In the days following our intense encounter, Holmes’s mood slowly improved. A few cases of interest presented themselves, small questions of missing brooches and disappearing grooms, and he whiled away many hours with his volumes and chemistry set. The dark circles underneath his eyes began to disappear and I was hopeful that he was on his way to a full recovery.
We did not exchange any further words on the subject of his return to the needle, and I was heartened to see the Moroccan case shoved into the recesses of his desk drawer. He kept himself at a little distance from me, save for the occasionally shy glances he offered in my direction. I do not know what he thought about our explicit and unprecedented act of sexual congress, but I hoped that he experienced the same stings of pleasure as I did when it crossed my mind.
By the end of that week, the familiar sparkle behind his eyes and warmth between us increased considerably. We took in a concert at St. James’ Hall and dined afterwards at Marcini’s, then returned home for brandy and pipes late that night. We loosened our cravats and relaxed on either end of the settee. We chatted in low, soft voices about the days just passed, the cases Holmes had worked on, the journals I had been reading. Our conversation was as companionable as any from our strictly friendship years, save for the fact that when we drew closer to one another Holmes began to gently stroke me until the sensations he invoked demanded more serious attention. We made slow love until just before dawn, when we finally retired to bed, sore and sated.
Though he had lost nearly a half stone in weight from his already spare frame, Holmes seemed ever himself as he resumed his usual habits. I cannot overstate how grateful I was for this return to normalcy. It was not always easy living with the world’s greatest consulting detective, but even the bursts of temper and occasional sharp words were wholly preferable to the terrifyingly lifeless state to which his fits of ill humour reduced him.
The next morning, I received a telegram from an attorney in Staffordshire. A distant relative had passed and I was commissioned to see to his modest estate. I breakfasted with Holmes, then went upstairs and to pack my bags for a week’s stay in the country. I soon heard the strains of Tchaikovsky coming from his Strad, and when I re-entered the sitting room to bid him goodbye, I found him clad in his grey dressing gown, eyes closed, attempting to recreate the romantic piece we had heard the night before.
“I’m off, old fellow,” I said cheerfully.
Holmes nodded but did not interrupt his playing. I waited patiently as I, too, fondly recalled our lovely evening together. He executed the final cadence with a dramatic flourish, opened his eyes and regarded me with a kind smile. I crossed the room and stood in front of him.
“Thank you for last night,” I said huskily as our lips met. “I hope to find you exactly as you are in six short days.”
I made to leave but he grabbed my waist and pulled me to him again, bestowing me with such a passionate kiss as to leave me breathless.
“I shall be glad when you can dispense with this business and return to me in the quickest possible fashion,” he said in his velveteen tone. I felt my face flush, for such overtly affectionate words rarely left his lips, and when they did they had the most singular effect on me.
“I shall do everything within my powers to expedite matters,” I replied, brushing his lips once more.
I left him in our sitting room, lovingly playing his violin, his dressing gown sweeping from side to side as his body swayed to the rhythm of his bow. My heart flamed at the sight, and I kept that perfect vision with me throughout my travels.
* * * *
The business in Steffordshire was a rather tedious affair, but not entirely unpleasant. During the days, I met with a lawyer and tended to questions of my uncle’s estate, which amounted to modest assets mostly tied up in various stocks. The cousin with whom I lodged kept quiet company, and his wife was an excellent cook, thereby making the evenings rather enjoyable. Lucas and I had not seen one another in some years, and so we spent a good many hours after suppers reacquainting ourselves with the details of each other’s lives. Of course, he and his wife had read of my adventures with Sherlock Holmes, and they continually steered the conversation towards him. Though I am not often eager to expound on details which I have not given in the
In the moments I spared for myself, I took advantage of the unusually agreeable weather, and walked through the network of paths that traversed the property. My thoughts turned constantly back to Holmes and
On the fifth day of my stay, my visit came to an abrupt end. When I arrived at breakfast, Lucas informed me that a telegram had arrived very early, and he nodded towards the end table where it lay. I opened it with a growing sense of dread. It was from Mrs. Hudson:
“COME AT ONCE. MR. HOLMES VERY ILL. REFUSES TO LEAVE HIS ROOM.”
My heart plunged into my stomach. I packed my bags in a heated rush, bid Lucas a hasty goodbye, and hurried to the train station. I made every attempt to keep my imagination from conjuring Holmes in any number of unfortunate states as my anguish increased with every hour of my journey. It was nighttime before I finally reached
My worst fears were confirmed.
If he had eaten at all since my departure, it was not in the least bit evident, for he was now easily a full stone lighter, and he appeared to be drowning in his shirtsleeves and dressing gown. His pallid face was whiter than the pillowcase upon which he lay, and his chest rose and fell with alarmingly irregularity. When I knelt by his side, he slowly opened his eyes. They were slate grey and spiritless as his form.
“I hope you enjoyed your week in the country,” he slurred, and closed his eyes once more.
I pushed the sleeve of his dressing gown up his left arm. It was pocked with fresh needle marks. I let out a slow sigh and dropped my head onto his chest.
A limp hand touched my hair.
“You mustn’t concern yourself with…mere trifles, Watson,” Holmes murmured thickly before slipping into unconsciousness.
Tears sprang to my eyes as I gently rocked myself against him.
Several long minutes passed before I collected myself enough to engage my professional skills. I reached for his neck to feel his pulse, and found it weak but steady. I then rose to my feet and left his room, leaving the door open behind me. I lit a lamp and sat down at my writing desk. I pulled out a fresh piece of paper and began to write. When I finished, I summoned Mrs. Hudson and told her to post the letter first thing in the morning. I then returned to Holmes’s bedroom, pulled a chair up to his bed and spent the night in watchful vigil over him.