My good friend Mr Sherlock Holmes presents a rather austere visage to the world, that of a serious man, one who would have scant patience for any sort of tomfoolery. [I suspect that he would interject here that it is actually my ‘scribblings’ which present him to the world in that way. I will grant him that.]
To be quite honest, despite my description of Holmes, he does take an almost child-like delight in some aspects of his unique profession. Although probably only someone who shares quarters with the man and thus enjoys a certain intimacy would be witness to that side of his nature.
One example of that delight is how Holmes relishes those occasions upon which he can don some disguise or another, the more absurd the better. He maintains an entire extra wardrobe in the attics of 221B for the purpose. On more than one occasion, I have been completely flummoxed when my friend appears before me in the guise of a rough seaman or a flighty vicar.
Almost as much as he enjoys dressing up, Holmes also delights on those occasions where he and I [because I can never refuse an invitation to accompany him] are required to conceal ourselves in some dark alleyway or take residence in some less-than-salubrious hotel, waiting to apprehend a miscreant or even to bear witness to a crime.
In truth, I myself also take a certain pleasure in sharing such adventures with Holmes, probably more so than I should do. But much of that enjoyment is lost when the night in question is that of 1 December, thus winter. After nearly two hours spent crouching behind a dust-cart which had not made it to the shoots that day and was therefore still filled with rather malodorous rubbish, the stink and the damp cold were draining away all my previous enthusiasm for capturing the Kennington Poisoner. Even bundled into my warmest coat I was chilled to the bone.
I wanted my dressing gown and slippers, my pipe filled with shag and a glass of lovely dark port. To make it all even more perfect, there would hopefully be the soothing tone of a violin being played. My sigh, of course, caught Holmes’ attention. “Your patience is wearing thin,” he said softly, speaking in that tone which always seems to resonate pleasantly within some hidden part of me.
“I apologise,” I said, although exactly what I was apologising for was unclear, even to myself.
“No, no,” Holmes replied. “The fault lies entirely with me. Clearly I misjudged how long it would take Burke to be about his business this evening.”
“Well,” I replied, “poisoners are notoriously unreliable.”
Holmes gave me a small, genuine smile. Then he reached into the pocket of his greatcoat and I could hear the crackle of paper. “Hold out your hand,” he ordered.
Naturally, I obeyed without hesitation. Occasionally it would occur to me that my tendency to follow Holmes so unstintingly might one day lead me to grief, but if that were also his destination, there was no place else I would want to be. My only real fear was that the depth of my feelings for him would at some point be obvious, especially to the world’s most observant man.
Now, however, he did not comment on the affection that I was sometimes sure must be visible in my eyes, even in the pale moonlight that washed over the alleyway. I could not help but notice that the silvery glow flattered his features ridiculously. Instead of speaking, he merely placed two small objects into my hand. It took a moment for me to recognise what I was looking at. “Humbugs!” I said in surprise.
“I recall that you have a fondness for them,” he muttered, careful to be looking at the doorway rather than at me.
Indeed I do, but it was a surprise that he bothered to keep such a trivial fact in his encyclopaedic brain. I well-remembered the occasion upon which I had offered Lestrade one of the candies, only to be reprimanded for indulging in such frivolity in the middle of an investigation.
I placed one of the sweets into my mouth and the immediate rush of peppermint seemed to brighten my mood. “Thank you, Holmes,” I said. I knew that he was not fond of the flavour, so why then was he carrying Humbugs around in his pocket? Could there be any reason other than that he carried them for me? What was I supposed to deduce from that?
Before I could pursue that line of thought, however, the door opened suddenly and our tardy prey appeared. I shoved the second Humbug into my pocket at the same time I fetched up my pistol, just in the event it should be necessary.
There followed a brief and satisfactory pursuit, which ended with the miscreant firmly in the hands of Lestrade’s men and Holmes and I in a handy growler headed for Baker Street. In the darkness of the cab I was able to watch Holmes, who seemed to be fully engaged in some thoughts of his own.
As for me, my thoughts were rather an untidy mess. It seemed far too likely that a day of reckoning would have to come and my secret musings [dare I say desires?] would be impossible to hide from my friend. That realisation brought only despair to me. Sensibly, I should remove myself from Baker Street, saving both Holmes and myself from inevitable disaster and bitter estrangement.
When we were once again safely in our parlour, Holmes offered a glass of the port which I had been craving earlier. But I felt as if it were necessary to absent myself from him for a time. Claiming weariness, I slowly climbed the stairs to my room.
It was not until I was tucked up in my bed, staring into the darkness, that I put the second Humbug into my mouth. I wondered if the strong taste of peppermint would forever make me think of Holmes as he had appeared in the moonlight. If it would always make my secret desires far too tangible.
From beyond my room, floating up the stairs, the soft sound of a violin reached my ears.
The tune was a melancholy one.