for england, home, and beauty
This story is based on the film version of 'The Bruce-Partington Plans' starring Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke. My recap/review of the episode, with screencaps, is located here. Complete text of the original story by A. Conan Doyle, with illustrations by Paget, is available here.
As I told Mrs. Hudson as I left our apartments in Baker Street to meet Holmes, I well know how he can be when once he gets the bit between his teeth. "You're not as young as you were," said our landlady, surprising me considerably by voicing the exact thought that was ringing in my head. Not as young as once I was, I thought, shrugging into my coat as she smoothed the lapel, but as amenable to the every scheme and suggestion of my friend's as ever.
The fact of the matter is that Holmes has always had the power to catch me up in his enthusiasm, to carry me along with it, sometimes quite against my will. Only from time to time I will find myself resisting the persuasion of his hypnotic voice, and the enthusiasm which trembles so violently suppressed in every limb and movement when he is seized with the passion of the chase.
On this particular evening I had been pleased to receive his summons to Goldini's, however late the hour; and amused rather than put out to find it all but closed up, the chairs stowed on the tables, and Holmes the last of the patrons, holding court at a little round table near the door.
Though I did not know it yet, Holmes had just made the crucial connection in the case of the Bruce-Partington submarine and we were near a breakthrough.
I found my friend in top form. He waved me to a seat and a cigar into my hand, summoned the proprietor for a drink, assured himself of my understanding of events--for the body could not possibly have been dropped from a bridge to the roof of the train but must have been placed--and involved me in a plan to illegally break into Oberstein's house, all without the slightest abatement of that feverish gleam in his grey eyes.
"But how could he have been placed there?" I asked.
In such a state Holmes may speak with anyone, but it is only myself, I believe, who can get from him anything resembling attention. I had forced him to slow his explanations to a pace for my own comprehension by questions, but his focus wavered not a jot. Indeed it deepened as he related with an almost reverent tone, "In places, The London Underground runs clear of tunnels and past the backs of houses." Oberstein had gone abroad, my friend informed me gleefully, leaving the house unguarded, and a spot of amateur burglary would never occur to him. "But that is precisely what we are about to do."
"Why; to what purpose?"
Holmes's manner was innocently wounded. He could see I was about to balk. "We cannot tell what correspondence may be there."
The silence in the restaurant, emptied but for ourselves, stretched taut a moment, for I could not be easy with this course of action. "No," I said, drawing the cigar back from my mouth and looking away from him, for I knew if I did not my resolve should be lost. "No, I don't like it, Holmes."
"But you can keep watch. I'll do the criminal part!" His distress was something to behold. "This is no time to stick at trifles! Think of the Admiralty, think of the Cabinet, think of the exalted person herself who waits for the news!" He rose commandingly to his feet and knocked his chair back, gazing down on me and my cigar from on high. "We're bound to go."
I ever have found it impossible to hold out against Holmes's persuasion when he exerts himself. Whether this springs from the real brilliance and superiority of his mind and judgment or from my own intimate admiration of the man is a question I am unqualified to judge.
While I sought the appropriate words of acquiescence and moral rebuke, I felt compelled to look up at Holmes. The sight of his face so anxious and dismayed; the thought of his trust and his reliance on me, his promise not to enter into any danger without me at his side (entered for my sake, I was sure, more than his); and lastly the conviction, which I gained from the searching movement of his eyes over my face, that he looked at me with real attention and personal feeling, not mere self-interest; all combined to destroy my half-formed speech. I only smiled up at him against my will. I know not what my face revealed. My chest was tight and my mind a confusion, momentarily, in the strength of my love and tenderness for him.
But I suppose he must have been pleased at what he saw in my face, for a smile broke over his like dawn over hilltops. "I knew you wouldn't shrink at the last!" He exclaimed, and whirling away, led me off to the site of our amateur housebreaking.
I passed the maitre'd on the way to the door, and stopped to down my Curacao from his tray in one gulp. I felt I might need the fortification. I was giving myself up to whatever adventure Holmes might lead me into.
Holmes's theories had been justified in every point, and though he maintained the solution had been all "inevitable" from the "not very abstruse" conjecture of the body's being on the roof of the train, I thought his conclusions really remarkable. Still, the devil Oberstein had covered his tracks remarkably well, and we had no lead on him until I remarked the curious circumstance of the crumpled newspapers in the grate.
Holmes hardly looked up from the stacks of correspondence on Oberstein's desk at my word. "Yes?"
"Why would a man so obviously untidy in his habits take the trouble to burn old newspapers?"
"Probably trying to start a fire," he hummed, reaching for another stack.
"Yes, but there's--no wood," I said slowly. "Or coal."
He was suddenly arrested, in cautious stillness, like a hound sniffing for a scent. "Let me see."
And when the papers proved to contain the series of notices in the agony columns from Oberstein--calling himself "Pierrot," bizarrely enough--he was so pleased with me as to exclaim twice, "Well done!" I had, fortuitously, provided the key to the problem, and it was with a warm glow that I stuffed the papers into my medical bag and hurried after my friend out the door.
It was some little while later, on our way back from the offices of the Daily Telegraph to our rooms in Baker Street, that it became clear how really energized and excited Holmes had been by the case. It was near midnight, around us the town was sleeping; but Holmes was as lively as ever, or livelier. A flush burned in his pale cheek. He could barely contain his exuberance. His hands kept up a constant cacophony of waving and tapping as though he both conducted and played in an imaginary orchestra, while at random intervals a small smile would steal from one corner of his lips to the other. I was fascinated to observe the play of inscrutable thought across his face, painted clearly in the separate twitches of each individual muscle.
"Watson," said he, "There is nothing so abhorrent to the active mind when fully awake as rest."
I found, to my surprise, that I was not particularly tired either.
As our cab pulled to the curb Holmes said suddenly, "I have not seen your red dressing gown lately. Have you thrown it over completely for your brown smoking jacket? For much as I esteem the latter garment there is sometimes nothing like a good dressing gown, even when one anticipates the leisure to smoke."
"No," I said blankly, "No, I have not gotten rid of it. I suppose I am simply fond of the new jacket." It was a rich brown brocade, with Eastern frog closures, that had remarkably caught my fancy. The collar was of beaver.
One of those mysterious little smiles darted to Holmes's lips and in an instant was gone. "Ha! Yes, I suppose it is a handsome one. Nonetheless, I wish you would find the dressing gown, as I would like to look at it again. I simply have some little matters I must attend to--MRS HUDSON!--"
"Holmes. Holmes, she has gone to bed."
"What?" He turned at the landing with an inquiring look. "--Oh. Then, Watson, if you would be so kind, some brandy from the decanter." He waved to the sideboard, which was strewn with several books, a walking-stick and a drift of papers. "And would you pull down the 'W' volume of the encyclopedia? There is a trifling little question--nothing of interest, but I really must clear it up, for my own curiosity."
His last words were lost as he vanished into his own bedroom, banging the door behind him. I rather feared Mrs. Hudson would wake at the ferocity of the noise.
As I cleared a newspaper, a telegram and a crumpled receipt from the table and set apart our two glasses, I found myself in a curious state of apprehension, near fear, from my friend's extraordinary behavior. Holmes is as a matter of course rather eccentric, but in his wilder moments he is capable of superhuman genius, or inexplicable strangeness almost suggestive of insanity, or the sullen petulance of a child.
As I have said, my moods are always susceptible to suggestion from Holmes's. His days of black brooding prior to the arrival of his brother's telegram had begun to take their depressing toll on me too, though for myself I did not mind being shut up with him in our rooms for periods of quiet; in fact, I quite enjoyed the comfortable domesticity of our little lamps burning against the opaque fog, the damp chill--the closed windows and doors, the fire crackling. I was happy to watch him pacing and fretting over the top of the paper--indeed watching Holmes's movements, his fitful grace, his lithe, wiry form, his mobile face, was one of my greatest and guiltiest pleasures.
Perhaps the great degree of my affection for Holmes is not laid explicitly before the reader in any of my published chronicles of him, as it is a personal matter, but I think it safe to say that it cannot be overstated. It has, on occasion, given me much pain, though those occasions were mercifully short-lived and far between.
I should not say it was difficult loving a man, or even discovering that I loved one, for I loved Holmes too dearly and had done so too long for it to seem like anything but the most natural thing in the world. It may have troubled me sometimes as something far different from what I had been brought up to and what British society dictated, but I fear the force of Holmes's genius is such as to remake the world immediately around him. Whether by his subtle design, or by some unconscious ability, people fell in with him, and fell before him--which is just what I did, beginning at the first of our acquaintance.
So I was drawn to him; so I was drawn along with him, to the country, to the basement of a bank, to Switzerland; so I was drawn at least some way into his mood, so that I could not be at ease when he was not, and so that I could not long be censorious in the face of his determined vivacity.
And so as I poured brandy into two glasses which I left upon the sideboard, and went into my room to find my red dressing gown, I could not but smile. I was fondly tolerant of his eccentricities, but I was moved to tenderness by them too, and it was this, my helpless susceptibility, which I found paradoxically troublesome. Could I, I wondered, trust my own judgment in Holmes's sphere?
Holmes re-entered the sitting room in his shirtsleeves without even his waistcoat, rolling back the cuffs of his shirt. "Ah, Watson!" He said. "You have found the 'W,' I observe. And the dressing gown!" He raised his eyebrows at me. I was wearing it, rather than the smoking jacket, for whatever reason. I had not liked to get both out of my wardrobe.
He picked up his encyclopedia and began to leaf through it. I silently offered him a glass of brandy, but he waved it away impatiently: "Ah, the brandy. Thank you, my dear fellow, but not now, Watson, not now. There is no entry for 'Watson, John H., M.D.' as yet," he added, pausing to look up at me with a mischievous smile. "Perhaps I should add one with a note for housebreaking."
"The entry will be longer than that for all the lawless acts I have committed in your service," I said dryly, though of course he did not appear to hear, for he had found the article he sought and was reading with one finger tracing the line of handwriting.
"Ah-hah! It is just as I thought." Holmes closed the book with a snap and put it down on the table in the midst of a spot of butter, upsetting the salt cellar. "And now."
With hardly another glance at me he turned, empty-handed, back to the door and vanished into his room again. I stood, one glass of brandy in either hand, and stretched my neck curiously to see after him: what ought I to say? For he seemed to be about something and I longed to know what it was, but I would not go into his room uninvited. I had not sipped my brandy yet, but I did now, for his frivolous, unpredictable behavior charmed me utterly, and I was feeling a bit at sea amidst that and the sight of my friend's bare throat and wrists.
"Watson!" came his voice from the bedroom, "Aren't you coming?"
I started for the door.
"Bring the brandy!"
"There you are!" He cried impatiently when I stepped through the door to his private quarters not ten seconds later. Taking the brandy from my hand, he moved behind me, sliding between the dresser and myself, to shut and bolt the door. "There is something I have been meaning to try," he explained.
I watched him slip by me again, smooth as an eel, and drape himself against the edge of the bureau with one elbow for support as he took an appreciative sip of the brandy--a fine vintage. "Ahhh," he sighed, with his eyes closed. "Watson, you are a treasure!"
I could see his lips still wet with alcohol, and could smell it, too, at such close range. Our closeness was making me uneasy, but I was between Holmes and the closed door, while all that was between us was the very corner of his chest of drawers.
He opened his eyes, decreasing, or so it seemed to me, the space between us as his keen grey gaze fixed itself upon me. "A pearl beyond price." He drained the rest of his glass in three quick sips, set it down, and raised his eyebrows pointedly at me.
I lifted my glass again as it seemed to be what Holmes desired, but found it difficult to drink under so intent a gaze. I did not choke on the brandy, but I certainly felt the burn in back of my throat and coughed a little.
My friend was growing impatient. I took another sip, trying not to grimace, then a long drink. There was still a finger's-width in the bottom of the glass. "I am glad to see you have not discarded the old dressing gown," he said suddenly. "It is an old friend of mine, with the worn spot on the right sleeve from your writing and the ink blot, the permanent crease at the back that will never iron out, the fraying on the right of the collar where you are wont to finger it when you are nervous, that curious stain on the hem which I take to be mud from the back alley and for whose acquisition I was not present. I do believe that a hint of that gown's color remains in the cushions of your chair by the fire, indicating of course your habitual attitude with one arm like so to hold your paper, and the other represented only by the imprint of the elbow of your right arm, with which you smoke or drink your tea."
I found myself frozen again in some kind of apprehension--dismay or detached horror, for it never gave me a very pleasant feeling to hear my own dissection by Holmes's methods. I did not raise the glass again to my lips.
Holmes put out his hand, and brushed the frayed edge of the collar he had spoken of with the pad of his thumb. I was glad both my feet were planted firmly on the ground or I might have become dizzy and unsure of my footing. His nearness was too much for me, had awakened my blood and the damnably inconvenient lusts which it was his power to so easily, so unwittingly, excite. "Are you quite done, Watson?" He said again impatiently, pointing to my glass.
"Good," he said, taking the glass from me and putting it on the bureau with one hand while with the other he took advantage of his grasp of my collar to take firm hold of my right shoulder. Then he tugged me close, his face blotting out the light of candle and lamp, and kissed me.
His thin, sensuous mouth pressed against mine rather awkwardly, not the kiss of a total innocent but certainly not a very practiced one. However, my friend has a genius for many things, coupled with a strong and almost violent physical energy, and an extraordinarily mobility in all the muscles of his face.
I had gone motionless, too shocked to taste or to respond with any coordination though my instinctual response was to press closer and crush my mouth against his. It seemed his instinct was a crushing one too, for I soon found the whole slender length of his body pressed against mine, generating a kind of frantic heat as he bent his head and moved his chin a little to the side.
I was breathing with an open mouth, my heart and mind awhirl-- "Holmes! What is this?"
Holmes favored me with one of his rare smiles of real tenderness, his fine eyes crinkling at the corners and the lines of his face seeming even to soften as he gazed at me. "My dear Watson," he murmured, "I did say there was something I had been meaning to try."
"Meaning to--" I stuttered, as he grasped me by the hand and tugged me towards the bed.
"Come!" He interrupted in masterful accents, seeming not to recollect himself until a moment later to offer with a smile: "If there are no objections?"
It had only barely begun to dawn on me that my dearest wish, that which I often considered but surely did not dream of realizing, was becoming true. "My dear fellow!" I said, and cupped a hand on the back of his neck. I could feel his fast pulse beating under my thumb. I kissed him back.
"Ah," he sighed close to my mouth, "None, then." He did not pause for a moment in his business of pushing the red dressing gown back off my shoulders. "My dear Watson," said he, pressing his mouth to mine again seekingly with open lips: "My dear, dear Watson. I cannot tell you how glad I am." But I believe he made an attempt as his hands found their way between my shirt and skin, and his tongue probed slickly at my mouth, twining round mine and between my teeth.
I knew my friend well. His affection and esteem for me I did not doubt, though I could hardly define their exact nature or extent. "Holmes," I said, as he went briskly and efficiently about undoing my braces and unfastening my trousers, "Surely violent emotions get in the way of rational thought--?"
He smiled up at me, kneeling by my feet. "My dear Watson, this is no time to stick at trifles."
I wanted irresistibly to kiss him again, so I reached down to hold his face between my hands as he rose to his full height again and took the decision out of my hands. Pressing me back against the side of the bed until I relaxed and fell into it, he set about a thorough, though not completely methodical, exploration of my mouth.
It was curious to see my friend Sherlock Holmes loom above me, arms braced--to feel him hold me by the shoulders, pinning my body to his bed with his slender weight at my groin--to have him insinuate a slim, naked thigh between mine while he whispered "Mm" and "Shh," gentling me, into my mouth. Yet had I not seen him in just such a frenzy of single-minded concentration before, presented with a monograph, a chemical experiment, a few grains of gravel on a window-sill? And had not I before seen the tender smile I felt curling against my lips and tongue?
I know not when I lost my few remaining garments, but very soon all our skin was bared beneath the coverlet, and Holmes stretched his long body, tight and taut, out along me. His neck was straight, his head thrown back, as he eased down, belly to belly, chest to chest, groin to groin--and still his thigh was between my own and his manhood nestling in the crease of my leg. "Ah, oh," he murmured as if to himself, slightly shifting his weight that our skin might rub together. "How very singular. Watson, this feeling--it is exquisite." His fingers played along my ribs.
"It is indeed," I said hoarsely, my eyes fixated on his face.
"Hah," he said, "Such a surfeit of sensation, a storm of emotion--yet the body so specially equipped to handle it all. I can even stroke you with my fingers and kiss you at once, without the necessity of any particular concentration in either."
He did, at length, because I caught the back of his head with both hands and lifted my chin for a deeper, sweeter kiss.
He laughed and licked my lips wantonly and unashamedly. "The body," he whispered indistinctly, "knows what to do. But," he added conscientiously, bending his head to my neck, "I should have said that I can kiss you--" he opened his mouth on a tendon, and caught it lightly between his teeth, sending a shock through my frame "--and touch you with my hands--" which he also did "--and concentrate easily on both at once." My own hands felt hot and heavy on the delicious curve of Holmes's back, pressing him close to me.
"For God's sake--!"
"Ahh, Watson," he murmured, lifting his face to mine again and pressing our foreheads together, "You are impatient. You forget that we have until morning, when brother Mycroft will come in answer to my telegram at breakfast." But he humored me, insinuating a hand between us, stroking my belly and thighs with his clever fingers before taking me in his hand so gently I thought I stopped breathing. Holmes laughed. "Such power over you, my dear."
I shook my head, "It was always yours."
While he held me in his hand, literally, and kissed my neck and chest, my friend murmured happily that the case had gone extremely well, for such a simple little affair; that that moment when he realized how the body must have fallen at the point had been most remarkable; that my search of the fireplace grate and marking the papers had been very well done, but certainly not better than he expected of me; that under the blankets was wonderfully warm, that I was like a furnace; that he really felt for Miss Violet Westbury; that he was fond of my mustache and my hands; that he thought I was improving rapidly at deduction; that he had often considered whether to buy flowers or some little thing for me, but never could keep the thought long enough, without getting distracted by something else, to decide what purchase to make.
Here I laughed aloud.
"You laugh at me," said Holmes smiling, "but I am determined not to be offended"; and deliberately pressed the length of his thigh between my legs, and moved his hips, to provide an instant's delicious friction for my arousal, which was becoming desperate.
I gasped, "Good God, man, you are a wanton."
He seemed pleased by the remark, making a low and deep growling noise in his throat and dragging his lips from my chin to the corner of my mouth. "Watson, you are a medical man," he said.
"You know what we need. You know what I am doing." He had poured oil on his fingers and held it near my nose. He did not seem to be asking my permission, but I nodded and moved to lie face-down in the sweaty sheets. He muttered against my ear, "You must tell me if I go too far."
"I believe I can stand it," I said, aroused by the touch of the oily fingers between my buttocks at the small entrance of my body. "For England, home, and--" I was at a loss, I fear, and not at my most eloquent because of my distraction. "And beauty."
Holmes laughed, but he was absorbed in his task and the laughter faded quickly. Soon enough he had satisfied himself to my readiness and positioned himself between my thighs, with a strong grip upon my hip. Finally he was speechless as he breached the final wall between us. The only sound until Holmes had moved quite deliberately and ponderously as deep within me as he could, was the harsh panting of our breaths--mine open-mouthed, his between clenched teeth.
At last his body curved down the length of my spine and his chin pressed against my back, and I felt him deliberately relax, in a smooth wave, going limp as a hot, damp blanket on my back with only one involuntary shudder. I took longer to follow suit, but under his ministrations--deliberately, firmly tracing every contour of my body from shoulder to hip with confident hands--I felt the knots of muscles in my neck and along my spine slowly unloose, until I was breathing long, slow, and uneven and all fear and thought had gone away.
"I do not believe it is wrong in us to assume," he breathed against my neck, "that this case is solved conclusively."
I gave no reply.
He scraped the nape of my neck very gently with teeth, saying mockingly at the soft sound I must have made, "I have long known you for a man of deep and abiding passions."
"Holmes," I said brokenly, rather roused beyond conversation or even coherent pleas, "Sherlock--" All I wished was more--of that feeling, more of Holmes's shocking passionate behavior. The movements I made were for my own benefit, not calculated to provoke him, but I felt him draw breath sharply, and wrap his long fingers tightly about my wrist.
"Watson," he gasped, as he gathered himself together and drew back finally, "You have the most singular--freckles--on your shoulder." He came deep within me once more, and I could feel that he arched his back, straining.
"Yes," he spoke with some difficulty, but great determination, as he gave in at last to the powerful urgings of his desires and mine and let his whole body fall to the task of moving rhythmically and powerfully in me. "Five of them. Very nearly the shape of Cassiopeia--the constellation. Or, more mundanely, the letter 'W,' as drawn by a child or a drunkard."
I exerted myself somewhat to respond, rising back on my knees to meet him as he wrapped both his arms round my waist and pressed his mouth into my hair. "Or a medical man."
"Mmmmmmmm," he said, "Or my brother Mycroft--we all know what his hand is."
"A--drunken--crab," I whispered, but reached behind me to squeeze his hand, and he understood that I wished no more speech, and after that all my friend moaned, whispered and cried was "Watson. My dear. John. John."
Our bodies lay spent and close, if not precisely intertwined. Holmes would not let me capture his hands though I made three attempts: he was too restless, wanting to trace the outline of every muscle, to cover every inch of neck, to test where each touch would produce a wave of gooseflesh. I could perhaps have slept, but his brain refused sleep and he kept me awake by conversation until he judged us both recovered.
Then he said, pressing his lips thoughtfully against the skin behind my ear, "Watson, it was past three when we lay down. If we can but keep occupied another few hours it will pass dawn. I do not intend to sleep tonight."
I was agreeable, and have the long habit of falling in with Holmes's plans; it has served me very well over the years. I rolled onto my back, though, and reached out to touch his cheek when he seemed unlikely, from the slight movements of his shoulders and hands, to hold my gaze as long as I liked. Studying his face--his well-known and well-loved features relaxed in an attitude of profound happiness and no little self-satisfaction--I could not but smile, shaking my head in wonder.
Holmes's smile faded. He moved his left hand and cupped it over my right, holding it to his cheek. It seemed to take him a few moments to make the decision to speak. "My dear Watson, it pleases me immensely that you are such an endless source of small mysteries. Tell me what this look means."
"Only that every time I reach an understanding of you, it merely uncovers another mystery."
"Hm," he murmured, still holding fast to my hand and staring at me with a curiously intent look. "I have never known you to unravel a mystery unaided." Holmes let a few seconds pass; then very swiftly, he turned his face against my hand and kissed the center of my palm. Then he folded my fingers shut and looked swiftly back up at me from under his eyelashes. "Very well, then," said Holmes, "I shall just have to assist you, Watson."
And in fact, he has done so, although I believe that when Holmes spoke those words he intended them to refer only to his physical exertions in the very immediate future, and am quite certain that he has long forgotten now precisely what it was that he said. But the fact of the matter is that the key to a problem is often the answer to a very small mystery, whose unlocking will mean the gradual--and, indeed, inevitable--illumination of the circumstances and larger mysteries which surround it.
When Mycroft and Bradstreet came by Baker Street the next morning they found Holmes and myself seated elbow-to-elbow in one quarter of the table, the main part of which was spread with a map of London, the 'W' volume of Holmes's encyclopedia, a loose sheaf of notes on medieval Germanic music, and a crumpled note in Mycroft Holmes's hand. Holmes had so long delayed our even leaving the bed that his sudden memory of a particular book he wished to consult, and subsequent search for it conducted in the nude though fortunately only in his bedchamber, made it impossible to dress properly, let alone breakfast, before our friends' arrival.
He dressed hastily in the night's discarded clothes only after he heard Mrs. Hudson's step on the stair, and did not sit down to his eggs and bacon until the door was creaking open to admit his brother. Dragging his chair perilously close to mine, and darting me a challenging look of devilry beneath his eyelashes, he ignored government and Yard alike in favor of his food. I spread jam on a piece of toast while he attacked the spread with ravenous appetite, elbows waving about my plate, bits of hair out of order and collar rumpled and standing up on one side.
Not until Inspector Bradstreet spoke did he deign to answer. "Some of these days you'll go too far, and you and your friend will find yourselves in trouble," he said, rather jovially, at which I confess I glanced up rather sharply.
But Holmes was deeply amused. "England, home and beauty, eh, Watson?" He smiled. "Martyrs on the altar of our country?" And closed his teeth with a click around his forkful of eggs.
I hid my face in my teacup, for I was smiling helplessly too.