The Letters Are Received
"Several times during the last three years I have taken up my pen to write to you, but always I feared lest your affectionate regard for me should tempt you to some indiscretion which would betray my secret."
(The Adventure of the Empty House)
As a regular reader of these memoirs you might be acquainted with a character trait of my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, for despite his astounding intellectual powers the detective often showed great deficiencies in the area of emotional displays of any kind. More than once in our long and intimate relationship I reproached the detective for acting like an automaton; during the case I have entitled "The Sign of The Four" I even went so far as to call him a cold, calculating machine, completely devoid of emotion.
However, in the early autumn of 1896, more than two years after his miraculous return to life and London, a nearly fatal encounter during a case prompted my friend to reveal more of his feelings to me than ever before.
The horrors of the case concerning mauled cadavers and superstitions of Werewolves are still too vivid in my mind for me to give a full account on paper to my readers.
Holmes and I returned home to 221B Baker Street in an icy silence after the case for whose conclusion I had been absent, because Holmes had sent me on a wild goose chase in order to face the dangers on his own. The result was that the culprit had been arrested, but my friend had sustained a serious injury, which he, to my great chagrin had neglected to tell me about. Holmes left it to the local police surgeon to inform me that he had been bitten by a supposedly rabid dog prior to the arrest. A post-exposure treatment had been administered, but I would have to keep an eye on him for any adverse reactions. Against my better judgement Holmes then had insisted on returning to London by the next available train and that is why we arrived home in the early hours of the evening of that eventful day.
Our dear landlady, Mrs. Hudson, had left the week of our departure for a visit at her niece's house and had still not returned, so that we were obliged to fend for ourselves. As neither of us was particularly hungry, we directly ascended the stairs to our shared sitting room where I lighted a fire while Holmes changed silently into his dressing gown, filled a pipe and curled up in his customary armchair. Thin arms firmly encircled the drawn-up knees, his entire posture thereby emanating a sense of being completely unapproachable.
Despite my reasonable anger at Holmes's irresponsible handling of the case, as a doctor and friend, I still felt that I could not leave him to his own devices; it was for this reason that I took my bag and approached the still figure of my friend.
"Let me see your wound." I insisted quietly.
"I am fine." the detective replied tonelessly, staring into the fire.
"I shall be the judge of that, Holmes."
Finally my friend shifted his position to look up at me.
"I said I am fine, Doctor." he fairly spat at me, grey eyes gleaming ominously out of a too pale face.
At this rebuke my last vestiges of control evaporated and I snapped right back in a voice laced with anger and hurt,
"Is it too far beneath you to behave like a human being for once, Holmes? Do you have any idea how worried I have been, when I realized you were off to face Morrison all by yourself? And then to find out that my worries had been justified? You could have been killed."
"But I wasn't. And I needed you to be out of harm's way." he replied coolly.
"It should have been my decision. But you'd rather decide for me…just like at the Reichenbach Falls…I'd wager you never even thought about how I felt all those long years that I thought you were dead!"
My voice broke at the end of the last sentence. Feeling dejected, hurt and somewhat angry at that moment I turned away from Holmes. Then I more limped than walked to my desk - for my old wound did not take too kindly to the strain the day had inflicted upon it - in order to put away my medical bag before heading upstairs to my bedroom.
I had not heard Holmes move until I found him standing before me, effectively blocking the door to the staircase. He clutched a folder against his chest, the long, thin fingers of his hand slightly trembling; his breathing was laboured from the exertion. The penetrating gaze of the familiar grey eyes arrested my attention, I felt like a specimen in a jar which my friend was endeavouring to identify and I began to feel uncomfortable under his close scrutiny. He seemed to seize me up; he was obviously weighing the pros and cons of an important matter in his mind so much so that I could identify the very moment when he finally reached a decision. His eyes, surrounded by dark circles, widened for a second and with a sardonic twitch of his thin lips he fairly threw the file at me.
"They are addressed to you...You may as well read them." he remarked in a casual manner.
"If you will excuse me now, I feel quite faint…It seems as if the treatment is not much better than the illness."
Without uttering another word Holmes turned and made his way over to his bedroom; midway he stumbled slightly. Alarmed by this sudden weakness I rushed forward to help him only to be rejected by a raised hand.
"No!" he exclaimed hoarsely without looking at me.
With some trepidation I watched my friend enter his bedroom and close the door behind him with an audible click. However he did not turn the key evidently trusting me to leave him to himself.
Despite my anger of earlier, I dearly hoped that Holmes would allow his clearly exhausted body some sorely needed rest.
It was then that I turned my attention back to the folder; it had fallen to the floor due to my haste in wishing to provide assistance to my friend. I picked it up and settled in my chair beside the fire, my curiosity piqued.
Although Holmes more than once had chastised me for my lack of ability in the area of deductive reasoning even I could see that the file in my hands had seen many different climates and could tell a story of its own.
It was a slim folder made of common cardboard; which was undulated and with its edges chafed so I was fairly certain it had been stored in places with high humidity. The formerly brown paper had also bleached to light beige which indicated long exposure to sunlight. It was stained in several places with dark splashes from ink and blurred brownish circles, probably from teacups. A piece of string held it closed. Gingerly I pulled at the knot and removed it. I hesitated, feeling unsure of myself.
I wondered what I would find in this article that Holmes had clearly guarded so carefully and for such a long time. Did I really want to know? Obviously Holmes intended me to read the contents, why then was I reluctant to do it? Was I afraid of what I might find?
Feeling suddenly undecided I turned the folder over in my hands. Sighing I laid it on my desk before pouring myself a glass of brandy. Deep in thought, I swirled the amber liquid around, but my gaze was inexplicably drawn to the mysterious file. After draining the glass with one gulp I welcomed the heat that spread throughout my body. The alcohol calmed my nerves and strengthened my resolve. Finally, I picked up the file, opening it on my lap with a feeling of reverence.
I found seven sheets made of different paper all covered in a cramped version of my friend's familiar handwriting. Some sheets looked the worse for wear with frayed edges and blotched ink stains. I picked up the topmost piece of paper and looked closer. When my eyes fell on the date in the upper right-hand corner my breath hitched and my heart skipped a beat. It read,
"Florence, May 11th, 1891"