Disclaimer: I do not own Sherlock Holmes.
I think I should thank anybody reading this who reviewed 'My Dear Fellow', so thank you gentle readers. I feel very gratified by your support and encouragement.
This is in a similar vein. The narrator is Holmes. He sits by the bedside of his ailing friend, scribbling his thoughts as Watson succumbs to twilight.
There are times when, despite my distaste for his over-dramatisation of events, I feel that my friend Watson has captured the very essence of a moment on paper. How hard it must be for the mundane and ordinary mass that is the general public to picture those moments- the pure electric excitement that one felt in the air in a hansom cab as it rattled through the damp, fog-bound streets of Victorian London. Or the tense, strained seconds before the apprehension of a desperate criminal. Or the stark, blinding revelation when the threads of a case all wove together to form the solution.
I find it necessary to admit that my often scathing comments about the quality of my friend's writing stemmed from my aversion to human emotion and my somewhat obsessive desire for the facts of a case to be presented clinically, analytically and without such emotion. In truth, I think his talents in the construction of sensational, romantic tales were extraordinary- despite my reservations when he applied them to the precise art of detection. How strange it is that a man brought up in a military environment and trained in the sciences needed for an army surgeon could have forged words in such an emotive fashion. Truly, my friend was a master storyteller.
Stories. Tales told to spark what we call the 'imagination'. Aside from memory, the capacity to imagine is what sets humans apart from the beasts. But imagination can be a curse as well as a blessing. Ah, what do I say? Truly, the pen wrests romantic fantasy even from the mind of a calculating machine like myself.
Today I have been thinking about death. For is not all life pathetic and futile? I recall saying something similar to Watson following a consultation with a client. Death comes to us all. In my somewhat dangerous profession, I have flirted with the dark-robed Reaper more times than I care to count, yet it is particularly today that my mind dwells on the journey that may await me in the next world, if such a world exists. For I am sat by the bedside of my dearest friend, and he is dying. The year is 1928. At the age of 76, Watson is fighting for his life.
The cause? It is an ironic tale. Throughout his years at my side, his injuries never warranted more than a few weeks bed rest, a quick patch up by a needle-happy Sawbones and some stern mothering from Mrs Hudson. Yet 25 years after I retire from practising the art of detection, an anonymous hoodlum strikes down my friend. He has ever been a white knight, my chivalrous companion. Always ready to leap to the defence of an unfortunate soul. It is an admirable trait, a valiant quality, but now it is killing him. And I do not think I have ever felt so helpless.
There is no case to solve. I cannot track down the murderer- he has already been apprehended. I can only watch, and wait, and pray to a God I cannot believe in. And remember another time when my mind dwelled on death.
It was many years ago, I cannot recall the precise date. It was a series of events caused by the cursed blessing of imagination. It started with a dream.
Usually my sleep was untroubled by dreams or fantasies. There were times, my darkest times, when the addiction was upon me, that the most horrible of demons would stalk through my mind. But I was, and still am, a calculating machine. Thus on the rare occasions that I dreamed, I would remember every detail.
One dream in particular haunted me. It was one of those fog-bound, dreary nights typical to our great capital. Watson and I were hot on the trail of a gang of ruffians- we had tracked them down to the docks and it was the final, anticipated climax of the chase. The last few hours that could make or break a case.
Excitement was surging through me, I could hear the rasping of my breath and relentless thud of my feet on the treacherously wet cobbles. My hand clutched my heavy silver-topped cane in anticipation of a fight and I could feel, sharply, the weight of the policeman's whistle about my neck. I could summon them. But something stopped me- it was our chase, mine and Watson's, and a belligerent thought told me we would not come so far just to have this pinnacle taken from us.
Then we rounded a corner and they were on us, five of the brutes. The action was quick and violent, a confusing whirling display of bruising fists and shattering kicks. I felt the blows land, but no pain. I was invincible as I stood back to back with Watson- we both were. I caught a glance of one of the villains headed for me with a dagger raised, but my friend was there, dropping him with a swift right uppercut.
I nodded my thanks, smiling my approval, then returned to the fray. Soon, there were no more enemies to fight. Our opponents lay twisting and moaning, or unconscious on the floor. I raised the whistle to my lips, now prepared to summon the police. But a single sound stopped me.
The click of a gun's hammer cut through the muggy night like a switchblade through flesh. I twisted to see my friend standing frozen. A man, who had slipped from the shadows like a snake, held a pistol to Watson's head. He gestured to the whistle, indicating that I should drop it. I did not move. I could not. The sight of my friend in such danger rendered me helpless, motionless. The thug gestured again and I saw him dig the barrel further into my friend's skull.
I looked into bright hazel eyes, saw fear dissolve into warmth and acceptance. For a further few seconds my eyes were locked with Watson's, then the world exploded in a vicious spray of blood and gore. My friend jerked forwards as the bullet ripped into his head and fell to the floor without a sound. My mouth opened in a silent scream of rage and pain as crimson blood sprayed up into the villain's face and spattered my clothes.
Then I was awake, gasping and thrashing in my bed. I threw off the covers, shrugging into my dressing gown and rushing for the sitting room.
I went quickly to the spirits, pouring myself a brandy and taking a gulp. I shivered as the fiery liquid bolstered my shaking nerves. The horror of my nightmare emblazoned itself through my mind as I slumped down into my favourite chair and lit my pipe with shaky hands. I could not have returned to sleep then, not with that shade darkening my thoughts.
I sat like that for a long time, trying to shake off the dream, trying to calm myself, trying to regain my sang-froid. It might have been hours; it might have been mere minutes. Time has no meaning in such circumstances.
My reverie was broken into by a very familiar voice.
I started and turned to my friend, allowing my lips to quirk in a quick grin despite my black mood. Watson's eyes were somewhat heavy with sleep and he looked slightly put out that he had awoken in the middle of the night to find his companion smoking noxious tobacco in the living room. He had obviously hurriedly thrown a robe over his night attire, dressing in haste to see what affliction had caused me to pursue such an odd occupation. I gestured for him to sit opposite me in his usual chair- though I did not especially desire company when my armour was so battered, it did me good to see my friend hale and whole. It helped fight off the demons.
Once settled, Watson fixed me with one of his analytical physician gazes- his face was an open book to me. He had several expressions that habitually adorned his face in strange circumstances. At that moment, he was wearing a mixture of 'I Must Find Out Why Holmes Is Acting Oddly', 'Why Must Holmes Get Up At These Ungodly Hours?' and 'What In Blazes Is Holmes Smoking?'
"So, for what reason do I find you knocking about the sitting room in the middle of the night?" Watson asked, typically coming straight to the point. I appreciated this quality in my Boswell as I detest prevarication in all forms.
I tamped down and set aside my pipe, hiding a smile. My friend, unbeknownst to many, was born and brought up in Scotland. Living amongst the English, let alone with the officer classes of the army, had caused him to lose all but a trace of his accent, but when he was tired or strained the lilting brogue tended to strengthen and become far more noticeable. Currently, he was one step away from Robert Burns.
"Nothing to concern you, my dear Watson, simply a case point that has been preying on my mind."
The good doctor seemed unconvinced. I was unsurprised. My staunch bloodhound was a relatively intelligent person, and he had come to know me quite well. Better, I suspect, than I am truly aware of. I could feel him studying me carefully, clearly wondering whether he should push further with his enquiry. He opened his mouth, then closed it. His gaze shifted from me to the painting of the Reichenbach falls above the fireplace and a whimsical smile crossed his face.
Normally it was very simple for me to deduce his train of thought, yet I found myself at a loss. We sat in companionable silence for a while, each with our own thoughts. I admit, it was a comfort to have him so near. The shadows of my nightmare were long in the encroaching night.
After a time, Watson caught my eye and his smile broadened. "Try to get some rest, there's a good chap," he said, standing and stretching. He checked the time on the large grandfather clock in the corner. As he turned to head back to his room he threw one last analytical look at me. "You know that I keep my revolver in the drawer by my bed?" he asked, suddenly.
I indicated an affirmative.
"And that I have, not to boast, extraordinarily good aim?"
My brow wrinkled in my confusion but I nodded anyway, wondering where my friend was leading with his cryptic remarks.
"Then you have nothing to fear, my dear Holmes." With that, he left.
I sat in shocked quiet. How could he…? I turned my scrutiny to the Reichenbach painting and once again I saw crimson blood spraying up in grotesque parody of the spray of the murderous waters. I shuddered and took a warming gulp of brandy- my friend's life had never seemed so precious.
I had hoped that he would never know my fears. But then again…The thunderous crash of water resounded in my ears as the terrible scene from my dream repeated itself across my vision. I remembered Watson's screaming grief at the falls. Who was I to hide my concern, when he displayed his so plainly?
Still, splashes of crimson liquid clouded my sight as the night's shadows gathered close around me. Perhaps our next case would be a simpler affair. Something that involved petty theft or bribery in high places. I could not stand to look down a loaded barrel so soon. Not with Watson at my side.
That night, I discovered how important Watson's life was to me. How important it remains to this day. But now the dream is real and there is no dawn to chase away the ghosts that haunt this room.
For my friend is dying, and I, the great Sherlock Holmes can do nothing. And I have never felt such pain.