A blustery wind rustled through
For nearly three years, the rooms at 221b remained shuttered and empty. Once a month, Mrs. Hudson received a cheque from Mr. Mycroft Holmes who implored her, in the same formal language, to keep them furnished, clean and bereft of any lodgers. Why he insisted on keeping rooms that were no longer occupied by his late brother was a mystery to her, but she honoured his wishes, due in no small part to her own sadness. She had been so fond of Sherlock Holmes and his faithful colleague Dr. Watson that new tenants would have seemed strange and intrusive.
She had seen Dr. Watson from time to time since he returned from
She had worried so when he returned from the Continent a shadow of what he had been, weighed down immeasurably under the strain of grief and guilt that would have undoubtedly destroyed a lesser man. He made fewer excursions to
A sudden and violent wind whipped a small pile of leaves into a frenzy that whirled past the door through which a great many people, from grooms to noblemen, governesses to diplomats, cab drivers to kings, had once passed. It may be argued that not one of them was as well-known or respected as its former inhabitant, the great Sherlock Holmes.
* * * *
It was an unusually long black mood, even for him.
What had come over Holmes and refused to relax its hold was unknown to me. True, he had no case to solve and had been unemployed for nigh on three weeks. But where he usually languished dumb and indifferent in the torpor of his seven-percent solution, he was instead given to moments of open hostility and insolence, which did not appear to have any clearly identifiable cause.
Our last case had ended well, if a little harrowingly. We’d spent an evening staked outside the home of a suspected counterfeiter, and when he emerged with not one but four henchmen, we had to scramble to enact a lengthy pursuit about the city, which was complicated when the men scattered somewhere in the vicinity of Covent Garden. It was a forgivable miscalculation on Holmes’s part, and I carried no animosity towards him for what happened, or I should say, what nearly happened to me. He had come flying around the corner of an alley to find me pressed into a brick wall underneath the burliest member of the gang, who held a knife at my throat and was threatening to cut if I did not give up the chase. I had read as much fear in his eyes as uncertainty, and did not think him truly capable of murder. I’d seen soldiers in
But Holmes was incensed. He pounced on the man and beat him senseless, long after he had relieved him of his weapon. He then turned to me with a queer expression upon his face, and told me if I was not more careful in the future, he could not be held responsible for the consequences. Strange to have heard this from him when I thought that surely the terror that crossed his face just before he leveled my attacker would give way to something more akin to relief, such as it may come from a man so detached as himself.
When the gang had been apprehended, we made our way home in a cab whereupon Holmes fell into a cold silence that did not let up for days. He spoke little in the interim, though several times I caught his sidelong glances in my direction and recognized a lingering ghost of fear in his eyes. I asked him once if he was all right, but he only answered with a cryptic, “I think it’s high time I put it to rest,” and that was the end of it.
His mood did improve somewhat after that, but he remained on edge. His outbursts had become so totally unpredictable that they often left me befuddled and gaping for words of admonition or self-defense that never came.
I remember one instance in which he had been playing the loveliest Bach Partita on his violin, and with a particular sensitivity that shrouded wistful subtleties within the buoyantly vivacious phrases of the Chaconne. As often when he played, I stretched myself on the settee, closed my eyes and smiled once again at good fortune for providing me with a roommate who was so gifted.
My reverie was violently interrupted by the sound of harsh, dissonant arpeggios scraping across the bridge, and I awoke to find Holmes shooting me an accusing glare as though I had called for it.
When I asked him what on earth was the matter, all he said was “Rubbish! All of it, rubbish!” and stormed from the sitting room.
It was therefore with no little relief that I greeted the onset of our next case, even more so because it offered me more than a professional distraction.
On a rather unremarkable weekday, I sat perched at the far window in the sitting room listlessly observing the flow of traffic below. One particular figure caught my eye, a very pretty young woman with honey-coloured hair, whose dark cloak billowed behind her as she hurried across the street. To my great delight, the same lady appeared in our sitting room moments later, and told us she was recently beset by a series of circumstances so strange that she felt compelled to seek the advice of Mr. Sherlock Holmes. I was not oblivious to the spark of interest in Mary Morstan’s eye when her gaze fell upon me, and the initial attraction was wholly mutual.
Holmes was ever in his element, irascibly pacing the room as she told her story, in some instances seeming keenly focused on her narrative, and in others entirely ignorant of her very presence. In the end, however, he agreed to make inquiries into her case after a good many bizarre turns caused his brilliant grey eyes to leap on enough occasions that I knew the light was on and would remain so until he had exhausted his faculties in attempting to solve it.
I felt very naturally protective of Miss Morstan, whom I learned had few relations and lived a quiet and modest lifestyle as a governess. She demonstrated remarkable character, and represented herself with all the charm and soft-spoken intelligence of a prominent society woman. Moreover, her positive energy and natural serenity was a welcome contrast to the mercurial temperament of my flatmate.
It was not until the case was nearly at a close when Holmes finally noticed that my attentions to Miss Morstan were developing into something more serious.
“Where are you going, Watson?” he asked me late one afternoon. “We’ve work to do down at the docks this evening.”
“Why, I am going out to take Miss Morstan for a walk. I told you of my plans two days ago.”
“Humph!” he barked. “I cannot be expected to recall every appointment of yours when I am so wholly absorbed by a case as I am with this one. I suppose you shall be back before nightfall?”
“Presumably, Holmes, though I don’t see why you need my help at the docks when you’ve a dozen Irregulars doing your bidding as we speak.”
“Do what you will, Watson. I have survived without you before and I shall be able to manage it again,” he waved his hand and sat down at his desk.
I left him there and went to my room to ready myself for my outing. I popped my head into the sitting room on my way downstairs to announce my departure.
“Just a minute, Watson,” Holmes said, turning around in his chair to face me.
He regarded me with a penetrating glare. “May I ask what your intentions are with this young lady?”
“Beg your pardon, Holmes?” I was astonished to hear him ask me such a question.
“Well, naturally I cannot help but notice that you seem more interested in our client than the case, a turn which is most unusual in the regular pattern of our work.”
I entered the sitting room and closed the door.
“Well, to be entirely honest with you Holmes, I’ve recently been considering the possibilities for my future. A number of people have asked me when I plan to find a woman and settle down, and I’ve been turning the matter over in my mind. I always fancied myself a family man, though I admit that my involvement in your cases has waylaid my interests for a considerable time.”
I had meant to tell him I was considering taking a wife, but talking of such things with Sherlock Holmes always proved difficult, not least of which because one risked the wrath of his utter contempt for softer feelings.
“Have our—my cases ceased interesting you, Watson?” he asked me quietly.
“Not at all, Holmes. In fact, I hope to continue to avail myself to you even after I have established a domestic life outside of
My words appeared to sting, for he winced behind a dark frown.
“So you think…that you are suited to such a life,” he mumbled, more to himself than to me.
“I would not be the first one,” I sighed, knowing full well the underlying implication was that he did not know me so well as he thought.
“Go then, Watson, and tell Miss Morstan I have every reason to believe her case is nearing a close.”
“Thank you, Holmes. I certainly shall,” I said, and I left.
A half hour later, I was escorting Miss Morstan through
“Your kindness is most welcome, I must say, Miss Morstan,” I remarked when we sat upon a bench.
“Oh?” She removed her bonnet, and patted a few stray wisps into place. More than once this afternoon, she had looked upon me with some concern, and I gathered my exasperation with Holmes was still written on my face.
“Something is troubling you, I think,” she murmured, and shifted towards me.
“Holmes is my best friend, you know, but there are some things upon which we will never see eye to eye, and it can be frustrating,” I confided as I watched a trio of birds refresh themselves in the pond.
“You do seem particularly acclimated to one another’s habits,” she observed with her customary perception. “On what subject, may I ask, is it that you find disagreement?”
“Oh, he’s always been stubbornly convinced that the ‘softer emotions’ as he calls them are an utter waste of time. He once told me that whatever is emotional is opposed to that true cold reason he places above all things. Well and good for him, I suppose, but I do wish he was more forthcoming with his support of others who have such needs,” I said, blushing slightly, and hoping my last statement did not seem too forward.
Miss Morstan’s grip on my arm tightened affectionately.
“I understand,” she said. “You wish your friend would be happy for you.”
“I do,” I said, my heart filling again with warmth over her generosity of spirit.
“Give him some time,” she said, “and he will soon see that what’s best for you may not be so for him. A good friend would accept that.”
I smiled down at her. “I’m sure you’re right. Now, let us concentrate on more pleasant matters. I know of a small café nearby that serves excellent tea.”
She smiled and nodded, picked up her bonnet and we walked arm and arm to the Phoenix Café.
When we parted that evening I was all but certain that I would ask for her hand at our next meeting, and the sparkle of anticipation in her parting glance told me that she likely suspected my intentions.
Holmes was nowhere to be seen when I arrived home. There was no fire upon the hearth and the door to his bedroom remained tightly closed during the hour or two I spent in the sitting room. It surprised me, therefore, much later that night and long after I myself had retired, to hear the sounds of his violin emanating from beneath the floorboards. Though I am well-acquainted with his repertoire as well as his styles of improvisation, this was nothing I’d heard before; a sad and mournful lullaby that he repeated again and again, varying the cadences only slightly each time, until I fell asleep.
* * * *
Several days later, after a protracted chase across the
I reached for her hand and squeezed it, and she returned me a grateful smile. I glanced over at Holmes in time to catch him narrow a scowl in our direction just before he shifted his focus back to the criminal who sat before him.
When the last of the details had been recounted and no more questions remained, Mr. Small took his leave in the custody of Inspector Jones. I escorted Mary to the street where I hailed her a cab and promised to meet her later that evening after Holmes and I had finished our end discussion of the case.
When I returned to the sitting room, Holmes was rifling through the drawer of his desk.
“A glass of port to celebrate, Holmes?” I asked him jovially.
“I am in no mood to celebrate, Watson,” he said flatly. “The reaction is already upon me and I shall be limp as a rag for a week.”
He located and drew his Moroccan case from the drawer.
“Well, if you’d rather be alone, then I’ll leave you to it,” I said evenly. I was anticipating my night with Miss Morstan, and was in no mood to watch Holmes abuse himself; even less so to incur his abuse of me.
“I suppose you mean to take Miss Morstan for your wife,” he called just before I exited the sitting room.
“Yes, that’s right, Holmes. What of it?” I asked him with some impatience.
“Oh, it really is of little matter to me, Watson. I’m just sorry to see you fall prey to the trappings of emotion when you’ve shown so much improvement in your reasoning capabilities.” He tried to sound casual, but it came across as somewhat strained.
“Not everyone shuns emotion as you do, Holmes,” I returned lightly. “Some of us find there are rewards in allowing ourselves to fall in love.”
“You’re a fool,” he spat, glaring back at me, “to think that your ultimate happiness lies in the participation of a tired social institution. I predict you will grow sick of each other’s company in less than a year’s time.”
“Now look here, Holmes,” I said, my voice rising despite my best efforts to remain composed, “you’ve no right to say such a thing to me. If you cannot congratulate me on this very natural progression of human relations, then at least do me the honour of casting your indifference on the subject. I will not suffer your cruel words.”
“Gladly,” he said icily. “I shall be only too happy to rid you of my cold reason and grant you free reign to indulge your pathetic fantasies.”
“How dare you call me pathetic,” I hissed, “when it is you who is so obviously crippled by utter lack of human qualities.”
His glare intensified. “At least I don’t require the attentions of a vapid and insinuating woman to generate a false sense of my own self-worth.”
I could no longer contain my anger. In three bold steps I approached him, raised my arms and grabbed his shoulders. For a single moment, I thought I might strike him, but the urge quickly passed and was replaced by another, much stronger one.
I slammed my mouth upon his. I only meant to momentarily humiliate him, to make him feel small, foolish and above all sorry. And I might have. Except that once my lips landed on his I tapped into a wellspring of desire that immediately engulfed us both.
Intoxicated by his palpable disbelief, I dared myself to go on, to best him once and for all, even if it meant…
I ripped open his waistcoat and shirt, tore off his cravat, and continued to mount a full attack on his mouth, my teeth and tongue smashing into his, in order to prevent plea and protest. We were both well aware that, had he wanted to, he could have called up a reserve of strength that was more than enough required to fend me from his person, but he offered only passive resistance, backing away as I advanced and uselessly swatting at my hands that flurried like hungry black flies right back to another part of his body.
It would be easier for me to write that I knew not what I was doing or might do, but that would not be the truth, for I knew exactly what would come of my actions if they continued unrestrained, and with every smoldering grasp of his lips I tasted more and more the possibilities that lay before me. I had him out of his waistcoat and shirt in no time at all and, after starting on my own, soon quit the effort altogether for fear of meeting his gaze for too long, losing my authority, failing in my nerve.
I pushed him into his bedroom with my mouth. He staggered backwards, nearly stumbling as I lumbered us to his bed. So intense was my anger and so profound his surprise that he briefly stilled when, in a powerful combination of rage and lust, I flung myself on top of his groin and began clawing at his trousers.
He gasped when I lifted his hips and roughly pulled his clothes past his knees. In that moment I stole a glance at his face and saw his flushed cheeks and disbelieving eyes staring down at me with alarm. I had never attempted any such thing before, but to be with Holmes in a situation in which I alone held the reins was an unprecedented turn of events that threw my every God-given competitive urge into full force.
I was at once terrified and overflowing with confidence as I looked down to see his half-hard member rising beneath my throat, meeting my challenge with equal potency. There could be no turning back now, and for what reason I might do escaped me entirely. I would see this through to the end.
I gulped and hesitated, but only for a moment, then closed my eyes and did the unthinkable; I placed my swollen lips on his arousal once, then again, gumming his warm hard flesh until a staggered moan from above me renewed my determination. I dipped my head and swallowed him whole. He gasped and threw his head back onto the pillow, his restless legs knocking about either side of my head, his hands grasping at the sheets until he pulled them from the mattress. My bared teeth on his shaft dared him to try and remove himself, causing him to thrust forward helplessly, keening in his frustration.
With unmitigated authority, I pulled his remaining clothes from his feet and tossed them aside. I wanted more, still more, to show him that the strength of my resolve was greater than any sense of wrongdoing, decency, even criminality, and to exploit his own delicate sensibilities in the most brazen and shocking way possible. I grabbed his sac and squeezed, mashing it into his prick, his legs, his perineum, unable to discern his cries from pain or pleasure and hoping there was little difference.
My own groin had thickened considerably in reaction to the raw scent of his body and his uninhibited thrashing, and I was more than ready to race him to the finish. I unfastened my trousers and took firm hold of myself with my free hand, allowing myself to moan behind his flesh when I first touched my throbbing prick. When I realized this had a physical effect on him, I increased my vocal intensity as I stroked and pulled, teasing him, mocking him, showing I could outdo him for pleasure if I chose.
What he thought or felt, whether anyone had ministered him in such a way before, was of no importance to me in this moment. The years of his stubborn and smugly avowed aversion to soft emotions finally reached a point past which I could no longer to permit him any ground. I was offended and hurt and I wanted him to feel the same.
I was not long in coming off, for the sense of power is perhaps the greatest aphrodisiac known to man. I tightened my grip and pulled harder until I exploded so intensely that my body seized in convulsion and my field of vision dissolved into a white haze. I never lifted my mouth from Holmes, but opened my lips just enough to give my savage cry a momentary escape before the rest of it burrowed in the back of my throat where the first drops of his issue sprang forth from the vibrations. He bucked his hips and pulled back as though trying to push himself from me, and I redoubled my efforts to restrict his movement by locking my lips around his base in an air-tight seal.
Suddenly, with a strangled cry, he clamped his hand on top of my head, and turned his face to the wall. Tiny spasms wracked his body, and he gave himself up to his finish, one shuddering sigh at a time. Bittersweet fluid flooded into my mouth and seeped down my throat. I sucked it back, stubbornly refusing to relinquish any pressure until I had pulled the last of it from his tip and his body went still. Only then did I unceremoniously drop him from my mouth, sit back on my knees and begin to recover myself.
Disordered silence fell upon the room like the aftermath of a terrible storm, two men gasping for breath and bits of clothing strewn about suggesting far greater damage beneath the surface.
On shaking legs, I rose to my feet and turned away from the limp figure on the bed. I fumbled to reassemble my clothes, starting with the broken buttons on my open shirt, but my hands were trembling too badly to manage them. When Holmes stirred behind me, the weight of my actions began to sink in with due force. I could only imagine what form his reaction might take.
I heard the mattress creak underneath him when he stood, and the sound of bare footsteps approached me from behind. I froze, closed my eyes and braced myself for a formidable reprimand wherein he would berate me for doing him such a disproportionately harsh, vulgar and unwarranted turn. I thought for a moment he might even kill me.
And then Sherlock Holmes proved once again that it was he who had the greater capacity for surprise.
He placed his hands on my shoulders, pulled gently at my loosened shirt and slid it from my arms. My eyes flew open, and when I felt his fingers slip into the waistband of my still-unfastened trousers, I looked down in astonishment and watched him push my remaining clothes to my feet. In two bold strokes, he had rendered me as nude as himself.
He pressed a hand into my shoulder and turned me to face him. I saw no anger or spite, nor did he appear defeated, insulted or even humbled. Rather, his coal-black eyes shimmered with vivid curiosity behind an expression I have only seen on a handful of occasions, when an unexpected turn or singular fact seemed to penetrate the deepest essence of his powerful intellect, and its acuity was evident even after he closed his eyes, brought his hand to the back of my neck and pulled me in. He grasped my swollen lips with his own, and in an embrace very much unlike the one that had aborted our argument, we lingered, tasting one another, enmeshing our tongues, opening wider, stepping closer. I let my head fall to the side when he kissed a trail to my neck, and he sighed into my touch when my hand found its way to the small of his back.
And then we were in his bed. To this day I cannot say which was more surprising—his willingness or mine, though his prowess in such matters was soon obvious. I swallowed a gasp as he pressed his thigh between my legs, kneading the underside of my sac and dragging his newly stimulated flesh suggestively along the length of mine. I was bracing myself for an elaborate revenge that trumped what I had just done to him, but this proved to be no such thing.
Never had I lain with another man, but there was something very familiar about the experience and the way his form wrapped around mine that night. He took his time with me, gently coaxing my limbs into alignment with his, nodding when I reached for him, smiling when I began to move against him.
Everything that transpired between us from that point on seemed to unfold in a strange, ethereal way, outside of the world and the linear passage of time. We did not speak and we barely slept; the few instances in which I dozed were truncated by the perception of a light kiss on my forehead or an inaudible whisper against my neck. My instincts responded before I did, and by the time I had fully awakened I was already pressing my body into his, and we were making love again. When we had finally exhausted ourselves, dawn was creeping in through the curtains.
I awoke in his bed the next morning to find Holmes nearly dressed and bustling about the room.
“Holmes?” I blinked several times until he came into focus.
“Ah, Watson. I had hoped I would not wake you. Scotland Yard has summoned my assistance in
“Do you want me to go with you?” I asked, sitting up.
“No, that won’t be necessary, thank you. Stay and rest a while if it suits you. Mrs. Hudson has been preparing breakfast these past twenty minutes.”
I searched his face, a hundred questions forming in my mind, starting with what it had all meant and where he learned to make love like that, but I remained silent as he gingerly reached out and brushed his thumb across my cheek. He cocked his head slightly as if he were about to say something, but only flashed a shy smile before turning serious again. I grasped his wrist and gently kissed his palm. For a few hopeful seconds I wondered if he might delay his departure and come to me again. But he slowly withdrew and turned to leave.
“Holmes?” I said again as he pulled the door closed behind him. He hesitated for only a moment in a sliver of light, and then he was gone.
I sat on the edge of the bed with my head in my hands. I had not thought I’d slept more than fifteen minutes at a stretch, so overstimulated were my nerves, but it must have been more if Holmes received a telegram, rose and dressed without my notice.
It was then that I suddenly remembered Mary. I cursed, leapt to my feet and ran to my writing desk.
“Very sorry. Case review took longer than expected. Will call upon you this evening. –J.Watson”
I summoned Mrs. Hudson to post it immediately, and returned to the sitting room in a troubled daze to contemplate what on earth I was going to do.
* * * *
Sherlock Holmes sat over his microscope, trying to adjust the focus underneath his wearied eyes. His face was drawn and his eyes a paler shade of grey, for he had barely slept in three days. The case in
He faintly registered the knock at the door, and was taken off guard when Mrs. Hudson entered the sitting room bearing a calling card.
“It’s Miss Morstan to see you, sir,” Mrs. Hudson told him. “She seems rather distressed.”
Holmes sighed and pressed his fingers to his temple. “Very well. Show her in, Mrs. Hudson.”
A short time later, Mary Morstan entered the sitting room. He forced himself to bestow a smile upon her and said, “Ah, good evening, Miss Morstan. Pray, take a seat and tell me how I may assist you.”
He motioned to the chair at the table, and she sat while she nervously removed her gloves. She fidgeted with them as she spoke in a trembling voice.
“I am sorry to trouble you again, Mr. Holmes, but there is something that has been pressing on me for several days and I do not know where else to turn.”
“What is it, Madam?”
“As you know, Dr. Watson and I have been courting for some weeks now, and until recently I had every reason to believe he was to propose marriage.”
He looked at her with an expressionless stare.
“However, in the last three days a change has come over him that I cannot account for, save for the fact that he tells me he has been working long hours and is very tired.”
Holmes drew an inaudible breath and waited.
“I presume that he has been assisting you in another demanding case and I wonder, Mr. Holmes, if it might not trouble you to relieve him of his duties, so that he may pursue the goals of which he spoke to me just a few days ago,” she looked up at the detective hopefully.
Holmes slowly exhaled and replied, “It would not trouble me in the least to honour your request, Miss Morstan, but unfortunately I cannot. You see, Dr. Watson and I are not currently engaged together on a case.”
“Oh dear,” she said, as a troubled expression disturbed her usually serene countenance.
For a brief moment Holmes felt a flash of sympathy, but it quickly passed. He had no desire whatever to speak with Miss Morstan on the subject of their mutual friend, and wished more than anything that she would take her leave and never cross his threshold again.
“I’m afraid I find myself rather at a loss,” she said, staring down at her lap.
Holmes shifted his weight from one leg to the other with some impatience.
“Your best plan, I think, would be to appeal to the doctor,” he said stoically.
“I have already done so, and he has told me nothing more than what I have already relayed to you.”
“I am sorry, Madam,” he said, scooped up the pile of papers he had strewn across the settee, and began leafing through them, hoping this action indicated the interview was over.
Mary stood from her chair. “Can you think of nothing, sir, that may have caused so sudden a change to Dr. Watson’s regard?” she pleaded.
He did not raise his head from his activity, but slowed his actions as if to make room for the consideration of her question.
Mary spoke again, “If—if there’s someone else, Mr. Holmes…”
This time he glanced up at her quickly, too quickly to hide the fear in his eyes before he searched her face. In the instant he recovered himself it was already too late, for she had searched his first and she had seen the truth.
He granted her an insincere smile and replied stiffly, “Not to my knowledge, Miss Morstan.”
Mary squared her shoulders, straightened her posture and addressed the detective in a voice more fully composed.
“Mr. Holmes, as you worked tirelessly to solve my case, I grew to admire your ability to uphold logic as a ruling force, and your refusal to allow passion to sway your adherence to matters of intellect.”
She regarded him steadily.
“I am afraid that I suffer from a great weakness where Dr. Watson is concerned, and while I am not blinded by love, I am no longer as well-equipped to make reasonable decisions as I was. I am sure I do you no less than justice in presuming that your long and intimate friendship with him would have you acting in his best interests whenever the chance arose.”
Holmes was sorely tempted to tell this woman just how well he did know the doctor; that the man’s angry tongue could be put to excellent use, that he had performed most admirably and enthusiastically in his first encounter with another man, and that two times out of three the tremulous sighs that escaped him at the height of his passion took the shape of his lover’s name.
But he said nothing.
“I must once again appeal to your superior powers of reason, Mr. Holmes,” Mary continued with calm deliberation. “Please. What shall I do?”
He stared at her for several long seconds, offered her a cold smile, and said, “I am sure, Madam, that Dr. Watson would like nothing more than to honour his wish to be by your side, and I think that your patience shall be soon enough rewarded with a favourable offer.”
She let out a sigh and smiled in relief. “Thank you, Mr. Holmes, for putting my mind at ease. When I see him tonight, I shall remind John—Dr. Watson that I feel quite the same. If I may impose upon your goodwill one more time, sir, I ask that you please not tell him that I have been here. I do not want him to think I have compromised his trust in disclosing private matters between us.”
Holmes waved his hand in a final gesture of dismissal, and she rose to leave. As she pulled down her hood, she smiled at him again, visibly lightened by his words.
“Good day, Mr. Holmes.” She turned and bustled out of the sitting room.
He walked slowly to the window and looked towards the street. He watched her exit the premises and hail a cab. Just before she climbed inside, she glanced up behind her and saw Sherlock Holmes staring down at her. She smiled again at him, but his expression did not change.
* * * *
Dusk was beginning to fall on
We had not exchanged more than three sentences to one another since the early hours of Monday, and I was anxious as ever to speak with him and quiet my warring mind, for I could no longer withstand the pain of my heart being pulled in two opposite and agonizing directions.
I will freely admit that I hoped Holmes would help make the decision clear. I cared a great deal for Mary, but it would be useless to deny that such passion as I had shared with my best and closest friend held the greater appeal.
I held my breath and opened the door to an empty sitting room.
“Holmes?” I called out cautiously as I removed my hat and gloves and tossed them on the table. I heard a noise from within his bedroom. A moment later, Holmes emerged carrying a heavy stack of books, his face slightly flushed and his eyes oddly hollow.
He looked up in genuine surprise.
“Watson,” he said softly. He paused in his path and the pile of books momentarily sagged in his arms.
“Yes, I—I wanted to see you before I went out for the evening,” I said. I offered an encouraging smile and took a few steps towards him, but the way he tensed his body and turned away stopped me in my tracks.
“Going to meet the lovely Miss Morstan, are you?” he asked me in a strident voice as he went to his desk and set the books down.
“Ah, yes, I am,” I replied hesitantly, “although I’m sure you know why it was necessary for me to see you first.”
“What is it you want? My blessing? You shall have it. I can ring for Mrs. Hudson to bring us some champagne.” He gestured towards the door, but continued to busy himself at his desk.
I was utterly taken aback. This behaviour was exactly the opposite of what I had heretofore seen and expected.
“No, Holmes, I rather think you and I need to talk about what happened,” I said with some chagrin.
“What happened? Oh, you mean the other night? Well, there was little damage done if any, Watson. I forgive you.” He kept his tone brisk and his back to me.
“I don’t think you quite understand. I am not here to ask for your forgiveness. I am here to ask what it is you want of me.” I hoped this sounded like an invitation to bring me into his confidence, and not a directive to account for his actions. As confused as I was, I could not be sorry.
“I want you to be happy, I’m sure. Miss Morstan is certainly a fine match for you,” he responded tersely.
“That is very much unlike the sentiments you flung at me three days ago, Holmes,” I flatly reminded him.
With a hardened sigh, he raised himself from his activities and stared at the wall in front of him. “Well, what’s done is done, is it not? I cannot prevent you from enacting whatever intentions to which you have committed yourself.”
I faltered a bit. “Well, they were my intentions, yes, but that was before we—“
He jerked his head in my direction.
I continued, “Before we…spent the night together in such a way. Did it not affect you at…at all?”
The sitting room seemed unusually warm just then, although the low flames in the fireplace had nearly diminished to their embers.
“That hardly seems relevant in light of the fact that you have been courting a young woman who desires very much to promise herself to you,” he said with no softening of his voice.
“I know, and I shall be the first to admit I have made some mistakes, but, Holmes, if there’s to be something more between us I’ll—“
He finally turned to face me. His expression was painfully passive.
“You’ll what, Watson? Offer to marry me?”
I was too stunned to reply.
“Leave your inamorata in the lurch so you can pursue a dangerous and illegal relationship with a man who, by your own description, is ‘a brain without a heart?’ Give up rendering fanciful tales of my cases and take up writing torrid accounts of our newfound activities for the titillation of the simple-minded public? Please, my dear fellow, if you have any reason left in your emotion-addled brain, use it to see your way past this absurdity and apply it to the only course of action that is left to you.”
And he again turned abruptly away from me.
“Do you no longer wish for my companionship?” I asked him meekly.
“Was it not you who made that decision weeks ago when you began your enthusiastic courtship of our client?”
“I had thought you and I might continue to work together,” I answered, wondering now if I stood to lose everything.
“Did you?” he sneered. “You will remember, of course, that I started my consulting business without your assistance, and I am therefore well capable of continuing it thus.”
I finally crossed the room to where he stood.
“Holmes, please do not say such things to me. Surely you must have some feelings about this. Please, isn’t there anything I can—“ I reached out for his arm in an attempt to turn him towards me.
“Yes, Watson,” he said, shaking my hand away, “you can go ask your lady friend what she’s been waiting to hear, for it is far too late for you to do anything else. And kindly close the door on your way out.”
His pitiless words cut me to the quick. But Sherlock Holmes had made up his mind, and there was no moving it. Perhaps he was right. We were certainly in no position to continue our indiscretion for any length of time, and he seemed to be as steadfastly against the softer emotions as ever.
I could distinctly recall the easy way his fingers had curled around mine when I pushed my palms into his, how his face had assumed the same rapturous expression of euphoric contentment when he climaxed as when he listened to the great Sarasate, and how tenderly he had brought my hand to his lips when I reached across his chest, thinking him to be asleep.
Was there truly no place in which he kept those feelings?
With a heavy heart, I pulled on my gloves and replaced my hat upon my head. I stood there for a moment, hoping he might allow himself to remember that for one night the softer emotions had made him feel very, very good.
But he remained stooped over his desk, a sad, dark figure bent on keeping himself sequestered from the intrusion of love upon his strictly ordered mind. I sighed and left him alone in the sitting room, closing the door quietly behind me.
I paused when I reached the street, and tried furiously to plan my course of action. If my next act was to propose marriage, I needed to find my way to an entirely different frame of mind by the time I reached Mary’s home, for she had already been troubled enough by the recent and inexplicable shift in my demeanour. It was a fair distance from
I stopped when I heard what sounded like an anguished cry. I turned and scanned
Just before I turned the corner, I looked back at 221b and saw Holmes close the sitting room window.