Dedicated to KCS, who I'm sure would like to just get away from it all ("all" being the death of her laptop.)
"My friend had no breakfast himself, for it was one of his peculiarities that in his more intense moments he would permit himself no food, and I have known him presume upon his iron strength until he has fainted from pure inanition." -- NORWOOD (and special thanks to rabidsamfan for bringing this quote to our attention over at the Forums)
I waited until I saw Holmes's eyes open and fixed on my face, which took no more than a minute or so, before I spoke. "It's all right. They all think you've found something of interest in the shed and I warned them not to enter for fear of disturbing some vital clue."
"Excellent, Watson. Thank you," he responded weakly with a ghost of smile. As he made to sit up I pressed his back down against the dirt floor.
"No, wait a moment. Holmes, this simply must stop," I said as sternly as I could. "You cannot keep abusing your body in this fashion."
"Your concern is appreciated but if we are going to have this conversation yet again I should prefer to have it sitting up as this ground is not particularly conducive to a comfortable recovery." Even prone and not five minutes after fainting, Holmes was still masterful. With a sigh I helped him up so that he was at least sitting in a yogi-like fashion with his legs curled under him while I knelt beside him.
"Now then. We have been over this before, Watson. My brain is what is of importance. The rest of me is a mere appendix."
"That is patently untrue and you know it," I retorted heatedly but mindful to keep my voice down. "Your brain is an organic machine, a part of your body, and to deny your body the rest and nutrients it so desperately needs is to also deny your brain such things. Mistreatment of any instrument, organic or otherwise, can only bring about damage and malfunctions. How else would you explain three fainting spells in as many months?"
Holmes favored me with a look he reserves for times when I am truly out of sorts and moved to say something placating that I was in no mood to hear. I got to my feet. "I shall continue to aid and abet your self-destruction in this case only. After that, you may make your own excuses for your brief disappearances during your investigations."
We sat in uncomfortable silence on the way back to Baker Street. This case had come to a satisfactory conclusion for the police. Things were less satisfactory as far as Holmes and I were concerned. I was still angered at Holmes's blatant disregard for his health and though I was unaware of Holmes's thoughts, I dared to hope he was acknowledging the validity of my views.
These hopes were raised further when Holmes collapsed into his chair, lit a cigarette, and nodded obligingly when Mrs. Hudson announced that supper would be ready shortly. He drew upon it, let out a thin stream of smoke, and glanced at me. "You see, I am willing to eat when it is convenient," said he a trifle haughtily.
I merely glanced coldly back at him and dropped my gaze to the novel I had next to my chair. The book held little interest for me at the moment but was still too angry to venture into a discussion. Either he had utterly missed my point – unlikely – or he was ignoring the spirit of my protest in favor of focusing on the letter of it.
"You are not appeased," Holmes observed neutrally.
"You cannot expect one meal to make up for the unnecessary stress you inflict on your body on a regular basis," I answered tightly. Again I attempted to concentrate on the print in front of me with limited success. I was further hampered by the irregular tapping sounds of an annoyed consulting detective drumming his fingertips on the arm of his chair.
"What exactly is it that you wish of me, Watson?" he cried impatiently.
"Forty-eight hours," I answered immediately. "I should prefer seventy-two but I will accept forty-eight."
"Forty-eight hours in which to do what?" asked Holmes more calmly.
"To allow yourself to catch up on the sleep and food you have depriving yourself of for so long."
He raised an eyebrow. "Am I permitted to continue my investigations?"
I shrugged. "I would prefer that you did not but I will not forbid you."
"No, you shall only glower at me disapprovingly until the lamppost proves to be better company," my friend conceded, not altogether graciously. "You know how inactivity grates on my nerves."
"I did not say you had to be inactive," I reminded him, "and you cannot convince me you have lost all interest in your violin or chemistry or indexes. Spend the next two days in whatever mental stimulation you wish so long as you dedicate appropriate amounts of time for meals and sleep."
He smiled at that. "I suspect that what I deem appropriate amounts of time differs from your definition."
"Perhaps," I replied, "but I am willing to be flexible about it if you are."
Holmes fell silent, drawing again on his pipe in concentration. I returned my gaze to my novel but I had not read more than a few paragraphs before he spoke again. "If I agree to this, what do I gain in return?"
"Besides health and well-being?" We smiled wryly at each other, both knowing how little Holmes valued such things. "Freedom from my lecturing, then, until you begin fainting again."
To my relief, Holmes laughed briefly. "Very well, I accept your advised prescription. The forty-eight hours begins –" Here he glanced at the clock, which read quarter after six. "Now."
"I'm delighted to hear it," I said sincerely. Then, as Mrs. Hudson entered with steaming dishes, I added, "I trust you can spare an appropriate amount of time for dinner?"
After dinner Holmes curled up in his chair with his oily clay pipe and proceeded to burn through a good amount of shag. I left him to his thoughts and by way of a reward, he retired to bed around eleven, shortly before I did.
He continued to be surprisingly compliant the next morning. I woke at my usual time but Holmes did not appear until well after ten, proving my theory that my friend had been in desperate need for rest. Furthermore, he greeted me cordially before sitting down to his breakfast. Most shockingly, when he opened The Times he did not immediately turn to the agony columns.
I was all but convinced I was in the presence of a masterful impersonator of Sherlock Holmes when he pushed back his chair, went for his coat, and put it on. "I'll be out for most of the day, Watson, but I give you my word that I shall be back for dinner."
"What about luncheon?"
He sighed in a long-suffering manner but answered amiably enough. "I do not think I am permitted to bring food into the building, let alone consume it."
"Wherever are you going?"
"The library. Saint James's Square."
"If you like I can look you up in a few hours when you are ready for a break in your reading."
"Whether or not I am, you mean. I know my Watson." Fortunately he did not seem offended. "Very well, my dear fellow, I suppose I can spare you half an hour. Mind you, you will be paying for lunch."
"Certainly. I consider it a sound investment."
Holmes laughed at that. "I'm sure you do. I shall see you in four or five hours then."
I opted to split the difference and by three-thirty I found Holmes up to the ears in venerable leather-bound tomes and delicate, yellowed parchments. Bearing in mind his limit of thirty minutes, I had already made note of the nearest fish and chips stand. It was not the most nutritious meal but it would suffice.
Holmes gave a reluctant sigh and laid down his pencil at my appearance by his side. "Well, perhaps a break will help me shed new light on this," he murmured and followed me back out to the street.
"What on earth have you been researching?" I asked as he bit carefully into the steaming fish.
"Charters," I repeatedly incredulously.
"Yes, you recall that Miller murder case, the one with the land dispute? The semantics of the charter granting the land has fascinated me ever since. So carefully worded and yet so vague in its details – the style was quite distinct. I recognized it immediately but I had to be sure."
"I am quite sure the scribe who drew up the Miller charter is the same scribe that drew up the McDowell charter and the Gabe charter."
"I see. And why is this significant?"
"Well, knowing who the scribe is and knowing that late gentleman's particular skill with words may help avoid such unfortunate disputes as we saw in that case. Beyond that, the ins and outs and what-fors of these early charters make for absorbing reads; I'd no idea."
"Nor did I." I did not presume to understand what was so captivating about early English charters but I had not seen Holmes look so enthused in a long time. This was not the desperate, straining-at-the-leash appearance he had had too often while working his investigations lately. This was a hearkening back to the consulting detective of old, to the man of boundless energy and passionate focus. If reading old charters contented him, it was enough to content me as well.
He was back to the library the next day, and the day after that despite the end to the forty-eight hours I had requested. I had to wonder if perhaps I had unleashed a frightening force when a few days later Holmes proposed that we take a fortnight or two holiday to the College of St. Luke's so he might indulge more deeply in his newfound hobby.
Being Sherlock Holmes, he naturally could not escape matters of mystery entirely (1), but nevertheless he returned to London far more refreshed and invigorated than I ever dared hope. Better still, I had now solid proof that pushing his physical limitations as he was so wont to do could only lead to harm and the best treatment he could give himself was rest and diversion.
Little was I to know that in the years to come Holmes would alternate his criminal investigations with those of a more academic nature, with the relationship between the ancient Cornish and Chaldean languages and apiology being the most prominent in memory. Never would I presume to know his mental limits but at least I had solid knowledge when it came to his physical ones.
(1) for the details of that little matter, I refer you to the story entitled "The Adventure of the Three Students"