It was a mere matter of two or three months before I came to realise that having found the good Dr Watson to share my rooms with was not the extraordinary stroke of luck I had originally considered it to be.
Initially, the arrangement seemed perfect. The man appeared to have all the qualities one could possibly desire in a fellow lodger. Amicable, tidy and almost always sober, most of his time was spent alternating between over-exerting himself in trying to walk further or do more than his state of health would allow, and lying prostrate on the sofa recovering. Besides this foolish cycle, his only other occupation seemed to consist of accumulating large amounts of scribblings, which most unfortunately he was careful never to leave lying around for me to read. In short, it would be difficult to think of a less disturbing set of pastimes in a fellow.
When I finally judged his health to be up to accompanying me on one of my cases, his appreciative reaction to my deductive methods established once and for all his soundness of mind and good judgement. Moreover, he seemed to have no objection to my playing of the violin at unsociable hours, and if he was occasionally disturbed by the noxious smells which the unpredictable nature of chemistry will sometimes produce even in the hands of the most skilful manipulator, he gave no outward sign of his discomfort.
If only he could have been old and ugly! Or even young and handsome, but empty-headed and fatuous. Instead he displayed constant proof of his steady nature and bottomless heart. It was a balmy August afternoon in 1881 when the suspicions which had been hovering in the darkest regions of my brain coalesced into the undeniable conclusion that living with Watson would prove to be a torment without end – but a torment which I would never wish to give up.
The revelation struck me while I was interviewing a client, a rather annoying old fellow by the name of Pendleford. I had invited Dr Watson to remain while the old man told his story, something I had begun to frequently surprise myself by doing.
The first time I had done so I had felt quite insulted, for Watson seemed to spend the whole time scribbling in his notebook rather than paying attention to my skilful probing of the client's memories. After a time, however, I came to realise that in fact, he was taking notes on the conversation! I had not forgotten his threat some time previously to publicise an account of a rather gruesome matter involving the murder of some Americans in London, with which case I had introduced him to my work. I had dismissed the idea as idle flattery at the time, but suddenly it seemed to me rather agreeable to have Watson concentrate all his attention on me in such a fashion.
For my conversation with Pendleford, Watson and his notebook were present as always. I lent a professional ear to the old man's long and rambling tale, but out of the corner of my eye I was watching Watson bent over his notebook, his pen flying across the page, a little crease between his fair brows giving his face an intense expression which I found oddly compelling.
Every so often I tore my eyes away from Watson in order to satisfy the minimum exigences of civility by nodding in acknowledgement of old Mr Pendleford, who was still reciting volubly. He was sitting on the edge of his chair, a chandler's wax-stained hands clutching the cardboard folder resting on his knees, his countryman's shoes clashing with the three-piece suit he had taken from the back of his wardrobe for his visit to town, and which had not seen the light of day since he had attended a wedding two summers ago - or perhaps three, it was impossible to say for certain. His enunciation was careful and his West Country accent quite light, as he poured out a story which he had evidently rehearsed several times in the train.
"So you see, Mr Holmes, although my brother-in-law's little hotel is getting along just fine, it will never make him a rich man. He is a little out of the way, on the edge of a town just outside the more popular parts of Gloucestershire. In the summer he does manage to fill his seven rooms most of the time, and in general makes enough to see him through the winter. At the height of the season, I go down to lend a hand to him and my sister for a month or two. I am a chandler, you see, and there's not so much demand for candles in the summer."
I wished very much that I had had the opportunity to outline to Watson the few simple facts I had deduced about Pendleford's profession and geographical origins, so that now I could enjoy his look of admiration when they were confirmed. Alas, that simple pleasure was denied me on this occasion.
Pendleford was continuing his tale, "This summer, however, he's somehow managed to get his hands on a large sum of money from somewhere, and somewhere dodgy at that, I reckon, for when I confronted him about it he blew up in my face. Told me to mind my own business in no uncertain terms. I'm sure there's something underhand about the whole thing. So I have done a bit of investigating before coming up to London to see you." With one calloused finger he tapped the folder on his knees. "I've made a list of all the names and addresses of the people he's written to recently, copies of all the receipts I found in his office, dates when he was away from the hotel without explanation and so on."
I had not the slightest desire to see a list of all the times Mr Pendleford's brother-in-law had been to see his mistress or perhaps simply enjoy a quiet drink away from his wife and brother-in-law, or read pages of receipts relating to silver-polish and bedlinen, or accounts which were probably dubious only in that the hotel-owner had distorted the figures a little in order to justify paying a lower wage to his brother-in-law.
"I'm afraid there is really no mystery for me to solve here, Mr Pendleford," I said. "It is probable your brother-in-law won the money gambling, or in some other fairly innocuous way. After all, not every man wishes to discuss his financial affairs with his wife's brother. I am afraid I cannot help you."
Pendleford's face fell, and out of the corner of my eye I saw Watson's head come up.
"Mr Pendleford seems to have spent a great deal of time putting together this collection of documents," he said mildly. "Perhaps it would be an idea if he were to leave it here for you to take a look through later. There may well be something of importance in such a large and detailed dossier."
As so often before, I was amazed once more by what a beautiful mystery the person of John Watson embodied. How on earth could he manage to care about being polite and considerate to a man he had only just met and would most likely never see again? How the devil did he manage to sustain his touching belief that I was merely being a little heedless, and that if I simply stopped to think for a second, I should become as kind and considerate as he? Most of all, why should I give a damn what the Doctor thought, and why should I instantly change my mind when I heard his words and felt his mild, thoughtful gaze on me?
I turned slowly back to Pendleford. "If you could be so kind as to leave your documents on the table, along with your address, I will be in touch with you as soon as I have determined whether or not there is a possibility of solving the case."
The old chandler's face broke into a beaming smile as he stuttered his thanks. I was facing him for civility's sake, but out of the corner of my eye I was watching Dr Watson. When I saw his mouth curve into a small, warm smile, directed solely at me, I reflected to myself that I would happily take on a hundred such trumped-up, non-existent cases simply to be on the receiving end of that smile again.
It was at that moment that I realised I was lost, and that it would have been better for all of us had that damnably good man never come into my life at all.
Watson showed Pendleford to the door while I sat in my chair, transfixed by my own stupidity. A few months with my guard down had been enough to spell the end of almost a decade of self-imposed celibacy and constant efforts to transform myself into a purely rational being, untouched by foolish and dangerous thoughts of affection or desire.
Watson came back to sit opposite me, looking rather pink for some reason.
"I say, Holmes, old fellow," he began diffidently, "I hope I did not speak out of turn just now. You seem a little put out."
I stared. How could a man as kind, as handsome and as good as Watson be so unassuming and modest?
He was still waiting for an answer. I hesitated for a moment between throwing myself at his neck, or shutting him out once and for all with the harshest retort I could devise. In the event I did neither, but rather muttered something about it being immaterial one way or the other, and retired behind the pages of the Illustrated London News.
Soon, the faint sound of pen-nib scraping on paper penetrated its way into my thoughts. I risked raising my head for a moment, and saw that Watson was sitting at his desk, scribbling away as usual. I could only see the back of him, with his thin invalid's shoulders slightly rounded as he bent over his work, and his fair hair caught by rays of summer sun from the window. I shook myself and looked away. Such observations were more worthy of a love-struck idiot than a rational, scientific man. If I allowed myself to continue in this vein, I would soon be dreaming of kissing that sun-burnt brow, of running my hands over the wiry frame which was slowly growing to be as well-built as it must once have been, of bending my head to –
I shook myself again, and jerked my newspaper up in front of my face to block that mesmerising view. If only Pendleford had brought me a real case, a case to fill my heart and mind and days!
I only had one comfort in all this sorry mess. I had soon noticed Watson's lack of discrimination when it came to the gender of those on the receiving end of his appreciative glances. I could be confident that, should I ever betray my true opinion of him by word or deed, I would certainly lose a room-mate but I was very unlikely to end up in gaol.
After an hour or two he abandoned his writing and came to sit opposite me, bestowing his friendly, open smile on me before burying himself in a lurid-looking novel whose title suggested it to be a tale of adventure in the wars against Napoleon. The book's cover, however, was illustrated with a 17th-century Portuguese galleon, this shocking inaccuracy giving me even less desire than I would otherwise have had to investigate its contents.
Watson appeared to have no such qualms, and we sat in comfortable silence for quite some time, while he read, and I watched him over the top of my newspaper.
Watching Watson read was superior in every way to what reading the novel myself would have been, I am quite sure. At first he sat far back in his seat, chuckling every so often when one of the characters uttered a joke. Then the tension gradually mounted, and he leant forward, gripping the book, as the heroes evidently went into battle. The engagement seemed to go ill for them at first, and some important character must have perished, for Watson frowned and even sniffed a little, though very discreetly. Finally, however, the obligatory victory was granted to Her Majesty's forces, the heroes returned home in triumph, and Watson sighed and laid the book aside. I made sure to be buried in my newspaper again by the time he looked up.
"Holmes," he said.
I lowered the pages a little.
"You're still on the same page of your newspaper as the last time I looked. You have been all evening, in fact."
I cursed myself for having folded the newspaper over instead of holding it open.
Watson was looking worried. "I hope you're not still put out about that business with Pendleford. I really am - "
I cut him off. "I have not given the man a moment's thought all evening," I was able to say in complete honesty. "I am pleased to see you are exercising your observative eye, however, my dear fellow."
He went pink with pleasure, and beamed at me. I had not intended the remark to be such a compliment, for after all it really was a very elementary observation, even if one which the great majority of the unobservant masses would not have made. However, anything which gave Dr Watson pleasure was worth the uttering.
"I have been making a study of your methods," he said, although from his tone perhaps 'confessed' would be a better word. "Perhaps you have noticed me taking a few notes during the cases you have been kind enough to let me witness."
"Indeed I have, once or twice," I said, not quite doing the truth full justice.
I would happily have sat there all night, lecturing him on the endless benefits inherent in developing one's skills of observation, but unfortunately Watson was already bespoken for dinner. The accursed third party was an old friend he had encountered by chance some months previously, and with whom he ate dinner in a fairly regular fashion, once every fortnight or so. Although Watson had not been very forthcoming about this individual, I had nonetheless been able to determine that he smoked Pall Mall, and that they had served together in Afghanistan.
Although I had never admitted as much to a living soul, I always feared to rely on my habitual skills when it came to matters in which I had a personal involvement. I knew this to be absurd, for deduction is a science whose results should not change with the emotional state of the observer. And yet the interpretation the observer puts on his conclusions can distort any given fact. It was one of the reasons I considered the strong emotions to be such dangerous, insidious things.
In the case of Watson's fortnightly dinners, for instance, I knew perfectly well that although they took place in a public house in the region of Piccadilly which was known to many gentlemen as a convenient location to procure a partner of the same gender, the establishment was also frequented by many perfectly respectable people, oblivious of the place's reputation. I knew it to be likely that Watson and his friend met there simply because it was a place known already to both of them from their student days, and not for any reason of current interest.
Although I had my suspicions regarding the level of intimacy of their relations in Afghanistan, my observations had made it clear that in London they remained fully clothed throughout all of their encounters, which indeed probably took place in their entirety within the public gaze.
All this I knew, yet nevertheless my mind would not cease its speculations. Why could I not be satisfied with these perfectly logical and indisputable conclusions? Why did my brain leap to fevered imaginings at the sight of a slight loosening in Watson's cravat, which was surely due to the oppressive evening heat and not to the fingers of his friend from Afghanistan?
I realised that Watson was standing by the door in his hat and coat, looking at me with an air of enquiry and presumably wondering why I had not responded to his parting words.
"I beg your pardon?"
He smiled. "I am sorry to disturb your thoughts, my dear Holmes. I merely said that Mrs Hudson is making beef Burgundy tonight, and I hope you will eat a good portion."
I could not restrain an impatient noise at this cossetting, which earned me a fond smile before Watson took his leave, and left me to my agitated thoughts.