I. It is Not What We Know, but What We Can Prove
The truth of a story can sometimes be found in the words that are left unsaid. Such is the case in my account of the most terrifying adventure I have had with my dear friend, the great Sherlock Holmes.
The events of the story, which has come to be known as The Hound of the Baskervilles, were frightening not only because of the supernatural mystery that seemed to lie beneath the whole affair, but also because I had to endure much of that terrifying time without my companion. I was brave enough, to be sure, but now when I look back on those dreary days I realize that my uneasy feelings stemmed as much from the sentiments of my friend as they did from that dreadful hound.
To say that I found Sherlock Holmes fascinating would be an understatement. I adored him. In his brilliance he could do no wrong– except when he pointed out those instances that I could not live up to his brilliance. I had convinced myself that he needed me, and every time that conviction was broken with a few select words from him, I broke a little too.
The case at hand started with a walking stick left at Baker Street. Holmes had asked me to examine the stick using his methods of deduction, and I was quite proud of my attempt. Holmes was too at first.
“Really, Watson, you excel yourself,” said Holmes, pushing back his chair and lighting a cigarette. “I confess, my dear fellow, that I am very much in your debt.”
He had never said as much before, and I must admit that his words gave me keen pleasure, for I had often been piqued by his indifference to my admiration. My pleasure did not last long, however, as he took the stick from me and began to examine it himself, pointing out all the incorrect deductions I had made.
As usual, he was correct about our visitor, who had come to tell us the legend of the Hound of the Baskervilles and the mysterious death of Sir Charles Baskerville. When our guest had gone, I too decided to go out and leave Holmes to himself so he could think upon the case.
I did some considering of my own as I walked the showery streets of London to my club. It should not have bothered me, but for once I thought I had lived up to Holmes’ expectations. I thought I could make him proud. But then again, he was a man who delighted in both his own genius and my admiration of that singular power to deduce what to him was obvious. I wondered, though, if he kept me around for his ego and I was alone in my feelings of admiration, so strong that I wished with all my heart that they would be reciprocated.
When I first got back to Baker Street, I thought our rooms were on fire, for a thick black smoke was everywhere. As I entered, however, my fears were set at rest, for it was the acrid fumes of strong coarse tobacco that took me by the throat and set me coughing. Through the haze I had a vague vision of Holmes in his dressing gown, coiled up in an armchair with his black clay pipe between his lips.
Though I had tears in my eyes from choking, I could not help but be fixated by that pipe, which rested between Holmes’ lips. Perhaps it was not the pipe itself that had me spellbound, but the way his lips sucked and blew out air around it.
“Caught cold, Watson?” said he.
“No, it’s this poisonous atmosphere.”
“Open the window, then! You have been at your club all day, I perceive.”
“My dear Holmes!”
He laughed at my bewildered expression. “There is a delightful freshness about you, Watson, which makes it a pleasure to exercise any small powers which I possess at your expense.”
It was extraordinary how he could expound a compliment and insult in one breath. I do not think he meant to be harsh, but his words drove home that feeling of inadequacy, which plagued me and threatened to soil our relationship that we balanced so well.
“Well, it is rather obvious,” I said once he had finished explaining how he knew my whereabouts.
“The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.”
Upon another meeting with our clients, it was decided that I would join them in Devonshire after Holmes gave me quite a recommendation. In their presence, Holmes laid his hand upon my arm and said, “If my friend would undertake it there is no man who is better worth having at your side when you are in a tight place. No one can say so more confidently than I.”
His words should have been just words to me, but when he looked in my eye as he spoke, I read a meaning there that he had left unsaid.
Later, when we were alone, Holmes seemed unhappy about the situation and confessed that he was uneasy about sending me to Devonshire.
“Yes, my dear fellow, you may laugh, but I give you my word that I shall be very glad to have you back safe and sound in Baker Street once more.”
Once again, he teased me with his words and I forced myself to think of them as just an expression of his cautious nature. That night, however, as I was readying for bed, he stopped by the doorway to my room and watched me. It was an action he performed on many occasions that always left me wondering what conclusions he was drawing about me from those few private glimpses. He always stood in the doorframe, never entering the room. Perhaps he was waiting for an invitation. I never gave it.
“You’ll be okay out there in the country,” he said. I had the feeling he was assuring himself more so than he was assuring me.
“I know,” I said, trying to keep my own unease out of my voice. If it were there, Holmes would hear it. I walked over to the door so that we stood facing each other. “Goodnight, Holmes,” I said.
He paused before answering. “Goodnight, Watson.”
II. All Things are Possible upon the Moor
My days in the country without Sherlock Holmes were difficult indeed. He had stayed in London to work on a few other cases and although I kept him updated on all that I had seen and heard, his replies to me were few and short. It was in his nature to work in secret, and I often regretted being left in the dark.
In fact, one of Sherlock’s defects—if, indeed, one may call it a defect—was that he was exceedingly loath to communicate his full plans to any other person until the instant of their fulfillment. Partly it came no doubt from his own masterful nature, which loved to dominate and surprise those who were around him. Partly also from his professional caution, which urged him never to take any chances. The result, however, was very trying for those who were acting as his agents and assistants. I had often suffered under it. All in all, the responsibility to look after our client compounded with the formidable atmosphere of the moor where the tragic death of Sir Charles had taken place, left me overwhelmed and frightened. Many times during those days, I wished that he were there with me.
He did come eventually, by surprise, and my feelings upon seeing him were a mixture of relief and annoyance. I let the more positive of my feelings come out first as we stood together among the rock shelters of ancient peoples who had once lived upon the moor.
“I was never more glad to see anyone in my life,” said I as I wrung him by the hand.
“Or more astonished, eh?”
It was in those moments, when he was genuinely happy, that his smile could have served to undo me.
“Well, I must confess to it,” I said. “But I am glad from my heart that you are here, for indeed the responsibility and the mystery were both becoming too much for my nerves.” As my relief began to fade, I remembered Holmes’ lack of communication during the past few days. I noted that smile still playing on his lips and the look of mischief that seemed to twinkle in his eye. He was once again delighting in my disadvantage. “I thought you were at Baker Street.”
“That was what I wished you to think.”
“Then you use me, and yet do not trust me,” I cried with some bitterness. “I think that I have deserved better at your hands, Holmes.”
“My dear fellow, you have been invaluable to me.” Holmes started to reach out his hands but then brought them back to himself. “I beg that you will forgive me if I have seemed to play a trick upon you. In truth, it was partly for your own sake that I did it, and it was my appreciation of the danger which you ran which led me to come down and examine the matter for myself.”
Should I have believed that he had come out to the country out of concern for my own safety? His words almost placated me until I recalled the curt ways he had answered my letters. “Then my reports have all been wasted!”—My voice trembled as I recalled the pains and the pride with which I had composed them.
Holmes took a bundle of papers from his pocket. “Here are your reports, my dear fellow, and very well thumbed, I assure you.”
Astonished, I could only stand and stare at my letters, which he had been carrying in his pocket. Had they been useful to him? If not, why would he carry them so?
“I must compliment you upon the zeal and the intelligence which you have shown over an extraordinarily difficult case,” Holmes told me.
I was still rather raw over the deception that had been practiced upon me, but the warmth of Holmes’s praise drove my anger from my mind. I felt also in my heart that he was right in what he said and that it was really best for our purpose that I should not have known that he was upon the moor.
“That’s better,” said he, seeing the shadow rise from my face.
The air had turned chill and we withdrew into one of the ancient huts for warmth. There, sitting together in the twilight, I began to tell Holmes of my conversation with a lady, which I thought would bear upon the case.
“What’s that sound?” Holmes asked, interrupting my story. He stood and went to the door to listen.
I got up to do the same, but before I reached him, Holmes turned around and pushed me back against the inside wall. His hands, calloused and dirty from investigating along the moor, snuck up under my sleeves and gripped my arms. “I am glad you’re okay, my dear,” he said.
His face, immaculate as ever, was so close to mine, and I thought that time as good as any to see where our true feelings lay. “I’ve missed you, Holmes,” I said.
It would have never happened if we were at home on Baker Street or anywhere else for that matter. It could have been that moment, or the moor, or our conflicted feelings brought so close together, but for whatever reason Holmes closed the distance between us and for the first time, he kissed me.
You can imagine why I have not written about this incident before. How could I put into words those feelings, which coursed through me as Holmes’ lips were on mine, as he allowed me to put my hands upon his waist and bring his body against my own? What phrase can articulate that desire, which before that moment I had not been able to put a name to?
I do not know how long we would have stayed in that hut, the two of us expressing with our bodies what we never would have said aloud, had the shrill howling of an otherworldly creature not interrupted us.
“What is that?” Holmes asked, breaking apart from me.
It took a few moments before I could find my voice. “The hound,” I said at last.
The howling came again and I felt a deep chill break through the warmth that had spread inside me. Holmes tried to spring away, but with a grip that surprised me, I held him there.
“Watson,” he said, his voice still soft. He did not have to say more for I read in his eyes his request to let him go. His work needed him, and it was always his work that he would put first.
I took my hands from around his waist and he sprang to the door with me close on his heels. Before we went too far out, he reached his hand back, clutching my wrist and stopping me from advancing.
The cry of the hound had been loud on account of its vehemence, but it had pealed out from somewhere far off on the shadowy plain. Now it burst upon our ears, nearer, louder, more urgent than before.
“Where is it?” Holmes whispered; and I knew from the thrill of his voice that he, the man of iron, was shaken to the soul. “Where is it, Watson?”
“There, I think.” I pointed into the darkness.
“No, there!” cried Holmes. “Come, Watson, come! Great heavens, if we are too late!”
He let go of my hand and started running swiftly over the moor, and I followed at his heels.
The remainder of that adventure you can read in my other writings, but I wish to share with you now the aftermath of our unspoken moment.
III. A Waiting Game
It was the end of November, and Holmes and I sat, upon a raw and foggy night, on either side of a blazing fire in our sitting room in Baker Street. Since our visit to Devonshire he had been engaged in two affairs of the utmost importance. I knew better than to interrupt him during his work, so I waited, silently wondering, until those cases came to a close.
My friend was in excellent spirits over the success that had attended a succession of those difficult and important cases, so that I was able to induce him to discuss the details of what I am now calling the mystery of the moor.
“Certainly,” Holmes said when I asked if we could talk about what happened on the moor. “Though I cannot guarantee that I carry all the facts in my mind. Intense mental concentration has a curious way of blotting out what has passed.”
It could have been a dismissal, but the subject was too important to me to let it go. “Think hard in that attic brain of yours,” I told him. “For surely an event of that quality must be stored up there somewhere, unless you have chosen to forget it.”
Holmes took up his violin and began to play a soft tune, a cue that I was to wait while he thought. “I haven’t,” he said almost as a whisper between strokes.
“I remember it quite often,” I said, looking away from him, “and was wondering whether it would be repeated or if it was just something that happened on the moor.”
Holmes played with increased fervor for so many minutes that I thought I might die from anticipation. All of a sudden he put down his instrument and addressed me. “My dear Watson,” he said, leaning forward in his chair. “You were born to be a man of action. Your instinct is always to do something energetic.” I could see as he looked at me that he was repressing some internal emotion. His features were still composed, but his eyes shown with amused exultation.
“And you, I take it, are a man who waits?”
“That is my usual course, yes, but I have thought of something quite different for tonight. I have a box for ‘Les Huguenots,’” he said, standing up. “Have you heard the De Reszkes? Might I trouble you then to be ready in half an hour, and we can stop at Marcini’s for a little dinner on the way?”
And with his words, we were back to the way things always had been with dinner and a show, but perhaps this time, a promise of something more.