The train took me away from London, and I leant back in my seat and tried my best to relax. It was about time for a little vacation, I told myself. Holmes and I had just gone through a whole series of trying cases, and as he himself had shown no inclination at all to give himself a rest, I had decided, at least this time, to go on my own.
I am not really used to doing such things, though. Especially since his return into the world of the living after Reichenbach, I have often found myself rather unwilling to leave him for a longer period of time. This might be considered a quite sentimental notion, but then again, I thought with a joyless smile, it did fit smoothly into the picture, didn't it? Sentimental fool!
Oh, yes, I needed the vacation. I needed some time away from him, to rest, to think. To forget. Things had been a bit difficult lately, and I could not even explain why. After all, everything seemed perfectly normal – well, at least as normal as one could call my living and working together with Sherlock Holmes, the great consulting detective. The obvious conclusion for me was that I simply had worked too much and slept insufficiently – and required a change of air.
I was looking forward to seeing Sir Henry again. It may not have become obvious from my official writings, but since the case publicly known as the “Hound of the Baskervilles” we have maintained some sort of friendship. It had been him who, after the death of my dear Mary, had persuaded me to stay some time at Baskerville Hall until he had been convinced that I could do on my own again. It was not a friendship like the one I share with Holmes, naturally, but at the moment that was just as well. I could very well use the company of someone less complicated…
The landscape around me gradually changed into the rough beauty of Devonshire - such a change after the crowded streets of London! The weather was welcoming. A bright sun favoured the hills, fields, moors and granite rocks and the blue sky was almost cloudless. I let my mind wander into the past…
My first journey here had been to accompany Sir Henry, the heir of Baskerville Hall, to his new estate in order to protect him from at that point still unknown enemies. Holmes had pretended to be staying back in London, while in truth he had followed us within short and stealthily, in order to allow him to investigate this new case of ours without his presence being known to the public – and not to me, either.
The “Adventure of the Hound of the Baskervilles” had later been brought to a successful conclusion – but not without casualties, leaving a deeply disappointed, shocked and bitter Sir Henry Baskerville.
Some time after that, Holmes and I had paid another short visit to the place. We had just finished another case, one of those which I have not published due to reasons of discretion, and our journey back home had led us through this part of the country. Holmes had consented to call upon the young baronet, who had just returned from a lengthy journey that had brought back his nerves and his spirits, and I had been very glad to notice that change for the better.
My third visit at Baskerville Hall… it had been the saddest one. I hardly remember those first days after my arrival there. Never in my whole life had I felt so forlorn. I had lost Holmes in Switzerland, and now I had also lost my wife. Sir Henry had taken care of me, spent the evenings with me in front of a warming fire, walked with me for hours and listened to me as I recollected my previous visits of happier times.
It was Sherlock Holmes’ most unexpected return to the living that had kind of restored my world. I will not deny an amount of additional pain as a consequence of those events… but we both had made it through and had emerged from it with a bond of friendship that had proven to be even stronger than before.
So, why did I feel now all this discontent? Why did I feel as if something was wrong with my life? What kind of blame was there to be put onto my friend who had done nothing to offend me? I had been feeling irritable and annoyed for several weeks now, and yet, there seemed to be nothing to justify these negative feelings – a fact that made me feel even more irritable and annoyed… with myself. I felt as if I was running away from home, and yet, my medicinal conscience insisted upon the fact that I was simply exercising what I would recommend to my patients as well: a little vacation.
I was still deep in thought, when the door to my compartment was suddenly opened and an elderly gentleman, a member of the cloth it seemed, entered, greeted me and took a seat in the opposite corner. I tensed, opened my newspaper and tried to look at him unobtrusively. A sudden thought had come to my mind, and I just could not dismiss it: Could it be?
The man did not seem to pay me any further attention, rummaged in his bag and produced a black leather book, which I recognised as a bible. Again, could it be? Had Holmes followed me and this was him in another one of his disguises? And if so, did I rejoice in that? Did I want him to be following me right now? Anyway, when the train stopped at the next station, my companion took leave and I understood that my speculations had been in vain. What I was not quite sure about, though, was whether I felt relieved or rather oddly dissapointed...
One of the first impressions I got from this fourth visit at Baskerville Hall was that of a certain familiarity. Granted, it was still an occasionally sombre place with a long history and the usual darker spots that often go along with it. It also bore a vast amount of memories in its solid walls that had passed through several centuries. Some of those memories were my own.
Anyway, it is the kind of place that grows on you with time, and I knew there was a reason why not only Sir Henry, in spite of the unpleasant events that marked his first weeks here, had decided to stay at the ancient seat of his family. Also the Barrymores, the butler and his wife, whom I already knew from my first arrival, had in contrast to their original plans after the untimely death of their former employer decided to stay in the household. Both looked much more at ease than in earlier times, and I could see from the vivid and expressive hazel eyes of my host that he as well was again in full possession of his good spirits.
“It’s really good to have you here again, Doctor”, the baronet remarked good-naturedly after dinner, some time after we had both withdrawn to the billiard room. “I’ve been missing a serious challenge, and you really play a mean cue ball. So, your cases must be leaving you both at least some time to practise, now and then.”
“Holmes and I, you mean?” I chuckled at the mere thought of it. “I’m not even sure if Holmes has ever held a cue in his hands unless considering it a possible murder weapon. He would be forced to visit a club in order to play, after all.”
“I see…” Sir Henry bent over the table and delivered an expert move which gained him another two points and was – from the enthusiast’s point of view - a sight to behold. “So that’s a bit too sociable for his taste…”
“Something like that. No, I use the opportunity of sometimes playing with Joe Thurston at my club.”
He raised his eyebrows. “The Joe Thurston? I’m impressed, Doctor, a hell of a player!”
He suddenly eyed me curiously. “Watson, are you quite all right?”
“What? Oh… why yes, of course I am!”
But I could not help it – the mentioning of Holmes had brought back the meanwhile all too familiar uneasiness, which I had been able to disregard during the last hours. I tried to check myself – but I missed my next put anyway.
My friend was sitting beside me on the settee. His face looked concerned, but he nevertheless seemed at a loss regarding my present state of mind. But I was already past the point of endurance.
„You don’t understand, Holmes!“ After weeks of half-smiles, endless looks, numerous innuendos, casual touches, a series of sleepless nights, rather strange dreams and uneasy mornings… my nerves were quite on the edge. I knew I had to do something about this: He obviously had NO idea what he was doing to me! “Can’t you see that you have been sending all those wrong signals lately? Do you suppose I am made of stone? Well, just so you know: I am not!”
He looked at me for a long time… then he asked calmly: “Has it ever occurred to you that I might be sending just the right signals?”
And then he kissed me, and I had neither time nor inclination to resist, for his mouth was already ravishing mine in a most delicious way, his knowing hands were all over my body and I knew for certain there was nothing… nothing… I would be able to refuse to him just now…
It was that very moment that I woke of with a jerk. Eyes wide open, panting and sweating, I stared into the darkness and tried to find the path back to reality. I felt rather shaken: What in God’s name had THAT been?
I stumbled out of bed and towards the window, where a faint light already penetrated the curtains. Indeed, dawn was breaking – and this was not London, this was Devonshire. Holmes was far away, in Baker Street, and I was alone. I pulled the curtains open and looked outside. Fog was emerging from the lawns, and fog seemed to encompass my mind as well. One thing, though, I knew for certain: I had to stop this!
A splash of cold water from the wash stand soothed my burning face. It was almost six o’clock, and I somehow had the feeling that I could not get back to sleep anyway. So I made some additional light and went through my morning routine in order to make myself presentable, hoping that the usual tasks would distract me from this… astonishingly graphic dream. But when I opened the razor blade and put it against my throat in order to shave, my hands were still trembling so heavily that I decided to better give myself a few additional moments before attempting again to bring a sharp knife in close proximity to vital blood vessels.