Watson tries to live with the memory of a terrible bargain in secrecy.
I have explained to Watson that sometimes it is easier for me to know something than to say how I know it. On this occasion, the conviction that I could see something unbearable straining against the bars of those neatly typed lines flashed through me with such speed that I did not know at first how I knew it. I did not even know what I had seen.
The sentences that had so appalled me were as follows:
At approximately ten minutes past ten on the night of January 22nd we approached 46, Caroline Street in St John’s Wood. We apprehended Mr. Gilfoyle at the gates, and placed him under arrest.
Now the first anomaly here is readily apparent, though I confess I was so agitated that I had to read the lines a second time before I could have explained even that much. What was Gilfoyle doing at the gates? I had a rather vivid last impression of him coming after me with a knife. Watson – I was certain Watson had knocked him away from me, but that was remarkable enough given how outnumbered he had been. He could hardly have ejected Gilfoyle from the house altogether.
Ah, but that might be explained, and without doing too much violence to my assumptions as they stood. Gilfoyle had expressed himself prepared to hang for killing me, and was, it could be posited, ready to go through with it as long as he was undisturbed. Still the noose might have seemed more daunting when he was faced with the prospect of being arrested in the very act. So – he is crouched over me with the knife. He cuts my face. Watson, heroically, succeeds in pushing him away from me, and that is enough. Gilfoyle hears the police coming, gives it up, and goes outside.
And that was not what had happened. I knew it even as I raced, impatiently, along the line of conjecture to its end.
For one thing, it did not fit Gilfoyle, a man who embarks on his first murder with a deliberate, if experimental, cut to the face a rather than an impassioned strike to the throat or heart.
I closed my eyes and made myself exhale, and saw Caroline Street as it had been that night. I felt the small weight of the glasses I disguised myself with on my face. I saw the house, standing in its self-satisfied mimicry of a Greek temple – the white pillars, the portico. I drifted inside, and saw the marble floor of the hallway; the mirror on the wall, still whole. Then the study. I saw Watson beside me, worn and tired by everything we had already seen , trying not to look disgusted when he had to shake Gilfoyle’s hand. Gilfoyle seated limply in the armchair by the fire. I saw the clock on the mantelpiece, a fussy little thing also ornamented with pilllars and portico, like a miniature version of the house that contained it.
We had entered the house at nine, and Gilfoyle’s clock was at a quarter to ten when we left. Very shortly afterwards, we were dragged inside again. By the time my head connected with that mirror, it could have been no later than eight minutes before the hour, at a generous estimate. Lestrade said he had not arrived until ten past.
* * *
I had no idea I had been unconscious so long. I remember Gilfoyle bending over me and the flash of pain to my face, and then Watson shoving him away. And then, dimly, boots tramping in and someone hauling me up. When I truly came to myself I was already outside. Watson was supporting me - he was supporting me - and I was upright in the dark and the snow. I was bleeding rather freely from my face and scalp, and very dizzy, but not at all displeased with the day’s work. I thought giddily, like the swaggerer I am, that I presented an agreeably dramatic spectacle to the boys of the Yard.
I thought that was all that had happened. I thought only moments had passed.
Now, was I to believe that Gilfoyle, having shown every intention of murdering me, proceeded as far as inflicting one small wound, then suddenly tired of the activity and wandered outside, (leaving Watson, I suppose, chatting politely to our other attackers over my unconscious body) and stood there for quite twenty minutes while all concerned waited for the police?
The circumstances as I now understood them were so overwhelmingly against my survival that I should not, on any straightforward view of things, be alive at all. Were the three facts that there was only one conscious actor in that room who wanted me to live, and that I had lived, and that that same person had never told me any of this but had been nursing some private misery ever since, to be taken as coincidental and unconnected?
I kneaded at my forehead. I have never before had such a strangled sense of my mind dragging itself tight in contrary directions. All my strength seemed engaged in trying with equal urgency to know something and not to know it at once. The conclusion was inescapable that some kind of bargain had taken place between Gilfoyle and my friend. And, in exchange for my life, there was very little Watson could have offered, but... I continued to try, for the uncertainty was far too agonising to wish to prolong it, and yet I could not force myself any further.
“Mr Holmes,” said Lestrade, who was now hovering at my elbow and peering up at me. “Are you all right?”
I may have summoned enough composure to tell him I was fine, or I may have snarled at him and rushed off like a madman, I am not sure. Certainly moments later I was running along Whitehall in a rage because I could not immediately find a cab.
But no, I was not racing back to Baker Street and to my friend. Not yet.
On Parliament Street I did succeed in hailing a cab, and instructed the driver to take me to Wandsworth Prison.