Looking back, I wonder why I agreed to see Montague Morgan at all. I suppose I was flattered to think that, for a change, someone in good health wanted to talk to me and not Holmes; indeed, that his presence was specifically said to be superfluous. My vanity, which until then I would have sworn was an imaginary creature, puffed up a little more when the cursed journalist let me know that our interview was to form part of a series he planned to offer to a well-known literary periodical on "Great Modern Exponents of the Short Story". To be in the same company, even by the flimsy association created out of ink and paper, as Hardy and Kipling...
Had Holmes been present to read the letter over my shoulder and offer some caustic remark to the effect that "On the Celebrity Interview as Pabulum" might have been a more worthwhile series of articles, I should have quite properly thrown it in the fire. Or, it might only have encouraged me: I was having a hard enough time extricating myself from the shadow which Holmes' reputation and personality perpetually threw over me even before we began to share a bed on a regular (not to say entirely irregular) basis.
Instead, I conveniently forgot to mention Morgan's name at all, and arranged for him to call at Baker Street at a time I knew Holmes had set aside to attend an afternoon concert of music that I abhorred and which he, somewhat to my surprise, did not attempt to inflict upon me whether on his violin or in the recital hall, in some ill-fated attempt to educate my taste.
My visitor seemed touchingly overawed by the sitting room, gazing about as if every detail were a revelation and not the familiar backdrop and gateway (as familiar to many, I am often told, as their own homes) to a host of tales. He accepted a glass of sherry and my offer to make himself comfortable on the settee, and we exchanged rueful smiles when we both of us reached for our notebooks at the same time.
"Well-trained, I see, Doctor," he began pleasantly enough, yet I felt there to be an insinuation in the words that put my hackles up. His was the benevolent and trifling air with which one might congratulate an owner on the behaviour of his gun-dog by patting the dog. No doubt, I chided myself, it was my imagination.
"I have, as my readers know, been much in the habit of taking such written notes as Mr Holmes and I might need in order to pursue a case," I agreed, if a little stiffly.
"Yes, he is good enough, by your account, to regard you as a companion, even partner in his... business."
Morgan pursed his mouth around the word, as if to speak it would sully the lips of a man of culture such as him - who might accept some small consideration for his pains, to be sure, but for whom art and letters were a calling above mere grubbing for filthy lucre.
"I wonder, what qualities do you suppose you possess that fit you especially for the role of," he consulted his notes, "'friend and colleague' to Mr Holmes?"
Now he was all innocent charm again. Perhaps I had been too hasty.
"I suppose...well, I do have a certain facility with words, to start with. It isn't easy to convey the brilliance of a mind that works at the speed Holmes' does, yet to describe his work in a way that appeals to the man in the street. Not to mention that many of our cases involve delicate matters or prominent people. I trust I have my fair share of discretion, and can keep a confidence."
My interviewer blinked and sat up a little straighter. He scribbled down a few words.
"Forgive my frankness, but I should hardly call your stories 'discreet', Doctor. Oh, certainly you change names, dates, details – of clients and criminals. But your portrait of Mr Holmes himself: you must admit it is most unedifying, taken in the round."
I bristled. "Unedifying? He is a great man."
Morgan permitted himself a quick, tight smile. "No doubt he has a brilliant mind. But his habits – his extreme moods – his unwholesome mental and physical excitements – a rejection of normal society and a contempt for the appointed representatives of the law – 'queer' relatives and an ancestry about which he is all but silent even to you – a man whose sentiments concerning the gentler sex, the angel of the English home and surely the supreme civilising influence, properly guided, in our nation, are, as you succinctly remark, "atrocious", not to say quite unnatural – do you intend him as a role model for our youth? You must know that the young and impressionable, sheltered young ladies and boys of little education, devour your fictionalised accounts of this man. Do you not feel that you owe it to them to...downplay his moral failings and outrageous eccentricities: to show him as, since I suppose despite it all he must be one, a gentleman?"
In Afghanistan, the mountain passes twist and turn so that an out-rider or a straggler from the column can become isolated and ambushed by the enemy before he even knows he is lost. If he tries to find his way out without a guide, he only makes matters worse for himself. If he is cornered, he can only stand and fight and die where he stands.
I felt myself to be trapped in a maze: formed by another, but out of my own words. True words, all of them, I would not have set them down otherwise. Holmes isan exceedingly odd creature, when all is said and done: unique, miraculous to my eyes and a treasure trove for my heart but strange indeed: odder still for his constant practice of singularity. For a moment I wondered if I had made him into a freak - a sideshow oddity that I have allowed the world to peer at, sixpence a throw.
No. It was Morgan who had done so. I set my face against that lie, the most dangerous and wicked of lies, that comes from malicious selection of the truth.
"Mr Morgan, if you haveread my work, I regret to say it is not entirely apparent. Sherlock Holmes is not without fault – which of us can claim that? But have you or I saved so many from harm and fear? Bent our backs to the wheel to move the carriage of justice – a vehicle that those 'appointed representatives of the law' too often fail to shift an inch? I have seen him face down a murderer with such collected calm that he might have been selecting a dish from a restaurant menu. I have seen how he despises meanness of sprit, petty trickery, greed and false witness, those who love power and hate the light because it shows them for what they are. I have seen him forgo sleep, food, comfort and peace of mind to get at the truth. All that is in my stories, too."
Morgan smoothed down one velvet lapel and extended a soft, sallow, placating hand. For a horrifying moment, I thought he meant to pat me calm like a restive horse. But he only pawed the air, where it bristled with my anger, before dropping his hand once again to take up his pencil.
"My dear Doctor, forgive me. I thought only to enquire whether you feel that a writer has a higher duty to society than mere entertainment."
"As perhaps a journalist might have, you mean?"
That bit him, but he covered it with a dry little cough and a murderous smirk.
"Yes, well, you may well be correct. Turning to matters domestic, would you like to say anything about your own family – your dear, late wife; hopes for your children; whether you would like to see them follow in your footsteps? Our lady readers will want to hear another side to your life than ugly crimes and abstruse deductions, I am sure."
"Mrs Watson and I were not blessed with children: I had thought that to be public knowledge. I must say, moreover, that mylady readers seem quite as keen on trying to work out the solution to the case as the men."
"Let us hope, for the sake of our race's future, that they do not strain themselves overmuch. I believe several eminentauthorities proclaim that most inadvisable. I am sure you will agree, as a...medical man yourself."
This was intolerable: his tone, his temerity, his ineffable twaddle. I wished that Mrs Hudson could bustle in, wondering what that strange noise might be (it was my teeth, grinding fit to supply half the bakers in Westminster) and give him a good clout over the head with the feather duster.
"Perhaps we can sum up," he ventured, with a positively oleaginous expression on his narrow face. "I can see from that momentary glance at the mantelpiece clock – see, what tricks you have taught us, Doctor – that you must be expecting someone. What do you see as your due to that great craft in which we are all bound apprentice? Do you mean to rise above the locale of the serial pot-boiler and ascend to the mountain top: join the company of giants – give us a scientific romance, or an historical adventure full of nobility and vim, a tale of manly deeds to get the blood pounding and inspire us with the power of the written word, eh? Tell me about your artistic ambitions."
"Mr Morgan. If spending time in 'the company of giants' means submitting to this kind of impertinence on anything like a regular basis, I believe I will be quite content in the foothills, and seek no ambition other than to portray them faithfully and entertainingly. You may rest assured that I have friends in the publishing world who will be warned to look out for any submission based on this afternoon's farce and have either their red inkwell fully stocked or their waste-paper basket freshly emptied. Good day to you."
We both got to our feet and stepped, without conscious thought on my part at least, a pace or two toward the other. Morgan dropped the affable mask and for a while we stood glaring like stags in a woodland stand-off. He was a little taller than I, but I had the advantage of weight – and of right – on my side.
"Watson! Good afternoo-"
Holmes stood stock still, framed in the open doorway. He expressed no surprise that I had a visitor, but fixed intently upon our faces, which resumed the contest that his arrival had briefly distracted. When at last Morgan conceded, and slunk off to whichever grubby little chop house he frequented to put together his libels, Holmes shut the door behind him, waited a short while, then locked it.
He guided me to my accustomed chair and stood behind me, agile fingers kneading my shoulders and trapezius to the point of pain and on into pleasure, singing some soft and rich, sensuous air that crept unbidden into the fleshly, itching places in my mind. When I had stopped shaking with rage, he bent his head and nuzzled at the nape of my neck and the creases behind my ears with his patrician nose. His breath – deep, calm, with that particular musical hitch it has when he is thinking carnal thoughts - stirred me; stirred more parts, and more intimate, than the hairs on my head and above my collar.
"I knew you would best him, my dear Watson. He is a blot on the typeset of life, a gossip columnist who usually goes by the name Percival Price," – I groaned, I knew thatname well enough – "not worth another thought. Of course I knew he was coming, I take care that no-one steps over my threshold unanticipated. Blame our esteemed landlady if you must, for it was she who let the name drop, though I admit I tripped her into it. You are too transparent when you are plotting to deceive."
"I was foolish," I lamented. "Foolish and vain to think my writings might be praised in a serious way."
"Of your writings I will say nothing, else you would not be disposed to fall in with my ideas for this afternoon. If you must be vain, my heart, be vain that you are steel true and blade straight. Words can be had for a few shillings or an open ear. A Watson cannot be had for anything but..."
He shied away from it: he always did.
"For love, Holmes. For a truer love than many can hope for."
He laid his cheek against mine.
"As you say. Can he also perchance be had right this very hour, in this very room, for the exercise of a swift disrobing, an eager and, I trust you will agree, practised hand? I've a mind to roll together with the conquering hero in the sweet scent of victory on the field of his triumph."
The more florid Holmes' language at such times, the more aroused I knew him to be – at least until he finally shut up when his mouth was put to...other sorts of eloquence.
"In the *sitting room*. Holmes? Are you sure?"
He came and knelt at my feet and laid his sleek head on my thigh. His eyes glittered and he licked his lower lip slowly. I alone have seen him thus: brilliant, masterful, incandescent – mine.
"Yes, John. In the sitting room."
He pulled me bodily out of my seat until we tumbled together, a thread of desire made from two twisting strands, onto the rug.
"On the floor."