From the unpublished papers of the Dr. John Watson Collection in the Sherlock Holmes Archive.
The faithful readers of the
It is hard to pinpoint exactly when the tides began to turn, for one does not fall in love so deeply in one singular moment. But looking back, there were instances in which I noted some peculiar changes in my regard towards Holmes. I recall how the shock of Hilton Cubbitt’s death just before the resolution of the dancing men affair brought a stunning change to his usually stoic demeanour. He was seized with such melancholy on our ride to Ridling Thorpe Manor as I found myself longing to embrace him, to tell him I was sorry and assure him he was not at fault.
There was the time I watched the joy spread across his handsome features when he served Percy Phelps his missing treaty at our breakfast table. We listened in awe to his ensuing narration of the solution to this mystery that had plagued my friend for nearly ten weeks. Holmes was especially animated as he described how he confronted the thief, his grey eyes shining with keen delight, his cream-colored linen suit making him appear almost angelic in the morning light. Again, I was bewildered by the urge to take him into my arms, to kiss him and tell him how proud and grateful I was that he helped an old friend.
The realization that my feelings had settled with troubling permanence came during the case of Miss Helen Stoner. Holmes displayed impressive strength that day, first in his unwavering refusal to be intimidated by the dangerous and towering figure of Grimesby Roylott, then in his physical prowess when he unbent the steel poker our guest had so unceremoniously twisted in his fit of rage before storming from our rooms. As we crouched in the darkness of the shell house at Stoke Moran that night, his face half-illuminated by the moonlight, Holmes told me gently that he had had some scruples about bringing me along on such a risky mission. Touched to the core by his concern for my well-being, I could only give fragmented and somewhat breathless responses as he went on to explain his deductions. It was then that I knew I was in very deep waters indeed.
The next morning, as we escorted our nerve-wracked client to Scotland Yard to corroborate her statement on the death of her stepfather, I began to consider informing Holmes of my feelings. How to tell them to a man who consistently showed disdain for the “softer emotions,” however, was such a daunting prospect that I dismissed the idea as both irrational and ill-advised. He would be disgusted, angry, upset, any number of things, and not only because he scoffed at love, but because the law forbade it.
Of course I wanted him all the more.
My heart fully stopped later that week when he reached across my writing desk to retrieve his cigarettes and mumbled in a low, rich voice, “I do think ‘The Speckled Band’ makes a better title than ‘The Mystery of Stoke Moran,’ but do not let me influence you.”
My breathing quickened at the sight of him playing airs on his violin with closed eyes, and I wondered if a man so moved by the strains of Paganini could be entirely immune to the pleasures of love.
My knees turned to jelly at his closeness when he helped me fasten a stubborn cufflink the following Friday before we departed for the theatre. I made every attempt to retain my normal demeanour as we set out for the evening, though I now knew if I did not take him into my confidence soon, it would consume me entirely.
I neither heard nor saw the play that night. For two hours I sat in the darkness and put my best writing skills to use as I mentally composed a speech to deliver to him upon our return to
“Good heavens, Watson, are you ill?” he asked me with no little concern as we exited the theatre.
“Actually, Holmes, I’ve not been feeling quite myself of late. There is something about which I need to speak with you when we return home,” I returned evenly as we scanned the street traffic. Whether it was my pale face, my trembling hands or the urgency underneath my tone, Holmes was clearly taken aback. He nodded at me with wide eyes and quickly hailed us a cab. We rode home in tense silence, though I was certain the pounding in my chest was audible to us both.
I retreated to my bedroom to change from my theatre clothes and make one last attempt to compose my manner. I reminded myself I was confiding in my best friend, not a stranger, and tried to imagine I would be simply discussing a case with him rather than confessing a secret so painful I could no longer sleep at night.
Holmes had changed into his dressing gown as well, and I found him lighting a fire in our sitting room when I finally descended the stairs. I sat at the table and focused very deliberately on Mrs. Hudson’s silver teapot until Holmes pulled up the other chair, sat down and waited for me to speak.
It pains me to say that my previously rehearsed speech deserted my mind entirely and I was reduced to a sweating and shaking mess barely able to put two words together.
“For a while now, Holmes, I’ve been struggling with some…with…I’ve had...feelings.. of a certain nature…but to talk of…such things…to you, of all people, Holmes, you…I cannot…were I to tell you, I’m afraid…,” I stammered like a terrified child.
I knew I was risking everything I had by telling him how I really felt, that in mere moments I could find myself homeless and bereft of the single most important friend and companion of my life.
I did not notice Holmes rise and cross the room. I was too busy fumbling in my pocket for a handkerchief, which I passed over my brow as I momentarily considered aborting the whole thing.
A warm and comforting hand pressed into my shoulder as the other placed a glass of brandy before me.
“Calm yourself, my dear fellow,” he said in a placating voice that soothed his most overwrought female clients.
He seated himself again in the chair opposite me, leaned forwards and rested his right arm on the table. I took a deep quaff of the brandy, drew a breath and resolved to maintain some semblance of poise, for my friend had never seen me in such a state as this, and I did not wish to cause him further alarm.
“Now,” he said, lowering his chin and giving me a reassuring smile, “What is it you wish to tell me?”
The only way to go was straight through.
“Sherlock Holmes,” I said in a quiet but steady voice, “I have fallen utterly and irrevocably in love with you.”
Whatever he thought he was ready for, it was most certainly not this. His brow shifted as it does when he has been taken off his guard, his lips parted in quiet shock and he sat back in his chair utterly dumbfounded. He exhaled sharply twice as he stared for a moment at me, then cast his eyes towards the carpet in disbelief.
My lungs finally released the breath I’d been holding all evening as I fumbled for my glass and downed the remainder of its contents in one determined gulp. When I looked up Holmes was still staring at the floor, blinking under a furrowed brow as the full weight of my declaration descended upon him. In this torturous silence I realized my challenge had only begun, though I was much relieved to have unburdened myself at last.
When Holmes rose suddenly from his chair, I feared for a moment that had decided the only advisable course was to simply abandon the conversation. To my relief, however, he approached the decanter and poured a brandy for himself, which he brought back to the table with him and sat down to face me for a third time.
I steeled myself for his response, but none came. I wryly noted to myself that I had finally rendered the man speechless.
“I realize this comes as a shock, Holmes, but I couldn’t go on living as I was with you in ignorance of what I struggled to hide. Now that you’re in full possession of the facts, would you have me pack my things and leave
It may have been overly blatant, but I preferred to know the answer as soon as possible.
He glanced up at me in surprise before returning his troubled gaze to the table. “No, of course not,” he said softly.
“Then please, tell me what it is you want me to do, for I cannot stand another moment of uncertainty,” I pled.
“Perhaps you’d best tell me what you’d like me to do, Watson, for I’ve never been addressed in such a manner before and haven’t the slightest idea what to say,” he said in a strained voice before finally bringing his gaze to mine.
Take me into your arms, kiss me and tell me you love me back..
“I’m afraid I find myself quite out of my province, too,” I confessed. “And I am quite aware that what I’ve just told you has complicated legal implications.”
Of course, I’d never made such a declaration to another man, and certainly not to someone as unsentimental as Holmes. I was beginning to see that by informing him of my feelings, I had merely cast the crushing weight of my onus over us both.
“When the law succeeds in dictating the paths of the human heart we shall all of us be compromised,” he mused.
I was somewhat relieved. That would not be an issue at least.
“Listen, Holmes,” I said, finding my natural voice again. “The last thing I want to do is to alienate you as my friend, and now that I’ve honestly accounted for my troubles I feel my next aim should be to assure you that I expect nothing from you which you cannot give.”
He glanced up at me again, creased his brow and sipped from his glass.
I sighed, wondering how much damage I had wrought and whether it would have been better to simply go on suppressing my emotions, however painful they may have been to endure alone.
“Do I stand to lose you?” I whispered.
It is my perception that was Holmes did next was entirely instinctive. He placed his hand over the tightly clasped knot into which mine sat twisted upon the table between us, and soothed me yet again.
“Watson, you are my best friend. I have always been immeasurably grateful for your support and companionship over the years.”
As soon as he said this, both pairs of our eyes fell the pile of hands before us, and he suddenly pulled his hand from mine. When he realized what he’d done, he froze, then smiled in spite of himself and relaxed, giving me a final pat in a show of sympathy.
“How long have you been living with his?” he asked me after a few moments.
“Hard to say. Such things don’t occur overnight. Months, I think. Maybe longer. I don’t really know.” I suddenly felt very tired.
Holmes took several deep breaths before he spoke. “You have the greatest heart of anyone I’ve ever known, Watson. Man or woman. I mean that. To hear you say such a thing about me is not a little flattering,” he paused to grant me a sincere smile.
His expression turned sad. “But I cannot…you know I’m not…” he started to say the words I had expected but could not bear to hear.
“I know, Holmes. I know. It’s all right. I’m sure I shall be feeling more myself soon enough,” I interrupted hastily in effort to spare us both the embarrassment of his rejection.
This was not the truth. I would never be the same and I knew it. But for him and for our friendship, I gathered the fullness of my strength and smiled reassuringly at him.
He looked relieved. “Certainly that is true. Now let us see what we can do to take your mind off things,” he said, patting my hand once more and rising from the table. He told me he was expecting a visit in the morning from a Mr. James Norton, whose sixteen-year-old son had gone missing the week previous. After an exhaustive search, the police had turned up nothing.
I nodded casually as he paced the room and spoke, gesturing now and again towards the letter he had received from Norton. But I barely heard him. I was still trying to fathom what to make of our conversation. In some ways, I was desperate to bury the whole business, as I know my friend had no patience for the subject of human sentiment. And yet, I had only scratched the surface of the depths of my feelings. I longed to tell him all, regardless of his ultimate reaction.
But Sherlock Holmes knew nothing of love and its trials, had never felt a flash of desire, the warmth of a passionate embrace or the sting of a rebuke. When he paused once or twice to cast a questioning glance at me, I realized that he was doing his level best to recover familiar ground between us. It was a change perceptible only to me, for I knew him well enough to note that in spite of the fact that he had resumed his professional mien, he had been unnerved by my disclosure.
I rose from my seat, plucked my notebook from my writing desk and dutifully began to record the initial facts of a new case.
And so we left it unresolved because neither of us was prepared to confront the enormity of what had just happened, and the exercise of our customary roles served to temporarily distract us both from this seismic and troubling shift in our relations.
* * * *
“If he was abducted,” Holmes said around the stem of his pipe, “there would surely have been a ransom note by now.” He waved the flame from his match and puffed away thoughtfully.
For the last two days I had been following Holmes through the darkest streets of
We both struggled to ignore the strain between us, and in doing so it was all the more apparent to me that I should have kept silent on the subject. Keeping focus on the case meant we were protected by the habits of work, but those idle hours we used to pass so easily in warm and amiable company were now fraught with unease. Neither of us had any idea what to say and so began to avoid each other, he from guilt and me from shame.
“But James Norton is not a rich man,” I reminded him. “What could a kidnapper expect to gain from him?”
Holmes frowned and took the pipe from his mouth. “I have been asking myself what reason the boy would have for leaving under his own power. I fear he may be mired in a situation for which his youth has not prepared him. But where? And with whom?”
I sighed. We had been going back and forth like this for some hours and to no avail. It did not help matters that I could not recall the last time I had slept through the night. I’m afraid my melancholy discomfort had mounted a full attack on my nerves, and I was losing the battle. If I was under torment in the weeks leading up to my confession, I was in outright agony in the aftermath of our conversation. My heart and hopes were shattered and I feared I had unwittingly sacrificed the great friendship I treasured above all else.
“We shall do nothing more today, Watson,” Holmes said, misreading my frustration. He checked his watch. “We ought to get ready for dinner. Lady Constance expects us on the hour.”
Holmes had recovered a document of immense importance last month in a bizarre case of fraud that I shall one day recount. Lady Constance was the wife of one of the grateful government officials upon whose careers the recovery of the document depended. She had insisted on hosting us for dinner in an official, if ostentatious, show of gratitude. Normally, I would have enjoyed attending such a thing for the sheer spectacle of it, but I knew Holmes generally abhorred such gatherings and I was hardly feeling social myself.
I reluctantly washed, donned my best dinner clothes and waited for Holmes on the settee at a quarter past seven. I was sipping a whisky and reading the Times when he emerged similarly attired from his bedroom. I turned to greet him and caught my breath.
Holmes was nearly sparkling from head to toe. He wore a black tuxedo of a particularly elegant and dramatic V-cut that flattered his tall frame. His vest was tastefully ornamented with flecks of maroon and gold thread that gave him an air of understated royalty, which was further highlighted by his gold cufflinks and newly polished shoes. With his slick black hair under his finest silk hat, he looked as if he were about to enter a grand ballroom full of
He smiled as he breezed past me. “Ah, Watson, you clean up nicely, as they say. Mrs. Hudson!” he sang as he pulled on his gloves. “Mrs. Hudsoooooon!”
“Yes, Mr. Holmes,” she answered with some consternation. She had been standing near the landing when he called her, but he was too impatient to wait her response.
“Ah,” he said, turning on a charming smile and bowing towards our landlady. She could not help herself smiling back. If he had looked at me like that I would have melted into the floor.
“Dr. Watson and I shan’t require dinner this evening, but I would appreciate it if you could light a fire in this sitting room before you retire this evening. It promises to be dreadfully cold outside.”
“As you wish, Mr. Holmes,” she curtsied. “Such a pair of gentlemen need looking after!”
I could not help but laugh at her kind words.
“Ready, Watson?” Holmes asked me amicably.
“And waiting, Holmes,” I returned, suppressing another sigh.
“Then let us be on our way,” he called out as he glided from the sitting room.
A short cab ride later, we alit at Ridgley Hall, and found ourselves in the company of eight well-dressed gentlemen who greeted Holmes as if he were the highest dignitary in
It wasn’t long before I was forgotten entirely, and the party fawned all their sycophantic attentions upon the detective. He appeared as ill at ease as I, but there was little I could do to divert them, thus I took the opportunity to slip away and wander about the drawing room. Lord Adderly had been a game hunter, and the walls were adorned with rifles, trophies and the stuffed, mounted heads of several large animals. Had it been more carefully done, it may have appeared a dignified salute to his achievements, but as it was the whole room looked rather grisly.
“Dinner is served, Madam,” announced the parlor maid, and we were promptly ushered into the dining room. It was a chilly evening as Holmes had predicted, but the huge fireplace near the table blanketed the room in a stifling heat. I caught Holmes roll his eyes more than once as the evening proceeded, and I missed the connection we shared in such instances when we were both uncomfortable in the presence of certain company. He used to make me laugh when he uttered offhand remarks under his breath, and this always did much to ease my tension by pulling me into the warmth of our little private world. Tonight, I merely felt like an appendage.
Dinner began with the usual ceremonies. Wine bottles were uncorked. Plates were presented. Stories were shared. I interjected once or twice when prompted, but when I spoke, my voice sounded rather like it was coming from somewhere else in the room.
I am afraid I drank more than I ate that night. My appetite had deserted me, and I found it easier to raise a glass to my lips than to grapple with the dizzying assortment of silverware that splayed out from either side of my plate. I barely looked at Holmes, but when his gaze found me I felt it burn through my skin when he observed my uncharacteristic preference for drink over food.
When dessert was served, the sounds of conversation echoed so wide and hollow in my ears I was briefly disoriented when my focus narrowed back to the small slice of torte on my plate. Where there had been one there were suddenly three. I blinked. There was one again.
“So, Dr. Watson, tell us,” said Mr. Cadwell-Harwood as he lit a cigar, “what is it like living with a genius?”
“It’s a laugh a minute,” I said drily as I poked at my uneaten cake.
Holmes cleared his throat. “The doctor and I do enjoy a similar humour, but I am afraid I am often not so agreeable in my habits as he.”
“Oh, come along, Holmes,” I said thickly, “living with you is the very pinnacle of my existence. I thank God every day for the constant joy of it.”
A tense silence fell over the table.
“I imagine you must have shared a great many adventures over the years,” said Lady Constance rather stiffly.
“You imagine correctly, Madam,” I scanned the blurry faces to find our hostess. “It’s a real boon living with a detective. Missing a cufflink? Holmes can find it. Misplace your reading glasses? Why, simply ask Holmes to get out his magnifying glass and he’ll unearth them in no time.”
The few laughs that this generated emboldened me to continue.
“That’s Sherlock Holmes, world’s greatest consulting detective, always scouring the corners to lend his services to humanity.” This is not precisely what I meant to say, but it didn’t matter.
Holmes rose abruptly from the table and bowed to our hostess. “Lady Constance, your impeccable hospitality has been unsurpassed this fine evening, and please do give my compliments to your very excellent cook.”
He smiled politely at the table of guests. “I regret that we must take our leave. My friend is not well,” he said, turning sharp eyes upon me, “and is in dire need of respite. Our latest case has been a trying one.”
What transpired next has all but evaporated from my memory, and the next thing I knew I was jostling next to Holmes in a cab as we rolled along the cobblestone drive of the Manor. He said not a word to me on the ride home, which suited me just fine. I had suddenly acquired a throbbing headache.
I barely registered Mrs. Hudson’s exclamations as Holmes led me inside. He raised his hand in protest when she attempted to rid me of my overcoat, and he led me gingerly up the two flights of stairs to my bedroom. He sat me down and my bed and disappeared, returning momentarily with a glass of water. He removed my shoes while I drank it.
“How very kind of you, Mr. Holmes,” I slurred as he loosened my cravat and released my collar. “Always looking after the needs of others before his own…”
The room was spinning. I looked up at Holmes in confusion and tried to blink the room back into stillness. I was overcome with the sudden urge to be completely honest with him. I grabbed his lapels and looked him straight in the eye.
“I don’t blame you, you know. Love is indeed a horrible thing and if I were you I should avoid it altogether. I wish I had.”
“Not your fault, o’course,” I added, and began to falter. Darkness was closing in.
Holmes smiled grimly and gently removed my hands from his coat. He eased me back on the bed and covered me with a blanket.
“Good night, Watson,” he said softly before turning out the light and shutting the door.