"Come in," I whispered at the knocking at my door. The knocking repeated, but I pillowed my head on my arm and kept looking out my window. I was watching the wheels on the carriages, how they turned round and round and round. When one passed out of my line of vision I moved my gaze quickly to the left again to find a new vehicle; like reading rows of type. It was pre-storm weather and the palette outside and in was drably sombre; the precise cloppings of horse hoofs were the staccato dottings of grey and brown paint.
So intent was I listening to the hoofs that I heard not the door, and I felt a dull surprise when the bedsprings sagged beside me with a lonely creak. I caught a familiar whiff of hair oil and my mouth formed a feeble smile of its own will, but I did not yet speak.
"London has many sights and sounds, you know," Holmes said at last. "Only a fraction can be seen from your window. Shall we go out tonight? Dinner or a show, whatever you like."
A tremor of thunder ran through the clouds, and the noise gave me strength; I sat up and craned my head out the window, scenting the tension-laced air. The molecules were grey with fury and glowered in rage, the uproar would come soon; a lashing storm that would blot out even the glare of the Red Vineyard's sun.
"You've been keeping to your den for several days now," Holmes broke the silence again. "It's not winter, my dear friend; 'tistn't the weather for holing up. Yesterday was the very spirit of spring, and last Wednesday as well…yet I've had to take walks alone."
"I've been—occupied," I said stiffly.
"Indeed, by what?"
"Writing too, by the looks of it. You seem intent on re-carpeting the floor with foolscap. What is it you scribble all day and night?" He leaned over and picked up a few sheets.
I tried to snatch the papers from his hand, but it was too late; he was looking at me a little strangely.
"Van Gogh? You're writing about the Dutch painter?"
"You won't understand," I said curtly, gathering up my papers. "So never mind about it."
Holmes watched as I stowed the writings between books on the shelf by my bed. "You know, his art was in a European exhibition, some years ago."
"I know. I couldn't possibly go."
"I was already in Europe."
"You saw them--? You saw his paintings?"
"Yes, a few. I was at the exhibition to gather clues really, but from the corner of my eye—"
"The corner of your eye? This man dedicated his life to art, he used paint to—he was the first to—the corner of your eye? Couldn't you spare thirty seconds?"
Holmes looked at his feet, playing with a loose thread on his stocking. "I did pause, just for a moment, and in fact I was impressed by the bold colours, but—"
"I started thinking what you would think of the painting, and then—well, I had to move on."
"I understand," I said, ashamed of myself. "I suppose I would have done the same, were I in your position. Anyway, I did get a hold of 'Les Isolés' in English, and that was almost as good as seeing the paintings, so it's not so bad."
"The Isolated Ones?" Holmes's frown registered unfamiliarity.
"Yes, an essay…on Van Gogh. It was actually what first sparked my interest in the man's life. I've been reading it over again, would you like to hear a bit?" While I shuffled and smoothed the essay's sheets I paused, letting the papers slip from my hands. "He only sold one painting when he was alive, you know."
"He was so unappreciated. I can't say why I feel for him—I never knew him, and I'm not even an artist. But when I heard of his suffering…and how the man must have suffered, enough to take his own life. Hardest thing for me is, for all we know he'd only begun to scrape the surface of genius; it's like a rosebud tearing itself to pieces. That's…what I've been writing about, a bit," I faltered, glancing at my stacks of papers on the floor. "Just trying to understand."
"Sometimes I wish I could have met Robert Boyle, or possibly Heraclitus," Holmes offered. "Life is that way; we're forever admiring people we can't meet. Unfortunate, but inevitable. I should still like to hear that essay, if you've a mind to read it."
I cleared my throat, twisting the corner of the bedclothes round in my hand. I feared emotion would make a fool of me if I spoke, and I was beginning to wish I had not so rashly made the offer to read.
"Take a deep breath, Watson; focus your mind, and begin. That's what they told me, when I first had stage fright." He sat back and listened intently as I drew a long, uneven breath.
"'Beneath skies that sometimes dazzle like faceted sapphires or turquoises, that sometimes are molded of infernal, hot, noxious, and blinding sulfurs; beneath skies like streams of molten metals and crystals, which, at times, expose radiating, torrid solar disks'—"
There was no thunderstorm that night, for it passed by London. And we couldn't see the sky very well through the fog, when later we looked out the window together, but I was certain that somewhere above, there was a starry night.