It had been a long and wearisome day, spent visiting a number of my recuperating patients. I had enquired after their wellbeing, and had listened sympathetically to their varietous troubles and woes, of which there were a great many. Colonel Morris was still pained by the gout; old Mrs. Garrett was sorely tried by a recurring back-ache. One by one I soothed, treated and advised, only turning to wend my way homewards when the grey light was already fading from the frigid winter sky.
Mrs. Hudson met me on the doorstep, concerned and clucking, pressing something into my hand which it was too dark inside our hallway to identify, but for which I profusely thanked her regardless. I climbed the stairs up to the sitting-room, and entered into warmth at last.
“Where on earth have you been?” demanded Sherlock Holmes, from his sprawl upon the sofa. “I have had no-one to talk to all day, and have been horribly in the dumps.”
I shrugged my coat off onto its hook. “I have been visiting my patients, Holmes,” I said, “as you very well know. I apologise for not being here to amuse you with juggling tricks, but you know how tiresome these sick people can be.”
“Don't be facetious,” said my friend, swinging his legs around and off the sofa and setting both feet upon the rug. He spied the packet which I clasped still tight in my hand. “What have you got there?”
“Got where? This?” I waved it at him. “It is from Mrs. Hudson. I have not opened it yet.”
Holmes stood and reached up to the mantel for his pipe, and fussed irritably.
“Mrs. Hudson never gives me presents,” said he.
I stepped closer to the lamp, and examined the small bundle. I untied the string and folded out the greaseproof paper. “It is cake,” I said. “Her dear friend Mrs. Turner must have been baking again, and here is a little over from the gift box.”
“What do you mean, 'cake'?” Holmes peered over my shoulder. “It's only one bit!” he exclaimed. “Why didn't she give it to me? I've been here all day.”
“Do you want it?” I offered it to him.
“No,” he said, “I don't like fruit cake.”
“Then what would have been the point of her giving it to you?” I asked, confused.
“That is not the point at all,” said Holmes. “The point is, Mrs. Hudson gave you cake, but gave me nothing.”
“Oh, for goodness sake,” I said. I placed the offending article down upon the sideboard.
“She is always doing it,” my friend continued, sucking his pipe, tapping his fingers on the mantel. “Only the other day it was a strawberry bonbon, and last week it was a book she had seen at the market which she supposed you might enjoy. A book, Watson.”
I shrugged, helplessly. “Mrs. Hudson is a very kind and thoughtful lady,” I said.
“I like strawberry bonbons and I like books,” said Holmes. “And Mrs. Hudson gives me precisely neither of those things. Does she not like me, Watson, do you suppose that is the reason?”
“Holmes,” I said, “you are giving me a headache. One strawberry bonbon and a book on maritime history does not weigh so very heavily towards favouritism.”
“And a bit of fruit cake.”
“And a bit of – Holmes, just stop it!” I clapped my hands to my temples. “Perhaps if you engaged the dear lady in genial conversation from time to time instead of barking requests and demands, and made the occasional enquiry as regards her personal state, she might be more well disposed to throwing the occasional bonbon or two in your direction.” I sat down heavily in my chair by the fire.
Holmes sat down opposite me, frowning into my face. “So what are you saying?” he asked. “I have to be... nice?”
“I understand how that must conflict with every fibre of your being,” I said, dryly, “but yes, perhaps you should try it.”
“Couldn't I just give her money instead?”
“That is not how it works,” I said, taking the briefest moment to contemplate the sheer insanity that was my homelife. “You cannot buy affection, Holmes. You need to put in the necessary effort. If you are considerate and attentive then I am sure that you will see a difference in how you are regarded.”
Holmes flopped back in his chair, agonised. I amused myself briefly by envisaging the network of cogs spinning madly within that great brain of my friend's, plotting the next course of action. I turned to wonder, tremulously, what fresh devil seed I might have recklessly planted there. And then I remembered my fruit cake, and was thus happily occupied.
The next morning, Holmes left early. He was not gone for very long, returning within a half-hour with bulging pockets and an air of triumph. He offloaded his purchases, laying them out for my inspection.
“I have been to the confectioner,” said he. “Look what I have bought.”
I opened each paper bag in turn. “Peppermint humbugs... butter-scotch... fudge... and sugar pigs. Are you possessed of a sudden new-found desire to rot your teeth to stumps, Holmes?”
“They are not for me,” my friend retorted briskly. “I plan on offering them to Mrs. Hudson. In increments.”
I scratched my head. “So you are giving her sweets in the hope that she in turn will give you sweets?”
“Yes,” said Holmes.
I sighed. “Well, the very best of luck to you. If you have any of those humbugs left over then you might be kind enough to pass them my way. They are my favourites.”
And thus we spent the day upon our own preoccupations. Holmes departed our sitting-room a great many times -- I supposed upon errands of one kind or another -- while I sat with my notebooks and medical journals, before turning to foolscap and pen with intention to write. It was mid-afternoon when I heard a soft tap at our door. Our landlady entered, looking cautiously around as she did so.
“Good afternoon, Doctor,” said she, “are you here alone, at the moment?”
“Why yes, Mrs. Hudson,” I replied. “Mr. Holmes should not be long, though. Do you have a message for him?”
“No, I do not,” said the good lady, wringing her apron. “To tell you the truth, Doctor, I am not sure what has come over Mr. Holmes today. He is behaving most oddly. I am quite troubled about it.”
I chuckled. “Has he been offering you sweets?”
“Every time that he sees me,” said Mrs. Hudson, her face creased in bewilderment. “Which has been twelve times today. He even made a special trip into my kitchen to thrust a bag of fudge under my nose. It is very kind of him, but when I politely refused – for I do not favour fudge so very much – why, I thought that he might burst into tears, he looked so distraught. Was it a very special fudge, Doctor, do you know?”
“No, it was not,” I said, putting my arm around our landlady's shoulders, to soothe her. “I think that Holmes merely bought a few too many scoops at the confectioner today, and he thought you might enjoy them, rather than that they go to waste.”
Mrs. Hudson smiled. “The end result being that I now have sufficient quantity to open a small shop of my own, Doctor,” said she. “Well, I shall not trouble you any furth--”
The door swung abruptly open then, and Holmes barrelled into the room. He stopped short when he saw the two of us standing there, my arm still resting upon the lady's shawled shoulder.
“Oh,” said he, “how... pleasant. Yes.” He swept to his desk, picked up a bag, turning upon his heel to proffer it to our landlady with what I assumed he regarded a winsome smile. “Do have a butter-scotch, Mrs. Hudson.”
The poor woman visibly flinched. I interjected. “It is quite all right, Holmes. Mrs. Hudson is about to take her afternoon tea and says she simply must save some room for her sandwiches. Isn't that correct, my dear?”
“Yes,” said Mrs. Hudson. “At least, I think so.”
I ushered her out of the room and closed the door. I turned back to my friend who was standing ramrod straight upon the hearth-rug, his steel-grey eyes boring a hole through me. I shook my head and waved my hands at him.
“Don't start,” I said. “Just don't start. I cannot tolerate any more of this nonsense. You have to stop force-feeding Mrs. Hudson with sweets. It is having an entirely opposite effect to the desired one, you know, my dear fellow.”
Holmes sat down, frowning. “She did not like the fudge,” he said. “I did manage to get rid of all the sugar pigs, however. How long do you suppose before I receive bonbons and books, Watson?” A thought suddenly struck him. “Why were you cuddling?”
“Holmes,” I said, down to my last strand of patience, “I was not cuddling Mrs. Hudson. And I have no idea when you might start to reap the rewards of your lunacy. She is really very fond of you. All you need do is talk to her. If you would only listen to me, instead of embarking upon your madcap ideas.” I paused. “Are there any of those humbugs left?”
My friend steepled his fingers under his chin, and was quiet for a few minutes. “I admit that you are right, Watson,” he said, finally. “Bribery is a futile folly. I do begin to feel a little foolish, upon reflection. I shall do as you advise. Rather more, I agree that I should not place such emphasis upon a fruit cake, or any of those... other things.” He quirked an eye at me. “Mrs. Hudson really is fond of me?”
I nodded, smiling. “Yes, of course, Holmes. She carries a very great affection for you.”
He relaxed. “Sometimes I need to be reminded,” said he, his nose screwed up.
“I shall remind you whenever necessary,” I promised. “Now, in the name of heaven, do pass those humbugs; there's a good man.”