Watson had waited until we were in the cab to reach up and lay his hand across my forehead, but when he brought it down, and looked at the residue of the chalk I had employed to make my features paler, his frown deepened. "I thought as much. Another trick."
The awkward part of being correct, nine times out of ten, is that upon the rare occasions when you are in error you have had little chance to become inured to the condition. And by the deepening lines on my friend's face, I was most certainly in error. "Watson, I..." I began, but he had already rapped on the roof of the cab with his cane to attract the attention of the driver.
"Drop me off at the Underground station, please," he ordered sharply.
He had come so quickly in reply to my message, had behaved with every appearance of concern at my condition, and had so effortlessly extracted me from the hands of my unscrupulous client that I had expected to be sharing the joke with him by now, but the disapproval on his features allowed for no explanations.
"It may come as a surprise to you, Holmes," he said, "that I have patients. Real ones."
"I assure you, my dear fellow," I said, as graciously as I could. "I did need you. I may not have actually ingested the poison which Camberwell put into my food, but..."
"I can't always be chasing across London to keep you from dying when..." His hand tightened around the top of his cane and his nostrils flared as he fought to bring his voice back down to a reasonable level. "There are people who are dying. If in future you require a dupe..." He broke off a second time, but didn't have time to formulate what he wished to say before the cab drew to a halt alongside the Underground station at Shaftesbury Road.
"Of course, doctor," I said quickly, diving for the door before he could disembark. "I never meant to inconvenience you. Take the cab, please. The Underground will do me very well." I tossed a half-crown up to the driver. "That should cover the fare." If I had expected a protest from Watson, I was disappointed. He merely called up an address -- not his own -- to the cabby and leaned back against the cushions, his eyes and jaw shut tight against his own anger. The driver snapped the whip and the cab drew away, and I was left on the pavement, contemplating my fall from grace.
I have never suffered the least difficulty in reading the tenor of Watson's thoughts upon his countenance, or so I had thought up until that moment. If he is annoyed, or concerned, or puzzled, the slant of his eyebrows alone semaphores the condition. But clearly I had misread the cause of his concern that morning. Upon receipt of the message I had sent from Camberwell's he must have abandoned or postponed a visit to a patient in a precarious circumstances, and in his anger he would not yet have realized that I could not have trusted another physician to maintain the pretense were the falsity of my ailment to be discovered while I was still at the Camberwell house. Still, he would forgive me. He had done so quickly enough over the Culverton Smith matter, although it might be best to solace his pride with an apology and a good dinner.
But first there was the problem of Camberwell to be dealt with. I had amassed sufficient data to convince Scotland Yard of the need for an official investigation, so I walked to the nearest post office and sent off the requisite telegrams, adding one to Bradley's of Oxford Street as an afterthought, for the delivery of a box of Havana cigars to my rooms, and another to Mrs. Hudson, asking her to obtain a good cut of beef for the supper I hoped to share with my friend. The last wire I sent was to Watson, requesting his presence at Baker Street at his earliest convenience. I even added the word "please", although doing so depleted my pocketbook to the point where transport via the Underground became a necessity and not merely an excuse.
When I am traversing London in my own persona, I seldom use the Underground. It is crowded, contaminated, cacophonous, and reeks of coal smoke and worse despite the best efforts of the engineers to bring fresh air down to the lowest levels. Frequent use leaves near-indelible olfactory traces engrained into one's attire. Whilst waiting, I dipped into my pocket for my cigarette case and joined the other men at the end of the platform who were attempting to disguise the noisome fug of the station with the more aromatic scents of tobacco. Some trouble down the line delayed the train, and I had nearly finished my cigarette before it arrived. Naturally, the delay meant that there were dozens more people on the platform needing to be accommodated upon the train when it arrived, and I was unable to obtain a seat.
It was not the first time I had been so discommoded, and I took hold of the overhead strap, my thoughts still upon my case. But I was soon distracted by a distinctly unpleasant sensation emanating from my stomach and throat. At the time I ascribed my increasing nausea to the presence of particularly odoriferous fellow-traveller, a gin-soaked relic being escorted to his destination by an anxious and apologetic grand-daughter. He had already befouled himself with vomit, and the heat of the railway car rendered the effluvia of the drying stains on his coat and trousers more potent. I was not the only passenger to decide that it was preferable to leave the train early.
The walk from Edgware Road to Baker Street is not an unpleasant one, and I have made it thousands of times, but on that occasion I found it interminable. My discomfort, far from abating, was increasing, and I could feel a black mood coming upon me. I stopped at a chemist's along the way, to obtain some cocaine. Despite my best intentions, I knew that I would never manage to play a proper host to Watson without fortifying myself with stimulants. Not when I wished nothing more than to fling myself into my bed and not emerge from under the covers for several days.
Despite that, I felt cruelly disappointed when I was met at the door by Mrs. Hudson, bearing a telegram, sent in her name, advising her that Watson would be unlikely to be attending dinner at Baker Street for any occasion in the near future. "You shall share that cut of beef with your friends, then," I told her, imperiously. "No sense in it going to waste."
"Are you certain, Mr. Holmes?" said she, peering up at me. "You look as if you could use a good meal. You've not a spot of color on your face."
"It's only chalk," I told her, swiping my cheek with my glove and showing her the evidence. "I needed to convince someone that I was unwell."
She sniffed. "Oh," she said. "That trick again. I can see why the doctor is piqued, then. He's got far too much trouble with his missus to be having you heaping more on his head."
"Trouble?" I echoed, for Watson had mentioned nothing of the sort to me.
"She lost the babe she was carrying last week," Mrs. Hudson informed me. "That's twice their hopes have gone wrong. Did you not know?"
"No, I didn't," I said, pressing my fingers against the bridge of my nose to ease the ache that was increasing behind my eyes. This was Watson's brother all over again. Had he only mentioned the man's demise, I might never have been so tactless in my deductions over that wretched watch. Why did the man insist upon concealing his griefs from me! That Mrs. Hudson knew of his wife's condition and I did not I could ascribe to the efficiency of the servants' gossip, for the Watsons' scullery maid was sister to the boy in buttons presently peeping around the door at the end of the hall. But that Watson had not seen fit to mention anything was gall upon an old wound.
In a better state, I should have recognized immediately that my increasing indignation was a severe instance of the pot calling the kettle black. My own reserve concerning familial matters comes so naturally to me that I had not mentioned my brother Mycroft to Watson for nearly a decade, and I would have found a fellow lodger who babbled on about his antecedents incessantly so intolerable the association would not have lasted a month. But I can be as churlish as the next man when the black fit is on me. I managed to bid Mrs. Hudson good day with some courtesy, but as I trudged up the steps to my sitting room, I nursed a grievance against my old friend. It was with a certain satisfaction at the knowledge that Watson would disapprove that I prepared an injection of cocaine for myself. Let him grumble about my drug to his heart's content. It, at least, I could rely upon.
As soon as I had rolled down my sleeve and donned my dressing gown, I rang for the boy to bring me fresh water. I'd not dared trust anything in Camberwell's house, not even the pitcher, and my overnight vigil had been a dry one. I was feeling the lack more than usual, for within a half an hour I was ringing for water again.
This time, Mrs. Hudson herself came, bringing a tray of sandwiches and coffee. The sandwiches held no appeal for me, but I poured myself some coffee and returned to my perusal of the newspapers which had accumulated in my absence, whilst she bustled about, collecting my discarded attire for the laundry. "It's Billy's half-day," she reminded me. "And I've just had word from my niece that it's her time, so I'm away off. I'll take that cut of beef with me and no need for you to pay for it since you'll not even share in the broth. But there's some soup on the back of the stove for your supper, if you'll be wanting it." She cast me a look of disapproval. My black moods were a trial to her, and a worse one since Watson was no longer there to take the brunt of them. "Although I suppose you'll prefer to stay up all night, scratching that fiddle of yours."
"Just as well there'll be no one in the house to listen to it," I answered testily. The coffee was inadequate, quite unlike Mrs. Hudson's usual quality of brew. It was water I wanted. I said as much, although I refrained from criticizing the coffee. She, with the reminder of Mrs. Watson's recent loss coloring her thoughts about her niece, would be less than tolerant of my foibles, and I, with the all-too fresh discovery that I could overstep even Watson's forbearance to no purpose, was not inclined to antagonize the woman who saw to my meals and comfort. She was a woman, after all, and plagued by the emotionality and frailties of her sex, particularly where babies were concerned.
She sniffed, but she took the pitcher, and went away, muttering that she couldn't see why I didn't just fill it at the washroom tap, like any sensible person. Still, when Billy turned up a few minutes later, the pitcher was full of water, cold from the kitchen pump, and there were slices of lemon floating in it for flavor. "Here you go, Mr. Holmes," he said, pouring me a glass before setting down the pitcher. He started to depart, pulling his cap out of his pocket to set on his curly head, but then paused to bite his lip and study me. "You feeling all right, sir? Want me to send for the doctor?"
"The doctor," I told him, "does not want to be sent for." But when his frown only deepened, I relented. "And I don't need him. A nap will no doubt put me to rights."
The child's brow cleared. "Oh, is that it? Didn't know being sleepy makes you thirsty." He shrugged, and raised a hand in farewell. "Anything else before I go, sir?" he asked, that much at least of his position's niceties he had absorbed, although it was clear he was aching to depart.
"No, thank you," I said, and leaned back in my chair, sipping at my water and listening as he clattered down the stairs and secured the front door before departing by way of the kitchen entrance.
The nap I had suggested would have been sensible, but I had forestalled it with the cocaine. I read a while longer, until the chime of the bell below reminded me that I was expecting a delivery of cigars for Watson. The moment I moved from my chair, however, my headache returned, accompanied by disorientation. I stumbled to my desk on feet benumbed by sitting too long in one position, and fumbled open the locked drawer where I keep additional funds (and where, at one time, Watson's checkbook had resided alongside my own). The thought of the stairs repelled me. I took the money to the window and threw up the sash.
A moment's negotiation with the delivery boy sent Watson's cigars in the direction of his practice, and I was left with a craving for tobacco of my own. The Persian slipper was empty, and too late for me to call the boy back and ask for a delivery of pipe tobacco. I turned for solace instead to my cigarette case.
But without the stench of the Underground to confuse my senses, I soon realized that the cigarette I lit tasted wrong. The first two draws weren't bad, but the third had an acrid aftertaste. Watson will tell you that I am no connoisseur of fine tobacco, with no little justice. I'll smoke whatever comes to hand. But these cigarettes were from Thompson, just down the end of the street, his strongest blend, and I had smoked a thousand like them.
Obstinately, I took another puff. Had Thompson changed suppliers? Had the tobacco harvest been affected by less than ideal weather conditions? I couldn't decide, and stubbed the cigarette out before it was half-finished, thinking to examine the leaf under my microscope. But, try as I might, I could not find the ambition to remove myself from my chair and go fetch the instrument. The dizzyness I had experienced when standing was in no small measure eased now that I was sitting still, but it had not vanished entirely.
Having no desire to faint from a lack of sustenance (which I had done, once, in Watson's presence, and had been chided for forever after) I reluctantly reached for one of Mrs. Hudson's sandwiches. The mustard tingled on my tongue and lips, and after a few bites I gave it up as a bad job. The coffee was lukewarm, the newspapers dull. I felt dull myself, thickheaded and miserable.
But there was something niggling at the edges of my attention. Something I should be noticing despite the petty nuisances of my body. I floundered after it, wavering between frustration and apathy. And then my stomach began to protest even the few bits of food I had taken. Violently.
I scarcely made it to the hearth in time to save Mrs. Hudson's carpet. A second spasm followed the first, but by then I had secured the coal scuttle to use as a reservoir for the remaining contents of my stomach. I huddled over it, shivering, as I clung to consciousness. My feet were cold, my hands numb, my heartbeat fluttering weakly in my ears despite the panic in my head. Poison. It had to be poison. But how Camberwell had managed to poison me when I had not tasted a bite of food nor had a drop to drink during the entire time I had spent at his house I could not imagine.
How many hours until either Billy or Mrs. Hudson would return? Too many. I would have to send for Watson myself. But would he come? Or would he think yet another summons to a dying man was merely yet another ruse? I cursed myself for a fool. Watson would not come to me. I would have to go to him.
But when I tried to stand, a painful convulsion prevented me. Even when it passed I could barely find the strength to push myself back to the table and the water pitcher. The room seemed to dim, a phenomenon I attributed to constriction of the pupils, but I could not account for the way my hearing seemed to dim as well. Using the chair, I managed to get to my knees, to reach the water and bring it down where I could drink, but I was awkward, spilling as much as I drank. Somehow I managed to bring the pitcher safely to the floor before I was forced to lay down by the increasing weakness of my limbs, but that accomplishment gave me little satisfaction. My stomach was roiling, warning me of more humiliation, and the water closet down the hall seemed a dozen miles away.
I might have done best to stay where I was and shout for help, but I did not think of that. While some of my thoughts were clear enough, the logic which would make sense of them was tangled, broken by the melancholy conviction that I deserved the misery of my present condition. I would have to leave evidence, if I could, clear enough even for Scotland Yard to avenge me. But first, were I to preserve any dignity whatsoever, I would have to reach the water closet.
Tangled logic, indeed, that had me dragging along the water pitcher as well as myself. Long past the point when my body had obviated any possibility of dignity, I kept on going, a few feet here before huddling against another convulsion. A few feet there, before resting my face against the smooth cool glass of the pitcher, in vague hope of penetrating the numbness which was obliterating my senses.
I had achieved the door of the bathroom, but had not yet managed to open it when the vibration of footsteps through the floorboards under my cheek advised me that I was not alone. Distantly I heard Watson's cry of "Holmes! Good God!" and distantly I felt his hands upon me. But it was not until the pinprick against my arm and the warm sting of cocaine in my veins spread apart the veil of dismay that I could truly see him, crouched over me and gently tapping at my face. "Symptoms, Holmes. Tell me the symptoms."
He wanted to know what I'd been poisoned with, of course. "Aconite," I told him, for the answer was sitting already in my head. "Or something like it."
"Numbness? Tingling? I can see that you're weak and purging."
I nodded confirmation.
"All right then," he said, stripping off his coat and rolling back his sleeves. "You're not going to enjoy this."
According to Squires, the antidotes for aconite poisoning are emetics, as well as stimulants both internal and external. I knew that, intellectually, but I was not prepared for the reality of having that advice applied to my own person. Mustard, applied both within and without, creating an aversion to the stuff which promised to persist for years. Water until I could drink no more, and then syrup of ipecacuanha to bring it all back again, alongside whatever traces of the poison might remain. Capsicum liniment countering the tingle of the poison with a tingle of its own upon my hands and feet. And Watson, dumping me into the tub for a much needed bath and then wrapping me into nightshirt and dressing gown with a brisk medical efficiency before forcing me to walk back and forth between further assaults with various stimulants until I ached with exhaustion.
It was nearing midnight when he at last declared himself satisfied enough with my condition to prop me up on the settee and leave me alone for a few minutes. He returned with a mug of Mrs. Hudson's soup for me, and a mop and a bucket for himself.
"Can't you leave that for Billy?" I asked, when Watson began to clean up the mess by the hearth, for he was limping and I could see his hands shaking when he went to turn up the gas for light.
"It's part of the job," he answered absently. "Drink your soup, Holmes. You need some food inside you."
"Yes, if it will stay inside," I grumbled, but without heat. The fatigue of the day had left me with little ambition, but at least I no longer felt as if I were trapped in a morass, and I had Watson to thank for that. "Oh, do sit down and rest, my dear fellow, you look as tired as I feel."
He shook his head. "I'll finish this first. It will only smell worse if you leave it till morning."
I leaned back against the pillows he'd set around me and observed him at his work, knowing that further protest would be met with the same intransigence. Not since his marriage had I seen him in shirtsleeves, with patches of perspiration plain in the light and his hair rumpled from effort. It reminded me of summer nights, far too hot for comfort, when he and I had whiled away the sleepless hours with Bach and brandy and philosophical arguments of the most desultory sort. Watson had always grown cantankerous after two or three such nights in succession, and it was clear to me, now that I was truly looking at him, that he was suffering from a distinct deficit in the amount of sleep he required to thrive.
I could surmise the reason why.
"How is Mary?" I asked, and he startled like a fly-bitten horse, flinging up his head to stare at me.
"Mary?" he echoed, before taking himself in hand and returning to his task. "Why do you ask?"
"Mrs. Hudson told me."
"Ah." A glint of reflected light at the corner of his eye warned me to keep my silence while he assembled what he wanted to say. "That explains where the booties went, I expect. Mary must have sent them back, since Mrs. Hudson's niece is expecting a child any day now." He was mopping very carefully, although the hearth by now was as clean as it was going to be without a scrubbing brush.
"Today, actually," I said. "That's where she's gone."
"Ah." He gathered up the bucket and the mop. "I'd best go mop the hallway then."
"If you insist."
He vanished through the door and I closed my eyes, wondering how long it would be before he left Baker Street entirely. But when I opened them again he was still there, sleeping in the chair opposite, although the clock on the mantelpiece was chiming three in the morning. I didn't wish to disturb him, but I was as stiff as if I'd taken a beating, The moment I tried to move to ease my aching muscles I couldn't help but make a noise. Instantly, he was awake, and on his feet, coming to bend over me.
His hand rested on my forehead for a moment. "No fever," he said. "And you're not too chilled. How do you feel?"
"I need to move," I told him.
He made no demur, but helped me disentangle myself from blanket and pillow, offering his support when I came to my feet. I needed it, indeed, for the first few minutes, but as my equilibrium returned I ventured a short distance on my own. When I caught the corner of the table for balance and turned to look, Watson was watching me with the tolerant pleasure of a parent watching a tiny child taking those first daring steps. "Not bad, Holmes," he said. "But you'd best avoid bending for a while longer."
Just the thought of changing the angle of my head made my gorge try to rise. "Yes, doctor," I agreed, not even nodding. "How long, do you think?"
"A day or so." He came to offer me his arm. "Without a sample of the poison, or a clear notion of the dose, I can't be sure I've done everything I can to counteract it. Hence, I can't be certain of the length of your recovery."
"If you analyse the cigarettes in my case you might find your answers," I replied. "I can't think of when Camberwell had opportunity to adulterate them, but neither can I think of any other way he might have managed to poison me."
"'When you have eliminated the impossible...'," he quoted at me, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth as he escorted me back to the settee. "I'll have someone from Scotland Yard do the analysis; I'd prefer not to risk accidentally destroying whatever evidence remains of the man's perfidy."
"Perfidy indeed," I grumbled as I took my place again. "The persian slipper needs restocking, and if I can't smoke the cigarettes in my case, I shan't be able to smoke anything at all until morning."
"Food would be better for you," Watson said, mildly. "Or sleep. I should think you'd be off tobacco, after what's happened."
I extended a tremorous hand, as much to study for itself as to display the symptom. "It's tobacco I want, though. Or cocaine," I said, "And I know how much you disapprove of the latter."
"Not as much as I did," he admitted, tucking the blanket up around me. "The dose you took earlier today probably did much to counter the poison. But I'd as soon you didn't indulge in it at this time of night. Wait here a while and I'll see what I can do."
He may have stayed away longer than necessary, hoping I would slip back into sleep -- I'm not entirely certain, as I spent the duration of his absence in aimless contemplation -- but it seemed a long while. I cannot say that I was thinking to any purpose at all, and yet, when Watson returned with a tray that, thankfully, had a box of cigars upon it as well as food, I looked up to him and asked, "Why didn't you tell me?"
He didn't answer straight away, but made himself busy helping me sit up and resting the tray onto my knees. He uncovered my plate, revealing a coddled egg and a few slices of bread "Eat that and I'll give you one of these," he said, reserving the cigars before retreating to the armchair with a plate of his own. We ate together, the silence broken by only the stuttering of our forks against our plates.
But at last he set aside his repast. "I haven't told anyone. Well, Anstruther knows. He helped... he helped Mary, when it happened. I was away. With you, as it happens; it was the day we were sailing back from Uffa." He didn't look at me, but took up the box of cigars into his hands, tracing the design upon the cover.
"Shouldn't you be with her now?" I asked, gently.
"She's not at home. The specialist recommended that she make a complete change and rest until she's properly recovered, so he's sent her off to a convalescent hospital in Devon. The air's better there than in London." Watson shrugged, still not meeting my eyes. "The servants have been told that she's gone to visit a relation."
As Mary Morstan Watson had no relations in the world other than the man sitting opposite me, I could see that the lie chafed him. What kind of hospital was it, I wondered, that required such discretion? Had Watson's absence at the crisis precipitated a break in her mind as well as her health? It did not seem likely, given the lady's strength of character, but even an admirable fortitude can crack under tremendous strain. Still, that was neither here nor there when it came to my obligations to my friend. "I'm very sorry to hear it, old fellow. Please, accept my hospitality here at Baker Street until she returns. Your old room is always at your command, and you know Mrs. Hudson would be glad to have even a temporary lodger to appreciate her fine cookery."
He made a sound that was neither laugh nor sob. "Holmes..." He ran a hand through his hair in exasperation and then held up the box of cigars, glaring at me with a smile quirking up the corner of his mustache. "Did you know that when I came here to return these to you, it was with the intention of never darkening your door again?"
I raised an eyebrow at the melodramatic phrasing. "I knew you were angry with me," I temporized.
"Furious," he said, a spark of that anger rising again to color his cheeks. "And I've come to a realization. I can either be your friend, or your physician, but not both. You'll have to choose."
He was utterly serious, despite the smile, and I realized just how grievous had been my transgression. Never in my life had I more needed a clear head, and seldom had I felt so muddled. "Considering that as my physician you just saved my life," I said, carefully, "the decision is not a light one. I don't suppose you would allow exceptions in cases of emergency."
"It's the cases of emergency that are the problem," he said and got to his feet, going to look out the window. "I know you think I have no gift for acting; the Culverton Smith business proved that."
"You haven't." I had to agree. Watson's honest face is one of his most admirable assets.
He turned to one side, watching me from across the room, so that that face was more in shadow than light. "Then why on earth did you send for me this morning?" he asked. "You can't have expected that I should carry on a deception in front of Camberwell if I can't act. And yet, the moment I took your pulse you knew that I would be able to tell that you hadn't been poisoned."
"Yet." I amended ruefully, and earned a chuckle from him. I was grateful for it. It seemed I had not damaged our fellow feeling beyond all hope. But he had asked a valid question. "This morning I wasn't hoping for a deception so much as any excuse at all to leave Camberwell's house. Whether or not you could play the physician retrieving the patient or the friend rescuing a comrade-in-arms was immaterial. I needed you to hustle me out the door before Camberwell could work up enough nerve to fetch out his pistol and put paid to any future interference in his plans."
"Couldn't you have told me as much?" Watson asked. "When young Simpson turned up on my patient's doorstep, all out of breath from running, and told me that you'd been poisoned I nearly broke my neck trying to reach you in time. And I abandoned my patient -- a dying man, Holmes, who was in great pain -- even if I did have Simpson go to fetch Anstruther for him." Now he was angry again, and not only at me.
"You gave him morphine before you left," I said, when he fell silent. His shoulders fell, ever so slightly and told me the rest. "But he died, didn't he? Before you returned."
"Yes." Watson began to pace. "It was inevitable. Anstruther knew it as well as I, but still, neither of us was there. He died alone."
I let him pace as I thought. I couldn't honestly regret having sent for Watson. His presence truly had saved my life, and preserved the case against Camberwell into the bargain. But I regretted the concern I had caused him as he rushed across London to be at my side. Given his recent loss, and the impending loss of his patient, the fear of having me imperilled as well must have been bitter indeed.
It occurred to me that Watson was not the only compatriot I had affrighted. "You did tell Simpson that I was all right?" I inquired.
Watson nodded. "Yes. Not that you were, as it turned out."
"Yes, well it's no more than I deserve, given the circumstances," I said. "The original plan was for the boy to call me away from Camberwell's clutches, but events took an unexpected turn. In any case, I apologize for worrying you unnecessarily. It shan't happen again."
"No." I saw the thread of a compromise laid out before me. "If you will consider continuing to take care of such small matters concerning my health as happen to fall under your eye -- I can hardly ask you to ignore them -- then I shall impose upon another practitioner for any ailments which strike me in your absence."
"You won't send for me if you're ill?" he asked, and I heard uncertainty, and perhaps a bit of indignation in his voice. It seemed that he had not yet forgotten the way I had denigrated his skills during the Culverton Smith affair.
"If I send for you directly, you may be certain that it is a ruse," I said. "If a fellow physician sends for you, you may be certain that my condition is real. And I will have them send for you, my friend. I'd far rather trust your medical opinion then that of any dozen Harley Street quacksalvers."
He huffed his disbelief, but he came over to collect my plate and set it aside for me. "That's laying it on a bit thick, old chap," he said, but I could see that he was pleased.
I patted his arm and lay back among the pillows, glad that his anger was dissipating once more. "Well, doctors are two-a-penny in London, you know. Besides, as my physician you might feel it incumbent upon you to dissuade me from taking a cigar, but as my friend I think you might be willing to share."
He laughed and set about preparing a cigar for each of us. By the time we were settled and the smoothing smoke was drifting about our ears the lines had eased upon his face and his hands were no longer trembling. Cigars were more to Watson's taste than mine, but I drew another puff into my grateful lungs. "Thank you, Watson," I said. "These are excellent."
"You ought to know," he said. "You bought them."
"At least I've managed to do one thing right in all of this," I said, thinking back over the past two days with dissatisfaction. Despite the comfort of the tobacco, my body ached as if I'd been trampled by angry horses. Camberwell had managed to poison me, despite my precautions. And I had come as close as I ever wished to driving an intractable wedge of misunderstanding between myself and my biographer. "Whatever reputation I might have for omniscience you may consider scattered to the winds, Watson. Remind me to never again take on a case for a man I suspect of being a murderer."
"Or a woman!" Watson agreed heartily. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, his eyes alight with curiosity. "Is that what happened? Camberwell hired you? Why on earth, if he had committed murder?"
"Because the murder would do him no good without his uncle's last Will and Testament, and that document was hidden somewhere in the house. Camberwell hired me to locate it. And I took the case, having underestimated both his cleverness and his ruthlessness." Were it not that our positions were reversed, Watson in my chair and I upon the settee, we might be having the same sort of conversation we'd had a hundred times. Disastrous as the day had been, we had survived it with our friendship intact. Already I could see Watson's free hand creeping toward the pocket where he kept his writing tools. "Would you like me to tell you about it? With the benefit of hindsight we might, the two of us, see where I went wrong."
"Were I your physician," Watson said, glancing to the clock, "I would waste the next hour insisting that you ignore the case and try to get some sleep. But as I am your friend," he set aside his cigar and took out his pencil and notebook, "I know better. Go on, Holmes. And start at the beginning."