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The Red Notebook

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.. .. ..

12th January 1883

Another heavy snowfall last night. Holmes had to break the ice on the water bowl this morning before he could wash his face. I preferred to stay in bed and watch. Earned a jibe from Holmes about the sorry sight of a Scotsman gone to seed. Replied with a rather witty riposte of my own. Punished by cold hands and cold kisses.

I flicked through the notebook to another entry.

7th June 1885

Holmes has been in a foul mood since Mrs L-D left. It was admittedly a very disappointing case. I regret the ink wasted writing up the notes I shall never use. Holmes v. curt regarding my attempts to cheer him up. He spent yesterday evening playing something ghastly by Saint-Saens and didn't come to bed until the early hours of the morning.

7th June 1885 cont.

Profuse non-verbal apology from Holmes this afternoon while Mrs Hudson was out. Atmosphere of decided contentment in the sitting room now.

I shut the red leather notebook and laid it on the table next to its blue-bound twin. Its contents had irrevocably changed how I viewed my late brother Sherlock and his friend Dr Watson, and I felt the need for a stiff glass of brandy.

I poured a shot from the decanter on the sideboard, drained it, and set the empty glass down next to the sheet of paper on which I had puzzled out Dr Watson's private code -- though the code itself, in fact, had surely been invented by my late brother rather than the Doctor, for how else to explain the twenty whole minutes I had needed to crack it?

The two notebooks lay there on the desk, outwardly quite innocuous. I sat glaring at them for a long time, and then lifted a hand to rub it across my eyes. My head ached, for the day had been an unusually eventful one, in which I had been forced to deviate from my preferred and well-trodden paths.

The events of the afternoon had tried me severely, and then Fate crowned it all by bringing these two notebooks into my possession.

My problems had begun when Dr Watson failed to turn up for his appointment with me at eleven that morning. These meetings between us were a regular occurence. They had begun almost two years earlier, shortly after my brother's death, and the only pause had come some four months ago, during the mourning period for Mrs Watson. These meetings between Dr Watson and myself were of a literary nature: he always insisted on showing me the proofs of his stories before publication and securing my approval, since I was in some sense the heir of Sherlock's reputation. He preferred to bring them in person, and so it was his habit to come and see me at my club at regular intervals throughout the year.

Dr Watson and I always met in the Visitor's Room, in order to allow us to converse if necessary. The majority of his visit generally passed in silence, however, with me reading and occasionally making a note in the margin, and Dr Watson perusing one of the day's newspapers. We did exchange a few remarks at the beginning and end of his visits, as courtesy demanded, and over the past two years I had grown reasonably well acquainted with him. Before that, I had hardly known him at all. Indeed, my brother's funeral had been only the second time I met Dr Watson.

He had presented me with many stories over the past two years, starting with the tale of the opera singer and the King of Bohemia. Part of me enjoyed them: Dr Watson was a talented storyteller. Part of me was amused by his display of imagination: the majority of the cases, I surmised, were almost entirely fictional. In my position, I should have heard about such events had they in fact taken place. The character of Sherlock Holmes was a reasonably true likeness of my brother, but the rest must be fiction.

Beyond all that, however, the stories chilled me, with their blithely cheerful description of a man now dead. One could never have guessed, reading them, that they were in fact an extended obituary.

It made me worry that Dr Watson's peaceful exterior was a paper-thin facade for a troubled soul.

Be that as it may, Watson was a reliable fellow, for all his flights of imagination, and I had never known him to be so much as five minutes late for an appointment. I waited half an hour, until this deviation from my planned agenda became too much for me to bear. I sent Simmons, the doorkeeper's boy, to Watson's home to investigate. He returned with the information that no one was answering the door, but that he thought he could see a light burning in Watson's upstairs window.

For a moment I toyed with the idea of simply calling the police and letting them do the legwork. However, a missed apointment and a light burning in the middle of the afternoon are not usually sufficient reason to involve the police, even for a man of my standing. Moreover, this was my dear departed brother's intimate friend, after all. Surely that called for a little exertion on my part. I ordered a cab and bade the Simmons boy accompany me.

Watson had been living in Kensington since he left Baker Street, in a house which also served as his surgery. I saw at a glance as I descended from the cab that his neighbour -- also a doctor -- had had a far more succesful practice than he over the past few years.

A few minutes' hammering on the door brought not the slightest response from inside the house.

"Like I said," muttered the boy, sounding vindicated.

Unlike my brother, I have never been in the habit of carrying around a set of lockpicks and jemmies. Today, however, I had foreseen the necessity before leaving my club, and Simmons Sr. had been able to provide me with appropriate tools. Within a minute I was ascending the stairs to the first floor, the Simmons boy pressing impatiently at my heels.

The front upstairs room clearly served as Watson's office. Watson himself was slumped in a dead faint across his desk. A gas lamp was burning on the wall behind him, presumably since some time the previous night.

To my relief he stirred slightly when I laid my hand on his shoulder.

I sent the boy next door for the doctor, while I searched Watson's medical supplies for a bottle of smelling salts. Once he was somewhat revived, I helped him to the sofa in the corner of his office and tried to make him comfortable.

I was now at leisure to examine more closely the details I had noted when I first entered the room. Two heavy, leather-bound notebooks lay on Watson's desk, one red and one blue. One of them was open and an uncapped fountain pen rested in the crease between the pages, as though the doctor had fainted in the very act of writing. One of the drawers in Watson's desk was ajar, and on the desk lay a small key, which I soon determined fit the open drawer. The implication was obvious: Watson was in the habit of keeping the two notebooks under lock and key.

Watson was not quite unconscious, and probably aware of my movements. Social etiquette thus forbade me from anything more than the limited visual inspection at that time.

I heard Watson's neighbour and colleague, Dr Cripps, on the stairs just then, and stepped out to greet him.

Some ten minutes later he came to find me in the downstairs drawing room, looking grave. Nervous exhaustion, apparently, was the diagnosis, and the prescription bed rest.

"His recent bereavement must certainly have contributed to this," the doctor went on. "I hadn't realised -- that is, one doesn't like to intrude -- "

I understood from this that Watson's neighbour had not called upon him since Mrs Watson's funeral, though Watson had sent out his cards several months since, a few weeks after the death; I had received one myself and paid the necessary call of condoleance. Dr Cripps was clearly feeling guilty now about that deficiency in behaviour. As a neighbour and a colleague, he ought to have paid Watson a similar call.

I had in fact been feeling concerned about Dr Watson for quite some time. Each time I saw him in the four months since his wife's death, he had looked more and more dreadful. I was surely in no position to mentally criticise Watson's neighbour, for I had not done anything about my concerns either.

The doctor cleared his throat.

"He should have someone to look after him," he went on. "Perhaps a female relative -- ?"

He looked at me hesitantly, clearly not having puzzled out my relationship to Dr Watson. I had introduced myself only by name.

"There is no one suitable," I said, for I knew Dr Watson had no immediate family, neither of his own nor through his marriage.

"I can recommend a nurse -- "

We were organising the details when we were interrupted by the arrival of the lady who came in to do for Dr Watson each afternoon -- something in the nature of a housekeeper. She immediately proceeded to express her surprise and alarm upon learning her employer's state. Fortunately, the doctor was far more skilled than I at dealing with female histrionics and its lesser cousins, and I was spared the necessity of interacting with her myself.

The two of them moved Watson to his bedroom. The doctor returned to find me in the sitting room and gave me the news that Watson was now sleeping peacefully.

Cripps took his leave, and I desired the housekeeper to bring me something in the way of luncheon, for it was already two in the afternoon and I was beginning to feel quite put out. This was the first time in five years I had had to displace my luncheon hour.

The nurse arrived while I was sitting in Watson's drawing room with an after-lunch port, gathering my forces. This unaccustomed activity had been exhausting.

While the housekeeper saw to the nurse's installation, I returned to Watson's office. At the very least, I felt responsible for returning those notebooks to their locked drawer, safe from prying eyes. First, however, I intended to satisfy my curiosity.

My late brother had always been far more scrupulous than I. I believe he would not have approved of what I now intended to do. I was not Sherlock, and I did not scruple to sit down with a cup of tea and my reading matter.

Half an hour later, I was in quite a different mood than when I started. A quick glance through the blue notebook, first, had shown notes which I recognised as having eventually been transformed into the stories I had read before their publication. It was something in the nature of a cross between a record of events experienced, and the notes made by an author as he sketches out a work of fiction. It was written mostly in longhand, modified by a system of simple abbreviations easy to understand. It was a fascinating read. I had long wondered which elements of Dr Watson's stories were true or false. Not having been present for the events in question, the question was a difficult one to answer.

Now, however, I had access to what seemed to be a truer version of events: the red notebook. Watson's record, in the form of a diary, of ten years spent with my brother. Ten years in rather more intimate circumstances than I had previously supposed.

Of course I was already perfectly well aware of my brother's particular regard for his friend, and of its reciprication. I had deduced as much when I met Watson briefly at my club in '85, in my brother's company. However, the relationship had progressed somewhat further and the sentiments were much deeper than I had believed. Indeed, it had progressed to a level that anyone must call illegal, and that a more punctilious man than I would have called immoral.

I assumed this was one of the reasons Sherlock had not encouraged an acquaintance between myself and his fellow lodger. Commendably prudent of him, of course, but after his death I now saw things in a different light. I would even go so far as to say I regretted it.

After a topup to my glass of brandy, I sat down in my armchair by the fire and opened the red notebook again.

I was perfectly well aware that Dr Watson had not intended these words for my eyes, or indeed for anyone's. That would have been clear even had the diary not been written in code. I read on regardless. Perhaps I was simply prurient. Or perhaps I had the excuse of wanting to see my brother come alive again before my eyes.

.. .. ..

26 December 1881

I write this using the beautiful green fountain pen with which Holmes surprised me yesterday. The word 'surprised' is a little strong, perhaps: it was Christmas Day, after all. But we were -- and are -- in the middle of a case, and I had quite resigned myself to postponing the exchange of gifts until a more convenient moment.

Instead, I was woken at six on Christmas morning by a grubby dock-worker sitting on my bedspread. He kissed me, handed me a small parcel wrapped in silver paper, and bade me meet him at the south entrance of Hyde Park at 11 o'clock for a morning call on Mr Wilfred Finch.

Mr Finch was not at home when we called, and I am quite sure that was what Holmes had expected and counted upon. He had resumed his habitual appearance and attire by this time; indeed, he seemed to have made a particular effort to look dashing and respectable. He soon charmed, or rather overwhelmed, Mrs Finch into giving us free rein of the sitting room where last Saturday's peculiar incident took place. I am not quite sure what he found there, but I could see perfectly well he was delighted with it and with himself. After apologising once more for disturbing Mrs Finch on Christmas morning itself, I hurried Holmes back to Baker Street just in time for Mrs Hudson's Christmas dinner.

Last Christmas I was in the troopship Orontes, halfway through the long journey back to England. My health was in ruins and I had nothing and no one to look forward to in my home country. Indeed, it felt like I was returning 'home' only in the most abstract of senses.

Yesterday, I had Christmas dinner with my dearest friend, watching him sparkle and amuse me. My health is almost completely restored, and more importantly, I have rediscovered the taste for life. I believe I shall ever look back on 1881 as one of the best years in my life to date. How could it not be, when it was the year in which I met Holmes?

A year ago, broken and ill, I never could have imagined that I would find myself, happy, contented, in love --

.. .. ..

I take up my pen after a gap of several hours, having been distracted by Holmes' request that I accompany him to the Finches' once more. Mr Finch confessed to everything: the duplicity, the ruse, the desire to swindle his wife. The case was a most peculiar one. My notes on it are copious. It is the kind of case that makes me feel someone should really write it down and publish it. I told Holmes as much just now and earned one of his genuine laughs.

"I certainly intend to add a few paragraphs on the case to my soot monograph," he said, for his identification of the origins of the soot in the Finches' sitting room fireplace -- burnt bedlinen -- had been instrumental in the case's resolution. "But I have a strange feeling that that's not quite what you have in mind."

He is lying on the bed beside me now, reading my own Christmas gift to him: a copy of Owen's 'New View of Society'. This is one of those occasions on which I dearly wish I could draw or sketch. I should like to preserve him like that forever. He is lying with one knee bent, and the other leg stretched out beside mine. His book is angled towards the lamplight, his face cast into sharp highlights and shadows.

His free hand is resting on my arm, his finger idly stroking my skin, an action responsible for all of the ink blotches in the previous paragraph.

Holmes, too, I believe, has spent a happier Christmas than in a long time, as he told me yesterday in the most indirect way possible.

"I see now what is meant by the cheer of Christmas," he said thoughtfully, over dessert. "I had rather thought it was just a myth."

I looked up in the act of spooning out a large helping of plum pudding.

For his next words, his voice took on a sudden dry tone, as though he felt he'd said too much.

"I hope that pudding is not intended for me, Watson."

"Mrs Hudson won't be pleased if we don't eat it all," I said. "You know how she is."

"Mrs Hudson would do well to remember that I am not a goose for fattening," Holmes said, but he took the pudding all the same, and followed it up with a mince pie and cream too.

Now, I see, Holmes has laid aside his book. I think I shall do likewise with my pen.

It has been a wonderful Christmas. And many more like it to come, I hope.

.. .. ..

As I read the shadows had lengthened and the daylight in Watson's office had faded. Now I closed the red notebook and stood up to light the lamp, and then to lock the notebooks away in Dr Watson's desk drawer.

I met the nurse on the landing, just coming out of Dr Watson's room.

"Is he -- ?" I began.

"I think you may step in to see him for a moment, sir, if you wish."

Watson was lying propped up on a mound of pillows. His eyes fluttered opened when he heard me enter. He looked positively gaunt, his moustache too big for his thin face. He was a far cry from the stout fellow my brother had presented to me many years early, and thinner even than the Watson I had known since Sherlock's death.

"Mr Holmes," he said in a thick voice. He winced, and cleared his throat. "Mr Holmes, I didn't expect -- How do you do?"

He looked confused, and still not quite awake.

"Better than you, I fear, doctor." I had noticed the remains of soup and bread on a tray by the bed and I added, "Though perhaps your evening meal has revived you a little?"

He thanked me distractedly for my concern, still looking confused.

"May I ask, Mr Holmes -- "

I explained that it was I who had called in Dr Cripps that morning, and waved away his apologies when memories of our missed appointment returned to him.

"But you're still here -- ?"

For a second, I was almost at a lost to explain my own presence. To come here, and to stay here, had simply seemed the right and rational thing to do. It occurred to me that he was in some sense family, particularly in light of the day's revelations.

"I didn't like to leave you in the hands of an unknown nurse," I explained. "By the by, I have imposed on your hospitality to the extent of lunch and several glasses of port."

I had no intention of telling him what else I had spent the afternoon doing, of course. It pained me to dissimulate with Dr Watson, but I doubted it could be a good idea to reveal to him while bedridden that I had been reading his diaries. The shock could only be detrimental to his recovery. I would speak to him about the matter, but later.

"Now I must go, Doctor, but I'll return tomorrow."

He tried simultaneously to thank me and to dissuade me, no mean feat for a man with only half his wits about him.

"Nonsense," I said. "In fact, I feel positively obliged to check on you once more tomorrow. Someone who was such a close friend of my brother's cannot but be a friend of mine."

That statement was open to interpretation; indeed one could call it an outright lie, for I had done my best to avoid Sherlock's friends, and indeed Sherlock himself, for many years. His friends were so few that the task was easy; avoiding my brother himself had not cost me a pang either. How peculiar that one never thinks such things as death will intervene, and make one bitterly regret past behaviour.

Dr Watson sank back onto the pillows, looking exhausted.

It occurred to me that he too must have his regrets. How did he go from the happiness I read about with my brother to living married and then widowed in Kensington?

.. .. ..

Before I left I returned to Dr Watson's office, unable to resist one final glimpse into my brother's life. I sat in the same seat I had taken before and picked up the notebooks.

The years my brother spent living in Baker Street were a period for which I had only the sketchiest notions of his life. Most of what I did know, I had learnt after his death through Dr Watson's stories, unreliable as they were.

Watson had published only two stories before my brother's death, one detailing their first case, and another an exotic fictionalisation of the circumstances under which he met his wife. I had read them, of course, but casually and out of mild curiosity, paying less attention to them than to the report on board school inspections I'd read the same day.

Strange how much more avidly I had read Watson's subsequent stories.

Watson had been there when Sherlock died, I knew. It was almost two and half years previously, just outside London, some months after my brother's thirty-seventh birthday. I knew exactly which page to turn to in Watson's notebook, for the date was engraved in my memory. A poor choice of words, that, 'engraved', one that conjured visions of tombstones - of my brother's tombstone.

But I could not bear to read that portion of the journal tonight. Instead, I flipped back to a time in my brother's life some ten years earlier, when he and Dr Watson had only just met.

 

10th April 1881

Holmes is a most peculiar fellow. It's fortunate I have a strong stomach, and my nose is not overly sensitive. Though I didn't hesitate to put my foot down when it came to ammoniacal fumes before nine in the morning, and shall do so again if necessary!

Holmes seems surprised I'm still here, as a matter of fact. I get the impression he thought I should scarcely last two weeks in our shared lodgings. What he probably doesn't realise, however, is that I have nowhere else to go.

 

I skipped forward another few pages.

 

27th May 1881

Haven't written here for several days. Much too busy recording the facts of that extraordinary business in Walthamstow in my other notebook. Holmes was incredible. I shall certainly insist he takes me with him next time he goes on one of his "cases".

 

11th August 1881

Sent off my story about South Sea pirates last week, but it has already been returned. I wonder if they even bother to read my submissions.

Perhaps the American Wild West is a better bet.

 

2nd September 1881

Holmes has sprained his ankle, poor fellow. In fact I pity myself as much as him, for he is being so dreadfully bad tempered.

I managed to persuade him to send me on the MacNamara case in his stead, and acquitted myself tolerably, I believe. At any rate, Mrs Wyatt is delighted.

 

19th September 1881

I haven't put pen to paper for the past week, for I scarcely know how to express what I feel.

All I will say is that my dear Holmes has been in an extraordinarily good mood all week, and so have I, and with good reason. How lucky we are to have found each other!

 

31th March 1882

Just back from Devon this morning. Holmes outshone local police, of course, and wrapped up the case in a matter of hours. I was surprised to learn that the old man was the culprit after all, but rather pleased when Holmes told me it was my observation re: the exit wound that first put him on the right track. Shall probably be called as an expert witness myself at the trial.

 

11th May 1882

Holmes out all day, apparently returned while I was out just for long enough to cover the floor with muddy footprints and fill the air with the stench of ammonia. Lord, I could murder that man some days!

 

15th September 1882

Took Holmes to Dvorak's Serenade for Strings at St James' yesterday. For most of the evening he affected not to remember of which date today is the anniversary, or why I wanted to celebrate. Last night I was heartily thanked, however.

 

1st October 1883

This infernal fog has kept us cooped up all day. Holmes would not hesitate to venture out for a case, of course, but this is not exactly the weather for a stroll in the park. For the past half an hour he has been sawing away at a lump of wood using a lady's nail file, for some peculiar reason known only to himself. I do believe the noise will soon drive me insane.

 

6th January 1884

Holmes confesses that when he was younger, he hated having a birthday that was overshadowed by Twelfth Night, the mummers and so on. I promised him dinner at Simpson's and a quiet night in, and that I would make sure he enjoyed the one just as much as the other. I'm pleased to say I managed to raise a blush, even after three years together.

Thirty years old... I hope we shall see sixty together.

 

26th July 1885

Glorious weather, clear skies, bright sunshine. Very glad I persuaded Holmes to come here. He was convinced it would rain, this being the West of Scotland. He's sitting on a heather-strewn hillock two feet from me now, looking more relaxed than I've seen him all year.

He is in charge of finding our path, and now he's dug out the map from his rucksack. I see I had better put my pen and notebook away, for I shall soon be called upon to press on. We hope to reach Fort William by nightfall.

 

20th October 1886

Holmes is being very smug at the moment, but I must admit he deserves it. The Loughlin case had the police force in three counties stumped.

 

19th July 1887

It's intolerably hot in London at the moment, but Holmes is in the middle of a case. Perhaps in August we can go away to the Highlands again.

 

28 December 1887

When I arrived home this afternoon, I saw what I'd been waiting for since the middle of December: Holmes curled up on the sofa, reading Beeton's Christmas Annual.

The case I chose to write up was our very first, six years ago. I didn't quite expect the editor to accept a short story from an unknown, untried author, but he did, and to the tune of a guinea in advance -- a guinea which I converted into a rather handsome pipe for Holmes for Christmas.
He didn't yet know the source of my sudden fortune, however. I kept the whole thing a secret from him.

Now I would finally get his reaction.

I removed my outerwear, and took my armchair by the fire, watching Holmes all the while. Finally he looked up and met my eye. He held up the album with a small dry smile.

"You are making me into a public figure," he observed, his tone neutral.

This wasn't what I had been expecting at all. I had hoped he'd be pleased, though I hadn't discounted the possibility he would mock me, or even produce a list of necessary corrections and clarifications on his methods. But this odd, neutral tone, with something that worried me hidden underneath -- this I couldn't understand.

"Well, yes, I suppose you could put it that way," I admitted.

"Hmm."

I still couldn't make out what he was thinking.

"I thought you would be pleased," I said. "The publicity -- "

Holmes' cases mostly come to him by word of mouth, or the police, though he has advertised on occasion. He has also featured in the newspapers several times, more and more frequently in recent years.

"It's true that it cannot but be useful for my business." He sat there for a moment, tapping his finger against the magazine. "But I hope we won't come to regret it someday."

This was said in a quiet, almost inaudible voice.

"Regret it?" I echoed.

"We have one very strong reason for not wishing to draw attention, Watson."

"Oh."

I hadn't thought of that.

Seeing my downcast looks, he held out his hand and I came towards him. He drew me into an embrace.

"On the other hand," he said after a few minutes, and I could hear a smile in his voice, "We could also see it as an opportunity for misdirection. A few references to your conquests of the females of India, and a few suggestions that my devotion to science makes me indifferent to, ah, carnal concerns of all types... Yes, why not?"

I smiled. "Sounds like an excellent idea."

.. .. ..

I called at Dr Watson's home in Kensington quite early the following morning.

"You may see him for a few minutes if you're quiet," the nurse told me. "I'll just get him sitting up first.

Watson seemed a good deal better. His face had regained its habitual ruddy tinge, and a book on the coverlet betrayed that there had been some attempt at reading this morning.

We exchanged greetings, the doctor obviously attempting to hide his surprise to see me here. At that point, I hesitated. I had come here undecided as to how I would act, telling myself that it would depend on how I found Watson. Now, I saw he was clearly improved, even if his nurse still insisted on peace and quiet. I could no longer use that excuse to put off a most unpleasant task.

I took the two notebooks from my pocket and laid them down on his bedside table.

Watson looked at them for a long, considering moment, and then turned to me.

"I suppose you broke his code?" he said, sounding surprisingly calm.

"Ah, it was indeed my brother's invention, then?" I said. "I thought it must have been, for it was wonderfully clever." I paused. "I hope you won't take that as an insult, doctor."

He gave me a small, joyless smile.

"I lived with your brother for seven years, Mr Holmes. I don't believe there's anything a Holmes could say which would insult me."

The smile soon disappeared, and he turned to look at the notebooks again. I was about to speak, when Watson beat me to it.

"You may read them, if you like."

I was used to being in complete control of every situation. This threw me, and therefore displeased me.

"Oh?" I said noncommittally.

He continued in the same neutral tone.

"In fact, I presume you've already finished, but I thought your conscience might appreciate the balm."

I allowed one eyebrow to rise up.

"You're angry with me, Dr Watson."

That didn't deserve an answer, nor did he give it one.

He reached out and touched the red notebook, running a finger slowly down its leather cover. He had turned away from me, and I couldn't see his face.

It occurred to me that this was a man who had lost everything he cared about, and had nothing else left to lose.

One could say the same thing about me, perhaps, but then I had very little to start off with, and so was deserving, surely, of no one's pity.

I wondered if Watson were expecting me to apologise to him. If I did, any remorse I professed would be a lie. On behalf of the British government I had already committed -- many times over -- the dishonourable act of reading someone else's private correspondence or diary.

"Prudence tells me to advise you to destroy these compromising documents," I said stiffly.

"I'm quite sure you're the only man in London who could have broken that code, Mr Holmes. Besides, I think you haven't actually finished reading, have you?"

This last, he said in a wry, almost amused tone.

Unable to think of a suitable answer, I said nothing. The whole conversation was getting out of my control, in a way I was completely unaccustomed to.

Watson sighed.

"Very well. I shall burn them this evening."

"No!"

The exclamation had escaped me before I could help it.

Watson looked up at me, surprise plainly writ on his face.

"My brother and I were not close, Dr Watson," I said quickly. "You know that better than anyone. Until last night, everything I know about his private life over the past decade, I had deduced from certain details of his appearance or behaviour on the handful of occasions we met. Now -- "

I stopped abruptly, feeling I had revealed quite enough of my private thoughts.

"Now it's too late," Watson finished the sentence where I could not, and if his breath caught a little in his throat, I could hardly blame him.

He picked up the red notebook, the compromising one, the one that held the truth, and held it in his hands for a moment.

"I don't need it," he said softly. "He's in my head. But I admit I'd hate to burn it." He held it out to me. "What I said a minute ago in anger, I repeat now. Read it if you want."

I could only stare at him. Here was a brave, generous man indeed.

I could not understand my brother's impulse to be overtly affectionate and even physically intimate with another person, but I could understand what he had found to admire in Dr Watson.

.. .. ..

7th March 1888

This morning Holmes dropped a bombshell on me over breakfast.

"I'm thinking of retiring," he said, quite calmly.

I almost choked on my tea.

"At the age of thirty-four?" I exclaimed, as soon as I was able to speak again.

He went on buttering his toast.

"I believe it would be advisable, yes."

"But Holmes -- why? "

He looked at me calmly, as if he hadn't just suggested the unthinkable over breakfast.

"If you're finished eating, perhaps you would be so good as to fetch me the letter H." He nodded towards the corner which held his filing system. "The second volume -- that's where you'll find the entry 'Holmes'."

I did as I was bidden, and came back with one of the large cardboard dossiers which contained his files.

Under 'Holmes', I found an enormous collection of newspaper clippings. I knew he had been keeping these -- not from vanity, but from a sense of completion -- but I had not realised just quite how many there were.

I looked more closely at the text: Holmes here, Holmes there, Mr Holmes and his assistant, a quote from Holmes' friend and partner Dr Watson.

"We are rather well known, you know," he said quietly.

I knew that, of course, but I hadn't been paying attention to just how well known we were. I went on looking through the file.

The clippings were arranged by year. One was from before we met, a passing reference to 'assistance from a member of the public'; several references from our early years together; a clipping of the first time I had served as medical expert in a trial; in 1883, the first reference to 'the detective Mr Holmes'; in 1887 the 'well-known detective Mr Sherlock Holmes', later in the year a clipping from Beeton's, this year, 1888, a positive explosion of clippings.

Then he handed me the correspondence files. I know them very well, since it's my task to keep them up to date. At first there was 'recommended to me by a trusted acquaintance', 'my friend Mr Westerdale assured me', 'after the enormous help you were to my landlady Mrs Porter'. Later it was 'as I read in the Chronicle', 'having heard of the excellent work you did in the Michelstone case', 'impressed by the efficacy of your intervention on behalf of His Lordship, which I read about in the Times'.

Finally, there came the piles of letters from this year, incessant telegrams from the Yard, several invitations to speak at Burlington House... even Gentlemen's Friend wanted to interview him about his taste in hats.

"We are a success, Watson," he said. "An enormous success."

"Isn't that a good thing?"

Instead of answering, he selected one of the more recent clippings, and handed it to me.

It was dated soon after his very public intervention in and testimony at the trial of the Earl of Orkney's murderer, and referred to that trial in the first paragraph, before raising the subject of the "inevitable speculation about one of London's most eligible bachelors. Which pretty young client will be the first to turn his head?" they asked.

"I had no idea gossip columnists took an interest in murder trials," I said weakly.

"They take an interest in the private lives of all public figures. I am an avid reader of the gossip columns myself, as you know, Watson. Their contents have often proven invaluable in one case or another. But I must admit I never set out to feature in them myself."

I placed the clipping carefully back in its place in the file. An unpleasant heaviness had settled in the pit of my stomach.

"Is this because of my novel?" I asked, thinking of the adventure story I published last year, under the title 'A Study in Scarlet'.

"Partly," he said. "Only partly. The de Winter case certainly had something to do with it. Also that business with young Lord Marlborough's kidnapping. These are the sort of cases that make headlines, Watson."

Neither of us needed to point out that such notoriety was not particularly compatible with the secret life we led.

"You can't retire, Holmes," I exclaimed. "You love this work."

"I love you," he said.

It was only the third or fourth time he had ever said that to me, but I was too upset now to stop to appreciate it.

"It's not a choice, Holmes. It's not a question of either/or. For my part, I refuse to give up either thing."

Holmes didn't answer, and I frowned at him, annoyed and frustrated.

"Surely you're being overly dramatic, Holmes! After all, we have lived in a state of, well, continuous criminality for years now, and no one has ever been any the wiser."

Holmes sat looking down at a rather decent sketch of the two of us in the London Illustrated News.

"I cannot give you up either," he said quietly.

I reached out to cover his hand with mine.

"Then we shan't," I said firmly.

.. .. ..

I looked at the date again. March 1888. And yet they did give each other up, I thought, for six months later Watson moved out of Baker Street. And early the following year, as far as I understood, he began to court the lady who became the late Mrs Watson.

I turned over another few pages, another few months.

Watson seemed to have written very little about his courtship of Mary Morstan. I had already read his account of that time in his second published novel. It was obvious now how much he had changed and left out -- not that I had ever believed that tall tale about the one-legged convict and the Rajah's treasure.

Miss Morstan truly was one of Sherlock's clients, though. She was a governess, and her employer Mrs Cecil Forrester had a pearl necklace that had mysteriously lost one pearl per day for the past six days. The case, though intriguing at first glance, turned out to have a trivial explanation, and the affair was distinguished only by being one of those Watson still participated in, despite having already moved to Kensington. He had seen a great deal of Miss Morstan over the course of the case -- my brother seemed to have gone out of his way to throw them together.

And yet he loved Watson, that much was obvious. The whole thing was completely incomprehensible to me.

Love, for me, has always been an area of study rather than of personal experience. I have devoted a great deal of time to its study, in fact, for it can drive a man to dishonesty, to crime, even to treason, and naturally an understanding of these driving forces is of great use to me in my work.

Whenever I had given the matter any thought, I had assumed Sherlock to be formed from the same mold as myself. The thought of my brother being in love was quite alien to me. The idea that Watson could love two people at once was even more so. I had previously observed that society tends to admit of only one strong attachment at a time, leading me to conclude that human nature dictated it thus. Still, I was willing to accept Watson's testimony that it was possible, even natural to him.

And yet how foolish of him! Had he not loved twice over, he would have suffered less.

I did not read further, because I knew what losses the following years brought, for Watson and for myself. Instead I turned back the pages, to the days before Watson met Mary Morstan.

 

4th August 1888

Holmes and I have come to a decision. We will take the wisest and most prudent path. Or should I say cowardly? I don't know. I shan't write more of it here. I don't think I can.

 

10th September 1888

Called around to see Holmes today. It is impossible to make a clean break, it seems. I miss him dreadfully.

He is terribly cold, and won't touch me even in the most innocent of ways. We spoke of his current cases, of the weather, of Mrs Hudson's geraniums.

It is how he has chosen to deal with this, I know. I only wish I found it easier to follow his lead.

 

2nd October 1888

It is impossible for us to go back to the way things were in the earlier days of our acquaintance, when we were only good friends. Impossible after what we have been to each other.

But what if we had stayed that way? What if Holmes had never laid his hand on mine and raised an eyebrow at me, that evening so long ago? We would never have had seven years of happiness. But at the moment I feel I would gladly give that up just to get back a tiny fraction of our friendship.

.. .. ..

I laid the notebook down on my desk, feeling a peculiar, unfamiliar tightness in my throat.

I was accustomed to brushing up against human tragedy in my work, in the form of reports and facts and figures: battalions of soldiers lost in battle, secret agents who disappeared without trace, Government ministers committing suicide, train crashes and coal mine disasters. Never before had I thought about the broken hearts left behind.

Why had they allowed themselves to love? Why would any sensible man do that?

.. .. ..

The next time I called on Dr Watson, the following evening, I was surprised to find him not in bed, but in his office. His desk was covered in scattered sheets of paper, as though I had disturbed him hard at work.

Once we had exchanged the conventional pleasantries and were seated, he picked up a sheaf of papers, tapped it into a neat stack, and held it up for me to see.

"This is the manuscript of a story I finished this evening. I should like to ask you to look over it, if I may, as you've been so obliging as to do for my others." After an almost undetectable pause, he added, "It will certainly be the last one I write."

I hid my surprise, but I could not help but feel it, and on several accounts. Watson was pale and drawn, with enormous shadows under his eyes. He looked like he had spent the whole day writing furiously. I questioned the wisdom of his having sat down to write again, so soon after collapsing over his writing desk. Indeed, I questioned the wisdom of his even being out of bed so soon.

I was not my brother-in-law's keeper, however, and I said nothing. The manuscript was already written now, and I found that I was willing, even eager, to read it. As always, the chance to see my brother alive again proved too great a temptation to overcome.

"I should be pleased to do so, doctor. Now, if you like."

He pushed the stack of papers across the desk towards me.

"It's very kind of you." After a moment's pause, he got to his feet. "Help yourself to a drink. I shall be in the surgery, seeing to some paperwork."

As soon as I was alone, I looked down at the first sheet of paper, covered in handwriting I was by now extremely familiar with. The manuscript was entitled, ominously, The Final Problem.

I poured myself a drink, and settled down to read.

A chill ran through me when I discovered, within the very first paragraph, that this was the tale of Sherlock Holmes' death.

For the next half hour I read, oblivious to the world around me. I read the story of the mysterious, all-powerful villain Moriarty, the Napoleon of crime; Sherlock and Watson's sudden departure for the Continent; their final week together exploring the snowy mountains and valleys of the Swiss Alps; the terrifying falls of Reichenbach, and the two sets of footprints which led to the edge, none returning. I read of Sherlock Holmes' final letter, and his heroic death, plunging with his arch-enemy into the raging torrent.

Lord, how I wished that was indeed how my brother had died! I wished he had died heroically and usefully. I wished he had gone knowingly, and with time to write a farewell letter, instead of slipping on muddy grass and falling into the Thames, while on a case of no particular interest or importance.

I hadn't been present, of course. Nor had I later visited the spot, which was somewhat outside London on the seaward side, just past Greenhithe wharves. I had read the police report, however, many times over. I knew it was five o'clock in the evening, on May 4th, 1891. It was raining heavily at the time, and the ebb tide was running at five miles an hour. The witnesses, all policemen besides Watson, saw my brother sucked below the surface by an undertow, before they lost sight of him in the heavy rain. And so he joined the dozens of people who drown in that dangerous section of the tidal Thames every year, and are swept out to sea.

I also knew, though it wasn't in the police report, that Lestrade had hit Watson over the head to stop him following my brother into the river in a hopeless attempt to save him, and that Watson hadn't spoken to him for days afterward, until the funeral.

I knew that when the news sank in I had truly understood, for the first time in my life, what it meant to feel connected to another human being. It wasn't rational to miss a man I saw no more often than once every three years or so. But I missed Sherlock more keenly and painfully than I had even thought possible.

When Watson returned to the room, I was sitting with the manuscript in my lap, staring into space.

"I should like to publish that," Watson said abruptly, an edge of grim determination in his voice, as though he had to convince himself as much as to convince me.

"But you can't," I said without thinking, and then caught myself.

I was no psychologist, but I had been worried by Watson's strange fantasy world, where Sherlock was still alive and solving crime with dash and elegance. And truth be told -- I now realised -- I had clung to it myself, just as Watson had.

I rarely saw or communicated with my brother while he was alive. I only heard about him in the newspapers, or saw his hand at work in the private reports and records I dealt with in Westminster. Reading Watson's stories had brought me closer to him than at any time in our lives before, and I found myself suddenly very reluctant to give that up.

Watson was looking at me, the expression in his eyes far more understanding than I cared for.

"He's dead, Mr Holmes," he said quietly.

I could hear the second, unspoken sentence. Just... let him die like that, please.

I looked down at the manuscript, swallowing the unexpected wave of unidentifiable emotion that rose up in my throat.

"Let me -- I should like to appear in it," I said suddenly.

Watson's eyes widened, but he only said, "Of course."

It was a foolish impulse, and revealed far too much about myself. But now that I had voiced the request it was too late to withdraw it.

I picked up the manuscript and shuffled the sheets of paper together in my hands, making a neat stack once more. It was a wrench to hand it over. It felt like it was the last thing of Sherlock's I had.

.. .. ..

I surprised myself by calling on Dr Watson several times over the following months. Indeed, on his account I left my habitual well-worn daily path between Pall Mall and Whitehall on more occasions during the winter of '93 than in the preceding decade.

We spoke about many things: science, politics, art. Neither of us went out into society, attended the theatre, the opera, or even lectures at London's learned societies. But we both read widely, and I soon discovered Watson was a highly intelligent man and a pleasure to converse with.

He had stopped writing, of course. How could he continue, after an ending like that?

The story he had called The Final Problem appeared in the Strand. I bought a copy and left it lying in my desk drawer for several days, until I finally picked it up. I leafed through the first few pages, following once more the events as they unfolded in London, my brother facing up against the Napoleon of crime. I paused at one point, unable to suppress a smile when I found myself among the cast of characters, in disguise as a coachman. A few paragraphs later saw my brother and Watson on the way to Switzerland together. I sat for a long moment, staring blankly at the page, and remembering what came next.

Then I laid the magazine aside and quickly turned to a technical report about newly opened railways lines in the North.

Over the next few months, I continued to call on Dr Watson. Sometimes we spoke about my brother. On one of those quiet evenings by Watson's fire, we even came to talk of the day he died.

"Lestrade hit me over the head, did you know?" Watson said. "I was furious. Wouldn't talk to him for days. He was right, though, of course. I couldn't have done that to Mary." The lines around his mouth deepened. "That was just after she first fell ill."

"And the case?" I said. "The case that took you to Greenhithe."

"Oh, Lestrade solved that himself, a few weeks later. Holmes was right about the Greenhithe connection, of course. It turned out to be some fellows from the Nautical Training College just up the road." His lip twisted at the irony. "It was a very straightforward affair, actually."

We sat in silence for a little while, sipping our drinks.

"It was only by purest coincidence that I was there," Watson said finally. "I was involved in very few of your brother's cases that year, you know." He raised his head to look at me. "At the time, my moving out of Baker Street seemed like the only possible course of action. Now... I can't really remember what we were thinking anymore."

On another evening, we fell into the topic of Sherlock's childhood and our family. Watson seemed fascinated. It was clear my brother had not shared many details about that part of his life.

"Sherlock was always a contrary child," I said. "We are separated by ten years, you know, and our father died young -- but that certainly didn't mean Sherlock was willing to bow to my authority."

"I can't quite imagine him bowing to anyone's authority," Watson admitted with the hint of a smile.

He rose to pour another drink for me and for himself. We sat in companionable silence before the fire for a while, until I rose to take my leave. As always, I promised to call again some other evening in the near future.

The next time I called, however, it wasn't evening. It was three in the afternoon, but I had received a letter which had so overwhelmed me, and which concerned Watson so closely, that I could not possibly wait.

Watson was just showing out a patient as I arrived. He greeted me in a manner that clearly showed how much this deviation from my routine had surprised him.

"I've had some news," I said. "Some good news. I -- "

I hardly knew how to express myself. I was still in a state of shock, and hardly believed the news myself.

"You don't look well, Mr Holmes," Watson said, looking poised to don the guise of a medical man if necessary.

"Perhaps we could go into your surgery," I suggested.

He ushered me in, and I began to speak the instant we were seated.

"I have received a letter from a certain Dr Wan, a surgeon in the employ of the French army in Indochina, and currently stationed in a prisoner-of-war camp near Saigon."

Watson's eyes widened at that, but he let me continue.

I produced the letter itself from my pocket. I had read it so often the thin paper was already beginning to wear at the edges.

"Let me read you the relevant part of his letter," I said.

My surgical assistant, a Norwegian by the name of Sigerson, received a blow to the head in a fall from a mango tree two days ago. He has suddenly gained, or regained, the ability to speak English, along with -- by his claims -- a whole lifetime of memories previously unknown to him. He now claims to be an Englishman by the name of Sherlock Holmes, who was apparently a person of some renown in your country several years ago, although I'm sorry to say I'm not familiar with the name myself. The fact that Sigerson has fixed on the identity of a person of some celebrity to claim as his own makes me suspect he is delusional. However, besides that he is perfectly lucid and appears to be in excellent mental condition.

He has given me your name and address, and I enclose a letter from him with this missive. If I am importuning you with the ravings of a madman, I humbly beg your forgiveness, but if his claims are true, it seemed to me too important a matter to neglect.

I looked up at Watson, who had gone so pale that for a second I thought he would faint away.

After a moment, however, he seemed to come to himself again.

"The letter," he said hoarsely.

I began quickly to read.

"Mycroft,

I will tell you the details of my story later -- from the Norwegian fishing boat that hauled me out of the water to the French Foreign Legion, and many further adventures.

For now, I'd be obliged if you'd wire me fifty thousand francs, and confirm my story to Dr Wan -- he will certainly be of assistance to me. You can act via the British embassy here in Saigon.

To assure you of the veracity of this letter, I recall to you my favourite hiding place as a boy, the fallen sycamore tree behind the rhododendrons at the bottom of the garden. You always knew where to find me, of course.

You can also ask Watson if he remembers the apple orchard in Chipping Cambden.

I looked up at Watson.

He nodded instantly. He didn't look to be in a fit state to speak, and I didn't press him to explain the allusion. In any case, I didn't care. Rationally, I had already known the letter was genuine, but I had spent the hour since its arrival feeling like I was living a delusion of my own invention. Having a second person confirm it suddenly made it pass from the realms of hope to certainty.

I was glad I was already sitting down, for I felt something like how Watson looked.

"Good God," I managed to say.

Mutely, Watson held out his hand, and I handed over the letter.

"It is undoubtedly written in his hand," I said. "I think you probably know it as well as I do."

I didn't believe he was even listening to me any more. He was simply staring down at the letter in his hands.

.. .. ..

"Brandy, Mycroft?" Sherlock asked, holding up the decanter.

I was sitting in my usual chair in their sitting room, next to Watson and opposite my brother.

I was ashamed now to think that the first time I had ever set foot in Baker Street was as executor of my brother's will. Since his return, I had become something of a regular feature in their rooms, adding Baker Street to my tiny repertoire of habitual locations, which until a year ago had included only Whitehall, my club and my rooms. I was not sure which fact my brother had found most surprising: that I was on intimate terms with his friend, or that I now left my usual paths at least once a month, and often twice.

Watson was living in Baker Street again. I didn't know how they had come to that decision. Perhaps they felt that his status as a respectable widower gave them a protection they hadn't had before. Or perhaps the years of loss and separation had simply caused them to see the risk they took through a different lens.

Now, Watson took his own glass of brandy, and picked up the thread of conversation again.

"So you see, Mr Holmes, your brother had already visited the house once, but he didn't see fit to mention that to Lestrade. The poor inspector spent considerable effort trying to track down the old charwoman who'd been seen at the tradesman's entrance that morning."

He shot a sideways smile at Sherlock, who snorted with impatience.

"If Lestrade had asked me, I would have told him. But he was quite determined to pursue his own line of enquiry. Completely convinced of his own theories, poor fellow."

"But the very next day," Watson took up the story again, "Something happened which shattered all those theories to shreds. The police constables searching the nearby woods made a shocking and macabre discovery -- "

I was leaning forward, caught up in the adventure despite myself. Watson was a born storyteller, and this had become on of the very few little indulgences I allowed myself. We spent many pleasant evenings thus, with Dr Watson recounting their latest cases, and Sherlock interjecting with the occasional correction or clarification. Watson had started to write again too, with my encouragement.

My brother had not known what to make of our friendship, at first. He had been in a continual state of tension when we were together, no doubt fearing I would divine the secret he and Watson had been hiding for years. I had the pleasure of seeing Sherlock completely dumbfounded, a rare event indeed, when I referred first to Watson as 'in a very real sense my brother-in-law'.

Watson himself was not present at the time, and Sherlock could only seem to stare at me.

"I beg your pardon?" he said after a considerable pause, sounding uncharacteristically stupid.

I raised an eyebrow at him.

"Wouldn't you say that's accurate? Though I do think Dr Watson could have done much better than you, my dear Sherlock. Still, it seems it's you he's settled on, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, et cetera."

"Ah -- " Sherlock sank into the nearest chair. He stared at me, gathering his wits together. "Yes, he has. To my eternal surprise." His expression had grown soft around the edges, like something warm and happy was leaking out.

"Well, it seems congratulations are in order on my part, many years overdue. I wish you both very well, brother."

He swallowed.

"Thank you," he said quietly.

With that, I rose to my feet, thinking that was quite enough on the topic. It certainly wasn't something I particularly wanted to discuss in any detail.

"Good-bye, Sherlock," I said briskly. "Give my regards to Dr Watson, and remind him that I look forward to having both of you dine at my rooms on the 16th."

He rose to shake my hand, still looking disconcerted. I turned away to gather my hat and coat. As I was pulling on my gloves, however, his voice interrupted me.

"Mycroft."

I turned back. He seemed to have recovered his balance with his usual ease, and was giving me that crisply superior look he perfected at the age of nine.

"Watson told me you read his diary. So you needn't pretend you deduced this -- though I'm willing to concede you would have done so eventually."

I eyed him warily. My brother has always been much more of a stickler for morality than I. I read other people's private papers for Queen and country, but outside the realm of government intelligence and criminal investigation that's bad form, and Sherlock has always considered himself a gentleman.

"Then why the surprise?" I asked.

"I didn't expect you ever to bring up the subject in conversation. I know it's never really been your cup of tea. The softer emotions, I mean."

The likelihood of an imminent argument seemed diminished, and I relaxed.

"Well, don't expect me ever to mention the matter again." I paused. "And no indecorous behaviour in my rooms, if you please."

He laughed softly.

"Good-night, Mycroft."

"Good-night, Sherlock."

As I went down the steps from their rooms to the street, I was smiling to myself.

I was bemused by the two of them, I admit. I shuddered at the thought of living in such intimacy, having to face someone first thing in the morning across the breakfast table, or having a good night's sleep disturbed by another person at close quarters. But Sherlock seemed happy, far more so than in the years when he first came to London, before he met Dr Watson. To each his own, as they say, and I am merely grateful to have had this second chance to see him happy.