The Truth is Given to Doctor Watson
I am sometimes ashamed now that I did not see the truth. That I did not know my two dear friends well enough to know that they would never have felt toward each other the way they acted those few, horribly long months. I should have used the little deductive reasoning I had managed to glean from Holmes over the years. I should have known that Mary, as protective at times as a mother bear, would never have abandoned Holmes when he was still in such danger. I should have known with blinding clarity that Holmes would never have left Mary to fend for herself in the face of that same danger. But I was caught up, as they meant me and everyone else around them to be, in the emotions of the issue and did not see logic. The genius of their plan was that it all could have been, whether it would have been or not. Every bit of it, every insult, every argument, every scathing comment had an element of truth to it. They hurt each other with their words, for they used their unparalleled knowledge of each other, exploited each other's weaknesses and secrets, and made it real because the pain was real.
I, of course, never saw them together or heard the things they said. Mycroft Holmes had me in hiding much of the time, and the two of them were in the same vicinity only once after they returned to England until it was all over. But Mycroft and I did our own investigating. A strange pair, the two of us, bound only by our concern for Holmes and Mary. We found the ship captain he had used to take his brother and Mary away from England and made him tell us, without revealing to me where they had been, of course, everything he knew of what had happened. But he was as bewildered as we.
"On the way out, they were perfectly amicable, sir," he said. "Spent hours playing chess, studying…languages, talking about everything. Almost blew up my ship playing with fire and explosives. I would say there never were better friends, sir. I actually thought it strange, a friendship of equals between two such unequal types. When they returned, the first day they were on my ship, I saw nothing until I gave them the packet of letters that had come for them, and Mr. Holmes refused to let Miss Russell touch it. Like he did not trust her any longer. The look she gave him was one of intense betrayal, sir. Ran into her cabin and slammed her door. The next day she was very polite to him and he to her, as if they were distant acquaintances, until Mr. Holmes happened to say something about Miss Russell's studies, and she took it amiss and snapped something back at him. He seemed to be saying something quite derogatory about what she was studying, and her response was something about the inadequacy of everything he had taught her. After a time, we all tried to stay away from them, it got so unpleasant. Mr. Holmes would taunt Miss Russell with the mistakes she had made because of her youth and inexperience, and she would call him old, senile, a relic, bring up mistakes he had made because of things he forgot. They would tear each other apart with their words; they seemed to use the knowledge that they had of each other from their old friendship to dig inside each other, so to speak. I think Miss Russell had nightmares, and Mr. Holmes seemed to get daily older and weaker. He almost stopped eating and began to drink quite heavily. Sir, if it were any of my business, I would ask what happened. How could two people so part of each other come to hate each other so much? But it is not my business."
I asked myself this constantly over those ghastly months. I wondered if perhaps I had misjudged my dear Mary. Perhaps she had exploited Holmes, taken his learning and then rejected him when she, in youthful pride, thought he had no more to teach her. Or perhaps she had begun with a child's hero worship for a great man, attached herself to him with the affection of a girl needing a father, and then become suddenly disillusioned with the man himself, seen his faults for the first time, been hurt in some incomprehensible feminine way by his blunt, sardonic way of talking and seeing the world. Perhaps Holmes himself had rejected her in some way that cut deeply into the feminine soul she hid so well.
I even thought, God forgive me, that the split between my friends might stem from something more intimate that had happened between them the months they were gone. What if one had desired a closer relationship and the other rejected? What if in an unguarded moment they had given in to each other and done something they regretted? I could see something so momentous and emotional tearing them apart. Love can turn to hate far too easily, and it is those who have been part of each other who are hurt the most when they are torn apart. How glad I am now that these horrible suspicions were proven wrong! How glad I am that the relationship that eventually developed was healthy and good!
I saw Mary only once in all those months. I wrote her many letters, for I saw Holmes often and was increasingly worried about his health. He would not let me examine him, but I could see easily that he was too thin, even for him, that he smoked horrible black cigarettes instead of his fragrant, contemplative pipe, that his face was grey and haggard and his fingers, so steady and sure of old, trembled. He often sat in darkness, as if light hurt his reddened eyes. He rarely made a mess in his laboratory and abandoned his bees to their own whims. The only music he would play on his violin was unbearably haunting and painful; often it was Mozart, and he was able to turn the gaiety of some of the great composer's works to agony. I wondered if he had turned to cocaine again. He was in worse shape than he had been when he first met Mary, and I feared he would kill himself, either purposefully or from neglect. Mary had, I am convinced, saved his life before. What might he have done to himself out of depression and sheer boredom if she had not come along to stimulate his mind and make his life interesting? Yes, she saved his life, and I could not understand why she did nothing now. I wrote begging her to put aside whatever had happened and renew their friendship, to come back to Sussex, to do something. The letters she wrote me in return were cold and perfunctory, rarely mentioning Holmes though he was always glaringly present in her letters by his very absence from them, always commenting on how wonderful it was to study with no unnecessary distractions and absurd problems being thrust at her. Yet she did save his life again, in the end, though from a bullet rather than from himself.
I went to see her once late in the cold February of that year. She met me downstairs in the entrance to her flat; I thought she looked too thin, too pale, shockingly too much like Holmes. Despite the studied indifference of her letters and the coldness she showed even me, who reminded her too much of my friend Holmes, I knew the destruction of their friendship was having as bad an effect on her as on him. She suggested we walk, since men were not allowed in the flat, and I knew, too, that it was an excuse to keep from looking at me. The cold penetrated my leg and made it ache, but I acquiesced, both of us ignoring the guards that had beset me since the first attacks on her and Holmes. We walked for a long time, and she said little, answering my polite questions with equal politeness.
Finally I stopped, turned and faced her. "Mary, what has gone wrong? What has Holmes done to you? What have you done to him? You meant more to each other than ever I did to him."
I saw her flinch when I said it. I did not know then as I do now that she was feeling pain for me, the pain she thought I must feel that she filled more of a place for Holmes than I did. I thought I was reminding her of a past too painful to bring up.
"Holmes was only playing with me the whole time," she said. "He never wanted a partner, certainly not a lowly female one. He only wanted someone to sharpen his mind on. It did not work, did it? You saw him when he got off the boat, what he has made himself into. He hates the thought that I might be independent of him, but how could I tie myself to something like that? He is stagnating, and I must grow." Her head went up proudly, and I saw scorn in her face as she remembered the tottering wreck that had been her teacher and friend. Her voice was tight with it and with venom. "The great Sherlock Holmes is only a weak man, after all. I do not wish to speak of him any more."
She was so cool to me after that that I finally gave up attempting to convince her otherwise. She was rejecting her Uncle John along with Holmes, determined to make a new life for herself. After that day, I stopped worrying about her safety from the mysterious assailant who had sent her and Holmes into flight. The division was irrevocable; they were no longer connected. Ironically I did not see that this was the very reason for the split itself. Though I did not worry for her safety, I worried for her, almost as much as I worried for Holmes.
In March I received a painful and bewildered letter from the good Mrs. Hudson. She had always consulted me on Holmes' well-being, and often we had conspired to bully him back to health. "Dear sir," she wrote, "I do not know what to do about poor Mr. Holmes. I am really almost afraid his estrangement from Mary is going to kill him. She came out to Sussex to visit between terms this last week, and she greeted me so very nicely, as if she had missed me, and was polite to Mr. Holmes. But there was such an awkward silence between them all during tea. You know how they used to be, Dr. Watson. Talking over the nastiest things in test tubes while they ate. And they were both more polite than they ever were to each other before, unnaturally, really. I thought if I left them alone after tea, they would talk, work it out. They did go to look at an experiment I had not even known Mr. Holmes was working on, he is so rarely in his laboratory these days. But when they came back out after not even enough time to rightly examine the thing, they were fairly silent again, until they started saying horrible things to each other. I could hear it from the kitchen, as much as I did not want to. Dr. Watson, it was not at all like the quarrels they used to have. They were never cruel to each other then. Mary tore apart all of Mr. Holmes' failures in his cases, the ones you never wrote about, and he made her lovely theology studies seem trite and absurd in that biting, sarcastic way he has. And finally he said the most horrible thing that I will always remember: he said, 'I should have seen when I first took you on how much like your aunt you would become.' There was silence for the longest time, and then the door slamming shook the whole cottage, and when I looked in the sitting room a little later, Mr. Holmes was alone, and his head was in his hands. Mary did not come back, and I think she returned to Oxford the next day or that very night.
"Oh, Dr. Watson, what has happened? What is going to happen? I can't bear to see them tear their lives apart like this. Can't you do something?"
With that plea, I knew I had to try, again. I tried with Holmes again, hoping for our old friendship that he would talk to me.
"Surely, Holmes, you can see what this is doing to everyone around you," I said. "Poor Mrs. Hudson is frantic with anxiety—I am practically frantic with anxiety. Even your brother is very worried for you. The last time I saw her, Mary was not looking well at all. Why not just go and make it up, start over again?"
He only laughed, a harsh, grating, biting sound without an ounce of amusement in it. "Her teacher is no longer good enough for her," he said bitterly. "She has surpassed him, and he only holds her back. A mind like that is of no use to me."
"No use to you? What about your use to her?"
Holmes enunciated clearly, biting off his words: "She-does-not-want-me-in-her-life. Nor I her in mine."
I said, "Holmes, forgive me for asking, but while you were gone, did you…try to take advantage of her? Did you press her for something she is not willing or ready to give?"
For a moment, the grey, blood-shot eyes held complete surprise. Then humor slid across them and was gone so quickly I wondered if I had imagined it, masked by sardonic darkness. "My dear Watson, Russell is barely even female, with her male's attire and her persistence in studying fields that are the domain of men. She is a tiresome child, and I wish you would not speak to me of her."
And when Sherlock Holmes draws a subject to a close, it is closed. To everyone but Mary Russell herself, who will not be commanded even by Holmes.
I only saw him once after that, until it all came to an end. I heard through my own channels that Holmes was ill. I have learned from him more than he thinks I have, and while my connections are nothing to his and his brother's, they work well for me. I went down to Sussex and found him looking like death. It hurt me, then, that he would not let me examine him. He passed it off with his usual distaste for the care of his own body as a mere general malaise and refused to let me touch him, though during the whole interview he lay on a couch in a dim room with an arm passed over his eyes as if even that little light hurt them. The world lost out on a great actor when Sherlock Holmes decided to take up detection. He had me, a doctor, one familiar with his methods and his make up, convinced he was deathly ill. How was I to know he was playing for his life and Mary's and mine and Mrs. Hudson's to a critical audience of one would-be executioner?
The only thing that kept me away from his bedside thereafter was Mycroft. That silver-tongued man convinced me, for a while, of my importance to Holmes, saying I must keep to hiding because if I, Holmes' one true friend (Mycroft put it), were to be killed by the murderer still at large, it would be the definite death sentence to the sick man. He locked me away in luxury, with anything I could want to occupy myself, and I could only worry in complete boredom for a week. Then the telegram came.
WATSON, COME AT ONCE
A second telegram from Mycroft came directly upon my receipt of the first, confirming that it was from Holmes and telling me which hospital to go to. The whole journey, my mind was a maze of questions. Had that woman gotten to Russell after all? How did Holmes know about it when he was on his death bed? Had he communicated with me only because he knew I would be concerned, or had he made it up with Mary? Was it now safe for me to be with them?
When I arrived, I found Holmes looking both better and worse than before. One look at his form and face showed me how badly I had been deceived, that while he was indeed emaciated and pale, he was nowhere near death or even illness. But his eyes held deep anxiety and an emotion I had never seen there. When he saw in my face that I understood I had been deceived, he began to speak swiftly, but for once I overruled him.
"Let me see Mary, and then you will tell me everything."
And he obeyed without comment, which is the truly astonishing thing. He led me to her room, where the doctors tried to prevent us both from going in, but few people can deny Sherlock Holmes. I kept an eye on him as I went in eagerly to see Mary. She lay pale, unconscious, bound up in bandages from chin to waist. Holmes' eyes on her revealed how much of the last months had been an act. The man I had seen a week before could never have betrayed this level of concern and true care.
"What happened?" I demanded. "How is she?"
"She was shot," he said tersely. "Only through the shoulder, not a difficult repair. The greatest threat has been from the blood loss. She has been unconscious more than a day."
The doctors were hovering around us, so I kissed Mary's cold cheek and let Holmes take my arm and lead me out. He took me to the room next door. It had his clothes, his pipe and tobacco pouch, various papers with his handwriting scattered around it. He waved me to a seat, which I slumped into, the image of my 'niece' unconscious vivid in my mind. He stood by the window, tamping tobacco into his pipe with fingers that were steady again but with somber eyes.
"Holmes, what happened? Did that woman get to her?" I tried to keep accusation out of my voice, but he knew it was there.
"'That woman' got to me. Russell saved my life. That woman is dead."
I sighed, the weight of the last months sliding off my shoulders. "Tell me everything, Holmes, from the time you left, everything that has to do with that woman."
And he did, with more openness than I was used to seeing from my reserved friend. He told me about the deadly, cunning mind he had seen behind the attacks on him and Mary and the need to throw her off by disappearing, and though he told me nothing about where he and Mary had gone or what they had done, he told me about the game of chess and his idea to segregate the queen, as he put it.
"She did not like the idea. She did not trust herself to do what I knew she was so capable to doing. My life was in her hands, and she knew it."
"Really, Holmes, how could you ask such a thing of her?"
"Watson, she is capable. She is strong and excellent at what she does. It matters not in the least that she is young and female. And, yes, despite what I said, I am aware that she is female. And again, it makes no difference. She did her part superbly. It was imperative that everyone firmly believe we no longer meant anything to each other. The woman had to forget about her existence. Since she was not important to me, she would no longer be important to this person who was obsessed with injuring me. And thus she could strike, unseen. And strike she did, Watson. Just when 'that woman' thought she was going to strike." He went on to tell me the rest in detail, and when he described Mary's remarkable throw of the ink bottle and her tackle of her old maths tutor, his eyes glowed with enthusiasm. "When we came into the room and found her there, Watson, I felt defeated. I truly did. But then I put my trust in Russell's ability to use anything I put before her and in my own ability to stall until I could put something before her. And how well she proved that ability and proved me right! It was a kind of exhilaration, to place my life in her hands and see the care she took for it. I only regret—" He turned away from me and stared out of the window, taking a long, steadying draw at his pipe. "I only regret that I could not do the same for her. She fought to save my life, and I did nothing for hers. The bullet that killed Moriarty's daughter almost killed Russell, and I could not stop it."
My friends in the detecting trade think I am blind and deaf when it comes to detecting the unexplained, but in that moment I could see something that Holmes did not and I knew what would happen a very few years in the future. It was only inevitable that the unseen bond between them should become visible, as visible as a ring on Mary's left hand. But I said nothing, and Holmes continued.
"But surely you see, Watson, that all our plan was necessary? We had to move our pieces on the board with absolute precision, and though it did not come out as we planned, in the end it worked. The segregation, the sacrifice of the queen, as well as the seeming pawn become the queen with all her power. Everyone had to believe it," he repeated, "to make it true. There were even times when we believed it."
I had not meant to say it, but it came out, the pain. "You did not trust me."
Holmes turned sharply toward me. "Yes, I trusted you! You are the one person in all this world I can always trust to be yourself! Russell is so continually changing and growing that I cannot keep up with her. But I can always trust you to be John Watson, no more, no less! For years I tried to make you something you are not and should never be. The only thing I do not trust you to be is something you are not, a creature who lies easily as Russell and I do! Not all of us are cursed, burdened, and blessed with absolute truthfulness!"
I did not know what to say or even what to feel. He was using anger as a defense against deeper emotions, to keep from revealing that for once he was truly sorry he had caused me pain. And I could accept it, for in his words was a greater acceptance and respect for me than he had ever shown. That aspect of me he had always deplored, my inability to lie, had become in his words an asset—to me, to my character. For this I could easily accept my friend's anger.
"Holmes," I said, "when have you last eaten?"
A swift smile crossed his thin face, and the matter was closed.
I shall never publish this particular one of my jottings. I hope Holmes and Mary will never know how much pain they have given me. It saved their lives, my life, Mrs. Hudson's life, and I would suffer any amount of pain for those friends I love.