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One or the Other

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Mrs. Hudson had just brought up the supper tray when a complete stranger walked casually into the sitting room and hung up his coat. I started up from my chair, which was perhaps not the best idea. “Who on earth—?” exclaimed Mrs. Hudson.

He looked deeply disreputable, and I could think of only two possibilities. Either this was one of Holmes’ enemies, having chosen a poor time for revenge, or else it was one of Moriarty’s men, after me. It wasn’t either of the ones I had fought the previous evening, but there were doubtless more. I didn’t feel prepared to deal with either case, but I would have to manage something. I started to move between him and Mrs. Hudson.

“Good evening,” he said calmly and familiarly.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Mr. Holmes!”

Holmes blinked at us, and then pulled off his goatee with a wince. “Dreadfully sorry, Mrs. Hudson. I was in something of a hurry.” He turned to me.

“There was no need for it,” I said. “I told her not to bother you.” He still didn’t look much like himself, but he was pushing his hair back and straightening to his proper height.

“I thought in this situation he would want to be bothered.”

“You were entirely correct,” said Holmes. “As you are standing, however, Watson, I hope the injuries were not too serious?”

“They’re entirely minor,” I said, and Mrs. Hudson scoffed.

“I hope your investigations went well, Mr. Holmes?”

“Not well, but nothing went wrong.”

“I’ll go and see if I can come up with another portion for supper, then.” Mrs. Hudson closed the sitting room door behind her and I heard her footsteps down the stairs.

“I really am fine,” I said. Holmes focused on my bandages. “It didn’t even need stitches,” I added, as he shoved up my trouser leg and unwrapped the one on my shin. “Stop that, it’s unhygienic.”

He examined the wide scrape. “You mean, stitches would have been no use,” he said, rewrapping it. “Why didn’t you want me sent for?”

“They were Moriarty’s people, and you were already investigating him.”

“How did you know they were his men?”

I told him what had happened. “When they realized I was following them they set upon me, and I learned nothing. I thought it would be better for you to carry out your research without distraction—certainly you must have learned more of use there than anything I can tell you.”

“I did not. It was entirely fruitless, except to rule out Ireland as a base of operations. The fact that Moriarty is willing to attack my partner is certainly more relevant.”

“They might not have known it was me.” Holmes looked dubious. “As far as they knew I was just someone following them.”

“I find it very unlikely that two members of an extremely secretive criminal group who mostly do not know their leader’s name just happened to be casually discussing him right next to you in a respectable pub.”

I felt even more shortsighted. “So it was a trap. And now he knows you are investigating him.”

“Oh, he knew that already. I am only grateful that you got yourself out of it so well.”

Mrs. Hudson came up with Holmes’ dinner, and he went to the basin to wash his hands and face before he ate.