This idea was inspired by one of my writing partner's recent drabbles, and Protector of the Grey Fortress encouraged me to write and post it as well.
So here's the dedication – to you, PGF, and hope you approve!
Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak
Whispers to the o'er-fraught heart and bids it break.
It was with a tired sense of excitement that I reached home at last – the Channel crossing had been foggy and the train ride arduous, and I was heartily glad to see the grey and drab buildings of London once again.
This infernal case had taken entirely too much time and energy – and I was rather annoyed that I had spent the last three days in chasing a red herring all the way to Calais and Paris.
And even more annoying still was the fact that Watson had been unable to accompany me on the week-long journey. Before the case had come along he had rashly agreed to volunteer to aid with the treatment of a recent bronchitis epidemic that was sweeping the area round his old practice; he had declined to go on the Continent with me merely due to a shortage of medical help in London.
Bah. As if treating coughing patients were more important than tracking an assasain across France.
I drew my ulster closer about me as the cab clopped along in the direction of Baker Street, for the early January weather was bitter in London. I glanced at my watch and saw that it was after midnight; and I briefly wondered if Watson would still be up, and if not, would he mind my waking him, for I was eager to share the results of the case with him.
I had sorely missed him, more than I would admit to a living soul, even in just the week that I had been gone. Not to mention the fact that I would much have preferred to have him watching my back rather than that half-witted French policeman when I finally cornered the villain in the back room of that cafe.
The frigid air was blowing about the cab, freezing my breath into tiny ice crystals along the flaps and side of the vehicle, and I wished with all my might that my friend would still be up with the fire going, for I was thoroughly chilled by this time.
I was devoutly grateful to see the familiar old façade of the flat in which I had spent the last nine months since my return to London, signifying something that I had finally come to realize I needed desperately, though I would die before admitting it to a living soul – warmth and home and companionship.
No man is an island, so one of my fellow Englishmen has said, and I realized quite some time ago that it was indeed true. A peninsula, perhaps, but not an island.
I hopped out of the cab with alacrity, fumbling with near-numb fingers for the fare and snatching my carpetbag from the floor of the vehicle. The cabbie tipped his hat and drove off, leaving me on the sidewalk.
I glanced up at the windows of the sitting room and was surprised, and a little pleased, to see a flickering orange glow on the blinds – the fire was still going at least. I fumbled with my key, my breath forming a smoky cloud round my head, and then got the door open and stumbled inside.
The hall was dark, and I made sure to not be noisy and waken Mrs. Hudson, leaving my bag outside my bedroom and going straight to the sitting room, opening the door quietly so as not to waken Watson on the floor above if he were asleep.
But he was not, for his back was to me as he stood across the sitting room looking at something he had picked up from his desk.
I felt an impish smile cross my face.
"I say, Watson, are you not at least going to say 'Welcome back'?"
I regretted startling him when he nearly dropped whatever he was holding and whirled round with a cry of near-fright. For a moment his features were a mixture of emotions that I found very puzzling – startlement, yes, but something else – but then a glad smile suffused his face as he saw me standing there in the doorway.
"Holmes! I didn't expect you back so soon," he said, walking over and taking my coat from me.
I was very glad to go over to the fire and attempt to thaw my frozen hands.
"The case wrapped up faster than I had anticipated – and I took very good notes for you, old chap," I added, rubbing my hands to increase friction.
"Was it Waterman?"
"Yes, of course. I was right all along – the diamond dealer clew in Paris was just another decoy. Anything interesting happen in London while I was away?"
"No, not really. Lestrade came by with some robbery case but ended up solving the bit himself when the culprit turned himself in yesterday," Watson replied a trifle boredly, sitting heavily in his chair.
I noticed now that he was in his nightclothes, a dressing gown and slippers completing the ensemble. And now that he was near the flickering firelight, I could see that his face was creased with sleep-lines. He had been asleep – why was he no longer?
"Why are you up so late, my dear fellow? It is nearly one in the morning," I said, watching him carefully, "another patient keep you up?"
"No, no. The epidemic seems to have run itself out for the most part," he replied tiredly.
The fact that he had very neatly sidestepped my question did not elude my notice.
"Is anything wrong?"
"No, why?" His voice was unnaturally sharp, containing a strained edge. I instantly backed away from the subject, not understanding why he was acting in such a manner.
"Nothing, nothing – I was just wondering. I think I shall turn in now," I said slowly, glancing at his drawn features once again.
We exchanged goodnights, and the matter passed from my mind as I prepared for bed. But when I opened the hall door to pick up my carpetbag from the hall, I saw through the open sitting room door that the fire was still going and the gas was still lit, even fifteen minutes after I had left.
I stepped noiselessly into the line of vision and peered into the room. Watson had gone back to his desk and was now sitting at it, his chin in his cupped hand, looking once again at something I could not identify from this far away.
I debated for a moment whether or not to re-enter the room but decided against it. If something was bothering him, he usually told me. Or at least made it easy for me to learn the truth. For some reason he did not want me to press this matter, and I respected his privacy. I would go no further with it.
But that opinion changed two nights later when I had been up all night thinking about a petty little problem that Lestrade had brought to my attention. It should not have presented any difficulties as to its solution but it was proving to be rather more of a puzzle than I had first anticipated.
I realized my pipe had gone out due to a lack of tobacco, and I got up from my bed where I had been sitting, thinking, and crossed into the sitting room. It was dark save for the moonlight streaming in through the windows – it was well upon two or three in the morning by this time.
I had fully stuffed my pipe with tobacco from the Persian slipper when a small sound caused me to pause in the act of lighting it and turn with a start.
And I was surprised, and not a little worried, to see that Watson was asleep on the couch here in the sitting room – without blanket or pillow, almost as if he had just fallen asleep sitting there. I had walked right past his slumbering form on my way out of my bedroom, not seeing him until now.
Watson, as well I knew, was a creature of habit, solid and stolid habit, and such odd behaviour was definitely out of character and a more than a little disconcerting. I stood for a moment looking down at him as he moved restlessly, my mind cogitating possible explanations as to why he had been acting thus.
My gaze fell then upon his desk, and I determined to find out what he had been so intently studying the other evening late into the night. I looked over the visible objects and could find nothing to bear any light upon the matter.
I had a few qualms about going through his drawers, but I decided to do so only in the interest of helping him with whatever was troubling him – for obviously something was. I began to methodically search the desk.
And a moment later, I discovered the reason for his behaviour.
In the first drawer to hand on the right side was a photograph of his late wife – the only one I had ever seen him possess of her. And with the sight of the stark black-and-white reminder of the deceased woman came the realization of the reason for his actions, hitting me in the face like an icy slap of cold water.
It was January.
His wife had died sometime in January, as I vaguely recalled seeing the tiny paragraph of print that Mycroft had directed me to look up in the Times that fateful day last winter. I had been in Egypt when it had happened, and Mycroft's original message after the fact had never reached me, being lost somewhere between Egypt and France, where I ended up a few months later.
In consequence, I had not found out about Mary Morstan Watson's death until three months after the fact. But I did remember it had been in January of last year.
A year ago.
That was probably the reason he was acting strangely – I knew he had been plagued with nightmares upon his return to Baker Street last spring, and I would not be at all surprised to learn that something of the kind was the reason he was spending his nights elsewhere than his own bedroom.
As if to corroborate my suspicions, the moonlight shifted to beam directly upon the couch and I could see his face clearly in the silvery sheen – and it took no great deduction upon my part to perceive that he had been crying at some point; his face still bore the fading signs of tears. And on the floor beside the couch was an empty glass, and our decanter of brandy had been obviously depleted by several ounces.
My heart sank dismally for him, for I knew that there was absolutely nothing I could do to ease the pain he obviously was still feeling. I am the worst possible person to deal with matters of the heart; I cannot fathom my own emotions, much less aid a fellow man in dealing with his. I would not be able to be of any help to my poor friend in aiding him with this obviously still-poignant grief.
Or would I?
My brow furrowed as I shut the drawer upon the picture, deeply disturbed in mind and body over my own inability to help my friend. Surely there was something I could do?
I retrieved a blanket from my room and gently spread it over Watson's restless form, being careful not to awaken him, all thoughts of Lestrade and his petty police problem forgotten in the face of a much more serious and much more important difficulty.
One that deserved my immediate and full attention.
To be continued...reviews would be very welcome!