Disclaimer - Voila! The final chapter – I still own nothing, unfortunately.
I settled back into my comfortable armchair with a sigh of satisfaction, the combination of a blazing fire in the hearth and a glass of port after one of Mrs. Hudson's good meals enough to put me in an most excellent frame of mind.
As Holmes sat in his familiar chair across from me, he too looked happy to be back in Baker Street once more – we had arrived only that afternoon to find Mrs. Hudson and the boy Cartwright ready to greet us effusively.
Holmes had shooed the poor woman out of the sitting room a few minutes ago, insisting that I needed peace and quiet – but truth be told, Holmes's incessant fussing was becoming almost as smothering as our worthy landlady's had been.
As if to prove my point, when I coughed slightly as the smoke from his pipe drifted my way, he started and looked at me with a worried gaze.
"Holmes, for heaven's sake," I remonstrated, "I am perfectly fine now. There is no need for you to have a panic attack every time I clear my throat!"
My over-exaggeration of the way he had been carefully behaving as if I were made of glass and would break easily seemed to relax us both, and Holmes ruefully smiled at me.
Indeed, in the week we had spent at Baskerville Hall after the horrible events that had taken place there, I had made a most amazing recovery with the aid of Holmes's care; and the only indications now of our misadventures were the light bandages that remained on my wrists, half-hidden by my shirt-cuffs, and a slight cough once in a while if the weather were particularly vile.
I glanced up as the clock struck ten.
"Well, Sir Henry is probably on his way to the ship by now," I remarked, thinking of the baronet in whose company I had spent the last month.
After the traumatic events that had taken place, Sir Henry was rather weary of his estate there in Dartmoor and Dr. Mortimer and I both had prescribed him to take a prolonged holiday traveling abroad while the modern improvements he had planned were being made to the Hall.
Indeed, the poor American's nerves were still rather shaky over the whole affair. Learning that the woman he had fallen in love with – indeed, I firmly believed he still loved Beryl Stapleton – was in reality the villain's wife had been a cruel blow.
But the fact that the woman had only aided her husband out of pure fear and terror – witness what he had done to her that last night – and that she firmly refused that night to be a part of the actual plot to kill Sir Henry had done much to ease the pain of betrayal in the man's mind.
"I still love her, Watson," he had said as we stood in the drawing room of Baskerville Hall this morning, saying our goodbyes, "Do you think perhaps –"
"Perhaps, Sir Henry," I said with a smile, "after your voyage. Come back in nine months or a year, and yes, I do believe that perhaps, you might. But not now."
"No, of course not," the baronet had said thoughtfully, his honest face lighting up with a smile at my words.
I could indeed tell by the way both parties acted, that there was a good strong possibility that the past might become buried in the past so deeply, buried under the mud and mire of the great Grimpen that Stapleton had so loved, that they might move on with their lives, free from the dread influence that had made Beryl Stapleton's married life a veritable hell on earth.
"Watson?" Holmes's voice broke into my reverie.
"What are you thinking about, dear chap? You have such a dreadfully studious look on your face."
"You mean to tell me that this time you cannot read my thoughts from my features, Holmes?" I asked, teasing him unmercifully, realizing just how much I had missed moments like these over the past month.
He laughed, muttering something about being 'somewhat out of practice', and merely went back to smoking his pipe, his eyes twinkling at me mischievously over its curved stem.
"I was remembering what Sir Henry said just before we left this morning, Holmes," I explained.
"Ah. Do you think he shall suffer any lasting damage from the ill effects of the shock he has been through?" Holmes asked, voicing again his concern for the baronet.
"I do not believe so, Holmes. He is quite a spirited young man."
"Yes, indeed. It is rather a pity about his falling in love with the villain's wife."
"Hmm. I should reserve judgment upon that point until Sir Henry returns from his trip abroad," I remarked, looking absently into the fire.
"Watson, you don't really mean that you think –"
"Holmes," I said lightly, "just take my word on it, you would not understand."
He snorted in a rather undignified fashion, and then smirked at me.
"Your department, then?"
"My department, Holmes."
"I must concede to your superior perception in that case," he replied, grinning at me. Then his tone changed, and became more philosophical.
"Love is a strange thing, Watson," Holmes went on, rising and walking over to the window to gaze out upon the city we had not seen in so long, "a mystery even I for one would never try to solve. That a man could still want to marry the wife of the fellow who tried to kill him is something I should never be able to comprehend."
"Perhaps," I replied. "But then again, one might remain similarly mystified about a chap who would spend an hour in risking his life, fighting through three acres of deadly quicksand, for the sole purpose of rescuing a friend."
I suddenly found my port glass very interesting, staring at it rather awkwardly, wondering where in the world that melodramatic sentiment had come from in my mind.
Sherlock Holmes was silent for a moment, and then he came back and reseated himself in his chair, cross-legged as of old.
"Again, I concede to your superior perception, my dear Watson," was his only comment, accompanied by a quirky smile that did more to warm me than either the port or the fire.
It was definitely good to be home.
Finis! Thank you for reading - and reviewing too!