Dr. Moore Agar, an excellent physician with whom I once attended surgery, promptly agreed to call at
I engaged a charming whitewashed cottage on the edge of
I was heartened by the fact that the journey alone seemed to have benefited my companion, for Holmes’s pallor was much less pronounced than when we left
I felt light and hopeful as I unloaded our carriage and set our bags in the small vestibule near the front of the cottage. I inspected each of the rooms and was pleased to find them neat and accommodating. Holmes had wrapped himself in a blanket, settled at the table in the front room and commenced paging through the local parish magazine. I left him there to take a short stroll down to the cliff nearest the cottage.
When I returned, I started to chatter excitedly of the exquisite beauty that surrounded us when the scene before me stopped me dead in my tracks.
He was hastily throwing his blanket over his arm too late, for I had already seen the tourniquet. In front of him lay the Moroccan case and needle, which he made a weak attempt to cover with his foot. This was the first time that I confronted him face to face in the act of preparing to inject himself.
Devastated, I reached down and picked up the solution-filled needle. I heard him draw a sharp breath.
“Is it worth it, Holmes,?” I asked him in a small voice. I could not meet his gaze.
“Yes,” he whispered after a painful moment of silence.
“As you wish,” I replied evenly, and carefully set the needle back down on the table where I found it.
I grimly resumed unpacking, willing myself to remain calm despite the familiar knots of dread that tightened my stomach and shattered my hopes for a smooth convalescence. I would remind him of Dr. Agar’s strict orders to keep himself clean in the days to come. For now, I simply wanted to believe that Holmes’s desire to recuperate outweighed his appetite for cocaine, and that he would be at least be wise enough to use a minimal solution.
I rather started when I heard a sharp knock at the side door of the cottage. I opened it to reveal our neighbor, the town vicar by the name of Mr. Roundhay, who had come to welcome us to
Over the next few days, Holmes spent long hours walking around the moors, gazing at the sea and immersing himself in solitary meditations. He seemed rather enchanted with the foreboding atmosphere of
Most nights, I fell asleep alone in the large bed, over a book or a journal that I would read until my eyelids dropped of their own volition. I know not where Holmes slept, or if he slept at all, save for the one curious instance in which I felt him slip into bed next to me. It was well after midnight and I was nearly asleep, but I was aware of his arm encircling my waist and pulling me gently to him. The gesture touched me deeply, but I did not press him about it in the morning.
Then, on the following Tuesday, an extraordinary chain of events led us into the strangest case Holmes has ever taken. I had just returned to the cottage from a stroll to town when I found Holmes deep in conversation with Mr. Roundhay and a dark-haired, frightened-looking man named Mortimer Tregennis.
“Tell me all the facts, Mr. Tregennis. Leave nothing out,” Holmes was saying firmly to the little man.
I opened my mouth to protest, for Dr. Agar had admonished Holmes of engaging in any affairs that would threaten his health. But something in my friend’s face stopped me. It was his eyes. The fire had again lit behind them, and they were shining with a trenchant interest I had not seen in weeks. Though he still appeared thin and frail underneath his large blanket, his gaze bore unmistakable signs of his characteristic spirit. I was so astonished by the transformation that I remained silent, and turned my attention to considering the extraordinary set of events that Tregennis recited.
In short, the facts are these: After an evening of playing cards with his siblings, Tregennis departed the family’s estate and went to his own home. The very next morning, an urgent call summoned him to return to Tregannick Wartha where, to his great horror, he found his sister dead, and his two brothers foaming at the mouth and babbling incoherently. Their faces were twisted into the most terrible expressions, and no one in the house seemed to know what had transpired in that room between the time Tregennis left and when he returned.
And so it began. Holmes and I commenced with a full investigation in our usual manner. We visited Tregannick Wartha, interviewed the staff, examined the premises and spent long hours in conversation over every facet of the crime. I must admit it was wonderful to be with him again in this way. Not only was this case remarkably compelling, but seeing Holmes return to his element boosted my own spirits and calmed my nerves considerably.
All that remained to rob me of sleep at night was the question of the inexplicable force that had been strong enough to kill one woman and drive her brothers insane. If Holmes knew what it was, he kept it to himself. Yet he was surprised as I was when Roundhay found Mortimer Tregennis dead a day later, and apparently through the same means as his siblings. We hurried to the vicarage where I tended the overwrought vicar with brandy and Holmes closely examined the lamp in the drawing room. I had not the faintest idea what he was looking for until the next day when he returned from town having purchased an identical lamp. He determinedly set it down on the table before us.
A combustion, Holmes explained, had occurred in both murders, and it precipitated the release of toxic vapours that exerted a profound effect on its victims. He showed me some remnants from the smoke guard of the lamp in question. He informed me rather gravely that he intended to test its effects and make certain that he had found the murder weapon. Would I stay with him?
What could I say? I was too weary from our ongoing battle over the needle to chide him for taking such a risk. I agreed to stay, simply because I had grown so desperately afraid I would lose him that if this activity did prove to be his ultimate undoing, I was certain that my very next act would be to figure out a way to follow him. If my love wasn’t enough to save him from himself, then at least my loyalty could lend strength to us both.
He upended the powder onto the lamp. When the circle of smoke started to rise, a caustic odor filled the room. My mind clouded and everything around me began to slip away.
Something horrible overtook me, and I was consumed by an overwhelming sense of dread. Emerging from the darkness were vague figures representing such menace that I heard myself scream in terror at the certainty that they would suffocate me to death. I closed my eyes and tried to shut out the vision, but it penetrated all my senses and I fell to the floor. I could not stop the parade of disturbing thoughts and images that incessantly repeated themselves in my mind where rational thought used to be. I felt my own features begin to morph into something other than myself, my extremities growing absurdly large but entirely useless, my eyes growing out of my head so they saw a reflection of myself staring helplessly back. I clawed desperately at nothing, so sure that I was being swallowed into the very depths of Hell that if ever I should see light again I would vow never to take leave of it.
There was another scream. It did not come from me, but from Holmes, whose face bore such unimaginable fear that I recovered myself enough to drag us both into the outside world and away from the poisonous atmosphere in which we flailed. All my fears and anxieties returned as I shook him and frantically called his name. He had been closer to the lamp than I, and feared he suffered more adverse effects.
Gradually, the madness in his eyes began to clear and with a great sigh of relief I saw that he recognized me. He reached up and clung to my neck.
“Upon my word, Watson,” he gasped, “It was an unjustifiable experiment for myself, doubly so for a—“, he stopped and stared at me. “My God, what have I done to you?”
* * * *
We recovered ourselves in due time. I shall not recount the hours following that horrible encounter with the drug, but suffice it to say the name “Devil’s Foot” does not begin to describe its potential.
I watched Holmes dash into the cottage to retrieve the lamp, which he promptly carried out to the cliff and hurled into the sea. He then summoned Dr. Sterndale, an ex-pat recently back from
Holmes once told me he’d rather play tricks with the law than with his own conscience, so it came as little surprise when he informed Sterndale that he would not prevent him from returning to
“Now that I know something of love, I cannot deny that my sympathies lie rather with our lawless lion-hunter. Were anything so terrible to befall you, Watson, I would stop at absolutely nothing to bring the perpetrator to full justice, even if it meant the guarantee of my own destruction.”
“And I would do the same for you,” I told him, my voice full of emotion.
He smiled, kissed me gently and turned back to the cottage.
I remained where I was to contemplate the bitter irony that my life had become a struggle to do just that. That the “perpetrator” I continuously fought against was Holmes’s own conscience complicated matters infinitely. By all accounts, our stay in
My heart grew heavier on our return trip to
Such was my deeply troubled state of mind when I entered our sitting room the next day and saw the remains of Holmes’s makeup kit on the table. Among them was the dreaded Moroccan case, which lay open and empty.
Its owner was lounging in a chair in his dressing gown, wholly absorbed in the volume that lay in his lap.
“Where’s your needle, Holmes?” I asked him lightly. It would be unsanitary to misplace such an article, I told myself.
“Underneath the sand at
“And the vial of solution…?” I asked him incredulously.
“Lies next to it,” he said, as he turned a page.
“What?” I dared not hope.
“I think I shall dispense with the habit.” He looked up and smiled briefly. “It has the most unpleasant after-effects.”
“You told me they were worth it,” I retorted.
“They were,” he answered. He looked up and regarded me with a steady gaze.
“The look on your face was not.”
I was so taken aback that when I opened my mouth to speak no sound came out. I stared at Holmes in disbelief. He rose from his chair and approached me where I stood, gazing downward as he spoke with a sadness I’d never heard before.
“I fear I cannot…love you so well as you deserve, Watson. I am rather too hopelessly flawed to bestow upon you the pure, kind-hearted love which you continue to give so selflessly to me. The methods I have sought to relieve my fits have admittedly exacted a price on my physical well-being, though the pain I bring upon myself is less oppressive than the agonizing mental stagnation it replaces.”
His eyes were large and sincere when they looked again at mine. “But the pain it brings upon you is unbearable.”
I felt little more than a sense of relief that was so profound I sank to my knees. Holmes gently brought himself level with me, and took my face in his hands. He was murmuring words I did not hear, and kissing my lips while his thumbs pushed away the tears that flowed freely down my face. All I knew and wanted to know then was the overwhelming love and gratitude that washed away the weeks, months and years of untold strain upon my heart.
It was the one thing I had never asked him to do, for I only ever wanted him to see the worth of his own well-being and cherish it as much as I. But if giving it up for me was the only way to vanquish his habit, I would gladly be his reason for doing so.
There would be days in the future when his black mood got the better of him and challenged his resolve, and it was no less a challenge for me to make certain he was looking after his physical health. But a chance revisiting of his past cases on my part soon had him recounting once-forgotten details of adventures that occurred well before my time, distracting him from his melancholy and providing me with fodder for dozens of new stories. In this way, we would learn to work together to contend with the shadows that periodically crossed his mind.
For now, for us, here at
He showed me.
After a lengthy embrace, cravats were tossed away and articles of clothing shed until his naked body was writhing on top of mine. The weight and feel of him felt like a human salve upon my body and soul. I cradled his head in my palm as he slowly and sensually gyrated against me, his face buried in my neck, until his soft cries and intense shudder signaled his release. I smiled when I felt warm fluid spread across my stomach, and he whispered my name as I like to hear it in my ear.
Ever the skillful lover, Holmes shifted his weight just slightly so that my own member nestled into a narrow crevice between us, and I gasped as the friction brought sweet surges of pleasure to my groin as I undulated underneath him. When I reached my own completion, I uttered an ecstatic, shuddering sigh as my every nerve hummed in rapturous climax. Holmes pulled me closer to him as he often did when I came, a gesture that never failed to enhance my pleasure for knowing that he wanted to share my sensation.
No sooner had Holmes settled lazily against my chest in the heady aftermath of our lovemaking when Mrs. Hudson rang with afternoon tea. We hastily donned our dressing gowns, ushered her into the sitting room, and seated ourselves comfortably at the table, he with the Times and me with the day’s mail. All was well and calm again at
That is, until the following evening when the headmaster of a prominent boarding school staggered into our sitting room and collapsed onto the hearthrug. But that is a story I shall recount another time.