The Phrase (4/4)
When Holmes finally arrived at the station, I was sitting in the waiting room, pretending to read a provincial newspaper and alternating between feeling heartily cross and feeling rather foolish. I had several times been tempted to take an earlier train to London, and leave him behind, but I knew that to worry him thus would have been a cruel punishment, when he had done nothing but be himself.
He stood over me, his arms folded across his chest. "It was the cousin, if you're interested."
I looked back down at my newspaper. "Indeed?"
"Of course, that had been obvious from the first time we heard Adams' story."
It had not been so to me, but I said nothing.
Holmes went on: "The splitting headache he felt on waking, naturally, was as a result of being hit over the head by Walker, rather than from the small amount of alcohol he had actually consumed. Walker also paid the stable-boy to lie, but someone once bought can often be rebought for a higher amount, as I proved once again this afternoon."
I had intended to read my newspaper in what I hoped was a dignified silence, pretending I hadn't been acting like a fool, but as usual I could not help but be swept up in Holmes' exposition of his deductions.
"And your investigation of the ruins? What did that tell you?"
"Why, nothing at all. I was simply playing the part that old boor seemed to expect of me, whilst waiting for Walker to make an appearance." He was clearly rather pleased with himself. "In a few hours' time Adams will be free to return to his days of totting up figures, and Walker is already in police custody. When I saw how he treated that poor dog, it was clear that he would have little trouble killing a horse to gain his own ends."
I frowned, still not quite understanding. "But what were his ends, exactly?"
Holmes looked down his long nose at me. "He is in love with Miss Trent-Smith, of course."
"Indubitably, my dear Watson. It is easy to tell when someone is in love."
I looked up directly at him for the first time since his arrival. "Is it?"
Holmes' face became strangely still. "Not always," he said, almost inaudibly.
My heart gave a leap and began to beat faster, although there was really no concrete reason for it to do so.
The tone of the conversation seemed suddenly to have changed dramatically. Holmes was staring down at me, his expression unfathomable. I got to my feet, and we stood facing each other for a long, charged moment.
Holmes said quietly: "I am looking now at the most insoluble mystery of my career, the one I have never been able to crack. It drives me insane... you drive me insane. I know my own mind, but I cannot read yours, and my skills are as naught when faced with the one enigma I wish desperately to solve."
I stared at him, my heart singing, hardly daring to believe that I had properly understood the meaning of his words. I was about to commit the most shocking indiscretion that sleepy provincial train station had ever seen, when I was brought to my senses by a sharp whistle.
"The London train!" Holmes exclaimed, and we both grabbed our cases and dashed out onto the platform, jumping aboard the train just before the conductor.
It was the Friday before a Bank Holiday and the train was crowded. The quietest compartment we could find was one with an elderly couple already inside, dozing on each other's shoulders.
"Holmes," I burst out before we had even sat down.
He held up an imperious hand. "If we cannot talk about the subject which is burning a hole in my mind, then we shall not talk at all."
I glanced sideways at the elderly pair. "But they're sound asleep."
Holmes scowled at them. "If you want to discuss what I believe and hope you do, I have no intention of allowing that to happen within earshot of any living soul. If not - " He stopped short, and for a second I thought I caught a glimpse of a vulnerability he had never before allowed me to see. "If not, never mind." On that note, he put his newspaper up in front of his face, and refused to say another word.
That train journey was the most nerve-wracking I have ever taken, far surpassing my journey back to university to take my final medical exams. I turned Holmes' words over and over in my mind, dissecting and examining them until my head ached.
A few hours and a cab ride later, I shut the sitting-room door behind us, and put my bag down by the table. I turned around to face Holmes. Now that we were finally safe from the disapproving and scandal-seeking eyes of the world, I had no idea what to say.
Holmes did not even begin to remove his coat and hat. He was standing by the door with his arms folded, his brows drawn sharply together in a frown.
"You are going to listen to me, Watson, whether you like it or not," he said tightly. "After that you may pack your bags and leave, if you don't like what I have to say, but first you will hear me out. I cannot bite my tongue any longer. I shall never be able to shout my love for you from the rooftops, as I would like, but by God I will say what I feel in the privacy of our own rooms. I adore you, it's as simple as that. Now you are free to break my heart, or not, as you see fit." Thus saying, he came to an abrupt halt, still glaring at me defiantly.
I had often dreamed of this moment, but trust Sherlock Holmes to turn it into a declaration of war. I stammered: "Holmes, I had no idea. You seemed not to – to take us very seriously. I didn't think – "
His eyes were bright, and a flush of colour tinged his face. "Do you really think I would risk your reputation and your liberty for some – some purely physical fling? You think I would break the habit of a lifetime of caution for any other man?"
"But why did you never say – ?"
"Good grief! I have never stopped saying it! Yesterday afternoon I told you you were worthy of true love. Yesterday morning I told you my love for you was greater than words could describe."
I had a sudden memory of Holmes reciting in Latin at the breakfast table, and felt rather dense.
He was going on relentlessly: "Three days ago I played you Strauss's Liebeslieder while gazing at you as meaningfully as I possibly could. Two weeks ago I read you Rückert's Springtime of Love - "
"In German!" I protested. "That is, if you mean that interminably long thing in the green leather binding."
He gave me a quelling look. "Of course in German. If I had read you poetry in English you would have understood immediately, completely defeating the point. You were supposed to discreetly consult the dictionary later, and draw your own conclusions."
"But Holmes!" I cried. "You must explain, for I don't understand at all. Why all these cryptic words and obscure hints? Why could you not just – simply tell me?"
Suddenly the rigidity left his stance, and he looked away. "How could I? How could I rely on my vaunted skills of deduction in such an important matter? What if I were only imagining that you felt the same way?"
I was so amazed by this thought that I was left completely dumbstruck.
Holmes looked back at me, frowning again. "Watson, even now you leave me in torturous suspense – "
I came forward and took his hands in mine, interlacing my fingers with his. "If you will only let me say I love you, and promise not to be disgusted by my sentimentality, I will say it a thousand times."
He raised an eyebrow at me, his joy shining in his eyes, even as his tongue already settled back into its usual dry groove. "I know I shall never tire of knowing it, my dear man, but I think I might tire of hearing you say it, especially if I am not even allowed to interrupt you to kiss you."
I smiled. "You could always kiss some other part of me."
His hands grasped mine all the tighter, and he jerked me suddenly roughly towards him. "I think I shall do just that."
Later, as we lay curled up in one corner of the sofa, I said sleepily:
"Thank goodness for Miss Trent-Smith, and her lack of respect for the proprieties of society."
He stirred. "What's that?"
"Well, if it hadn't been for the inspiration of her little scene, we might still be communicating in riddles."
Holmes was staring at me, his rapid brain putting all the facts together. "So that's what prompted your sudden departure! Miss Trent-Smith's little speech. I'm sorry, my dear fellow. I thought you were suffering from indigestion due to the incredible amount of bacon and eggs you consumed this morning."
I tried to give him a well-deserved poke in the ribs for that, but he had already anticipated it, and rolled away. He sat at the other end of the sofa, laughing heartily, while I glared at him.
"No indeed, my dear fellow," he went on in a more serious tone, coming back to curl his long form around me. "I didn't know what had come over you, but I was afraid to try and explore the issue in front of Trent-Smith. Certain innuendos were sure to arise, for how can they not, where we are concerned?" He ran a long finger lazily down the back of my neck, making me shiver. "As for Miss Trent-Smith's rambling, I wasn't paying it a great deal of attention. Walker's reaction to her words was much more interesting and relevant to the case."
Looking back, my miserable and misguided thoughts during that little scene now seemed melodramatic, and even rather amusing. I settled myself more comfortably against Holmes, warm and content, and closed my eyes.
After a while, I noticed Holmes was chuckling silently, and opened my eyes. He saw my interrogative look, and explained:
"I was just thinking of one of the series of other pieces of music and quotes I had lined up for you. This one is particularly inapposite: "Entre deux cœurs qui s'aiment, nul besoin de paroles." He smiled wryly. "A beautiful sentiment, I am sure, but certainly not true."
"What does it mean?"
"What I mean, is that perhaps both of us could have been a little more articulate."
We sat in silence for a while, simply enjoying each other's company. Then I felt Sherlock Holmes' breath tickle my ear. "Le seul vrai langage au monde est un baiser," he said softly.
He could read my question in my face.
"It means this," he said, and he bent his head and kissed me tenderly.
He had done so hundreds of times before, but in our new-found understanding this kiss felt like a first time, suffused as it was with the strength and certainty of our love.
If you're curious about the various quotes Holmes uses:
The French ones are from 19th century poets Marceline Desbordes-Valmore (Entre deux coeurs qui s'aiment, nul besoin de paroles: Between two hearts in love, there's no need for words) and Alfred de Musset (Le seul vrai langage au monde est un baiser: The only true language in the world is a kiss.) Friedrich Rückert is a 19th century poet too. The Latin ones are just two that you see often on wedding accessories and the like. Si vis amari, ama : Love, if you want to be loved, and Amor meus amplior quam verba est : My love is greater than words.