Watson may say that I am a man worth study, but I object to the notion that I am the only one worth studying. He fascinates me; he always has. Ever since I met him at Bart's and he looked at me as if I were brilliant— I am, of course, but from him the praise always pleases me— I have been utterly captivated. I am constantly surprised by him, and every time it happens I wonder that I haven't exhausted him yet. There are unplumbed depths to John Watson, and I mean to discover them.
He has, for instance, a very eclectic taste in music. He will listen to literally anything. It baffles me. Most times, I can take the measure of a fellow by what he chooses when he goes to hear music. I, for instance, am fond primarily of afternoon and evening concerts: I don't like anything distracting me from my appreciation of the music itself. I don't need sets or plots or costumes or even singing. All I want is the solitary 'cello, alone on stage, its pure voice booming, or a full orchestra in perfect harmony, leading me along by my ears. The good Inspector Lestrade, however, eschews the classics and will exclusively attend tawdry musicals. That tells me a great deal about his upbringing, his salary, his free time and therefore his profession, as well as his current family status and the conversations he has over luncheon.
Watson, however, will go to anything. He sits beside me quite happily at a Vivaldi concert, and he babbles with Lestrade about the latest Gilbert and Sullivan. Together, they went to an opening performance of The Grand Duke in the spring, and he came back all smiles. The play was dreadful, absolutely dreadful! I couldn't sit through it myself. I heard Messers Gilbert and Sullivan lost a tremendous amount of money on the thing. The very next month, we attended a performance of Bach's St. Luke Passion, which Watson found perfectly delightful.
It tells me so much and so little about him. He doesn't make sense, and I cannot help but adore him for it.
Perhaps it is not that his taste in music is all-encompassing, but that it is simply terrible. He does not discriminate in the slightest.
Well, that is not entirely true. Some weeks ago, at the height of summer (though the heat has not abated, unfortunately, in that time), we were called away to Newcastle upon Tyne, which for us was very far afield. We traveled first to Leeds on an early morning express, and then changed trains there for Newcastle. It was a terribly long distance to go for the utterly senseless case we had been engaged upon— locked room murder, that sort of thing, completely trite when it came down to it— but Watson was so pleased to be out of our rooms and on an adventure that for several hours during our interminable journey, I almost couldn't take my eyes off of him.
Some days, I am very glad he is so painfully unobservant; if he had noticed the way I was devoted to him, I would have been lost. Watson is the best sort of upstanding citizen, and I am the worst sort of invert. Certainly he might go in for a bit of burglary, or a long night of lurking, but I doubted very much that he would stand for being pursued by a fellow such as myself. And so I kept my nature under lock and key, and he was none the wiser.
The case in Newcastle was solved within a matter of days. They had been right to call me, of course, for it was not a suicide as it appeared but a carefully calculated murder. Someone on the local force had done a bit of proper observation and noticed that things were not all exactly as they seemed, and through a series of recommendations the case was brought to me. By careful inspection of the windowsill and the ghastly bruises on the woman's neck, I discerned that instead of hanging herself— which is how it certainly appeared, what with being discovered hanged by the neck in an attic room with a chair knocked on its side below her— she had been strangled by hand and then hanged afterwards, as a blind. The perpetrator had locked the door and exited the room by the upper window and crawled spider-like along the eaves. In a bit of bad luck, the window came crashing down in the wind and actually locked itself, making it appear as though the dead woman had been the only occupant.
The murderer, the woman's brother, had killed her in a squabble over her lover. He was intent on obeying their late father's wishes by marrying her to a local gentleman, but she was already pregnant by a farm hand and was determined to be wed before her child arrived. Her pregnancy was very recent, and that was why the constabulary had not noticed it, but my Watson spotted the signs in a moment. The woman's death, Watson eventually claimed, was an accident, but choking a person to unconsciousness is not entirely accidental. Stringing them up by the throat after they've expired even less so.
I am getting away from myself. I have recorded the details of the crime in a more public notebook, the one I keep in the bookshelf by my desk, while this one is meant to be reserved for my personal reflections. It was a very clever set of deductions, if I do say so myself, but I meant this narrative to be about the case of Watson's musical tastes.
The murder case was concluded finally with an arrest in the early afternoon after a long chase over the moor, and we decided not to bother with the evening train to Leeds. It would take us most of the day to get home to Baker Street, and Watson expressed an interest in experiencing the music that was advertised to be played at the inn where we were staying.
"We're as close to my boyhood home as I've been in fifteen years," he told me, as we walked back together from the estate.
"Northumberland Fusiliers," I said, folding my hands behind my back.
"Quite so," he said.
I glanced at him and caught a hint of a smile under his moustache. "Where did you grow up?" I asked.
"Hexam," he said. "Well, some ways outside of it. My father was a mining engineer."
"I might never have known," I said. "Your accent hardly shows."
"Does it show at all?" he asked, looking up. "Blast, I had thought I'd gotten rid of it. What with school, and the army, and bloody India. Not to mention living with you, who can change your voice in a second to suit your purpose."
"Only when you are very emotional," I said.
He was blushing. "Well, I'm sure you had my North Country origins pegged in a minute."
"Ten," I admitted. "But that was the day we moved in together, not the day I met you. You had a bit of trouble getting your biggest case up the stairs, and you were swearing at it and your leg."
Watson laughed. "Fair enough. It was a terribly large case."
I had to look away. The sun was shining, the afternoon was warm and the breeze was cool, and he was beautiful in his light linen suit and his soft cap, his handsome face open and amused. I was still quite high on the successful conclusion of my far-afield case, and I was in danger of betraying myself out of carelessness. I tamped down my joy ruthlessly.
"Are you hungry?" I asked.
"Famished," Watson replied. "That was rather exciting, wasn't it? I never suspected her brother might have done it."
"Never?" I asked. "Really, Watson; the moment you knew she was pregnant, you might have suspected it was a family affair."
He shrugged, unashamed of his status as my foil. "I thought maybe the man who deflowered her might have done it to protect them both."
"That certainly would have been tragic," I said, "but no."
"Obviously not." That time he was a bit prickled. He sighed. "At any rate, all that running about has quite piqued my interest in supper. What about you?"
"I could eat a horse," I said. Now that the case was concluded, my body reminded me of its tiresome needs, and my stomach was growling.
"I don't think they serve that," Watson said, smiling once more, "but I could arrange for a sheep's stomach."
"Eaugh, please don't," I said, making a face, and was rewarded with his joyful laugh.
"You're like a child," he said. "Bread and milk it is."
Supper was being served when we arrived at the inn, footsore and energised by our walk, so we quickly found a place to sit and hailed the inn keeper, a Mr Todd. He came over, tray already in hand, and laid out a fine array of meats and cheeses, a dish of cooked squash with garlic, and a loaf of hearty rustic bread.
"I heard Mr Tunbridge has been arrested," he said to us. "Killed his sister, he did."
"He certainly did," I agreed, helping myself to the meat and the squash.
"He always did have a quick temper," Todd said, shaking his head. "And she always was a lovely girl."
"Yes," I said, "well, quick tempers and lovely girls rarely come to good ends."
"Holmes," Watson chided.
I raised my eyebrows at him, but said no more on the subject. Todd bid us enjoy our meal, and we ate in relative silence, both of us making up for what had become a weekend of excitement.
When we had finished, the band that was promised had arrived and was setting up in a cleared corner of the parlour. The inn had filled with locals, and it took a few minutes for Watson's request for two Scotch whiskies, neat, to be heard. When they finally arrived on our table, the band had already started to play.
Overall, I found it somewhat plebeian but generally enjoyable. Watson was having a splendid time, singing along to a number of folk songs he recognised from what seemed to be a long time since, and striking up conversations with our neighbours. I nursed my scotch through three of his, glad for the opportunity to observe my Watson in a new situation. He is the friendliest chap I know, good at making small talk, and I am alternately envious that he can do it so easily, and glad that I don't have to.
The band— made up of fiddle, tin whistle, and Jews' harp— played for over an hour, and I found myself losing the train of the music occasionally, my thoughts drifting. I watched Watson for a while as he got a bit drunk, and then I watched the crowd. I made private inferences about people around me to keep myself entertained, and for a while even closed my eyes to better hear the music without distraction. It wasn't what I would have chosen for an evening in London, but out here it was rather nice.
When I opened my eyes again, coming back to myself, I looked over to Watson and got the shock of my life. He was staring into the distance, his gaze unfocused, and the expression on his face was that of heartbreaking sorrow. There was a tear running down his cheek, and he did not bother to brush it away. Horrified that something had happened, I glanced at the crowd around us and found that they too were looking a bit melancholy, but none so deeply sad as my Watson. The song, I realised as I listened, was about a man who had lost his sweetheart at sea, and who had never taken the risk of telling her that he loved her.
I didn't know what to do. I had never seen Watson so affected, and the analytical part of me just wanted to watch his emotional reaction to its conclusion. The other part of me knew he was in pain, somehow, and wanted it to stop immediately. I reached out and touched the back of his hand, and said, "My dear boy."
He jerked in surprise, pulling sharply away from me, and wiped his face with both hands. "Holmes," he said, as if he hadn't expected to find me still sitting beside him. "Forgive me."
"There is nothing to forgive," I said. "Are you all right?"
"Yes, fine," he said. He pushed away his glass and stood up, drawing his handkerchief from his sleeve. "I think I shall go to bed. Goodnight."
"Wait," I said, reaching again, but he was beyond my grasp and he slipped away into the crowd. The song was not even finished. I was now even more confused than I had been. The only explanation I had was that the song spoke to him so profoundly, so intensely, because he knew exactly what that felt like.
Watson had been in love, and he had lost her.
I waited a good ten minutes, fidgeting and wondering, until I allowed myself to stand up from the table and make my way from the crowded common room. The stairwell to the upper floor was dark, and for some reason I climbed it as silently as I could, as though worried Watson would hear me coming.
I reached the room we were sharing, knocked softly, and opened the door. The room was as dark as the hall, and the shape of Watson was in his bed. He was feigning sleep: I could hear it in the slightly ragged pattern of his breathing.
I couldn't help myself. "Watson?" I whispered.
No answer. I was not surprised. Quietly I undressed, slipped on my nightshirt, and crawled into my own narrow bed. I fell into a fitful sleep, exhausted by my various forms of abstinence during the case and worried about my friend.
In the morning, I awoke to an empty room. Watson's bed was made and his belongings were gone, and I leapt to my feet in horror. He had left, I was sure of it.
I threw on my clothes and crammed my things into my valise, and took the stairs to the common room at something near a run. The first train to Leeds was at 8:36, and it was just turning 8:00 now. If I hurried, I could catch him.
Watson, of course, was sitting at a table beside the window, calmly eating his breakfast. I skidded to a halt and stared.
"Good morning, Holmes," he said calmly, dabbing at his mouth and moustache with a napkin. "I have worried you; forgive me."
"No," I said, crossing to him and sinking into the seat opposite him. "There is nothing to forgive. The concert—"
"I find I did not enjoy it as much as I had expected to. I beg you will forget the whole matter." He turned his attention deliberately back to buttering his toast.
The conversation was obviously over. I silently vowed not to bring it up, until I could fully explain his reaction the night before. I would find out, if for no other reason than my own information, who this lost love had been and what had happened to her. I hated the idea that there were things about my Watson that I did not understand.
We ate breakfast quickly and in silence, paid for our room, and walked side-by-side to the train station. The 8:36 to Leeds arrived a few minutes after we did, and we took our customary place in a First Class carriage. Watson took my bag from me and stowed it above our heads, and we sat across from one another as the train pulled out of the station.
He was avoiding my eyes. Certainly, he looked innocent enough gazing out the window, but I was staring at him with some intensity, and he was ignoring me. That tactic was not going to work. I sank back into my seat and crossed my arms over my chest. It was not a child's petulant sulk, but it was as close as I could get.
We spent our long ride back to London in relative silence. We changed trains at Leeds and again at Leicester, and arrived finally at Baker Street, exhausted by a day of inactivity, to a warm supper and cool sheets. Watson did not stay up with me as he usually did, but turned in just after ten o'clock, claiming a headache.
Something had to be done. His mood had not improved in the slightest since last night, though I had not bothered him all day about the matter. I had seen him weep before— during our first years of cohabitation, he had had horrible nightmares of the war, and more than once I had woken him and calmed him in the middle of the night— but he had never been ashamed of it then.
Perhaps that wasn't the problem, I mused, curled up in my favourite armchair, a cigarette neglected between my fingers. He wasn't afraid to be seen with tears in his eyes, certainly not by me, so perhaps it was the subject of his grief that caused him such anxiety.
Could he have got a girl pregnant? I wondered. And then left her behind to go to war?
No, that wasn't like him at all. He might have been called the scourge of three continents in his army days, but throwing a lass over for the call of battle wasn't like him. He hadn't loved the war, and he had a great appreciation for women. When he had been courting the late Mrs Watson, the girl Mary, he had been devoted to the cause, and devoted to her. It had nearly broken my heart, him moving out of Baker Street, but her passing had nearly broken his. When I returned to London after my three years abroad, I found him a man much changed by grief. His strong will had triumphed, ultimately, and his spirits had improved rapidly after our mutual return to our old shared quarters.
Could it have been her he was thinking of? Hardly appropriate— it wasn't as though he'd never had the chance to admit he loved her. He'd bloody well married her. No, she wasn't the one the song reminded him of.
If I couldn't determine the cause of his emotional distress, I would do my best to alleviate it. That would be my other angle of attack. Perhaps, with enough persuasion, he might open himself to me.
I went to bed with a new plan of action, feeling incredibly pleased with myself. Tomorrow was Monday, and I had a new case already. As I was falling asleep, I found myself imagining what Watson would call this one. Not that I would ever let him find out.
The Case of the Distressed Doctor, I thought. No, The Adventure of the Doctor's Heart.
Watson was already up and about when I arose, and we ate a late breakfast together. There was a bit of post to go through— a telegram from Mycroft inviting me to dinner, a letter for Watson from a grateful patient, a bill for the tailor I had visited to see to a few of my disguises— and after I had written a reply to Mycroft declining on the grounds that I very much did not want to spend an evening this week at his club, I made a mental note to make a reservation for dinner at Wilton's for Watson and myself instead.
I also added take Watson to the theatre to the list, just below gifts, buy him gifts.
He might get suspicious about the gifts. I amended it to just one gift. Something small. Perhaps flowers, as well, if his mood had not improved by Thursday. He was the romantic sort; he might appreciate that.
Watson was watching me when I looked up again, and he was smiling.
"Do you have another case already, Holmes?" he asked.
I started. How could he have known?
The surprise on my face must have shown, for he said, "You are very preoccupied this morning, that is all."
"No," I said quickly, "there is no new case. I am only considering the facts of a few old ones to keep myself amused."
"Well," said he, "I hope a new one comes along quickly. And one that keeps us close to home this time."
"I have no doubt," I said, sitting up and accepting another cup of coffee, "that the denizens of London will get up to their usual trouble in no time, and we will have a nice murder within a few days."
He was hiding a smile in a disapproving glare. "There is no such thing as a 'nice' murder, Holmes."
I smirked. "There are usually two parties who would agree with you," I said.
He huffed his disapproval, but I knew he was just as interested in word from the Yard.
I stood up and crossed the room, plucking my Strad from its case on the way. I took my place by the window and, feigning indifference, began to tune the violin. Once I was satisfied with its sound, and with Watson's attention being now firmly fixed on me, I began to play.
Watson has always loved to listen to me play. I do not say it in any sort of fit of arrogance. I should like to believe he does have a discerning ear for decent music, because the look on his face when I play for him is always one of deep appreciation. I have a generous repertoire of pieces to play, and that morning I moved from one to another with scarcely a pause. After a while, perhaps half an hour, Watson moved finally from the table to his desk, presumably to begin to arrange his notes about the case we had just finished. He picked up his pen and shuffled his papers around, but for a long time he merely sat, having fallen into a brown study.
My attempt at cheering him up was not working. To draw him out again, I switched from the violin part of a concerto to a popular tune I knew he would recognise, but it only brought me a small smile. He shook himself and returned his attention to his work. I had been hoping for more.
Well, I wasn't giving up. The music would provide accompaniment for him as he wrote, and I hoped it would influence him subtly. I played until my well-calloused fingers ached, and I couldn't think of another piece. Watson alternated between working deliberately and staring off into space, and once or twice I caught him looking at me, watching me play. I closed my eyes at those times, immersing myself in the music, and hoping that he would never stop looking.
When I opened my eyes again, invariably his attention would have wandered.
When I finally stopped, Watson looked up, surprised.
"My dear fellow," he said, glancing at the clock, "you've been at it almost three hours."
"Oh," I said, "have I indeed? I hadn't noticed; I was quite lost there for a while."
He smiled, but it was not the bright, cheerfully indulgent smile my Watson would give me on a good day. "I saw that," he said softly. "Should you like to take a break before you wear your fingers to the bone?"
I set the violin down carefully in its case, and went to the mantle for a pipe. I lit it, sucked, and sighed a cloud of smoke into the air. Watson wrinkled his nose and sprinkled sand over his latest page of notes to dry the ink.
It would be very easy to let us both pass the day without much interaction. We frequently sat together for hours on end, not speaking, absorbed in our own work. It was the mark of a strong friendship, I believed, to be able to occupy the same space without needing to communicate verbally. We didn't need to entertain each other, and for that I was grateful.
But today I wanted things to be different.
"I say," said I, "would you like to go for a walk? I'm feeling a bit cooped up after all that fresh air this week-end."
Watson stared at me as though I'd suggested we light the house on fire. "You?" he said. "You hate fresh air."
"I do not," I protested, admittedly taking another draw on my pipe.
He snorted with amusement and stood up. "You complained the whole way to Newcastle that the country air would make you ill."
"I was wrong," I said. "I frequently am, though you never see fit to write it down. Besides, we are home in London now, and it would do me good to fill my lungs once more with the smog of the city."
"Very well," he said. "Let me get my hat."
"And we should stop for lunch," I said, as an afterthought.
Our walk led us southwards along Baker Street to Oxford Street, whereupon we turned right towards Marble Arch, and then south again along Park Lane. Watson has always had a strange fascination with the mansions there— I suspect it has something to do with his self-named North Country origins. Even with all his worldly experience, people in large houses baffle him. Quitting Park Lane, we strolled through Green Park, and eventually found a small restaurant on King Street at which to partake of a light luncheon.
Afterwards, as we left, I insinuated my hand into the crook of Watson's elbow, and we took our time making our way back to Baker Street. The day was pleasantly warm, though humid, and by the time we were back in our sitting room the day had sufficed to raise my spirits considerably.
Watson, however, had not felt the same effects. He declared that he had enjoyed the walk immensely, but I could tell by the way his shoulders drooped and he worried at his moustache that all was not as eternally joyful as I believed it to be.
I was discouraged by my efforts lack of impact, but any more exuberance today would be looked upon with suspicion. I immersed myself in a chemical experiment for the rest of the afternoon and evening, turning down supper with a wave of my hand. Watson rolled his eyes and devoured his food with familiar enthusiasm, and I decided that, at least, meant progress.
The next day, Tuesday, I took him to the theatre in the afternoon. No musical comedy this time, just a play, and I delighted in hearing him laugh. The exercise was somewhat trying on my end, since I prefer the melodious voice of a stringed instrument to the braying of actors. Watson noticed, of course, about halfway through the first act, and leaned over to hiss, "Are you having any fun at all?" in my ear.
I assured him that I was having a grand time, the play was very good, et cetera and so on, but he snorted in disbelief. When the lights came up for the interval, he turned to me and said, "We could leave, if you like."
"No, you're enjoying it," I said. "We'll certainly stay."
He narrowed his eyes at me slightly, assessing, and then said, "If you insist." He knew I was indulging him.
I patted his knee. "I do, my dear fellow. I do."
The rest of the play was bearable, and by the end Watson was on his feet applauding, so I joined him up there.
"Thank you," he said, as we left.
"It was fairly tolerable," I admitted. "The mystery was quite nonsensical, I hope you know."
"Quite," Watson agreed, tapping his walking stick on the pavement as we walked. "Twins usually do make for a perfectly ridiculous misconception."
"Farcical," I said.
By this time we had reached the corner, and I hailed a cab. As it pulled up, I said to Watson, "Would you like to go and have a drink, now?"
"I would like to go home, I think," he said, "and have a drink there. Will that suit?"
"Very well," I said, and gave the driver our address.
Mrs Hudson had made lemonade in our absence, and we drank it gratefully, full of ice, by the open window that looked out onto the street. The early evening traffic was light, mostly pedestrians, and Watson had a look of pleased serenity on his face.
"It is an oasis," I said. "I'm glad for your suggestion, too."
"I was just—" he said, and narrowed his eyes at me. "Show off."
I smirked. "You're like a book, old boy."
His visage shuttered suddenly, his expression darkening. He looked away from me, resisting the urge to tell me off, but for what I couldn't imagine. Sure, I had deduced his thoughts any number of times from where he looked, and for how long, but he had never had any profound objection. I stayed very still, awaiting the result of his internal monologue.
"Yes," he said finally, "I suppose I am."
"Forgive me," I said carefully. "You looked so happy just then."
"I know," Watson said, touching my elbow. "I was. I am. You bring me joy, that is all."
Then what was that look? I wanted to ask, but I knew better.
On Wednesday, I went out early on an errand and was returning when Watson appeared. He raised an eyebrow, but I shrugged and hid the parcel in my coat, and he did not press the matter. It is fortunate that I am known to be an eccentric and an early morning foray into the heart of London does not go remarked upon.
We had a dinner reservation for that evening. Normally, we just drop in at Mancini's, but I wanted to treat him to a proper, dining room meal, and not at his club. When I suggested we go out that evening, he readily agreed and moved to put on his jacket.
"Perhaps," I said, staying his hand, "your black suit coat would not go amiss."
Watson eyed me askance. "Really," he said. He looked down at what he was wearing— perfectly respectable grey tweed, his favourite— and back up at me. Without another word he turned and disappeared upstairs, to return some five or six minutes later in his good tails, ruby waistcoat, and with his top hat under his arm.
"Too much?" he asked. I could tell he had just brushed it.
"Not at all," I replied. I had taken the time to don the same garb, and I caught sight of us in the mirror as we turned towards the door. We were a pretty pair of peacocks, I thought, in our finery. We rarely had occasion to dress up like this— cases never counted, regardless of who our audience might be; I spent enough time crawling around on the floor looking at skirting that I knew better— and it was a treat to see Watson in his best.
Better to see him in his uniform dress, which I knew he still had, stored away upstairs, but that was unlikely. He doubted (quite rightly) that he would fit into it, and indulging so obvious a fantasy about my friend would be inadvisable.
We managed to get a cab at the corner of Baker Street and Watson put his hand under my elbow as I alighted. I called the address to the driver, and his face warmed with pleasure. He smiled at me across the dim carriage.
"Wilton's at St. James," he said.
"Quite so, my boy," I replied, patting his knee. "I thought I should treat you to something nice this week."
"Holmes," he said plaintively, "why? What has got into you? Is this about Newcastle?"
I cleared my throat, suddenly self-conscious, as the cab jolted into motion. He was not a fool, and I had been caught out. "Yes," I admitted, knowing it was better not to try to endure his questioning.
He sighed deeply and rubbed a hand across his face. He took off his hat and put it beside him. "I begged you to forget that."
"I could not," I said firmly. "I did not wish to bring it again to your attention, but I thought you needed a little bit of cheering, this week."
He rolled his eyes and I could see a smile hiding beneath his moustache. "You do too much," he said. "Was that what the play was about?"
"Yes, that too," I said. "I only wanted to see you smile."
He touched my knee gently, as if it were I who needed reassurance. "Thank you," he said. "It's quite unnecessary, though. My mood has quite returned to normal. It was a momentary lapse, I swear it. I don't wish you to concern yourself with something so trivial."
I shrugged. He was lying. My case of the Doctor's Heart was not coming along very successfully, in that I had not yet divined the cause of his distress, but his mood had certainly improved overall. Nonetheless, I doubted that it had been so 'momentary' as he claimed. A shadow still lurked behind his eyes when he thought I wasn't looking, and I had been careful to observe without seeming to as much as possible over the last few days.
Continued in Part II