Having rejected alcohol and ruled out cocaine, I sat down still pathetically clinging to my violin as a child might clutch a toy in the dark. For a moment of perverse ingratitude I wondered sullenly how far I had my celibacy to thank for what seemed as if it might possibly be my friend’s acceptance. A chaste invert is doubtless a less alarming creature than one who proceeds with the courage of his convictions.
But soon I began to reflect that it appeared I had been, for nowhere near the first time, incredibly fortunate in my one friendship. I leant my head against the back of the chair feeling dizzy and weak.
“Are you wanting to play something?” he asked, glancing with apparent amusement at the bow resting across my knees and the violin lying on my lap like a cat.
“No,” I said expressionlessly, leaving them where they were.
He searched for and found my carefully stocked box of cigarettes and remarked pensively, “Actually, perhaps it is not so very surprising.”
Another mad-sounding laugh escaped me, “Watson, do not frighten me. If it is obvious then I am in very grave trouble.”
“I don’t mean I had ever guessed it before, you know that.”
“But in retrospect it is all too plain? That is not reassuring.”
Watson flushed slightly. “What I mean,” he said slowly, “is ... what, really, have you told me? Not ten minutes ago I mentioned indiscretions of my own, and at the very worst I feared you would mildly disapprove. It seems unjust you should have to suffer so much more anxiety over something so similar.”
He lit a cigarette and passed it to me. Putting it between my lips I felt a pang of awareness that it had just been between his, and of what I had not told him.
“You think it similar, do you?” I asked – and I don’t know why I said this sardonically, it must have been defensive instinct.
Watson sensibly ignored this, and sat down on the footstool by the fire. “Holmes. Forgive me. For days I have snapped at you and worried you and then I round it all off by goading you into telling me what was none of my business. I am sorry.”
“Watson,” I said, dragging on the cigarette and beginning to recover some degree of composure. “That is the one thing I must forbid you to say to me.”
Watson smiled at me briefly, then sat and smoked in silence. Lately silences between us have seemed to strand us miles apart, but this felt as familiar and steadying as the tobacco smoke in my lungs and the contours of the violin under my hand.
At last he tossed the butt of his cigarette into the fire and said quietly, “I don’t think he is the same way.”
“Gilfoyle. I expect he has done something of that sort before. To someone. But I don’t think he – prefers men. Not ... not as willing partners.”
I would never have wished the conversation we had just had – if it had to happen at all – to involve Gilfoyle, and Watson’s too-plausible inferences about the man were horrific. And yet, I had dreaded the possibility of that association settling in my friend's mind more than anything, and I was more relieved than I can easily express to hear it was not there.
Watson said, “ I think the point was more..."
“Cruelty,” I said. “Subjection.”
He sighed. “Those are as good words for it as any.”
I wished I had waited for him find his own words for it, for this was more than he had ever said about the experience before. I said, “I interrupted you.”
“I don’t know what else I would have said. Humiliation.” His face contorted suddenly and a tremor went through him like a spasm. He covered his face with one hand and said, “I can’t...”
“My dear fellow,” I said helplessly.
Watson shook his head and made a thwarted gesture, apparently baffled at his own distress. “Really, this is absurd. I don’t know why it should continue to make such a difference to me, after all this time.”
“It has not been very long at all.” I wanted very much to take his hand or squeeze his shoulder, and after what I had just told him, I did not feel that I could.
Watson, however, reached and gripped my hand where it rested over the violin. “I told you I couldn’t speak about it,” he said. “But I have done, in a way.”
“What way is that?” I whispered.
Watson said, “I wrote it down.”