I leaned back in my armchair, feet propped on the ottoman, listening to my biographer scratching away, occasionally guessing what words he was writing. "A, t---at."
"Heard me crossing the 't,' eh?"
"So I did; the three stresses of the pen in a row helped, too."
Watson laughed. "All right, now quiet a bit—the show is in progress!" He dipped his pen and continued scratching, at a faster pace. "Exciting part, Holmes, you're looking awfully heroic now. Here comes your trusty revolver, and—oh! Oh no!"
The despair in his voice was so terrible that I started up. "Watson?"
"The nib—snapped. I got too excited…"
"Haven't you a spare?"
Nodding, he cleared away the metal fragments and inserted a new nib into the penholder. He was very long to begin again, though, and when he did the scratching was hesitant, indistinct. I could not tell what he was writing.
At length he set down the pen. "Holmes?"
"That nib was the one I used to write—you know, it was…the nib I used to write—I mean…you know?"
"Not really, no."
He rested his head in his hands. "Study in Scarlet, that was…I wrote it with that. It's my favorite nib, had a funny bend on one side that gave such a fine-looking line to the ink. I suppose I don't—don't much want to write more today." He capped the inkbottle quietly, and began picking up the metal fragments with his finger-tip.
"Sentimental nonsense. Watson, give it here." I held out my hand; by now I had come to the table.
"But I'd rather—"
"This is ridiculous. Honestly—would you quit your rounds for the day if your favorite thermometer broke? A man's got to go on. 'Twas a nib; a piece of metal, nothing more than a tool. It's your brain that makes the stories. Now give me the pieces."
Watson folded his fingers over for a moment, but with a wobbly smile and averted nod, he dropped the bits in my palm. "I'm sorry Holmes—don't mean to be so deuced sentimental," he said quietly. "I—I'm going upstairs for a bit." He slunk out the door.
I looked down at the shattered nib. What godly power did this tool have, that its breaking moved the man so profoundly? Something told me I should think this over before doing something too rash. Stepping to the pipe-rack, I reached for the old cherrywood.
I suddenly smiled.
"Watson?" I rapped on his door.
"I'd like to be alone, please."
"Come now, I have something to show you. I think you may like it a great deal."
"No thank you, I really prefer--"
"Just one moment, that's all I need. Then, you have my word, you shall be left quite to yourself until dinner-time."
There was a sigh. "Very well, then. Come in."
I pushed open the door, starting back to find him face to face with me. "Oh! hallo."
"Right, what d'you want to show me?" He asked tiredly.
"Here, old fellow, take a look."
His eyes quickly lost their tiredness as he took the flat square of hardwood.
"Careful, don't cut yourself on the metal bits."
"Did you make this?" He asked softly, looking up at me for a moment.
"Wasn't too hard, I simply washed them, and let them dry while I found a suitable piece of wood. Did you see the inscription?"
"I just read it."
"Would you believe I wrote it with one of the metal pieces?"
"No, I'm quite serious. I used that piece, there, and I didn't wash it. It was for…how would you put it, 'artistic expression'? Yes, I thought you might approve. So it's…well, it's for you, Watson, if you want it. And now, as a man of my word, I shall take my leave 'til dinner."
"Don't leave just yet." Watson stayed me with his hand, though his eyes were still tenderly on the plaque. "I need some help hanging it on the wall."