I stared up at the beautiful brick building considerably longer than
was necessary, for all I hadn't seen it in a month. I could
for the life of me help myself. A part of me shivered to dive
within, while another part clung to the anticipation I'd inadvertently
built to a fever pitch, for a sweet pain had accumulated in my chest
that I could almost not bring myself to ease. Thus I stood on
pavement like one of my friend's clients, indeterminate and flushed
with nerves, although mine resulted from far different motivations
than--I devoutly hoped--the other sidewalk vacillators.
cherished the moment so because I am not given to such
For all the utterly aloof and self-composed Sherlock Holmes' remarks to
the contrary, I do not wear my heart on my sleeve. Perhaps it
meant all the more to me that I had never felt so helpless before a
building and that building's chief resident after a month away, that
for most of my life I have been steady and self-assured.
A pedestrian glanced at me oddly while purchasing a
started awake again. Reminding myself that it would never do
draw attention to my entrance, I gave up my fantasies and marched
toward the reality, turning my key in the door.
I breathed a sigh of relief when I entered. It was almost
of a thrill to see the seventeen steps and Mrs. Hudson's fern and the
crack in the third banister rail. Then I heard his voice,
strident and forceful when necessary but now easy and suave, a mellow,
warm, lush, sophisticated tenor that has hypnotized countless strangers
who would have otherwise fallen to pieces on our settee.
He was leaning against the frame of the sitting room door with his arms
crossed in front of him, wearing shirtsleeves without any waistcoat,
his feet tucked into house slippers, his mouse coloured dressing gown
over all. Mrs. Hudson stood before him, and they chatted of
domestic matter. When Holmes heard my footsteps on the stair,
eyes flicked over to me as he listened to our landlady, and a surge of
pride overwhelmed me when a very brief, affectless smile flooded his
wonderfully expressive face.
"Look who's returned," he said casually.
"Doctor!" Mrs Hudson exclaimed, turning on me as I crested the top of
the staircase. She pressed my arm affectionately.
lovely to have you back."
"Thank you very much, Mrs. Hudson."
"All went as it ought to have, I hope? And your return
journey was a pleasant one?"
Tearing my eyes painfully away from my flat mate, I said warmly, "It
was perfectly comfortable. And how have the two of you been
"No different from the usual. Men and women in and out of
all hours as if it were an Underground station," she said contentedly.
"That business with Miss Smith and her solitary cycling was the last
matter I recall before leaving. You've taken on several
then?" I asked Holmes, setting my heavy bag down.
"Oh, hardly that," he replied smoothly. "One or two pending
problems may ultimately present features of interest, to be
Seven trifling matters wrapped up in your absence, and early this
morning one solved from the comfort of the sitting room."
I wondered, as the three of us stood in a familiar domestic triangle,
whether Sherlock Holmes was enjoying himself watching me try not to
stare at him voraciously, and whether Mrs. Hudson could hear my heart
pounding from three feet away. My friend's arms remained
over his muscled breast, and the sultry, angular posture he'd adopted
was so maddeningly welcome and familiar that I could scarcely breathe.
"Is anything on hand tonight, then? Or are you staying
I asked Mrs. Hudson as much as I asked Holmes, having caught snatches
of their talk as I ascended and recalling it had something to do with
"Apparently he's staying put for once," Mrs. Hudson replied.
"Well, dinner will be at eight, Doctor. We've just decided
it. Do please ring if you want a bit of tea, or anything else
rest you after your travels."
"Thank you, Mrs. Hudson."
I knew precisely what I wanted following my travels, and he was
standing in front of me with a mischievous smile playing over his
lips. Mrs. Hudson turned and walked back to her kitchen, a
expression lingering on her face.
"How are you?" Holmes inquired. He made no move to enter the
sitting room, staying propped against the door frame with his head at a
delectably languid angle. The man's ability to control
often altogether inhuman.
"Better now," I replied meaningfully.
"You look well."
"I happen to feel quite energized just at the moment."
"I think you've lost three pounds," he remarked.
"Have I? I hadn't noticed. I've been walking a
great deal, of course."
"Your pensive variety, or the more recreational rambles?" he
inquired. Without a waistcoat, and yet with his black hair
smoothed hastily back for his early morning visitor, he looked the
worst sort of affluent hedonist. I do not believe any other
of my acquaintance would have countenanced greeting a client while in
such a state of deshabille.
"I should think a good deal of both. And how are you?"
"I'm in fine fettle, thank you. It is impossible not to feel
pleased when one manages to solve a crime without so much as leaving
the house, as I did this morning."
"I congratulate you." Glancing into the parlour, I remarked,
"No one in there with you, is there?"
He peered behind his shoulder, and then his mercury eyes flashed back
at me innocently. "I shouldn't think so. Did you
much difficulty over your uncle's estate?"
"Less than there could have been, I suppose. His papers were
ghastly mess, but then ghastly messes of paper no longer daunt me as
they once did."
"I cannot think what you mean by that remark," he said airily, looking
down at his slim fingers, "unless it's to illustrate that you are older
and more stoic in the face of tedious tasks than you were as a boy."
"Actually, I'd meant that the not infrequently alarming state of our
sitting room had inured me to such petty trials. How bad is
"The sitting room?" He glanced behind him a second
time. "It's perfectly passable."
"I think I will just see for myself."
I picked up my bag again and walked through the door to set it under
our hat-stand. Holmes' long, pale hand still lingered
on the doorknob when I dropped it with a bang and forced the door shut
behind him, turning the key as I covered his body with my own.
His mouth parted and he drew a quick, violent breath when I kissed him,
his head pinned against the wood as his hands came up and settled at my
waist. He tasted of tea and tobacco and of his own beautiful
self, his tongue meeting mine eagerly as I tore at the buttons of his
shirt. His body was wiry and aesthetic beneath his tailored
clothing, his lungs struggling vainly for the necessary air as he
tasted me ardently in return. He was smiling. Then
stopped smiling and one hand came up to the side of my face.
could feel achingly gentle, sensitive fingers at my temple and the edge
of my eye.
"God, I've missed you," I gasped, pressing into him hard when his other
hand pushed against the base of my spine.
"I could have deduced as much."
"Could you? What were the more obvious
Parting his shirt, I allowed myself a long, hungry look at his chest
before burying my face in his neck.
"It does not, as a general thing, take this brief a time for me to lose
my shirt when you arrive home." I'd removed his cuffs and
the garment back off his sculpted shoulders and he shrugged out of it
in one fluid movement, shivering when my hands traced his pectorals and
"Occasionally it does."
"Well, yes, but--"
"Any other clues?"
"You are apparently not satisfied with remaining in our sitting
room." I was dragging him to the other set of stairs, and out
the sightline of the bow window. "I assumed you wanted to
"I longed for you so," I laughed with reckless happiness.
"I'm at your disposal. I ought to--" he hissed sharply when I
one of his nipples, his head falling forward. My mouth traced
and then lower, stopping just below his navel where the muscles
tightened into visible cords. I fell backward when my boot
the staircase, and I landed in a seated position, undoing the
fastenings of his trousers. "You ought to know
stopped again, breathing audibly, when my tongue explored the very base
of his stomach. "My dear--"
"Are you trying to tell me something?" I was still laughing,
but it emerged low and growling.
"I saw to your pension, and--dear God, man."
"Is that all?"
His hands carded through my hair as he also laughed silently.
"You are making it confounded difficult to concentrate."
"Concentrate on me."
Rising to my feet, I gripped his torso and commenced leading him up the
stairs once more, his fingers flying over my own buttons. Our
progress was slow and stilted, interrupted by intoxicating kisses and
the occasional check for balance on my part. They did not
embarrass me. I was climbing backwards after all, and
Holmes walks like a cat even during very distracting
circumstances. We left a trail like a hurricane through a
room behind us. Pieces of my attire fell from my body to
I had nearly reached the top when he knelt on a step below me, with one
knee up and one prone, tugging nimbly at my bootlaces. I took
this opportunity to shed my undershirt and unfasten my own trousers.
"I even dreamed about you."
"Dreamed of me?" He looked up quickly, his lips
flushed. "Was I performing a surgery, or robbing a bank, or--"
"Oddly enough, we were both on bicycles. It was ten times
when I awoke." I stepped from the remainder of my clothing,
at the day I was born. "I wrote you a wire the next
morning. I was half mad for you."
"The one about the weather in Scotland?" he asked with a wry
smile. "I'm afraid it was not very interest--" The
he rose, I had him by the arms and pulled him down into the stairwell,
making short work of his trousers.
"I had thought we were going to your room," he breathed when he was on
his back and I'd dived over him, supporting myself by my elbows as my
mouth traced his lips and the spreading colour on his
His calf hooked over my back.
"Are you uncomfortable?"
"No, not precisely."
"I've had you in my room. I've never had you in this
"You've never had me in the other stairwell either, but that does not
make it a good idea," he managed to state through other less coherent
I smoothed his hair back from his brow as my other hand traced the
contours I'd been imagining for many long days. "Tell me you
"I didn't say that already?" A low moan escaped him and the
mere sound pushed me nearly to the edge.
"No. You've said nothing of the kind."
"How inconsiderate of me."
There was a drop of sweat in the hollow of his throat and I licked it
clean, thinking how much I would have loved to devour him
He was baiting me, for he was never one to endure sentiment untempered
with irony. He barely endured sentiment flooded with irony,
that. He was also enjoying himself immensely. I was
it. The one thing he loved more than flattery was heartfelt
affection. But I was past the point of taking it well.
"Tell me you pined for me, or I am leaving you in this stairwell."
"I don't think you can make good on that threat in your
condition." It was my own fault, of course, and what was done
could not be undone, I reflected sadly. I had fallen madly in
love with the most devious conversationalist in a country full of
supremely clever men. "In fact, I'm certain it's an undiluted
An expression struck him I loved to see, almost a wince, a contraction
of his features which had nothing whatever to do with pain.
first time I'd seen it, I had barely survived a flash of panic,
thinking I had actually hurt him, before I realized that the look was
simply an effort to keep from shouting our walls down. It was
rarely in evidence for all his tempestuous passions, and positively
breathtaking. If I had been a poet, I would have composed
over it. As it was, I only kissed him once more, my heart
pounding in my ears.
"Suppose I bribe you into expressing your regard?" I gasped, laughing
when his teeth caught my lip.
"What's the asking price?"
"I'll spend a week entire in your bed."
"Oh, you are already going to do that," he hissed, his dark lashes
fluttering when I amplified my ministrations.
"I'll compose an erotic memoir in your honour."
"That would be very--for God's sake, my dear boy--very
unsafe. Wherever did you pick that up?"
"I'll worship this beautiful...." I punctuated my speech with
other tasks for my tongue. "...Beautiful...beautiful body of
yours, in very imaginative and immoral fashions."
"That's hardly a reward exclusively for me. You would be
I was so pleased and so utterly distracted by the half-muttered
profanity that I could not object when he suddenly and deftly rolled me
onto my back and sat up, brushing his hair from his eyes. I
my hands up his spread knees and speech disintegrated into writhing and
twisting and shifting of shape, as we half-wrestled and half caressed
one another into the floor. For all his pretension, he was
for me, and that certain knowledge only further deteriorated my own
senses. I think the Queen of England could have walked into
parlour that afternoon and we would have finished before giving her a
second thought. It was a danger I hadn't anticipated when we
began it. I had loved other men before him, but none of them
me question whether or not I could live without them.
When it was finally over, I sat with my back to the wall and my knees
drawn in, my friend sitting in my lap with his brilliant head resting
against mine, his back against my legs, both his hands still wandering
over my form as if they had not yet realized that it was finished for
"I am not one to advocate that you often spend a month in Scotland, but
He traced a line of sweat which had trickled down the nape of my neck
with one impossibly graceful finger. "I didn't know you liked
"I do," I smiled. My breathing was beginning to settle, my
to slow. "Doubtless some element of the clothing littering my
stairs indicated as much."
"That proves you haven't yet learned quite everything.
I've a few secrets left, for all that you know me intellectually, and
"Biblically," he interrupted me.
"Yes, Biblically. That was precisely the aspect I have been
missing these four weeks. I felt half of myself, if you can
stomach the endearment."
Smiling until wrinkles formed at the edges of his grey eyes, he
replied, "I'll overlook it for your sake."
"In fact, I should like to know you Biblically again," I whispered,
trailing my hands over his thighs.
"I can deny you nothing," he murmured, his head falling over mine once
more, "and I am happy to indulge in your taste for theological
studies. It's an ancient and lofty pursuit, after
if you'd like another round of David and Jonathan, you are going to
have to give me ten minutes. I'm not sixteen years old."
"Ten minutes sounds reasonable," I conceded, still not having
completely caught my breath. "I wonder, which of us is the
monarch in these circumstances?"
"That is grossly apparent."
I allowed my thumbs to dip into the hollows of his lean stomach,
feeling that if no task were presented to me ever again other than
sitting on a landing with the world's only independent consulting
detective straddling me with his hands in my hair, I would gladly
accept the vocation for the rest of my days. "You are right,
course. You're quite the master of all that you
Including all that you see in this stairwell." I smiled up at
"You could not be further from the truth. I have never
myself a warrior of any sort. I have never, in fact, brought
any trophies from any battlefields whatever."
"I didn't carry back hundreds of enemy foreskins in Afghanistan," I
retorted evenly. "Neither did I kill any giants with a slung
shot. I tended the wounded."
"Well, I don't see the point in arguing the subject. In
case, do you suppose the Spirit of the Lord shall be between us and our
"Between us, I cannot guess. I don't believe so.
the men we were speaking of aside, I fear His feelings on the subject
of inversion are rather...wrathful. But in any case, it
matter--since I met you, I don't plan on ever having any descendants,"
I truly hadn't meant to catch him off his guard, the remark having been
made casually if accompanied by complete sincerity, but his eyes dimmed
briefly and his lips parted. He blinked, and drew a breath,
the look was gone. Standing up, he offered me a hand and as I
rose he opened my bedroom door.
"As fond as I have grown of your landing in the last half hour, I am
going to do a number of things to you shortly that are far more
comfortable when enacted on a mattress."
I scarcely heard him. I stood rooted to my floor, staring at
bed in mute disbelief. The blankets were thrown over it, but
object had clearly been slept in.
"Whatever is the matter?"
"You slept in my bed."
"Does that irk you?"
I lay back on it, sighing deeply. I was home. I
the plane tree in our area, the mirror with the small chip in the
corner, the painting of a battlefield from the American Civil
War. My sheets were the kind I preferred, and they had
been used. It was a moment of utter contentedness.
friend crawled onto the coverlet with me and wrapped his whole long
frame around my body, his head tucked into my neck.
"You did miss me," I said. I made every effort to say it
without beaming like a child. I very likely failed miserably.
"But we'd exhausted that topic, I thought," he whispered, "and moved on
to classical Hebrew texts. How does it go again?"
adopted the abstracted look he gets when he is calling to mind a fact
from his mental encyclopedia of arcane misdeeds. "'I love you
I love my own soul.'"
"First Book of Samuel. Chapter Twenty, Verse
cleared my throat, staving off a swell of emotion, for if I fell too
far into sentiment he would snap at once back into sarcasm and I would
have wasted a vulnerable mood more precious than all the money in the
world. "Of course, it took us rather longer to come round
the man you're quoting. David and Jonathan fell in love at
sight. I don't recall you having stripped all your garments
for me when we were first introduced."
He laughed against my skin. "I hadn't any weapons to give
and Stamford would have been rather startled. Poor
a matter of fact, you would likely have been startled as well, and I
wanted very much to share a flat with you."
"You wanted very much to share a flat with someone, you mean."
"Is that what I mean?" he murmured, stifling a yawn.
Running my hand idly across the muscles of his back, I commented,
"Well, I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but if what you say is true,
you went the wrong way about it. Seeing you in the flesh
have clinched the business instantly."
My friend Sherlock Holmes possesses an insatiable appetite for
newspapers. So far as I know, he always has done.
secret paths for him through our vast city, byways which lead him to
puzzles and conundrums both trivial and extraordinary, and indeed the
metaphor is an apt one, for they are his most efficient means of
seeking out his natural game. He will sit in his dressing
his long legs curled beneath him and his pale face keenly focused,
reading voraciously until he is satisfied he knows every recent
occurrence throughout all of London. On occasion, when he is
impatient or vexed by inactivity, he has been known to hurl newspapers
from him in disgust, and at others I have seen him dissect them into
fluttering scraps of data, to be pasted carefully in his commonplace
book and preserved for future reference. At no time, however,
I ever seen him treat one of the beloved objects as he did nearly a
month after the scene I've just--for reasons which will become evident
at length--described, on the morning that news of Oscar Wilde's
conviction blazed forth from the front page of the Times.
His brow had been furrowed in thought, the lips I knew so well pressed
together with the disgust he was making a supreme effort to
contain. It was the identical expression he'd adopted when
news of the trial's proceedings had trickled forth, and I had watched
him with steadily increasing concern since Wilde had first brought suit
against the Marquis of Queensberry in April. Holmes and I
exceedingly busy men in the year 1895, but that did not stop him
devouring whatever fresh data he could find on the matter, and
consequently scowling for an hour or two until a new topic could be
introduced to his overactive mind.
He'd been reacting with such increase of severity, in fact, that
without his knowledge I had already taken secret steps to circumvent
the impending attack of black humour I knew to be threatening
But as it happened, before I could venture my distraction, all at once
he took the front page in both hands, crushed it into a ball, opened
the window of our sitting room, and flung the tidings of Wilde's
painful incarceration into the filth of Baker Street below.
then returned to the sofa, sat down, and calmly resumed reading, this
time favouring the latest edition of the Echo.
My own heart ached in quiet sympathy. I was every bit as
chagrined as he, but--knowing there was nothing to be done about the
wretched affair--I was exceedingly loath to speak of what I knew to be
on his mind. At last I inquired hesitantly, "Are you all
my dear fellow?"
He looked up, wintry grey irises contrasting with the mildness of the
May day without. "Entirely," he said tersely, and returned
eyes to the page.
"I am inclined to think--"
"How very novel," he snapped. Then, realizing the remark was
beyond the pale, he granted me a halfhearted and wistful little smile.
Quelling my anger, I rubbed wearily at my temples. Either it
would do immediate good, I reflected as I considered telling him my new
plans, or in his current mood it would provoke a rousing
argument. I had the advantage of him in that particular
however, for Sherlock Holmes does make an effort to avoid committing
more than one act of inexcusable rudeness per hour. I pushed
my feet, my hands striking my knees with an air of decision as I quit
"Holmes," I said, standing before him, "we require a change of
scene. I have written to accept the invitation we received
My friend and I are both guilty of making unilateral decisions from
time to time, but suffice it to say that my own occur with far less
frequency, which prevents my partner from growing accustomed to
them. Predictably, Holmes scowled at me.
"What invitation can you mean?"
"The invitation to Bournemouth to attend the marriage celebration of
Mr. Cyril Morton and Miss Violet Smith."
The newspaper he held was designated to the floor in his supreme
distaste at this suggestion. He leaned back against the
of the settee, putting his hands behind his head and scrutinizing me as
if I were a not particularly savoury criminal relic.
"Why would you do such a thing?"
"I thought it would stretch the bounds of courtesy to attend without
forewarning," I replied evenly.
"Darling, bear with me," he said, moving his fingertips to his eyes,
"for I confess my intellect may well be dulled in the wake of so much
work of late, but what on earth led you to believe I would accompany
you on such an absurd outing?"
"Even apart from its taking place in a charming seaside town, it will
be a very pleasant affair," I pointed out, determined to hide my
"I loathe weddings."
"I love weddings," I countered.
"Yes, you do, don't you?" He sighed tragically, black brows
slanting downward. The casual acquaintance may well have been
offended by the air of martyred melancholy he had assumed, but I knew
enough about the man to recognize that I was the last man in the world
at whom he was, in fact, angry in that moment. "My dear boy,
will be an occasion rife with mediocre people who carry on mediocre
conversations about topics that do not interest me in the slightest."
"I shouldn't think that conversation is the only activity to be found
at a ball," I retorted.
"A ball!" His legs swung off the sofa and landed squarely
before him as he glared at me with considerable choler.
"Certainly, a ball," I smiled. "Miss Smith is now
wealthy, thanks in no small part to you. Upon reflection, she
her fiance determined that a joyful celebration to commemorate their
vows would not go amiss, and have arranged for a splendid affair by the
"In an effort to be perfectly clear and at the risk of repeating
myself, I shall tell you something of which you are already well aware:
I loathe balls."
"I love balls," I observed.
Holmes clutched at his hair momentarily in a dramatic show of
frustration, and then slumped back against the cushions.
the fool woman doing asking me in the first place?" he demanded,
leaving me quite out of the equation.
"She is not a fool woman, and you know it full well."
"Then why would the creature desire two near-strangers to--"
"Holmes," I said, with some asperity at last creeping into my voice,
"if you must insist upon going about rescuing women from evil designs,
thwarting attempts to force them into abhorrent matches against their
wills, and in Miss Smith's case almost certainly preventing her
imminent rape by one or more brutes, you are going to have to accept
the fact that they may feel inclined to express a degree of gratitude
He eyed me suspiciously. "Hmmph." His gaze slid
into a more
reflective strata as he realized I was correct. My friend is
an easy man to live with, but neither is he an unyielding one.
"I see you are not going to argue that," I could not help but note.
"Now you mention it, I confess Mr. Woodley's character leaves me in the
gravest possible doubt whether there is any atrocity he would not
commit," he replied reluctantly.
"Well, then," I smiled, "we are going to the reception."
"Mr. Woodley's character has no bearing whatever on the topic at hand,
to wit: you shall be attending this function alone."
"You are not being given that choice, I'm afraid. We leave at
nine twenty-seven tomorrow morning from King's Cross."
"But I've no wish to do anything of the kind."
"Perhaps you could find it in your heart to make a
approached him where he sat and placed my knees on either side of his
thighs, perching quite comfortably on his lap.
"Could it not be an easier sacrifice?" he pleaded softly, his sculpted
face regaining a trace of good humour as I rested my arms on his wiry
shoulders. With an effort, he affected an air of gallantry, a
conceit which unfortunately suits him all too well. "Shall I
a boxing tourney for you under an assumed name, with your kerchief in
"Tempting," I owned when his nimble hands slid round my
knew better than to think the offer mere banter, for Holmes' boasts
often take on the status of self-dares, and the thought of his spare,
flawless body stripped to the waist and grappling in some seedy gin
house was a delightfully severe threat to my composure. "I
"Fencing, then, and under my own name, with a lock of your hair
secretly tied to the hilt of my blade," he begged, eyes glinting
roguishly at me. "Be reasonable, man. I will
childish and unbecoming desire for romance, I swear it, only spare me
the indignity of making small talk with self-important
businessmen. I'll win an archery contest, a jousting match,
your price. Anything is preferable to a ball."
"You will simply have to suffer through it. And in future,
calling one of my traits childish and unbecoming is not the best way to
insinuate your argument."
"Please?" he essayed again. This time he sat forward and
his generous lips ever so tenderly against my throat, inhaling as he
did so. I was beginning to heartily enjoy tormenting him, and
thought distractedly through a sudden fog of desire that it was perhaps
only the third or fourth time he'd ever said "please" to me.
shall compose you a heartbreaking ode upon the violin."
I arched slightly as his lips drifted lazily down the hollows of my
neck, sliding forward until I pressed against him without any space
between us. "That would take you ten minutes, if so
am not so easily satisfied."
His hands were tugging my shirt free of my trousers so that he could
trace his musician's fingertips over my lower back. One hand
commenced caressing as the other dealt with the restricting
fabric. "And here I supposed myself something of a habit
you are concerned," he murmured lowly, "when all the while you were
simply awaiting my next token of courtship. How
What am I to do, then? Shall I paint you recumbent on the
bearskin rug in the style of Vernet?"
"Too dangerous, and involving not a whit of self-sacrifice," I refused
him, hissing slightly as one of his hands plunged lower and I left off
his shirt buttons to bury my hands in his thick black hair.
any event, you can't paint."
"Can't I?" he asked, laughing mysteriously.
"I'm also growing rather concerned."
"Why is that?"
"Are you so very hesitant to give something up for me?"
I was only teasing him, but his lightning-quick eyes darted up to mine
with a pained expression, and in them I once more saw reflected clear
as day the abhorrent contents of his morning newspaper.
"That isn't fair," he said sharply.
Sherlock Holmes and I have known one another for years, cherished one
another for nearly that span of time, and have loved one another
physically for a very long while, culminating in a bond so profoundly
instinctual that I shudder to recall how I ever passed a day in his
presence without touching him, but that does not mean we never
misunderstand one another. On the contrary. We
misunderstand one another with vigour and frequency. At
this account will make clear, we misunderstand each other to painful
and damaging degrees.
"I intended it in sport," I assured him gently. I confess I
surprised, for I had foolishly supposed the contents of the article
forgotten. "I flatter myself you would be willing to give up
slightly more for me than attendance at a wedding reception."
"My right arm, my life, a king's ransom," he insisted, eyes glowing
"Love, I never meant to--"
"I've already sacrificed my immortal soul for you, after all.
Need I truly purchase you with better currency than that?"
Leaning forward with my lips parted, I kissed him. When we
apart, my palms were at the level of his sculpted cheekbones and my
friend turned his head to kiss that crevice gypsies call the
lifeline. I had not understood the term before. But
his lips against it, it truly deserved the name.
"You may coerce me into a ball," he whispered, "but you will not force
me into a wedding ceremony. I can't bear churches.
as I've pointed out already, I have defiled by fornicating with a
terribly demanding ex-Army surgeon."
"We aren't attending the ceremony," I said, laughing. "Only
reception. I've as little taste for churches as you have, I
think. No man desires to spend time in a place where he is
considered an abomination, after all."
"And you are certain you'll not be satiated with a bottle of Imperial
Tokay?" he murmured shrewdly, narrowing his eyes. "Nor will
reconsider any of my other suggestions, each of which would be vastly
superior to the ungodly tedium of the event you've chosen?"
"No, I don't think think so."
"May I make another, unrelated suggestion, then?" he inquired lazily.
"By all means."
"Might we," he said in a lower tone, "replicate this posture, but in my
bedroom, with the door locked, and rather more casually attired than we
I smiled down at him. One corner of his lips had quirked in a
sultry little smirk, and the mental image of him with flesh bared,
sweating feverishly, pieces of his fine dark hair lying black against
the pillow as we forgot where he ended and I began, was sufficient to
send all the blood in my body rushing to one location. It was
just such situations that Sherlock Holmes ceased to be the
self-possessed theorist, and I could glimpse the vulnerable man behind
the delicate clockwork. It was at other times, as anyone who
reads my accounts of his life could probably guess all too easily, that
his utterly aloof character nearly threatened to undo us both.
Our journey to the southernmost edge of England was unremarkable, the
hours filled with lazy chatter and views of the countryside streaming
past our windows. It was wonderful, for me at any rate, to be
of the great metropolis for an overnight stay, and more than once my
friend caught me smiling aimlessly at the verdant trees visible beyond
the glass and shook his head with a fondly indulgent expression.
We brought with us relatively little in the way of luggage, being
practiced and ready travellers, and carried our bags ourselves from the
station through the bustling, quaint little town, breathing in the
smell of the ocean and Holmes squinting his unparalled eyes at the
shafts of lingering sun. The waves dashed lazily against the
shoreline as children and their guardians chased the gulls or searched
for bits of shell in the sand. The hotel itself was newly
and very pleasantly appointed, with four stories, the first of which I
could see at a distance housed the great ballroom where the night's
festivities would take place.
Setting my bag before the counter, I nodded to the clerk.
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, arriving," I said cordially.
"Are you really? I mean to say, welcome, gentlemen," the
uniformed man replied, flushing slightly. "The porter will
you up at once. Both of your rooms are on the second floor,
either end of the west hallway."
"Quite a crowd you've garnered," Holmes remarked, looking about him at
the idle pleasure-seekers and the white columns as he lit a cigarette.
"We're entirely booked, sir, for the next fortnight at the very
least. You wouldn't believe the appeals I've been getting
holidaymakers, for the weather has been so unexpectedly pleasant of
late. Of course, most of the people you see before you are
attending the ball this evening. It's quite an honour to have
here, sir," the fellow added, his brown eyes glowing. "Might
say that the trick you pulled in that story about the horse, when you
left the creature painted and allowed it to run--well, that gave my
wife and I quite a merry hour, Mr. Holmes."
"Delighted to hear it," my friend replied, fixing me with a look which
quite clearly instructed me to throw away all my pens on the moment we
"And that one about the deadly snake, sir!" the clerk exclaimed,
growing yet more animated. "When I think back on how you
just from the bell-pull, mind, that--"
"My friend Dr. Watson weaves a brisk bedtime story, that I'll grant,"
he sighed. "My good man, I gather from the fact that you were
very late last night with your newborn child--and I do congratulate
you--you are somewhat distracted, but might I suggest you call the
porter you mentioned earlier?"
"Certainly, sir," the clerk replied, puffing his chest out and beaming
with pride that he'd been the basis of an actual, voiced logical
inference. "Might I ask--"
"No, but thank you very much for the thought." The porter
up to us and, with a nod to the grinning clerk, we headed for the
staircase and climbed the carpeted steps to the upper floors.
"I suppose we had better have a wash and then dress," Holmes said on
arriving in our designated hallway, glancing at his
"We've only an hour, after all. I shall see you at the
It was an awkward annoyance that, when traveling, Holmes and I were
required to be duly appreciative of separate sleeping arrangements,
when at our residence our nights passed either in the comfort of my
small bed or the more substantial expanse of my friend's.
Resolving to invade his room even if I had to leave it at five in the
morning, I nodded. "Might I ask what you intend to wear this
"No," he said in the same tone of tired patience he had used upon the
clerk, as he handed the porter a coin and the lad flew away to tend to
the other guests. Then he quirked his lips and winked at
me. "That would quite ruin the effect, as you well know."
"Well, I do imagine that whatever it is, I have seen it before," I
"Do you?" he inquired, smiling down at his room key. "I
must be off, my dear chap. Leave some champagne for me,
It was, as promised, a splendid affair. The lights glimmered
chandeliers and candelabra, men and women sheathed in silks and satins
and velvets of every colour and pattern paraded through the room like a
host of merry peacocks, and behind it all was the sure knowledge of the
glorious early summer night beyond the walls. But that was
the only boon granted us; I was gratified to note after a half hour's
meandering through the lavishly decorated rooms that the majority of
the guests, belonging to that emerging group of individuals beginning
to be called the middle class, were frank, open people of good nature
and good cheer, and neither the simpering aristocrats nor the callous
tradesmen that my friend so abhorred entertaining. Indeed,
few times I'd glimpsed a distant quarter profile of Holmes in the last
ten minutes--for we had not yet approached one another--he had been
either listening with genuine interest or expounding over one the
thousand topics upon which he could be considered an expert.
Standing perfectly content with the world with a glass of champagne in
one hand, a new and interesting acquaintance having just quit me to
seek out a dance partner, I regarded the waltz before me in
considerable high spirits. In fact, I had scarcely begun
the polished floor absently with my foot when a voice spun from raw
silk carried softly over my shoulder.
"Do make an effort to conceal your admiration of the ladies so as to
fit within the bounds of propriety, my dear fellow."
I stifled a laugh, refusing to look behind me. "I shall make
my best effort."
"It borders on the revolting," the sophisticated tones
There was a smile in his voice, I could hear as much. "With
pardon, there are far more interesting things to look at in this wide
"Correct, but if I look at you, I shall very likely get us arrested," I
pointed out. It was not a wholly frivolous remark.
The posture of the man behind me altered slightly so that I could feel
his elbow barely brush against my ribcage. "But really, must
observe you observing them with this degree of enthusiasm?"
"Well, no, you needn't observe me. But I find them charming
you do not, so one of us must make an altruistic attempt to recognize
"When set in that light, you appear quite the martyr to a noble cause."
"You'd prefer I scrutinize the men?" I asked calmly. "As you
A sharp scoffing sound sent a tiny gust of disdainful breath past my
left ear. "Do as you like as far as they are concerned, for I
will readily own that six or seven ladies of the party at least possess
some grace in movement. There isn't a man on that vast floor
worthy of dancing with them."
I turned around in surprise so as to see him clearly. I
not have been so foolish, for he was quite literally
breathtaking. He was wearing a waistcoat shot through with
and darkest midnight blue, with a sapphire cravat, his raven hair
smoothed back impeccably above a pale, aesthetic, maddeningly beautiful
face which at that moment appeared highly amused. The cut of
evening dress was rendered with the same absolute attention to detail
upon which he built his career, so I could only guess that the tailor
who had so perfectly outlined the slender, tapering musculature of my
lover was also, in his own way, a single-minded savant. I
see the muscles of his breast moving silently as he laughed.
deliberately turned round once more.
I was not ready to concede his abominably vain point, whether he was
the most vibrant, alluring man in the world or no, so I set about the
task of contradicting him. I had a subject in view within ten
"Well, for goodness sake, Holmes, what about that fellow?" I asked
triumphantly, trusting he would follow the line of my sight.
"Good lord, my dear boy," came the exasperated reply from behind
me. "Am I to commence fretting that you have taken a rapt
interest in golden-haired farm hands of sixteen?"
"Spare my nerves further damage, I beg you. His resemblance
young Samson notwithstanding, watch him more closely for a moment or
two. He never looks at his partner. He is half
her, eyes eagerly searching the room for his next conquest.
Really, Watson, with all your affection for simplicity, you can do
Lifting my chin in determination, I resolved to do just that.
Soon a tall, elegant man something above forty years of age drifted
into the open, laughing easily, his movements lovely and economical and
his temples shot through with endearing streaks of white.
"There you are," I announced. "You will have to concede he is
a fine dancer."
"I concede nothing of the sort. I'll concede he is deuced
attractive, but he leads with his head."
And of course, as was to be expected, Sherlock Holmes was
correct. The finely built gentleman did indeed lead with his
"Why don't you make an effort to relieve one or the other of these
hapless young females of the burden of an inferior partner?" he
inquired next, nudging me with his forearm.
"I may well do just that," I returned with hearty good cheer.
"Let me see whether I can spy one who is unoccupied at
Why don't you do the same?"
"I think not."
"It would please me greatly."
"I am sorry to disappoint you, then."
"How can you possibly expect me to believe that you are in any position
to criticize these poor fellows without demonstrating your prowess to
me in turn?" I demanded, exasperated.
"I suppose you shall be forced to take my word for it. Now,
return to the task at hand, Watson. Select your conquest."
"There," I said after a brief study of the room. "In the
near the coffee urn, with the silk turquoise gown and small train."
"Of course you chose that one." He was turning away as he
freely, I noted, and had doubtless drawn a cigarette from his case, for
I heard a match strike as he lit it. Picturing his lips upon
I closed my eyes and then opened them again.
"Whatever do you mean?"
"Her decolletage must be impeding her windpipe, and I have observed no
fewer than six men approach her--obliquely and directly--since she left
the floor. Perhaps that is due to her fortunate combination
good humour, large fortune, chestnut curls, perfect complexion, and
I did not bother to ask that these traits be explained, for they were
all apparent to me as well. "You think I'll fail to win a
"No," he replied, as a slender hand fell to my shoulder and gripped it
affectionately. "I think you'll show me you're the only man
worthy of dancing with her in the room." As my mouth fell
he continued, "Do stop short of winning her hand, my boy. I
cannot abide crowds." He clapped me lightly upon the back and
I danced--and very enjoyably, I might add--with Miss Sabrina
Hamilton-James four times that evening. I was the envy of
half the company, it seemed. I learned that her mind was
and charming, that she'd a secret beau who belonged to an absent
regiment, and that I reminded her of him, and that her mother would do
her best to break the match off if she knew of it. Within an
hour, we were fast friends. During our last dance, however, I
realized that however reckless his untamed beauty made me feel, I could
not bear to be apart from my friend for that entire glittering evening,
and so parted from Miss Hamilton-James on very cordial terms and set
off in search of Holmes.
I found him settled comfortably upon a settee in a large, grandly
appointed smoking room, chatting with several other men of the party
including our newly wed host. An empty glass of champagne
at his elbow, and he smiled so warmly at me when I appeared before him
that my breath caught slightly. Mr. Cyril Morton, a
small-statured but very clever and friendly young man with red-hued
hair and a ready laugh, nodded enthusiastically to me as I entered.
"We have been learning how one can determine a librarian by his index
finger," he declared teasingly. "Your friend Mr. Holmes is
most appallingly intelligent man to whom I have ever been introduced,
Dr. Watson. What say you, Colonel?"
My friend, while seemingly distant and thoughtful, was pleased by the
compliment, for I could see a finely rendered blush below his eyes
which had nothing to do with the fire crackling in the
The man I took to be the Colonel, characterized by neatly cropped grey
hair and sloping brows, nodded readily.
"To be sure, you are a credit to your country, sir. I find it
surprising that I see your name so seldom in the newspapers, come to
that. I am sure your skills are called upon very often, and
great effect, if what Morton here tells me is true."
"I am very grateful to Mr. Holmes," Mr. Morton said with a serious
expression on his face. "He saved the thing most precious in
the world to me, so I assure you I would not do him the dishonour of
exaggerating his prowess. Why do you not appear more often in
print, my dear sir?"
Holmes shrugged amiably and slung his long, elegant arm over the back
of the settee. "I require myself to solve crimes, not to take
credit for their solutions. Taking credit is a very tedious
exercise, and I should much prefer to find a new conundrum than to
preen before the popular press."
"Admirable," drawled a man from the corner of the room, a primly rakish
fellow with a goatee on his chin and a monocle perched on his
cheek. "Being in the papers is not always a position to be
"All too true," I put in, seating myself near Holmes. He
me a cigarette without looking at me, and for some senseless reason the
gesture touched me deeply.
"Take these godless carnation-wearers, for instance," the man continued
with a cynical laugh. "They wanted attention, and now they
it. Well, I should think they are very sorry for it, if
case can be taken as a precedent for how they will be treated in
courts. Now these queers have crawled out into the open, they
will be made to understand they will not be tolerated in polite
"An unfortunate business, to be sure, Mr. Ambrose," the Colonel
observed, drawing upon his cigar. "And also a criminal one,
"Rightfully so," remarked Mr. Ambrose. "The very purpose of
law is to enforce morality upon the weak-willed or the
weak-minded. Is that not so, Mr. Morton?"
"I could not say," our host replied with a troubled glance about the
room. "I certainly cannot easily agree that Oscar Wilde is
weak-minded, of all things."
"Depraved, then," shrugged Mr. Ambrose. "But I cannot claim
an expert. Only an interested citizen. What say
"I am no alienist," I replied dismissively. "Only a general
It was not the first such conversation I had ever suffered.
However, it was the first such conversation I had ever endured with
Sherlock Holmes not a foot away from me, smoking intently and seeming
to be very judiciously weighing the points set before him. I
wanted to strike the smug, suave Mr. Ambrose, who seemed heartily to
enjoy the new topic.
"Even a general practitioner surely keeps abreast of the latest
discoveries in the realm of mental illness," he suggested with a sly
smile. "I find the whole matter very intriguing--I heard a
compelling argument that this new-found boldness among degenerates is a
sign of the virulent progression of the disease. Where once
hid their heads in shame, now they fight back in public courts for God
and all the world to see. Surely that could well be an
of mental disintegration."
"I agree with Mr. Morton," I said, attempting to remain casual while
seething inwardly. "It is difficult to credit that Oscar
has lost his considerable faculties."
"Perhaps I am wrong." Mr. Ambrose polished his monocle on his
kerchief thoughtfully. "I only wish something could be done
cure these sodomites before their hedonistic and affected posturing
becomes the merest commonplace of a modern Babylon. Or Sodom,
that matter." He laughed at his own joke, while the Colonel
the same, although more quietly. "If we commenced burning
again, or breaking them on a wheel, the spread should halt again
"You believe homosexuality a disease, and yet consider that such a
serious affliction should be punished further?" I demanded. I
not consider myself diseased in mind or in body, I must vehemently
add. I meant only to point out the illogical nature of the
argument. However, I could not manage to disguise the fact
the sentiment made me ill.
"Well said, Doctor," announced Cyril Morton.
"He has you there," the Colonel added appreciatively. I dared
not so much as glance at Holmes.
"Perhaps I was too impassioned," Mr. Ambrose said with a
"But what says the only real representative of the law in this
room? Doubtless you've profound insight into such affairs,
Holmes, knowing the criminal world as you do."
I have never in my life doubted my friend's discretion, nor his ability
to be glibly calm when necessary. I confess, however, I was
deeply worried. The topic itself had been cause for enough
concern without his being singled out for questioning. Holmes
only raised one supercilious eyebrow, however, and replied, "Only the
same insight of any man who keeps well apprised of criminal news."
"You are too modest."
"On the contrary," he smiled. His eyes were gleaming like
daggers. "You appear much better informed than I. I
myself at a disadvantage, in fact. I am a man of
I'll own I was at boarding school as you all were, but practices there
did not retain my interest as they seem to have done with you."
Mr. Ambrose tossed his head back, as if my friend had directly insulted
him instead of merely teasingly questioning his motives. The
Colonel laughed heartily, while Cyril Morton peered at Ambrose
"In any event," my friend continued, "I take only those cases which
challenge me, which serve as a catalyst for the higher
Oscar Wilde, if we look at him plainly, is far more interesting for his
admirable artistic muse than he is for his lurid sexual
practices. He is a genius who possesses profound vices, but
is the intellectual scope for the detective in that? I solve
unsolvable for a living. Sordid offenses against the person
provide no such stimulus."
"I would have thought that, as a champion of right, you would have done
better by the law," Ambrose said curtly. "These people are
for a reckoning. They will be given one, if they do not see
"Did they ask you directly, Mr. Ambrose?" my friend inquired
frostily. "In the matter of my own personal life, if I ever
one of these green-carnationed youths, I can promise you most sincerely
that I should steer well clear of him. However, you appear so
very consumed by the topic that I cannot help but deduce you are
acquainted with amoral sybarites personally. Wherever did you
come across them, may I ask?"
I think that Mr. Ambrose might well have leapt from his chair and
demanded satisfaction following this query; however, at that moment,
the beautiful Mrs. Violet Morton, nee Smith, entered the
She looked quite breathtaking in a gown of delicate silver satin, and
my friend had been perfectly correct all those many weeks ago to have
said she had a spiritual air about her, for her blonde hair and her
pale hazel eyes, in combination with sweetly delicate features,
proclaimed her every inch both a philosophical woman and an admirable
music teacher. She took her new husband's arm affectionately
Holmes smiled at her in greeting.
"I cannot tell you how glad I am you are here, Mr. Holmes," she
announced blithely. "And you as well, of course, Dr.
Watson. I should have considered the day, though the best of
life, very incomplete indeed without you."
"You flatter me, Madam," Holmes said courteously.
"I do not," she replied, and there was something shadowed in her lovely
eyes, the eyes that had bewitched Carruthers as well as Woodley and Mr.
Morton, that made me think she was well aware of just what ghastly
violence to her person might have transpired had Holmes and I not
arrived when we did. But soon enough she looked up at her
bridegroom, and her brow cleared, and she smiled at the room.
"What has my cousin been saying to you? He is scowling
dreadfully. Have you been pestering my guests with politics,
"Merely providing us with a lively debate, Mrs. Morton," Holmes said
smoothly, rising to his feet. "I fear for my ability to
at such staggering heights of wit, and so must leave you for the time
being. My warmest congratulations to you both." He
hands with Cyril Morton, kissed the bride's hand, and swept from the
room without wasting a glance upon the furious Vincent Ambrose.
I knew better than to rush after him, but I confess I feared greatly
for the aftereffects of that appalling conversation. I
my cigarette in a bit of a daze, breathless and anxious and scrutinized
by the bride's cousin. As soon as I could manage it without
suspicion, I left the room, looking here, there and everywhere for my
I grew still more worried at once. He was not in the
nor the dining area. He was not in his own room, and neither
he in mine. After fifteen minutes of searching, I found him
standing on a small balcony that hovered a few steps below the ground
floor terrace window, smoking in silence as he looked up at the stars.
"I am terribly sorry about that," I breathed.
"And what have you done, precisely?" he queried dryly. The
imperceptible flush had faded from his prominent cheekbones.
had turned quite pale, as a matter of fact.
"Nothing, but--that was not something to which I would have wished to
"No?" His pale eyes were a perfect blank. "It was
more than I should have expected. Most of our fellow
I will own, are merely dull, but some of them are certainly malicious
and others irrevocably stupid. It was no very great surprise
meet an example."
"You fared splendidly against him, in any event."
"Forgive me for not offering my thanks for what you may suppose was a
compliment, but having won an argument against that man is hardly a
feather in my cap; it is along the lines of crushing an ant, rather, or
outsmarting a garden beetle. Had I lost, I would have taken a
blind leap off a balcony. An upper storey balcony.
you better be getting back?" he inquired quietly, lighting another
cigarette. I could see three other stubs at his feet.
"I needn't," I replied softly, "if you--"
"Dr. Watson, men unwittingly abused me long before I met you, and they
will continue to do so until the day I am dead, and probably
beyond. Just what service do you think you are providing me?"
"I'd only wanted to see whether you were--"
"Prostrate with self-loathing? Hysterical over unintentional
slights? Dead of shame? If you spare me nothing
tonight, spare me this suffocating concern."
Shaking my head, I stepped back. He was lost to me, and for
remainder of the night if not longer. He stood before me
breathing, running his eyes over me coldly to gauge my reactions, but
his soul was no longer present. It had burrowed into a hidden
compartment, perhaps had flown altogether, and I could no more have
drawn him out again that evening than I could commune with the contents
of a broken grandfather clock.
"I don't wish to see you like this," I said miserably.
"The take your leave of me, and gladly," he returned. There
was nothing save ice in his elegantly modulated voice.
"You would do better to save your displays of invulnerability for when
they are needed. I am not the antagonist in this situation,"
snapped at last, turning to go whilst feeling as if my heart were being
wrenched within my ribcage.
"Neither are you the solution."
I stopped on the second step back to the terrace window to look down at
him. He betrayed no outward sign of chagrin, but that was not
dilemma I faced with an increasingly discomfiting anxiety.
dilemma was that he betrayed nothing at all, and that it often happened
thus, and that I hated nothing more than to see the man I loved above
all others turn himself of his own considerable will into a wax figure
before my very eyes.
"There are moments when I wish I had the power to hurt you in turn," I
confessed before I could catch myself.
It was a horrible admission, and one I was shocked to hear emerging
from my own lips. I could not even find it true; I flushed
instantly with the shame of it. When had I ever wished to
him? For an instant I feared I actually had done so, but then
tossed the lit cigarette into a potted fern, granting me only the lift
of one eyebrow.
"That wish shan't be granted this evening, in any event. Good
night, old fellow."
He left me, striding easily past me up the steps.
There are not many nights on which I can recall being glad to be rid of
Sherlock Holmes, but as I stumbled wearily away from the lights of the
hotel, aching at the merest thought of what I had said to him and he to
me, I thanked God for the solitude. I had not truly expected
unprecedented excursion to an overwhelming success, for I am not an
incurable optimist, but neither had I anticipated wholesale
failure. It was my friend who had seen to that, and in spite
his own success in the smoking room.
I had walked half a mile from the hotel and then nearly back to it
again, sick at the turn my night had taken and not paying the slightest
attention to my poorly lit surroundings, when I encountered a man who
stood staring thoughtfully at the lit windows of the ballroom above
us. His back was bowed with sorrow and I thought he was
shivering. I slowed my pace. There was something
about him, and when I had come close enough to see his face, I was very
startled indeed to see Bob Carruthers, whose sentence had been a mere
month and two weeks' imprisonment, gazing mournfully at the distant
"Carruthers," I said cautiously. "I am very surprised to see
He started and blanched at the sight of me, and then he drew in a
shuddering sigh. He had lost nearly ten pounds from what I
see, and his eyes were red and haunted.
"You'll tell them I'm watching, I suppose, and I shall have to flee so
as to avoid upsetting them," he growled.
"Perhaps not, if you tell me what you're doing here."
"I only wanted to be where she was," he whispered. "One last
time, Dr. Watson."
I looked up at the golden window. It was impossible to see
Morton from that distance, or to identify anyone at all, for that
matter, but Bob Carruthers did not seem to care.
"I'm going back to South Africa," he said tonelessly. "If I
to see it. I truly do love her, you know. Since the
I saw her. Have you ever felt as if your heart was physically
tied to a person, Dr. Watson, tied so tight and so true that if you
went on a voyage long enough, your heart would literally break from the
"Yes," I said brokenly.
He turned to look at me briefly and then resumed staring
"Well, then. You sound as if you have, all right.
you also feel as if, no matter how ungodly painful it might be for you
to endure it, you would ten thousand times rather suffer and love her
than never to have met her, and be contented alone? I mean to
say, that you would not cure yourself even if you could?"
"I'm also aware of that feeling."
"My life ends here tonight," he said. His face was so bleakly
haunted it was almost difficult to recognize him. "Don't
Doctor. I'll do nothing foolish. But it is such a
being forty yards away from her, being across an ocean may well crush
me. And yet, I've no choice. You'll be telling me
to be off
now, I imagine, or you'll report to her husband I'm spying."
I wondered for a moment whether he truly had fallen in love with Miss
Smith at first sight--as seemed a rather unlikely condition--or if all
his memories of her had merely become entangled irrevocably, as for me
were the notions of Holmes and love and bliss and heartache.
"Stay as long as you like, Mr. Carruthers," I replied quietly, setting
off for the hotel once more. "They shall none of them hear of
Returning to my own room seemed far wiser than seeking out Holmes in
his tin soldier state. I washed, undressed, and stared into
mirror trying to make some sense of myself. I considered
early and departing, then realized that such a step might well be an
irretrievable one, then wondered with tears in my eyes whether that
might not be just what I wanted. When I lay back on the
of my bed, watching the leaves cast their early morning shadows, I
could be certain of only two things: I knew that I loved him
ravenously, as soul-deep as Bob Carruthers loved Violet Morton, and
despite acts which would have forced me to leave any other
am not unforgiving, but neither do I enjoy repeated, undeserved
punishment. As small as it made me to face it, I felt in my
I could never depart from his side. And I also knew for a
fact that he had no notion at all of how very close I had come to doing
I passed a restless, guilty, angry night. The next morning, I
gathered my things together, returning my clothing and toiletries to my
traveling bag and sipping at a cup of hot coffee as I did so, for a
headache slowed my thoughts and movements and I wished to be certain I
left nothing behind. When all was in order, I returned my key
the front desk, and, as the designated time for departure had arrived,
I walked up the staircase and down the hall to join Holmes as we took
our leave. Knocking reluctantly, I waited with shoulders
to face my friend's approach.
To my boundless surprise, when Sherlock Holmes opened the door, he
stood before me unshaven, drinking a cup of tea, dressed in dark
trousers and his shirtsleeves without collar or cuffs, the neck
partially unbuttoned and his dressing gown over all. He
easily at me.
"Good morning, my dear fellow."
"Good morning," I returned slowly. "Holmes, I realize that
are not particularly enthusiastic about early rising, but if you do not
get dressed and ready extremely quickly, the hotel will be very put
"And we shall miss our train," he added cheerily. "Come in,
I did so, quite visibly vexed and confused. My friend's
belongings were still scattered throughout the pretty chamber, and he
appeared to have halfway finished a plate of eggs and buttered toast.
"Holmes, I did mean to apologize for last night."
"Don't waste a thought on the matter. Tea?" he asked
splashing a second cup with milk and then pouring what smelled like
Darjeeling without sugar, as he knew I took it.
"Holmes, have you a reason in mind for missing our train?" I asked
tiredly, in no mood to play guessing games with the cleverest man of my
acquaintance. I did not expect an apology from him in return,
his purposeless high spirits were inexpressibly abrasive.
"Bournemouth suits me in this weather," he replied, returning to his
breakfast and applying himself vigourously. "I contemplated
leaving it, and returning to the smoke and fog of London, and could not
bring myself to do so. I shall return tomorrow
fields are lush, the sparrows gleeful, and I hear tell the fishing in
the stream half a mile from here is the stuff of local legend."
I walked to the breakfast table and lifted my tea. Tea is a
comforting substance, and my friend was exposing me to serious multiple
"You are telling me that you have suddenly developed a taste for the
out of doors?"
"You have always attempted to cultivate one in me. Perhaps
your hard work is paying off," he said innocently.
"You overlook the fact that this establishment is entirely booked."
"Ah, but you see, I don't." Depositing his fork on his empty
plate with an air of finality, Holmes lit a cigarette as he stretched
his long legs out in front of him. "After some considerable
eloquence, and a not inconsiderable bribe, the desk clerk came round to
my way of thinking on the subject."
"You truly do desire an extra day of recreation?"
I must have sounded very suspicious indeed, for he laughed at me quite
affectionately. "Why should I not?"
I smiled in spite of myself, for the thought of remaining in
Bournemouth for another day was far from unpleasant. "I'll
return my bags to my room, then, after I retrieve my key."
"Oh, dear me," he exclaimed, his dark brows lifting.
"What is it now?"
"Well, I trust you'll forgive me, Watson, for my forgetfulness, but I'm
afraid when I was bargaining over this room, I failed to mention
anything of yours. It's quite too late now, I
things are cleared out, and you have already given the clerk your
key? I am terribly sorry, my dear fellow, but it seems
your old room now is entirely out of the question. I could
attempt a word with them, I suppose, but as you've already pointed out,
the hotel is quite fully booked."
The rogue's grey eyes were gleaming at me in the pale, buttery light
from the window, and one hand was languidly clasped behind his sable
head as he pretended to puzzle over this fresh conundrum. He
smoothed back his hair, but quite imperfectly, and a lock of it was
falling from his window's peak over the right side of his pale
brow. I reflected, not for the first time, that when Sherlock
Holmes sets his mind on something, I am utterly incapable of denying
him. I was staring back at him evenly, my face as exasperated
I could manage to make it, but the smile playing over the corners of
his mouth was devastatingly infectious.
"So you have finally come round to my liking for the countryside, and
you are leaving me out of it," I sighed. "I suppose I've no
choice but to return to London."
"Wait a moment, though," he said thoughtfully, drawing in draughts of
contemplative smoke. "I wonder--and this is pure conjecture,
do please bear with me--whether the proprietor would be very put out if
I asked him for an extra cot to be placed in this room. That
of course, if you also have a mind to stay."
"There's no harm in asking," I smiled.
"Very well put, my dear fellow," he grinned, rising from his
chair. "Where is the harm in asking? I shall just
about for a waistcoat and tie, and then see whether I can persuade
him. I apologize again for the mistake, darling."
It was more than an apology, and better than amends--it was an obvious
gift. I caught him by one of his perfect wrists and ran my
over the pulse point. He stopped in mid-stride and added his
hand to the sensual tangle, softly encasing my palms in both sets of
his flawless fingers as he looked at me quizzically.
"There is just one small favour I require before you finish dressing."
"Name it, my boy. I have put you out by forgetting to engage
room, I know, so I am quite willing to extend the olive
He looked so coolly pleased with himself, it was all I could do not to
laugh out loud.
"Thank you." I kissed the inside of his wrist, lingering over
delicate bones. "I think for this favour, you had better
We passed a beautiful day, rambling in silence over the hillsides
and listening to the birds as they flitted from branch to
the evening drew on apace and the warmth of the sun faded, we returned
to the hotel for a lingering repast, heightened with good wine and good
brandy and my friend's sparkling mood. When he turned the key
lock of our room at perhaps half past ten that night, I sat down upon
the bed to remove my shoes. To my considerable surprise, he
down and stopped me.
"I fear, my dear Watson, that the agenda for the evening has not quite
reached its completion."
"Whatever do you mean?"
"I've one more item on our schedule, you see."
congratulate you on a glorious afternoon," I objected doubtfully, "but
I cannot imagine anything more pleasant than retiring. With
Very, very early."
"I thank you," he smiled, "but I hope that
your natural curiosity will persuade you to re-tie your left shoe and
accompany me on a small mission."
"Is this your way of breaking
it to me that we actually remained in Bournemouth because of a case?" I
inquired darkly, doing as he had asked.
"Oh, ye of little
faith." He glanced at his pocketwatch suavely. "All
should be safe by
now. He swore to me it would be in readiness by
ten. Watson, would
you be so kind as to reach behind you into that side table drawer and
hand me the burgling kit you will find there?"
My jaw fell slightly. "You are joking."
"Do I appear to be joking?"
"No, but you appear to be visibly suppressing a great deal of
usual blend of keen wit and acute observation have found me out," he
said with a laugh, "but no, I am certainly not joking. Do
hand me the
tools, like a good fellow."
"Holmes, forgive me, but I must
insist on knowing what we intend to burgle," I declared, the beautiful
visions of Holmes undressing before me fleeing my mind as they were
replaced by images of our imminent incarceration.
He reached out
a hand for the kit, which I passed to him, and he deposited the jemmy
and other small tools in an inner pocket. Then he adjusted
demurely, straightened his waistcoat, and ran a hand through his dark
locks. "You may well insist, but it would be far simpler and
for me to reveal my intentions by carrying them out. Come
Watson. You know that the effects I can occasionally render
more deserving of praise when you allow me to show first, and tell
So saying, he lifted a small bag that had been
sitting in the corner, threw open the door, and exited the
did not glance back at me. I followed him, as beside myself
confusion and curiosity as is possible for a man constantly exposed to
the twin sensations.
We did not, as I had thought we would,
leave the hotel. Instead Holmes took my arm and we proceeded
series of corridors and up a staircase until we stood at what I
recognized as the back entrance to the ballroom we had spent so many
hours in the night before. Sherlock Holmes selected a
flat blade from his tool case and knelt before the door.
"Would you mind looking behind us, Watson, so as to ensure that no one
I folded my arms dourly as I turned. The long passage was
lit and empty, but there was no guarantee it would remain so.
"Should anyone arrive, how shall I signal you? Ought we to
establish a secret word?"
"As you like."
"Or perhaps I could pretend to be preventing you, and thus escape
sharing your prison term?"
"Never mind," he said cheerily as the heavy door swung open.
"After you, my dear fellow."
ballroom was empty, all evidence of the previous night's revelries
having disappeared. I could just see the huge chandelier
eerily in the pale grey light through the window. Holmes
thrust a hand
into his bag as we entered the darkened room and pulled out a thick
candle, lighting it and then setting it on the floor. He at
produced a second candle, repeating the process, and then nodded at the
curtained window spilling moonlight onto the highly polished floor.
suggest that you close that curtain, my dear chap, for while moonlight
is charming, is it also rather too revealing for our
purposes. I shall
just light the rest of these candles while you do so."
myself shaking my head as I crossed the room, carefully drawing the
velvet over the cold glass. By the time I returned, Holmes
nine candles, placing them at short distances apart from one another
and pulling still more from his bag. His features stood out
the scant light, as he made short work of forming a great arc of
candlelight near the fireplace.
"Are we conducting a seance?" I queried dryly. "Or still
better--a Satanic ritual?"
know me rather better than that," he chided me. "I do not
spirits contacting the living, and I flirt quite enough with rampant
immorality. I shall continue with the vices I have grown fond
without adding egregious new ones--that is to say housebreaking,
commuting felonies, and sharing carnal relations with a male doctor."
"The male doctor to whom you refer is curious why we aren't conducting
aforementioned carnal relations at this very moment."
I am about to win an argument." He levered to his feet and
the corner of the room, where a shadowy object I had not previously
noticed rested in a corner. I lost sight of him in the gloom,
started in astonishment when the strains of a waltz suddenly reached my
ears, a beautiful recording of strings and wind instruments which
quavered ethereally in the air. My friend appeared once more
strode into the candlelight, an expression on his handsome face of the
"May I have this dance?" he asked.
words quite unmanned me. I could scarcely draw enough breath
reply. When I managed to speak at all, it was not to answer
"You paid that rather simple-minded clerk to put a gramophone in here."
"Yes," he acknowledged, holding out a slender and shapely hand.
was safe, because you told him it had something to do with why you are
here, I presume. Some terribly complex case or
other. And he could
not contain his enthusiasm."
"You have grasped it exactly."
"You ascertained that there would be no one occupying the ballroom
"Correct." He thrust his hand at me, affecting to be miffed
by my breathless questioning.
"You arranged to stay the extra night for this." My diaphragm
still did not seem to be functioning.
else could I be expected to win this particular argument?"
impatience was beginning to sound rather less feigned. "I do
for losing, as you know, and as you have seen, I am a very stubborn
fellow. If I cannot dance with you, I do not intend to dance
"You went out and purchased a bag of candles and a jemmy. I
know you did not bring your own from home. Incredible."
Watson, for a man as taken with the Terpsichorean arts as you appeared
to be last night, you seem less pleased than I imagined you might be,"
he said, his brow quirking slightly.
"I am not pleased at all,"
I agreed quietly, clearing my throat. "I am very, very
moved. And I
am heartily, completely, wholly yours."
"Oh, for Heaven's sake,
are you going to dance with me or not?" he smiled, closing the gap
between us and taking my hand as he rested his other palm on my
The pale light had drained the colour in the room to faint yellowed
sepia tones, and his eyes when I looked up at him glinted sparks of
golden reflected flame.
"I would consider it the highest honour," I said.
"I warn you, I intend to lead," he announced gravely.
"Of course you do."
He laughed, and tightened his grip on my waist, and away we
do not wish to expend too many words on the three hours we spent in
that darkened ballroom, for while Holmes may rightly accuse me of
harbouring a sentimental streak, I have never wished to sound
It was, however, one of the most magical nights of my life.
managed to scrounge up five different recordings, and while most of
them were waltzes, there were occasional minuets, polkas, and
gavottes. And of course, as I had theorized and longingly
the night before, the man was a breathtakingly graceful
is nothing which is not graceful about Sherlock Holmes. I
have assumed he'd been justified in his remarks, having watched him
fence, but the sight of him fencing was nothing compared to the power
in his long, lean legs, the subtle guiding of his hands, the way his
slim waist twirled and turned, and above all the look of delight which
had entirely filled that beloved face. It took me far, far
to grow accustomed to following than I imagined it would, because
following Holmes is second nature to me and my friend leads on a dance
floor as effortlessly as he leads criminal investigations. We
until would could no longer breathe, and then we sat down on the bare
floor for five minutes until we could dance again. We danced
Viennese waltz spinning with furious determination, and we danced
tenderly at a third of that tempo when the candles had burned down and
the darkness threatened. We danced until weak in the
legs. We danced
until our hands began to wander of their own accord, and then we blew
out the candles, replaced them in the bag, and spent the rest of that
sleepless night in Holmes' room. And that is the story of how
Holmes chose to win the argument that he was a far superior dancer to
any of the men we had witnessed the night before, and how I
wholeheartedly came to agree with him.
exhausted on the train ride home again, but too happy to
care. At one
point an hour into our trip, after our tickets had been taken and I
locked the door and rested my head on my friend's shoulder, I recalled
the odd event which I had been forgetting to tell Holmes of for two
"I saw Bob Carruthers at the wedding, watching from the grounds," I
informed him sleepily.
"Did you indeed?" The angle of his neck changed as he looked
down at me.
is a broken man--my heart quite went out to him. He claims to
loved Violet Smith at first sight. You'll call that nonsense,
course, and rightly so, but the poor fellow was greatly changed."
Holmes was silent for several minutes, absently playing with my fingers.
"I didn't tell anyone," I continued. "Did I do wrong by it?"
"I don't think so," he responded. "If Carruthers was willing
kill for Violet Smith, I cannot see him harming Violet Morton."
"He was more than willing to kill for her. He was willing to
hang for her."
wondered if Carruthers had yet departed. I wished him well,
new ventures and his new life, and almost as an afterthought I wished
that he could find a new love. But by that time I knew well
that no wish of mine could provide him that impossible commodity--not
with his heart in the condition I'd seen it.
"She is beautiful,
and kindhearted, and wise," my friend said at length, wistfully,
staring out the window. "Men are often willing to hang for
All I wanted when we stepped off the
train in London was to walk with my friend in the sunshine back to our
rooms and then crawl into bed. I had no conscious thought, of
of the last thing I wanted, until the last thing I
me. We had not walked thirty steps away from the station,
linked in mine and our bags gone on ahead with an obliging porter of
our acquaintance for delivery at Baker Street, when a news vendor
His headline, which he proceeded to shout
obligingly, was that Oscar Wilde had been dragged off from Wandsworth
prison in London and was now incarcerated at Reading performing hard
My friend stiffened very suddenly and then relaxed just
as quickly with an odd little shrug of his shoulders. He
pace. Then he slowed it again. All the while I was
up at him, wondering frantically whether it was better to say something
or nothing. Half a block later, the set of his lips lost some
rigour and he began to recover himself.
"He'll be out soon enough and start afresh," I said
"He must, Holmes, or there is no justice in God's creation."
"What?" Holmes answered, seeming not to have heard me.
Wilde will be released in two years. He is strong-willed, my
fellow, and brilliant, and stubborn. He will emerge and
with his life."
"Whyever are you speaking of that wretched man?" he asked with a sigh.
"Wretched?" I repeated, completely perplexed. "But he is--on
contrary--you defended him so eloquently night before last!"
is not due to any affection I owe to the blackguard. I was
defending the principle. They could hang Wilde from the
in England so far as I am concerned, with no one the worse for it."
"But," I stammered, "he is...that is to say, his crimes are crimes in
law only, as you must entirely agree!"
"His crimes may well be in law only, but had I the opportunity, I
should tie him to the treadmill myself."
stopped short, my eyes wide and my heart pounding with disbelief at
this terrifying assertion. It was in every sense beyond my
comprehend, let alone condone. Holmes, quite naturally,
he had just said anything monstrous. In fact, he seemed to
that I was acting rather oddly, and shifted the angle of his head to
indicate as much as we stepped over a kerb.
"But why?" I cried.
"I do not wish to speak of it. Look out," he said suddenly,
pulling me from the path of a swiftly moving hansom.
followed beside him in a daze as we resumed walking. My mind
working frantically. "Do you know Oscar Wilde?" I attempted
desperation. "Of course! Has he wronged you, is
that it? Has he done
something personally to warrant your ire? Perhaps the two of
"I have never seen him before in my life, and neither do I wish
to. When we arrive home--"
me the reason you could possibly wish a good man sentenced to hard
labour or I am going not one step further," I demanded angrily, once
again coming to a halt. We had arrived at an intersection of
residences, iron-shuttered, not ten minutes from our own dwelling.
"I hate Oscar Wilde," he said coolly. "Detest him, in
fact. Are you satisfied now?"
time he set off without waiting to see if I would follow. I
spite of my growing rage, both at Holmes for his cruel remarks and
myself for tagging along after him like a trained dog. We
apothecary, our telegraph office, while all the while I made a
last-ditch effort to find some sense in the assertion that my lover
would gladly see his spiritual kin broken by hard labour out of pure
malice. None seemed forthcoming. Catching him hard
by the arm I
demanded, "How can you hate a man who, by your own admission, you have
"I have my reasons. Are you hungry at all?"
thank you. I would, however, like to hear an explanation for
disdain for a thoroughly decent man who has fallen upon hard times."
it alone," he suggested, the distance in his voice growing ever more
apparent. "I do not intend to conduct an argument with you
Oscar Wilde in a public street. Now, do be still."
I was so
vexed by this time, I never noticed the crippled lad who habitually
huddled under the antiques window several blocks from our home, to whom
I usually threw whatever small coin I had with me. Holmes
deliberately, shook himself free of me, drew half a crown from his
pocket and flipped it to the boy, and continued walking with another
ironic glance in my direction.
"I would have supposed you
sympathetic to the plight of a man with whom you have so much in
common," I said frigidly, in a sufficiently low tone. "I do
goodwill toward all men from you, but neither do I expect
"Don't you expect goodwill?" he snapped in
return. "How very interesting. The man to whom you
refer and I have
nothing whatsoever in common. Why the devil you should be
angry at me
for saying so I cannot understand."
"You may have noticed by now that anger is my natural reaction when you
are behaving as if made of clockwork."
me, that is an old tune," he returned, his eyes flashing behind angry
brows. "And one best discussed at home, I might add."
half a mind to allow you the full freedom of our home, for good and
all." With a shock of piercing pain, I realized that for the
time I actually meant it.
"Oh, for God's sake," he hissed,
grasping me so firmly by the elbow that I nearly stumbled.
won't let me be, then come along and at the very least hold your peace
until we're off the street."
Fuming but far too cautious to
shrug myself out of his grip, I allowed him to lead me through an
alley, past several stone courtyards, and finally into what seemed to
be the back entrance to a churchyard. Although only a few
our home, I had never seen it before; and while I wasn't the least
surprised that Holmes knew of it, I was far too angry to fully
appreciate the summer ivy climbing the walls, the angels and demons
whose stone faces peered down at us from weather-worn archways, and the
idyllic nature of the dome-ceilinged corridor through which he
propelled me, finally seating me on an ancient granite bench and
standing before me to be cross-examined.
"Thank you for your
very prudent, if late in arriving, period of silence," he
"You may commence telling me I am heartless and mechanical and cold and
inhuman. Leave nothing out--I am so very glad to know such
will forever remain in your repertoire."
"I've no wish to accuse you falsely," I replied, glaring daggers at
him, "but I cannot fathom your remarks."
well, then. Shall I tell you why I hate Oscar
Wilde? There are three
salient points, and I shall enumerate them chronologically, so as not
to cause any confusion. Then you may pronounce me soulless
Baker Street never to return, with my blessing."
"Do proceed," I snapped, my eyes tearing at the words.
"The first reason I hate Oscar Wilde is that he brought charges of
libel against a man for calling him a sodomite."
"He is to be admired for it," I cried, my voice shaking
slightly. "It was an act of uncommon bravery!"
"It was a lie!" he raged. "He is
a sodomite! Do you really imagine that he is not?
Look at me: I am
every bit as enthusiastic a sodomite as is Oscar Wilde, and have been
since my youth. Call me whatever filthy name you like--call
buggerer, or an invert, or a queer, or a Uranian, and you would be
speaking a simple fact. You of all people ought to have taken
point to heart by now. When has a week gone by since we
affair without my sodding you, or being sodded by
you perhaps, and more than once, and to transcendent effect?
You'll own that I am a sodomite, I suppose?"
"All the evidence seems to suggest it."
I am not ashamed of it, and I will be damned if I ever bring charges
against someone for calling me what I am. I pray every day
never to be
put in such a situation, but for all my subterfuges in my professional
life, I am not a liar. I did not even lie to that
abominable worm in
the smoking room, if you noticed. I refuse to lie about what
constitutes my very being. The only view of you I love more
top of your head is that glorious backside of yours, and the only one I
love more than that is the one I am looking at right now."
hand drifted toward my face, but he was far too incensed to complete
such a lover-like gesture and the appendage was viciously thrust in his
pocket as I gaped at him. He rocked back on his heels in
"Shall I continue?"
"Please," I requested. I had already
forgiven him, but I knew better than to stand in his way when I had
driven him into such a frenzy. I prayed that it would grow no
and assumed a look of rapt attention.
"The second reason I hate
Oscar Wilde is because he dragged all who know him into litigation out
of an affection for his own ego." I began to fear for what I
started; my friend's eyes were glowing quite wildly, and his thin hands
were clenched into fists. "I do not know if he loves Lord
Douglas, or if he does not love him. But I would prefer to
places with Wilde this very instant than ever to subject you to my
sodomy trial. Setting aside the revolting invasion of privacy
such a trial engenders, the crime by its very nature necessitates a
partner, and may God strike me dead if I would ever even consider
placing you in such a position. Confinement, treadmills,
and beatings I can manage, but alone, for I would never hurt you
Do you understand me?"
"Of course I understand--I know you would not," I protested, by now
it needn't end at the trial!" he raved at me. "Suppose I were
imprisoned, and you allowed to go free, your life unchanged save that
your reputation was tarnished. Do you think such people are
targets of assault? Granted, our fellow citizens are for the
tolerant of crimes which do not affect them. But suppose you
attacked by one of our more vicious breeds of peasant monomaniac, and I
could do nothing to prevent it. Can you imagine a worse
the sin of sodomy than that would be?"
"Nothing of the
sort is ever going to happen," I said firmly. I was by now
mightily to contain my own emotions, but I had gotten us into this
mess, and I considered it my duty to get us out of it, whatever the
price. "I comprehend you perfectly, and your feelings are
justified. You need not tell me the third reason you hate--"
"The third reason I hate Oscar Wilde is one of semantics," he snarled.
"I do not love you Platonically,
or any of his other asinine terms for it," he stated in a tone so
scathing that I was suddenly very glad Oscar Wilde was not
do not love you with 'the love that dare not speak its name.'
prevarications, and his pretenses. I love you. That
is all. I love
you. It makes me positively furious the way he has mystified
sanctified it, and called it spiritual in order to serve his tortuous
arguments. The manner in which he has couched his innocence
ill. My love for you is not divine, it is wholly human, and I
for it every day."
"I love you just as badly," I
managed to choke out.
"Please, let me--"
while we are on the subject, which you know perfectly well is a
difficult one for me, I should appreciate it if in future you would do
me the honour of listening to me a little more
snarled. "The reason you speak so very ignorantly on the
love at first sight is that you have never suffered from the
affliction. I'm heartily happy for you, come to that, for
wretched. I said I wanted very badly to take digs with you
the day I
met you because I could not think of a way to seduce a complete
stranger without a little time and a great deal of proximity, and even
still it took me until bloody--do you know what happens to me every
time I look at--and for the record, I can paint very well indeed,
by the way--damn it, sod
Oscar Wilde and his--"
was a lucky thing for Sherlock Holmes that an ancient pillar supporting
the archway stood a few inches behind him, for I am afraid I kissed him
so ardently that his back struck against the stones. I was
for him. With my friend in such an impassioned state, I
even odds that I would be accepted or coldly rebuffed; as it happened,
he kissed me every bit as madly and we both clung to one another when
it was over, entirely heedless of the birds who witnessed us or the
time that passed in that beautifully deserted place.
"I'm sorry," he said at length, my face still in his neck and his hand
in my hair. "I lost my head for a moment."
nothing of it." I felt slightly ridiculous addressing his
continual dignity is not something my partner requires of me, thank
Heaven. I gently disengaged myself so that I could look up
face. "I think you are wrong in one regard, however."
"What regard might that be?" he whispered, tracing my jaw with his
"You do not hate Oscar Wilde."
"On the contrary."
Wilde is a wholly admirable man," I said to the best and wisest man I
have ever known. "You hate what this world has done to
him. You hate
what it has made him do."
He began to deny it, but his parted
lips stilled and his eyes slid to the side as he adjusted his grip on
my waist. I can count the times I have scored an intellectual
over Holmes on one hand, and I firmly believe he begrudged me none of
them. This particular instance, of course, was as much
as logic, and thus I felt no triumph in it. I knew that he
me to clarify his thoughts for him. But oh, how great was the
which pierced my heart when he realized I was right.
"I do hate
it." There was actually moisture in his eyes, though he
back fiercely, and I could have cut off my tongue. "It
I'll face up to it like a man, however, that I will swear to you," he
said, clearing his throat willfully. "What else do you think?"
I began setting his cravat to rights, for I couldn't bear to look at
him. "I think I don't deserve you," I confessed.
don't--" He laughed, then scowled, then drew my face back up
expression of amused disbelief. It was the quickest
progression of his
reactions when he finds something I say outrageous that I had ever
seen. "John Watson, if you truly think that, you are a
"If I am a complete idiot, then I certainly don't deserve you."
"That isn't--oh, bugger all, I never--"
can still, when I recall it, feel the chill that struck every nerve in
my body when we heard the creaking of rusted iron hinges and the heavy
oak door behind us swung open. By the time the little priest
out of it, smiling absently and blinking behind his spectacles, we were
two feet apart with our hands in our pockets; however, we could not
allow ourselves the luxury of supposing that our entire criminal
conversation had not been overheard through the mullioned window by the
brown-cassocked man who stood rubbing his hands in a friendly manner
before us. He was entirely bald, bent in the back, and he
possibly have been younger than eighty years of age.
"I'm terribly sorry," Holmes began tightly, taking a rigid step
forward. "I thought this chapel closed for repairs."
it is, my son. It is. It has been quite unoccupied
for a week now,
but I am the organist, you see, and I was making certain that my
instrument is well protected against harm. My name is Father
and I have just completed my inspection. The organ is quite
he finished, his eyes twinkling at us as he cleaned his spectacles on
his sleeve. He had a rasping, birdlike voice and his hands
with the palsy of the very old.
"I am very glad to hear it. But
there are no footmarks in this corridor," my friend pointed
times, Sherlock Holmes is almost too much like himself to be believed.
clever of you to notice," the priest said, sounding pleasantly
surprised. "Yes, I came through the front, but this is the
way to my
home," he explained with a brief indication of his arm.
"I see. Please accept my apologies for any disturbance we may
apology is not accepted, sir," the Father Flint replied calmly, then
laughed at the dismay which crossed our faces. "You need not
at all, you see--if two of my brothers wish to make use of the chapel's
current solitude, who am I to say they should not? But I fear
have startled you, if you thought yourselves alone. Do
forgive me, for
you are most welcome here. I cannot think either of you would
visit harm on our place of worship, you both appear so kind."
"We wouldn't dream of it," Holmes assured him.
imagine you live in the neighborhood. What a fine coincidence
met you. I do so love making new acquaintances. Do
you care for
baroque music, sir?" he asked of Holmes.
"Very much," my stunned friend replied as readily as he could.
"Oh, how splendid. Really, this is very gratifying, as I have
been a pipe organist for nearly all my life. Do you play?"
"No. That is to say, I play the violin," Holmes corrected
adore the violin, and should consider it an honour to hear you one
day. You have quite a spiritual air about you, if I may make
observation, sir, and it does not surprise me in the least that you
play the violin. And you, sir?" he added, turning his clever
"I fear I haven't any talent in that direction," I answered.
you've other talents that make up for it, I am sure. I can
both artists," he observed, quite unconsciously returning my friend and
I to a state nearing panic over what he was implying.
"I do write a little," I admitted hastily.
wonderful. I am an avid reader, and I congratulate you, my
son. Is he
a good writer?" he inquired of Holmes, smoothing his hand over his
My friend took far longer in responding than I would have
liked. "He is a brilliant physician."
"Well, medicine is an art as well. And what about him,
Is he adept at the violin?" Father Flint asked me merrily.
"To tell the truth, he's masterful," I owned with a dark look at Holmes.
fine. Well, gentlemen, I will not keep you any longer; nor
will I ask
you your names, as I have very rudely interrupted your
My sister expects me for tea, you know, and our home is quite a ten
minute walk. I'm terribly pleased to have met two such
men. Should you wish to avail yourself of the chapel's
I have no intention of returning now my organ is safe, and the workmen
do not begin until Monday. Should you tire of privacy and
avail yourself of the chapel in public, I would be very glad to see you
both again. We resume services in two months, and I should
opinion of our pipe organ most welcome. It is considered the
Westminster by several knowledgeable parties."
"I am sure they are correct," I managed.
good of you to say so, my son, and I will presume to hope we meet again
one day. Oh, and might I beg a favour of you? No,
you, sir--yes, the
taller, and I do beg your pardon. I wonder if you might
making me a small promise, if you do not mind indulging the whims of a
priest who is terribly old, and quite abominably old-fashioned, not to
mention set in his ways."
"If it is in my power to do so," Holmes replied, turning a shade paler.
Flint laughed once more, shaking his head. "Forgive me once
do not know me, and I forgot that you do not know me, and might have
imagined I would ask you to perform a task of which you are not
capable. I do not believe that God asks such things of us,
and if God
does not make demands of us beyond our power, that leaves
men--generally speaking, and perhaps you agree with me, sirs--who make
unreasonable requests of us. No, I assure you I have utter
your ability to perform this little favour. I am so very old,
and so very set against the use of profanity on hallowed ground."
"It shan't happen again," my friend replied quickly.
am grateful for your courtesy, my son," Father Flint said
He smiled, his face forming a great web of wrinkles. "God
lads, have a pleasant afternoon, and I am very pleased to have met you
both. Good day!"
We stared after the departing form of the
priest, watching his robes swirl around his ankles as he made
surprisingly rapid progress through the courtyard and out of
The birds seemed to twitter again, and the sun's warmth slowly returned.
"Did that priest just bless us?" Holmes inquired hesitantly, staring
blankly after the prelate.
"I believe he did," I replied, not in fact prepared to believe it at
"Do you have your--"
"It's here." I pulled out my notebook.
"Two months from now is the...."
"Seventh of October," I replied, jotting it down in pencil. I
then returned the slim volume to my inner pocket.
"Shall we go home?" my friend said softly, offering his arm.
watched my boots as we crossed the cracked and ancient stones, then
raised my eyes to the street beyond. The wind rustled the
us as we stepped onto the pavement. Guilt was burning in my
a wound, and I thought if I did not give voice to it straight away, it
might do me physical harm. "I beg you to forgive me for
cold-blooded. I am heartily ashamed of myself. It
is further evidence
of my complete idiocy."
"Never mind, darling," he sighed, turning toward Baker
"It's my own fault. I don't know why it vexes me
so. I am cold-blooded."
"I should never have said such a thing to you."
"Why not? You are the one who most often suffers by it."
words struck a strange chord in me, and then I knew the truth of the
matter. It was a revelation, and one I chastised myself for
seen before. "Holmes," I said slowly. I pulled back
on his arm and
stopped our progress toward the road. I was thinking very
what I wished to express to him, and I believed I saw my way clear so
long as he was willing to hear me out.
"Whatever is the matter?" he asked me tenderly, grey eyes searching my
"Holmes," I continued, "if what you say is at least partially true, and
it does not offend you to hear it, then...."
"Tell me," he said softly when I stopped once more.
"Well, I--I only meant to say that if you are a little
cold-blooded..." I explained, doing my best not to meander around the
point like a shy schoolboy. "I do not mean to repeat a
in anger before. I would not hurt you for worlds, and I know
you deeply to be called cold, and distant, and calculating, and
mechanical, if it's by me. But if you possess all those
some small measure, then I am very glad of it. Indeed, I am
for it. No, don't--you must let me finish. I am
trying to say that if
all the things in that enormous heart of yours, even a tiny fraction of
them, Holmes, were visible on your face, then--then we should be in a
very great deal of trouble."
He was silent for a terribly long
while and when he finally opened his lips, he hesitated just as I
By the time he spoke at last, his voice was quite hoarse.
"Do you mean to tell me," he questioned, "that it keeps you safe?"
"Yes," I said, very much relieved, "and it is a necessary defense, in
"Why is that?"
I used to be terribly blind," I confessed, "and I hope you can forgive
me for it. You do not feel things less than most
men. You feel them
"Do you know," he remarked, after some thought upon that subject, "I
don't believe I deserve you."
I scoffed in good-natured indignation at having my words thrown back at
me so readily, he smiled and set off down the street humming a lilting
tune, his hands deep in his pockets. I followed in his
stride, my legs
moving slightly faster to keep pace with him. When we had
made half a
block's progress, he glanced back at me, his eyes lit with the sun and
the easy happiness I see only very rarely.
"You and I are going to last," he commented with a boyish grin.
are you saying?" I returned, quite thoroughly staggered at the
sentiment. "I do not know if I ought to be glad you think so
that you did not before."
"I had not supposed that we would not,"
he corrected himself with his usual affection for meandering
precision. "I am rather monstrous occasionally, which makes
more difficult. But I have just been granted the overwhelming
sensation that, under a merciful Providence, we shall."
"Well, then thank God for that," I said, meaning it with all my heart.
"Thank God, indeed. One of us is quite full of His grace,
could not see him as he said it, for he had turned his face to the
street once more and I could view only the back of that proud head as
he stepped down into the road. I like to think, however, that
what he looked like when he delivered the most memorable and
touching tribute I have ever received in my
lifetime. He does not
often say that he loves me, or state openly that he desires me, or that
he missed my companionship after a separation. But when I am
low or he
is absent and I strive to recall tender words, as a man with a childish
and unbecoming affinity for romance will occasionally do, I do not
think of him the day he first owned he cared for me, or picture him at
the apex of his passions murmuring my name. I think of that
in the sunlight, walking back to our home under the plane trees,
wondering that love could transform a man's opinion to the extent that
he could think of me as possessing any measure of the Divine--as I am,
after all, a very ordinary man.