“We are all egoists,” he said. “Every child likes to hear the story of his beginnings, the tale of his parents’ courtship, the events surrounding his birth, the parts of his story he cannot know himself.” He refilled the glasses of all his companions, save one.
That man drew his pipe away from his mouth. “You never were a child,” he said.
“Come in and shut the door, Michael. By some miracle, I am alone.”
Dr Stamford closed the door to the small sitting room, took in the desk covered with papers and reached behind him to turn the key in the lock.
Colonel Watson winced as he sank into one of the two armchairs in the room. He motioned his visitor towards the other. “How have they all found me? I’m not even officially in charge of anything yet.” He rubbed a hand across his face, sighed and looked up at Michael. “I think a more customary greeting would have been: ‘How was the journey down from London? Would you care for a drink to clear out the dust from the road?’”
The glasses made a pleasant sound as they touched. “I should have just retired,” Colonel Watson said.
Michael settled into his chair. “You would have been bored senseless in a week and challenging someone to a duel over a card game in two, John.”
John swatted his leg. “I’ve changed a bit since we used to compete to see who could saw through a thigh bone faster,” John said. He held out his drink. The amber liquid trembled in the glass. “I can’t trust myself in the operating theatre anymore.”
“You’ll set up the hospital, make sure it’s run properly and save lives that way,” Michael replied.
John glared at the desk. “Filling out requisitions and reports?”
“You see things, John. Always have. More of your patients survive because you really see them, not a bleeding hunk of meat to hack bits off of or a bloodless example from a treatise.”
John looked out the window. “Some people think I’m supposed to see other things as well. The vicar came to call.”
“No,” John said, wagging a finger. “Not about the state of my soul, but the state of the churchyard.”
Michael raised an eyebrow.
John balanced his glass on the arm of his chair. “Graves have been disturbed these past few months and the good divine is not satisfied with the efforts of the local constable. The reverend thought I might solve the mystery where this fellow Lestrade has failed.” John took a sip from his glass. “My being a man of penetrating insight apparently.”
“Your reputation precedes you,” Michael chuckled.
“I have no civilian reputation,” John exclaimed, slamming his empty glass down on the side table.
Michael waited for the anger to subside. John Watson’s temper had always been like a summer storm.
“Sorry,” John said, grabbing the whiskey bottle by the neck and leaning towards Michael. “Except with a couple old friends with very long memories.” Glasses recharged, John continued, bottle still in hand. “Shouldn’t he be complaining to the ‘lord of the manor’ about affairs of the village, not some stranger like me?”
“Ah,” Michael said, setting down his glass much more gently. “Sherlock, Dr Holmes, that is, is nearly as much of a stranger here as you are. He’s been studying in London and abroad for years. He returned, rather begrudgingly, only a few months ago when his maternal grandfather died and the castle became his.”
“Castle?” John echoed.
“Closer to a castle than a manor,” Michael replied, “the creation of some whimsical ancestor. Has a bit of the German fairy tale about it.”
“It is habitable?” John asked. “We aren’t setting up shop in some picturesque ruin, are we?”
“It is picturesque, but more than habitable, if you exclude Sherlock’s tower out in the garden, I suppose.” Michael retrieved his glass. “He began outfitting the wing for the infirmary as soon as I mentioned your idea to him. Last week, he wrote to say that the refurbishments were nearly complete.”
John tilted his head and regarded his old friend. “I didn’t withdraw my resignation until a few days ago.”
Michael took a thoughtful sip of whiskey. “You said yourself that General Sholto didn’t want to accept your resignation and Sherlock, well, he decides to do things and expects the universe to fall in line.”
“Former military?” John asked.
“Former deity, more like,” Michael said.
“You need to meet him,” Michael concluded.
You won't mind, I hope, that I still write to you, although there is no address I know that can bring my meandering thoughts to you now.
I need to write them down; I will never sleep otherwise. I may not sleep in any event. There were too many impressions. Triage after a pitched battle is the only thing I can liken it to, the bombardment of the senses, the urgent need to understand, to make decisions.
I am a scientific man, a military man. I must order my thoughts. Order and method are my tools. If I apply them, maybe then I can sleep…
There are rooms waiting for me, above the infirmary I saw today, with walls of reference books and glass doors opening onto a narrow balcony overlooking a proper physic garden. This is nothing new, although perhaps newly brought to order after a period of neglect. And there is a laboratory such as I have never seen, those at Bart’s are like the clutter on a kitchen table by comparison. The array of glassware alone was dazzling, Dr Holmes’s explanation of his current experiment more so.
The breadth of his knowledge, the range of his travels and research, the ideas he linked together regarding just that one experiment, were staggering, all the more so in light of his youth.
I tore open the skin of my thumb on a thorn by one of the garden gates. It is neither red nor hot now. Dr Holmes applied a tincture to the wound twice, the first time straight from the alembic. It is a compound of his devising derived from iodine. The wound is already dry. What I can do just with this tincture. The lives and the limbs I might save.
The things I can learn there.
I hope he understood my dumbfounded expression to be admiration at his accomplishments. I couldn’t find words, although I may have uttered one or two. He looked at me intently for a moment, then went on.
Now, I find myself thinking on other things, too. There is a bowl of green apples in the room in which I write. The vicar left them. They are a little lighter than the colour of the silk waistcoat Dr Holmes wore, not at all practical for the laboratory, but tailored perfectly to his form and embroidered with leaves. He assessed me with eyes the same colour as the silk or so they seemed. When he bid Michael and me good-day at the edge of the drive, they seemed blue. There are people I have known for months and could not attest to the colour of their eyes. In the course of a morning, I noted the changeability of his.
I feel ill at ease with myself.
The wagon will arrive early tomorrow to take my trunks. I will call at the vicarage along the way, the innkeeper assures me it is a minor detour off the road to the castle. (See how matter-of-factly I use that term now?) The good cleric seems to view me as some sort of military governor, I shall have to make clear that my authority is only over the patients and medical staff in my new hospital and that only for as long as these wars continue to produce wounded and dying and Dr Holmes continues to allow us the use of his remarkable premises.
Michael has already collected his things from the inn and returned there for the night. I was invited to do so as well, but I claimed to have pressing correspondence to answer. I needed to get away, to order the tumult in my mind.
I do feel better for writing some of it down. There are not enough hours in the night to record all I saw and heard and tomorrow there will be more.
“Oh, Dr Stamford, how good to see you,” Mrs Hudson said, holding the door wide. “Come in before the skies open up.”
She leaned out the door. “Billy, don’t forget to light the fire when you bring the bags upstairs,” she called to the lanky boy leading the horse round to the stables.
“No, ma’am,” Billy called back before he disappeared past the long row of blueberry bushes.
Mrs Hudson turned to beam at Michael. “Colonel Watson told me your blessed news,” she said. “Clarissa is such a pretty name and how is Mrs Stamford?”
“Very well indeed and well-tended by both newly-made grandmothers, two sisters and one sister-in-law,” Michael replied, taking off his hat and bowing slightly. Mrs Hudson had taught the cook the recipe for the best scones in three counties and he appreciated her art.
“Good time for a journey, then,” she said. “Colonel Watson has been looking forward to your visit. He hardly takes a moment to sit down, but now you’re here, he may. He asked for tea to be served in the orangery. I take that as a good sign, but you may have to pull him away from the infirmary nonetheless. You know how to get there through the house?”
Michael peered out the door at the grey sky. “I usually walk round. Do you think I’ll make it?”
“Come,” Mrs Hudson said, gesturing towards a door behind the staircase, “I’ll show you a shortcut.”
An informal letter tonight, Harry, no time for proper composition. I am run off my feet and I drop into bed exhausted, barely managing to undress. It is a good exhaustion though, not the frenzy of death and life near the front. I have the time to know my patients as more than a diagnosis and it makes a difference – to us all.
Two days after I arrived, the first patients came. They were pale and thin, their injuries, for better or worse, already treated, hastily near the front and for longer back in England. They were the ones without friends or family to take them in for the last stages of either recovery or decline. Unable to fend for themselves, their beds in the city wards were still needed for the more recently wounded or stricken.
I lost one, a Bruce Parkington, the day after he arrived. I’m not sure he ever realised where he was. He had no fever, but his mind had gone with his legs and his sight. Behind his sealed lids, he saw visions that made him cry out and flail at things that were not there. He’d been a strong man with broad shoulders and arms still roped with muscle, although all the fat had gone. A haemorrhage of the brain took him.
The vicar came out for a service. I hope to see less of him for many reasons.
A week later we welcomed our second wave, a dozen more, recently returned from abroad, their frames less wasted, their conditions less stable.
You would doubt me, I know, but those remaining of the first six were already responding to treatment. The walls of the infirmary are almost all window. It reminds me more than a little of a greenhouse and the men seemed to thrive in the sunlight and fresh air. I prefer blankets to closed windows and the colours and fragrances from the gardens seemed to play a part. I had had no need for surgery yet. I used Dr Holmes's tincture of iodine on several suppurating wounds, which was painful for the patients, but the results were little short of miraculous. He has provided me with more.
He doesn’t come to the infirmary every day, but when he comes he always has a contribution to make. He has given me the freedom of his laboratory and I have made more use of my botanical knowledge than I have since medical school. Between the physic garden, the larger grounds and the greenhouses, I think half the plants in the world grow here. Dr Holmes found me attempting a preparation with willow and he showed me how to use some of the equipment stored in the cupboards, the likes of which I have never seen. That evening he joined me for dinner and handed me a page from one of his notebooks with instructions for a much more effective preparation. The relief in suffering it provides, from fever and from pain is nearly as incredible as what the iodine does for infection.
Michael has been to visit. It was wonderful to see him. I gave him the recipe for the willow, with the permission of Dr Holmes, who joined us briefly for tea. He had prepared a case of his tincture of iodine for Michael as well. Apparently, this is an arrangement they have had for nearly a year. Michael uses it on his own patients. His colleagues are obstinate in their refusal to try it. More of Michael’s patients survive and he is broadening the minds of the young doctors he is training as best he can, being but one among their teachers.
He also brought a hand to Dr Holmes, a right hand from one of the most eminent surgeons in London who had recently collapsed from an asthma attack at Bart’s. I was more than a little surprised when, after tea, Michael opened the metal case he had set down by his chair to reveal the hand sitting on a bed of straw in a niche carved out of a solid block of ice. We adjourned to the laboratory and my amazement increased as Sherlock...(I can picture your eyebrow going up. Lower it.) Dr Holmes has requested that I call him thus and he has taken to calling me John when we are not in the infirmary. You would look askance at such hasty familiarity, I know, but the battlefield forms bonds at a different pace than civilian life and we are waging battle, he and I, although the idyllic gardens and the porcelain tea service might mislead one in that regard ~
To continue: once in the laboratory, Sherlock took the hand Michael had brought and set it on a tray. Into the stump of the wrist, he inserted two copper wires. I glanced at Michael, but whatever Dr H...Sherlock was doing did not seem familiar to him either. From one of the cupboards, Sherlock took a wooden box that I had not seen there before. It was inscribed in Italian, if I am not mistaken, and inside was a compact machine with a small crank like a music box. He attached the copper wires to the machine and proceeded to crank vigorously. The fingers of the severed hand twitched. I gasped quite audibly. Michael smiled at Sherlock and asked him when Volta’s device had arrived.
Michael and I took turns at the crank while Sherlock tested the reflexes. The fingers stopped spasming in unison, those being pricked with a needle Sherlock wielded jerking higher and more rapidly away from the point than the other fingers of the hand. We repeated the experiment more than a dozen times.
Finally, I asked whether the hand was still alive and Sherlock replied that that indeed was the question. “Or does it still remember being alive?” Sherlock asked and repacked the hand in its icy box and took his leave of us.
Despite the marvels I had already witnessed in my time at the castle, I gaped at Michael when Sherlock departed.
Michael just said, “Yeah, he’s always like that.”
It’s been weeks since I’ve sat down to write to you, Harry. In the interim, we’ve reached what is our current capacity of thirty patients. We have discharged several whose persistent fevers we were able to dispel and another who could walk again after we finally cleared up an infection from a deep wound in his leg and their beds have all been refilled. There are two further patients who should be ready to leave us in another week or so. The pain relief we could provide while they were healing, one from an amputated arm, the other from an amputated hand has allowed them to benefit from the bounty of Mrs Hudson’s kitchen. One was an accountant, the other a clerk, before their military service, and neither lost their dominant hand. There was a position for an accountant open at Bart’s, so that lad will be off there. The other has had an offer from a cousin in Canada ready to pay his passage to join in the cousin's business there. Obviously, not all will be so fortunate, but their stories have cheered us and cheer, like the sunshine, helps everyone.
I also performed a surgery, more delicate than I ever had time for at a field hospital.
What of the tremor in my left hand you ask? It appears to have gone away. I should have mentioned that to you sooner. It is a noteworthy development. Sherlock pointed it out to me one day when I was mixing a salve in the laboratory. I actually had not noticed. I keep wondering whether it will come back, but it hasn’t so far.
The surgery was on a young soldier whose wounds were the most recent of any of the patients we have had so far. Ethan, such is his name, had been near supply wagons when a cannon ball hit. He had been slashed by the splintering wood. He had lost blood, but no arteries were severed nor either eye lost. He was a fair lad on one side and the other side of his face was in ribbons. It created a nightmarish effect when he turned his head, if one had approached him from his uninjured side. We quickly vanquished the infection, which was not well-established. (I cannot express my joy at this ability. I do not think it will ever fade.) I asked Ethan if he was willing to have me operate to try to lessen the disfigurement by stitching the tattered flesh together. Sherlock has potions which send a person into a deep sleep. They are poisons and one must be very careful of the dosage. We used it for the accountant’s amputation and it was such a different experience to be able to remove the limb carefully because the patient wasn’t screaming in agony from the cutting. Perhaps that is why the tremor did not reassert itself.
Above the infirmary, in addition to my rooms, there is a large solarium with a glass roof and tall, wide windows. It was added to the building when the infirmary was being readied, expressly to provide a strongly-lit room for operations. We waited for a clear morning. Ethan was brave about the potion, which smelled dreadful and held the possibility of death if we miscalculated. I cut and stitched more like a tailor than anything else. I used a fine silk thread. Half-way through the procedure I realised Sherlock was next to me, watching. I had not heard him enter, but he is a man who can be both silent and quick in his movements. There is something of the king cobra in him. Slowly, I finished my work, especially careful around the edge of the eye, hoping the cuts would heal without pulling the eyelids down.
I had started at ten and it was gone two when I attempted to straighten up from my labours. My back was very stiff and would not right itself completely.
Sherlock looked from the sleeping lad’s face to my hands and back. “Quite extraordinary,” he said. “Like fine tatting more than anything. I shall be most interested to follow the progress of his recovery, Dr Watson.”
My back finally straightened the last bit as my chest puffed out. I couldn’t help it. It was the best work I have ever done and I knew that he addressed me with my title not as a formality, but as a compliment.
I studied my handiwork. Even if it does not heal as well as I hope, the disfigurement will still be far less than if it had been allowed to heal without intervention. I moved a chair from near the windows to Ethan’s side to wait his return to consciousness. I had some willow paste to hand for the pain.
Sherlock glanced at it. “It can increase bleeding,” he said. “I can prepare you something else for the pain, which does not have that effect.” He bent closer to Ethan’s face to study the stitches more carefully. I was pleased with how little bleeding there was. “You might wish to tie his hands. The stitches will be itchy; he might tear them in his sleep.”
It was a good suggestion and it spoke of practical experience of which I had seen no evidence. I have bound the limbs of delirious patients that they might not hurt themselves, but I had not thought of it in this context and had nothing with me for the purpose. He unwound his neckcloth and took up a scalpel from my tray. One stroke divided the material. He handed half across to me and used the other to loosely tie Ethan’s hand to the side of the operating table. “He’ll be able to move a little. It will frighten him less when he awakens,” Sherlock said.
I stood holding my piece of fine linen. It was still warm from his throat. Sherlock turned to leave. At the door, he paused. “Only moisten his mouth with water,” he said. “The anaesthesia can upset the stomach, he might vomit.”
I nodded. It works somewhat like alcohol on the system. Many’s the drunkard that’s died that way.
“I’ll be back shortly with the analgesic,” he said, “and I’ll send word to the kitchen for some sustenance for you. You’ve worked through dinner and will need strength to tend to your patient.”
One of Ethan’s fingers twitched. I secured his wrist and sat down to wait. I left my hand resting on his forearm, thinking it might reassure him even in his sleep. It seemed to work. His eyes shifted beneath their lids, but he didn’t move any more until Sherlock had been and gone again and my food had arrived and been eaten.
Michael’s been again and he’s brought a very young doctor with him from Glasgow. The lad doesn’t even have whiskers yet, that’s how young he is and timid with it. Born into a family of doctors it seems, began his studies earlier than most. Observant though and kind with the patients, not shy to lay his hand on and very clean. Sherlock and Michael and I are in accord about the importance of hygiene and I consider it an important factor in our patients’ recovery time, indeed in their survival rate. We are in the minority among our colleagues.
Dr Hooper’s the young fellow’s name. I didn’t quite catch the first name. Mallory, I think.
We needed another doctor because we’ve moved the laboratory to make room for six more beds. I was stretched with thirty, especially now we’re getting the patients almost directly from the ships bringing them home. With another doctor, even a newly fledged one like Hooper, we’ll be able to manage.
Sherlock has converted an abandoned potting shed tucked in behind a stand of azaleas into a laboratory. It didn’t take the carpenters he hired long to refurbish it with new windows, shelves, cupboards and lab fittings. It has a little wood stove for heat. There was already a water pump inside. Some of the stronger patients lent a hand. It appeared to lift their spirits. They seemed sorry when it was done. I’ve seen a couple walking about the garden looking like they’re scouting for other places to expand. I’ve found myself doing it. If Dr Hooper works out and we got another orderly, I think we could manage fifty.
I’m pleased to report that I have been sleeping better for weeks now. It was hard the first month or so. I spent many late nights and early mornings with my candle reading from the selection of books in my rooms. Some are in languages I don’t read, but most are in English or French and I have attempted to use my Latin on a few of the Italian ones. It didn’t work so well, but I pieced together some of the basic principles of Volta and Galvani from them. At least I have an idea what the little machine we used on the hand was.
Continuing on the subject of body parts: Michael brought Sherlock a head on the same day he brought Dr Hooper to us. Yes, a head. Not a skull. A head, hair and all. Quite a luxurious head of hair actually with only a hint of grey. I envied the previous possessor of it. He was a professor of philosophy at the University of London with a brother who teaches at Bart’s. Poor fellow was trampled to death by his neighbour’s horse. Head intact though. Brother said he wanted to donate his body to science, no consecrated ground mumbo jumbo for the philosopher we are told. Michael spoke up and said he knew just the scientist to put the body to good use. If Sherlock attaches wires to it and gets the eyelids to open, I do not want to be there. He’s spirited it off to his tower, in any event. Michael said Sherlock has another laboratory there, but I’ve never seen it. I can’t see when he works in it, unless he never sleeps, because I see him in the physic garden, or his potting shed or in the infirmary every day, far more than I did when I first arrived. He sits with me at luncheon or dinner several times a week as well, although he doesn’t eat much.
He has a sweet tooth though and Mrs Hudson uses that to advantage. Apparently, it is part of her life’s work to get Sherlock to eat and she makes all sorts of pastries stuffed with fruits and nuts to tempt him even though there is a cook, Mrs Turner, whom she instructs in the making of sweet sauces for meat and fish or vegetables. Oddly, I find myself joining in with her. I’ve noticed that if I have Sherlock deeply engaged in conversation, and he enjoys explaining things if one can just get him started, and I place a few morsels of food on his plate, he will eat them almost absentmindedly. Mrs Hudson has caught me doing this and given me a conspiratorial wink. Sherlock is less pale and not quite as rail thin as when I arrived, but some days the shadows under his eyes are very dark and I do suspect that sleep has been ignored in favour of some scientific pursuit or other.
I was going to stop here as I’m not sure I want to put this in writing, but I’ve developed a habit before I go to bed of walking around the gardens. It started innocently enough. We recommend to the patients that are ambulatory that they walk in the gardens if the weather permits, so one clear evening when the moon was high and bright, I took my own advice. The grounds of the castle are extensive. I don’t believe I have explained that in any detail. There is a stream that waters the property, it has a cascade with a small mill on it. There are fields of oats and they can be ground there. Nearby farmers bring their grain as well and instead of payment in coin, leave a portion of wheat or barley or rye for the kitchen. There are woods on the far side of the stream and it’s on a path through them, wide enough for a cart, that the farmers come to the mill. The woods have many other paths, however, that lead to clearings and meadows and two small hills that overlook the property in one direction and down to the village in the other. This is without mentioning the formal gardens, the kitchen gardens, the orchards, the stables, the dairy, the pastures... It is vast and it is all in working order. It’s true that the part with the most people living and working on it are far from the main house and the formal gardens around it, but one might wander for many an evening and find plenty to see and even people to share a pipe or an ale with if one had a mind to, without retracing one’s steps.
I had done it all once when I was new, which is how I know. Even met the man who keeps it all ticking over, by the name of Lestrade, he of the inadequate constabulary work. It is an extra office he agreed to take on. Fine fellow, been overseeing the place for thirty years and his father before him. He has an eye for detail and for people. If a fox eats one chicken he knows about it. He knows if one partridge is poached. There is a gamekeeper named Dimmock who reports to him about that bit, but Lestrade knows. And he knows who drinks too much ale and needs a word not to disturb the peace of his neighbours or his own wife and children. One might think such a man would resent Sherlock coming along and turning part of the place into a hospital and seeming to pay no mind to all the rest of it, but he doesn’t. He admires him. Says he might have to chase around some to find Sherlock, but he’ll always help Lestrade solve any problem he can’t solve himself. I flattered him a bit when I said those must be very few. The man radiates a clear-sighted sincerity. He knew what I was doing, but he raised his glass to me and smiled. Said, that like his grandfather before him, Sherlock expected people to manage on their own most of the time, but to have the sense to know when they can’t and to ask for help.
“His grandfather always said Sherlock was like him,” Lestrade continued. “Doesn’t matter what his name is, he’d say. Sherlock’s a Frankenstein more than a Holmes. That’s why this place needs to be his. When he’s done with his wandering, when he’s gleaned what he needs from the wider world, he’ll come here and do something great. Mark my words.” Lestrade set down his ale. “And I have.” He looked at me steadily. “The old man was a wise one, gave Sherlock the run of the place. He was a wild young thing, riding, climbing, swimming, running. You never knew where you would find him. He was everywhere and he discovered everything. He knows each nook and cranny and he never forgets it no matter how long he’s been away. His grandfather died knowing Sherlock would come back and he knew I would keep everything here safe for him until he did. And I have.” Lestrade took a long draught of his ale, looked at me over it. “You see it in him, too,” he said. “I can tell by the way you’re listening to me. Maybe you’ll help him. Maybe this hospital thing will be part of the greatness. We’ll wait and see.”
“Most people have to die to have words like that said about them,” I remarked. “They’re lucky if it happens even then.”
I tried for you, Harry. I did. It took me by surprise. I never thought I’d need to say them so soon.
“I’m a big believer in saying things while I have the chance,” Lestrade replied.
I was silent. More than most, that's a thing I should know. I took refuge in my glass. A knock sounded at the door. A young boy pushed it open and breathlessly announced, “The trap near the henhouse is sprung.”
Lestrade stood. “We have our fox,” he said.
“No, sir,” the boy replied. “We have a hound.”
“Not one of ours,” the boy continued. “A big, shaggy creature. Doesn’t belong to anyone I know of.”
“Let’s see, then,” Lestrade said, grabbing his jacket and a long staff by the door.
I set down my glass and followed him out. “Thank you,” I said, pulling the door shut behind me.
“Want to come?” he asked.
“No, I’d best get back,” I replied. “It’ll be a story for next time.”
He smiled at that and headed off with the boy and I headed to the gardens. When I reached the ones by the infirmary, I walked on past until I stood beneath the tower where Sherlock did whatever he did instead of sleeping. There was light coming from the windows on the top floor. I stood staring rather foolishly. I don’t know what I expected, what I was waiting for, but after a while, I saw a shadow pass by one of the windows. For some reason the story of Rapunzel came to mind. It was the tower, I suppose, because Sherlock has neither unusually long nor golden hair. But he was high above me in his tower and if I was to reach him I would need to climb. I wished to climb. I realised it with a shock and turned to leave, embarrassed at the imagery, embarrassed at the desire. From behind me, music began to play. The window must have been open; the sound was very clear and plaintive. I thought then of the sirens upon their rocks because I wanted more than ever to climb to the top of that tower where I had not been invited. I walked a few paces further away and then ran.
Well, Harry, that was several weeks ago and every night, except for the one when I went to hear the story of the hound from Lestrade, I have walked straight to the tower and stood, looking up at the lighted windows, waiting for a shadow to appear, listening for the music of a lone violin.
A brief entry to note that the vicar paid me a courtesy call. I am relieved to report that we have not needed to call for him. He brought apples with him again, golden ones this time that were crisp and had a fine taste. He thanked me for putting an end to the vandalisation of his graveyard and expressed a wish to see me more often sitting in a pew in his church. This was a very delicate way to put it as I have not sat in his church at all, except on the day I visited him at the vicarage to be shown the damage to the tombstones and he gave me a tour of the inside of the church afterwards and would recite the history behind each of the stained glass windows of which he is very proud. My leg was paining me and I accepted his invitation to sit while he made his orations.
I expressed my great satisfaction that his concerns on that score had been allayed. I decided there was no point in explaining that I had had nothing to do with this turn of events in any manner whatsoever as I feel certain that he is the type of man who will maintain his own view of things whatever anyone else may say.
I thanked him for his gift and we parted as amicably as I could hope in light of the fact that I had not promised to sit in his pews on a regular basis. I believe he still has hope for my soul and imagines it will just take more time and possibly more apples.
It is madness on several levels, I suppose, Harry, but I’ve moved out of my rooms. There’s a complete floor above the infirmary now, not just my rooms on one side and the operating theatre on part of the other. The operating room remains, but my rooms are gone and another open ward built. We’ve thirty-two beds on the ground floor, a station by the stairs for the four orderlies we have now and a small office for Dr Hooper and me. Upstairs, in addition to the operating room, we have beds for eighteen more. There are shelves along one of the side walls with books of fiction, history and travel for the patients who can read; those who cannot often listen to those who can read aloud. We have enough patients who can manage the stairs, fortunately. We have established a routine of moving those who are soon to be discharged to the upper floor. Ethan is among them. The scars on his face are certainly visible, but they are very fine and pale. They are healing well and the eye on that side is not distorted. Sherlock followed the course of Ethan’s convalescence most carefully and I derived enormous pleasure from it. I know I should only care that Ethan is so much better than he might have been, but to you, Harry, I can admit that Sherlock’s admiration of my work is something I hold very dear.
My new rooms are old, but not far away. They still overlook the physic garden; I only have to cut across it to reach the infirmary. From the small bedroom balcony, I can see Sherlock’s tower. That hasn’t stopped me from walking there nearly every evening. Yes, it rains here sometimes, so I walk in the rain if it isn’t too much of a downpour. If it is, I stare out my balcony doors as though the tower might disappear if I don’t keep watch.
This vigil feels all the more important as he is spending more and more time there. He still comes to the infirmary once a day, but his visits are brief. I see him sometimes in the garden collecting flowers and leaves and berries. In the past month, he’s joined me once for dinner after I practically cornered him in the garden. He ate nothing and was so ill at ease that I have not done it again.
His fresh colour has faded. The skin around his eyes looks bruised and the little weight that he gained over the past few months has melted away.
Mrs Hudson is anxious. I’ve asked her if he’s ever done this before. She said he has, but never for so long.
I feel I need to know what he is working on in the tower.
As I say, madness.
I can’t write for long right now, Harry, but you would be proud of me. I saved a life tonight and although that is not an unusual statement for a doctor to make, I am certain no other doctor ever saved a life like this one. Most accurately I have saved two, because I do not think Sherlock would have lasted much longer without my care. He may expect others to know when they need to ask for help, but he doesn’t know it himself. Yes, for small things he’ll ask for assistance, hold this flask, shift this box, but he doesn’t think anyone can help with the big things. I was happy to prove him wrong tonight, not for the petty satisfaction of it, but because if I hadn’t been able to help, two extraordinary beings would have been lost to the world. I understand why he doubted I could help though.
I don’t know whether Lestrade will ever know, but if he were to know, he would be happy. The great thing has happened at Castle Frankenstein. If anyone had told me of it, I would not have believed them. Even holding him in my arms, it was hard enough to believe.
I have to go back now. I have left them sleeping to bring some food. Everyone needs to eat and rest. I will write eventually.
There is a new patient in the infirmary named Victor. He is on the ground floor because the stairs are too much of a challenge for his level of coordination and I do not wish to see him crawl. He is a big man and he will be commanding when he has learned control of his limbs. I cannot be certain, but I think he will achieve it. I have seen injuries that produced similar shortcomings, forcing men to relearn the simplest tasks. Of course, Victor, is learning them for the first time, but the others need not know that. I chose his name. He is alive and it is a victory.
I found them both on the floor when I opened the door. I was surprised it was unlocked. I had brought various keys of Mrs Hudson’s to try. Perhaps Sherlock had intended to leave and changed his mind at the last moment. He was pressed against a wall as far as possible from the body that appeared to have fallen from the operating table. He didn’t look up at me, but pointed, arm shaking, across the room. He said something; his voice hoarse from disuse or shouting, I could not tell. Perhaps he had called for help. He tried again, without success. His head dropped onto his drawn up knees, he curled his arms about them, his back heaving. The sound of his weeping tore at something in my chest.
I shut the door, turned the key that was in the lock and knelt by him. I rested my hand on his hair. I had thought of touching those curls, wondered whether they were coarse or fine. They were snarled and damp. I reached around to touch his forehead. It was burning.
“I failed,” he mumbled. “I failed, I failed, I failed.”
“No. No,” I said. “You are ill.”
I looked around the room for water. Nothing seemed obvious. There was broken glass on the lab table and the floor in front of it, something blue was dripping down onto the flags, an upturned metal bowl sat in the midst of the debris. I stood to retrieve it. I heard a sob.
“I’m not leaving,” I said, my hand back in his hair. “Just getting water.” I stretched to catch the edge of the bowl and pulled it towards me. Shards of glass scraped against the stone. “Is there water?” I asked.
His head moved slightly side to side. “Gone,” he said.
That didn’t make sense, but it was no matter. The rain continued to pour down outside. My coat was soaked from my walk. I took it off, unwound the sodden scarf from my neck and wiped his brow with it.
“Wrong,” he muttered and turned his face so I could wipe more of it. His lips were chapped. “All wrong.”
I opened the window nearest us, legs splayed so that one nudged against Sherlock’s side as I leaned over the sill. Rainwater gushed past me from gargoyle spouts. I held the bowl away from their streams. I could hear the rain pinging against the metal until the sound of thunder rolled over it. I had enough. “Can you sit up a little?” I asked, kneeling again. He lifted his head a bit. His eyes were red. From lack of sleep or from drink was another question I didn’t have the answer to. I held the bowl to his lips. He lifted his head higher and drank it all. He sighed when he finished and looked up at me. “I didn’t get it right,” he said more clearly, head falling back against the wall.
I told him to wait and collected more rainwater. He drank again, pushed the last of it away. Another clap of thunder sounded. I set the bowl down. The rain was blowing into the room. I closed the window. Around us the room lit up. A sound like stone splitting echoed above our heads. “We’ve been hit,” I shouted.
“It didn’t work,” Sherlock replied. “It hit before, but it didn’t work. He just fell off the table and lay there like that.”
It was seeing the lightning strike from my balcony that had sent me out in the rain.
Sherlock pointed across the room.
I saw a cobweb of blue light slither down from the ceiling. The candles in their glass chimneys along the lab table seemed dim. A few sparks sizzled along the floor and under the body. My eyes were adjusting to the relative darkness again slowly. I thought a spasm ran through the heap on the stone. The thunder growled again. The candlelight grew brighter. An arm flopped out to the side.
Sherlock gasped and scrambled forward. He dragged a finger along the bottom of the nearest foot. It kicked.
“John?” he said.
“Yes,” I replied. “I saw that.”
“You do it,” Sherlock directed.
I crouched near the other foot and did the same thing. The leg it was attached to twitched. There was a groan. It wasn’t Sherlock. The arm flopped again.
“He’s trying to turn over,” I surmised. “Who is it?”
“I haven’t given him a name,” Sherlock said.
I didn’t understand. I studied the figure in front of us. There was something familiar about him. I stared at the incisions on his scalp, the shaved patches around them and what was left between them of his hair. It had been a luxuriant head of hair. I had coveted it. “Sherlock?”
“Shall I help him turn over?” I asked.
“Yes,” Sherlock answered.
I didn’t ask about the name again, just set to rolling the man over. He was big, heavy like anyone barely conscious and with almost no coordination. I have left many taverns with comrades in a similar state. It wasn’t easy, but there is a science to it. I got him on his back and incidentally off the pair of wires upon which he had been lying. He had burn marks across his chest from them. If I treated them soon, they might not scar. I looked over his chest and arms. He had enough of those already. I looked up to his face, traced a thin scar on the side of his head.
“The lower jaw was dislocated,” Sherlock said.
“Ah.” I hadn’t noticed when I’d seen the head. It had appeared unscathed by the horse’s hooves and I hadn’t studied it closely.
The lightning flashed. Not as bright, but enough to blind me for a moment. The thunder boomed, somewhat off to the west. The man leaned towards me and whined, a high, terrified sound. I’d heard similar sounds when men realised a limb was gone. I reached across the broad chest and rolled him against me, murmured reassuring sounds that weren’t really words.
“What are you doing?” Sherlock asked.
“Comforting him,” I said. “He’s frightened.”
Sherlock sat back on his heels. “He has a doctorate in philosophy. He should remember what a thunder clap is.”
“Ah,” I said again, rocking a little with the burden on my lap. “You thought it would be like waking up. The memories would be in the brain and the other parts would just be transport.” I nodded as I rocked. “Reasonable.”
“I didn’t see any evidence of it, but maybe the horse did injure the brain,” Sherlock said and sighed. “I was right the first time. The experiment is a failure.”
“You were frightened,” I said. As soon as I said it, I regretted the words. He was clearly exhausted, dehydrated, feverish and probably malnourished by that point and he would think I was calling him a coward. I had seen too much suffering, I had no delusions about what bravery looked like.
“He roared when the first lightning hit,” Sherlock said, cocking his head and moving it slightly in time to my rocking. He didn’t seem to have been offended, maybe he agreed with the assessment. “His back arched up off the table. I anticipated strong involuntary reflexes, so I had leather straps around his shins and his forearms. They snapped and he fell off onto the stone. He lay there, still. I thought his life had been that one moment of agony,” Sherlock said and reached out to touch the man’s back. “He’s cold.”
“His breath is warm,” I reported. “I can feel it.” I twisted my neck about, spotted Sherlock’s cloak hanging from the door. “Can you walk?”
Sherlock took a deep breath, rose to one knee. I held out an arm. He grasped my forearm and used it to pull himself up. He swayed.
“Light-headed?” I asked. He looked so tall from my vantage point on the floor.
“Mm,” he said and swayed a little more.
“Come back down,” I said. “I’ll get the cloak.” I held my arm back out and he steadied himself on it on the way down. Once he was kneeling again, he carefully stretched his legs out and sat.
I rolled the man off my lap. He whimpered. I lifted his head onto Sherlock’s lap, put Sherlock’s hand on his head and stepped quickly to the door. In a moment, I had the cloak over the man’s body and tucked partway under him. Sherlock was staring intently down at the part of the man’s face he could see. He had clearly taken something away from his observation of Ethan's operation. The scar was little more than a hair’s breadth wide in marked contrast to some of the suturing on the rest of the man's body. Sherlock traced the scar with a fingertip just as I had. The man nestled into Sherlock's lap, rubbing his face against Sherlock’s waistcoat.
“What happened to the water?” I asked. “You must have a pump up here somewhere.”
Sherlock kept staring down. “It’s below ground. It needs tinkering now and then to come up three floors, but I didn’t dare leave.”
I went to the window and held the bowl out until it felt heavy. The thunder was distant now, the lightning flashes on the horizon, but the rain was still strong.
I got Sherlock to drink more, pulled a silk handkerchief from his coat pocket, dipped it in the bowl and rubbed it across the man’s lips. He sucked it into his mouth. “Thirsty business being struck by lightning and waking up from the dead…” I pulled the cloth out, re-wet it and gave it back. “Definitely thirsty.” I needed to get some clothes for the man, some food for Sherlock at least, but I sat first. “Any chance his consciousness could belong to one of the other parts? The torso, the legs?”
“We don’t think with our torso,” Sherlock said derisively. His fingertip was still stroking the scar. It was healing very smoothly.
“Oh, you could get an argument on that one, Dr Holmes,” I said.
He turned and looked at me, a mix of expressions flickering across his face. He smiled just a little and nodded. “We’ll have to wait and observe, then,” he said.
I stood, hand on Sherlock’s shoulder. “I won’t be gone long.”
“Good,” he said.
I walked around them to pull the two wires out of the way, dragged my coat off the floor. I wasn’t sure if I would be wetter with it on or off, but I settled it over my shoulders in the end, unlocked the door and shoved my hands in my pockets. There was a paper twist of ginger candy in one. “Aha,” I exclaimed and stepped back in. “I hope you like ginger,” I said, “because it’s all I have with me. Open up.” Surprisingly, he did. I popped one onto his tongue and set the paper with the rest on the floor next to him. “Just to keep you upright until I get back,” I explained.
Sherlock rolled the candy to one side of his mouth, pointed with his chin at his lap. “Do you think…”
“I’d feel safer starting with liquids,” I said. “He might choke on that.”
Sherlock nodded and sunk to the side, head stopping when it reached what must have been the man’s hip beneath his coat.
“I’ll bring food,” I said and ran.
Across the marble floor of the infirmary, hands out by his side for balance, Victor made his way to the nearest door. The garden was flooded with sun. The old farrier sat on a bench outside the door, face tilted upwards, soaking it in. He saw neither it nor the blooms of the garden, but it was obvious that he felt the one, smelt the other and heard Victor approaching. He slid away from the door, patted the warm space he left on the bench. Victor sat, bumping the old man in the process.
He glanced at me and grinned, happy with his achievement. His expressions are still lop-sided, but he progresses by the hour. Sherlock keeps more formal notes. I write with wonder at what he’s done, what Victor’s done.
“Aye, lad. Sit and soak it up with me,” De Lacey said. He patted the air in Victor’s direction, got his thigh and patted again. “The sun’s ablaze today. The heat of it does my bones good, but don’t look straight at it, lad. Is not good for the eyes. Neither the fire o’ the forge nor the sun is good for the eyes. I should know.” He sighed.
Victor’s smile vanished, he mewled, turning towards De Lacey and patting his shoulder and arm in imitation of the old man’s gesture, staring as he did at the farrier’s wrinkled face.
“Don’t fret, boy. Don’t fret.” De Lacey stroked the back of one of Victor’s hands and forced a bit of a smile.
Victor took a deep breath, leaned his shoulder against the stone wall and said, “Words. More. Words.”
At this, De Lacey truly smiled. “I know you like to listen to the words, lad, but you’ve got to learn to say 'em, too. They’re good for wooing, don’t you know. The ladies like ‘em.” De Lacey tipped his face towards the sun again. “I’ve got the perfect poem for today,” he continued, settling back on the bench and beginning to recite. “ Believe me, if all those endearing young charms, which I gaze on so fondly to-day, were to change by to-morrow and fleet in my arms, like fairy gifts fading away, thou wouldst still be adored, as this moment thou art, let thy loveliness fade as it will…”
I winced and chastised myself for it. Victor was healing and learning rapidly, and yet the role of successful suitor was a hard one to imagine him in. At least Victor was facing away from me and hadn't seen. Guiltily, I glanced towards the infirmary, saw the silhouette on the window panes. I looked over my shoulder. Sherlock stood by the fading azaleas. He didn’t take his eyes off me as the old man carried on.
“No, the heart that has truly loved never forgets, but as truly loves on to the close, as the sunflower turns on her God when he sets, the same look which she turned when he rose.
On the last word, Sherlock turned on his heel and was gone.
Oh, Harry, I look at the gap between my last two entries and despair. This, of all things, was worthy of a careful record, but I couldn't write. The days and nights ran together. I don’t know whose needs were greater, Victor’s or Sherlock’s. The forty-nine other patients we had at any given moment continued to mend and be sent on their way under the care of Dr Hooper, who is a treasure. I joined in rounds when I could and operated as needed, although Dr Hooper took on all the more routine surgeries. It was a huge responsibility to put on such a young doctor. Michael spared us a week now and then when too many guests descended on his house, the orderlies were dedicated and dependable and Mrs Hudson made sure we were all fed, but some days I wasn’t sure any of us were going to make it.
Months passed this way. Victor’s wounds faded to pale pink and shiny white, without infection. Victor grew steady on his feet, walked and then ran. One day I took him to the fish pond and taught him how to swim. By then he could recount the exploit to De Lacey who had a poem for the occasion. His stock seems unlimited and Victor has learned them all by heart. One day I found them tracing letters in the dirt and it seemed but the orbit of a moon before Victor was sounding out poems to De Lacey from a tattered old book of his.
It had taken two weeks to nurse Sherlock back to health. When they woke that first night, I fed and washed them and let them sleep on the floor again for a few hours. I was so exhausted, I joined them.
In the evening, I fetched Mrs Hudson and introduced her to the new resident of the castle. She knelt on the floor at the edge of the nest of blankets and ran her hand over Victor’s scarred and bristly head. She glanced at Sherlock’s sleeping form and up at me and said, “Live and let live is what I say.”
She roused a gardener to summon Billy and supervised the two of them more or less carrying Sherlock to my rooms and settled him in there. It was her idea to get a semi-conscious Sherlock out to the landing before they arrived. I’m sure I would have thought of it, but she thought of it first.
We took turns for a couple days, switching between them with me spending a hour or two in the infirmary and her in the house before we returned to our charges. She is not a young woman and I shouldn’t have let her, but when I suggested she rest, she glared me right into my place. She is also a sparrow of a woman and Victor is a huge man who towers over Sherlock now as Sherlock towers over me. But then, he was just a bundle on the floor that we nursed with sweetened milk and kept warm. When I arrived to relieve her one time, she was sitting on a folded blanket and singing him a lullaby. I thought I might laugh; instead my eyes stung.
More like a colt than a man, Victor attempted to stand after two days. He couldn’t maintain an upright position, but he managed to crawl and that is how we had to let him make his way down the stairs, backwards with me below and Mrs Hudson above cooing encouraging words at him.
At the infirmary, I had to let Mrs Hudson help me bathe him; someone had to keep his head above water. My attempts at protecting her modesty received another glare, so if she hadn’t understood Victor’s origins while tending him in the tower, bundled up as he was, she probably did after that. She tapped near a long scar on Victor’s chest and said that Sherlock’s grandfather would have been proud.
A remarkable woman, Mrs Hudson.
Once Victor was ensconced as our fiftieth patient in the infirmary, I could stay with Sherlock longer. This was just as well because his pain medication is also an antipyretic and once his fever was down he was bored and restless and determined to return to his work. I told him I would be his proxy and related as many details about Victor’s condition in his first few days as I could recall. This was grudgingly accepted for that afternoon after I retrieved Sherlock’s notes from the tower for him to annotate, but the evening brought a renewed insistence on firsthand observation. I bargained for after dinner and won. We made our way slowly down the stairs and across the twilit garden, Sherlock doing his best to disguise the symptoms of vertigo he was experiencing.
At the infirmary, he sat in the chair by the bed and watched Victor breathe, directed me to take his pulse and check for fever. Sherlock didn’t touch him. Victor turned on his side in his sleep. Sherlock rose from his seat. We hadn’t been there long. The stairs to my room never seemed as steep as they did on our way back to my rooms. Sherlock let me help him undress and went to bed without another word. I repaired to the chaise lounge where I had slept the little bit I had slept for the past few nights and tried not to think of the expressions I had watched cross his face by Victor’s bedside.
It became a routine. In the morning, over a late breakfast, I would recount any incidents since Sherlock’s last visit. He would add to his notes and slowly become more animated until he insisted I accompany him down to the infirmary. At first, he was weak and my presence on the stairs was an unspoken necessity, but as the days passed and Sherlock grew stronger, I realised my support was of a different sort. One evening in the second week, I heard Victor’s voice as we approached. Sherlock paused at the threshold. He listened to the slur of the words for a moment, his brows lowered, before he turned back to my rooms. We started to visit later in the evening.
After two weeks, I could have pronounced Sherlock well physically. I could have, but I didn’t. He made no request to return to his own rooms in the main house and I was loathe to have him go. I made some cursory excuses to myself that it was to be sure his recovery was complete, to monitor that he ate three times a day, that he didn’t read all night. As time passed, there was less and less validity to them. We had taken to walking a little in the garden after dinner before visiting the infirmary. Gradually, our walks grew longer and one evening we reached the foot of his tower. He asked me to go up and look for a violin case. I thought perhaps he was avoiding the long flights of stairs by asking me to go. I glanced around the room. It had been cleaned, the broken glass swept up, the blankets taken away, but the copper wires still straggled across the floor by the counter and the torn leather straps hung from the sides of the examination table. Possibly it wasn’t the exertion of the stairs being avoided.
Sherlock stopped visiting. I was given a check list to complete each day with the instruction to write freely on the back of the list about any other impressions I might have. Periodically, I was given lists of books to retrieve from the library in the main house. They grew in stacks about my rooms. Sherlock read and took notes, started collecting flowers and seeds from the garden and repairing to his lab behind the azaleas for short stints. At first he took the long way out to the grounds through the main house. After a while he began taking the shortcut through the infirmary, but he never stopped. Some of the newer patients didn’t know who he was. Some of the others would greet him. He would nod and keep going.
There was the day that De Lacey recited Moore and spoke of wooing. The next day Sherlock started going back to the tower. He didn’t stay long, but he continued to go, now and then. I thought I had retrieved all the notes that had been there, but perhaps he had other places he kept logs or perhaps he was trying out a few modified experiments. He never said, but sleep came more slowly those nights and I’d hear him tossing and turning.
Many of the plants used in Sherlock’s medicines were poisonous. Dosage was crucial. He was always very specific in his instructions and the results were incredible. Supplies had run low while he was ill. He replenished them and kept on gathering. Perhaps he was preparing a batch for Michael. He seemed to be gathering far more than we would need. I listened to his restless sleep at night. I began to watch more carefully.
I told Sherlock about the swimming lesson, about how quickly Victor had grasped the basics of the skill. He remarked on the adequacy of Victor's physical abilities.
As they came into their season, I watched him gathering more poisonous flowers.
I don’t know whether it was something Mrs Hudson said or something that Victor put together from the talk of the other patients and orderlies about Sherlock and his own dim memories of the distracted man he saw striding through the infirmary, but Victor began to ask me questions about Sherlock and to follow him with his eyes. He asked me first about his hair. If I could have predicted that Victor would begin enquiring about Sherlock and his relationship to him, I would never have guessed that would be the first query. Victor wanted to know why he didn’t have long, glossy curls like the impatient man. I thought the adjective interesting as well. I had cropped Victor's hair to even it out and it had grown back enough to begin covering the scars on his head. It didn’t show any signs of curling, but it wasn’t very long yet. I told him if he was patient, his hair would grow long, too. He eyed the shorter style in which I wear my hair and frowned, asking whether I, too, couldn’t have long, shining curls. It’s all the poetry. His vocabulary has increased enormously.
I told Sherlock about Victor’s line of questioning. He looked up from his reading, his eyes shifting from my face to my hair and back to his book. He had a small smile on his face, but made no other comment. Sherlock does have a handsome head of hair. I should have realised that he knew it.
Maybe it grew from that, but I noticed Sherlock walking more slowly through the infirmary afterwards and sometimes stopping to exchange a word with Dr Hooper or the orderlies or one of the patients. He never had these brief conversations near Victor, but if Victor was anywhere nearby, he would stop what he was doing and listen.
“It’s like music,” he said one night to me.
“What is?” I asked, checking his pulse and making a note of it.
“His voice,” Victor said.
I didn’t ask whose voice, because I knew. The way he said it, ‘his’ had a capital letter. For Victor, that was perhaps warranted.
I also didn’t ask how he knew about music because De Lacey had a fife that he played sometimes to show the tune to which some of his poems should be sung. He didn’t sing them himself, but now and again one of the other patients would know the song and sing along with the fife. Victor would clap his hands and stomp his feet if the song was gay and if the song was sad, sometimes he wept.
Much as he enjoyed the songs and the tunes, it was the music of Sherlock’s violin that transfixed him. Often I was with Sherlock in my rooms when he was playing, the music drifting down into the garden from the open balcony doors, but one day I was doing my rounds with Dr Hooper when Sherlock began to play. The day was bright, the doors and windows open wide and the sound came in on the breeze. It was a quiet piece, with high quivering notes that would be lost for a second or two in the rustle of the leaves. Victor had been tying and untying a thin rope, practicing a series of knots another patient had shown him how to make. Such exercises were good for injured hands and Victor’s fingers became more nimble each day. His hands grew quiet though as he strained to catch the notes of the violin. He leaned farther and farther towards the window, the rope slipping from his lap. The pages of my notebook fluttered on a nearby table. Victor stood and walked towards the door to the physic garden. When he reached the threshold, the music stopped. He looked back at me, lips pressed together and I raised my chin at him, knowing it was but a pause between movements. His eyes widened when the playing resumed. I followed him into the garden. He stepped through the flower beds until he was facing my balcony. There Victor stopped, his gaze intent, his mouth agape as though he would speak. I came up behind him, watched with him as Sherlock swayed to his music, sun gleaming off the silk sleeve of his dressing gown, the polished wood of the violin. Victor raised his head and howled. Sherlock lifted his bow. For a few seconds, he stood still and stared over the balcony rail at us, then, in a whirl of motion, he shut the doors and closed the drapes. He had not heard Victor’s attempts at song before. Victor sat down with a thump in the lavender as though his tendons had been cut.
Sherlock didn’t play for weeks and avoided the infirmary. De Lacey taught Victor a few notes on the fife. I watched and worried.
The change came during one of Michael’s visits. Victor was out in the grounds with De Lacey. Victor was steady enough on his feet to lead the blind man on walks and it benefited them both. Sherlock had joined us for rounds, pausing by the bed of a man whose leg we were sure we had saved through the use of iodine on his wounds when he first arrived and subsequent to my surgery to remove wood fragments buried deep in his thigh. As we explained his case to Michael, the soldier looked up at us from his bed with much the same look Victor had directed at Sherlock as he had played on the balcony. I bit my lip lest it quiver. I find my emotions too near the surface these days.
We spent time with each of the patients before adjourning for tea to the orangery. Mrs Hudson had outdone herself and Dr Hooper joined us for the feast. Our talk was an animated mix of medicine and all sorts of news from the city and Sherlock was more engaged than I had seen him be in a long while. Michael remarked that the latest sensation in the capital could not hold a candle to Sherlock on his violin and asked him to play. I drew in a breath and Michael glanced at me. Perhaps it was the champagne, but Sherlock agreed and we filed out, still chatting, heading towards the infirmary to take the shorter route to my rooms, the bright sun and sharp shadows of early evening about us.
Out of the shadows by the infirmary door, a voice spoke as we passed. “’Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay to mould me Man, did I solicit thee from darkness to promote me?’” With practice, Victor’s voice had modulated and the words were well-formed, their accent some strange combination of De Lacey’s, Mrs Hudson’s and mine. Sherlock stopped in his tracks, brightly outlined in the sun, and turned to probe the shadows.
Around Sherlock, we fell silent.
“What is it, lad?” De Lacey asked, reaching out to grip Victor’s arm where they sat in their customary places on the bench by the door.
“It is my Maker,” Victor replied, the adolescent truculence of his tone contrasting with both the maturity of his frame and the paltry number of his days.
I don’t know whether it was the aptness of the words or that Victor was flinging Milton at him, but Sherlock tilted his head and narrowed his eyes as he does when he is deeply concentrating and he concentrated on Victor as if for the first time since the night I found them in the tower.
Victor squared his shoulders and tossed his hair back under the scrutiny, his eyes locked on Sherlock’s face. The hair had grown a few inches, beginning to curl at the ends, and Sherlock shifted his attention to it. He reached out, lifting locks and feeling for the scars hidden beneath. The stiffness in Victor’s spine and the tightness around his eyes eased. Sherlock ran a fingertip over the scar along the hairline down to the jaw. He angled Victor’s chin upwards, nudged it from side to side. “The scarring is far milder than I expected,” Sherlock said. He traced the scar on the side of Victor’s face up into his hair, patting the hair into place. “You have Dr Watson to thank for that.”
“I have you to thank for everything,” Victor said, his voice flat, his eyes still on Sherlock’s face.
Anything could have been read into that neutral tone. I saw the corner of Sherlock’s lip quirk upwards at the subtlety of it. His hand passed over Victor’s hair in a stroking motion as he drew it away. “Read Voltaire,” Sherlock said as he turned and strode through the door. "You can use the library," he called over his shoulder.
I shook myself from the spell of that moment and followed. Behind me, I heard De Lacey speak.
“Was that Doctor Holmes, lad?” he said.
“It was my Maker,” Victor replied.
“You see, I remembered the day John came down from London like it was yesterday,” the portliest among the men said. “The very words we exchanged in that little inn.”
“You’ve been known to embroider the past in your memories, Michael,” said a man who still retained the clipped tones of the military in his speech.
“As though you can talk,” Michael replied. He stretched out on the divan along the wall, put his hands behind his head. “You read me some of your letters to Harry when we were students. Out of whole cloth, John.” Michael gazed up at the blue tiles on the ceiling. Pale streaks of dawn light filtered through the shutters and played over their patterns.
“Still, it was a record, of sorts,” the tall man said.
“The scientific record was in my lab notes,” the man sitting on the floor declared. He crossed his long legs at the ankle and leaned back against the side of the divan. “That’s the important part of the story, Victor.”
“When they could be read, Sherlock,” John said. His hand stroked through Sherlock’s hair and came to rest on his shoulder.
“My lab notes are very neat,” Sherlock asserted.
“When you haven’t been sampling infusions from your garden,” a silver-haired man added and yawned. “The legal history’s in my records, admittedly between the lines for the most part.” He stretched his arms above his head and cracked his knuckles. “I had the devil of a time keeping the vicar placated about his blessed tombstones.”
“His promotion was most opportune,” John agreed. “You are a patient man, Greg.”
“You don’t know the half of it," Greg Lestrade said and held up his glass. "To the parishioners in Mayfair he's redeeming now.” Greg took a drink and winked at John. "I hear some of his flock hope he'll be promoted again soon."
Sherlock waved his pipe. “Hopefully not to Marylebone. We might have to abandon Baker Street altogether.”
John kneaded Sherlock’s shoulder. “You blaspheme. You couldn’t abide being without a place in London.”
“I could become a proper country squire. I’ve already added hives to the garden,” Sherlock said. “I find apiculture most absorbing.”
“Where?” Michael asked.
“South of the tower mainly,” Sherlock replied, “except for the two in the physic garden.”
Michael drew in a breath. “Poison honey.”
“Possibly.” Sherlock smiled.
Victor stood. He towered over the others, seated or sprawled out as they were.
“Are you satisfied?” John asked, tilting his head back to take him all in.
Victor nodded. “I longed for the details.”
“No birth. No mother,” John continued. Sherlock looked up, scrutinised Victor’s expression.
He held out one large hand towards Sherlock and John. The scar around his wrist was white, barely visible beneath the cuff. “Two fathers,” he said. He held out his other hand towards Lestrade and Michael. “Two of my godfathers.” He smiled. “Without benefit of clergy,” he added. “Dr Hooper and Mrs Hudson, an aunt and a grandmother. It’s enough to be getting on with.” He stepped to the corner of the room, crouched over a sack there. “I brought back the coffee with cardamom that you like.”
John's eyes darted around the room. Michael's eyes were half-closed. Lestrade was smiling at the prospect of coffee. They didn’t understand the implication. “You promised you’d bring him more if he…”
“Yes,” Sherlock interrupted. “I thought it over. Sent a message to Victor and told him I agreed.”
“Agreed?” John repeated.
Victor rose, aromatic package in hand. He collected a brass pot and a long spoon from the shelf, brought them to the brazier near the divan, knelt beside it.
“We will gloss over how you’ve done this without informing me,” John said. He took a breath. “You’re all right?”
“Better than,” Sherlock said. “Thanks to you my surgical skills have improved. You lure me to bed and to table. You haven’t let me get lost in it.”
“I didn’t know you were even doing it,” John protested.
Sherlock tilted his head back, caught John’s eye. “You didn’t need to. You kept me right anyway. She’s nearly done,” Sherlock continued.
Victor opened the brazier, stirred the fire, added more charcoal. He was grinning as he filled the coffee pot from the water jug, nestled the pot amongst the hot ashes and glowing embers.
“She?” Michael echoed, opening his eyes and turning towards Sherlock.
Victor peeled away the layers of cloth and waxy paper around the ground coffee and spice, his fingers dextrous, his shoulders relaxed as he bent to the task. John studied him. The worst of the scars were hidden by his clothes and his hair, the clumsiness almost completely overcome.
“The woman for Victor,” Sherlock explained. “The Woman.”