They Tell In Their Garlands
The box was innocuous enough, tilted half-off the papers piled on my writing-desk. Holmes was conducting some chemical experiments -- detecting certain poisons in the blood was his latest passion, and he had been absorbed in it for some weeks.
I picked up the box and shook it; but the faint thumping within gave no hint as to the contents. I slid the string from around it and opened it, revealing a tussy-mussy in a fine silver holder.
No one had sent me a tussy-mussy since Mary; she and I used to give them as love-notes to each other. For all the length of our marriage I wore her gifts at my lapel; Holmes used to mock me mercilessly for sentimentality, but I never paid his gibes any mind.
I fingered the violets in my lapel; Mary had always preferred them to any other flower, and used them often in the delicate arrangements she made for me. I was whole-hearted when I loved her; since Holmes's supposed death and Mary's true death, I had not been, and would never be so again. Holmes's return had healed only half the wound, and Mary was lost to me forever.
I withdrew the flowers from the box and looked for a card; there it was, at the bottom: To my dear Boswell, with kind regards -- from Holmes, then. I looked over at his worktable, and he raised his eyebrows at me before turning back to the beakers and vials.
I turned it over in my hand, frowning. Ivy for fidelity, pansies for thought, and grass for I knew not what. I went to my bookshelf for my copy of Ingram. Grass, grass with the faint scent of lemon about it--
I pride myself that I did not give myself away by blush or sharp inhalation of breath. I set the book down, and placed the tussy-mussy atop it, studying it for a long moment before speaking. "Holmes?"
He set a beaker down with more force than strictly necessary, apparently irritated at the interruption of his work. "Yes, Watson?"
I answered his look with one of my own, and gestured at the flowers. "Holmes, are you calling me an invert?"
He favored me with a sardonic smile. "Ah, but a faithful one, my dear Watson."
I did see, of course. I am not obtuse, nor without the rudiments of deduction. Holmes was watching me still, his chin tilted up and lips pressed firmly together. I know Holmes well; he would not accuse me of unnatural impulses with an intent to insult. There could only be one meaning behind this: Holmes, who could never speak of love, had chosen this way to speak to me.
I took the violets from my lapel and teased the stems apart; I wove them into the holder with the ivy and pansies and grass. Violets for faithfulness: both to Holmes and to my dear Mary. She never would have suspected this of me -- though she was a perspicacious woman and may have suspected Holmes -- and yet I would not forget her, nor pretend I was heart-whole without her, even in a declaration such as this.
Holmes clattered glassware, watching me from the corners of his eyes as he cleared his experiments from the table with rather more violence than was typical.
I placed the tussy-mussy in my buttonhole, and looked up to find Holmes standing before me, upright and firm, only the faintest tremble in his hands betraying him. "My dear Watson," he said, and I laid my own hands, one after the other, on the strong boxer's muscles of his upper arms.
"My dear Holmes," I replied.
Note: Watson's "copy of Ingram" is John Ingram's "Flora Symbolica", one of the comprehensive dictionaries of "the language of flowers".
In Eastern lands they
talk of flowers
and they tell in their
garlands their loves
each blossom that
blooms in their
on its leaves a
-- John Ingram (1822-1876), "Flora Symbolica"