The moon rose and the coals sank down to modest orange. Watson was still on the couch, though he'd left briefly, returning wrapped with a blanket, and when he resettled it was considerably closer to me. I promptly extinguished my cigarette. It was utterly unfair to subject the man to breathing smoke when he was getting no enjoyment from the cigarette himself.
"What are you thinking, Holmes?" He asked, leaning his head on the couch.
"I don't know. Perhaps the moon, perhaps the waves. Perhaps nothing."
He made a pensive sound, mixed with a yawn, and looked to me to see what would happen next. He looked so like a caterpillar at that moment, with the blanket round him; a bunchy and faded little fellow, only he wasn't, for he had already shed his cocoon and flown all over the world.
"I'm thinking of butterflies."
"That's nice," he said dreamily, looking at nothing in particular.
"Are you tired? Perhaps you should get some sleep now."
"No! I'm happy right here. Do you want me to leave?"
"You know I don't."
"Well…" the look of irritation left, and he lapsed back into sleepy calm. "Fancy it will storm tomorrow?"
"It's certainly blowing hard tonight. Rather ominous."
"Oh, I don't know. I rather like it."
The fire was very low now, and I had turned down the lights earlier, so that the room was lit by the chalky blood of the moon spilling through the windows. I saw black spirits of rabbits crouching in the lawn, gnawing the grass. "Watson."
"Are you happy here?"
I kept my gaze to the window, watching the wild rabbits gnaw, and gnaw. The wind filled the silence.
"I'm not…happy, exactly—not all the time—but I'm the happiest I can be, Holmes. I'm just…feeling worn down and a little sad."
Butterflies die in the fall.
"I think it's just…some…passage? I don't know the word. I think it will end, soon enough. It's simply—Holmes, maybe you will know what I mean. I don't know, this has never happened to me before. I feel as if—not feel, even, it's a sensation always with me—"
"A sensation of what?"
"Nothing bad." A hint of a chuckle coloured the second word, and he lay his worn hand on the arm I had put round him protectively. "Holmes, it's just a feeling that everything I was meant to do, has been done. A belief that I have…spent myself, I have completed my destiny. Dear me, that sounds rather presumptuous!"
"Not at all, do continue, please."
"Well…um, you remember I said I think of myself as a wave? Always moving, that's me, through life—always trying to do something of use, not waiting. I want to do it, to do what I can, when I can."
"It…it feels to me that I've reached the end. That I'm ready to lap on the shore, to be finished. How to explain? Nothing's unresolved, Holmes, there is nothing jarring, nothing more to solve, I feel…complete. Yes. Complete, that's the word. Have you ever felt like that, Holmes? Like everything's finished, and you're ready to leave?"
"Not quite like that. Watson are you ill?"
"No," he said, with affectionate exasperation. "Perhaps I shouldn't have said anything. I'm just an old man with foolish thoughts. It's not that I want to leave you, Holmes, you know that—don't you? You must know that. Holmes? Old fellow, have I hurt you? Oh…I'm sorry."
We sat close together for a long time.
"I don't know what is next in life," I said softly at last. "But I know this, Watson: we die when we are meant to die. As long as we're alive, there's a reason. And after all…I don't know…but, supposing we are two spent waves…at the end…isn't it true that the shallow water is most pleasant to be in?"
He fell asleep soon after, and I watched the fire fade to ash. But I woke first, in the morning, and so it was I saw the first rays of sun wreathe the world, and warm the butterflies, fanning their wings on the flowers just outside the window.
Even old butterflies can feel warmth.