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The Secret Diary of Dr. Watson
|Title:||The Secret Diary of Dr. Watson|
|Author's Website:||Ravenland Arts Home Page|
|Pairing:||Sherlock Holmes / John Watson|
|Rating:||PG-13 (m/m sexual acts)|
|Author's Disclaimer:||General Disclaimer: This piece of fiction is not intended to demean or besmirch the memory of the much-revered A. Conan Doyle, and was written entirely for my own amusement.
Specific Disclaimer: Any evidence of homophobia, stereotyping, racism, or classism expressed in the story is entirely the opinion of a fictional Victorian gentleman and does not reflect the attitudes of the author.
|Author's Notes:||It's, er, rather large -- like 10,000 words, which is longer than a lot of stories in the canon -- I had no idea what I was getting into when I joined the [holmesslash] list <g>.
Warnings: Other than Great length? Unrelieved angst and no happy ending. (However, anyone familiar with the canon will know it ain't over yet -- the fact that I'm working on a sequel is another thing I feel obliged to warn y'all about.)
Anyone who wants to archive this fic is welcome to do so, but please let me know and give me credit.
Editor's Note: It is not generally known that Dr. John H. Watson had a daughter; he never mentioned her. It is, in fact, quite possible that he was never allowed to meet her, and so his reticence on the matter is understandable.
What is known is that Mary Watson, nee Morstan, received an annulment of her marriage to Dr. Watson in 1893 under somewhat mysterious and secretive circumstances, and that, while he continued to speak fondly of her, he never publicly mentioned the divorce, and, as far as we have been able to ascertain, never communicated with her again, although at the time of the separation she was carrying their first child.
This very interesting document was found by that daughter, Violet Morstan, amongst unrelated papers such as the will and various deeds which were kept in a locked cabinet. It is a sheaf of loose leaves, carelessly scrawled upon sadly yellowed foolscap -- it is to be hoped that the current owner takes steps to see that it is preserved. It is evident that Miss Morstan understood both its value and its import, for she preserved it carefully, but kept it secret, and passed it to her own son only after extracting grave and solemn oaths from him not to reveal its contents.
The MS was handed down through several generations before being presented to a man outside the family, in whose possession it was discovered after his recent death. Rumour of its existence was leaked at last to the public by a surviving friend, and thus came to our attention.
It is easy to draw the conclusion that this journal was the reason for the separation of Dr. Watson and his wife; it is peculiar that it came to be in Mrs. Watson's possession, especially since it was his stated intention to burn it, as he apparently had disposed of other, possibly similar, writings in the past; but there is no actual evidence that this is the case.
The journal is undated, which is a pity, but the contents of the journal point to that interval between the supposed death of Sherlock Holmes and his reappearance some three years later. We have little doubt about its authenticity; although forgeries are common, the handwriting is unquestionably that of the good doctor, though naturally more carelessly scrawled than his few surviving manuscripts (which were clean copies prepared for typesetting), and, while the writing and style vary considerably from entry to entry, though in the same characteristic hand, in some ways the shifts of mood and the occasional contradiction strengthen the case for the authenticity of the manuscript. But judge for yourself.
In the transcript which follows we have taken the liberty of editing the original to give it the appearance of a relatively concise narrative; the original contains much in the way of irrelevancies and musings, and events are not presented in such a coherent order. The entire document in its original and unedited state will, we hope, eventually be made available to the public.
Excerpts From The Secret Diary of John H. Watson, MD
It is very late. I have crawled here to my consulting-room, like a rat out of a drain, while the household sleeps--
How terrible it is to suffer so great, so devastating, a loss, and to be forbidden to unburden one's heart to some sympathetic ear! I have actually feared for my sanity at times over these last few months -- that I might find myself blurting out some appalling secret, or suddenly altogether paralysed by grief, and unable to function in my daily tasks.
I fear -- I greatly fear -- the danger of discovery. But I have ever been moved to write down my thoughts when I am in trouble -- at times of turmoil it has often brought me calm and clarity when all else failed. I hope it may be the case this time.
I am not sure how I should start... I have undertaken nothing like this since I married, and I find my hand immobilized by the terrible thought that these scribblings should be discovered -- and yet here in my own consulting-room amongst my other papers, surely they are safe?
In any case, something must be done. My melancholy has already taxed the patience of my poor, long-suffering wife, who must, in some secret corner of her heart, be relieved that the one who so often stole my company and attentions from her is no more, and if she nurses an unspoken bitterness, for even now I seem to spend more time with his ghost than with her, I cannot by any means blame her.
Twice now she has told me, so gently and with such concern, that I cried out his name in my sleep. Mary is a dear creature, and feels for me in my trouble -- but I must find some outlet, lest I speak more in my insensate state than is safe. Terrified is probably not too strong a word to apply to my mood, for exposure might mean not only ruin for me, but for the memory of my best and dearest friend, and that I cannot abide. I would die rather than allow his name to be tarnished with shame.
I suppose shame is among the many emotions in which I am foundering, but even that bears examination. It is not a simple matter -- perhaps no human feeling is. Ashamed -- of Holmes? Hardly. I have always held him in the greatest respect, and not infrequently in awe. Ashamed of my own actions? At this date, with some perspective upon them? Not at all. Whence then shame, if it originates neither with him nor with me?
It has an external source. For myself, I am justified -- but to picture myself faced with an accusation from outside -- ah, that is shame which makes me blench. I know what it is in most men's minds, and though, in the course of an unusually full life, I have learned to fear the judgment of others rarely, for everyone there is a limit, and this is, after all, far past mine.
I shall be up all night and never face the task at this rate. I have made the decision to write it down. I must do so. When I feel I have relieved the weight of secret grief, which is so great a burden to my heart, I will consign the MS to the flames, and, I hope, be able once again to go about my business with a clearer mind, better able to endure my catastrophic loss.
So when did it begin? Well, from the moment I met Sherlock Holmes, I suppose. Yet I would not date the moment of my perdition -- for so I must sometimes regard it, though at other times I see it as my salvation -- from the moment of his admission, or even from the moment of -- well, of the original sin. No, it came somewhat later.
It must have been as late in the night as it is now when the whole thing truly began -- quite late, certainly, for the light of the moon shone brightly in through the window above the curtain. I woke, as one does at times, from a deep dreamless sleep to a full, quiet wakefulness. I remembered without shock all that had happened during that strange, fateful night.
I have done a terrible thing, I thought, eerily calm. I am damned, I am defiled. There can be no atonement for this vile sin I have all willingly committed.
I did not think of Holmes, though he lay still beside me, of the part he had played -- somehow I blamed only myself, as if he were the innocent, and I the seducer. I called myself unclean, stained as I was with the fruit of my sin; I called myself damned. And yet -- strange to say, though my mind and brain cried "Guilty!", I lay there quite comfortably, my body as spent and pleased with its own prowess as ever it has lain beside a dusky native whore or -- God forgive me! -- beside my beloved Mary.
God bless Mary, dear little Mary! She loves me as much as ever a woman loved a man, despite our differences, and she must never know. Never! I burn with shame to think that she might find this diary, and yet I am compelled, driven, to write it all down -- my heart drives me -- unless it is the devil who does so.
Oh Shame! It is so hard to write the words, but I must write them: as I lay there, feeling now this, now that, my companion stirred beside me, and, turning my head, I saw that he too had wakened, and was gazing back at me. It might have been the moonlight that woke him, for it was bright; I could see him clearly in the unearthly shimmer -- the aquiline nose, the great eyes, soft with sleep, the natural pallor of his hollow cheeks -- not a beautiful face, ah God! Never a beautiful face, though shapely enough and well proportioned, and yet to me, to me at that moment -- he seemed an angel in his beauty.
I thought, then, that he had read my thoughts in my look, for he gazed at me in silence, and in the mystic light he looked vulnerable -- neither afraid nor anxious, yet there was a waiting sadness in his expression, as if he knew the disappointing words of rejection, even of recrimination, that quivered on my lips, and was quietly braced to receive them with pain, as a condemned man, beyond struggling, might lay his head acquiescently on the block.
Now I wonder: that moonlight, brilliant though it was, shone from behind me -- could even he have divined my mood, or sensed it with some subtle intuition of which I still suspect him for all his eloquent protests -- or was it that he knew -- from experience? Or from his knowledge of myself? -- what was my mood as we lay together for the first time, that morning?
It was, I think, his look that saved us -- or damned me -- God have mercy on us! I saw his heart in his eyes, and mine was moved: I could not, not for the world or for my soul, not even for his, have hurt him at that moment. Afterward it was too late. I am damned, I thought again, and a great lightness settled upon me. If I were damned already, then I was free.
Free. I felt it then, and I remember it now, so far away in time -- the bonds of all I had known of nature and propriety, of what shaky piety I still flattered myself of having: bonds that I had thought unbreakable in myself, unbendable even, shredded away as if made of the flimsiest gauze, and left me free.
What could I do? I was, for a moment, truly a free man. It had all occurred in a second. And freely I put my arms around his thin shoulders, and pulled him to me, and held him to my heart as if I never meant to let him go. I think he chuckled, very softly. Skin to skin we lay, two men naked as Adam, and I did not care a whit for any angels that peered in my window. I would not have cared just then had the Lord Mayor walked in. I might have invited him to join us.
Am I horrified to see these words condemning me in black and white for what I am, and for what my greatest friend was? Yes, perhaps. My face still burns, and my hand trembles and scrawls with the difficulty of a spastic. It is terrible to see, set out in stark, plain words, my sin.
And yet my eyes burn too, with tears, and they are neither tears of shame nor of repentance, but of simple -- of innocent -- grief.
Damn it! It was love which moved me that night, that loosed those bonds and set me free. I had never known such love before I met him, nor since his passing -- I beg God, protect my Mary from this confession -- and I miss him. No matter that I was very often angry with him, or that he was as frustrating and mystifying as a woman can be, and often as cruel -- more so, if possible. I loved Sherlock Holmes with all my heart.
There. If I am made to stand before the throne of Heaven on the day of reckoning, I will stand straight and hold my head erect, and when I am questioned as to the nature of my sin, I will answer, "My sin was Love, and if that is enough to condemn me, then send me to Hell. If Love is a sin, I will go willingly" ... for I know he has gone before me, for the selfsame sin...And if I cannot see him again on this Earth, I must take my chances in another world.
Indeed I would gladly suffer the torments of the damned to see him again, if for only a moment.
I am exhausted... I did not realize what a strain this would be. It is relief and fear and shame all at once. And great grief. God, God! How I miss him!
"What do you think of sodomy, Watson?"
Holmes was seated in his armchair as I entered, draped obliquely with one leg curled beneath him and a book resting broken-backed over one of the chair's arms. The neatly-combed back of his dark head was toward me, and he did not look up to speak. That he had not broken his fast was evident from the pristine table. He had been restless and reticent for several days, and I assumed that he had a case in hand -- this was fairly early in our relationship, before Holmes considered me a partner in the enterprise. I had shared only the more remarkable exploits, while he saw to the lesser ones without my interference.
"I scarcely think about it at all, Holmes," I answered cautiously as I took my seat and poured my coffee. Considering topics he had introduced in the past at the breakfast table, I was not particularly surprised by this one.
"But as a medical man. You must have some opinion on unnatural crime as a disorder."
I considered. "Well then -- I rather doubt that the more obvious cases -- those revolting, affected exhibitionists like your journalist friend who slithers up here upon occasion -- are the majority of those afflicted, if that is the word. I've met a few stout fellows in the army who later aroused pretty fierce scandals -- good soldiers, too -- and one must assume much goes undetected. But I suppose in either case it does indicate a weakness or flaw of character, if not an organic or acquired defect of the brain."
With a sigh he turned so that he faced me and frowned at me contemplatively. His face was tired and pinched crossly about the eyes. "It is the illogic of the thing that irks me," he said irritably.
I waited expectantly, munching toast.
"I am not much given to religion," he continued after a moment, in a sudden rush, "in the absence of reliable data one way or the other -- though of course it is rather beyond my jurisdiction to rule on the existence of God in any case. But it would seem to me that the greatest argument in favour of His existence is that a great deal of the material plane is given over to things which are not absolutely necessary to brute life, and that we are given senses and faculties to appreciate them." He spoke very rapidly. "I mean music, Watson, or the scent and colour of a rose -- or even the sympathy that can exist between two relative strangers in a moment of trouble. These are extras, things not vital to nourishment or the procreation of life. They can be considered gifts.
"And -- love. Love, they say, is the greatest of all gifts granted to us by a beneficent Creator -- or at least an ambiguous one. Does a dog chasing a bitch feel love, Watson? Or the birds bursting with song in the spring? I doubt it. It is a special token of favour in the eyes of a supreme being -- if any."
I had begun to listen with increasing attention and dawning apprehension. Holmes speaking of love and religion was enough of an oddity in itself to arouse concern without his singularly nervous and agitated manner. He was almost stammering.
"And yet," he continued, springing up and beginning to pace across the room and back, "if one being loves another for the pure sake of that being -- for the sake of love itself and having nothing to do with bestial, primitive procreation -- it becomes not a thing of exceptional beauty -- though the ancient Greeks valued it as such -- but an unspeakable sin and a reviled crime, at least in our homeland. Where is the logic in that? Where is the progress?"
I tried not to show any particular interest, and treated it as a general subject for discussion. "Surely you can't call the fall of Rome and the Dark Ages 'progress,' Holmes? It is far from a stable incline. And beauty is not so far removed from crime, certainly -- appreciating too freely the beauty of another man's wife is also a sin and a crime -- even picking another man's roses is theft."
"Oh God," he moaned softly. "Yes. Yes, you're right."
My feint, as it was intended to do, precipitated an answering action. For a moment he stood at a loss, looking defeated, and then with sudden resolution he leaned over me and planted his hands on my shoulders, staring into my eyes, like a master with an erring youth. "You ought to begin to guess by now," he said with a sort of strained severity.
"'I never guess,'" I replied sharply. "Especially in medical matters. And I begin to think I am speaking as your physician."
A remarkable series of emotions passed across my friend's face; his hands tightened for a moment and then fell away. "I had hoped," he said bitterly, as he turned from me, "that you were still speaking as my friend."
"Of course I am, Holmes. You misjudge me," I said gently. "And for you, of all men, to begin to jump to conclusions suggests to me the strain under which you have placed yourself. I wish you would calm down and speak rationally; be assured that my friendship is not something I lightly rescind."
He stood with his back toward me, stock still. I watched gravely as he collected himself, as the tautness went out of the sloping shoulders with each slowing breath. Then he turned again and looked at me, shamefaced and grey. "Good old Watson," he whispered. "Of course I can trust you. But you must understand, it is not an easy thing to discuss."
"I can see that."
He threw himself back into his chair and sat limply, with closed eyes. "I had thought about initiating this conversation for months," he went on in a very low voice. "And now I wish to God I never had."
"It is yourself, of course."
"It is myself. Have you suspected all along?"
"It never even entered my mind, Holmes."
"That's some reassurance, then. Night follows day after all."
I waited for a few moments, but no more was forthcoming. "I suppose there is some reason that you feel it necessary to speak to me now," I prompted, "despite the fact that it causes you obvious distress to do so."
"Ah. That's the crux, isn't it?" He smiled wanly and glanced at me sidelong. "I might have gone on for years as I have done, and never breathed a word, never told another soul. It should have been enough," he gestured dismissively. "It should have been enough. And had I succeeded in cultivating my mind as I wished, it would have been enough -- but in that I have failed -- and so I have forced my own hand, so to speak."
His voice broke on the last words, and I was appalled to see those clear eyes brimmed with tears. I went to him and laid my hand on his shoulder in concern, and he flinched away from me.
"It's you, of course," Holmes gasped in a breathless voice, like one who makes a confession against the will of all his being. "It's you, Watson."
I heard him, and I understood his meaning, but at the moment I was occupied more with the fact that he seemed to be falling to pieces before my eyes than with my own reaction to any mere words, which was a good thing for our friendship, for I might have responded with anger or disgust -- or worse, disbelief -- under other circumstances. I had seen just such a look and such a tremor too often while I was in Afghanistan, and it alarmed me -- more, I realize now, because it reawakened my own unpleasant memories than because it heralded any certain disaster.
I took him by the shoulders again, and held him fast when he tried to pull away. "Steady," I said firmly. "Get hold of yourself, man."
He had covered his face with shaking hands, retreating as far as he could from me as I stood before him. From behind this barricade he said something unintelligible.
"I can't understand you," I told him. "Pull yourself together, and speak up."
"Tell me now -- what I've lost," he choked.
"Your self-possession," said I flatly, and he made a sound between a laugh and a sob.
I drew away then to fetch some brandy, and give Holmes a moment to collect himself. I dimly understood what it had cost him to speak even those few perilous words to me, although as yet I had no clear reaction to them save a sort of undifferentiated alertness.
He had recovered somewhat by the time I returned to his chair. "Your bedside manner is excellent," he remarked drily as I handed him the glass. He did not drink but held it tightly with both hands. "I have no idea what you're thinking."
"Nor have I, at the moment," I admitted and dropped into my seat again.
"You have no verdict for me?"
"Verdict, Holmes? I scarcely have all the evidence. This isn't -- an overreaction, I suppose? Could it be just a -- I mean, there couldn't be some mistake?"
"Some horrendous mistake, yes. But it seems to have occurred when I was an infant, if not in utero."
"All your life...?" I could not keep the pity out of my voice.
"Watson..." Holmes frowned down at his hands. "When were you first aware that -- you were attracted to women?"
I pondered. "When I was thirteen or fourteen, I suppose."
He glanced up at me without lifting his head. "No," he said. "It would have been far earlier than that. If it had not been the ordinary thing to do, you would have noticed. You'll have to take my word, I suppose. But I was much younger than that when I knew something was amiss. We needn't go into its permanency."
"Well then -- well -- this doesn't involve children in any way -- does it?"
"My God, Watson!"
"I'm sorry -- I was bound to ask, Holmes. I know very little about this sort of thing."
A little colour had come into Holmes' pale cheeks, but he took it well enough. "It involves no one at all, save myself," he said with a visible effort. "You might as well know it. I've lived a very abstemious life, Watson."
I looked at him, sitting tense and apprehensive, with that proud head bowed, and my heart went out to him. "Well then, here is my verdict: You have given me some startling information, but in spite of that you appear to be the same amazing man I have known and trusted for some time now."
He looked at me unreadably for a moment, then put his hand out toward me. I leaned forward to take it. "Not a very thorough cross-examination, Watson," he said humbly, "but I thank you."
His fingers felt very warm, and there was a hard pulse in them. I gave his hand a squeeze. "I heard you rambling about all night. When did you last sleep?"
He let go my hand deliberately and rubbed his eyes. "Well, several nights ago. It's been trying, Watson."
"Listen," said I. "It will do you no good to work yourself into a fever. Why don't you go try to get some rest now?" I suggested.
"It may be possible -- since you have handed down a verdict." Holmes sighed.
"I believe I have some chloral, if it would help."
"Thank you, no." He gave me a self-conscious smile as he rose. "Nasty stuff. I will let Nature try her wiles on me first." He stood hesitating a moment.
"Go on," I urged. "Anything else will keep."
At that moment I think I wanted to get rid of him as much as anything, so I could have a period to myself to digest matters, but soon enough I regretted my solitude. The afternoon passed unpleasantly. As the reality of events set in, I found I still had no distinct reaction, and yet I was decidedly rattled -- I was also darkly certain I had not heard the end of the matter. My errands of the day had lost their interest, and I found myself unable to concentrate on anything, and yet also unable to focus clearly on the upsetting revelations my friend had made. Some of Holmes' restlessness seemed to have passed to me; I paced and fidgeted, and the several times I tried to school myself to sit down and read a newspaper or answer correspondence were quick failures.
I even wandered into his room, which under ordinary circumstances I would never have done. I probably hoped I would wake him and put an end to the waiting. Holmes was generally an uncannily light sleeper, but for once he lay full fathoms five, prone on the coverlet in a dead slumber, in his braces and shirt-sleeves. Apparently he had paused only long enough to divest himself of boots and collar before tumbling onto the bed.
That he trusted me I could no longer doubt -- he had made himself so vulnerable to me with his confession that I felt a decided solicitude, and not a little pity. I did not dare go back in my mind to what he had implied about his feelings for me -- that was to come later.
As I stood looking down at that slender, athletic figure I found myself trying to imagine it wrapped in a carnal embrace with another man. It was not so difficult as I had expected. I felt no revulsion, just a sense of amazement and somewhat of incredulity.
I remembered the heated grip of his hand in mine.
Even now, when I have nothing to hide from myself, I cannot remember thinking anything more damning than that.
Rather against my expectation Holmes appeared for supper, wan and heavy-lidded and dishevelled. Beyond a subdued greeting he said nothing, but sat and gazed at me thoughtfully as I ate.
After a few minutes I began to feel the same discomfort one feels when under scrutiny by a hungry dog, or a waif who gazes wistfully through the window of a restaurant, and I put down my cutlery to sit back and stare at him in turn. "You cannot relieve anxiety by exhaustion and starvation," I told him. "You ought to try to eat something."
"Yes," he agreed, and rose to stand by the mantelpiece.
I carried on for a few more bites and then give it up. I had no appetite either.
Holmes stood, his old briar pipe tucked into the corner of his mouth, staring into the fire with contracted brows.
"There's more, is there?" I asked, testily.
"I'm afraid so."
"Well, out with it." I picked up my own pipe and retreated to my customary chair.
"It's as much as a man's life is worth, Watson," he began. "They haven't hanged any of us since '36, but it was on the books as a capital offense until '61 -- well within our lifetime. And I imagine there's a fellow or two in the Old Bailey who might prefer it if they had left it so. The Continent has shown far greater reason: England has much to answer for, and has lost some of her brightest sons to the more tolerant southern climes."
His use of the inclusive pronoun startled me. Us? But then, if he were not my friend, what factor existed to separate him from other Sodomites save his confessed celibacy, which was surely not unique? The thought was painful to me. It is still difficult to write that word.
Holmes' voice began to take on a note of emotion. "Sixty men hanged in the first three decades of our century, and another score slaughtered under naval regulations. Poor wretches, Watson, deprived of life for what is, in any sane analysis, a matter of taste! I suppose those who were merely pilloried might have counted themselves lucky, although I am not so sure. The gallows is merely a swifter means to the same end... And to think -- there, but for the grace of God..."
He broke off and stood for a moment with head bowed, before looking up suddenly into my horrified face. "I see you have some sympathy," said he, in a low tone. "Forgive me, my friend, if I unburden myself upon you -- I have had precious little opportunity of doing so in the past, and to feel the ghost of a rope round your neck all your life for what is essentially none of your own doing is a heavy weight, at times."
"My dear Holmes--" I faltered. "I don't know what to say."
"Of course," he continued, once again rather sardonically, "I need no longer actually fear for my neck, though the prospect of life in prison -- a real threat, though a remote one -- or of an otherwise ruined existence, which is a far more present danger -- has not tempted me to excess. You appreciate that I am in a position more peculiarly vulnerable to blackmail than most men, particularly given my trade, and will understand that I have cultivated a defense against any animal desire. I have done my best. I know you have thought me cold-hearted at times, Watson, and proof against amorous attraction, but I assure you this is not entirely true -- to the extent that I have been in greater or lesser agonies since the moment I met you."
"Holmes!" I cried in consternation.
"Oh yes. Does it surprise you?"
"Well, earlier you hinted -- but really--"
He had spoken seriously, so I was surprised when he shot me a brief, amused glance. "I commend your concentration, if it is really nothing more than your chin which you see in the glass while shaving," said he, "although the chin is itself rather a fine one. But I could have held out, Watson, if that had been where the attraction ended. Unfortunately for my peace of mind, your character lives up to your superb frame in almost every particular, and he would be disciplined indeed who could withstand the proximity of such temptation. I'm afraid it is beyond my capacity."
I sat aghast, with my mouth hanging open, and no possible reply occurred to me.
Holmes glanced at me again and laughed involuntarily at my expression; it was merely a sort of nervous irruption. "I'm sorry, dear fellow," he said unsteadily, "this must be appalling to you -- wait, it's Mrs. Hudson."
He held up his hand to signal a halt in the conversation, then opened the door at the landlady's knock. I sat in embarrassed silence as she gathered the plates and shook her head over the thoughtlessness of gentlemen-lodgers who let good food go to waste. It was not until the clatter of china had faded away downstairs that he resumed speaking.
"I'm not joking. It is immeasurably painful for me to tell you this, and yet I must -- I cannot go on in this way. It is seriously interfering with my work, if not my sanity. I shall have to find other lodging. That is what more I had to tell you, Watson. I am sorry."
I looked away from him and glanced around the crowded room. Most of the clutter was his.
"Yes," he agreed to my unspoken thought. "Neither simple nor convenient, especially since it is the last thing on earth I genuinely desire to do. I was an unutterable fool to have tried the experiment, and I richly deserve all the nuisance I have brought upon myself. But things have come to an extremity, and I think I shall have to go at once."
"Yes, Watson. Tonight."
"But where will you go?"
"Probably a hotel. I have made arrangements to stay with my brother this evening."
"With Mycroft? Then he knows?"
"Of course he does. Or at least, if he hasn't known for many years, I assume he has known since receiving the letter I sent him this morning. It requires no very abstruse deduction. -- Don't ask me, Watson," he forestalled my next question wearily. "I have no idea about him."
"But what shall I do?"
"Anything you like, of course. Naturally I would continue the payments here until you found a new fellow-lodger, if you choose." He knocked his pipe out into the fireplace and replaced it in its rack.
I rose to my feet. "But -- see here, Holmes, this is a bit sudden. We ought at least to discuss it. It would be far simpler for me to go, if one of us must--"
"That is extremely kind of you, but surely it would be unfair. No, dear fellow -- I am not happy with the arrangement myself, but I assure you that I see no other choice." He took several steps in the direction of his bedroom, but I sprang to intercept him, and grasped his arm.
I had opened my mouth to make some remonstrance, but, as Holmes turned and looked at me without surprise, I found the words had deserted me. There was something in his fixed, intense gaze I had never seen there before, and it shook me.
It was not, exactly, tenderness -- there was nothing soft about those keen grey eyes, or the hard line of the mouth; nor could it be called despair, yet there was something of both in the way he looked at me -- sad and yearning, and poignant as a dagger. I felt he had always looked at me that way, while at the same time I knew that what I saw in his face had always been hidden from me.
"There is only one thing I have ever wanted more," he said mildly, in an intimate voice softer than a whisper, "and that is never to be incapacitated by this sort of sentiment again. It has lost me a very fine friend." With that he stretched a hand toward my face, and his fingertips lit, light as an insect's feet, along my cheek.
It was a galvanic moment. I have often found that at times of sudden crisis, for instance, between the time an unexpected shot has been fired and when it is known if anyone has been hit, one's awareness may reach so fine a pitch that time seems to slow to a crawl. It was so now.
Startled, I reached up to arrest his hand and seized his wrist, and he froze so completely, head a little back, eyes closed, with indrawn breath, that time might have stalled altogether, save for the pulse that beat like a piston beneath my gripping fingers.
He began slowly to turn away, like a man falling, and his expression and attitude were so eloquent of thwarted desire and self-loathing that I was moved, by a hitherto unsuspected will, to press my lips against the hand I held.
I am still not sure what moved me, unless it was compassion, or the strange, exciting sense of my power over him -- or, as seems likely enough, a proclivity toward the act that somehow had remained dormant in my heart until precipitated into full actuality... I do not know. I was as startled as he, but full of a sudden, strengthening heat.
He made an almost inaudible sound, more of pain than of surprise. Still caught in the spell I turned his captive hand over to kiss its palm in the next instant, and he cried, "No!" sharply, in his accustomed tone of command, and his arm went taut in my grasp.
But he did not apply much effort to pulling away from me; instead he turned toward me, and the long fingers softened against my cheek. "No," he said again, this time with note of warning rather than authority. I looked up into his face with a strange exultation, and for a moment our eyes locked.
"John Watson," he breathed, caught between alarm and astonishment. "I hope to God you know what you're doing."
My hand slid over his as it rested open-fingered and quivering against my cheek. "I have no idea," I murmured.
His face was tense, the set of his mouth almost grim. Beads of perspiration had started out on his lip. His eyes never left my face, but flickered over my features to glean and judge my reactions. He might have been waiting for me to attack, I thought, somewhat confusedly, at the time. Tentatively he laid his hands upon my shoulders; I released the one I held so he could do so. I could feel their heat through my clothing, the fluttering of his fingers. He hesitated then a last moment, while I waited, my mind empty and yet whirling, my senses alert and aroused, and then, with a gasp of relief that was almost a sob, he crushed me against him with the surprising strength of his slender arms.
"Watson," he murmured, choked with emotion, and then, a mere breath: "John. John."
I was indescribably moved. I registered the passion of the moment, the rich sensations of a new experience, far more than I did the implications of what was taking place. My arms were round him before I knew what I intended, my embrace awkward, perhaps, but instinctive.
His heart hammered at my breast as if it would burst, his ribs heaved beneath my hands; his whole body, it seemed, thrummed with an intense energy which flowed into my own being. I had never seen him so animated, and I had never even dreamed of the power which I had, so unknowingly, held over this man who was, after all, more my idol than my friend.
Shall I ever forget his tremulous breath in my ear, or the smoothness of his flesh when, diffidently, I curled my hand round the back of his long neck and let my fingers dance lightly across the vertebra, the sinews distended and vibrating with tension... Holmes had beautiful skin, unblemished and fine pored, very white though speckled here and there with moles. With pain I realize I can still remember the pattern of those moles.
He pulled back from the embrace as abruptly as he had pulled me into it and held me at arms length, powerful fingers digging into me almost painfully as they gripped my arms. A spot of high colour burned on each cheek, and an unaccustomed glow lit his eyes as he regarded me in great excitement. He was transfigured: for the first time -- though far from the last -- I suddenly became aware of the subtle beauty of that long, narrow face, more in the animation and intensity of the expression, in the fevered brilliance of the eyes, than in the features.
"Can it be?" he demanded with a fierce reverence. "Ah, Watson -- John -- my friend: I knew from the moment I met you that I -- but I did not dream that--" He gave up the attempt to speak with a click of his teeth as he snipped off the incoherent flow of words, and the muscles of his jaw worked for a moment. The grave expression returned, and, with those burning grey eyes locked to mine, he leaned toward me.
I wanted to say just now that I felt I was hypnotised, as a bird is hypnotised by a serpent, but I must not lie or embellish to the point of lying in a chronicle which I write only for myself, destined to be reduced to ash as others have been before it: unread, likely as not, even by its author. I knew full well that he meant to kiss me -- I had enticed him to do so. I stood stock still, passive and devoid of thought or anxiety, acquiescent indeed, as his hands stole again to my cheeks, the touch light and heated; I recall as if it were yesterday that quiet amazement as his lips touched mine, and mine opened, reflexively, to deepen the communion. I was astounded at the ease, the comfort of the moment. Whatever condemnation may be levelled at such acts, no matter what dire prognostications against decency and sanity, nothing has ever felt so simple or so natural as my first taste of that particular sin. I would not take it back even if I could.
Was it I who first fumbled at his collar, or he who first pushed my coat down from my shoulders? That I cannot recall. That we were equal partners in that irretrievable act, as in so many other things, I do not doubt, though I am ashamed to say I often accused him in my mind for the inception of a series of carnal acts, as abhorrent to my intellect as they are dear to my heart.
What I remember next was Holmes again pulling away, shaken and panting, but with as bright a look as I have ever seen in that eager, narrow face. His collar and shirt were undone; I knew I had opened them. "Come to the bedroom, Watson," he breathed, urgently. "Will you come?"
Simply as that, I followed.
It was my own room that we went to, in fact; it occurs to me now that he probably chose it because its window was somewhat more sequestered from the outside than that in his room; our curtains were rather sheer and only covered the lower part of the windows, so it was possibly important. I noticed at the time that he lit an oil lamp rather than use the gas-jet, and that he was careful to position it between the window and the bed, so that our shadows would not pass across the curtain.
I found his actions sobering, when I understood the reasons for them, and it was in somewhat cooler blood that I -- albeit passively -- faced the prospect of disrobing with another man with intentions both intimate and criminal. There is a world of difference between seeing a fellow more or less nude at the baths, or in a professional capacity, and seeing the same, usually very modest, man undressing with feverish urgency in one's own bed-chamber. An additional element of alarm is experienced when he turns his attentions from himself and begins, with ruthless efficiency, to undress you.
Alarm, yes, and a certain breathless feeling in the region of the epigastrium -- but, to be honest, what I primarily felt was the thrill of adventure. I think I can say I have rarely proved a coward, and I felt at the time that a challenge to my manhood was being issued. That seems quite strange, now that I've set it down, but I think I have the right of it. I have often followed Holmes into situations of greater immanent danger -- I would have followed him anywhere -- but never into an adventure with the same admixture of joy and gravity, fear and expectation. I know we were both apprehensive.
This took longer to write than it did Holmes to bare us both to the waist, at which point, admittedly to my relief, he stepped back, and we stood regarding one another in the scant light for a few seconds. He had the elegant neck and shoulders of a ballet dancer, all strong, graceful lines, as handsome as his splendid eyes and fine artistic hands. His chest, however, was rather narrow and more or less gaunt, and though his long limbs were of perfect conformation, with musculature hard as oak to the touch, they were too thin for conventional standards of beauty. Yet he proved irresistible to women, especially of a certain intelligent and courageous sort, and easily dominated in his dealings with men. I think his finest attributes were his compelling manly grace and certainty of motion, and his commanding presence, which served him as well -- or rather better -- than any ordinary comeliness.
I have been considered handsome: in fact upon occasion I have been called exceedingly handsome. Of course that is pleasant, though I have no opinion on the matter -- vanity is not one of my several vices. Yet I do think it was astonishing that, at this moment, I saw in Holmes' eyes, which were locked on mine with the full intensity of their power, an emotion as much like reverence or adoration as has ever and by anyone been applied to me. I could not quite trust nor fathom it, that that brilliant man, to whom I had considered myself at most a tag-at-heel and more likely a mere nuisance, could look upon me in any way as an idol.
It was powerfully stimulating.
He took my hand and ran his thumb up my arm with a little frown, rather in the manner of a man considering the purchase of a two-year-old colt. His hands had gone from warm to cool, and though they no longer trembled there was a thrill or an electricity in his fingers that I felt acutely. Or else my skin was especially receptive to sensation, which might equally be true. He traced the cords of my neck with a light, precise motion like a lecturer demonstrating the origin and insertion of each fibre, framed the scar on my shoulder with a long thumb and forefinger, marked the apex of my heart for a few seconds with two fingers.
Even in my agitated state I was inclined to smile at his clinical touch, but why I should have thought that he, poor fellow, might feel any less strange and awkward than I did I cannot imagine. I have some reason to suspect that, at any rate, this was not his first such encounter -- he was, in certain surprising and arcane ways, suspiciously adept -- and yet the circumstances were extraordinary, and he, almost certainly, was as bewildered, and more shaken, than I.
During Holmes' tentative examination I had stood passive, but now I raised my hand to his face, and he closed his eyes and breathed through parted lips as I stroked along the strong line of his shoulder, then down the silky skin of his side. I felt him shiver faintly. He reached up to my arm and traced his own hand along it back to me before, very gently, he pulled me close to him, and bent his head to kiss my cheek, and then the sensitive spot below the ear. I felt the touch of his lips and tongue, the heat of his breath on my throat, with intense acuity. The resulting surge of warmth in my body was remarkable; I grew suddenly short of breath, and found I was spontaneously pressing myself against him in an amatory fashion, while he responded in kind, providing a pleasurable counter pressure.
Very strange, standing with a new lover a clear half head taller than myself, to feel a hard cheek with a day's growth of beard against my skin, and a hard bony breast against my own. Very, very strange to press close to this new lover and feel another, answering hardness... Singularly strange because I felt as if it had happened before, as if I had dreamed it -- or as if I were dreaming it now, after it had already occurred.
I heard Holmes take in a sudden little breath. "Let me--" he whispered, and his hands ran forward around the waist of my trousers to open the flies. He glanced into my eyes for consent before he pushed them down, lowering himself slowly to kneel before me.
I felt a complicated pang when I realized his intention. "No," I gasped, reflexively. I spoke in a tone lower than the usual, but it still jolted my ear, waking me from a dream to find it was no dream after all. "Holmes, no -- you can't. I shan't let you. It's -- it's too degrading."
He looked up at me with the dreamy, distant look I associated with his moods of intense concentration, and it was only after a moment's pause that his gaze gradually became present. He wore another expression I had never seen upon his face before -- he looked simply happy, almost childlike.
"Degrading!" he exclaimed. "Why, either it is all degrading, or none of it is. -- Forgive me; I know I'm not making much sense -- can't think." He chuckled and let his head fall forward against my abdomen, and I started at the contact. He paid no attention, but spoke deliberately, like a slightly drunken man who picks his words with care. "If the worship of Apollo is not degrading, then the worship of Priapus is no more so. To former I have paid homage all my life -- to the latter, my dear friend, I have yearned with such religious fervor in the months since I made your acquaintance, that to snatch the sacrament from my lips now would be an act of excommunication far beyond your capacity for cruelty. I am present at the altar; I must do worship, no matter what sacrifice is demanded...
"Besides," he added, looking down at my body and then up to my eye with a sly smile, "I believe that rambunctious and willful god has made his command quite plain, whatever your wishes. You are outvoted, John Watson, degradation or no."
Though I vividly recall the events of that evening, I have little urge to write them all down in language which will hardly do them sympathetic justice. What matters more to me, and what more impressed me then, was the experience of a whole other man in Sherlock Holmes, as different from the cold, efficient sleuth as could be imagined. To see a grown man -- and not just any man, but Sherlock Holmes -- helpless in that paroxysm which is the penultimate triumph of Nature over mortal vanity, was a revelation to me. Its power over his brilliant rationality was as great as the sway death holds over life, or God over mankind.
That I was permitted to see him in that transcendent moment (not just once, but several times that night!), completely submerged in his animal self -- arched and rapt and, for once, totally off his guard -- was, strangely, a glimpse of the divine. The French perhaps have the right of it -- seminal release is not so far removed from the release of the soul after all, but is a far kinder presentiment of that grim eventuality, and possibly one we from which we are meant to take a lesson.
(Well, that's a fine lot of nonsense. I shudder to think what Holmes would say if he looked over my shoulder while I wrote it, as was his irritating and much-missed habit of old.)
I think Holmes must have suffered sharply from the inevitable isolation that is human life, given his great awareness and his tendency to solitude. I could sense it -- I was allowed to sense it -- in a dozen ways. I had been given access to chambers of his being where none other was permitted, much less welcomed -- where, I believe, he himself was reluctant to wander. He would have locked their doors forever, if he could; but he was, after all, a man -- with a heart and a body whose needs could not entirely be neglected, and he had the strength and sense to abandon himself to those needs when their satisfaction became compulsory, if only then. Perhaps he was even aware that to deny the part of himself whence those needs sprang would be to lose a thing of inestimable value, no matter the pain and inconvenience their maintenance cost him.
I remember lying with him in the afterglow of that first night. The bed was small, and we lay very close, without speaking, which later proved typical. Holmes smoked a cigarette with the vague languidness of a sleepwalker, and eventually, when I was certain it would not be missed, I plucked it from his unresisting fingers and flicked it into the grate. Of course he was exhausted -- it had been a strenuous night for mind and body, and he had been nearly sleepless for some days. It was something just to see him completely at his ease, without the bitter, ceaseless, nervous tension which marked his daily existence -- sometimes acutely and sometimes subtly, but incessantly -- which could be tiring to a companion, and which was, manifestly, occasionally unbearable to himself, since from it stemmed his use of narcotics.
The Bible uses the word "knowledge" for sexual congress, and it is certain at such times that one feels he has conned the depths of a companion -- though of course, at that date we had not gone to the full extent of that act whose ugly name I will not mention. Holmes seemed utterly transparent to me then -- he looked transparent, or at least translucent, slackened in catlike repose, the blue tracery of veins obvious under his fine, white skin. Even the pulsation of the heart beneath his fleshless ribs was as evident to the eye as its twin which flickered in his long throat. He was hiding nothing from me, and I, foolishly enough, thought nothing hidden.
There are a great many things I ought to have asked him.
I woke for the second time not long after dawn, such as it was -- grey and overcast, and bitterly cold -- and in quite a different mood than that in which I had last gone to sleep. Holmes had gone to his own bed, and I was alone with all the "morning-after" regrets that ever a man knew. It had not been a dream -- there was the lamp on my nightstand between the bed and the window, the clothes in severe disarray, and... the stains on the sheets, and -- oh Lord! -- on me. Still I could not quite believe it...
I did Holmes a number of grave injustices in my heart -- I imagined him fawning and indiscreet, I imagined him -- oh, I imagined terrible things. I could not, however, imagine facing him across the breakfast-table.
Then I rose and dressed hastily without bothering to wash, though Heaven knew I needed it.
I fled from the flat and charged round London in a savage and changeable mood. I might, that day, have done almost any mad thing: sent Holmes a telegram declaring my undying love and fealty, or a letter reviling him for his perversion. I might have booked passage to the West Indies and never returned to London and the monumental question that I felt lay between my friend and me. What I did do at last was slink, exhausted and enervated, into a filthy public house -- where it stood I cannot remember -- to drink myself nearly senseless and have my wallet stolen by a scrawny, pendulous-breasted prostitute whose seamy blandishments distracted my mind momentarily from the fact that I was guilty of a crime for which, not many years before, men had still been hanged.
After I was ignominiously (and forcibly) ejected from that den for not being able to pay the last of my bill (luckily it was too small an amount, apparently, or too routine an act, for the proprietor -- who was bound to come into a share of the wealth before long -- to feel it worth beating me) I gave it up and staggered home, favouring a very sore leg. I had landed upon it awkwardly.
It was well past our usual supper-time when I finally dragged myself up our stairs. I hesitated at the threshold, then limped wearily inside and closed the door behind me.
Holmes was seated on the sofa, but he had started up, and sat bolt upright, looking toward me with a blanched face. For a moment, a mere instant, he looked furtive and guilty, and I caught a haunting glimpse of the vulnerability I had so fatefully seen in the dark of the night. But then he was on his feet, saying naturally and with apparent ease, "Watson! My dear fellow, you look absolutely done. Allow me to take your coat." He subjected me to a searching gaze as he spoke, and I thought I saw his colour return in a rush, and his shoulders slump as if in sudden relief, although I do not know what he saw in my face to ease his anxiety. "I instructed Mrs. Hudson to hold our supper," he continued. "Shall I ring? You must be hungry--" with a wry smile tugging at his lips, "-- after so long and hurried a perambulation, and -- such adventures." He shook his head with a slight chuckle, and brushed at the shoulder of my overcoat, but he discreetly ventured no further comment on any deductions he might have made.
I stared numbly after him as he quickly hung up my coat, and then returned to guide me with firm gentleness to a seat at the table. "Sit," he commanded. "A swallow of brandy, perhaps -- though no more. You are chilled through."
I rested my forehead in my hands while Holmes clinked glass behind me, and suddenly the situation began to seem ludicrous -- I knew how I must look, drunk and disreputable, and Holmes was fussing over me like some solicitous valet -- Lord! like some solicitous mistress! -- to what end I could not imagine. I began to laugh softly, and for several minutes was helpless prey to a prolonged nervous convulsion of hilarity. And when I had done, somehow, the cloud had lifted.
When I sat up at last and wiped my eyes Holmes was beside me, wearing a strange, diffident little smile in answer to my own, though there was the ghost of a mischievous twinkle in his eye. "You'll do, Watson," he said, in a tender tone, almost a purr, which I was to hear only very rarely, and which I learned to hear with delight. "You are an eminently sensible fellow. Brandy -- here, drink this off quick. I fancy I hear an approaching tread."
I tossed the brandy back in one gulp and, as I leaned back with a sigh in the pleasant relief of warmth it brought, Holmes swooped upon me with the boldness and grace of the bird of prey which he occasionally resembled, and gave me a hard, almost savage kiss that tipped back the chair upon which I sat.
The glass burst on the floor, shaken from my startled grasp, and the knock sounded on the door at the same instant -- Holmes didn't turn a hair. As he opened the door to give Mrs. Hudson admittance I stared stupidly at the shattered glass with a hand raised to my lips in astonishment; in it I saw a decided resemblance to the fragmented state of my mind.
I think -- no, let me be clear: I am certain that was the only time he ever took me to his bed two nights in a row, and it was the closest we came to discussion of the extraordinary relationship we had, except in the broadest and most abstract terms -- the next day Holmes spent reclining on the sofa, alternately brooding with a formidable brow and playing upon his violin the type of music that effectively and absolutely thwarted any attempt at conversation. I regret that -- I regretted it then -- and were Holmes standing here before me, I could no more broach the topic now I could have then, so long ago.
Before that first evening, I had had no idea, not the remotest indication, of what his true feelings were for me, or what I meant to him. I was never to forget what I was given to understand that night, the first glimpse of a love so potent and so loyal that to this day I am humbled by the thought of it.
Unfortunately a great deal of this is hindsight. I must have hurt him terribly when I married. He never protested, though, except for that single small petulance which I recorded verbatim in the published memoir of the events. In retrospect that too might have been hurtful, but I cannot take it back now.
Ah, now we come to it -- what I regret most truly and with the greatest pain. It is not my marriage, for that is all I could wish, and now Mary is all I have. But I wish I could have appreciated my intimate association with Holmes more at the time. I worried, I fretted over proprieties and pathologies, I lost sleep. It seemed important. I was relieved when Mary accepted my proposal, and felt, in a way, that I had narrowly escaped perdition.
After what must have been a brutal disappointment to him, Holmes remained as fond and loyal as ever, though never again did we share carnal relations. And I regretted that, but then -- I was married. Holmes respected that completely, and did not seem to hold a grudge against me for it, although our friendship was strained for the first few months after my wedding -- in part because I blamed myself for his escalating use of narcotics, and had no heart to see him again and again in a cocaine-induced stupor. It was probably when my company might have proved most useful to him that I shrank from offering it.
But he recovered himself, to my relief and renewed admiration, and we grew accustomed to the new regime. There were times, especially when I was with him on a case, when, to see him energized and vital, full of the thrill of the chase, he was almost irresistibly attractive to me. I quashed the desire, though, and told myself that he too had conquered his unnatural tastes -- though I knew better.
There was, of course, one incident. There would have to be. It was his last night on earth. I sat on the bed at the hotel, ankles crossed, scanning over a letter I had written to my wife. Holmes passed by -- as I recall he was restless and pacing -- hesitated, then abruptly sat down on the far side of the bed, and, reclining, rested his head on my thigh. I was startled, and felt a note of panic -- what was I to do if he--?
But he did not. He frowned up at the ceiling -- did not even look at me -- and after a few minutes he opened his lips as if to speak, but sighed heavily instead, then rose again and resumed his nervous perambulation with even greater velocity. I am sorry I did not speak to him, for I could see by his face he was troubled -- it might be he had a presentiment of his death, and wanted to speak to me, and had I touched him, as I did desire to, or said any gentle word, perhaps I would be wiser now. But I clutched my letter to Mary, and her face hovered in my mind, and I did not move or speak. I can never know what might have happened. Could I have changed the events that followed so tragically?
It was his last night on Earth. For that, among other things, my friend, I am terribly sorry. I hope that I may forgive myself, as you cannot -- and yet somehow I am sure that you would. I suppose I failed you more often than I know, but wherever you are, believe I am faithful. I was never as strong as you; I am a mere man, and easily distracted.
And this, John Watson, is what you have lost: the love of a being as like a god as any you shall ever meet again. And not because of his supra-normal intelligence and perception, but because he loved you, which you never deserved, with a power that only very lucky men ever come by, and that but once.
I am not certain if writing all this down was a good idea, after all. It has become almost a compulsion, and it leaves me drained and enervated.
Wherever he is, God rest him.
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