(Author’s note: To quote the Tenth Doctor, circa “Blink,” this one got away from me a bit. At one point, I had to stop myself and go “Are you planning to rewrite the entire novel, from the point Watson leaves London to the end?” It looked like a possibility there for a while. I usually try not to make these stories just a redux of the original, but I wanted to use Watson’s being sent off to Dartmoor specifically as a plot point. And then it kind of became “Watson tells me a story for a few thousand words” pretty quickly.
I tried to rein that in a bit. It’s still longer than I intended, and more summary-ish than I wanted, but the basic idea of what I wanted from it is here.)
I have endeavored, in the brief time I have kept this journal, to keep it free of mentions of my relationship with Holmes. Despite the fact I am the only one with access to these pages, the existence of this record is as a recounting of our cases, not our personal lives. It may come to pass one day that Holmes’ deeds find their way into the history books and I’d like those accounts to be more accurate than the bollocks Fleet Street puts out daily. That is the purpose of this journal – serving history and my memory as I attempt to put these cases before the world.
Attempt. While I have penned several thrilling versions of our more brilliant escapades, no one has seen fit to print them yet. Perhaps I’m not as deft a wordsmith as Holmes tells me I am.
I also hesitate to include more private information here because it is just that – private. What Holmes and I have is not something I wish to share with anyone, perhaps not even my own journal. Most days, this relationship feels like something diaphanous; like sand kept in in a tight fist, threatening to drain away a grain at a time if I loosen my grip even the slightest bit. It’s new, which might speak to some of that, but not all. The rest may just be my own fear; nothing with Holmes ever feels grounded in reality. Every moment with her feels as fragile and questionably real as a dream.
With that said, this account will unfortunately require me to comment on events of a more personal nature, as they directly impact the course of the case. In fact, if not for the personal aspects of the story, the case itself may never have been taken up, or at least handled as it was.
My hope is that the official record – the public version and the story I eventually pen on the topic – will serve as testament enough to events and this will never be seen by anyone but me.
I write this entry from the gloomy confines of Baskerville Hall, located in the dreary and rather unsettling town of Dartmoor. My opinions on the estate and town may be impacted by my mood upon arrival – affected by events before I left London – and the hour. Nothing looks cheerful this late at night. How I came to be here is two-fold: it was at the request of one Dr. James Mortimer, on behalf of his new neighbor, Sir Henry Baskerville, upon the death of his uncle; it is also as the result of a…we will call it a disagreement between myself and Holmes that will benefit from my temporary absence. The case, timed brilliantly as its arrival was, provided an excellent excuse for that absence. Per her reasoning; I reserve my own on this topic.
The disagreement came first.
We were in bed. I include that detail only to provide a full and accurate record, not as a means of titillation. I was pleasantly drowsy and happy, as frequently happened in the aftermath. Holmes laid against my side, her hair splayed out in wild, damp curls across my shoulder. She used the same as her pillow. A sweet peace and contentment lingered over me as I hadn’t experienced in some time. Since before my service at the very least.
I may have become too swayed by that feeling of calm and the cause for it. That is my only excuse for what happened. Not, in my opinion, that what I did required an excuse or was wrong in any way, despite the outcome.
“Marry me,” I said, the words left softly against her hair.
Holmes laughed. It was the soft, light sound of amusement saved for quiet, private moments like this; almost a young girl’s giggle more than the measured chuckle reserved for the company of others. “I don’t think either of us are dressed for such an event.” She lifted her head and pinned me with a wistful, wicked look. “Perfectly attired for other related activities, though, once you’ve restored your energy.”
“I don’t think I’m the only one in need of a break.” I dropped a kiss to the tip of her upturned nose. She winked a tired eye and I pulled her tighter into my side with a firm squeeze.
“I am perfectly well-rested, thank you.”
“Well of course. I did all the work.”
Holmes gave an indignant huff before wriggling free and pouncing upon me like a cat on a caught mouse. We wrestled about for a moment, filling the room with the sounds of laughter and happy squeals before they gave way to the muffled sighs that accompany enthusiastic kisses. We ended up quite opposite how we started, with me prone on the bed and her hovering above me.
“Should I take over, then, so you can get your breath, old man?” she asked with a smug grin and an impish twinkle in her dark eyes.
“Old? I should show you old…” I pulled her down for a kiss by a handful of hair and lost myself in that simplest of acts. Lost my senses as well, perhaps, because when we parted again, those words she laughed off before tumbled free once again. “Marry me, Charlotte.”
There was no laughter this time. She froze above me, watching me with the oddest expression. Sadness lingered at the edges, but something else, something darker, swirled at its.epicenter. “Can we please not have this conversation? Especially not now?”
“What is wrong with the conversation? Or the location of it?”
“Would you prefer I did this in a more traditional way?”
Holmes rolled away across the bed and sat on the edge of it. Her bate back was stiff and straight, but I only recognize it now, in retrospect. “John, please…”
I rolled off the other side and padded to where she sat, hands clasped in a tight knot in her lap. I reached for one. She didn’t pull away, but her hand stayed fisted in mine. When I settled into a stiff kneel before her, she turned her face to the door. “Charlotte Elizabeth Holmes, will you…”
“You’re not listening! I can’t…We can’t do this now.”
Before I could form a response, she leapt to her feet and ran out the door.
We didn’t speak over breakfast the next morning. Holmes stared at her plate through the entire meal, never once looking in my direction. I thought when Mrs. Hudson cleared the plates and retired to the kitchen there might be an opportunity for discussion, but the arrival of Doctor James Mortimer and the compelling mystery of Baskerville not long after prevented it.
I had the distinct impression throughout the day that Holmes only engaged Mortimer in an attempt to put off finishing what had been left incomplete the night before. His story relied heavily on superstition and nonsense, two things Holmes abhors, but she continuously humored him nonetheless. When it seemed her patience grew too strained on that matter, we were introduced to Sir Henry Baskerville and engaged in the drama of informing him of Mortimer’s concerns and the absurdity of the Baskerville curse.
Then Sir Henry handed us a warning delivered to his hotel room and shared the story of the theft of one of his boots not long after he checked in. I have never seen Holmes so happy to theorize about the motives behind a missing shoe in our entire association.
We were followed the next day on our journeys with Sir Henry and the doctor, which lent a troubling credence to some of Holmes’ concern. The disappearance of snother of Sir Henry’s boots that morning only solidified in her mind the need for a plan of action. I was unprepared for that plan to include my departure to Dartmoor, or Holmes’ intention to remain behind in London. Mrs. Hudson, as expected, forbade her niece to go traipsing off to the countryside in the company of three single men. I accepted the explanation of a need for minimal propriety, though I wondered if my temporary banishment wasn’t also related to a sudden need on her part for distance.
I set out that night on a train with Sir Henry and Mortimer. While they made for pleasant travel companions and I quite enjoyed the tales of Henry’s life in America and Canada, my mind and heart were heavy with the weight of things left unresolved at home. That state has continued since arriving at Baskerville Hall. While an impressive manor, there is a pervasive gloom within its walls that refuses to let me set my own uncertainty aside. It is easy to imagine a place like this, like the dreadful moor that stretches out beyond my window, being home to something as horrid as Sir Charles’ mythic, bloodthirsty hound.
I send Holmes letters daily, filled mostly with my reports on the people and events around Baskerville Hall and the progress of my investigation. They are am interesting cast of characters, the residents of Dartmoor. There are five people of true note, beyond Dr. Mortimer and Sir Henry. The Stapletons are our nearest neighbors, a naturalist and his sister who seem friendly enough. Miss Stapleton did mistake me for Sir Henry upon our first meeting and cryptically urged me to leave Dartmoor and never look back. Her brother has several odd ways about him as well, but they appear, for the most part, to be harmless. Mr. Stapleton also appears an enthusiastic ally in this odd situation.
Another neighbor, Mr. Frankland, passes his time in instigating the rest of the town and local magistrates with frivolous law suits. The greatest benefit to Mr. Frankland’s company is his knowledge of the intimate lives of his neighbors and his willingness to share it.
The most curious pair I have met are the two remaining servants at Baskerville Hall, the Barrymores, a husband prone to late night wandering and a wife similarly inclined to late-night sobbing. I have heard her crying deep into the night, though she and her husband both say I must be hearing things. Interestingly, Sir Henry heard the same. There is something very odd there.
Of most concern in the village is word that an escaped convict is thought to be hiding somewhere on the moor. Selden is no common thief, either; his imprisonment came at the result of murder and we are warned frequently how dangerous he may be. Holmes did not appreciate my concern for Miss Stapleton and her scholarly brother when I expressed such.
I wonder how useful any of the information I provide her is and whether I am up to the challenge of protecting Sir Henry and finding a solution to this bizarre circumstance. I admit that it is easy to believe in monsters in such a place as this, especially when the wind brings with it the sound of a terrifying howl that sounds like no creature God would place upon this Earth.
Tonight I will be sure to inform Holmes of the growing interest Henry has taken in Miss Stapleton. Perhaps that will lighten the tone of her next response. Perhaps, too, I should refrain from remarking on the attractiveness of single women to the one to which I recently made a failed proposal of marriage.
Tonight, I think we have solved the mystery of the Barrymores as well as the location of the convict, Selden. Sir Henry and I planned an ambush for Mr. Barrymore and caught him seemingly signaling someone out upon the moor with a candle.
“It will do you well to explain yourself, Barrymore,” I said, once we determined the purpose of the candle and its movements. “It will either be to us or to the police.”
“I’ve nothing to explain and you’ve no proof otherwise. This business belongs to someone besides myself, and I won’t speak a word of it.” As he struggled to get loose, he attempted to blow out the candle.
“All right, then,” I said, turning to Sir Henry. “If you can keep him here, I’ll go ‘round to Stapleton’s to send him to assist, then engage the police to come fetch our man. Someone acting so strangely, and the same man first on the scene when Sir Charles died, may well be responsible for the ill that befell him.”
Mrs. Barrymore rushed from the shadows then, her broad face stained with a night’s worth of tears and her eyes wide in panic. “Please, sir, my husband is innocent of what you charge him with. He only holds back on my behalf.”
The full account will go along to Holmes by the morning post. It’s already penned and addressed and ready to send. In summary, Mrs. Barrymore revealed that the convict hiding in the moor is her brother, and that she and her husband have been providing him with food and clothing since he arrived. Mr. Barrymore’s late-night movements and signals were all part of that unsavory plot.
Henry and I headed out into the moor in search of Selden despite the danger involved, and served only to find his bolt hole within sight of the Hall. I assume he grew suspicious of the interrupted signal and moved on accordingly befpre we arrived. We considered, standing in the villain’s den, contacting the search party and turning him in, but Henry couldn’t bring himself to hoist that trouble upon the Barrymores’ shoulders. Instead, we turned to embark on the journey home when a solitary silhouette crossed the moon in the distance and caught my eye.
Mrs. Barrymore’s brother is not the only person lurking in the moor beyond Baskerville Hall.
I’m not sure at this point whether I am justified to be angry or mildly betrayed, though I certainly feel both. The cause will soon enough be known.
Several days passed without response from London. In the meanwhile, Henry and I discovered by accident a probative scrap of paper in Sir Charles’ study, the single remaining remnant of an apparent letter burned in the fireplace. This scrap led me to the neighboring village of Coombe Tracey and Miss Laura Lyons, daughter to Mr. Frankland and the person Sir Charles intended to meet by the moor gate the night he died. We shared a tense conversation that left me convinced she was hiding more than she shared, but I couldn’t eek out more from her no matter my approach. When we were done, I made my way to her father’s house to see if I could gain further enlightenment on his daughter’s involvement with Sir Charles through careful questioning and deft steering of the conversation.
While the talk proved useful, I gained more from his telescope, which he used to watch his neighbors and search for the convict, than his words. He had not spotted Selden – to my relief – but did see another person wandering the landscape; the same figure I spotted in the moonlight the evening of the search for Selden. Through tracking of a young lad delivering food and supplies, Frankland discerned that the mysterious figure camped in the ruins of an old settlement at the far end of the moor. As we talked, we spied the same lad on one of his deliveries, and I decided to follow.
It was reckless to head off alone, but Sir Henry was safe with the Stapletons and a certain nagging feeling had me convinced the stranger presented little danger to me. Holmes is fond of claiming that I observe but don’t really see, but she would be surprised at how much I do. Like the familiar face of the young boy trudging along past Frankland’s glass, a face frequently seen in the sitting room at Baker Street. Like the peculiar outline of the silhouette against the moon.
She was surprised to find me in her little hiding place. More so that I called her by name when I heard her stop on the path outside. I find such absolute joy in proving her wrong. Particularly when she has left me feeling ridiculous and stupid with her thoughtless actions, be they purposeful or not.
Reunions and explanations were cut short by a cry and a spine-chilling howl from the moor. When we first came upon the scene my heart sank – the broken body wore one of Sir Henry’s suits and hats. When we turned him over, though, we discovered the poor soul was actually Selden the convict, disguised in Sir Henry’s old clothes.
“Thank God,” I said, dropping to sit on a large rock near the corpse.
“Or luck.” Holmes turned to search the surrounding landscape, a frown cutting furrows into her brow. “I think that may have been more on our favor tonight.”
The news carries a thorough account of the specifics of the resolution of this case – minus Holmes’ and my involvement, of course – and my treatise on the subject will be put to paper soon enough to provide a more unbiased version. Suffice it to say that there are no longer any hounds prowling the lonely moors beside Baskerville Hall and that Dartmoor is short one missing naturalist. For now, I’m exhausted and relieved to be in my own bed once again. I am even more relieved not to be alone in it. If this entry is nearly illegible it is because I write it from said bed and quite carefully, too, as not to wake my companion.
Holmes rightly deduced that Stapleton was the son of Rodger Baskerville and thus a potential heir to Sir Charles’ estate. She also correctly concluded that the Stapletons were husband and wife, not brother and sister. That last fact hit poor Sir Henry hard, even if the woman now is most likely a widow. His broken heart is the least of his concerns, though, overcome as it is by his brush with the hound. Death coming so close has left his nerves quite frayed, but with the assistance and friendship of Dr. Mortimer and a restorative holiday far from the source of his nightmare, I’m certain of his recovery.
I am less certain of other things and my nightmares hover much closer at hand. It wasn’t until we returned to London and left the concerns of baronets and policemen in their proper hands that the reality of that last night on the moor finally struck. Holmes came very close to being the victim of that beast. We all did. When it burst onto our path and charged for Henry, it passed within inches of us. If not for Lestrade – I say this begrudgingly and with considerable annoyance, as he has taken full credit for the solution of this matter despite his minimal involvement – and my revolver, Henry and the rest of us would likely be dead.
I thought before Dartmoor that I fully understood the risks of Charlotte’s vocation. I was wrong. I have never been so terrified in my life. I have survived war, have stitched together bleeding young men while cannon fire rained down around us, have faced an enemy with a gun leveled at my head and had the wherewithal to pull my trigger first, but nothing has inspired such fear as the realization that Holmes could have died right in front of me.
We haven’t talked. Not of that or of the previous disagreement or her recklessness in sneaking out to Dartmoor without telling anyone her plan. Before, there were others about, and other matters to discuss. When we finally made it home and convinced her aunt what was needed most was rest, we stumbled to our respective rooms in a beleagured silence. Five minutes later, Holmes knocked on my door and crawled into my bed and asked me to just hold her for the night in a voice full of vulnerable regret. Of course I couldn’t refuse. I don’t know how to say no to her. I didn’t want to, either.
She was asleep within minutes. I can’t yet close my eyes.