Part Three. Three! Dang, that’s a lotta parts. Any road, here ’tis. As promised, it’s mostly a linking chapter to slide us into the antics of the closing chapters. And quite antic they will be.

But first, the wrapping up (of sorts) of a handful of loose ends, the unwrapping of some new ones, and little bit of poetry to set the mood.

Incidentally, if you were curious, Paul Verlaine is a real poet who really lived in Paris at this time and his story is pretty much as Francois tells it although you have to make allowances for Francois being a hopeless romantic. The poems in this story really are his and they are pretty damned perfect.

What else? Oh, there’s no resolution in this chapter. Stop asking for it. There’s some in the last couple of chapters but what you think of as resolution and what I think of as resolution may be entirely different animals so keep that in mind.

To answer your next complaint, yes, there’s a cliff hanger, but it’s exactly what it says. No fooling. Chapter 13 is the one I’d planned to post on Valentine’s Day (although it had a much lower number attached to it then) and I wouldn’t lie about Valentine’s Day. I think that’s one of the lesser known sins.

And (last note) I’m working on a birthday story for myself – just a short one-shot – so don’t flip out if that goes up before Chapter 13. Just indulge me a little longer. I’ll try to make it worth the wait.

Thanks for reading and… go.

—oooOIIIOooo—
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Part Three: Chansons and Souvenirs

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Chapter Twelve: Pleasure and Train

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“We must take our friends as they are.”

– James Boswell
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I closed the rust-colored book of poetry upon my knee and gazed out the window at the countryside slipping past. As the train crossed a series of dusty lanes they seemed to shoot away like sparks from the steel wheels that beat along the endless track below.

Slanting late afternoon sunlight tipped the new growth pushing up through the fields. The sun would roll through the sky for a while longer on this late spring evening, but it would be dusk before the red brick station in Toulouse hove into view.

I didn’t know what I sought on this journey any more than I’d known what I sought when I left London on my way to Marrakech. Then I’d been full of anxious anticipation of a sun-baked land a continent away from the gray stone steps outside my home in Kensington.

Now I looked forward only to buying a lacework bag of candied violets from a girl with shining black eyes and oak brown hair that tumbled over her shoulders. Beyond that, the future was a closed book. But if I’d learned one thing from Francois le Villard, it was what one did in the moment that mattered most. The best one could do was take one un-impossibility at a time.

It was curious to think how similar my present condition was to the one I’d known when I’d arrived in London from Afghanistan with no fixed address, no kith or kin, no work to occupy me, no real home. Then I’d met Sherlock Holmes and everything changed.

Holmes had become my pole star long before I knew I loved him. He was the fixed point around which my life turned. The three years I’d thought him dead I’d spent adrift, wandering without rudder or mooring.

Even now, not knowing when or where I might see him again, it was an immutable fact that wherever I ranged on the map, my position would always be marked in relation to where he stood. I couldn’t begrudge him the fact. That I loved him was no more under his control than it was under mine. It was the one central un-impossibility.

The sheaf of papers on the banquet beside me slewed toward the window as the train took a lazy arcing curve. As I gathered them back toward me I glanced out at the town we skirted.

A knot of young boys were taking advantage of the few extra moments of light afforded by the late April evening to kick a scuffed red ball in the yard of a stone church. The sight flicked past the window and was gone, leaving only an image, like a tinted photograph, captured in my mind. I decided I would make note of it in my journal as yet another souvenir of this time in France.

It was strange to realize anyone browsing through my travel journal would have no way to divine the changes wrought in the gap between my first set of notes and that last. To such a reader, the events that had fallen between were invisible, as if they didn’t truly exist outside my mind. It was an odd fancy, but one that appealed to me.

After all, I thought, as I slipped the journal back into the leather kit bag at my feet, only a handful of people, Villard, Séraphie, Moran, Holmes and myself, had seen those events play out. Of them, only Villard had been with me from beginning to end.

He had been there almost the instant I’d awoken more than a week before to the smell of carbolic acid and the sight of bare whitewashed walls and known them for the indisputable signs of a hospital room. Even before conscious thought returned, I was seized by the cold grip of panic, not knowing whether Holmes was dead or alive.

When the door pushed open a moment later and I saw it was Francois le Villard who stepped into the room, sloshing most of the pitcher of water in his hand over his shoes at the sight of my open eyes staring into his, for a split second I feared the worst.

But as in so many things, Villard anticipated me. His first words were, “He is fine, my friend. Apart from a blackened eye, Monsieur Holmes is unharmed and well. But, as I guess your next question to be, he is not here. I take full blame for this fact, but I thought it for the best that your friend take himself away. As I informed Monsieur Holmes when last we met and he left me with this charming remembrance,” he indicated a purpling bruise on his jaw, “Should he choose to stay in my vicinity I would, with great joy in my heart, place him under arrest. Now I will bring more water as this is all across the floor as you can see. When I return we will talk of your other questions, oui? Bon.”

So with typical tact, Villard left me to collect my thoughts. When he returned he did his best to answer my questions, often before I could find the words to ask them. And to his credit he attempted to be fair to Holmes although it was clearly, and justifiably, a trial to him at times.

He’d explained the events of two nights before to the best of his understanding. To my sound of astonishment that I’d been unconscious for so long he had simply shrugged and remarked, “You were very tired, non?” as if it was the only explanation.

Villard’s story began from the moment, in his description, Holmes had “so stupidly and with such disdain for the good sense” rendered me unconscious. Seemingly Holmes had immediately gone to fetch the nearest gendarmes in expectation they might watch over me and send for aid while he himself made his way unimpeded to rendezvous with the man who had pledged his murder. As Villard had put it, “sadly for Monsieur Holmes’s so foolish plans, the gendarme he discovered was myself.”

Holmes, it seemed, had not predicted that Villard’s first instinct would not be to storm to the Hotel de Gaspard to determine what had become of Séraphie. As Villard explained, “I did not expect this Séraphie Bouguereau to calmly await my convenience to render her under arrest.” Villard’s only surprise, it seemed, had been that she had kept to her post so long.

So it was Holmes had encountered Villard and the small squad of men he’d stationed nearby making their way up the grass verge toward our position near the Eiffel Tower. If Holmes had been dismayed by that inconvenience he was surely livid when Villard further impeded him from making his rendezvous with Moran through the simple expedient of shouting at the top of his lungs. I could imagine Holmes’s profoundly impassive expression as Villard’s voice rang down the empty park.

If that had not been enough to encourage Moran to make a judicious retreat, surely the sight that followed, had he glimpsed it, would have given him notice that the fatal meeting would not take place that night. As Villard recalled, with a certain amount of pleasure evidenced by the twitch of his trim mustache, “Regrettably, I found it unavoidable at that time to knock Monsieur Holmes to the ground.”

It seemed that Villard had quickly decided that Holmes bore some responsibility for my state of unconsciousness, for as he said, “My belief was strong that such an injury to your head, grievous though it may be, was not to be the cause of a so sudden swooning, non? Such a circumstance had the aspect most doubtful to my mind. This combined with the so shifty manner of your friend caused me to suspect his destination and to question him mostly soundly.”

By Villard’s account the brawl lasted only long enough for the doctor to arrive and offer the judgment that I seemed in no immediate danger but should be removed to a hospital as soon as could be arranged. While the stretcher party was organized, Villard had given Holmes his ultimatum – leave or be arrested for obstructing the police in their duties and as many other charges as Villard could devise after applying sufficient time and more than sufficient will to the task.

Villard had added that, “Though it was the great disappointment to me, your friend showed such unusual wisdom as to take my advice.” He admitted it was for the best. Had he placed Holmes under arrest it would have complicated maintaining the illusion to the world at large that he was still dead.

Villard had not seen Holmes in the time since. “Although,” he added on seeing my expression, “I have the reliable information your friend has kept in contact with certain individuals in this establishment.”

He went on to say, “Your friend was at least so thoughtful as to inform me by telegram that as Inspecteur Principaux I might like to know that this Moran and the creature Séraphie were no more to be found in France.” Where they might be Holmes did not say. Nor he himself though the telegram was sent, without attempt to hide the fact, from nearby in Lyon.

As I sat in bed, digesting this information, Villard watched me silently. Most of my questions had been answered save the chief one – how it was that Holmes would betray my trust so far as to leave me insensible and unable to follow with the words “I love you” still ringing in my ears.

Villard must have seen the uncertainty in my expression. He sat forward in the cast metal chair he’d pulled up to the bed, resting his elbows on his knees. “My friend,” he said quietly, “I think perhaps there may be more that you would ask, but first I will ask one question of you and I hope that we are such friends that you will not think it too much the impertinence, non? What I would ask is, in the time when you and Monsieur Holmes were watching outside the Hotel, did Monsieur Holmes…”

Villard’s voice took on a most unaccustomed hesitancy. “John, when your friend proposed that we should take up the surveillance out of doors, as you well know, I did not think it the most sensible of strategies. But there was one outcome of this event I thought might occur to make the labor of it worthwhile. I hoped that when you and he were alone in the park, under the sight of the moon, Monsieur Holmes might find he was yet brave enough to confess to you what is in his heart.”

My astonishment must have shown clearly for Villard looked uncharacteristically apprehensive until I mustered the wit to offer some vague acknowledgement that Holmes had done exactly that.

Villard exhaled a huge sigh. “Ah, bon. Très, très bon.” His elegantly curled lips turned up in a smile. “But if only he told me perhaps I would not have hit him quite so boisterously. Although I confess that I am the smallest degree glad that I did not have this knowledge. It is yet a too fond memory. And so you said to him that this is also true for you?” he asked.

When I said that I had not for the simple reason that in the next instant Holmes had punched me in the jaw, Villard let loose a burst of throaty laughter. When he’d recovered himself he shook his head and said with mock resignation, “Ah, my friend. The fates, they have their way with you, do they not?”

When I posited with some heat that it was not the fates so much as Holmes that had knocked me unconscious, Villard grew serious.

“John, my friend,” he said, “I think there is a question we share and the evidence of it is visible to see here on my chin and also on yours. I would know why it is that Monsieur Holmes, he persists in this idea that he should behave as the lonesome wolf. Ah, I see this is indeed a question for you as well. I do not have the answer, although as you may imagine I did request it from him with some energy. Perhaps it may be that you will ask this of him when next you meet. Perhaps you will have more success. If it is so, I would hope that you might let me know of it for until the time I have this understanding, I think it will be of the utmost difficulty for me to speak to Monsieur Holmes as a friend once again and I would rather that this were not true.” He paused for a moment then flashed a smile. “But I think you may be tired after so much time since your last sleep. Now I will say goodnight and in the morning you will leave this charming room and come with me into the sunshine for I think we may go into the garden and you will teach me the difference between the mignonette and the lily, oui? Très bon.”

After Villard left, I lay watching the progression of moonlight across the white wall for a time. At last I roused myself and went to the dresser to retrieve the worn leather kit bag he had brought for me. It was still packed with my few travel conveniences, those that hadn’t been left behind in Marseilles with the balance of my luggage, but to the collection had been added those items I’d left in the Hotel de Gaspard. I’d sifted through them hoping, without confessing it even in my own thoughts, I would find some message from Holmes tucked inside.

Villard had, I was glad to see, apparently decided to dispose of my bloodstained brown tweed suit. I imagined the idea of preserving it was too much for his fastidious nature. The remaining items, the tattered bag of candied violets, the rust-colored book of poetry, and the black leather case were all present and neatly arranged.

I’d hesitated for an instant before snapping open the lid of the case. Nestled inside, as if it had never left the velvet lining, was the syringe. Villard had evidently restored it to its place. I couldn’t doubt he had recognized it for what it was. Like Séraphie, he had probably drawn certain conclusions about how it came to be there. Conclusions, I had to admit, that were probably accurate, at least in part. I set it aside, making a note to visit the dispensary and have it replenished, and picked up the rust-colored book of poetry. I knew it was my last and best hope of finding some message from Holmes.

My heart gave a lurch as a folded slip of hotel stationery fluttered out onto the bedclothes. It took only a moment to recognize the faint lingering scent of lavender and know that the message was from Séraphie. With some trepidation I unfolded the sheet and held it up to the yellow glow of the lamp.

John, I will hide this for you in the book of poetry by Verlaine in the hope that very soon you may open it to read with your Sherlock and that as you see my little note you will smile and think kindly of your Séraphie for I will be thinking of you my angel where ever I may be.

I am afraid I will not see your pretty blue eyes again for a long time and this is a great sadness to me. I will go now to meet my love. As I believe your Sherlock must have said this to you tonight it will not be as a surprise that he is the man whom you seek with the air gun that caused your poor head to be so bandaged.

This hurts my heart very much my angel yet I cannot change the way I love, as I think you well know. It is our way to love the one we must although we know it is only to end with more sadness. Still we hope, do we not?

If it could have been that I had seen your blush and your so kind smile before my love found me perhaps things would have been as different as they may be. Perhaps it is not too late to change these things. It seemed it might be true when I looked into your sweet face, but so soon ago. I am not so strong and brave as you cher but still I will do as best I can.

I will go to tell my love that Sherlock has gone away and is not to be found so it is good that we leave Paris for the present time. I do not know if I will be successful in this. My love is very fierce when he is determined and he may not listen but I will try my hardest.

Perhaps between you and I we may keep these two men, your love and mine, from harm though they would not wish it themselves. Why is it that love cannot be enough of the danger for them? You and I, we know there is peril enough in the ways of the heart to satisfy any craving of this kind.

But I cannot keep my love waiting any longer. He will do what he will if I come to him or not and I have no choice but to go though I know I am very foolish in this.

Believe I will miss your pretty blue eyes so much and will think of them often and hope that they are as full of joy as may be. Kiss your Sherlock for me. Ah, I smile even as I think of this. I would not tell him the kiss is from me cher. It will not make him kiss you in return I think.

Until the time we meet again my angel I will be forever your loving Séraphie

P.S. Give my love also to Francois. I will look forward to hearing what color he turns at this. Au revoir.

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I read the note over perhaps a dozen times before tucking it carefully back into the pages of the book. I decided not to share it with Villard for a very long time.

The next day he was as good as his word and as we walked out into the sunshine, he told me reports had come from London that a telegram had been received at Scotland Yard on the morning we met in Montpelier. The telegram had given exact instructions on where to receive the original of the mannequin from Grenoble and how best to employ it as bait. The elder Moran had been duly taken into charge, “By this Inspecteur Lestrade,” Villard had read from the report. “He is French, non?”

The younger Moran was still at large and, we assumed, with Séraphie. We differed vastly in the aspect of our regret at that supposition. Where we agreed was in the belief that the only ones who knew Holmes still lived were we four. Lestrade had received only an unsigned telegram and if he had suspicions about its source he hadn’t voiced them. The few gendarmes who had seen Holmes didn’t know him by sight. It seemed his secret was safe, at least for a time.

A day later I was allowed to leave the hospital and if it had been Villard’s intention to keep me occupied in the week that followed, he had in some measure succeeded. Having secured the use of a flat a few doors down from his own for a reasonable consideration to a neighbor just leaving on an extended holiday in the mountains, Villard had seemingly endeavored to use the balance of his own holiday in keeping me company.

I was grateful for this, yet our near constant companionship could not help but raise in my mind the spectre of Villard’s feelings for me. That they were real, I couldn’t doubt. I’d been told as much by both Holmes and Séraphie, each in their way.

Still despite the resolution I had voiced to Holmes that night in the park, I had not broached the subject and as the days passed I came no closer to deciding how to do it until one night when Villard and I sat up late, talking together and enjoying the excellent brandy which was one of his few indulgences.

Earlier in the evening, feeling a rekindling of the doubts and uncertainties that had plagued me since awaking in the hospital, I had opened the black leather case, as had become my regular practice, and taken steps to keep those particular demons at bay. If it were not for that I might never have made myself speak on the subject, but as it transpired I was feeling both at my ease and garrulous.

So it was, as night drifted into morning and there was a lull in our conversation, I said in the stillness, “Francois, I have been slow to discuss one thing that may be a question between us.” He looked at me with a peculiarly blank expression and I went on more hesitantly, “I know you did your best to make Holmes understand the feelings he and I shared and I think that might have been more difficult for you even than I know. Before I leave Paris, I thought perhaps we should talk…” My voice trailed off as I searched for the right words. Villard did not wait for me to find them.

He puffed out a little sigh and leant back in his desk chair. “John, my friend,” he said quietly as he swirled the brandy in his glass. “You have been very kind not to make it known to me that I have given the advice to you many times without your asking for this and how seldom have I heeded these words of my own. This now I must change.” He took a long sip of brandy and exhaled. His hazel eyes met mine and it was a surprise to realize how rare it was of late to see them untouched by a smile. “I think the best way to do this may be to tell you something about John Watson you do not know. It is not the deduction or the theory. It is what I learn because I see. I observe. And I do these things with both my head and my heart.”

He exhaled a sigh and looked off into the distance as he said, “You, my friend, are as the most wonderful mirror. To stand with you and see one’s self in your eyes, it is like being the person one would wish to be if the world did not make it impossible. It is a feeling like being… amazing. Who would not wish to have this feeling? Who would not want to feel it always? I am no different from anyone in this. I would have the feeling of being amazing in your eyes… and more than this. I would like to know what it is to be alone in your heart, not just in your eyes.”

He sat forward in his chair and rested his elbows on his knees as he regarded me solemnly. “I believe you know, my friend, my heart and my head do not agree where you are concerned. In my head I know there is no chance of this. But my heart, ah, my heart is foolish and it would have you think of me as something more than your friend Francois. I do not say this to you in hopes that your heart may change, as that could not be. I only say this because I have tried to tell you truly what I think from the start…’’ He smiled. “Almost from the start of our acquaintance. And because I would hope that you would consider one thing and that is, whose eyes are those that make you know this feeling… of being so amazing? I would like very much to have you know what it is to feel this, for it is beyond compare, my friend.”

He sat back abruptly and turned to place his empty glass on the desk. “Now I think I have talked enough for tonight,” he said as he stood. “And it is time we say, bon soir. In the morning I will take you to find another too large breakfast and you will examine it with dismay. It is a thing I enjoy to see very much.” With that he succeeded in chivvying my out the door and back to my own rented room with no more discussion.

Later I lay awake long into the watches of the night. I thought about Francois, and Séraphie and all the others who had in so many ways told me they wished me to be happy. I thought of the last time I’d felt simple, uncomplicated happiness and with it came the remembrance of Mediterranean sun on my face, titian blue skies soaring overhead, and a horizon where the shining peaks of the mountains blinked like crystal. I stared up into the darkness as it faded to gray, then to white. As the first birdsong sounded outside, I knew it was time to go.

That morning Villard greeted me with the same delight he had shown every morning before. We sat nursing large cups of coffee, I on his worn settee and he straddling his desk chair, and enjoyed the sunlight streaming in through his one narrow window.

I noticed a slim monograph on his desk titled, On the Relative Rate of Consumption of Eleven Widely Used Varieties of Candle Wax by one S. Holmes. Next to it was a stack of handwritten pages. At my look of surprise, Villard gave a low chuckle.

“Yes,” he said easily. “The work continues, does it not? He is still the master.” He gave a small shrug. “And I have much to learn before I am no longer the apprentice. When you see Monsieur Holmes you may tell him that I am all in eagerness for his next monograph. I might suggest a title of On the Use of the Romantic Poetry in the Numeral Cipher although I think this may be a subject in which there is little practical interest.”

I smiled and said I hoped I would have a chance to deliver the message soon wherever I might find myself. At his look of interest I explained that I was considering where to go next.

“Not to Marrakech?” he asked, his bowed lips curling in a smile.

I shook my head, smiling. “No, not Marrakech. I might go to Spain or maybe Greece. Or I might just try again to visit Marseilles. It’s still too early to say. But first,” I said as I took another sip of coffee, “I believe I’ll stop in Toulouse and buy some candied violets.”

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On the afternoon before I planned to leave Paris, Villard and I sat at a tiny ironwork table under the yellow awning that ran the length of the café The Bishop’s Cat. We sipped dark, rich coffee and watched tourists and Parisians stroll along the avenue in the shadow of Notre Dame.

Occasionally a passerby would meet my eye or cast a curious glance at the small square of sticking plaster above my ear. I would smile and they would either smile or blush depending on their temperament and continue past.

A young couple, she in suit of vanilla colored satin, he in a very modern striped coat and trousers, drifted by, entirely unaware of anything outside the circumference of one another’s gaze.

Villard chuckled and remarked, “There is one thing more I know about love, my friend.”

I smiled as I set down my cup preparing to tear off another piece of sweet brioche. “As a humble detective?”

“Just so,” he agreed equably. “What I know is love is always beautiful, even when she is the cause of pain, because this pain, it belongs to you alone. No one else may claim it.” I made no response to this for there seemed none to make and he went on, “Walk over the mountains or sit in the Lapin Agile drinking absinthe or take a ferry to Marrakech, or do as one will, the pain is with you always. And this is not such a bad thing. The pain is how you know the love is real, ehn? It is strange to me, this wish to deaden the pain of love.”

I relinquished the piece of brioche, untasted. “You mean with absinthe,” I said evenly, studying the cup in my hands.

“You may put it beside,” he went on as if I hadn’t spoken. “Like a companion you can ignore. But when the, let us say the absinthe, is gone, the companion is still there beside you. So you drink more. Yet the companion does not leave. And so it goes. No one will win this waiting game. Better I think to offer the companion a drink and sit together as friends. This is my belief, though I am no philosopher.”

“Francois,” I said watching the ripples on the surface of the coffee as I turned my cup. “Have you ever considered that if you gave up being a humble detective you might take up being a humble philosopher with equal success?”

“Non,” he answered firmly. “Philosophers have not a sense of humor and dress very badly. I believe I am ready now for our lunch. Will you have one dish of cassoulet or two, my friend?” He waved to a tall waiter with neatly groomed side whiskers. “Two, I think. Bon.”

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The next morning Villard took me to Gare de Montparnasse. We stood on the platform, I with my battered leather kit bag and wearing a new brown tweed suit, Villard as immaculate as the day we’d met, his light brown hair brilliantined to a gloss and heather green suit perfectly pressed. His round eyes shone as he took my hand.

“John, my friend, I will look forward to the day when we meet again.”

This time it was I who reached out and pulled him into a tight hug. When I stepped back we were both blinking in the bright morning light.

“Ah,” he said gruffly, reaching into his jacket pocket. “This I have for you. For the journey.”

He pulled out a thin sheaf of papers folded into a square. I took the packet from him and gave him a curious look.

“You will read it later,” he said, smiling. “There is time. It is a long ride to Toulouse.”

I nodded and with one more clasp of hands and promises to meet again soon, we parted. Villard’s compact form was soon swallowed up by the steady flow of hurrying travelers.

A few minutes later I was settled in my compartment with Villard’s packet of papers beside me on the leather banquette. A whistle sounded and with a chuff of steam the train jerked forward.

I could not help but look out the window as the platform began to roll past. No tall figure strode through the crowd. I had seen no bent old Frenchwoman swathed in mourning veils.

Smiling at my own foolishness, I bent to open my bag. I had packed in haste that morning, having grown fond of a leisurely cup of coffee on Villard’s threadbare settee.

The rust-colored book was on top, my journal under that. I lifted both and put them aside. Resting on my shaving kit was the black leather syringe case. I pulled it out and slotted it into its home in my breast pocket as I sat back, the bundle of papers from Villard resting on my lap. I unfolded them on my knee. On top the topmost sheet of foolscap, in a neat, curling script was written, “John, to continue your lessons in French I prepare these translations. I believe you will find them to be of some interest, if not of the greatest practicality for ordering brioche and cassoulet. Yours, Francois le Villard.”

I turned the top sheet aside and flipped through the pages. In tidy script, some dozen poems were copied out. The first was titled, Romances without Words.

The train rocked over a crossing, calling me back to the present. I glanced again at the countryside rolling past the window. The moon was visible as a pale Cheshire Cat smile on the horizon of a sky as iridescent as a butterfly’s wing. I gathered up the few items I’d arrayed across the banquet, fitting them into my pocket and my bag as appropriate, and gathered the papers beside me.

I had made some effort to match the translations from Villard to the words in the book though, as promised, Verlaine’s vocabulary was not exceptionally well adapted for general conversation. I didn’t imagine I’d learned anything that would be useful in finding a hotel room before dark, but I had found much in it of interest all the same.

Before tucking the papers away, I turned back to one poem I had read many times in the hours of the afternoon.

The Friends
On the Balcony
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Two forms watching the swallows in their flight.
One pale, with jet black hair; the other blonde
And pink–their flowing garments of old gold
Like vague serpents twining, cloudlike and light.

Both languorous as asphodels where bright
The sky glows with a full moon, soft and round,
Whose rays throb with emotion, deep, profound.

Thus, with arms pressing their bodies supple,
Strange couple pitying every other couple,
They dream upon the moonlight balcony.
Behind them in the room’s rich somber shade,
Enthroned in stately pomp, as in a play,
And full of perfumes, stands the bed, unmade.

Just as I reached the end, the steady rhythm of the wheels below hitched and slowed. I looked up as a sign reading Toulouse slid past the window. I rubbed my eyes with the heel of my hand then bent to tuck the poems away. As I hefted my bag and stood, I glanced out at the station.

There was Holmes, standing on the platform, his improbably long legs braced as if he faced into a strong wind. Seeing him and the stiff set of his shoulders, squared above hands thrust into the pockets of his dark suit, the expectant angle of his head, the wary look in his keen gray eyes, one question, at least, was answered.

Our eyes met and I smiled. The corners of his mouth quirked in what might have been a smile. It was difficult to tell from the tight set of his jaw.

I shifted the weight of my bag in my hand and made my way out of the compartment. When I stepped onto the platform, I saw Holmes hadn’t moved. As I walked toward him, he shifted and took a step toward me on stiff legs.

“Francois told you where to find me,” I said equably.

“Yes.” His eyes kept drifting to the plaster above my ear. He cleared his throat. “Yes. He… seems to have sent several telegrams to various places. One found me through a mutual acquaintance in Lyon.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a crumpled sheet of telegraph paper. “You might find it amusing.” He said flatly as he held it out to me.

I read the text, “OUR FRIEND ARRIVING LATE TRAIN TO TOULOUSE – SUGGEST YOU NOT RETURN TO PARIS – ARREST STILL THREATENED – PARTICULARLY IF YOU FAIL TO MEET TRAIN – OBSERVE ALL DUE CAUTION.”

I nodded, hiding a smile as I shifted my bag to make way for a trio of Carmelite nuns making their way to the station gate. “Yes, that sounds very like Francois,” I said. “How long have you been here?”

“Two days,” he answered. “Villard was unspecific in his timetable. Probably by design.”

I could not hide my grin at that. “Will you be in Toulouse long?”

He drew in a long breath then said, “That– I’d imagine that depends. On several things.”

“I may be here some time,” I remarked. “I haven’t yet decided where to go next. I have considerable holiday remaining.”

Holmes bit his lip. I made every effort to ignore the fact. I concentrated instead on the low chuff of the engine sounding in counterpoint to the gentle vibration coming up through the tiled floor.

“John…” he began.

I didn’t let him finish. “Holmes,” I said evenly, “I am not angry. I was, but I am not now. I am not going to knock you down, although I cannot say the thought didn’t cross my mind. I see your eye is healing nicely, by the way. Francois would be disappointed.” I went on calmly as his jaw again tightened. “I will be in Toulouse for some days. I don’t know where I am going next or when. We will see what the future brings. Right now, I am not interested in supper, sight seeing or small talk. I would like to continue our last conversation. It was interrupted as you recall. Where are you staying?”

He blinked. “Em. A small hotel near the river.”

“Which direction is the river?” I asked curiously.

He inclined his head to the right.

I nodded. “Does the room have a balcony?”

He puffed out a breath, opened his mouth and closed it again. “No,” he said at last.

“Well, we shall see if it will do.” I turned and walked toward the station gate.

After a moment’s pause, Holmes’s long stride fell into step with mine. We walked out onto the street and I turned toward him. His eyes were wide and a little startled. They caught the blue-white electric light spilling from the station door, reflecting it back as silver.

“I am very glad to see you,” I said quietly.

He cleared his throat. “I’m… very glad to hear it.”

I looked up into the blue satin sky. A bright swath of stars spilled across it, startlingly bright. Their sparkling light echoed the tingling in my skin as they lay a path for the rising moon. The pole star glinted, a diamond among sequins. “It’s a beautiful night,” I said to the sky. “I look forward to spending it with you,” I said as I linked my arm in his and turned down the hill toward the river.

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-«oOo»-
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Chapter Thirteen: Moon and Scars

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