I've tried and tried to make "the speckled band" make sense, and it just doesn't, so I'll have to assume that Watson altered some of the tale, perhaps to keep anyone from imitating Dr. Roylott and succeeding in killing someone; thus he might hide the true name of the snake and omit to mention that the clamped bed actually had tall bedposts for the snake to climb up and down, rather than a freely swinging bell-rope. (I got this idea after watching the Speckled Band movie.) So in effect Watson is giving the public the gist of the mystery, but fictionalizing certain details. That's the revisions that I'll have to make to Helen's "Reminiscences," along with some attempt to show more of Watson, instead of leaving him a silent cipher in that chapter.
Also, I'm working on why Watson would lie in other tales like SCAN, claiming that Holmes is unwilling or unable to love, even though he's experienced that love first-hand. Watson after all is not going to expose their affair in public (not on purpose anyway). He also thinks Holmes is dead and believes that Holmes would rather be remembered as the perfect reasoning machine than the emotional mess he was at the time of FINA. Also, perhaps I'll have Holmes specifically tell Watson to please not write of his love for Helen Stoner because it's too painful. So instead Watson merely writes of Holmes's respect for Irene Adler's intellect and skill in foiling his plan to get the photo. Irene after all was relying on herself, not on advice from Helen, at the time, so she is a worthy opponent. Holmes just feels no love for her.
And of course, I'm relying on Watson's lies to explain why he never mentions Diana Struthers either, because she will have become Holmes's friend due to their three years of travelling together, and Holmes will eventually decide to pursue her romantically too, as he cannot wait around for Watson (whose wife Mary is still alive). But just as he kept Watson from writing EMPT for ten years, Holmes also insists that Watson not write of his wife. Mary also requests not to be written of anymore, because of their painful bereavement (Mary miscarried the child she was pregnant with during FINA), so Watson has decided to lie about both their households, pretending that he has moved back in with Holmes to Baker Street, when actually he is still with Mary. Yeah it's a tangled web we weave...
Earlier I mentioned that I want Watson to have someone to confess to. Murray perhaps. I picture this happening after the 1887 affair but before Watson ever meets Mary Morstan. Watson ended the affair with Holmes because he thinks it's "madness" or an "illness." He thinks it was largely due to Holmes's cocaine withdrawal and lust and a perversion of a doctor/patient relationship. And yet, Watson is also aware that he felt emotions then that will not go away now. Emotions that must be love, even if he doesn't understand it. But he doesn't believe that Holmes returns that love, which makes him sad and lonely, even as he chooses to stay in Baker Street.
So here's a snippet of Watson's conversation, with whomever the man may be:
"How," he quietly asked Watson, "how is your illness just now?"
W closed his eyes, shrugging. "I am a doctor without a cure. I--" He turned and looked at him, thinking suddenly of how much of a release it would be to talk freely for once about this secret he'd not confessed to Doyle even. Watson sat down slowly. "I see him every day. I love him still. I love him," he repeated breathlessly.
"Does he touch you? Does he love you at all?"
W, smiling bitterly: "Yes. No." He blinked. "Yes, he touched me once, and I'm sure he still would if I asked him to. But--no. He only is craving the touch, not the love. He is above it, and doesn't want it at all." (Thinking of Holmes's prior remarks and sneers and lectures against love, rather than what Holmes told him during their affair.)
"That sounds horrible! Have you thought of leaving him?"
"Leaving him?" W nearly laughed. "I did," he smiled. "I did leave him already. That was how I first knew that I loved him, how we ended up like this..." He shakes his head with a sigh.
Besides the SPEC case, one of the other pivotal moments in DIM is VALL, not only because of Moriarty being discussed before FINA, but because Holmes and Watson also share a certain "whispering scene" in Chapter 6.
It was late that night when Holmes returned from his solitary excursion. We slept in a double-bedded room, which was the best that the little country inn could do for us. I was already asleep when I was partly awakened by his entrance.
"Well, Holmes," I murmured, "have you found out anything?"
He stood beside me in silence, his candle in his hand. Then the tall lean figure inclined towards me.
"I say, Watson," he whispered, "would you be afraid to sleep in the same room as a lunatic, a man with softening of the brain, an idiot whose mind has lost its grip?"
"Not in the least," I answered in astonishment.
"Ah, that's lucky," he said, and not another word would he utter that night.
That's how it appears in the original novel, but I of course see slashy goings-on here. In DIM I set VALL in Jan 1888, several months after their 1887 affair. Here's a sketch:
When Watson says he is not afraid, Holmes grins and puts down the candle on the nightstand. "Ah, that's lucky." He kneels on the bed and kisses his mouth. Sitting up, Watson thinks that Holmes is just teasing him childishly. He rubs his eyes and asks him about the case. "Well, what happened? What did you find out at Birlstone?"
Holmes will not talk about the case, though, just disappointed that Watson didn't respond to the kiss. He stands up and backs away from the bed. "I-I apologise. I thought, if I were not a patient now, not ill..." He sighs and shakes his head sadly. Taking up the candle again, he goes to the other bed to lie down. Sets down his candle and blows it out.
W goes to sleep annoyed and bewildered.
["Valley of Fear" is published in the Strand as a serial from Sept 1914 to May 1915. Published in book form in New York on Feb 27, 1915.]
When Watson publishes VALL twenty-seven years later, Holmes unexpectedly comes to his house in 1915. Watson is delighted, especially after their supposedly "last quiet talk" in August 1914. Watson greets him effusively, and they hug.
Going into the study, H pulls out a copy of W's latest publication. Congratulates him in a way, but then he remarks that it's an indiscretion to include that whispering scene. "You've nearly exposed us, Watson."
"Nonsense. I left out the kiss, and your reference to our past affair."
"But why include the scene at all? It had no bearing on the case."
"No bearing? You had found the dumbbell in the moat water."
"Yes, but I didn't tell you that then."
"I know. You were withholding the clue from me for the sake of a dramatic surprise. Just as you teased Inspector MacDonald and Mason about the missing bicyclist the next day. Telling them to go have a holiday, until the vigil that night."
"Yes, I did tease them and you the next day, but I wasn't teasing you that night in bed, Watson." Pointing to the text. "My God, I'd discussed the whole case with you honestly, and you think I suddenly clamped up then?"
Watson insists that he always does so. "It was typical behaviour. You were mysteriously hinting about being mad, because now you had proof that John Douglas was alive, not dead."
"Rubbish! Finding the bundle of clothes weighted down with the dumbbell didn't prove that John Douglas was alive. It didn't even prove that the suspect bicyclist was dead. It only proved that either the bicyclist stripped his clothes off to change into some disguise, or other people removed the clothes from him, and then stashed them in the moat. I had no proof of anything about Douglas, and would not have it until after I had the police threaten to drain the moat dry. Come now, if I was going to hint at all, then why didn't I just show you your wet umbrella and tell you that there was no rain to make it wet? That would truly drive you crazy, not understanding that I got it wet in the moat water."
"I'm glad you didn't!" he answers irritably. But thinking it over, Watson stares at him now. "Do you mean to say that you seriously weren't talking about the dumbbell? Then what was all the business about being mad, Holmes? You were acting giddy and delighted, just like you did in Dartmoor, when you discovered that the hound had killed Selden, not Sir Henry. I thought you were quite mad then, until you explained your laughter."
"Of course I was giddy on Dartmoor; I'd narrowly escaped losing another client due to my stupidity. But I wasn't giddy about John Douglas, Watson! I didn't know he was Birdy Edwards yet, and I didn't give a damn about his dumbbell then." shakes his head. "No, Watson, I merely came into that room, saw you in the bed, and lost all thought except for how beautiful you looked sleeping. It made me ache to touch you again, and then you stirred and spoke to me. I couldn't resist the pull of your voice."
"But--! You really weren't having a joke on me?" he stammered, bewildered. "You--you meant that kiss?"
"Watson, you were so stunningly lovely in that bed. You had ended our affair before, saying that it was madness. So I came near and asked you if you were afraid of sleeping in the same room as a lunatic, a mindless idiot. You said you weren't, so I kissed you. But you didn't respond. You only wanted to talk about the Birlstone case. You'd rejected me again, like... nothing." He stared at Watson now. "But you only misunderstood me."
Watson nods and blushes. "Apparently." gasps "My God, I published it!"
"Well, hopefully... hopefully no one else will perceive the meaning. If your upstanding literary agent did not see something inappropriate in that scene, then we may hope that the public shall not either."
"Y-yes. I hope so." still tense and embarrassed about his blindness.
[Watson married Mary in autumn 1888, and she died in 1913 perhaps? Did they have a child after trying again in 1894? Would be 19 years old now. At university, or enlisted? Holmes's marriage about 1895 or so, and then he eventually retires, and they move to Sussex. No children. They don't visit the Watsons that often, though they sometimes talk by phone.]
H sits down, pondering the memory and thinking of what it meant. He softly remarks how, if not for the misunderstanding, things could have been different. If Watson had returned the kiss and agreed to resume their affair, H would not have taken the later defeat by Moriarty so badly. He would have had no reason for the cocaine that summer, no reason for him to drive Watson into Mary Morstan's arms.
Watson nods in understanding. Awkward pause. Wants to assert that he would have loved Mary Morstan anyway. And yet...
They stare at each other long, then clear their throats again. As H picks up the magazine and turns to go, W stops him and pulls him close, kissing him intensely.
H sighs in relief. "Oh Thank God! I couldn't hold myself back for much longer." kissing him back and dropping the Strand. drowning in each other.
But W's conscience overcomes him. Pulls back and protests that H is married.
H shakes his head and holds onto him. "She's left me, Watson."
W is stunned.
H explains, "Even if she had the patience of a saint, which she does not, she would have found my two years of absence trying. She is patriotic enough to appreciate that my secret mission was absolutely essential, but this does not change the fact that we have become like strangers to each other."
W feels conflicted, concerned. "Oh no! Why didn't you tell me? You mean, she's just left you? And you've only returned a few months ago!"
H smiles. "Oh you're being unfair to her. She tried valiantly to welcome me home like a war hero, and to smile about how she would not have to take care of my bees for me anymore, or pretend to people that I was really there when I was not. She would no longer have to put off requests from young Barker or Hopkins for advice on their cases by insisting that I was truly retired and referring them to Mycroft. She even put up with me walking around speaking half English and half American for weeks.
"She jokingly lamented that she never got to see me with my grotesque beard because I had let you shave it off me the morning after we took Von Bork to London and finished his Imperial Tokay. She tried to ignore the disturbing thought that I chose to spend my first night home with you, instead of her. That, in enlisting your help, I had defied Mycroft's recommendation to employ one of the Crown's own agents, for security's sake. She tried to ignore the suspicion that I had let you shave me because I wanted your hands on my face, and to have your last sight of me be of your old friend Holmes, not Altamont the spy. She dismissed the nagging thought that perhaps I missed you more than I did her."
Watson looks touched.
H continues, "I could deduce all these thoughts crossing her mind, along with her dutiful resolve to never speak such things to me. Finally I told her that as we had shown each other respect in our marriage, she should respect me enough to not stay with me out of pity or obligation. Then she burst out that she could not stand being in Sussex anymore. Trapped and feeling useless while a terrible war has begun. Moreover, the suffragist movement was making her feel idiotic for being essentially my secretary and housekeeper. I told her that she should go, then. We had a good twenty years together--or a little less, with my two years spying--and that was enough. With this vast war looming over us, it is no time to hold back and have regrets. She should go do as she wished with what was left of her life. She still felt guilty, though, not wanting to abandon me. I insisted I would be fine. I would go to London and try to convince my brother Mycroft to retire at last, and come to Sussex. He has a fine brain even in his late sixties, but he should not stick to routine so closely as to work himself to death. So she finally agreed to go and thanked me, and began to pack her things."
Watson asks, "So you are free?"
"I will be when the papers are signed and rings removed." Waves his ring still on his hand. "I must observe a respectable period of sorrow at her going. She didn't want to divorce me on grounds of desertion or cruelty, so I told her that she could have it on grounds of adultery, which I had committed in my heart if not my body. She looked at me quite directly then, and kissed me sadly, saying that she was sorry that you were too decent and morally conventional a fellow to return my love. Clearly she imagines that I never professed myself to you and that I never had the joy of your touch, even once."
"So you never told her, even now that she suspected?"
"No," H whispers. "Some things should remain private."
Watson nods and pulls him close for another kiss.
H continues, "You ask me why I didn't tell you already of her departure? Well, when she moved out, I paced around my cottage for several days, wondering to myself if you were indeed too decent to take me back. If you would refuse me again, because it was still madness, or you didn't want to hide such a guilty secret from your son, or any other reason you could give. At last, I hit upon your recent publication, searching it for some trace of your feelings for me. And when I found that passage, I had to come and see you. To seek your eyes, read your face."
Watson nods and sighs. "A happy accident."
"Indeed." Holmes leans their foreheads together, then asks, "So will you do the indecent thing and come back to me, Watson? Move to Sussex? Or must I come here?"
Watson considers this issue. "What about Mycroft?"
"Oh let him keep his job in Whitehall! If my brother loves his London routine and the Diogenes Club so much, then let him remain there. I only wished for familial company to fall back on if you refused me again." He adds somewhat bitterly "Besides, it is better that he remain away so that he may not instantly deduce our sin and nag us about propriety. Warning us that if we're caught, even he could not save us. That even my recent service to my country could not win us an exemption, a bending of the rules." taking his hand solemnly, "Tell me, are you afraid of this madness, Watson?"
W shakes his head, and echoes his text, "Not in the least. You are right. We are too old, and the world too fragile, to live with regrets now. Let us cherish what we have left, my love."
H nods and they kiss again.
Some weeks later, when Watson has moved to Sussex, they lounge by the fire, and Holmes opens a letter from Mycroft.
Puzzled. "Mycroft never writes me letters. He only sends telegrams."
"Like you." Watson rubs H's bare feet on the settee.
H reads, then gasps. "Dammit! It appears that Mycroft can deduce even from London. He does not buy the story of you moving in as my personal physician."
"And what does he say?"
"He warns us to be careful, of course." rolling his eyes. Then reads on with surprise. "He offers us congratulations 'on your fine match'."
Then H pouts in outrage and disgust. "And he demands that you start publishing more stories, Watson! He wants you to write nonsense fabrications about how you have married again, how I'm living alone in Sussex, and we hardly see each other lately."
"You know, that's not a bad idea. Doyle is always asking me for more tales, and I can open up my tin dispatch box."
H grumbles and groans. "So then, I shall have to write to Struthers that no, I am not a hermit, unbearably alone."
W pulls him close and rubs his temples. "I would not mind you telling her now, of us."
H considers that, then snorts derisively. "What would your literary agent think if he could deduce our sin as well?"
W shrugs. "He felt pity for Oscar Wilde. I suppose if I came to be pitied by him, it would not be so bad a thing."
H tosses the letter in the fire, and then they snuggle close, kissing.