July 1888

Settled in the study in the deep, cushiony armchair that Mr. House had procured but rarely sat in, James looked up from his research in surprise as the room plunged into sudden darkness. Absorbed in his reading, he was alarmed to think he had missed the passage of afternoon into evening. Rubbing his weary eyes against the darkness, he sank back into his chair and let his gaze wander to the empty fireplace; contemplating the late hour. Surely Alice or Henry should have come to fetch him for afternoon tea? His hand crept into his breast pocket and consulted the heavy watch within; surprised to find that it was scarcely past four. Rising to his feet, he shuffled to the window and peered out into the dismal atmosphere. Rain drizzled down the window panes and distant lightning glowed sickly upon the walls. In the street, those braving the elements hurried to and fro while attempting to avoid puddles and dodge the steadily seeping rain. A knock upon the door drew his attention away from the suppurating storm and he turned to find Alice's silhouette peering in from the doorway.

"Mr. Wilson? Tea is ready. Would you like me to bring you a cup?" she asked, and James smiled ruefully.

"No, thank you, dear Alice. Has Mr. House retired from the storm?" He turned from the window and saw her shake her head as he moved to the door. Alice stepped back as James drew near. "Then I believe I shall join Mr. House for tea."

oOo

Mr. House was not fond of inclement weather. In the time since James had known him, he had come to realize that his employer had a well-developed barometer for foul weather and would seek his shelter in morphine; dosing himself liberally so as to be rendered unaware of the the storm. As such, it was disturbing to find that Mr. House had been either caught unawares or was unconcerned by the storm at present; as Alice had indicated that he had not yet taken to his bed. Sidling down the hall in his naught but his house-slippers, James found Mr. House in the kitchen; settled upon a dining chair with his leg propped upon another before the stove. He paused for a moment, taken aback by the site of his employer seated so uncomfortably before the small cooking fire when he had but to ask Henry to take him to his room.

"Mr. House?" he inquired anxiously. "Are you well?"

His employer turned to look upon him; his blue eyes dull and tired.

"Of course, dear boy."

"Would you not be more comfortable in your bed?" James asked, even as he stooped before the grate and looked carefully to Mr. House's bared, swollen leg. Remembering his employer's distaste for hands-on examinations whilst he was sensate, James refrained from touching the offending limb.

"I should be more comfortable in bed." Mr. House agreed. "But, as I expect I shall be in bed until this foul weather has passed, I have elected to weather the storm for now.

James rose to his feet once more, and sighed, heavily. Mr. House's mercurial moods were oft difficult to decipher, and he knew no more what to make of this one than he did any of the others. In the end, James held his tongue; as he always did.

"Would you like your tea, Mr. House?"

He busied himself with the tea service for a moment; pouring them each a cup of tea, adding sugar and cream before holding out a cup and saucer to Mr. House expectantly.

"I believe I shall sit at the table." Mr. House pronounced, and James smiled indulgently as he moved to help his employer rise stiffly to his feet and stagger over to the table set before the window. Once he was seated and his leg propped up anew, James set a cup before him before sinking into another chair himself. Neither man spoke for a time, each sipping at his tea and staring out into the rain. Up and down the street, the lamplighters moved briskly; although the ghostly glow of the gas-lamps did nothing to dispel the encroaching gloom.

"I know that you have devoted yourself to research on Mr. Merrick for some time now." Mr. House said at last. "What have you learned?"

James paused, letting his hands wrap about his cup of tea seeking warmth the way a moth sought light. In the weeks since meeting Mr. Merrick, James had undertaken research upon the man with Mr. House's thirst for knowledge in mind. Mr. House would not seek to understand the nature of Mr. Merrick's temperament or the cruel facts of his mistreatment at the behest of other men. Mr. House thought of naught but the medicine and James had done his best to learn the aspects of Mr. Merrick's condition that he thought Mr. House would find of interest.

"According to the patient history written by Mr. Treves, Mr. Merrick began to develop abnormally during the first few years of his life. His skin appeared thick and lumpy, he developed an enlargement of his lips, and a bony lump grew on his forehead. One of his arms and both feet became enlarged and at some point during his childhood he fell and damaged his hip, which left him permanently lame. Shortly after his mother died—she was his confidante—his father remarried." James paused to sip his tea; he also attempted to study Mr. House's downcast visage, but his face was expressionless. He was a man of deep feelings, James had come to discover; and oft times when Mr. House strove to convey a stoic mien, he did so to hide the opposite. Taking another sip of his still-warm tea, James swallowed and then continued his recitation.

"After he was effectively rejected by his father and stepmother, Mr. Merrick left their home. Aged just seventeen he entered the Leicester Union workhouse as he had no other family to take him in." James paused for a moment as the gravity of his words sunk in. No one to take him into their house. No one to care for him in his infirmity. He imagined how dreadfully frightening it must have been for Mr. Merrick, and how terribly difficult his days must have been. " In 1884, after four years in the workhouse, Mr. Merrick was contacted by a showman named Sam Torr. It was then proposed that he should be exhibited. Mr. Merrick agreed, and a group of men were arranged to manage him. It was this man, Sam Torr, who proposed calling their travelling exhibition 'The Elephant Man'."

Mr. House sat still and quiet at their quaint table; his gaze out the window shuttered and far away. His solemn expression could be lightened when mischief arose in his eyes, but there was no sign of good humour when he caught James' eye before looking away. Doubtless his thoughts mirrored James' own. Mr. House sipped at his own tea and nodded for James to continue.

"After touring the East Midlands, Mr. Merrick travelled to London to be exhibited in a penny shop on Whitechapel road. This showman was called Tom Norman. Norman's shop was directly across the street from the London Hospital; which of course was how Mr. Treves found Mr. Merrick and asked his consent to be examined and photographed. During one of their meetings, Mr. Treves gave Mr. Merrick his card."

Mr. House suddenly stiffened in his seat and gripped the edge of the table so hard that his knuckles blanched white. James made to rise in alarm to assist, only to fall back into his seat at Mr. House's whispered command.

"No."

"Are you certain you should not seek your bed, Mr. House?" he asked anxiously.

Mr. House chuckled ruefully, and James felt himself begin to relax. "I would agree I should be abed. And I shall be, soon enough. But for now, dear boy, I would continue to hear the particulars of Mr. Merrick's case. Many things depend upon it." James nodded cautiously; his gaze intently upon Mr. House's white knuckled grasp as it slowly relaxed. Only when his expression relaxed and his hands released their grip did James continue.

"Of course, Mr. Treves wanted to present Merrick at a meeting of the Pathological Society of London, and did so on a number of occasions. Eventually, Mr. Merrick admitted to Tom Norman that he no longer wanted to meet anyone from the hospital. He said he felt more debased by the medical community's scrutiny than he had on the streets as he was stripped naked, and examined like an animal at market." James swallowed distastefully; fully aware that his initial reaction to Mr. Merrick had been like all the others. He, too, had been more interested in the man's infirmity than the man himself. Only Mr. House—the one man he might have expected such a reaction from—had been more interested in his character. James hurried to continue.

"Unfortunately, soon after Merrick's visits to the hospital, Tom Norman's shop was closed by the police and Merrick's managers sent him to tour in Europe. He was robbed by his road manager and abandoned in Brussels. He eventually made his way back to London but was unable to communicate. When he was found by the police to have Mr. Treves' card on him. Mr. Treves came and took Mr. Merrick back to the London Hospital, where he was admitted and treated for bronchitis. And that is the pith of his story until you met him seven weeks ago."

Mr. House sat quietly; staring out the window, and when James lifted his gaze he found that even in the near darkness of the room he could still see the tear tracks on Mr. House's cheeks. He wept quietly, soundlessly; with a bravado James could only admire. His tea had long gone cold, but James swallowed the dregs in his cup and gritted his teeth at the gritty wash of sugar down his throat. When Mr. House did finally turn his attention to his young apprentice, James found himself unnerved by the intensity of his gaze.

"Well, my boy? What have you learned?" Mr. House shifted himself on his seat and lifted his foot to the floor.

James sat upright, startled. What had Mr. House intended he learn? He studied him employer intently; as always, he found no answers in his countenance. He turned his gaze inward then; seeking the answer within himself.

"I have learned the depth of my indifference." James said finally, and Mr. House's changeable eyes lit up at his forthright answer. "I regret that I was more interested in his infirmity than I was in the man himself."

"Do you feel pity for him?" Mr. House asked.

"I feel anger at his mistreatment. I feel sorrow for his circumstances. If that is pity, then I suppose that I do." James said at length, and Mr. House nodded.

"Then you have benefitted from your time spent with Mr. Merrick?"

"I should say so." James admitted after some thought, and Mr. House gave him a wry smile.

"What of you, Mr. House?" James asked softly. "Have you found what you sought?"

Mr. House looked at him sagely, and spoke angrily. "I sought nothing from Mr. Merrick, save kinship and solace—all the more precious from a man who has had little of either. I sought understanding where other men sought fortune. I sought to know his character where other men saw only his exterior. For his sake, I would undertake the maintenance of his care to the end of his days."

James gaped at his employer; surprised at Mr. House's generosity. In hindsight, he knew he should have suspected something of the kind. "Why you, Mr. House?" he asked.

"Mr. Treves has been unable to commit the Hospital to his care any longer, and it is a surety that Mr. Merrick will require maintenance for the rest of his days. Given his wonderful character despite a lifetime of mistreatment at the hands of men, he thought I should find him an interesting companion. And I have, indeed. Had he been a hard or bitter man, I should have declined. " Mr. House nodded decisively, even as he prepared to stand. James rose to his feet and assisted Mr. House to his. He ignored the sharp intake of Mr. House's breath as his leg sparked at the movement. He held Mr. House's slender frame close as he shook within James' embrace; the pain at least overcoming even his ability to withstand.

"Henry!" James called, even as he felt Mr. House lose consciousness and fall lax in his arms. He let Mr. House's weight take them both to the floor; though he was careful to cushion his employer's descent. He straightened Mr. House's troublesome leg, and shifted his upper body so his head rested in the crook of James' elbow. Mr. House was a prideful, arrogant, cynical man—who was also loyal, generous and kind. He was truly an honourable man—if occasionally a foolish one. He shook his head wryly; Mr. House ought to have sought his bed ages ago, yet he'd known James was ready to share all that he had learned. Arranged uncomfortably with Mr. House upon the floor, James marveled at Mr. House's strength and how fortunate he was to have met such a remarkable employer.

oOo

It was deep in the night when he awoke abruptly; staring up into the bedcurtains as he struggled to organize his thoughts. He strained to listen into the dark for any sound, but could hear nothing. Had Mr. House called out? Had Henry awakened to his master's request for assistance? Yet the brownstone was utterly silent; and the silence had him on edge. James lay awake for some time—listening, watching, waiting—but no answer for his wakefulness revealed itself. In the end, unable to return to sleep—he slid from his warm bed and pulled his dressing gown over his nightshirt. The bedroom was unnaturally cold for a midsummer night; he could see his breath mist when he passed near the window and felt gooseflesh creep over him. Stepping into his house slippers, James paused near the fireplace and peered into the coal bucket. There was little coal remaining; though that was hardly unusual given the time of year. He tipped what little coal there was into the grate and cast about for the matches. His fire thus lit, he quietly slipped out the door and found the rest of the house as chilled as his own room. His thoughts turned to Mr. House, whom they had put to bed some hours before; insensate from the pain. He had regained consciousness shortly after, and lost it once more when James had dosed him with morphine. Conscious of the cold, James took the steps two at a time up to Mr. House's bedroom and quietly swung the door open. If he was asleep, James saw no reason to wake him. He stole inside, relieved to note that Henry or Alice had seen fit to start his fire and his room was markedly warmer than James' own had been. He turned away to find Mr. House's bedcurtains flung open, and the bed empty. Perhaps, James mused, he had awakened with a purpose. Where could Mr. House have gone? Stepping around the end of the bed, he felt relief wash over him as he spotted Mr. House standing in naught but his nightshirt before the window, his nose pressed to the glass.

"Mr. House? Are you alright?"

His employer turned to face him, his blue eyes alight with boyish enthusiasm. "It's snowing, dear boy. Come and see."

End part III