Many are under the impression that my first encounter with Sherlock Holmes was the only adventure that occurred during our youth. This is the notion I hope to remedy by writing this, the account of my second adventure with the blossoming detective.
~ Dr. John H. Watson (Edited by Blue Raja)
A Study in Maroon
(Part One: The Revelation)
For several days after the untimely death of Elizabeth Waxflatter, Holmes was a walking shell of his former self. He was often found in Waxflatter's loft; his jaw set and his eyes blurred with unshed tears. He had been allowed to stay at Brampton until he had recovered from the shock of his experiences. It was the least Brampton could do to thank him. Having adopted some of the observant nature of my friend, I noticed that he was usually seen with a blue ribbon wrapped around his hand. Upon further investigation I found this to be Elizabeth's hair ribbon, which now had its home deep within the confines of Holmes' pocket. With this realization came the revelation that Holmes was never going to be able to recover from his loss.
At night he would be neither asleep nor awake, but rather in an intermediate state where he would stare unblinkingly at the ceiling. He took to using a candle on his nightstand in place of his gas lamp, for the bright light given off by the lamp made his tired, oversensitive eyes sting and water. He was made to stay in the dormitory at night, so as to be with friends and companions that would support him through his time of mourning. This approach did not work, for neither Holmes nor our classmates endeavoured to make contact. In the dormitory, the other boys left Holmes alone, in the way that schoolboys will when they are afraid of catching a contagious virus.
My strange and remarkable friend was falling into a despair which I knew would eventually kill him if left to run its course. I approached Holmes on one of his better nights, sitting on his bed with his violin in his lap and the ribbon weaving seamlessly through his fingers. The only light came flickering from his single candle. The light flashed across his face, gaunt with sorrow and unhealthily pale. As I sat down next to him, the ribbon ceased its weaving and his eyes flashed towards me to affirm that I was, indeed, myself. "Hello, Watson." He greeted me slowly, his voice dry and humourless. The other boys were asleep, and would stay that way.
I smiled faintly and replied in the low tone of voice reserved to speak to those whom might snap under pressure at any given moment. "Hello, Holmes." And awkward pause filled the space between us. "How… how are you holding up?"
Holmes closed his eyes and sighed a sigh so deep in resignation that it seemed to make all of his tensed muscles turn to liquid for a swift moment. "My dear Watson, I hope you'll never know."
I made a comforting noise in the back of my throat, a talent that I am proud to say works wonders and is quite useful in my current occupation.
"I know exactly how my father felt, now." He continued under his breath. After a bit of prompting and encouragement, he told me the story of how he happened to come to Brampton, which is a story so complete in itself that it can only be told in the exact words in which it was told to me.
"It was by accident that I opened my father's post that day. It was a letter addressed to 'Holmes', and it looked so much like a letter I had been waiting for that I took it to be my own and opened it before I realized my error. Inside the envelope was a letter so personal in nature that I instantly knew that I had made a terrible mistake.
"It was to my father from a woman named Maria, and contained two pages worth of all the evidence needed to rouse the suspicion of an affair between the two. I was startled at first, then angry. I was determined to put a stop to the affair, one way or another. I started by intercepting more letters from the woman. The letters were easily sequestered, for she used a heavy stationary only found in a paper shop in Surrey, and both the envelope and the letter carried the watermark of the maker. She also never printed her return address on the envelope, for fear that my mother would become suspicious of the letters written to my father from a mysterious woman. I would steam these letters open, read them, then seal then with a bit of diluted paste. This continued for several weeks, during which my mother was mercifully unaware of my father's discrepancy with his marriage vows.
"I discovered within one of the letters a plot between the two to converge upon the streets of London and journey to our home while my mother was away on a visit. To make the best of this opportunity, I surreptitiously swallowed a nonlethal dose of arsenic during chemistry, and became violently ill during mathematics. I was sent home for the day, where, after having purged myself of the poison, I sat in my bed with a cup of herbal tea and my mathematics textbook, waiting for my father to arrive with his mistress.
"After a protracted period of waiting, I heard the front door being unlocked and opened. There was a moment's silence, after which my father's voice called into the house, "Violet? Darling, are you home?" I held my tongue and was rewarded with voices in the hall. Apparently their plot had been a success, for there they were together, seemingly alone.
"I think I may have misjudged the amount of arsenic I consumed, for when I crept into the hall and down the stair to catch them, my vision blurred and I fell down the last three steps of the staircase, landing at the feet of my father's damsel-in-hiding." (At this point in his account, Holmes realized that he had been clenching his hands into fists so tightly that his fingernails drew blood from his palms. I was ready to offer a bandage, but he didn't seem at all surprised and instead of interrupting his tale, he rubbed his hands together, smearing the blood until they were red and horrible in the candlelight.)
"They stood there like a pair of bloody mannequins, staring at me. She wasn't nearly as beautiful as my mother, and when she spoke her voice was like fingernails on a chalkboard and void of intelligence. 'Oh dear.' She said." (Holmes's voice changed suddenly into the lady's voice. He fluttered his eyelashes with surprise and brought his bloodied hands to his mouth in a gruesome pantomime.) "My father was not at all amused, but before he could grab me I had gained my feet and was running for the door. I burst out onto the busy sidewalk outside, nearly got myself killed by two carriages while sprinting across the street, and smacked right into my mother, of all things. The poison caught up to me and I fell against her breast. Surprised, confused and concerned, she held me there, and asked in a tremulous voice what I was doing in my nightclothes in the middle of the street instead of at school. Before I could stop myself, the story of my father's betrayal had spilled past my lips and into her ears. She paled considerably and with a strength I didn't know she possessed, dragged me back across the street and into our home, where she came face to face with my father and his lover.
"Maria didn't beat around the bush, but left hastily. My father was left to explain things, which he started to do. He claimed she was a client and that he had only brought her home with the intent of entertaining her with a few drinks, but my mother knew better. They sent me to my room, then battled it out in shouts and screams. The screams later subsided to soft crying. My father's heavy footsteps on the stairs alerted me to his approach. I feigned sleep and was saved my punishment for the night.
"My actions were not taken lightly, for my mother had suspected my father but had ignored the evidence to lead a happier life. My revealing of the affair caused her great pain. She didn't eat, sleep or talk to us for days on end. Then one day I came home and found she had hung herself from her bed canopy." (I have said that I have only seen Holmes cry twice, and that stays true, for though it was obvious that it was painful to recall the event, his eyes merely quivered with anger. I had learned through experience that Holmes was a man of emotion and action, and was more than a bit concerned that he would express his rage in some form. There was a creak from across the dormitory as one of the sleeping boys adjusted himself. Holmes only looked at his bloodied hands and continued.)
"My father blamed me. He did everything possible to make my life miserable, as though he couldn't tell that I was already as miserable as one could be. He removed my laboratory from my room and smashed it on the curb. He burned my books. When he couldn't hurt me any more, he left me alone, often for days. One day he didn't return. I was eventually put into the care of my older brother, Mycroft, who sent me here to be with individuals of my own age. So here I am." Holmes looked at me, eyebrows furrowed so deeply that they almost touched. His penetratingly grey eyes were dark in the meagerly lit room, and seemed to stare directly through my own eyes and into my soul. It was unnerving, to say the least. One of the other boys, probably Dudley, snored loudly, breaking the spell between us. "I'm… I want to bring Elizabeth back, Watson. I know I can't. I feel empty without her, though. I wonder if it wouldn't be worth it to just join her right now."
This attitude wouldn't do. I knew I had to convince Holmes that he was loved and needed in the world he was in. "Don't say that, Holmes. You love Elizabeth and she loves you. She would never want you to cut your life short for her sake." I continued the sentiment in my mind, for in his state I didn't know what Holmes would make of my conclusion. "In heaven, time is inconsequential. Her wait will be as fleeting as her pain." Holmes sighed, his shoulders slumped with weariness. I could only hope that he was ready to continue with his life.
"I suppose you're right, Watson." I was relieved. He was too great of a mind to send to the posthumous dimension at so early an age. I convinced him to wash the blood off his hands, let me bandage them, and go to sleep. In a few moments he had fallen into an exhausted slumber.
I can't say the same for myself. I was disturbed by Holmes' tale, and was awake wondering about his fate into the wee hours of the morning.
In the days that followed, Holmes' mood started lifting. I was glad for his recovery but concerned about his residency at Brampton, which was to be terminated upon his full recovery from our adventure. Still, seeing the slightest hint of a smile playing upon his lips made my chest flutter with caged happiness. Soon he was almost himself again, witty and energetic. I could see in his manner, however, that there was a void within him that no one could ever fill. Though he laughed, he wasn't happy. His manner, once that of an innocent young man with the world before him, had become that of a wizened old General whom had seen too much pain and suffering wrought by the evil of men's hearts.
Once the school had determined that Holmes was in a stable enough condition to leave, they provided him with a hansom. As if he had read their thoughts, his bags were waiting on the front steps of the school when the carriage arrived. We had a few parting words, which to me felt forced and superficial. I never expected to see him again, and I have no doubts that he thought the same. He was wearing Rathe's cape and Waxflatter's cap. With the addition of my pipe, he looked utterly ridiculous, yet charming and mysterious. As he was driven away, my heart grew heavy with the realization that the coming days would be unbearably dreary without him.
(End of Part One)