Part IPart IIPart III
Part IVPart VPart VIPart VIIPart VIII
Now, I search the house for him without moving, whenever I wake from sleep – whether one of the temporary wakings in the dark or first thing, when morning grows too importunate to be ignored. When there is nothing, no shift of floorboards or of papers; no scent of coffee or cigarette smoke; no trace of steam in the air from the bathroom, then I resort to more panicked and fanciful measures. I trespass in spirit into his room, trying to determine from the texture of the silence what kind of night he is passing.
That first morning it was obvious enough that Watson was already down and that he had almost finished with breakfast. The occasional chiming of cup against saucer and knife against plate was in one sense, heartening, and yet from sheer cowardice I lay there for some time gathering the strength to face him.
Finally I lurched into the room in my dressing gown, and found that he, who quite often wanders down in much the same bohemian fashion, was already neatly dressed, his hair freshly washed and fastidiously combed. Armour, I thought – and the idea arrested me for a moment in the doorway. However he greeted me with a warm, if deliberate smile, and I went to the table, dropped into the chair opposite him and reached for the tea.
Despite the smile his eyes were heavy and bloodshot with sleeplessness, his fingers prone to fitful little starts of motion on the tablecloth, and his shoulders held with such uncharacteristic tightness that I ached in sympathy for the injured one. I wondered if this was merely the effect of last night’s shock, and the removal of the need for concealment, or whether I had actually made matters worse for him. It is a question I have still to resolve.
It was raining. It is raining as I write this now. The sky was so dark it seemed far earlier or far later than it was.
“This is an insulting excuse for a spring,” I said.
“At least it isn’t snowing.”
“I am not sure snow is not preferable – and I thought I heard hail in the night.”
“Will you stop looking at me like that? I am fine.”
I lowered my eyes at once. “Sorry,” I whispered.
His jaw twitched irritably and he strode over to the batch of letters transfixed to the mantelpiece. He demanded, “Are you going to take Mrs Bowen’s case or not?”
“Not,” I said, while tearing a slice of toast into pieces. “There is no case. A family wrangle about an inheritance is not a crime. She needs the services of a lawyer, not a detective.”
Perhaps in retrospect I should have agreed to listen to her troubles, made some suitably vague suggestions, and taken the money. I doubt my own ability to concentrate on anything more weighty just at present.
Watson sighed and sat down at his desk to begin writing a reply to the woman.
“You don’t have to do that,” I said.
He turned sharply in the chair, all sudden, barely-contained violence. “Is there something else I should be doing?”
I swallowed down a few of the scraps of toast with some difficulty, abandoned the table and retreated across the room in order to leave him alone. I gathered myself into a taut knot in my armchair, and tried to think.
I must think, I must think, I keep saying to myself, and yet thinking is no good. Later, catching me frowning into space with my chin sunk on my chest – he even came and laid a hand on my shoulder and said to me kindly, “Holmes, bless you, you must stop. There is very little a logician can do with this.”
There are some small things a violinist can do. In the evenings it calms him as it always has, and it keeps my mind off the syringe. What else? I produced a fair copy of his article on poisons and took it to the post office for him because of the rain. I see to it that he never has to look far for tea or tobacco. I am more careful not to let the fire go out, and I have tried to caulk up the gaps in the window through which the cold invades – I don’t know why it did not occur to me to do it before.
Such pitiful little gestures.
Almost a week of this now. By necessarily unspoken agreement, we have both treated the kiss – it feels something of a betrayal even to write the word – as stricken from the record. There is no other course, and I hope for him it is, or will be, as if it never occurred.
However, it is certainly not so for me. When one longs for something for years and then receives a taste of it in the worst imaginable circumstances, I suppose it is too much to expec t oneself to forget.
I can too easily comprehend what he meant by an “experiment”. Having been abused in a way he never imagined possible, and left wondering how such a thing could happen, he must have asked himself if something within him prompted it. Or else he imagines that if he was as decent and clean-souled a gentleman as England boasts before, he is so no longer. In either case, he kissed me to ascertain how badly he should consider himself damaged.
The implications are not pleasant.
I have kept the criminal part of my nature secret from him, and if it has sometimes been painful it has not been particularly difficult. Concealment comes much more naturally to me than confession, and curious as he has always been about me, he has never tried to prise out any truth I did not offer him. I have never felt before that I was in any way wronging him by the concealment. He is hardly the only person from whom the truth is withheld. My desires exist largely in the abstract and in the past, and despite his being the lone focus of them in the present, I have never felt them to be any more his business than anyone else’s.
Now, though, it starts to feel less a necessary containment, and more like self-serving deceit. Every time I wonder if he would pack his bags if he knew more about the man on whom he pressed that kiss, I find myself doubting it is right not to allow him the choice. Especially considering how I broke in on his own secret.
I must also admit that there have been rare occasions when I have – I will not exactly say hoped – wondered about my friend. When we have both drunk too much, or when he has been especially impressed with some flourish of mine. Little instances– which have not always concerned myself. Two years ago I was at once dismayed, intrigued and amused by the look of faintly puzzled fascination that crossed Watson’s face whenever he spoke to a young barrister who was defending a client of ours – he was, indeed so breathtaking to look at he must have passed his life assuming that dazzled admiration is the natural mien of the human countenance.
And very late one August night last year, after we had celebrated the capture of a murderer with opera at Covent Garden and with too much wine, Watson was sprawled on the sofa while I lay on the floor below it, my head on a cushion, plucking childish little tunes out of my violin. I glanced up to find him looking at me with a softness in his eyes that made my breath catch, and then he reached down and swept an affectionate and clumsy hand down over my hair and then let it rest on my shoulder. I laughed up at him and, being very drunk and fleetingly very happy, I thought, Why Watson, we will make a godless invert of you yet.
I later tried to obliterate the memory with rather a lot of morphine.
Between friends of the same sex, such moments are probably less rare than is generally admitted – the lees of the blurry passions of adolescence, floating unnoticed through the hearts of my innocent fellow-citizens who would never believe they had a thing in common with a man like me. If it does not quite mean nothing, it does not mean enough. A few days after the drunken incident just recounted, Watson was, in as gentlemanly a way as possble, fairly ogling a pretty little blonde who came to us about the missing manuscript of her father’s book. A fortnight after that he was transparently disappointed that the keen interest I had taken in an admittedly rather brilliant young widow evaporated once her case was solved.
I wish I had never known what his lips felt like, I used barely to allow myself to imagine even that much.
Dear God, what a mess, and if it were not so excruciating, I could almost laugh at it. As if explanations were possible now. Should I say to him, “Watson, if when you are more yourself you have any further notions in that direction by all means fling me against the nearest hard surface whenever you like, I assure you you need not wait for the invitation. However, in the more likely event that you recover a very proper or – God help me – heightened disgust for unnatural vices, would you kindly disregard the confession implicit in these remarks and thus avoid extending that disgust to me?”
It is shameful to catch myself dwelling more on my own troubles than on his. Gilfoyle’s trial begins in a month, is that fact not more to the point than any of this?