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A Devil's Chaplain

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He goes to see her on Wednesday, deliberately not at Watson's request. In fact, he refuses Watson's request, telling him that it would be utterly inappropriate and even manipulative. He also points out that she has not, in fact, forbidden Watson her chambers and if he really wants all of that said, he ought to go say it himself.

Watson falls back on his tired accusations of inhumanity, a lengthy set of curses, and then sets off, presumably for the tracks, and presumably having forgotten that the larger part of his available currency remains, safely, locked in Mary's desk drawer.

Sherlock Holmes goes to see Mary for his own purposes, at his own time and with a weight in his pocket. He bullies his way past the Sally-the-maid, and then comes to a stymied halt in front of Mrs Trust, whose ridiculously appropriate name meant that by now even he did not trouble himself to think he could move her where she wished not to be moved, or where she felt her duty lay.

So instead he merely says to the frowning countenance, "This state does not serve her." He watches as the stolid woman's jaw tightens and then release.

"I'll have you out on your ear," Mrs Trust says, and at another time he might have made some light remark to the tune of entirely crediting her ability to have him anywhere (being as the woman was built like a particularly sturdy rhinoceros in human form), but for the present circumstances it did not suit, so he merely nodded, and meekly allowed her to open the door and usher him in.

Mary is sitting on the balcony, wrapped in sufficient blankets for any over-protective mother's watchful eye (Mrs Trust's doing that, no doubt) and staring with an unwontedly blank expression, for their Mary, at the lackluster garden below. He goes to sit beside her, and notes that the wind is quite sharp, and from the north-east, with just a touch more smoke than is ordinary for this part of London at this time of year. He also notes that Mary is pale, and smells of things-medical, as well as the possets of french lavender kept in her wardrobes.

"I know why you're here," Mary says, without looking at him. He takes his package out of his coat pocket and leans forward on his knees.

"I doubt it," he says, as gently as he knows how. She still does not look at him.

"I know I am being cruel," she says next. Now he has the outer cloth covering unwrapped.

"Not especially," he disagrees again, still gentle as he can be.

Mary turns her head, without putting any life in her body to do it. Her eyes are quite red-rimmed, he notes, and the mild abrasion around her nose does nothing for her complexion. "He told you," she says, "I presume."

"Indeed," he replies, and then, in the silence, he adds, "You cannot imagine this changes his regard for you."

"Don't be stupid," she says, and looks away again.

He waits in a kind of expectant silence that demands speech, and which he has used to great effect on criminals and policemen alike. To which she says, "Don't try your tricks on me, Sherlock. I know most of them by now."

"Watson used to say that," he muses. "I think he subsequently learned a wiser path."

"I wanted children, Sherlock," she says, as if the words pain her and she wishes them to pain him. "I wanted them. I wanted boys to make much of and call me Mama, and girls to cosset and teach the unrespectable bits of Virgil to. And now I can't. Because my own body betrays me, and to keep what would make it possible would kill me."

"Do you know what Darwin said," he asked her, in something perhaps more like his normal tones, though not quite, "about the world?" When she did not answer, he quoted, "What a book a devil's chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering low and horridly cruel works of nature!" He turned the small box in his hands around and around, and said, "The world is unfair, and if there is a God, He is quite cruel. I am s - " he stops, reconsiders his words, and says instead, "it grieves me to see you receive that cruelty."

This time when Mary doesn't answer, it's because her teeth are clenched and her eyes are bright. He looks down at the box he is fiddling with. He reaches over, and places it on her abdomen. "A gift," he says. "Of less ultimate value, perhaps, but hopefully in better taste than my last."

It takes a moment before she takes it up and opens it. Inside, as it should be, there is a ring: it is simple gold, as he well knows, but on the inside is inscribed a word and a series of numbers. She takes it between her fingers, deftly, and looks at it for a long time.

Finally, she says, in a commendably even voice, "I didn't know you had ever opened a Bible, Sherlock."

"I have little patience for the text, it's true," he acknowledges, "but there is some excellent poetry and, as it happens, only a fool would remain in its total ignorance. In this case the passage is appropriate, and the ring ought to be sized to your smallest finger."

The brightness has rolled itself out of her eyes in the form of tears by the time she slides the gold onto her hand, the inscription of Prov 31:26 hidden against her skin. He holds her hands both together as she cries for a while, only because he does not trust the strength of the chair to hold them both, and because comfort does not come naturally and (he realizes with a particularly skinless feeling) she knows him well enough to know that, and to see through his pretence.

"I have been horrible," she says, at last, taking one of her hands away to wipe her cheeks. "And cruel."

"You have been distressed," he corrects her. "And even if you were, he would forgive you. He is profoundly . . . irritating, in that fashion." Struggling abnormally with words, he finally decides to say, "There is more to life, Mary, I promise you." When she looks at him, with her eyes even redder than they were when he arrived, he adds, "Even for married women."

There is something softer, and less self-recriminating in her expression when she says, "I do love you, Sherlock," and then adds, "sometimes against my better judgement."

He stands up, and offers her his hands. "Come along, Mrs Watson," he says, knowing she will hear what he does not say, and everything he means by that form of her name, because she is an obnoxiously clever woman under it all. "Come and prove to your guardian that I've done you no harm, lest she savage me in vengeance."

There was a pause, but at last, Mary took his hands, and let him pull her to her feet.