*Read description first or you’ll be confused*
It was 11 o’clock on June 4th, 1918. I had recently been wounded rather severely, 11 bullets in my left leg from a Nazi machine gun while I tended to the wounded on the field, and was now holed up in a little field hospital in I didn’t know where, for I had been out cold when they brought me in. If only I had known then who my time as an invalid would introduce me to, the man who changed my life, I would have welcomed the wounds instead of being so depressed. But now I know; it was worth the wounds.
The story I will tell you is primarily all fact, with modest little interludes of fiction where I obviously was not present to record the event and what was said as it actually happened. But eventually, in my later years, I was told all that occurred so I could write a better account of the entire story.
I was lying alone in the blocked off part of the tent that was called my room, my stomach growling slightly and my mood anything but pleasant, when the matron walked in with her stern old face and sober blue eyes.
“Good morning, Doctor Watson,” she said without conviction. “How do you feel this morning?”
“Ruddy awful,” I mumbled.
She did not reply, but busied herself about my bandaged leg. I cringed with a sharp intake of breath as she poked and prodded my wounds.
“How’s it look?” I asked, setting my teeth.
“Better,” she replied. “But you’ll be in a wheel chair for a very long time, doctor.”
“Do you suppose you could help me sit up so I could take a look at it?”
The matron supported my back with her hands and helped me sit up. I swallowed. It didn’t look very nice, but it looked better than it had when I’d cut apart my hole-ridden trousers to first inspect my hole-ridden leg before I passed out from blood loss. The matron laid me back down and redid the bandages. She gave me a spoonful of painkiller and moved to leave my “room.”
“Matron,” I called to her just before she left. “Could you find out if there’s a Lieutenant Holmes in this camp anywhere? I’ve a message for him from his brother.”
The matron said she would do what she could and left. I let out a sigh and attempted to shift my position slightly. I gave a little cry of pain and gave up the notion.
Lieutenant Sherlock Holmes looked up from the letter he was writing. Half a moment later a young private pulled back the flap of his tent and entered.
“Lieutenant Holmes,” he said, saluting.
“Yes, Private Jones?”
“Matron says there’s somebody asking for you in the hospital. His name’s Watson, she said, Doctor John Watson.”
Holmes narrowed his keen blue eyes. “Did he say why?”
“He said he had a message for you from your brother, sir.”
He hesitated a moment, his face had gone a shade whiter than it already was. “Thank you, Jones, I will be there in a moment.” Jones nodded and left. Holmes folded his letter neatly into his pocket. He picked up his hat and walked out of his tent. His long, thin legs took him swiftly to the field hospital. He walked past several young men who lay sleeping on their cots in search of the matron.
At last he found her and she took him to my “room.” I was asleep at the time, for the painkiller always made me drowsy. He came up to me and gently nudged my arm. My eyes flickered open.
“Doctor Watson,” he said in a precise, business-like voice. “You said you had a message from my brother?”
I was only half awake, but I glanced up at him with some admiration I can tell you. He was tall, thin, and had broad shoulders, and his face was long, sharp, and lean. His uniform was spotless and there wasn’t a wrinkle to be seen. He looked down at me with deep-set, intense blue eyes.
“Y-yes, I did,” I mumbled, attempting to sit up a little. His sinewy hands shot out from his side and aided my somewhat painful movement. I looked up at him and smiled. “Thanks, old boy.”
“Think nothing of it, Doctor,” he said with his powerful voice. I felt he ought to be on the stage. He began to look a little inpatient, and I felt I had better get to the point.
“I met your brother John when I was working in a field hospital in France,” I began. I saw his face blanch a little but he remained quite composed. “We got talking when I found his name was John as well. A really fine fellow, your brother, very funny chap.” Lieutenant Holmes smiled faintly and I continued on quickly. I was beginning to get nervous about my task and wanted it over with. “He told me all about you and your older brother, Mycroft. He admired you both very much. He told me if I was ever to see you I was to give you this letter.” I reached onto my bedside table, picked up a folded piece of yellowish paper, and held it out to him. My own blood faintly stained one corner. “He wrote it while he was in hospital.”
Holmes licked his dry lips and took the letter. He opened it and read it through. His expression did not change and he looked up at me with cold, emotionless eyes.
“He’s dead then?” he said curtly.
“I’m afraid so, Lieutenant.”
He swallowed and laughed ironically. “Accursed war,” he said matter-of-factly. “I was just writing a letter to John.” He pulled the neatly folded letter from his pocket. “Won’t be of much use now, will it?” He tossed the letter onto the ground and pressed it down with the heel of his boot. “If you’ll excuse me, Doctor. That’s the bell for the noon meal.”
Holmes did not go to the hall with the rest of the men to eat dinner, but back to his tent where he took out a bottle of old Scotch whisky. He was disciplined for drinking without permission later.
When my meal was brought to me a few moments later, I stared at it for some moments. For the first time in my life I wasn’t very hungry.
Holmes and I did not meet again until sometime later, in the story I entitled “The Study in Scarlett.” Holmes never acted like he remembered me, then, and even though all the brief events of our meeting were fairly burnt into my memory, I played along, for I knew he wanted me to. He never mentioned remembering our rather chance meeting until a very long time later.