“A patient ? My God, what happened ?” I cried.
“He’ll be all right,” said Blaise. “But he took a nasty fall from his horse. He was knocked unconscious and dislocated his shoulder, which we’ve set aright again. More seriously, he appears to have torn ligaments in his left knee.”
“He had injured his knee a few days ago,” I recalled to my colleague.
“Well, this time he won’t be getting up and about so fast. It will be a few days at least before he can even try walking with crutches. I’ll take you to him. Perhaps he’ll listen to you, because he keeps insisting that he must be in London tomorrow.”
We made our way to the ward where Holmes was housed with the less severe patients. I must admit that seeing him prone and in a hospital gown was a little unnerving. I had treated him for injuries before, from tussles with thugs, but those were mere contusions and abrasions. This was the first time I had seen him incapacitated.
Apparently he was, likewise, unfamiliar with this condition, for as soon as he saw me he cried out, “Watson, you must override this overcautious colleague of yours ! With this infernal wrapping of his I’ll barely be able to get my trousers on. I must catch the morning train for London.”
I folded my arms and looked down at him. “Just how do you propose to walk, old man ?”
“I will simply use my cane,” the detective replied, sourly.
Blaise and I looked at each other, knowingly. Then I turned back to my friend, “Holmes, in case you hadn’t noticed, you have a sling on your right arm.”
“Confound it, man ! Of course I noticed. It’s my left knee that’s injured, so naturally I’d be using my cane with my uninjured left hand to take the weight.”
Blaise chose to explain, “First of all, Mr. Holmes, you’ll need to use crutches for several days and that requires both arms. Secondly, once you can get by with a cane or a single crutch, you’ll need your right arm to use it. When humans walk, we stride with our feet and swing our hands at the same time. But when we stride with our left foot, we swing with our right hand; when we stride with our right foot, we swing with our left hand. Handling a cane in the hand opposite our injury replicates this natural arm movement, giving your hand an opportunity to absorb some of your weight while you walk. If you try to use your cane with your left hand, you could put undue stress on other muscles and hurt yourself worse.”
“Bosh and falderal !” exclaimed my friend.
“Wait a moment,” I said. “Let me see your eyes.”
I leaned over Holmes prostrate figure and took his face in my hands. One at a time I used my thumbs to hold his eyes open as I checked their dilation.
“You’re also showing signs of a concussion, Holmes,” I declared. “How long was he unconscious, Doctor ?”
“Roughly fifteen minutes.”
“Certainly no more than that,” said his patient. “The town clock tower struck five just as I arrived on the main road. It certainly took me no more than ten minutes to come within sight of the hospital, but it was then that Blackjack took matters into his own hands to find his master. He took off at a gallop and with my knee in its weakened condition, I did not have the strength to hold him back.”
Dr. Blaise picked up the story, “The horse actually burst through our front door. That’s when Mr. Holmes struck his head on the frame and fell off to his right, dislocating the shoulder, as he was unconscious and unable to break his fall.”
“I was leaning my weight on my good leg, Watson. That threw my balance to that side. He is quite the spirited animal.”
As you were warned,” I admonished the detective. “Where is Blackjack now ?” I enquired of Blaise.
“We’ve corralled him in our own stables, with our other horses and ambulances,” he replied. “I am hoping that Lord Beasley is up to a trip out to see him tomorrow and perhaps, calm him down.”
“At any rate,” interrupted Holmes, “I was quite awake enough to hear the clock in the lobby strike the half past five, so it was not a prolonged state.”
“Time is not always the measure of severity, Holmes,” I warned. “Let me look in on Lord Beasley, and I shall be back in a few minutes so we can make alternate plans.”
The young earl was talking with his mother when I arrived.
“Here’s Dr. Watson, now,” said Lady Beasley, by way of introduction.
“Good afternoon, Lord Beasley,” I greeted. “You’ve given us a bit of go. How are you feeling ?”
“Call me Arthur, please, Doctor Watson,” he replied, offering me a handshake. “I am sorry I’ve put everyone to so much trouble.”
I accepted his hand, but chided him, “You’ve taken some foolish risks, Arthur, but I understand your motivation. Unfortunately, drugs are a trap that lures you in until you’ve become so dependent it’s difficult to break their grip.”
“Don’t I know it !” he replied. “Dr. Blaise’ treatments are only giving me temporary relief.”
“He’s the best there is in all England,” I assured him and his mother. “And there are new treatment methods being tested. You’re in good hands.”
“How is Lady Forecastle ?” he asked, timidly.
“We’ll be setting up her treatment regimen as soon as she’s settled.”
“Settled ? What do you mean ? Is she here ?”
“I hadn’t told him yet, Doctor,” said Lady Beasley.
“Oh,” I responded to her, then, turned to face him, “Yes, we’ve brought her here so that she can undergo treatment before her own addiction gets any worse.”
“Oh my God !” he cried out and became increasingly agitated. He began to thrash about and I leaned over to hold him down while I called for a nurse. One arrived quickly and he was given a sedative that soon rendered him unconscious.
Lady Beasley and I left him to sleep. Once out in the hall she questioned me, in that no-nonsense way of hers.
“Tell me, Doctor, what is his prognosis ?”
“Dr. Blaise tells me he is in a very serious condition,” I informed her. “He may have to resort to some experimental treatments.”
“Is he going to die ?” she asked, bluntly, but with fear underlying her tone.
“He’s young and strong,” I replied. “There’s every reason to believe that his body will recover if the drugs can be gleaned from his system.”
“You wouldn’t be attempting to placate a worried mother, would you, Doctor ?”
I looked into her keen brown eyes and replied, “I would never attempt to put anything past you, Lady Beasley. The human body is often unpredictable, but it is also quite resilient. We must give your son time and see how he responds.
“In the meantime,” I continued, changing the subject, “We should see about hotel accommodations. Let’s find Fallon and have him scout about for lodgings.
We did so and soon found rooms at the Ashleigh House, which was actually more along the lines of a bed and breakfast inn. I was surprised that Lady Beasley would not desire more luxurious accommodations, but she insisted on remaining as close to the hospital as possible. Indeed, on a fair weather day it would be just a couple hundred yards’ walk to Ledbetters.
We arranged rooms, Fallon and I sharing one down the hall from Lady Beasley. Once settled in, we set about finding a restaurant. Fallon went his own way to leave us more privacy in our discussions. I had to press the earl’s mother to eat, for the sake of her own health, for in her worrisome state, she had no appetite.
The meal passed quickly. I saw Lady Beasley back to her room and decided to walk over to the hospital to confer with Holmes. I found him sitting up in bed, his sling hanging loosely about his neck with his arm removed, furiously writing out telegraph forms, occasionally wincing if he moved his arm too vigorously.
“Watson, I need you to take these to the telegraph office tonight and check for replies first thing tomorrow morning,” he ordered, not even bothering to look up from his scrawling.
“What are your plans, Holmes?” I asked him.
He emphatically punctuated his last period and looked up at me, “If I cannot go to Lord Forecastle I must get him to come to me. I am contacting people who can tell me when arrives in London.”
“Lady Forecastle received a telegram this morning,” I informed him. “He is in Paris and due back in London later this week.”
I swear that the man that sat in bed before me positively growled. He tore up two of the telegrams he had written and hastily scratched out another.
“Watson, I need data ! If you and your co-conspirator, Blaise, insist on keeping me wrapped up like a Christmas present I, in turn, must insist that you be my eyes, ears and legs.”
“Haven’t I always acted in your best interest, old friend ?” I stated, calmly taking the forms from his outstretched left hand.
He sighed and softened his tone, “Yes, old man. Your heart has always been in the right place, occasionally to the frustration of my mind. You are a rock of predictability which I depend upon and I wouldn’t have you any other way.”
“Thank you, Holmes,” I replied, holding up his enquiries. “I’ll take these right now. Is there anything else you need tonight ?”
“Yes, Doctor,” he implored, as he slid his arm back into its sling, “before you go, could you appropriate a wheelchair and take me outside for a smoke ?”
I felt the least I could do was offer him this creature comfort. I found a chair and retrieved his pipe and tobacco pouch from his belongings. It was getting close to a full moon and it shone brightly on a patio that led out to the gardens behind the hospital. It was distinctly chilly and I had made sure Holmes was well-bundled in blankets. My own overcoat was sufficient but I could feel the chill starting to numb my ears. I lit his pipe for him, then a cigarette for myself, while he enjoyed his first influx of tobacco since the previous afternoon.
After a minute or so, in smoke ensconced contemplation, he asked a question. “Watson, can your patients spare you for a day or so to take a trip to London ?”
I nodded as I tapped my ashes off onto the dew-laden grass, “Certainly, Holmes. Now that they are here, under twenty-four hour care, there is no need for my constant presence. What do you need me to do ?”
“Nothing yet my friend, but depending upon the answers to those telegrams I may well need you to retrieve someone from the city and bring them here.”
“Of course,” I answered, “Who do you need me to bring ?”
“His Lordship, Ronald Forecastle.”