Title: Seasoned Truths
Recipient: keerawa for this most recent round at acd_holmesfest
Characters, including any pairing(s): Holmes, Watson, Mary, Watson/Mary, Holmes/Watson left to the reader’s interpretation
Warnings: None apply.
Summary: A look at moments within five canon stories, some points of which may have been narrated less reliably than artistically for various reasons. But then, reliable is a relative term; don’t you agree?
Disclaimer: I’ve used canon text extensively within this story. None of the text which has been italicised was written by me, it’s all straight out of ACD canon, copied and pasted from the html docs provided by Project Gutenberg. Accordingly, I am using this space to express that both Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Project Gutenberg are, in my opinion, utterly brilliant.
"You come at a crisis, Watson," said he. "If this paper remains blue, all is well. If it turns red, it means a man's life."
It was in the latter days of September, and the equinoctial gales had set in with exceptional violence. All day the wind had screamed and the rain had beaten against the windows, so that even here in the heart of great, hand-made London we were forced to raise our minds for the instant from the routine of life and to recognise the presence of those great elemental forces which shriek at mankind through the bars of his civilisation, like untamed beasts in a cage. As evening drew in, the storm grew higher and louder, and the wind cried and sobbed like a child in the chimney. Sherlock Holmes sat moodily at one side of the fireplace cross-indexing his records of crime, while I at the other was deep in one of Clark Russell’s fine sea-stories until the howl of the gale from without seemed to blend with the text, and the splash of the rain to lengthen out into the long swash of the sea waves.
I could not have anticipated the effect Openshaw’s arrival in Baker Street would have upon my regard for Holmes. Though, as I read my own description of the wild night which became the backdrop for his tale I consider that some sense of foreboding may have lurked just beyond conscious thought. For the gales of which I wrote did indeed assault London violently that night, and if Holmes may have considered my prose rather purple (Sprawled comfortably in his accustomed chair beside the fire, he rolls his eyes theatrically. “Positively aubergine, my dear fellow.”) in nature my readers surely appreciated my injection of imagery to help set the scene.
Admittedly, my blending of the London rain and the sea waves from my novel was a foreshadowing device which I inserted once it became necessary to invent a second series of violent equinoctial gales to end my tale.
We sat in silence for some minutes, Holmes more depressed and shaken than I had ever seen him.
“That hurts my pride, Watson,” he said at last. “It is a petty feeling, no doubt, but it hurts my pride. It becomes a personal matter with me now, and, if God sends me health, I shall set my hand upon this gang. That he should come to me for help, and that I should send him away to his death—!” He sprang from his chair and paced about the room in uncontrollable agitation, with a flush upon his sallow cheeks and a nervous clasping and unclasping of his long thin hands.
“They must be cunning devils,” he exclaimed at last. “How could they have decoyed him down there? The Embankment is not on the direct line to the station. The bridge, no doubt, was too crowded, even on such a night, for their purpose. Well, Watson, we shall see who will win in the long run. I am going out now!”
“To the police?”
“No; I shall be my own police. When I have spun the web they may take the flies, but not before.”
Needless to say, I felt deeply for my friend. It was, as my readers will know as well as I myself do, unusual for him to express his emotions so clearly or indeed, so violently. It was certainly no small matter to him that he had failed a client in so final a way, and as a doctor I am intimately familiar with what he felt and the self-accusatory thoughts to which he was subjected in the aftermath of his failure. What Holmes was faced with, and I was not, was both quite simple and quite devastating: an object upon which vengeance could be wrought.
“I have them in the hollow of my hand. Young Openshaw shall not long remain unavenged. Why, Watson, let us put their own devilish trade-mark upon them. It is well thought of!”
“What do you mean?”
He took an orange from the cupboard, and tearing it to pieces he squeezed out the pips upon the table. Of these he took five and thrust them into an envelope. On the inside of the flap he wrote “S. H. for J. O.” Then he sealed it and addressed it to “Captain James Calhoun, Barque Lone Star, Savannah, Georgia.”
“That will await him when he enters port,” said he, chuckling. “It may give him a sleepless night. He will find it as sure a precursor of his fate as Openshaw did before him.”
This, however, was an aspect of Holmes unfamiliar to me. His adoption of his adversaries’ methods and clear intention to hunt them to their deaths made me aware that my friend’s eccentricities were not as harmless as I had so far regarded them.
I was there when news of the Lone Star reached Baker Street in the form of a telegram. I saw his eyes light with triumph then darken with dangerous desire and I could remain silent no longer.
“This is not right, Holmes.”
He turned and spoke to me in a cool, calculated manner. “It is justice.”
“Maybe so, but it is also vengeance. You are setting out to murder those men in cold blood rather than bring them to justice in a court of law.”
“Come, come, Watson!” He exclaimed in a harsh tone, “They are the very basest of villains!”
“Which is exactly the reason I cannot approve of your methods when you so exactly mirror theirs.”
“What will you do about it then, demand satisfaction on their behalves?”
“No of course not, Holmes. Don’t be absurd. My aim is to preserve the law, not subvert it in some new way. I urge you to reconsider taking the matter to the police. Surely -,”
Suddenly, my friend turned on me and I found myself pinned to the wall with his hand tight around my throat. I struggled in vain, and then I struggled simply to stay conscious as he cut off my airway and hissed in my ear, “Do you think I have given this matter no thought? I have done nothing but dwell upon that night and my error in judgement since I sent Openshaw to his death. It is vengeance, Watson, you are correct. It is my vengeance and I mean to have it. Nothing else will set my mind at rest; nothing else will allow me to focus on the next case, and the next. Failure has left stains upon my very mind and only this will wipe them away.”
He released me and I sank to the floor, gasping for air and seeing stars flash across black as he strode from the room.
There is ever a flaw, however, in the best laid of human plans, and the murderers of John Openshaw were never to receive the orange pips which would show them that another, as cunning and as resolute as themselves, was upon their track. Very long and very severe were the equinoctial gales that year. We waited long for news of the Lone Star of Savannah, but none ever reached us. We did at last hear that somewhere far out in the Atlantic a shattered stern-post of a boat was seen swinging in the trough of a wave, with the letters “L. S.” carved upon it, and that is all which we shall ever know of the fate of the Lone Star.
“I only wish that you could come with me, Watson, but I fear that it won’t do.”
Holmes grasped the doctor's hand.
"Come, Watson," said he, and we passed from that house of grief into the pale sunlight of the winter day.
I had seen little of Holmes lately.
In fact, I had seen nothing of him since the night of our disagreement over the fate of Openshaw’s murderers.
One night—it was on the twentieth of March, 1888—I was returning from a journey to a patient (for I had now returned to civil practice), when my way led me through Baker Street. As I passed the well-remembered door, which must always be associated in my mind with my wooing, and with the dark incidents of the Study in Scarlet, I was seized with a keen desire to see Holmes again, and to know how he was employing his extraordinary powers. His rooms were brilliantly lit, and, even as I looked up, I saw his tall, spare figure pass twice in a dark silhouette against the blind. He was pacing the room swiftly, eagerly, with his head sunk upon his chest and his hands clasped behind him. To me, who knew his every mood and habit, his attitude and manner told their own story. He was at work again. He had risen out of his drug-created dreams and was hot upon the scent of some new problem. I rang the bell and was shown up to the chamber which had formerly been in part my own.
His manner was not effusive. It seldom was; but he was glad, I think, to see me.
I humbly admit that I was surprised; no, I must go so far as to say astonished, when Watson once again scaled my seventeen steps that night. I had long resigned myself to having lost his friendship over my need for vengeance.
“Wedlock suits you,” he remarked. “I think, Watson, that you have put on seven and a half pounds since I saw you.”
“Seven!” I answered.
“Indeed, I should have thought a little more. Just a trifle more, I fancy, Watson. And in practice again, I observe. You did not tell me that you intended to go into harness.”
“You have nothing, then, to say to me aside from deducing facts of no matter?”
His manner was cold and harsh, and it caused me more than a moment’s pause. “Was there something in particular you wished to hear me say? I confess your arrival has surprised me; I had not thought to see you come here again.”
“No, nor had I expected to come; I happened to be passing and acted impulsively. I see I needn’t have troubled myself.” He rose to leave.
“No,” I found myself out of my chair and resting a hand upon his arm to stay his movement. “I had not thought to see you again, but hoped that I might. Please remain, and I will try to find some more congenial words.”
He sat again, crossing his arms over his chest and regarding me expectantly.
I sighed. “You seek to humble me, Watson. It is cruel of you, but no less than my behaviour toward you warrants.”
“You call me cruel!”
“I do. For it is the cruellest of actions to call a proud man to heel. I apologise, my friend, for my actions and my words when last we met. I regret them bitterly along with the loss of your company.”
“You do not, I notice, express regret for having murdered those men; I assume you followed through with your plan to do so.”
“I do not regret ridding the world of them and am unwilling to falsely say otherwise.”
He shook his head and said, “I do not understand how you can reconcile the two. You do not regret committing murder but are unwilling to utter an untruth. How can you not acknowledge the dichotomy between the two statements?”
“They were not men of any worth, Watson, and I felt myself to be under no obligation to treat them as if they were. You are a man of great worth, and I should not like to treat you as if you were not; misrepresenting myself to you would be doing so.”
“And if I should do something to change, to lower, my worth in your eyes; or if I killed a man in front of you, you would happily slit my throat in return?”
“Certainly not! If you killed a man I am sure he would prove to have been a man worth killing.” I waved a hand in dismissal, because we had wandered far from the central point. “The matter has nothing to do with any of this pointless debate of morality in any case.”
“Oh, doesn’t it?”
“No, of course not; it never did. My actions were necessary; the distraction afforded by the continued freedom of those men were set to drive me mad. I am not fanciful. My mind spiralled in on itself, my failure drilling into my very brain, Watson; a single razor point burrowing into my mind and destroying all in its path. I assure you it was a matter of self-defence.”
“You committed murder in defence of your sanity.”
“Precisely so,” I exclaimed.
“Holmes, I have a great respect for your intellect.” He paused for a long moment. “I am not, however, certain I can assign to it importance as an entire person of its own.”
“But, Watson, what am I without it? Killing it would be killing me, you know that. Quite aside from that, can you imagine Sherlock Holmes run mad? You might as well take my life now along with a hundred more. That, my dear fellow, is where you will find the cold-blooded killer you so anxiously examine my soul for now.” I could see the thought appalled him, as it rightly should have done.
“But why,” he asked, “would it not have served to let them be hanged by the Crown?”
“What evidence would I have been able to present against them?” I countered.
“Surely, Holmes, you could have -,”
I held up a hand to stop his speech. “Watson, if we are now discussing theoretical evidence which you are quite certain I would somehow have devised a means of locating; well, then I fear your respect for my intellect may be causing you to ask more of it than is possible.”
“I have asked only the small favour that you refrain from committing murder,” Watson insisted.
“And I tell you that it was impossible for me to oblige you in this instance.” I smiled, but the expression felt tight upon my face. “We will not be able to come to an agreement on this point, I see. I am sorry for it.”
“Holmes, I -,” he broke off abruptly, clearly distressed. He paused, and shook his head firmly. After a long moment he looked up and met my gaze. He spoke resolutely, “You say: in this instance. Can you assure me that I need have no fear another incident of this sort will occur in the future?”
Wryly, I mused to myself that he could certainly have no fear I would reveal to him the existence of such an occurrence in the future. “You have my word that you will never again feel cause for concern over an incident such as this, Watson.”
He did not miss the fact that I had chosen my words carefully.
I met his gaze.
“I am trusting in you, Holmes.”
“Of course. I can assure you I have no intention of slitting your throat for any offense you may commit, my friend.”
He almost smiled. “Very well then.”
I sprang from my seat and held his hand with both of mine. “I am gratified, Watson, to find that you value our friendship so highly. I assure you that I hold it in similar regard. Now,” I rushed on, letting go his hand and whirling round, “to celebrate you may be interested in this.” I turned, throwing to him the sheet of thick, pink-tinted notepaper which had been lying open upon the table. “It came by the last post.”.
“This is my friend and colleague, Dr. Watson, who is occasionally good enough to help me in my cases. Whom have I the honour to address?”
“You may address me as the Count Von Kramm, a Bohemian nobleman. I understand that this gentleman, your friend, is a man of honour and discretion, whom I may trust with a matter of the most extreme importance. If not, I should much prefer to communicate with you alone.”
I rose to go, but Holmes caught me by the wrist and pushed me back into my chair. “It is both, or none,” said he. “You may say before this gentleman anything which you may say to me.”
“Now, Watson,” said Holmes, as a tall dog-cart dashed up through the gloom, throwing out two golden tunnels of yellow light from its side lanterns. “You’ll come with me, won’t you?”
“If I can be of use.”
Come at once if convenient — if inconvenient come all the same.
I loved them both, of course.
One night—it was in June, ’89—there came a ring to my bell, about the hour when a man gives his first yawn and glances at the clock. I sat up in my chair, and my wife laid her needle-work down in her lap and made a little face of disappointment.
“A patient!” said she. “You’ll have to go out.”
I groaned, for I was newly come back from a weary day.
We heard the door open, a few hurried words, and then quick steps upon the linoleum. Our own door flew open, and a lady, clad in some dark-coloured stuff, with a black veil, entered the room.
“You will excuse my calling so late,” she began, and then, suddenly losing her self-control, she ran forward, threw her arms about my wife’s neck, and sobbed upon her shoulder. “Oh, I’m in such trouble!” she cried; “I do so want a little help.”
“Why,” said my wife, pulling up her veil, “it is Kate Whitney. How you startled me, Kate! I had not an idea who you were when you came in.”
“I didn’t know what to do, so I came straight to you.” That was always the way. Folk who were in grief came to my wife like birds to a light-house.
They were so alike. Those in need sought them out as blossoms do the sun. I could only stand ready to hand where I might possibly lend assistance in the hope of also doing some good.
They are the twin pillars of my life. She, a radiant Castor, born hatched from an egg yet mortal; he, Pollux, his Divine boon spent at Reichenbach; I feel certain he would have offered it up to me had he been able, and thank God he was not because I could not possibly have chosen between them.
The near tragedy of it all was that I chose Mary because it would have been easier, simpler, to live out my days as her husband. I say near because I believe she understood; she knew mine was a heart divided, but she also knew that it was divided equally and that when I professed my love for her I told her no lie. A true tragedy would have been if our marriage had turned her sweetness into bewilderment and led to hatred. Again, looking back with clearer vision allows me to give thanks that when I lost her it was to death rather than to despair.
She was truly an angel, my bride. I loved her as she loved me, she made our home a happy one, and when I wept over the loss of my friend she counted me no less a man for my tears. Her loss is a pain I hold to my own heart. Holmes was not there to share it with me and I do not seek to appease it now. Mary, and the time I spent with her, are mine alone. I keep for myself the burden of grief which dissipates slowly, and if there are moments when I avoid Holmes’s gaze because of it - I do not hesitate to repeat myself when I tell you again that I loved them both.
Loving Holmes was travelling through a dark labyrinth; twisting, overgrown paths traversed blindly, day after day, doubling back upon one another endlessly. It was discovering that I was already fluent in another language which I have never before had occasion to speak aloud. Ours is a maze with no centre.
"You'll come with me to-night?"
"When you like and where you like."
“Do you know, Watson,” said Holmes as we sat together in the gathering darkness, “I have really some scruples as to taking you to-night. There is a distinct element of danger.”
“Can I be of assistance?”
“Your presence might be invaluable.”
“Then I shall certainly come.”
“It is very kind of you.”
It is with a heavy heart that I take up my pen to write these the last words in which I shall ever record the singular gifts by which my friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes was distinguished.
It was with a heavy heart that I allowed Holmes to set off without me after we had relieved Moriarty of his freedom. One of the rare tokens which I received assuring me of my friend’s continued survival during the time he was away took the form of a hastily-written note which requested I employ my pen and literary agent upon his behalf. There was little enough I could do for him whilst he feigned death and I awaited the unpredictable date of his return, so I tackled the task with all the enthusiasm I could not employ in any other way. I fashioned a tale which I hoped would emphasize Holmes’s extraordinary abilities as well as assure the world of his untimely demise.
"You evidently don't know me,” said he.
"On the contrary,” I answered, “I think it is fairly evident that I do. Pray take a chair. I can spare you five minutes if you have anything to say.”
"All that I have to say has already crossed your mind,” said he.
"Then possibly my answer has crossed yours,” I replied.
"You stand fast?”
He clapped his hand into his pocket, and I raised the pistol from the table. But he merely drew out a memorandum-book in which he had scribbled some dates.
"You crossed my path on the 4th of January,” said he. “On the 23rd you incommoded me; by the middle of February I was seriously inconvenienced by you; at the end of March I was absolutely hampered in my plans; and now, at the close of April, I find myself placed in such a position through your continual persecution that I am in positive danger of losing my liberty. The situation is becoming an impossible one.”
The months which Holmes spent investigating Moriarty and his organization were tense ones for us both. I well remember my visit in January which happened to coincide with his return to his rooms after several days spent in intense and dangerous undercover work.
“You are preoccupied. I can easily return another day.”
“By no means, Watson, your company is just the thing.”
Directly following this assertion, Holmes sneezed, necessarily made ridiculous for a fleeting instant. As a medical man I frowned, though another portion of my mind took fond note of this sign of human vulnerability. “Have you been unwell of late?”
He waved his pipe through the air as if to physically dismiss my query. “It is of no matter. I have spent some time standing idly in the damp,” said he.
My amusement fled and I frowned in earnest as I noted that his voice was actually quite altered, deep with congestion of the chest. “You mean the snow, and I am sure you have done so without donning adequate outerwear,” I scolded. A very slight physical wince was confirmation enough and I pressed on, “I imagine you adopted the role of a play-bill seller or some other guise which would allow you to loiter in a disreputable manner, appearing impoverished and frozen to the bone in truth.”
He adopted an air of superiority and, his eyes alone giving away his amusement, observed, “As usual you prove to have successfully absorbed more of my methods than you would lead your readers to believe.”
His intent was to induce me to chuckle and let the matter drop, but I felt a heavy responsibility since I had left our rooms on Baker Street and instead firmly insisted, “Holmes you really must take more care of yourself! I hold out no hope that you eat or sleep regularly since my change of address, but to add to that such recklessness as this is very nearly suicidal.” I stood and imperiously plucked the pipe from his grasp.
My companion uttered an indignant cry of protest and snatched at the air in an instinctive bid to reclaim his lost toy.
“By no means should you be clogging your lungs so if you have contracted what sounds to me to be an entrenched bronchial complaint,” I remonstrated. “This, at least, you shall pay in recompense for my company as well as for your own folly,” said I as sternly as I was able. “Now tell me more of this villain Moriarty. I would help you in any way that I am able.”
"As you are aware, Watson, there is no one who knows the higher criminal world of London so well as I do. For years past I have continually been conscious of some power behind the malefactor, some deep organizing power which forever stands in the way of the law, and throws its shield over the wrong-doer. Again and again in cases of the most varying sorts—forgery cases, robberies, murders—I have felt the presence of this force, and I have deduced its action in many of those undiscovered crimes in which I have not been personally consulted. For years I have endeavored to break through the veil which shrouded it, and at last the time came when I seized my thread and followed it, until it led me, after a thousand cunning windings, to ex-Professor Moriarty of mathematical celebrity.
His investigations continued, and my imprecation of bronchial entrenchment in January came to a head in April.
“Good heavens, Holmes.”
He waved me away and I, just as naturally, ignored the motion.
“You have taken no notice of my advice,” I muttered darkly, “and you suffer keenly because of it. I now fear pneumonia.”
“My dearest Watson, I in turn fear I must beg of you a favour,” said he in a croak which made a mockery of his normal tone.
“Do you mean in addition to my continuing efforts to save you from yourself?” I complained as I timed his pulse.
He let out a sound meant to express amusement, but which inevitably transformed into a series of hacking coughs. “Even so, my good fellow. I fear I must ask you to complete my rounds, such as they are. Our friend Moriarty is at a tipping point and we must goad him into endangering himself. The police have no hope of apprehending him; I fear it is up to us to lay hands upon him and we cannot do that when all he does is send an unending stream of soldiers to fight his battles for him.”
I continued to frown over his physical state even as I agreed. “Just as you like, Holmes, but I insist you sleep while I am out, and note that I refuse to stand for any of your nonsense on this point.”
I went out about mid-day to transact some business in Oxford Street. As I passed the corner which leads from Bentinck Street on to the Welbeck Street crossing a two-horse van furiously driven whizzed round and was on me like a flash. I sprang for the foot-path and saved myself by the fraction of a second. The van dashed round by Marylebone Lane and was gone in an instant. I kept to the pavement after that, Watson, but as I walked down Vere Street a brick came down from the roof of one of the houses, and was shattered to fragments at my feet. I called the police and had the place examined. There were slates and bricks piled up on the roof preparatory to some repairs, and they would have me believe that the wind had toppled over one of these. Of course I knew better, but I could prove nothing. I took a cab after that and reached my brother's rooms in Pall Mall, where I spent the day. Now I have come round to you, and on my way I was attacked by a rough with a bludgeon. I knocked him down, and the police have him in custody; but I can tell you with the most absolute confidence that no possible connection will ever be traced between the gentleman upon whose front teeth I have barked my knuckles and the retiring mathematical coach, who is, I dare say, working out problems upon a black-board ten miles away.
I had left our rooms wearing the silhouette of the great detective and if I would not have fooled the spider himself, then I at least baited his minions into a satisfactory number of attempts upon my life, achieving Holmes’s goal of harrying the beast.
"I must apologize for calling so late," said he, "and I must further beg you to be so unconventional as to allow me to leave your house presently by scrambling over your back garden wall."
"But what does it all mean?" I asked.
He held out his hand, and I saw in the light of the lamp that two of his knuckles were burst and bleeding.
"It is not an airy nothing, you see," said he, smiling. "On the contrary, it is solid enough for a man to break his hand over.
After I had sent another note round to Mary and cleaned my battered knuckles I poured myself a generous measure of whisky. I then relieved Mrs Hudson and proceeded to sit at Holmes’s bedside, willing his lungs to clear. I watched his chest rise and fall irregularly; his grating cough proved a steadfast companion through the night.
Thankfully, in the morning he had improved slightly and we were able to continue with the next stage of his plan, for we could not make the thing look too easy for our foe. Moriarty was too clever by far to mount an assault on Baker Street. Holmes posited that the appealing drama of a grand chase across Europe combined with the prospect of putting an end to my friend’s life with his own hands should prove enough to bait the man out into the open.
Again and again he recurred to the fact that if he could be assured that society was freed from Professor Moriarty he would cheerfully bring his own career to a conclusion.
"I think that I may go so far as to say, Watson, that I have not lived wholly in vain," he remarked. "If my record were closed to-night I could still survey it with equanimity. The air of London is the sweeter for my presence. In over a thousand cases I am not aware that I have ever used my powers upon the wrong side. Of late I have been tempted to look into the problems furnished by nature rather than those more superficial ones for which our artificial state of society is responsible. Your memoirs will draw to an end, Watson, upon the day that I crown my career by the capture or extinction of the most dangerous and capable criminal in Europe."
Whilst we awaited Moriarty I first heard Holmes speak of his retirement from London and his chosen occupation. His ambition, however, ran deeper than this first step of eliminating the man himself.
“It cannot be helped, Watson, you know it cannot. The criminal syndicate he has built has grown into a hydra, not simply an enormous serpent.”
“Blast and damn, Holmes!” I resisted the urge to hurl my glass into the fire. “What I know is that there is no need for you to attempt it on your own.”
“Attempt it? Good Lord, how long have you harboured these grave doubts regarding my abilities, Watson?”
“Don’t be obtuse; of course I don’t doubt your abilities, only your sense. I would be a valuable companion; have I not proven myself so over the course of our friendship?”
Holmes’s eyes softened. “Forgive me, my dear fellow, I always seem to forget that you do not appreciate my attempts at levity when you are occupied in scolding me. I assure you that you have proven yourself very nearly indispensable; nonetheless, I shall have to manage without your assistance this time.”
“I do not like it,” I insisted petulantly.
“I cannot say I care overmuch for the prospect myself, but you must admit that you would not be comfortable abandoning Mrs Watson for a period of years in order to accompany me.”
“No, of course not, but I can at least travel with you as far as Dublin before I return home.”
“I am afraid not,” protested my friend. He hesitated before admitting an aspect of his plan he had so far kept from me. “There will be no visits home or clear communications from me, Watson. I intend the world to believe me dead when we leave here.”
I did then throw my glass. “Holmes, I am now wrestling with an impulse to strike you. What on Earth has possessed you?”
“Don’t you see, Watson? Even the most paranoid of criminals will not expect a dead man to be hunting him down. The advantage of being able to move with complete anonymity will certainly make my task less difficult.”
There was nothing I could say, no alternative plan I could propose. The prospect of not seeing or communicating with my friend in the foreseeable future was an unpleasant one to say the least, but the task he had set himself was noble and I could not ask him to give it up to make me comfortable.
It is indeed, a fearful place. The torrent, swollen by the melting snow, plunges into a tremendous abyss, from which the spray rolls up like the smoke from a burning house. The shaft into which the river hurls itself is an immense chasm, lined by glistening coal-black rock, and narrowing into a creaming, boiling pit of incalculable depth, which brims over and shoots the stream onward over its jagged lip. The long sweep of green water roaring forever down, and the thick flickering curtain of spray hissing forever upward, turn a man giddy with their constant whirl and clamor. We stood near the edge peering down at the gleam of the breaking water far below us against the black rocks, and listening to the half-human shout which came booming up with the spray out of the abyss.
The path has been cut half-way round the fall to afford a complete view, but it ends abruptly, and the traveler has to return as he came. We had turned to do so, when we saw a Swiss lad come running along it with a letter in his hand.
“Well, Watson,” said Holmes with repressed glee in his tone, “you’d better toddle back to the hotel, then, hadn’t you?”
I managed not to roll my eyes. “Yes, I suppose I had. Do take care in my absence, Holmes.”
I retreated far enough to effectively secrete myself, and when Moriarty passed me I crept after him at a safe distance.
Later, after Moriarty and his accomplice had been turned over to Mycroft’s agent, Holmes and I were once again left to one another. I met his gaze with dread because I knew he meant to be off soon, now that we had apprehended the chief villain.
Holmes’s smile was tight. “Shall we have supper, old boy?”
And then what had happened? Who was to tell us what had happened then?
After Mary died I could not stand to remain in our home. The memories were too overwhelming with no one to share them with me. I moved back into my old bedroom at Baker Street; our rooms lay vacant but were held by the elder Holmes against his brother’s return.
I continued in practice for lack of other occupation during the daytime and tried to fill the evenings sorting through my notes. I did not attempt to deceive myself; it was a time of waiting, and it went on for a little longer than a year.
By an odd coincidence it happened to once again be a day in January when I came home to the strains of a sweetly singing violin.
"Am dining at Goldini's Restaurant, Gloucester Road, Kensington. Please come at once and join me there. Bring with you a jemmy, a dark lantern, a chisel, and a revolver. S. H."
It was a nice equipment for a respectable citizen to carry through the dim, fog-draped streets.
But what appeal could it be? There were only four letters in the word which preceded 'Elsie,' and it ended in E. Surely the word must be 'COME’.
In this memorable year '95, a curious and incongruous succession of cases had engaged his attention, ranging from his famous investigation of the sudden death of Cardinal Tosca—an inquiry which was carried out by him at the express desire of His Holiness the Pope—down to his arrest of Wilson, the notorious canary-trainer, which removed a plague-spot from the East End of London. Close on the heels of these two famous cases came the tragedy of Woodman's Lee, and the very obscure circumstances which surrounded the death of Captain Peter Carey. No record of the doings of Mr. Sherlock Holmes would be complete which did not include some account of this very unusual affair.
During the first week of July, my friend had been absent so often and so long from our lodgings that I knew he had something on hand.
The morning of the 6th of the month was marked by my being jerked from slumber by a loud, definitive WHUMP. I lay for a moment in the semi-dark of dawn blinking sleepily.
Holmes must have returned.
He had been engaged in gathering information down at the docks for most of the past week.
Clearly there was no more sleep to be had at the moment, so I rose from bed and donned a dressing gown before moving into the sitting room, which was where all the ruckus seemed to be occurring.
Yes, the sitting room. Quite definitely.
The sight which greeted me was extreme, even within the confines of our particular establishment. The corpse of a very large man had been suspended from the ceiling between the two windows and my colleague, stripped to his shirt sleeves, was engaged in furiously stabbing at it with a huge barbed-headed spear. WHUMP! He wrenched it out again and turned to greet me cheerfully. “Good morning, Watson, I’m sorry to have woken you. Shall we ring for tea?”
“Holmes, do confirm for me you didn’t murder the poor fellow just to experiment on him.”
“Oh, you know I would have taken him elsewhere afterward if I had, Watson,” came the airy reply. “I am well aware you don’t approve of that sort of thing. Besides, I didn’t absolutely require him to be dead prior to my first blow.”
I discretely chose not to inquire further.
Holmes smiled and shook his head. "It seems to me to have only one drawback, Hopkins, and that is that it is intrinsically impossible. Have you tried to drive a harpoon through a body? No? Tut, tut my dear sir, you must really pay attention to these details. My friend Watson could tell you that I spent a whole morning in that exercise. It is no easy matter, and requires a strong and practised arm. But this blow was delivered with such violence that the head of the weapon sank deep into the wall.
When Holmes had returned to London he had asked Lestrade to draw his attention to those of his younger colleagues and likely-looking policemen in line for eventual promotion to the rank of Detective who might benefit from working with him more closely with the aim of teaching them to apply his methods.
“For I don’t plan to stay on in London forever, Lestrade, and I would hate to leave you all completely helpless.”
Our visitor was an exceedingly alert man, thirty years of age, dressed in a quiet tweed suit, but retaining the erect bearing of one who was accustomed to official uniform. I recognized him at once as Stanley Hopkins, a young police inspector, for whose future Holmes had high hopes, while he in turn professed the admiration and respect of a pupil for the scientific methods of the famous amateur.
Some little time before he set to work solving Black Peter’s murder, I had become aware that Holmes was preoccupied with some specific matter. What’s more, he was intent upon keeping it from me.
Normally, the post was of no interest to him until after I had sorted through it. Holmes had by now achieved a level of fame which meant we received all manner of ridiculous missives and requests, these on top of all the unusual correspondence which had habitually been received at Baker Street. One day, however, he had turned our routine upon its ear by snatching up each newly arrived bundle, rifling through it impatiently, on a few occasions removing an item, and then dropping the rest for my own, more thorough review.
One forenoon soon after, I arrived home after a trip to my barber to find Holmes very hastily showing a flustered-looking gentleman the door. It seemed a very odd sort of situation but he could not be induced to explain anything about the man, the reason for his visit, or the ignominious manner of his leaving.
I was not able to discern any other peculiarities in his behaviour before the case of murder was brought to him and all semblance of routine was scattered to the winds.
I confess that I could not help feeling quite disconcerted over the matter. Never, did I think, had there been any true secrets between Holmes and myself. Surely I could not have been quite so mistaken as to have falsely considered myself a companion who could be trusted to provide counsel on even the most important of matters?
Well, well, I can do nothing more. Let us walk in these beautiful woods, Watson, and give a few hours to the birds and the flowers.
I laughed at him heartily once we were away from the others. “What care you for birds or flowers, Holmes? If you are in earnest then it is news to me after these many years.”
He smiled in acknowledgement as we set out on the most obvious path through the trees. “Of what use is an interest in either when I am entrenched in London? You will have noticed neither specimen dares grow wild within the confines of the city. The study of them, though, in anticipation of that which is to come, is something else altogether. I do confess, however,” he allowed, “that my aim is somewhat more specific than time spent in general admiration. Come, once we have crossed this wood I have a dogcart awaiting us.”
I turned to him with narrowed eyes. “You have planned this, then, Holmes? For what purpose?”
“I am simply taking advantage of the fact that the scene of this crime is relatively near a property upon which I have been desiring your opinion.”
Suspicion turned to confusion. “My opinion on a property? What on Earth can you mean?”
“Surely you cannot have missed all my talk of retirement, Watson. You aren’t nearly as slack-witted as your fictional self.”
“Oh,” said I, quite astounded. “I see. You plan to act on this intention - soon, then?”
“Not for at least a few years yet, but this property is particularly well-suited for the bees and I would rather not chance losing it.”
This, then, must be the matter he had been attending to with such secrecy. I remained bewildered, uncertain why he would first take such pains to hide the matter from me and now reveal it in such a spectacular manner.
We emerged from the wooded area then, and there was indeed a waiting dogcart. “Here, boy!” Holmes ran experienced hands over the horse, quickly checking all was as it should be, then took the reins and we set off.
During the journey I puzzled over the facts I had, but reconciling them into a coherent narrative continued to prove impossible for me.
After a short while, once we had presumably come within the boundaries of this mysterious property, Holmes began to point out aspects of the landscape. “You see, Watson, the established orchard, and the west boundary of the property is bordered by fields with all the diversity of wildflowers one could wish for. Some additional hedgerows and other plantings will be necessary, and I’ll want to experiment as to the pollen diets which yield the most desirable layering of flavours in the honey, but the foundations are here to be built upon. The hives will be quite snug just there and another set beyond the hill.”
I dutifully took note of the surrounding countryside and the particular points of interest Holmes detailed with such care. It seemed clear enough that this would be a perfectly acceptable place to spend our years once Holmes had deemed his Baker Street tenure to be at an end. But why was he acting so damned peculiarly about the whole thing?
“Would you like to see the house, or is the site not to your liking?”
“Well – it’s – it seems perfectly adequate, Holmes, of course. It’s a very pretty spot, actually. I’m afraid I’ll have to trust to you as far as your knowledge of making your bees feel at home.”
He took me round the house, and I took absent note that the structure boasted a sturdy roof, surely the only thing of importance to two gentlemen long used to bachelor’s quarters. I was still preoccupied with The Adventure of the Secretive Consulting Detective, but was no further along in deducing the reason for my companion’s extraordinary behaviour when I once again found myself outside after touring our future home.
I turned to Holmes, resolved to admit myself inadequate to the task and ask him to explain himself. I was certain I would feel quite the fool once he had, just as I always had done on past occasions. I was shocked to find he was regarding me with a definite air of anxiety.
“You will come, won’t you, Watson?” he asked quietly.
My friend did, I will now inform my readers for the first time, on two or three occasions over the course of our long association display a truly startling degree of stupidity. I count this instance among them. “Holmes, you can’t have been thinking - good God, Holmes! Of course I will come. Where else should I be but by your side?”
The uncertainty vanished from Holmes’s expression immediately. “Quite right, Watson. Quite right, of course.” He cleared his throat. “There is a view of the sea from the far pasture,” he informed me.
I shook my head ruefully and obediently suggested, “Shall we seek it out, then?”
“Capital idea, my dear fellow. We just have time.”
We resume our seats in the dogcart and Holmes set the horse to a trot.
“I should have come even had you neglected to invite me.”
"Come, Watson, come!" he cried. "The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!"
A/N: Excerpts used in Autumnal taken from The Five Orange Pips, excerpts used in Vernal taken from A Scandal in Bohemia, excerpts used in Aestival ‘89 taken from The Man with the Twisted Lip, excerpts used in Hibernal taken from The Final Problem, excerpts used in Aestival ‘95 taken from The Adventure of Black Peter. Accent quotations taken from the Adventures of: Abbey Grange, The Bruce-Partington Plans, The Creeping Man, The Beryl Coronet, The Speckled Band, The Empty House, The Dancing Men, The Missing Three-Quarter, The Naval Treaty, and Twisted Lip.