Watson tries to live with the memory of a terrible bargain in secrecy .
Warnings: Emotional aftermath of rape.
Work in progress.Part I
Come, man, rally yourself. What, after all, has taken place? The event could have lasted no more than fifteen minutes from start to finish. As a percentage of my time on earth it barely exists at all. What consequences need I fear? I was concerned at first about disease but weeks have passed and I think I may conclude I am safe. There was a degree of pain involved, certainly, but scarcely comparable with what I bore in Afghanistan. Once terms were agreed, the wretch made no particular effort to hurt me, as I had anticipated he might. My ... acquiescence to his wishes was, it seemed, enough for him. Such injuries as I did sustain might have been immeasurably worse and have since healed altogether.
Furthermore, it was unquestionably necessary. I can hear violin music from downstairs. I have nothing to regret.
* * *
Devil take the man, why should he begin to suspect something now?
It had been a quite routine day. We had swapped complaints, again, about the filthy snow in the streets and the tendrils of icy air breaching our walls through cracks in wood and plaster and lacing through our rooms. Holmes’ fits of despondent lethargy after the last case are giving way to a more serene languor and he was curled on the settee going through his correspondence, complaining that this or that was unbearably commonplace. He began tracing with one long finger the outline of the thin, fading v-shaped mark on his lean jaw which is all that is left of the wound. I suppose, seeing it, I must have tensed, and suddenly he whisked that hand away from his face and sat up saying, “You have been very cast down ever since that unpleasant business with Pelham Gilfoyle, Watson.”
“Not at all,” I said.
“You have,” he insisted. “I assure you, you have.”
“It was, I suppose,” I said carefully, “A particularly sordid affair.”
Holmes nodded. “Indeed it was, if uncomplicated from an analytic standpoint.” He lapsed back onto the settee, his thin arm trailing over its edge to the floor. I thought, involuntarily, of the strength held in those paradoxically delicate lines, and conversely, of all the violence of the underworld through which he must cut his path, and what it could do to him.
I had hoped we were done with the subject, but apparently he was in the mood to expound, though his gaze, thankfully, was now fixed somewhere on the ceiling rather than on me. “When one investigates a murder, however sad or terrible it is, there is at least no danger of the victim continuing to suffer. The dead are in a sense... safe. One proves the killer’s guilt and has done; it has to be enough. But when there are more living victims than can ever be traced, more than one can hope to rescue from continuing pain, then the satisfaction of delivering one man to a few years hard labour seems... insufficient.”
“Until recently it would hardly have been possible to punish him at all.1”
Holmes’ eyes grew hooded and a curious expression pulled at his lips. “Quite so. But from some angles Justice’s sword seems double-edged indeed.”
I didn’t have the strength of mind to wonder what he meant by that just then. The conversation had me dragged tight between contradictory tensions and yet I continued it. It was a torment to come so close to the memory but there was a tantalising fraction of relief in the chance to speak of some part of it.
I said softly, “I could never have imagined a man could instigate such horrible things... so casually.”
“Not to mention that it all came rather closer than I liked to costing us both our necks.”
I smiled as best I could and said nothing.
Holmes raised his head again and gazed at me at me curiously. “Yet there is something more.”
And of a sudden, I was strangely furious with him. “Why should there be? You were as depressed as I have ever seen you over that case, as soon as the exhilaration of solving it had faded. I knew you would be. Am I expected to witness the same things in complacency? And not a moment ago you were waxing eloquent on the world’s injustices. Are you aware how often you say such things? Am I always required to disagree with you?”
Holmes blinked and was, uncharacteristically at a loss for how to answer. “I know I get in the dumps sometimes,” he said at last, hesitantly. “But you...”
I was already regretting my outburst, and yet I could not stop. “Well, why not? No, you were right all along, London is nothing but a cesspool and no where else is any better. Perhaps you have finally convinced me of that.”
There was such simple shock in his face for a moment that I was filled with remorse, and exhaustion with it. “I am sorry, Holmes. I am tired, and this winter seems interminable, and we have both seen too much of the world’s troubles. That is all.”
He continued to stare at me, dark brows drawn together into an expression in which confused sympathy and pensive detachment were united in the most unsettling way. I could see him thinking. Panic gripped at something in my chest and clenched.
So he truly does not know, then. At least not yet. I must be far more careful.
Part of me wanted to flee to my room, but that would only have roused his curiosity further and besides –wary of him, angry with him as I was then – everything seems far darker and colder away from him. And even that sets my mind shivering with doubts I hardly dare put into words.
For the same reasons I cannot bring myself to quit these rooms altogether, despite this curious and unfocused dread that urges me to do so. And it is not only the fear that he will discover what has passed, it is a dully nightmarish sense of something irreparably wrong with everything around me and all that will put it right is somehow to vanish away. But even if I could bear to leave, how would I begin to explain it to him? And he has been before and may be again in need of my help.
I returned to my book. I forced myself through two pages and then, after some minutes of silence I let my head drop against the back of the arm chair and closed my eyes.
I heard the cold wind shaking at the windows and wailing in the chimney, quite drowning out the rustle of the fire. Then Holmes murmured, almost gently, “You are not asleep.”
I was not, but I was dog-tired. I ignored him.
* * *
Today the corpse of another unhappy creature was dragged from the Thames, having thrown herself, it seems, from Waterloo Bridge. Phyllis Mackey was a housemaid to a man whose name I recognise from the investigation, though he used a different one at the fashionable brothel in Park Lane (a house, by the way, whose nature you would never guess from the outside). He was rather infamous even there. I think I can guess what sent Phyllis to the bridge.
But surely there is a difference between what a woman may be compelled to suffer, and what a man may decide to endure as part of a... transaction.
I do not think I should choose the river, myself. How cold and dark and foul the water must be, at this season, on its course through this frozen and filthy city. Poor Phyllis – I suppose she had no money or knowledge to acquire gentler means of release and perhaps no warm safe bed to crawl into and fall asleep forever. An overdose of chloral would do it. If only I were not a medical man, it might be taken for an accident.
God, what am I thinking of?
1 The Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1885