Great Sorrows cannot speak
Sorry folks, this is cobbled together, hastily assembled, and I had to type like **** to get around the fact that my phone line likes to go dead when it rains…but you know, KCS has just suffered the worst of all ailments…The Dead Computer.
As I have been there, and the pain still echoes like a ghost on the sonar…this is not just for KCS (though she is top priority)…but for all of us who have started at the Screen of Death.
KCS…so sorry! It only gets better in stages…but at least it does get better.
Confound the long-suffering woman anyway.
Sherlock Holmes all but yanked the stem of his pipe from between his lips and managed to occupy his mind with another two pieces of correspondence before he discarded one as a banal greeting and the second…
…He was reserving the second for later when Mrs. Hudson proved herself neither absent nor deaf nor indisposed, just distracted.
"Mr. Holmes!" The poor woman would have put her hands upon her hips had she not been busy with the tea-tray.
And, like he had done a thousand times before, she saw a baffled expression cross his face for a moment before he remembered through the haze of his habit: Mrs. Hudson disliked the way he stored unanswered correspondence. It was, in her mind, bad as the bullet-holes in the wall, even though he continued to pay for the repairs.
"My apologies, Mrs. Hudson." He pulled the point of his jack-knife out of the much-abused oak.
She sniffed. "Mr. Holmes, I'll have you know I'd accept your apology if you wouldn't forget it by this time tomorrow." She set the tray down and stepped back, checking the table for any strange stains. "The doctor will be here any minute now, and he should enjoy a cup of tea against this rain."
"Very good, Mrs. Hudson."
"And," she paused on her way out, leveling him with one eyebrow as surely as Lot's wife was leveled to salt: "I'll expect you to get some of my hot soup into his digestion. I don't know if he's going to head back out in this awful weather, but if he does, he ought to be fortified against his own foolishness."
"And if not, Mrs. Hudson?"
"I'll be airing out his old rooms just in case." Complacent in her rule, the woman stepped lightly down the stairs to her kitchen.
Holmes chuckled softly. It was clear Mrs. Hudson was still fond of her old lodger.
And there were times when he had to admit that even with Watson well into the second year of his marriage…the rooms were still empty.
Downstairs, Mrs. Hudson was opening the door. The draft changed as the house accepted the cooler air from outside; the curtains ruffled. A quick murmur; Watson's deeper voice, as smooth and modulated as a doctor's should be. And despite the chill weather, a lively pace up the seventeen steps.
"There you are, Holmes!" Hatless and coatless with a wrapped package under his arm, Watson was flushed from his excursions, but he also looked well.
Wedlock suited those men who were not meant to be bachelors. Watson was clearly healthier than he'd been when he was living here.
"Mrs. Hudson's timing is impeccable!" Holmes smiled as he stood (reluctantly putting down his pipe). "She had your arrival guessed to the minute."
"What? Oh." Watson saw the steam rising from the tea tray. "I confess that looks a most welcome sight. I've been at the printer's over half the day—and this was supposed to be a day to supervise the repairs in the back steps!"
"Half the day? It takes no genius to observe that the esteemed Mrs. Watson is still away with her friends."
"If they're going to the Islands for their health, they should wait for the weather to be healthy before they return." Watson said firmly. "A squall like this would only reverse the good they've done for themselves." But he smiled, returning to the subject at hand. "Here it is, Holmes. As promised."
"Very good." Holmes as always felt a plethora of emotions when faced with Watson's writings. Being the subject of the writing…
"Well?" Watson waited, not so patiently, for Holmes to open the wrapper.
Holmes complied. Beneath the damp waxed-paper a thin brown pasteboard cover (to simulate a future leatherbound edition?) looked back at him: The Hound of the Baskervilles.
"I'm not satisfied with the font," Watson was saying. "It's a little ornate. When you have a word longer than six letters like Baskerville it isn't a good idea to crowd the eye on a design. I might be able to find something simpler…but it should be graceful."
Holmes absorbed that in silence. When he published something, he simply left those sort of decisions to the publishers. The content was what mattered, not his appearances. Paying them a little extra for the work was worth the freed time.
"I am surprised at you, Watson. Speaking of graceful styles when the subject is anything but!" He had found his chance to tease and it was excellent. "A bloody murder on a dark moor…a fiendish villain…suspicious neighbors…not to mention the Hound itself."
"Yes…" Watson shook his head ruefully. "But this is only the first draft, Holmes. I'm certain there will be many changes."
"But why print a facsimile to look as though it has already been published?"
"Because," Watson spoke patiently—Holmes was not accustomed to having that tone directed at him, but when Watson used it, it was clear the Great Detective had missed something. "The mind translates easier if you give the best possible version. When you read it, you should not be distracted by the cheapness of the paper, or the runniness of the cheap ink, or the hundreds of flaws such a printing means. You should be allowed to concentrate on the manuscript itself—and notice what errors there are within the spelling, and grammar, and mood, and what facts that will not damage the innocents within the work."
"I confess it never occurred to me to think in such lines, Watson." He said honestly. It gave him a warm glow. "Eight years of our acquaintance, and you still manage to surprise me."
"No more than the astronomer is surprised when, upon looking away from the skies, finds himself in a strange town." Watson grinned.
"Watson! Your wit has grown with your health! Seven and a half pounds' weight and threescore of humour."
Watson shared the laugh as they went to the table and poured tea. "Well, I know you, Holmes. It might take me a few months to write, but this is yours. Just…list the glaring errors you're guaranteed to find and let me make the corrections."
"I cannot say when that will be, Watson." Holmes protested. "You know I am a busy man."
Busy, and unwilling to sit and proof like a school-master. Watson knew it as well as he knew his friend. It could take two or three years before Holmes was resorted to enough boredom to tackle this problem—and then he would likely do it in a matter of hours, caught up in the feverish frenzy of the moment.
But for now, it was enough to leave the manuscript here. Holmes would return to it.
"They set fires to our rooms at Baker Street last night…No great damage was done…"
Mrs. Hudson had not been there when it happened.
Mr. Holmes must have known something would happen…he must have. Warning her to take her vacation at the baths early; and with her, the maid was gone as well as it was hardly proper for a young woman to be in a building at night with any un-related male lodger…
It had all happened so quickly, they said. But something had inspired more vigilance in the neighbors that night…and the arsonists had barely fled a step ahead of the police.
One wall was scorched black…mostly smoke. They'd poured papers from Holmes' trunk into the flames…the loose papers, the old bits and scraps Holmes had not been able to throw away…
Cases like The Musgrave Ritual. Ricoletti…The Old Russian Woman…The Aluminum Crutch…Holmes had never completely explained all the details…especially he had not explained how a man could have a crutch out of something so precious and expensive as aluminum. The Farintosh Case Holmes had mentioned in The Speckled Band…Vamberry the wine merchant…someone in Watson's literary circles had asked (rather precociously) if that Vamberry had actually been the Hungarian professor of languages of the same name at Buda-pesth.
Watson had always meant to ask Holmes if that were the case. Had Holmes indeed been a friend to the man who dressed in mufti and passed himself off as a Muslim as he was collecting information about Persia and Armenia, risking death and imprisonment?
It would be a pleasant confirmation, if it were true. But he had never gotten around to asking…
Holmes' correspondence with Wilson Hargreave had been in the trunk. Hargreave, a friend from America Watson had never met.
The forgery case where Watson had first met Lestrade. He didn't even know about that.
And why had it been so important to know so much about another man's life? Invasive, it could be argued. Rash and presumptuous followed.
Yet…it was not just the fact that Holmes had been so very unique.
It had been knowing Holmes had been created of a unique mold; an intellect that was equally at war with his energy. And that energy had been cyclic and circular. Holmes had always returned…eventually…to his cases. Piece by piece he had sorted them back out, catalogued them, and gradually…released them to the world through Watson's eyes and pen.
Holmes himself had no ability or inclination to write of himself in his cases. That had been Watson's joy and responsibility.
Holmes had no family that Watson could think of besides Mycroft…and Mycroft! A man so brilliant he made his brother look like a schoolboy! Did Mycroft fully appreciate what his brother had done for the world? Perhaps…but from conclusions drawn from Olympus.
No…Watson had hoped to see Holmes' cases reach the credit they deserved. It had been agonizing at times for the man had not fully understood the value of his 'little exercises' and was always looking forward. His horror of throwing away any papers was not a balance to this flaw.
Now Watson faced the ache of knowing that the trunk was gone, and with it…a large part of Sherlock Holmes.
Were Holmes to miraculously channel to him through a medium…it would still not be the same. Details were lost, or slid into another detail. Events blurred or repeated themselves. Names were confused. Even that great brain had been capable of slipping-up, for he sometimes forgot the proper address to nobility, or conducted a case in strange, unfathomable ways that assumed events were more complex than they truly were.
But there would be no questions now. No resurrection of details.
He closed his eyes for a moment, wondering which was the greater disaster. Holmes had sworn he would be satisfied to see Moriarty's end…but now there was nothing in the way of a legacy…nothing outside the handfuls of scribblings Watson had.
The doctor took a deep breath, feeling the warped wood give under his skin. He lifted the lid again.
Mrs. Hudson clasped her hands before her, quietly watching as he pulled out a coal-black square.
"I recognize this…" The doctor had frozen like a wooden stump. "It was the manuscript for the Hound of the Baskervilles."
"Oh, doctor." Mrs. Hudson remembered the day he'd brought the manuscript up to show Mr. Holmes.
"I know…" He said quietly. A leaf of blackened paper withered in his hands. The faint gust from the broken window split the page in half. The loose piece fluttered in the air like a dying butterfly, and shattered when it fell upon the stained floor.
"I'm so sorry, Dr. Watson." She felt tears in her eyes, for she was so sorry. For the doctor losing his best friend…for the self-blame she could see festering behind his eyes…
…and now, to see something of his destroyed.
"What will you do, doctor?"
"Do?" He echoed faintly in that scorched room. "I will…write again." His mouth moved slightly, puzzled and pained. "I will write it again."
"That could take a dreadfully long time, doctor. Forgive my saying so."
"Yes…" He looked up, and his little smile was sad enough to break anyone's heart. "But I, Mrs. Hudson…at least I have the time to write it…"
And he did.
It took him ten years, through the death of one of the finest women Mrs. Hudson had ever seen, and an angel of a baby boy. Through the loss of his work through his grief, and the sudden return of his friend from the dead…and the wholly unexpected surprise of another love…one even the first Mrs. Watson would have approved of. Before he finished moving to Queen Anne Street and finalized his marriage…the doctor had written it.
Two years before Mr. Holmes retired to the bees of Sussex.
I have the time to write it, he had said.
And he did.
Who knew, if it wasn't better the first time around? No one could say, not even the doctor by the time he was halfway through, for perspective shifts and flows and so do one's memories.
"Here you are, Holmes."
Holmes pulled his pipe out of his mouth. "What's this, Watson?"
"You ought to know…I should think you'd recognize it…"
Holmes held the book in his hands. "The Hound of the Baskervilles?" He read aloud. "My good fellow, I thought you were going to let me look it over first!"
"That was several years ago, Holmes. I decided if it was truly urgent you'd have telegraphed me…"
Holmes laughed. "I shall have to read it anyway, you know." He chided. "To see if there are parts I still remember."
"Do you mean you actually remember what I write?"
"Of course, my good fellow…what detective would I be without a memory?"
"I'm sure I don't know…oblivious perhaps?"
And they walk off together, arm and arm in memory.