Watson was brooding. He sat across the fire from me, as he so often had on the old days, and stared at his paper. Every so often, he would turn a page to give pretence of reading, but his eyes did not follow the words. Nor did his usually expressive features react to anything he saw. He had hardly said a word all evening and I let him be. My friend was not a man to keep his own counsel. I calculated that he would speak his mind within the hour.
As I waited, I plotted our conversation. He would tell me that he did not want to sell his practise just yet, probably using his patients as an excuse. If pushed, he would likely admit that he was reluctant to move out of the house he had shared with his beloved Mary. I would not push him that far, of course, but would protest that he was certain to find my company more amenable than that of any number of old harpies with fanciful complaints. Back and forth it would go, until I finally feigned giving in. He would remain in his house for a few weeks, then realised that he was spending more time here than there and move back in with me.
Satisfied with this conclusion, I turned my attention my own reading.
Forty-seven minutes later, I heard him fold the paper. "Holmes?"
I made a noncommittal noise, not looking up.
"Holmes," he said again. The chair creaked as he leaned forward. "I am afraid that I must remain in your debt a little longer."
Well that certainly was a novel approach. Turning a page, I easily told him that he couldn't possibly owe me anything.
Watson sighed. "That is very kind of you, my friend, to forgive such a sum. I really must insist on paying you back." He rose suddenly, disturbed.
I finally looked up, watching as he paced.
"It's only…" he hesitated, then turned to meet my eyes. "I did not spare any expense in Mary's treatment, and, even selling my practice, I will only just cover the bills. I will return what I owe," Dropping his gaze, he added, "but it may take some time."
I felt again, that Watson must truly be the finest gentleman in England. The only problem was that I could not remember lending him a cent. It's not that I wouldn't have, but he had never seemed to be in need of it. I paused for a moment, trying to grasp where and how my deductions had gone astray. Giving up, I said, "For the first time in our acquaintance, I honestly haven't the slightest idea as to what you are talking about." I could see the bewilderment in his eyes; I hoped mine did not match them. "Watson, what do you owe me?"
My shock at the figure he named must have been quite evident, for he added. "Good God, Holmes, don't you remember your own will?"
There wasn't much I could say to that.
He collapsed back into his chair. "Your brother Mycroft contacted me a few weeks after you… disappeared. He told me that most of your assets fell to him, but that you had left a 'small sum' to me." My friend rubbed a hand across his eyes. He had just broken our unspoken understanding that we would never speak of the years of my absence. "I didn't want it. I made that quite clear, but Mary had begun to ail, and Mycroft insisted -- your doing I suppose."
I nodded. I had been quite flush at the time, having been recently employed by various Continental Royalties. "I merely wrote my brother with instructions," I said, almost to myself. "Since I've never had a will, coming back from the dead couldn't invalidate it. You really needn't worry about repayment. Consider it a gift."
I could tell by his face that that had been the wrong thing to say. Damn. Now he was brooding again. Trying to pull out of this mire of a conversation, I said, "If you prefer, I will call it compensation for lost income. You used to make a tidy amount off of your accounts of our adventures." Of course he hadn't in the period before my absence, we had hardly seen each other. Perhaps he would not remember that. As the man had clearly just gone over his accounts, it wasn't much of a hope.
"Really, Holmes," was all he said.
I sighed and surrendered, assuring him that I certainly did not need money right away, and that if he returned it now, in twenty years or never at all, it would make little difference to me.
Given time, I probably could bully him into taking the damned money. Watson seemed to put a ridiculous amount of stock in my opinion of him. However, it was truly not worth the effort, not when there was a much easier way.
A young doctor, named Verner, had purchased my small Kensington practice, and given with astonishingly little demur the highest price that I ventured to ask -- an incident which only explained itself some years later when I found that Verner was a distant relation of Holmes's, and that it was my friend who had really found the money.
-- Arthur Conan Doyle, "The Adventure of the Norwood Builder"