Thanks to the fame Mr. Sherlock Holmes had gained from my stories in the Strand, he very seldom lacked for cases these days. He had, in fact, more cases than he could possibly take on. But that didn’t mean that it didn’t sometimes go weeks or even months without a single interesting case, a problem intricate enough to stimulate my friend’s remarkable brain. I did the best I could to divert him, but even though dinners at Simpson’s, walks around London and tickets to violin concerts usually improved his spirits, only his work would drag him out of the darkness he so easily slipped into. I could see it happen, perceive it more easily since our mutual confessions some months after his return from the grave had brought us closer than ever, but I could do nothing about it. I carefully kept myself from mentioning it, for even in my company Holmes was still a very private man. I ought to have known that to him one unguarded glance said as much as novels of speech to another man.
“Watson”, he said when Mrs. Hudson had taken the breakfast tray down, “I can hear you thinking. Worrying. Please don’t. It’s of no use.”
I sighed, not bothering to hide my consternation this time. When he spoke again, it was in a softer tone of voice.
“My dearest Watson, you are the foremost of doctors and the best of all men in England. Please do believe me when I say that there is still nothing you can do. I can feel the darkness coming over me again and I know I will be quite impossible for the next week or so. Flee to the country for that period, I beg you. No, don’t protest. Of course you will not do that. I know you far too well. But you have to know me by now, Watson. It’s not merely the lack of cases, it’s… this is me, it’s my way, it has always been so with me. I warned you, remember, before you first moved in with me.”
“I know.” I placed a hand upon his shoulder. He took it and kissed it before placing it on the table with his own hand on top.
“But I have you now, you were going to say. That is true, and it is of more comfort to me than I could possibly express. You are far better to med than I deserve, but against this you can do nothing.” He rose, and pressing my hand one last time he crossed the room to stretch himself out on the settee and busy his fingers with filling and lighting a pipe.
“Stop thinking me your responsibility, at least for a while.” He turned his head towards me, and there was such an unguarded, sad look in his grey eyes. “Just don’t let me drag you down with me, there’s a good fellow.” Halfway through the sentence, his voice took on the mocking tone that seemed designed explicitly to grate on my nerves, but the sheer honesty of the moment before had touched me deeply.
I went to him and dropped a kiss on his forehead. He scowled as soon as he saw what I was about, but I would not have lasted above a week as Sherlock Holmes flatmate, much less his friend, if I let myself care about such things. So he scowled, I kissed him and ran a hand over his hair, then I settled in my chair to read the morning’s newspapers. They were entirely devoid of interesting crime.
Over the course of the next few days my friend fell into as dark a mood as I ever saw him in. More than once I seriously considered his suggestion of leaving for the countryside until he was himself again. Don’t think for a moment that I would actually go through with such a plan, though. I also considered committing elaborate crimes to please him with, and I was more likely to act upon the second scheme than the first. Instead I went on as usual, writing and reading, forcing Holmes to eat at least a few bites every day and going for walks, feeling cold and alone without Holmes by my side but knowing I could do with the exercise.
Holmes lay on the settee all days if he could be bothered to even rise from his bed, not sleeping but not seeming very awake either. He took cocaine, staring at me with spiteful eyes as he did so, for he knew full well what I thought of the habit. But it was only a seven percent solution, so I bore it with moderate calm and said nothing. Every day there were letters from prospective clients in the mail. For each unopened letter my hope rekindled that this square of paper would hold a problem intricate enough to rouse my friend once more into action. Not so. Half of them were thrown into the fire without a second glance. The rest ended up on the floor beside him, from whence I rescued them to answer myself or save until such a time as he was once more in a state to do so himself. We had no visitors, which might have been a blessing. The vehemence with which he spat out the conclusion to the petty problems in the letters I could soften in my written replies, but I dread the thought of how a visiting client would be received had they too dull a story to offer.
I did not touch him once during this period, which stretched out for almost a fortnight, for I knew it would only repel him. I could not stop my gaze from lingering fondly on him from time to time, though, for even in this pale and melancholy state he was as profoundly beautiful to me as ever. If he noticed me doing so, his face would grow even darker and if could muster up the energy, he would say something to me in the icily cruel voice he mastered so well. I simply smiled at him, or turned back to my paper or writing desk, refusing to rise to the challenge. He could not hurt me, not like this. He knew he wished to drive me away, but I knew as clearly that he was not himself. I would not be driven away and I knew he would be glad for that once he returned to his normal state.
He played the violin. Angrily, the melody full of disharmonies and broken-off phrases when he knew I was listening. Beautiful and heart-wrenching tunes when he must have thought me asleep. All other objects in our flat, sometimes including me, he seemed to hold in contempt, throwing glasses, carelessly discarding books that could not hold his interest, but the violin was a cherished as always. Should he ever, I thought, show anything but the utmost care and even tenderness as he put the instrument back in its case, I would know that something was truly amiss with him and that I had better interfere to rescue him from himself. But he never did. In some inexplicable way, the music was what kept him tethered, was what kept him reasonably sane, was important to him in ways I could never be. I would almost feel jealous if I wasn’t so very glad for it.
It was the violin too, I believe, that brought him back to me. As I descended the stairs from my room in the early morning, unable to sleep once I had been roused by the music trickling up from our sitting room, I saw him standing by the window, lost in the unearthly melody. Indeed, it was a tune I have never heard before, and I believe it might have been of his own composition. I didn’t know if he had seen me. If he had, he gave no sign of it. I sat down in my chair to listen.
He played on, I know not for how long, until I saw that tears were welling up in his eyes. When the first drop fell on the polished wood of the violin, his strange trance was broken. He put the instrument gently down and dried it off with a soft cloth. Then he simply stood there, arms hanging loosely at his sides and tears trickling down his face. I stepped forward, reached out a hand to touch his shoulder, and he fell against me, faint with hunger and fatigue. I led him to the settee, where I arranged us so that I was sitting in one end and he was half lying against my chest. He hid his face in the folds of my dressing gown, soaking it through with tears. I rested my cheek against the top of his head and held him close until he stopped shaking.
“Watson”, he said, but found no words to continue the sentence.
“My dear, dear Holmes.” I extricated myself, replacing my lap with a pillow under his head, much to his disappointment I perceived. I handed him one of my own handkerchiefs and poured him a glass of water.
“I will go and see if Mrs. Hudson is yet up. She will be delighted to serve breakfast for two instead of one – for I absolutely insist that you eat something, my dear fellow.”
I could feel his smile against my back as I exited the room.