I spent the remainder of the week under an immense fatigue and dull achiness akin to the aftermath of my roughest rugby match. It was no hardship to remain in bed save that it was tedious to have no way to occupy my mind other than memorizing the lines of the ceiling or the warps of the walls.
Holmes was reluctant at first to grant me even a light novel until I pointed out how badly boredom wore on him and that he did not hold a monopoly on ennui. In return, I took no offense when he almost gleefully pointed out that I inevitably fell asleep reading. I could have pointed out, but did not, that at least I was sleeping normally again.
The battle royale came after not quite a full week of bedrest. I chose to leave my room for a bath. Holmes was not so impossible as to interrupt but he was waiting for me when I emerged, essentially clothed but opting for dressing gown rather than jacket. From his black scowl, one would think I intended to go out and swim the Thames rather than settle carefully in my chair by the fire.
"What the devil do you think you're doing?" he demanded.
"You know perfectly well what I meant. You are showing an appalling lack of care for your well-being . . . and mine too, for that matter. Jackson would have my head on a platter if he knew I was allowing you out of bed so soon."
"You are not allowing me and no, he wouldn't. Jackson couldn't harm a fly. That is his one failing as a physician."
"That he is not strict enough with patients?"
I shrugged. "Some patients need firmer handling than others."
Holmes quirked his brows. "Indeed?"
I ignored his implications. "I see no danger in having a simple bath, Holmes. In fact I think the steam proved beneficial. Besides, it is high time I broke your monopoly of lounging about in dressing gowns."
"Hardly a monopoly," Holmes retorted. "Well, the foolishness is already done and I suppose no harm has come it of." He scrutinized me as if hoping to find some evidence of injury. "But when Jackson returns you shall be the one to justify your actions."
I merely reached for the latest edition of the Times, almost as hungry for news as I was for a real breakfast. "If it will be that much of a task perhaps I should defer it to you. After all, I am recuperating."
"I shall pretend I did not hear that," Holmes replied with aplomb. "Ill men must be humored, after all."
Gradually the temperature outside rose to a comparably warm high of just over freezing. The sun made more frequent appearances and the tapping of water from melting icicles set the tempo for daily life. I should have liked to go out and enjoy the coming of spring. However, I knew that the wind was still chill, my lungs were still not fully recovered, and I did not like to think of Holmes's overreaction if he knew I was even thinking of setting foot outside. And while I trusted my own judgment concerning the former two, the latter was beyond my influence.
That is why, over a fortnight later, I bundled up warmly against the wind and went out without saying a word to him. Along the way I purchased a few bunches of violets, one of the few flowers available this early in the year.
It was an overcast day with an as-yet unfulfilled promise of rain in the air. The ground was in that stage between melted snow and the first shoots of green. I knelt on one knee and used my bare hand to melt away the residual traces of frost from the headstone. The name – Elizabeth Ellen – was clear without my intervention but I did not like to think of ice upon my girl. Then I laid the violets at the base of it.
That accomplished, I stood, thrust my fists into my pockets and stepped back. The little bunch of purple flowers made a lonely splotch of color against the grey of the stone and the drab brown of the earth. It was more fitting, I thought, than the showy cheerfulness of daffodils or crocuses. That, and we had almost named her "Violet."
In the end we had named her for her grandmothers, both of whom had died young also. Were I superstitious man I might have seen some sort of omen there. Certainly it would have been a relief to blame something for her death. Instead there was a myriad of grief and anger and guilt still not yet reconciled. Work, as Holmes had said, is an antidote to sorrow as well I knew. But one never really stops grieving for a lost child. I could imagine my daughter at four or at ten or at sixteen but I would never know how close my imagination would have matched reality. There lay the rub.
I thought again of her as I had known her – wide, bright eyes so eager to take in everything; Mary's blonde hair in little tendrils; ready, glowing smiles; and a loud, insistent voice that immediately broadcast her delight or displeasure.
I turned away sharply. I could never wish to give up those memories no matter the pain but I could dwell on them only so long before they became unbearable. I began to make my way home only to be halted in my tracks. "Holmes?"
He was a respectful distance away and positioned so that he would not have been able to see my face. Only now, upon my departure, did he venture near. "I would not have stopped you from coming, you know," he reproached.
"No, I didn't know," I answered frankly.
"For heaven's sake, Watson, the weather is much improved as is your cough. Even if they were not, do you honestly think I would try to forbid you to pay your respects to loved ones?"
I shrugged, appropriately chastised. Holmes made an irritated noise and took my arm in an abrupt gesture that ought to have been rough but was so light I barely felt it. We walked past the graves to the front gate in silence. Then, without looking at me directly, he said quietly, "You still feel culpable for your daughter's death."
We both knew it was not a question and I marked that Holmes did not use her name. "At the inquest it was asked why neither Mary nor I checked on her in the middle of the night."
"Why on earth would either of you have?"
"Three month old infants do not usually sleep through the night and require at least one nightly feeding."
"Hmm." Holmes seemed to be contemplating the role the care and feeding of babies might play a role in an investigation. "I take it she had not yet settled onto a nightly schedule."
"No. She had us up at all hours, impossible to predict – but how did you know?"
He smiled gently. "Because if she had been, you both would have been accustomed to waking at the same hour and would have done so that night even without hearing her cries. It was a simple leap to make. And I trust I would not be too far off the mark to if I said both you and your wife slept soundly that night out of sheer exhaustion."
"You are right on both counts." I found myself unable to add that it had been the first, and for a long while the last, satisfying sleep either of us had had since Ellie's birth. Of course, even if we had checked on her in the middle of the night it would have availed us naught. We still would have been hours too late. That did not stop the speculation. "I wonder sometimes if there was something that we could have done to save her if only we had been there in time. Or if her death was just inevitable, for whatever reason."
I could have bitten my tongue for having yet again lamented a mystery that not even Sherlock Holmes could solve. Failure does not sit well with him and I suspected he was already feeling out of his depth in this without my reminding him of his inability to help.
"If there was anything that could have been done you would have done it," Holmes said simply.
"Unless I did not know about it and thus couldn't act upon it," countered I.
"Honestly, Watson – "
"You did not know Victor Lynch felt a want of money five years and yet you feel responsible for his actions and their consequences even to this day," I pointed out. "So much so that you have gone out of your way to find him employment."
I had hoped he would see my point and when at last he murmured, "touché," I knew he did. By way of changing the subject I asked, "What became of the interviews, by the way?"
"He has received offers from both; he has not yet decided which he shall take."
"Thanks to you."
"Thanks to his own merits."
"Holmes, if you insist on taking blame for his failings you must also take credit for his successes."
My friend was quiet for a moment. "Your original comparison is not an apt one," said he, apparently ignoring my last piece of advice. "I was his mentor and my failure to instill in him a certain respect for the law led to his making that fateful choice. You were denied a choice." He paused. "I've no doubt you were a wonderful father to her and would have continued to be, given the chance."
I found I had to clear my throat. "Thank you." A minute later I added, "I'm sure you would have been an exceptional godfather."
At that Holmes halted. "I beg your pardon?"
"Had you been . . . available . . . we would have asked you to be her godfather."
It was one of the few times I have ever seen my friend speechless. "It is a role I would have been honored to accept. Although I must really question your judgment as to my suitability in such a role, I thank you all the same. And now, Watson, given the hour and the clement weather, what say you to an early supper at Macini's?"
The change of subject startled me until I realized it was Holmes's way of bringing us back to the here and now, away from the what-might-have-beens. It did not mean the past was to be forgotten, only put gently put aside so as not to smother the present. "By all means."
I'm so sorry for the overly long wait for the conclusion! It was a lot harder than I thought to officially kill off Ellie after she's been living in my imagination for so long. (She's got a cameo in Chapt 1 of "More Things," if that gives you any idea of how long she's "existed.") Anyway, many thanks to all reviewers and especially to KCS for the loan of her bunny.