Fandom: Sherlock Holmes
Disclaimer: Not mine, although actually in the public domain. No profit is intended.
Summary: During the height of the Great War, Watson writes a letter.
Author’s Note: This is a sequel to August 1912: Separation, and August 1914: Reunion, and is the third in a 5-part series titled (unoriginally) The August Series, which will capture moments in time, every other August, from 1912 to 1920 (from the time Holmes leaves for America through the aftermath of the Great War).
August 1916: Desolation
Netley, 20 August, 1916
My Dear Holmes,
I sit here, in my stark, small room, on a balmy summer night, composing yet another letter to you. I imagine that you would smile bemusedly at my behavior, since I write to you although I have no idea where you are. I have seen neither hide nor hair of you for these past two years, nor heard a word of your whereabouts. Yet there is a part of me that knows you are alive. I shall add this letter to the collection that I keep, a chronicle of sorts at my time here at Netley Hospital. Who knows? Perhaps one day I shall even have the courage to give these letters to you, and you can again shake your head in bemusement at my fanciful writings.
The hospital continues its gruesome work of treating the wounded, and I fear that a sense of despair pervades the halls as this grotesque war continues. I am still amazed, when I have time to think, that is, that I am ending my military career here at Netley, the same place it all began. Although when I was a freshly-minted (and unbelievable naïve) army surgeon, I had not realized the extent of the problems associated with the Royal Victoria Military Hospital, to give it its formal name. It was merely a place to receive my training and head out to far more exciting locales. Yes, I was young and foolish in those days, Holmes.
I am certain that I have complained of the hospital previously, but the incompetence of the design still galls me. The corridors all have lovely sea breezes and fresh air, while the wards themselves face the inner courtyard and are dark, dismal, and have poor ventilation. I fear such miserable conditions begin to affect morale, both among the patients and even among the staff. Thank goodness for the Red Cross and the huts they built on the grounds, allowing for more beds and better conditions.
Although our casualty rates are low, the overall atmosphere continues to take on a depressive feel as the war grinds on. Many of the men are here to convalesce, yet the military advisors seem to hover about, waiting for their recovery so as to send the freshly (and barely) healed men back to the front lines. There are complaints too, always whispered ones, about the men who suffer from shell-shock, and the belief that these poor souls are somehow “faking” their horrors so as to avoid service. I know, from personal experience, that the conditions of battle, especially when you are wounded, shatter your nerves for years. These “advisors” have obviously never been near a real battle (and would likely suffer great indignities upon themselves if they were to merely venture out on the front lines). From what I understand, fighting conditions have become more deplorable from when I served, if such a thing is even possible.
Yet our job here is to fix up these men so they can be sent back out, where they will either die or suffer more horrors. I truly wonder if we are creating a generation of lost souls. What price must we pay to prevail? Yet the consequences of not winning are equally upsetting.
I am in a maudlin mood.
I wonder, Holmes, if you could see me now, what you would say. My guess is that it would be something along the lines of: ‘Why yes, Watson, this is all very interesting. Now stop dissembling and tell me what is really bothering you.’ Perhaps you would say, ‘Ah Watson, this is not the source of your despair, which is actually caused by the letter in your pocket.’ Who knows, Holmes? You might even say, ‘I see your wife has left you.’
Yes, I received a letter today, Holmes. It is a letter from my wife. Perhaps I should say that it is a letter from my soon to be former wife.
In my previous communications to you (which you have never read, for they are sitting in my trunk as if mocking me with own thoughts and weaknesses; I should probably just burn the lot of them), I mentioned that my wife had gone to America to be with her sister while the war continues. She did not feel comfortable remaining in London on her own, and I am only able to visit rarely. I also know she was dissatisfied with my decision to serve, believing, as you did, that this was the work for younger men.
I could never explain, at least not to her understanding, that this war was different and that I felt utterly compelled to assist. Perhaps I just needed to feel useful again. Perhaps I was just jealous of your adventures after all this time. Perhaps it is some higher calling. I must be here, Holmes, if only to offer these wounded men some brief healing and comfort in the midst of hell.
I exchanged regular correspondence with my wife and had no inkling that anything was amiss, yet today I received word that she had fallen in love with a butcher in New Jersey.
I would love to see your expression right now to see if you are laughing.
She is seeking a divorce, somewhere in the Western states.
I do not even feel sadness or upset over her actions; I only feel regret over my own numerous failures. I was never the husband she was looking for. My heart was always, as you know, engaged elsewhere, with you. How can I begrudge her happiness, since I have been unable (or perhaps unwilling) to provide it myself?
I should have followed your advice all those years ago and never remarried. I would not have hurt her, or myself, or especially you, my dear Holmes. I was so frightened as to what would happen if our secret were to actually become public knowledge. I truly thought I was protecting you, but perhaps I was only being selfish. I did not take into account the emotions of my wife, nor of you, nor even of me, and the difficulties we would face as we tried to lead lives based on falsehoods and fear.
You have told me years ago that you have forgiven me for my panicked response. I can only hope that it is true. I also hope that my wife can one day forgive me for using her as a shield, when I should have stood bravely beside you and accepted the consequences of our affair.
Damn, Holmes, I miss you. Do you realize that this is, essentially, the longest period of time that we have been apart, even including those three years of your supposed death. It has been four years (well, technically, two years while you were in America, one day of respite, and now two more years of war). I was so used to turning to you, Holmes, for over 35 years. There is now such emptiness in my heart.
I love you, Sherlock Holmes. I always have.
Yes, I know I should burn this letter.
You will be pleased to know that I considered my vow to you to remain safe, and did not rush off into certain danger (and likely death). There is a shortage of medical personnel at the fronts, and they asked for volunteers from the doctors and nurses here. I truly think they would have considered me, despite my advanced years, as they were so desperate. I knew, however, that I would be in daily danger, and I could not bear the thought of meeting you in the afterlife and seeing your stern, disapproving face as you cried, ‘Watson, I thought you had better sense than that!’
Do not worry, Holmes. Not even after today’s news from the soon to be former Mrs. Watson will I rush to the front. I plan to live and long to see you again when this is all over.
On a lighter note, I did receive a bit of amusing correspondence from our old friend, Mr. Arthur Conan Doyle. It seems that he was asked what you were doing during the War while at some event (in France, I believe), and surprised, he uttered that you were too old to serve. Of course, that led him to enquire as to what, exactly, you were actually up to. I informed him that I did not, exactly, know, but gave him a few details of our last encounter. Of course, he wishes me to write a story. I do not know if I feel up to such an endeavor at this time Holmes. Perhaps I will just let him spin one out of cloth.
Well, the night grows late and I must attempt to get a few hours of sleep (even though such an enterprise will likely be futile tonight). It would amuse you, I think, to see your old housemate arising a five in the morning to make my medical rounds. I doubt that my early morning disposition has improved throughout the years.
As always, I remain,
Very sincerely yours,