Holmes insists it was recklessness which made me haul him out of that pestilential hovel by the scruff of his neck and then stay myself, and perhaps he is not entirely incorrect. After all, his health had not been compromised, and although nearly three years had passed since I had been struck with enteric fever my own constitution was still less than robust. But he had not the training nor the experience to do what could be done for those poor children, and someone had to take word to the authorities that smallpox had struck in London, so I do not see how our roles could have been reversed. Unfortunately, I had already been feeling the oncoming symptoms of a head cold that morning, and my symptoms were pronounced enough that I too was hauled away to the quarantine hospital with my unexpected patients.
The first few days I spent assisting my colleagues, but on the morning of the fifth day my deepening cough was joined by a persistent earache and a climbing temperature and I was assigned a bed on the ward to wait until it could be discovered whether or not my vaccinations were proof against this particularly virulent form of the pox.
They were not.
In defense of my common sense, I must point out that compared to the others in my situation, my disease was relatively mild, and added only two small scars to the collection of uglier reminders I had accrued in Afghanistan. The failure rate of vaccination is small, not non-existent, and I was perfectly aware of that, although Holmes, whose taste in literature runs to the Lancet only when it suits his profession, seemed quite annoyed with the failure of medical science to adequately protect its practitioners. He visited the hospital on a daily basis, berating me in his most carrying tones from the verandah across the hospital courtyard and sending over newspapers and small comforts from Mrs. Hudson via an ingenious system of baskets on pulleys which had been set up for the convenience of visitors.
When my rash was at its worst, I did not feel up to leaving my bed, and on those days Holmes sent notes with the newspapers which I wish the laws of quarantine had allowed me to keep instead of burn.
My dear Watson, ran one, as best I can remember. Do be careful of annoying the newest patient to arrive among you. I suspect him of being complicit in the murder of Stephen Brown, although the actual work was done by a shorter man with red hair and a taste for Havana cigars. Gregson tells me that the source of your misfortunes is a Lascar off a ship from Calcutta while Lestrade seems to think that the infection arrived on a boat from Shanghai. I think it far more likely that the disease can be traced to the Baltics -- see page three of the Times -- and will have to pursue that theory as it may lead me to my murderer. All of the other traces have petered out. Mrs. Hudson wishes to know if you enjoyed the chicken jelly (I thought there was an excess of garlic, but she insists that it is good for you when you are ill) and how on earth shall she be able to collect your half of the rent this month and the coal bill coming due? I shall pay it of course, if only I can find that blasted murderer before Tuesday. If not, I shall have to rummage through the sock you keep under the bed, as the nurses tell me that you are not allowed to send a written message to your bankers to authorize the payment. If you do have any conversations with the new patient (his name is Phineas Longfellow!) and he should happen to let fall the names of any of his friends, it would be most useful, although how you are to get the information to me I do not know unless you make a miraculous recovery within the next two days. Indeed I hope you shall. Holmes.
I did not, of course, but I was never as miserable as I had been with the enteric fever and in due time I was able to sit a while on the verandah and assure Holmes that my recovery was in no doubt. He in his turn had found his murderer, although no trial would be necessary, Providence having settled the matter via the smallpox. There was another case waiting for him, in Blankshire, but he was reluctant to leave London while I was indisposed. I told him to go, of course, as I did not wish my illness to deplete both of our bank accounts and there was little he could do for me in any case. He may have taken that as a challenge, for the rest of my stay in hospital was peppered with telegrams and visits from Baker Street urchins calling outrageous stories across the courtyard and cherishing the pennies they'd been given to "save the doctor from ennuwee".
At the end of a long month I was at last free of infection and granted permission to return to Baker Street. My possessions had been disinfected with steam, which had ruined half of them and caused my suit to shrink even more than I had myself, but I assembled myself with a certain quiet happiness, glad above all things to be quit of hospital once more. I had sent word to Mrs. Hudson to expect me, as I thought Holmes was still away, but he turned up on the doorstep of the ward as I emerged.
"Ah, there you are, Watson," he said, taking my arm as if we had been parted only a few hours and escorting me to a waiting cab. His portmanteau was tied at the back, and his clothes were redolent with railway soot, and at my tentative deduction he admitted cheerfully that he had taken the milk train to London so as to be able to conduct me home. I tried to thank him for that, and for all the care he had taken to see that I was not left bored and disconsolate during my quarantine but he dismissed the matter as if it was no consequence, and saw me into the cab before taking his own seat. "You look much improved."
"I look like I just got out of Newgate Prison," I countered, cheerfully enough. I'd been allowed a mirror that morning, for all the good it had done me. Still, my hair would grow back, I knew, and my razor was waiting at home, so I would not be plagued by an itchy beard much longer.
Holmes scowled thoughtfully, looking me over with far more attention than he had at first glance. "So you do," he said, as if he were discovering a newfound land. "And that could be useful..." I raised an eyebrow at him in inquiry and he flashed an apologetic smile at me. "Useful, that is, if you truly feel an obligation to thank me for a months worth of newspapers."
"I do," I said, knowing that newspapers had been only the half of it.
"Then perhaps we can make a side trip on our way to Baker Street. You are not so tired that you wish to return to bed, are you?"
"It's lying abed that I'm tired of," I told him, although I knew I did not yet have the stamina for anything too strenuous. "What did you have in mind?"
"A visit to a certain disreputable pub I know. There's a corner near the hearth that's out of the drafts where you'd be warm enough, you see, and all you'd have to do is sit quietly and listen while you nurse a pint of the worst ale in London. But your presence would lend corroboration to the character I've been building there, and furthermore would provide me with an unassailable excuse to leave at a time of my own choosing." He grasped my too thin hands between his own. "I would not ask, except that the opportunity has presented itself, and I sincerely trust that it shall never do so again."
"Only a reckless man would do something so outre so soon out of a sickbed," I said, although I already knew that I would agree, and so, from his smile, did Holmes.
"Indeed," he countered, his eyes already alight with planning for the expedition. "But only a reckless man would still be sharing rooms with Sherlock Holmes."