For a Watson's Woes ghost story challenge. Crossposting here so I don't lose it.
I first noticed the most unusual aspect of my new fellow lodger during our visit to Brixton Road. I had, at the time, seen a number of murder victims, but the expression on Enoch Drebber's face was exceptionally horrific, and after an initial glance at the state of the room, I thought it best to make certain that I had not drawn the doctor into something beyond his present capacity.
He was paler than usual, which was not alarming, but to my surprise his eyes had dilated far past the degree for which the dimness of the room would account, and his gaze had fixed upon empty air. He nodded, ever so slightly, and then looked in quick succession at the mantelpiece, the wall above the mantel in the corner, a spot near the hearth on the floor, and then to the corpse. He blinked once, for half a breath longer than usual, and when his eyes opened again they had returned to normal, and his expression held no more emotion than the natural dismay any man might feel at the sight of so grim a scene.
Gregson and Lestrade were busy presenting the case, so I had no time then to consider Watson's odd reaction. I did remember it, however, particularly when Lestrade revealed the word written in blood in just the corner where my companion had cast his glance. But as I had every reason to know that Watson had been safely at Baker Street at the time of the murder, no real conclusion could be drawn from his odd behavior. I dismissed it, therefore, having other things to think about.
Four days ago Watson reacted in the same peculiar manner. It was also a case of murder, although when we first investigated the disintegrating tenement where the victims had been held prisoner I had not yet discovered the full extent of the crime. It was broad daylight, however, and both Watson's sudden pallor, and the strange dilation of the pupils were so evident that young Wiggins, who had brought us to the place, noticed as well. He had to ask three times if Watson needed a chair, so fixedly was Watson staring at the wood-lined wall, but again Watson blinked and came to himself, and did not seem to know why the boy had taken alarm. He took his seat more out of toleration for the child than any concern for himself, but I was glad he was sitting when I discovered the concealed door in the panelling, and the evidence of mayhem behind it. Hardened Watson may be to the deaths of men, but the murder of children invariably sickens him.
His nightmares that night were so violent that he fell from the bed with a thump which wakened me from my sleep. I climbed the stairs to his room when his cries continued, and found him still unconscious, writhing on the floor in a tangle of blankets, pleading for mercy from "Jack" in a plaintive, high-pitched voice that was not his own.
"Who is Jack?" I wondered aloud, as I tried to pry Watson free of his woolen cocoon, and to my astonishment the voice answered me.
"Jack Sutherland. The lodger. Don't let him hurt us anymore."
I all but swallowed my teeth. The name Jack Sutherland was not new to me -- I'd seen it among the reports and witness interviews filed at Scotland Yard when Bradstreet had pulled me onto the case -- but Watson hadn't been with me. And not once had the name come up in our conversations. "How can I stop him?" I croaked past dry lips, for at that midnight hour it was all too easy to believe what I would have scorned by daylight. "How can I find him?"
"He drinks at the White Rose," I was told, though Watson's eyes never opened, and his lips barely moved. "And then he comes and hurts us. Oh, please don't let him hurt us anymore."
"I'll stop him," I bargained. "But you must let Watson go. He'll need his sleep if he's to help me."
"Promise?" The first voice was joined by the echoes of other voices -- all young, all desperate, and Watson's entire body went rigid, although I could feel it quivering under my hand. "Do you promise?"
"Of course I promise," I said. "But please, let Watson go!"
With a mighty convulsion, and a last cry of "Promise!" Watson threw both me and the bedclothes aside, but when I scrambled back to his side he was limp against the floorboards, breathing as gently as if his head were still on his pillow.
I was able to put him back into bed without rousing him, which was a mercy, as I was in no mood to discuss what had happened just then. Instead I went down to our sitting room and found tobacco and pipe. I needed to think.
Had Watson, next morning, made any indication that he remembered the events of the night, my ruminations might have led to a different conversation. But on inquiry, he said he'd slept quite soundly -- too soundly, indeed, to have noticed that he had turned upon his bad shoulder and aggravated its aching. "I'm afraid I shan't be of much use to you today, Holmes," he apologized over breakfast.
"I doubt I'll require you to lift any heavy objects," I said, and then mentioned that I intended to take a trip to the White Rose, wondering if, indeed hoping, that the name would be familiar to him. It was not. I bade him stay at home then, and tasked him with collecting every edition of the papers in my absence, to search the agony columns for mention of a list of names pulled out of the air. It made him feel useful to do so. And gave me time alone to consider what next I should do.
A brief visit to the White Rose bore no fruit, so I went off to see if I could find more tangible evidence in the case; and that night, Watson suffered the same visitation as before. The pattern repeated the following day and night, leaving both of us pale and hollow-eyed, with Watson blaming his condition on the return of the cold weather, and I struggling to reconcile my love of logic and scientific evidence with the haunting voice of the child who kept beseeching me to find his murderer. Yesterday, driven to desperation, I took Watson with me to the White Rose, and we settled in to while the hours away.
The beer at the Rose is passable, and there was little enough to do but drink and talk, as new companions do, of this and that. I waited until Watson was well into his cups before broaching the topic of superstitions, and led him from there to the more hazardous topic of ghosts.
“Ghosts aren’t real,” he scoffed with a smile. “At least I’ve never seen one, and if anyone should I would, for I was born with a caul.” He patted his chest absently, unaware of the gesture. “I used to keep it in a little bag my grandmother made for me, as protection. There’s superstition for you, Holmes, if you like. But it’s hard to break a promise you made when you were small.”
“What became of it?” I asked.
“Murray used it at Maiwand, to staunch the bleeding from my shoulder.” Now his hand moved to cover that wound, and he rubbed at it thoughtfully. “Another superstition, that, although I can’t say his notion of first aid didn’t work. I seem to remember him putting a bit of it on my tongue too.”
“Whatever for?” I asked, but Watson didn’t answer. He had gone pale, and his eyes were fixed upon the doorway. I turned to see and a burly fellow matching the description of Jack Sutherland sauntered in. As he crossed the room to reach the bar, he drew close to our table, and I was able to observe the way that Watson’s blank eyes fixed upon the left-hand pocket of Sutherland’s coat.
A moment more, and Watson recovered himself, taking a large draught from his glass. “What were we talking about?” he asked.
“I’m sorry, old fellow,” I said, “I was distracted. My suspect has arrived. Would you be so good as to go send Gregson a telegram, asking for official reinforcement?” I would have gone myself, had I not feared that the fit would come on Watson again, and either cause him to lose Sutherland, or confront him alone.
Watson went, Gregson came, and we made the arrest. I had to construct a taradiddle of Sutherland patting his pocket to justify searching his coat as closely as necessary. The pocket itself was empty, but he had constructed a second pocket, within the lining, and there we found the bloodstained mementos of his crime which will send him to the hangman before the month is out.
And last night Watson slept quietly. I know, for I watched him through the night.
There are more things in heaven and earth I know, but my philosophy is not so narrow that I doubt the evidence of my own eyes and ears. But what a blow to my reputation for rational thought were I to admit to the professionals at Scotland Yard that I believe my fellow lodger to possess supernatural powers? Powers which he himself denies exist? (And what a boost to that same reputation if I swallow my pride, keep mum, and merely follow Watson’s lead when he sees evidence that I do not?)
What a mystery to be solved, if solved it can be!
A pretty puzzle indeed!