Mary Morstan and I married just before Christmas of that year in a small ceremony at our local parish. I had moved out of
In the months that followed, I opened a small practice in a two-story row house on the west side of town, and Mary and I made our home above it. She settled happily into her role as wife, decorating the place with feminine touches and inviting her friends to tea. It was not long before our modest rooms glowed with hominess and activity, though it always felt somewhat strange to me to sit at my writing desk without the scent of tobacco and chemicals wafting across the room. For the first few weeks, I startled myself by turning to speak to Holmes, to ask him to clarify a detail or share a memory, only to realize he was not there.
It is fortunate that I had other tasks with which to employ myself; my practice evolved from a steady stream of loyal patients to a bustle of consultations, housecalls and surgeries, and I am proud to say that I had soon the resources to engage two assistants for my endeavour. Mary made herself useful by touting my skills within her vibrant social circle and making sure I took my meals on days when the activity in my consulting room kept me from reaching the dining table in my regular fashion. She was ever sunny and supportive, and proved herself to be the companion and confidante that I had sought.
In the evenings, I visited my club when the mood for male company struck upon me, though I found that in my years with Holmes I had become accustomed to a level of conversation that was rarely matched by my peers and colleagues. Those singular deductive problems over which the two of us grappled in the sitting room made the everyday trials of others seem lamentably dull by comparison. At first, I attempted to draw more intriguing details from my friends’ accounts of their working and social lives, but soon gave it up when nothing proved so interesting as a missing document, a disappeared family member or even a little scientific puzzle that would challenge my intellect and imagination.
I did not once see Holmes, and received no telegrams from him calling for my assistance. I hadn’t any insight into his well-being or lack thereof, save for the brief moments in which I happened to see Mrs. Hudson near Baker Street when my work summoned me to that area of town. She always greeted me with bubbly enthusiasm, though her face grew serious when she spoke of her remaining tenant. “He’s all on edge,” she would tell me in a low voice, never uttering his name but instead rolling her eyes towards the ceiling to indicate the subject of her complaint. I never offered anything more than casual reassurance that his mood would soon right itself before bidding her good day and going on about my business.
Five months quickly passed, and I had everything I thought I wanted. My new life had taken so much of my time and attention that I did not often engage my feelings about Holmes, except to think with regret on how poorly our last conversation had ended. But when my marriage, practice and social life settled into routine, I realized that I was missing more, much more, than I had first realized.
It was not simply the lack of adventure that left me feeling empty and vaguely dissatisfied, but the way in which his presence always seemed to stimulate me beyond myself. Accustomed as I was to his habits, Holmes’s eccentricities, his quickness of mind and his powerful spirit caused me to exist in a constant state of anticipation that I failed to notice until it was gone. The challenge of keeping up with the blazing force that defined his approach to life was not merely something I craved, but something I had depended upon, and I no longer felt complete without it.
I found myself daring to think back on that night the previous autumn, when our connection strengthened, if only for a few hours, through the bond of our physical relations. For a man as socially reclusive as Holmes to suddenly open himself entirely to me, to have been the object of his stunning focus, to have experienced a part of him that must have lain dormant well beyond the span of our friendship was one of the singular thrills of my life. Discovering his humanity in such a manner only deepened the allure of his enigma, and I would gladly have followed him to the ends of the earth simply to catch a glimpse of it one more time.
That he was all brain and no heart was never an accurate account of him, for his senses of moral justice, loyalty and kindness showed themselves again and again in the work he did. But his moments of vulnerability were so rare, and happened in the instant of a single breath, that in each case I had been able to convince myself it wasn’t true. Yet when this same man reached for my face after I’d brought him to another concupiscent finish, and proceeded to pepper my mouth with breathless kisses, all pretense of being unsusceptible to the softer emotions was gone. Here was someone who knew how to love, and who was permitting himself to be loved in return.
Of course, we could never engage in such a way again. He had made it clear that his purely intellectual lifestyle would only be hindered by love, and furthermore I was now married. But I was even more saddened to think that we might go on for years without seeing one another again. Whatever had happened between us was not worth the loss of everything we’d had in the years of our platonic intimacy. I wanted my friend back.
I wrestled with myself for several days on the matter of contacting him. I found the solution the following Wednesday morning when I picked up my copy of the Times and saw none other than the great detective himself staring at me from the front page. With a familiar swell of pride, I read that Holmes had just been awarded a medal of honour for assisting the French government upon a matter of supreme importance. Congratulating him on his latest accomplishment would be a most suitable avenue in which to re-enter his life, though I was not at all sure how to go about it, whether it would better I wrote him a letter or simply showed up at
The following day, the 24th of April, Holmes made the decision for me by walking into my consulting room. Our reunion transpired nothing like I had hoped or imagined; the first thing I noticed was how much paler and thinner he was, that his clothes were dirty and rumpled and that his manner was one of unusual agitation.
“You don’t look well, Holmes,” I said in astonishment.
“I have been using myself too freely,” he said in a flat voice. “I have been rather pressed of late. Have you any objection to my closing your shutters?”
He did not wait for my reply, though I would have assented, and edged his way round the wall, flinging the shutters together and bolting them tightly shut.
“What is it?” I whispered.
“Air guns,” he replied, and when he sat before my desk I saw that two of his knuckles were burst and bleeding.
“Scratches,” he said, impatiently waving away my concern. “Nothing, nothing to signify.”
He extracted a cigarette with trembling, impatient fingers, and I leaned forward to light it for him.
“You know I am not a nervous man, Watson,” he said, “but it is stupidity rather than courage to refuse to recognize danger when it is close upon you.” He took a long drag from his cigarette, which seemed to calm him momentarily.
“I am sorry for calling so late, for not contacting you to announce my visit, and I must further beg your indulgence to allow me to leave by scrambling over your back garden wall. Is Mrs. Watson in?”
Holmes had a way of inserting a pointed question at the end of a more casually-rendered statement.
“She’s visiting her cousin in
He nodded curtly and continued to smoke in silence.
“I think you’d better tell me what this is all about, Holmes.”
“It is unique in the annals of crime,” he began, and for the next hour he told me of his activities over the last four months that had led him battered and nervous into my consulting room. I learned that he had been in
“On Monday next,” he concluded, “matters will be ripe. The Professor and all the principal members of his gang will be in the hands of the police. Then will come the greatest criminal trial of the century.” He stubbed out his third cigarette and settled back into his chair with a grim, satisfied smile. But a troubling flicker of uncertainty interrupted his expression.
“I…cannot do better than to get away for the few remaining days. It would give me great pleasure, Watson, if you would come on to the Continent with me.” He posed this question to me with the same amiable detachment he always had.
“The Continent?” I asked him anxiously, “I would be delighted, Holmes, but where?”
He shrugged. “Anywhere. It’s all the same to me.”
“Yes, but won’t we have to dispose of Professor Moriarty first? It seems that we’re under siege in this very room.”
He gave a slight nod and crooked his mouth in a half-smile. “That reminds me. I must be on my way.” He rose and headed towards the back of the house.
“Won’t you stay the night?” I called after him.
“No, it’s too dangerous for you if I stay here. I will leave the way I came and find lodgings with brother Mycroft. We start tomorrow morning.” And just before he climbed out the window, he gave me an elaborate and specific set of instructions to meet him at Victoria Station. I agreed to follow them to the letter, and then watched him skulk out the window and disappear into the night.
I was left with a barrage of mixed emotions. On the one hand, I had been terribly glad to see Holmes, and even gladder to have been taken into his confidence once again. But the gravity of the situation was disturbing, if not overwhelming, and it left me wondering if the world’s first unofficial consulting detective had finally met his match.
The next day I arrived at Victoria Station, as instructed, just in time for my train. The compartment Holmes had reserved for us was empty save for a dour Italian minister who said nothing while I looked frantically about the station for my friend as the train pulled away. He nearly sent me into cardiac arrest when he greeted me in the person of the minister and removed his disguise, but I ought to have known he would continue to take every precaution. We left the station reasonably certain we had shaken our pursuers for the time being.
For the next week, Holmes and I made our way towards the
As for my companion, I did what I could to draw him out of himself, but he remained distant and preoccupied. I talked little of my practice and not at all of my marriage, and neither did he offer up anything more than a desultory response to my inquiries upon the current case.
Before our lives changed so drastically, we two had been capable of passing many hours together without a word between us, though we were no less grateful for the other’s presence. Now I caught myself anxiously stealing furtive glances at him in order to assess the state of his mood, which remained inscrutable save for the obvious signs of his unease.
We lodged together, but did not share rooms; Holmes made a careful point of engaging separate quarters at every inn. Whether this was for our safety or the desire to avoid temptation I do not know. As little patience as he had for the institution of marriage, he always acted in deference to the social mores therein and I did not for one moment believe he would coax me to compromise my vows.
Gradually, however, we grew accustomed to one another’s company again, such that we communicated more through body language than actual words, and we fell in with the natural comfort that always existed between us even before we knew each other so intimately. Hiking proved the best way for us to pass the time, and our continuous progression across the
On our way over the
We slowed our pace when we reached this unspoiled oasis that teemed with such gentle life as to appear immune to the dangers that threatened us, and for the first time in our travels I felt that Holmes and I were the only two beings on earth. It seemed we were miles from the people whose lives were so entangled with our own, miles from the possibility of death, miles from the laws and rules that dictated with whom we should be partnered. I sat upon a boulder and inhaled the refreshing scent of pine while Holmes meandered about in a more relaxed state than I’d seen him in some time.
I watched him squat near the stream and remove his hat before dipping his hands into the frigid water and splashing it upon his face. He tipped his head towards the warm light of the sun and sighed, icy droplets clinging to his eyelashes and running down his cheeks, which looked softer, fuller and more boyish in the sunlight. I felt as much as the fleeting relief that visited his countenance, for there were shades of contentment that I recognized from the night of our physical intimacy.
He took his meerschaum out of his pocket, tamped the tobacco and raised it to his mouth to light. Without thinking, my focus narrowed on his lips as they wrapped around the stem of his pipe and pulled the tiny flame of his match into the bowl.
Those lips, those bow-shaped, pliant lips, had once wrapped around me, too, in a way I have not experienced before or since. He had kissed his way down my stomach and taken my arousal into his mouth. I watched, mesmerized, as my pelvis tilted up and down, pushing in and drawing out in a slow, sensual rhythm that stoked my desire to exquisite degrees. We were soon both moaning softly for the eroticism of it, and I remember feeling then, too, like the world surrounding us had disappeared and all that remained was that small bedroom at 221b
Holmes smoked thoughtfully for some time, staring into the horizon with that peaceable expression that I had longed to see again, simply to know that somewhere within his private reserve lay the capacity for happiness. What he thought of during this time was in no way evident to me, but I wondered then as I do now how often, if at all, he thought about that night.
When we had resumed our ascension up the path, and my gaze rested on my friend’s long, lithe form ahead of me, I found myself increasingly stimulated by the reminders of his natural grace and agility as I had come to know them. When, for example, his breathing laboured during the more strenuous portions of our climb, it described the heady pace at which he had writhed on top of me, our hands interlocked above my head while I mirrored the roll of his hips, eventually launching me into such a climax that something between a sob and a laugh leapt from my throat at the overflow of joy that surged through my body.
Holmes had released my hands and inched his way up my body, his own arousal nearly at bursting point. I placed my hand over it and pressed down, anchoring him to my stomach while he trembled and thrust, losing himself on the plateau of manic lust that precedes the plunge into ecstasy. I ran my other hand over his sweat-slicked back, urging him on, breathing his breaths, until he dropped his head towards mine, buried his face in my neck and came to quivering glory over my chest.
I fought the inevitable physical response invoked by these memories, and shifted my thoughts back to the practical concerns of simply surviving another day. I was nearly put to rights, thank goodness, when we at last reached the little village where we were lodging. I determined to write a letter to Mary that afternoon apprising her of my whereabouts and assuring her of my continued safety. I was not prepared to admit that writing a letter to my wife was the only way I could force myself to divert my thoughts from Holmes.
When we reached our village, Holmes and I sat ourselves on a bench outside a family-owned winery near our inn and ordered a carafe of Blauburgunder.
“Nothing like drinking the wine where it’s grown,” I said, breaking the morning’s silence.
Holmes smiled half-heartedly, but his eyes had resumed restlessly scanning the horizon.
I placed my hand on his shoulder. “Are you all right?”
He gave a slight nod. “It has been a fine morning. I find this mountain air quite agrees with me.”
He squinted again towards the alpine sun, which cast his profile in a state of such striking masculine beauty that I forgot myself and allowed my hand to drift from his shoulder to his face.
His eyes fluttered closed as I brushed my index finger down his cheek and hovered on his chin. He reached up and gently grasped my hand before pulling it away, and we spoke at the same time.
“Holmes, I have—“
“A letter for you, Mr. Holmes!” rang the clipped German accent of our inn’s landlady, who came rushing over to give Holmes an envelope. He tore it open and read before silently handing the note over to me.
All gang safely secured. Only Moriarty escaped the net.
My heart sank into my stomach.
“I think it would be better if you were to return to
“I think you will find me a dangerous companion now. Moriarty will devote all his energies to taking his revenge upon me, and if I have a companion—“
“Would you be rid of me?” I interrupted.
“No,” he said, mustering enthusiasm that never surfaced, “except for the reasons I have given you.”
I refused to believe this case was beyond my assistance.
“We’ve been in tight places before together,” I argued.
“Never as tight as this one.”
“I’m not leaving you, Holmes,” I said firmly. “Not unless you order me to go.”
His mouth twitched momentarily in a half-hearted smile, but his unseeing stare suggested defeat. He had ordered me to go on the night I became engaged to Mary with such hostility that I made no effort to stay. But abandoning Holmes to his self-chosen isolation and leaving his side to face mortal danger alone were two entirely different things. Had he ordered me to go in this instance, I would not, could not have done so. The exhilaration of our travels and the sense that we were miles ahead of Moriarty and his gang were giving way to exhaustion. But we continued on because there was nothing else to do.
On the night before we left for Meiringen, I could not sleep. There were too many unsaid words between us, and the thought that one or the both of us might come to some serious harm before we had been able to reach a full reconciliation was too much to bear. I slid from my bed and into my robe. I stood outside his door for some time, arguing with myself over the question of whether or not to wake him. Finally, I rapped lightly and called his name loud enough so he should hear me, but out of earshot of the other guests.
When there was no answer I decided against pursuing it, and returned to my room. I would speak with him on the morrow, when we had reached a comfortable resting place as we had found today, and were in a better position to discuss things.
But I never got the chance.
Once in Meiringen, we put up at the Englischer Hof, a charming inn tended by a man who spoke excellent English, and who was eager to point us in the direction of the area’s attractions. He all but insisted we visit the
What happened next is a series of painful events I have written of elsewhere, and it is no less excruciating to revisit them now three years later. I called out again and again over the deafening roar of the Falls, long after my desperation yielded to grief, long after I considered following him over the edge, because I knew that the final cry of his name would be my last prayer of finding him. Need I add how dreadfully sorry I was that I had not taken greater notice of the dark figure ascending the mountain as I descended, or that I had believed the false story about the dying Englishwoman? Nor can I count how many times I have played and replayed what I might have said to Holmes if I had told him what was in my heart. I wished like mad that he had known how much he truly meant to me, that I never did want to leave him, that my world without him had felt little more than half a life.
But it was too late. He was gone. The note he had left for me by the Falls offered some small comfort, as I was glad that he had considered me in his final thoughts. And I tried to remind myself as often as I could that he had after all succeeded in his last endeavour, that the loss of the best and wisest man I have ever known also ridded
I returned home in a state of subdued shock that was so paralyzing I avoided eye contact with everyone who crossed my path. Mary had never questioned my decision to accompany Holmes to
I dreaded going to
“I cannot imagine replying to them all, Dr. Watson,” Mrs. Hudson said, her voice breaking again.
“You needn’t do so, Mrs. Hudson,” I told her gently. “You are bereaved. They just want us to know that they’ve been affected, too.”
I studied our old sitting room, forcing myself to stare at his things where he had left them as one might press on a wound out of a morbid curiosity to test the threshold of pain. There was his violin, resting near its case where he had invariably placed it just before we departed for the Continent. My chest tightened over the sights of his Persian slipper dangling from the right corner of the mantle, his disputatious pipe tossed carelessly onto his desk, which was a mess of foreign documents and newspaper clippings, and his favourite sitting chair with the cushion still slightly dented from recent occupation as though its owner had just gotten up and left the room. In fact, it seemed that Holmes might walk in at any moment and go on about his business.
The sitting room had become unbearable. I hugged Mrs. Hudson, told her I would call on her again soon, and left.
I returned home from
“May I speak with you a moment?”
“Certainly, my dear.”
I entered Mary’s sewing room and sat across from her in the armchair next to the window.
“There’s something on my mind that I feel I need to tell you. I hadn’t supposed I would do so while he was alive, but now that Mr. Holmes is…gone, it has been pressing me.”
Mary looked down at her knitting and frowned. My heart rate increased as she searched for the right words. She could not possibly have known. Could she?
“I spoke with him,” she said and stopped.
“I went to see him. It was on the very day you proposed marriage to me, in fact.” She looked up at me nervously.
I let out a long exhale and let her continue.
“You see, I was worried, John. I suppose I must put it down to inexperience, though at the time I was quite unsure of myself and uneasy in my mind. You must understand that.” She gave me a pleading look, but I could offer no reassurance as I held my breath and continued to wait.
She looked down again. “It’s only that you were…well, you hadn’t spoken of marriage again in those three days, and did not seem quite yourself, at least, not the same man who courted me while Mr. Holmes solved my case.”
I shifted uncomfortably in my chair.
“I asked him if he knew…of any reason your affections had changed.”
I cleared my throat. “And?”
“He told me he knew of none, and that I should appeal to you.”
The echo of my old friend’s habitual phrase sent a fresh stripe of pain through my heart, but I remained stoic.
“I was not satisfied.” She looked up at me again with even more uncertainty, “So I asked him if there was someone else.”
“He denied there was, but something in his countenance…I don’t know. I wasn’t certain I believed him. No, I know I did not. I am not the judge of character that he was, but the fleeting expression that crossed his face told me there was something he was not telling me.”
I wonder if she noticed I had stopped breathing altogether.
“I’m not sure you were ever aware of this, John, but I had sensed for some time that Mr. Holmes harboured some rather unnatural feelings towards you, and I surmised that he might have been jealous of our courtship, and perhaps said something to put you off. I then made a direct appeal to use his greatest strengths on my behalf once more, and he honoured my wishes. I wanted you to know that.”
“What strengths?” I asked her, surprised at how cold my own voice sounded.
Her eyes widened in surprise. “Why, I merely told him how much I admired his commitment to logic and reason, and that perhaps he would employ them in looking out for your best interests.”
I closed my eyes. She had no idea of the enormity of her confession, nor the unfathomable guilt that it brought upon me, for I could blame no one but myself for the impossible position in which I had placed the three of us. I knew very well that I had betrayed her affections the moment I lunged at my best friend. With mounting humiliation, I thought of the two of them facing one another in the sitting room in a strange and awkward battle for the territory of my heart. It sickened me to know now what Holmes had sacrificed, believing it to be for my benefit, and how he must have hated me for what I had done.
“John,” Mary said, pulling me away from that horrible image, “please, say something. Say you are not angry with me.”
For the rest of my days on earth, I would never outlive this regret.
“I appreciate your honesty,” I replied stiffly. And I wish to God you’d never told me, I thought.
“You are not angry?” she asked me skeptically.
“No, I’m…” I paused and carefully chose my words. “I’m grateful that you cared enough of my well-being to seek counsel with my friend,” was all I could manage.
“I always thought him a true gentleman,” she asserted.
“That he was,” I replied curtly, and left the room.
At the memorial service for Sherlock Holmes, the parade of mourners was so long the queue stretched four blocks from the entrance of the church. I presumed these were the kind people who had taken the time to send notes and flowers, and though I mostly stared dumbly ahead of me, I did recognize some faces in the crowd. When they approached me to pay their respects, their heartfelt words were remarkably similar; Mrs. Helen Armitage, née Stoner, Miss Violet Hunter, Mr. Melas and my old friend Percy Phelps had all told me they owed nothing less than their lives to Mr. Holmes.
The whole of Scotland Yard was in attendance, all the men we’d ever worked for, with and even against, appearing somber as they held their hats in their hands and gazed sorrowfully in my direction. Inspector Lestrade warmly grasped my shoulder and told me the Yard had lost one whom they regarded as their own. Holmes would have scoffed at this, but I knew what he meant.
Mycroft Holmes gave the most elegant eulogy for his brother, and I was equally impressed by his reserves of strength that kept his emotions at bay as he regaled the crowed of hundreds with tales of Sherlock’s great gifts. More than once, he had them laughing through their tears, and even I smiled recalling the singular instances in which Holmes’s little-touted instincts for humour had lightened a mood or a situation.
After the brief ceremony in which the city of
I stayed behind and waited until Mycroft Holmes was alone, for I owed him an apology.
“Ah, Dr. Watson,” he said, turning to me after he bid the last mourner good-bye. “How are you?” His large brown eyes narrowed with concern.
“I’ll be all right, Mr. Holmes,” I said, reaching for his hand. “I just wanted to let you know I’m sorry I couldn’t—“
He held up his free hand. “No apology necessary, Doctor. I imagine this great loss is harder on you than anyone.”
“It has been a difficult couple of weeks,” I assented. “While the public response has been wonderful, it has also been rather overwhelming. As for the other circumstance—“
He waved his hand again. “You’ve no need to explain yourself, sir, but I must assure you that there was no one my brother held in higher esteem than you.”
I swallowed against the expanding lump in my throat and bowed my head.
“Please do let me know if there’s anything I can do for you, doctor, anything at all,” he said kindly.
“I will, sir, I will,” I said, giving his hand a final shake.
“My best to your wife as well,” he said with a gentle smile, glancing over at Mary’s lone figure waiting for me in the back of the sanctuary.
“I shall pass along your regards,” I said, and quickly turned away before he could observe the full measure of my remorse and, God forbid, deduce the rest.
* * * *
Sherlock Holmes sat in a chair smoking a cigarette. The room was chilly, he wore only a pair of faded trousers, but he did not trouble to relight the fire. He glanced with some irritation at the figure in the bed across from him, and rested his forehead against his palm. The small flat was dim and sparsely furnished, and the man lying in the bed was an acquaintance of some weeks. With his hollowed cheeks hidden by a growing mound of unkempt facial hair, and his English gentleman’s wardrobe exchanged for that of a German vagrant, Holmes was barely recognizable. Only the two piercing grey eyes that peered from behind a haggard face truly belonged to him.
The figure spoke to him in German. “Ah, you are still here. I was afraid you had left already.”
“What of it?” Holmes replied rudely without looking over at his companion.
“I thought you might like to go another round. The first ended so quickly,” the man said seductively.
“I think not.”
“Are you thinking of him again?”
Holmes looked up sharply. “Who?”
“What could it possibly matter to you?” he responded hotly.
“Oh nothing,” purred his companion, crawling to the foot of the bed, “it’s just that you never reach your little death until you call out his name. Perhaps you would like to pretend I am this Mr. Watson? I don’t mind. My past lovers have requested this of me in the past and I have always satisfied them accordingly.”
The idea of this worthless German actor, who was entirely devoid of any interest save that he happened to be in a pub during an exceptionally lonely spell, assuming the identity of the good doctor was more than Holmes could bear. He hurled his cigarette into the fireplace and flew out of his chair.
“You are not Mister Watson,” he hissed, grabbing a fistful of the man’s hair and bringing his face an inch from his own. “You are not fit to serve the man a drink much less speak his name in my presence. If you do so again, I shall rend you so thoroughly that the entire German police force may scour the city on end and never find all the parts.”
The little man was delighted. “Ooo yes!” he shouted. “Beat me! Beat me with your powerful hands until I beg for mercy! Then take me for all I am worth and abuse me on the inside! I am Mr. Watson! I am Mr. Watson!”
Holmes growled in disgust and pushed the man roughly to the bed. He made haste to find his remaining clothes, and quickly dressed. If he did not leave at this very moment, he was afraid he might commit a deed which he had only ever sought to avenge in his previous life. He left his companion in a moaning heap, writhing and furiously stroking himself as he babbled nonsensically, “Hurt me, Mr. Watson, make me bleed. I am Mr. Watson…oh yes, Mr. Watson…”
After Holmes reached the street he slowed to a halt and sighed. His attempts to assuage his guilt and pain were having the exact opposite effect. This would not do.
He was on his way somewhere else anyway.