading a book.
I sat up in surprise and spun around to protest. But when she raised her sensible brown eyes to meet mine, I realized it was futile. I sank back into my chair.
“How did you know?”
“You’re not the same. Not since you returned from the Continent. A part of you is gone. I had hoped it might come back after you had sufficiently grieved, but I see now that it could only exist while he was alive.”
Mary’s own sadness was evident in the crease of her brow, and for the first time I recognized that she had been grieving, too. I crossed the room and knelt beside her chair.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Mary. I never wanted to hurt you. You must believe that.”
Her eyes filled with tears, but her voice remained strong.
“I know that, John. I may never understand the depth of your feelings towards Mr. Holmes, but I cannot think the less of you for it. I only wish it was I alone who held the key to your heart.”
“You mean more to me than I’ve communicated to you, especially in these past several months. You have been as loving and loyal a wife as any man could ask for,” I said as I pushed the tears from her cheeks.
“And you’ve been a good husband, too, but I cannot remain under the shadow of the great detective. I do not wish to deny you your grief, but neither do I want to go on living with a ghost.” She turned her gaze to the window and willed the tears to stop.
I knew she was right. Holmes was gone, that was a fact, and I owed it to my wife and to myself to try and move on, to give what was left of me to her and fulfill the promises I had made on our wedding day. I took her hands in mine.
“Let us begin again, Mary, you and I, and recommit ourselves to building the life we first imagined.”
She nodded and squeezed my hands. “I should like that very much.”
“We shall travel together, and discover new things, start a family and rejoice in the experience of bringing new life into the world,” I said determinedly as I pulled her to me.
“I do so love you, John,” she whispered, holding me tightly to her small body.
The Adventures of John and Mary Watson, I thought, will take the world by storm. I nearly believed it could happen.
* * * *
“Dr. Sigerson, I think you’d better take a look at this,” his assistant called from the corner of the laboratory.
The scientist went over to Neilsson’s station and peered into the microscope, his sharp, stone-grey eyes dancing excitedly behind the lenses. “Ah, I had not expected it to crystallize so quickly.”
He glanced up at his assistant and offered him a rare smile. “Well done, Neilsson.”
“Thank you, sir,” the latter replied, his fair skin turning a mild shade of pink under his sand-coloured hair. “Shall I begin the alkaline experiments then?”
“I think not,” Sigerson replied with his usual efficiency. “I should prefer it if you would clean the test tubes for next week’s classes.”
“Happy to, sir,” Neilsson smiled, and blushed again when Sigerson thanked him with a pat on his shoulder. He had become deeply interested in the brilliant scientist who seemed to appear in
He began to look for ways to please him, to bring praises from him, to spend more time at his side in assistance. On a few occasions, he had been able to draw a conversation out of him, and he was delighted to learn that Sigerson loved music as much as he did, and enjoyed trying his hand at the violin when he was not working in the lab.
“You must play for me sometime,” Neilsson had said in a burst of enthusiasm.
Sigerson’s shy smile slowly faded into sadness, but he nodded and replied with a noncommittal, “Yes, perhaps…one day.”
Neilsson finished cleaning all three sets of test tubes, and laid them to dry next to the sink. He had decided that tonight he would extend an invitation for Sigerson to dine with him in his home, and to bring his violin with him. He was nervous; he did not want to advance himself too swiftly on their fragile friendship, but he felt reasonably confident it was not an intrusive request. He drew a breath and approached Sigerson’s small office.
He knocked casually on the open door. “I’ve finished cleaning the glasses, sir, and I’ll be on my way unless you need something else.”
Sigerson was deeply absorbed in a treatise on organic chemistry, and did not look up.
“Very good, Neilsson,” he said absently.
“I had also wanted to ask you as well, sir, if there’s any way you might like to…well, that is to say…”
Sigerson finally regarded him. “Speak up now, what is it?” he prompted him lightly.
“Well, sir, I’d like to invite you to my home for dinner this weekend. Only if you want to, of course. And your…your violin would be more than welcome, too.” Neilsson was blushing furiously now and he hated himself for it.
Sigerson’s gaze softened before growing dark. He placed the treatise on his desk and frowned.
“If you’d rather not, sir, I understand. Can’t say I’m much of a cook,” Neilsson added hastily, sensing his invitation was none too welcome after all.
Sigerson pressed his fingers into his temple. “No, Neilsson, it’s not that. It’s just that I do not go out much, you understand.”
“Perfectly, sir. Do let me know if you change your mind,” he replied.
Sigerson returned to his reading. “Indeed I will. Thank you, Watson.”
Neilsson had been on his way out the door, but he stopped and turned, a look of confusion creasing his clear blue eyes.
“My Christian name is Lars, sir.”
Sigerson turned ashen, and froze.
“Of course, how stupid of me. Have a good night, then.”
Lars Nielsson’s disappointment over the rebuke of his offer was nothing compared to his devastation the following Monday, when he arrived at work and learned that Dr. Sigerson had vanished without a trace.
* * * *
I sat in the consulting room of my friend Dr. Abrams and paged mindlessly through a newspaper.
We had been on holiday in
I did not want to exacerbate her condition by returning to
I tossed the paper aside when I saw Abrams approaching the consulting room, and I rose to greet him. His face was grim.
“Sit down, please, Dr. Watson,” he said, and he sat on the settee next to me.
“How is she, doctor?”
“The mass in your wife’s uterus is not only cancerous, but it has spread into her ovaries. After she recovers from this surgery, we can go in and try to get more of it, but I’m afraid we haven’t the capability of removing all of it. At best, we may be able to give her a few extra months, but no more. I’m sorry.”
* * * *
The city of
Sherlock Holmes had come here by way of an underground café in
Upon his arrival in
“Yes, sir?” answered a tall officer when Holmes entered.
“Lieutenant Charles Watson, please,” he replied gruffly.
“What name shall I give?”
“My name is Abu Aqel. He will remember the Afghani holy man with whom he met some years ago.”
“Wait here, please.”
A short time later, the officer reappeared, followed by another.
“Lt. Watson?” Holmes offered his hand and hid a smile. The family resemblance was unmistakable, particularly in the deep-set and thoughtful eyes the man shared with his cousin John.
“Yes, Mr. Aqel. It is a great pleasure to see you again, sir.” The two men shook hands.
Holmes took out a sealed envelope and placed it in the lieutenant’s hand.
“Please see that this is passed onto the Foreign Office. It contains details of the very deepest moment. It is paramount that it should come by your hand and not mine.”
Lt. Watson knew his informant well enough to trust his word. He saluted the man and promised to do his will.
Holmes returned the salute, and shook his hand again in order to prolong the exchange just long enough to linger on the face that was so familiar he could imagine the doctor in his cousin’s place, with his kind smile and trusting air, warmly expressing his gratitude.
He then left the War Office and vanished into the desert.
* * * *
Mary faced her sentence with the bravery and grace I always admired about her, and I remained by her side every day for the rest of her short life. I had a renewed sense of grief accompanied by the terrifying realization that I was soon to be alone in the world, and feared that I had no desire left to continue the struggle towards happiness.
I wondered how much longer I was doomed to suffer, why Fate had decreed that my ideal partner should be split between two diametrically opposing personalities, one who willingly offered the kind of companionship that I craved and the other for whom my passion knew no bounds. I agonized over the question of why they both must be taken from me, if my wrongful actions truly warranted the severity of such a punishment. But, as on all things, Fate remained silent as I watched my wife quickly fade away.
I thought about those first months of our marriage when we made our home together in a bustle of energy and optimism. If there was ever a time I was close to being fully hers it was in the days before I lost Holmes on the Continent, before I knew to what lengths she had gone to secure a life with the man she loved. Even then our happiness felt in some ways like an illusion to me, as if I was performing a role for which life had prepared me until the moment an eccentric chemist observed I had been in
But Mary had found precisely what she sought, and I plundered my memory for signs that I had made her happy in our years together. I feared her own regrets would prey on my conscience, too, until I realized I had been given a chance that I’d not had with Holmes.
We were up late one night, she on the settee, I by her side, watching the late summer rain beat thin, sinewy branches against the window panes. I had convinced her to drink half a cup of tea before I injected her nightly dose of morphine.
“Mary,” I whispered, turning towards her, “I need to ask you something.”
She gave a slight nod behind closed eyes.
“I need to know that you’ve forgiven me,” I said, fighting the emotion that threatened to escape my throat. I vowed to remain strong, if not for me then certainly for her.
“Forgiven you for what, John?” she asked me hoarsely.
“For not being the man you thought you married.”
She let out a long sigh before she spoke again. “You are exactly the man I thought I married. I think I…always knew…somewhere…that you belonged to him. It was obvious from the moment I…I first walked into your…sitting room.”
The heavy blanket of morphine was beginning to envelop her, but her eyelids still fluttered in the struggle to remain alert. She went on in a quiet, but clear voice.
“I still wanted to be with you, John, so I…pursued you…selfishly I think… despite…despite knowing that…he was….that you…”
I squeezed her hand. “I never placed myself in a false position regarding my affections for you, Mary, never. And I believe I was right in choosing you to be my wife.”
“I know,” she breathed, “You mustn’t…punish yourself…for being so…loved.”
The drug had obviously confused her thoughts, for I knew she must have meant to say it the other way round. But her head dropped to the side as she finally surrendered to sleep.
I smoothed her hair from her brow, kissed her forehead and sat back in my chair. I would be here when she woke again in a few hours to soothe the pain, calm her fears and relight the fire.
 To read about Sherlock Holmes’s involvement with the Kahlifa at