"April 15th, 1890—Many patients, all ill. Nothing of much interest to write about, beyond the usual; perhaps I shall report more fully upon the day tomorrow. For now, I am tired…"
Watson dropped his pen, pushed his diary aside, and leaned back exhaustedly in his chair, staring morosely at his examining table. Little Carrie Whitlow had just been in; he was pleased to see that her burns were healing, but there were scars, and there was nothing he could do about that; they were always going to be reminders of that apalling accident Christmas day.
He sighed and mentally reviewed the patients he had seen. Mrs. Brixton, a nervous old hypochondriac; George Pond, an old major in the army, who had a mysterious pain in his abdomen, which neither he nor Watson could figure out; Nigel Bird, who had fallen down a stairwell and broken his arm. Then there had been the emergency case from Paddington Station, where a young man had shut his fingers in the door of a railway carriage—now, that had been a gory mess, requiring sixteen stitches. It had reminded Watson of an incident during the Second Afghan Campaign where a soldier had had his hand blown off by a cannon, and made the poor doctor feel sick to his stomach for half-an-hour afterwards. Then Mrs. Hellinger had brought her poor deformed daughter over, and as usual he had prescribed morphia; what else could he do?
He groaned and rubbed his tired eyes. A long day, and a bad one. And now it was—he glanced at the clock—nearly seven; and all he had had for luncheon was a sandwich, bolted down on the way out the door. All he wanted to do now was eat supper and go to bed.
He lifted his head as a knock sounded on his consulting-room door. Another patient? Watson fervently hoped not. "Come in!"
The door opened, and Mary came in cautiously. "John? Oh, you poor man," as she took in his weary face and his slumping in his chair—something he never did unless very tired.
"Never mind, Mary," said Watson, trying to put some cheerful energy into his voice for her sake, "what is it?"
"The latest post, dear." Mary held up a collection of envelopes. "And John," she added reluctantly, "there was a man who came to the door to-day, who said the gas bill was due."
"Oh, it would be!" said Watson, exasperated. "What did you tell him?"
"To come round tomorrow."
"Good. I don't want to deal with collection agents right now. Fortunately people have been paying their doctor's bills; but I did want to buy a new carpet for the sitting-room."
"We could get along without it," said Mary lightly. She came over and sat on the desk while Watson leaned back in his chair and propped his feet up. "These seem to be mostly bills, John; perhaps you would care to look at them a little later."
"Oh, undoubtedly." Watson kicked his boots off and wiggled his toes. "Any letters?"
"Yes; mostly from patients, but I think you would be interested in this one." She held up an envelope, which had their address scrawled over the front in a handwriting that looked like the marks of a seismograph: angular, needlepointed, and cramped. There was no return address, but Watson didn't need one; he knew that handwriting.
"That's from Holmes," he said.
"I know," said Mary. "I recognized the hand. I thought you had better see it at once, since he's never sent you a letter before."
"No; he will never write if a telegram will serve. Either it's urgent or he is out of telegram forms." Watson took the envelope from Mary's outstretched hand—typical of Holmes's careless egotism, that he was so certain of his letter reaching its recipient that he never bothered with a return address—and opened it. There was only one sheet of paper inside, which said,
I should be very pleased if you were to come over at once. There are some things I wish to talk to you about. –Sherlock Holmes.
"What is it?" asked Mary, leaning over and tilting her head.
"I don't know. He wants me to come over." Watson leaned forward with a sigh and propped his elbows on his desk, putting his palms into his eyes.
"Is it a case?"
"He says nothing about anything."
Mary began petting his hair sympathetically. "Well, dear, will you go?"
"I suppose I shall have to," said Watson with a trace of irritation. "If I do not he will stay up all night waiting for me." He twisted in his chair and began to pull his boots on. "It passes my comprehension how that man can always order me over to his side upon my busiest days. He has a positive talent for it."
Mary watched him with troubled eyes. "John, don't go if you don't want to."
"Well, I don't really; I'm dreadfully tired and all that, but we both know we have not seen each other since September, and he is likely to be in any kind of nervous state by now." Watson finished tying his bootlaces and stood up, stretching his back and groaning. "I shall try to get back soon; keep supper hot for me. If I cannot get home to-night I shall send you a note." He crossed the room and went down the hallway to the front door, pulling on his coat and getting his bowler. Mary, noticing that he was limping, handed him his stick, and he smiled ruefully and pecked her on the cheek.
"What a generous little woman," he said. "Letting me off for a few hours of rest and relaxation with Sherlock Holmes."
"John!" protested Mary, half-laughing and half-reproaching.
"All right, all right." He brushed her face with his fingers and gave her a grin as he went out the door and called for a cab.
When he got to Baker Street he let himself in; he had kept his latch-key from his bachelor days. On the way through the hallway he nearly ran into Mrs. Hudson, who was carrying some folded bedsheets. On seeing him she looked both surprised and pleased.
"Why, Doctor!" she said. "It's nice to see you again. You've not been around here for a while."
"No, I haven't." Watson sniffed the air and smelled fresh bread baking, and felt instantly at home. "I've come to see Mr. Holmes. How has he been, by the way?"
"About how Mr. Holmes always is, in his black fits," said Mrs. Hudson, shaking her head dubiously. "He's been right miserable, he has, and I don't mean only in mood. Such a trial for a lodger I never had in my life, and I've been keeping them for forty years. He's been shutting himself up and refusing to come out or else wandering all over the house like a lost soul. And, Doctor, he's been making himself ill again; I ventured to suggest cooling medicine the other day, and he gave me one of his horrible looks and locked himself in the sitting-room and ate neither lunch nor supper." The landlady, pleased at having a sympathetic audience, continued to pour out her woes. "And at night, Doctor! He either tramps up and down his room or else is banging about at all hours with those smelly chemicals, setting fire to things. I heard a bang, sir, just the other day, like a bomb going off or some such. Of course I thought something had happened and I went up to see. And there, of course, is Mr. Holmes with his chemicals, and glass splinters all over the room. 'What happened?' says I. 'Oh', he says, cool as ice, 'an accident. You'd best clean it up.' And off he goes and gets his hat to go out, and that was the last I saw of him. And," the landlady lowered her voice, "then there's his nightmares."
"Oh, he's been having those again, has he?"
"Nearly every night that he sleeps, sir. It doesn't give me half a turn, to hear him screaming out like that in the middle of the night. I was in the hallway last week, locking up for the night, and I heard a shriek that made my blood run cold, and an instant later Mr. Holmes came bursting into the hallway in his nightclothes, looking as if he had seen a ghost. You know how he can look with those big eyes of his. 'What's the matter?' says I. 'Oh,' says he, looking down and beginning to tie knots in a scarf he had with him, 'spirits, Mrs. Hudson.' 'Spirits?' says I, thinking he might mean a drink. 'Yes, Mrs. Hudson,' says he, looking at me very hard, 'spirits of the dead.' And he went back into the sitting-room and walked about all night. I don't know what's come over him lately."
"I see," said Watson, wondering what he could do to remedy his friend's insomnia. He could hardly give Holmes drugs, now could he? And Holmes refused to discuss his nightmares, his theory apparently being that if he ignored them they would go away. Which left Watson with his hands very much tied.
"Well," he said, "I suppose I shall have to go up and see him. Thank you for telling me, Mrs. Hudson."
When he got to the upper landing the sitting-room door was ajar. Through the doorway he could see Holmes sitting motionless on the settee, staring at the ashes in the fireplace.
Watson tapped lightly on the door.
"Ah, Watson," said Holmes without moving, "I see that you have torn yourself away from hearth and home in order to attend to my demands. However reluctantly you complied, I do appreciate it. Pray come in and make yourself at home."
Watson tightened his mouth; Holmes's tone was cold and ironic, and something about his voice and posture confirmed that he was in a black fit, aside from Mrs. Hudson's reports. This was, Watson knew, going to be one of the more unpleasant visits.
He sighed and went around the corner to the main part of the room, squeezing past the settee to lower himself gingerly into his own old armchair, facing Holmes. The room, he noted, showed every sign of having been recently tidied, down to the very desktop, which was unusual. As for Holmes himself, he was as spruce and slick as ever, but there was a thin sheen of shaving lotion on his jaw. He probably, Watson decided, cleaned himself up when he decided to write his note.
He cleared his throat. "Well, Holmes?"
Holmes was gazing down at his hands, lacing and unlacing his long thin fingers, twirling his thumbs. When he looked up, his eyes had the unfocussed, empty look of the black fit, and his cheekbones looked even sharper than usual in contrast with the dark circles under his eyes.
"I was wondering," he said, "what you did for Christmas."
Watson settled himself more comfortably in his seat. "Well, I spent the morning with my wife, and my afternoon wrapping up a poor little child who had set her pinafore afire and been severely burnt. It was touch-and-go with her for a bit. I was watching her until after New Year's."
"Oh." Holmes looked down at his hands again. "I had rather hoped that you would come round during the holiday."
"Well, I'm sorry I disappointed you, Holmes; but I was horribly busy."
"I see." Holmes smiled twitchily and without humor and shifted, wincing as though something hurt him. Watson noticed that his customary formal black suit was loose on his already thin frame.
"You've lost weight, Holmes," he said, concerned.
"Yes, I have." Holmes studied him. "You, however, have gained it." He paused. "Many things can happen in eight months."
Holmes leaned forward suddenly and put his fingertips together, eyes narrowing analytically.
"You have been busy," he pronounced. "You had a patient who broke a bone, and which you set with plaster. You also had a very hasty affair involving stitches. You wrote before coming here; probably in your journal."
"Bravo, Holmes. Now tell me how you knew."
Holmes stared at him hypnotically. "Absurdly simple. Your boots are clean, which indicates that you have been taking cabs upon your rounds, instead of walking. For the patient with the broken arm: a small amount of plaster, not sticking-plaster but instead the type used for casts, adhering to your shirtcuff; for the stitches, a surgical needle stuck hastily into the lapel of your coat. For the writing: you have smudged the outer part of your hand with ink, which you have not washed away. In prescriptions one writes very little; and knowing as I do your habit of writing up your experiences at the end of the day, the inference was very obvious." He sighed and leaned back into the corner of the settee, passing a hand over his eyes. "Which may explain why I have not heard a word from you for eight months."
"Holmes—" Watson began to feel irritated. "Holmes, I have been busy. And my wife has been feeling poorly, as well, and I have had to attend to that. I'm sorry if I have to attend to my profession once in a while, but I have a household to maintain."
"Eight months," said Holmes bitterly. "You have had absolutely no free time whatsoever within that time span?"
"Do you have time to go to your club, pray?"
"How many other acquaintances have you visited lately?"
"Holmes, do stop being so unreasonable! You're merely being jealous. You know perfectly well the state of my practice."
"And what of your neighbor Jackson?"
Watson sighed in frustration. "He's tied up as well. Holmes, it is the busiest time of the year, and you know it—or at least you ought to. Please try to be a little understanding for once."
Holmes growled and turned away, his mouth tight and his black brows drawn down, eyes charcoal-grey and smoldering.
"Is there something in particular you called me over for?" asked Watson more gently.
Holmes jumped up and circled the settee like a restless animal, dragging his hand along the carved back. "Oh, no cases, no medical concerns! Nothing of the kind that would interest you. I merely wanted to know if you should care to stay for a few days, but now that I know all the facts," his voice went cold and acrid with sarcasm, "I shouldn't dream of depriving the residents of Paddington of their faithful doctor. Go along home."
"Holmes!" Watson was beginning to get genuinely angry. "Don't be that way."
"Oh, no!" Holmes placed both hands over his heart, his eyes exaggeratedly innocent, eyebrows arched. "But I mustn't be selfish, must I? Oh, I insist! You must go home; your wife will miss you."
Watson sprang out of his chair, marched across the room, and took his friend by the shoulders. "Stop it, Holmes. You're working yourself up into some sort of fit, and I shan't have that."
Holmes jerked back. "Don't touch me." He backed up a few paces, then pulled a cigarette from one pocket and matches from the other, and proceeded to light it.
"As to the fit," he said, more calmly, "I am already in a black mood, as I am sure you have learned from Mrs. Hudson, who has been regaling her cronies with tales of my nocturnal disturbances. Oh, yes, I heard her! But it is of no matter; practically my normal mode of existence, if it comes to that. I need no assistance. Go on home and get some rest."
Watson tried a different tack. "Yes, your nocturnal disturbances…are they bad?"
"You know they are! You were talking to Mrs. Hudson, were you not?" Holmes folded his arms, cigarette dangling from one limp hand.
"How did you know that? Were you listening?"
"No." Holmes smiled and tipped his head sideways. "The hall door opened, and you came in. From then until the time you ascended the stairs there was an interval of at least three minutes. Mrs. Hudson, with her characteristic misplaced solicitude, has been worrying herself over me; and of course it is well known," his voice went biting, "or at least presumed, that you are the only man now in existence who can reason with me. Elementary, is it not?" He began pacing around again.
"Very clever, Holmes. But really, man, I do want to help you, if you will let me." Watson was trying his hardest to be understanding. "Have you been sleeping at all?"
Holmes turned on him, all the narrow, intense irritability of the black fit in his face. "Ah, my keeper! I told you to go home! I don't want you here."
"All right, Holmes, that's torn it!" Watson snapped. "I shall go, then, since you are so anxious to be rid of me, and leave you to your drugs—yes, Holmes, I know what you have been up to. Good day!"
He whirled, too quickly to see the stricken look that crossed Holmes's face, and made his way out the door. Once on the landing he stopped, wondering whether he had been too hasty, whether his temper had gotten the better of him and he had better go back and apologize. Then he decided that, after all, he was in the right; and Holmes had been goading him, deliberately trying to provoke an outburst. Still, Watson hesitated—until an almighty slam of Holmes's bedroom door settled it in his mind.
He turned and limped his way down the stairs, giving Mrs. Hudson, who was waiting anxiously at the landing, a shake of the head and a shrug, and walking out into the street to catch a cab.
"How was he, John?" asked Mary, as he entered the house and hung his hat with military precision on the stand.
"Ill," Watson answered tersely, clanging his stick down into the stand. "Perfectly impossible. According to Mrs. Hudson, he's been having nightmares and insomnia again, and not eating. When I tried to help him he called me his 'keeper' and practically ran me out of the house."
"What on earth, John…? Whyever should he behave so?"
"Oh, he enjoys annoying me; it's one of his few pleasures while he is in one of his moods. When we shared rooms I could tolerate it, but now that I am married and have a practice I put my foot down; he's not going to call me over any hour of the day or night and then send me home again."
"Oh, but John, he sounds perfectly wretched."
"He is." Watson went into the diningroom and sat down at the table, turning a salt cellar round and round in his hands. "But I simply haven't time to pull him out of it now. You saw how many people were here to-day, Mary. And it takes weeks to pull Holmes out of his depression to some sort of normal existence. And if he would eat and not work so hard I have half a notion that he wouldn't be nearly so ill all the time."
Mary sat down across from him and leaned forward, her large blue eyes sympathetic. "Have you told him so?"
"Ever since I met him, practically." Watson sighed. "He's ruffled and jealous, as well. Though heaven knows that's nothing new either. Mary, am I being unreasonable?"
"I don't think so." Mary smoothed her skirts. "And, after all, he won't come here; I don't think he has been in this house since last September."
"My point exactly! If he needs to see me, he could come to me, instead of being so confoundedly Bohemian. Oh, well." Watson shrugged and dismissed the matter. "I say, Mary, I'm terribly hungry. Why don't you go see what the cook has come up with this time? And tell her if it's burnt again we shall eat tinned stuff. I'm tired of everything tasting of carbon."
"Poor dear." Mary got up to stand behind him and wrap her arms around his neck, resting her head on his own.
Watson worried over the problem of Holmes's black fits all evening and well into the night, but with morning came the patients, and so the matter slipped from his mind—until Mary came into the consulting room, looking very puzzled and a little upset.
"John, dear," she said, "I don't want to disturb you, but I think you should know. There's a strange old man here who says he's from a boutique, and—"
The door opened again, and a delivery man poked his head in.
"You're Doctor John Watson?" said the head.
"Right, sir. This is for you, sir." The man brought the rest of his body through and, coming forward, reverently placed a dozen red roses wrapped in green paper on Watson's desk.
"What on earth—?" Watson demanded, perplexed.
"No charge, sir. Right sir." The man wheeled and marched off.
"You see what I mean," said Mary, torn between amusement and perturbation. "And he won't tell me who it is from, either. John! Could it have been misdelivered?"
"I doubt it. Let me see—ah, here's a florist's card. And it says—" Watson tilted the little square of paper to the light, then snorted. "'From a sincere admirer.' And I know that handwriting, too." He crumpled the card into a little ball, put his head in his hands, and began to laugh, a trifle hysterically.
"John, what—oh!" Understanding abruptly dawned in Mary's face, and she stared at the roses with an indescribable expression. "Good heavens. Did Mr. Holmes send this?"
"I don't know what possesses him at times," said Watson, his voice quavery with laughter. He picked up the bouquet and shook his head ruefully. "This, of course, is a perfect example of Holmes's idea of humor—strange, and rather offensive."
"How queer of him," said Mary, laughing herself now as she examined the roses. "Well, John, they are very lovely; we can put them in vases and distribute them throughout the house. I don't think, dear, that it would be quite proper to have them all together."
"Of course not; it is too suggestive of romance. This is utterly typical of him—And the expense must have been monstrous. Oh, well. " He took a deep breath and sobered up. "I suppose I shall have to go see him now; he's apologized quite handsomely, in his own fashion, and deserves some sort of reward for it. I think I shall go after supper, if it's all right with you."
Go after supper he did; he walked the last few blocks to stretch his legs, the sooty rain dripping down the back of his neck. Fortunately there was no wind, so the mud and dust stayed firmly in the streets instead of the infamous "London mud", particles of filth that went whirling through the air.
When he entered the door of 221B he could hear the violin upstairs, sounding like nothing so much as someone moaning and sobbing. It echoed down the stairwell, the little hollow repetitions reverberating eerily, like the distant weeping of a ghost.
Watson took his muffler and hat off with deliberation, hung his overcoat on the peg, and went cautiously up the stairs, favoring his wounded leg. When he knocked on the door the violin, which had been building up to a crescendo of misery, stopped.
"I told you, Mrs. Hudson," said a cold voice, "that I do not want supper. I wish to be left perfectly alone and undisturbed—do you understand?"
Watson smiled a little to himself. Apparently his step had not been heard above the wails of the violin—even Sherlock Holmes had his limitations.
He tapped on the door. "Holmes?"
Silence for a moment, followed by a clatter and a hollow hum of strings as Holmes dropped the violin; then the door opened, and Holmes was staring at him.
"My dear fellow," he said.
Watson studied his friend. Holmes looked exhausted, his shoulders kept straight, it seemed, only by a conscious effort, his eyes hollow and blurred with insomnia. His brows were tense and made him look older, and his face was dead white. There was a subtle quiver in his long fingers.
"You don't look well, Holmes," he said.
"A brilliant deduction, my dear man," Holmes murmured. "No; I'm not well. I thought you had observed as much upon your last visit." He studied Watson a moment longer, then stepped aside. "Well, come in."
Watson accepted the invitation, turning as Holmes shut the door. "I got your delivery," he said.
"Ha!" Holmes jerked one eyebrow up and smiled twitchily.
"And my wife quite admires the flowers."
"Ah, but I sent them to you, not her. Odd, how women always assume bouquets are for them, is it not?" Holmes swayed a little and clutched at the sideboard for balance. Watson came forward quickly, concerned, one hand outstretched.
Holmes gazed at him, mockery in his eyes, and something else behind it, something chilling, an expression of fear the sarcasm was meant to mask.
"A reaction," he said. "Running solely upon nerves and cocaine for long periods of time is not advisable, especially when combined with sleeplessness…"
"Oh, I beg your pardon." Holmes gave him a grimace. "I thought you enjoyed melodramas, especially with your taste in literature."
"Holmes, if you're genuinely ill—"
"It does not matter. I can…manage." He sat on the sideboard, his hands palms-down on either side of him as if to keep himself from falling.
"Holmes, answer me. Are you really ill, or have you simply made yourself so?"
"The outcome's the same, is it not? I don't know." He swayed again, as if he were dizzy, and took in a deep gulp of air. "I am pleased to hear you received my little offering—"
"Never mind the roses! Come lie down, Holmes, before you collapse completely."
"One collapse a year—is that how we average?" he asked bitterly. "Let me see, we had the prostration of '87, and then the one in February of '89—great heavens, we missed a year. And now we are at least two months overdue, so we are turning out nicely. Watson, I'm going to die of the black fit, I do believe."
Watson went over and took his friend by the shoulders. "How long has it been, Holmes—the black fit?"
"Months and months—since a little before Christmas," Holmes said, his knuckles whitening as he clenched his fingers onto the edge of the sideboard. His habitual cold mask was slipping, showing some of the torment going on in his mind. "I've been waiting and waiting for it to lift, and it hasn't. Watson! I shall not spend the rest of my life this way! I'll shoot myself first."
"Don't even think of such a thing; stick it out like a soldier and it will eventually fade. You know it, Holmes, from past experience."
"I'm not a soldier, Watson; I'm a detective."
"Use your methods, then."
Holmes laughed, a half-snarling little sound that made Watson wince. "My methods! My dear boy, my brain has become too solidified for that. I cannot think when in the black fit—you know how it is! You've seen it. I am too sluggish of mind to work, really; and yet I cannot bear life without cases. It is flat, it is stale, it is unprofitable; I need constant stimulation in order to escape from the unbearable tedium of existence." He took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh, misery in his eyes. "Never mind; I am wandering again. The brain is…a strange organ." He fumbled in his pockets, standing up to search; he found a cigarette and lit it, dragging on the end with an intent expression on his face. "Have you medical men dissected it, figured it out? The brain, I mean. Oh! Here is a riddle, Watson: do the chemicals in the brain generate the illusion of the existence of a soul, or does the soul generate the illusion of a brain?"
"Holmes, I haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about."
"Deep, dark speculations upon philosophy." Holmes stared dreamily at the blue tobacco smoke coiling around the room. "To rephrase it: is the material reality, and the soul some notion coined by wistful intelligent animals, or is all life subjective, entirely a child of fancy? A passing dream? Or, wait." He frowned. "It cannot be subjective; or else I should simply will myself out of the black fit, as you have so often sternly advised me to do." He gave Watson a maudlin grin.
"Come sit down."
Holmes sniggered at him. His eyes were still uncannily empty. "Very well then. You come too: listen to my little theories, and then you are free to return to your home, and I shan't even send you roses this time." He sat gingerly down on the settee, mouth tight. "Oh, how I ache."
Watson sat down beside him and resigned himself to listen. Holmes in a black fit was always morbid to the point of eeriness, and Watson generally didn't enjoy having gooseflesh. Over horror stories, yes; over the state of his friend's mind, no.
"Now," said Holmes, blowing smoke rings in the air, "my theories. Be gentle with your poor friend, my boy; his brain is rusty. Cigarette? Cigar? Anything at all? No? Well, you cannot say I did not offer. What was I saying? Ah, yes, the brain. Now, one of the elementary principles of science is, it must be able to be proved in a laboratory before one accepts it as fact; and under normal conditions this principle fares splendidly. There are, however, certain limitations. For example, no-one can prove that he himself exists, for the simple reason that he cannot recreate the happy—or unhappy—incident of his own birth. Scientifically, we cannot prove the existence of, let us say, Shakespeare." He raised an eyebrow. "You admit the validity of my remarks?"
"In general, yes."
"How very kind of you. Well then. I have been formulating this notion during all my sleepless nights; so I have had very much time to work upon it—brood over it, as you might say." He smiled again, introspectively. "Now, you have, during your education as a medical man, seen vivisections?"
"Of course." Watson couldn't think of what Holmes could be leading up to, and was fairly certain he didn't want to know. "And you have too, no doubt."
"Quite. Well, during my period of tormenting the masters at Bart's, some ingenious professor devised a quite novel experiment. He severed the heads of some unfortunate dogs and managed, by pumping the blood to their heads, to keep them artificially alive for some time. The creatures even showed some awareness of their…interesting state. My point is this: if an animal brain can be kept alive, why not that of a human? If we could perfect the technique. Now, I doubt that this is so, but you know how one is without sleep!" He smiled, his empty eyes wide like a somnambulist's. "I had a simply marvelous notion the other night. Life is one vast cosmic experiment, with God, or at least a controlling force, as the professor; and we poor mortals as the vivisections." He chuckled grotesquely. "Brains in jars, experiencing the delirium that accompanies disembodiment." He hurled his cigarette butt into the fireplace. "So therefore, according to this hypothesis, life is not subjective; it is guided, directed, by some monstrous scientist measuring the chemicals in our brains, observing our reaction to stimuli." He leaned back and put his hands behind his head. "What do you think?"
"It sounds," said Watson, "like a cross between Eastern mysticism and that book by Mary Shelley—the one about the mad scientist patching together a monster out of pieces of cadavers. Holmes, it's a perfectly hideous notion. Wherever do you come up with such things?"
Holmes tapped his temple. "From the mind, Watson, my poor much-tried, insomniac mind." He put a hand to his forehead. "I haven't slept in weeks—really and truly."
"Have you done anything to try and remedy it?"
"Oh, meditation, relaxation—inosfar as anyone cursed with black moods can relax—self-hypnosis, morphine, laudanum, chamomile. Everything. Mrs. Hudson has been pelting me with quack nostrums. Bah! I know perfectly well that most patent medicines consist almost entirely of either morphine or cocaine, or both." He sniggered. "I know a drug when I meet one."
"Speaking of which, Holmes…" Watson began.
"Ah! The bullyragging begins! My friend, I surrender. I haven't the heart to quibble." Holmes pulled his left arm out of his jacket sleeve, undid his cuff, and slid his shirtsleeve up above his elbow, displaying with a flourish a welted and bruised forearm and myriads of rash-like puncture-marks.
Watson sighed and took his friend's bare wrist, his mouth grimly tight. "Well, this explains the insomnia, in part."
"Confound you, no!" Holmes angrily jerked away and pulled his sleeve back down and his jacket back on. "How many times must I explain this? I take it because of the depression. I've insomnia already. Yes, the cocaine causes insomnia, but I should be—" He stopped and stared fixedly into space for a moment or two before resuming. "I should be…suicidal…if I wished more insomnia down upon myself." He turned suddenly to stare at Watson and whisper, "The truth is, Watson, I think I'm losing my mind."
"Holmes, stop it."
"All right! All right!" He got up and began pacing madly around the room. "I shall say nothing more. It is getting late and the rain is picking up again; go home, back to your charming wife."
Watson rose too, and went to catch his friend by the arm. "Holmes, listen to me. I can't stay here, I am sorry, but you are more than welcome to come to my house. We'll try to accommodate you."
Holmes studied him for a little as if wanting to save the memory of Watson's face for future reference; then his eyes dropped, and he began softly to trace his finger along the lapel of Watson's jacket.
"No," he murmured. His fingertip skimmed up to Watson's shoulder. "I should only be in the way and frighten your wife." He brought his other hand up to lightly touch Watson's arm. "I abhor others' company when in this state. No, it's no use. But thank you." He sighed and finally brought his gaze back up to Watson's, his face finely drawn, almost delicate in the light of the lamps, his eyes shadowed. His hands dropped to his sides. "I do appreciate it."
Watson stepped back too, feeling oddly uneasy. He always did, when Holmes was in his moods, but this was something different—something to do with Holmes's jealousy, and the roses, and how dark the room was. He tried to banish this sense of sickly discomfort, but it lingered, like an aftertaste of something he could not identify.
"You are welcome, Holmes," he said. They held gazes a moment longer before he turned and opened the door, stepping out into the hallway.
"Goodbye, old fellow," he said, and went down the stairs.
Out in the street he turned to look up at the window. There was a yellow blaze of light, but no watchful silhouette. And then the window went dark. Holmes had turned out the lights.