Prompt: Winter Sports
I did not move from the divan. I was alone in the parlour, save for the uneasy company of my own darkening mood.
It was impossible not to hear Watson up in his room, whistling a cheerful tune as he divested himself of his second-best suit and donned…well, I could not imagine what he might be donning, actually.
I had reacted with equanimity early this morning when Watson announced that he would not be in for luncheon, as Stamford had invited him to take the meal with him at his club and Watson had accepted, despite the inconvenience caused to me. Apparently, my important plans for the day were of no consequence. It happened that my scrapbooks were in dire need of updating and Watson was a dab hand with a brush and pot of glue. I credit his surgeon’s fingers for the fact that he always made a much neater job than myself of pasting items of significance into my alphabetised volumes.
But no, apparently it was more important to go eat mediocre beef and soggy Brussel sprouts with Stamford than it was to sit in our cosy rooms and assist me.
The news had quite spoiled breakfast, which was usually a time when I could freely indulge in a bit of observing and then cataloguing a variety of Watsonian expressions, while he was engaged with the Times and the marmalade. But with his announcement, my mood soured, which he did not even seem to notice. Things had not improved one whit after his return from the club, when he cavalierly announced that after being gone for two hours and seventeen minutes over luncheon [that a small stain on his left cuff proved to have been as mediocre as predicted] he would be going out yet again this evening.
Watson came back down the stairs and into the parlour. I was polite enough to refrain from commenting on his choice of attire, which consisted of some very old tweed trousers and a heavy cardigan that was the colour of porridge. Instead, I said, quite reasonably, “I was not aware that you even knew how to ice skate, Watson. I understand that it does call for some proficiency, if injury is to be avoided.”
He cast a smile at me. “Well, I am glad to know that I still have some secrets from you, my dear chap. And just so you know, I learnt to skate at age four on a pond at my grandfather’s farm, so when Stamford suggested that I might like to join his party this evening, I was pleased to do so.”
“Humph,” was my reply to that, a response that probably would not advance my argument very far. I pyramided my hands and looked at him. “I assume that you are aware of the great tragedy that took place on that same lake in Regent’s Park in 1867,” I said, pulling out my trump card.
“Can’t say that I am.”
“Dozens perished when the ice gave way and they were dumped into the cold water.”
Watson listened to me and nodded seriously. For a moment I thought that my earlier research had borne fruit. Perhaps he would now be content to sit with the glue pot and listen to my insights on each item he added to the files. “Well, Holmes,” he said gravely, “should such a dreadful fate befall me this evening, I want you to know that I have very much enjoyed sharing quarters with you, as well as the adventures we have had.”
I was not amused by his jape. And I think he realised this, because as he pulled on a heavy short jacket, he looked at me with a much softer gaze. “You could accompany me, Holmes. I would be delighted to share the evening with you.”
Could I do such a thing? I would be very tempted to accompany him if it were at all possible that Watson and I might link hands and glide around the lake together, as I understand lovers often do. For a moment, my mind seemed shattered into a million pieces, broken apart by the realisation that it was the first time I had ever used that word in reference to the two of us.
“Holmes?” Watson said. “Are you quite all right? It was only an invitation.”
I shook my head and turned my back on him. Or, in truth, not on Watson at all, but on an epiphany that had shaken me to my very core.
“Very well,” Watson said; his voice held a hint of something that I could not quite decipher. “I will not be late in returning.”
And then he left.
I lay there, unmoving, for another ten minutes before some power beyond myself forced me up. Without giving thought to what I was doing, I donned my great coat, hat and warm leather gloves. Thus attired, I left our rooms. The night was very cold, which probably meant that the lake in Regent’s Park would be perfectly safe for skating upon. Watson would not fall through the ice and be sucked into a black void.
It took only a few minutes for me to arrive at the impromptu rink. Standing in the dark, just beyond the light cast by an ill-advised bonfire, I could watch without being seen. I spied the Stamford party at once, gathered on the shore not far from where I stood. Watson’s golden hair was difficult to miss. He had put on the borrowed skates, but had not yet taken to the ice; instead, he was leaning against a bench, chatting with Stamford.
Stamford suddenly turned and gave a wave. “Miss Morstan,” he called out, “come and meet an old friend of mine.”
A petite blonde woman made her slow way across the ice. Just as she reached the shore-line, she appeared to stumble and would have fallen, save for the fact that Watson acted quickly and grabbed her. There was rather too much laughter and some apparently light-hearted conversation which I could not hear.
From somewhere across the ice I could hear a violin being badly played, providing a musical accompaniment [of a fashion] for the skaters. Clearly, whoever was playing had to be an idiot, because who else would take his instrument out into the cold?
I knew what was going to happen before it did.
Watson took the woman by one arm and they glided out onto the ice as if they had done so many times before. I saw him smile down at her before they were lost in the crowd.
It was a much longer walk back to Baker Street and by the time I reached home I was terribly cold, although only a part of my chill came from the weather. I ignored the tea that Mrs Hudson forced upon me and returned to the divan.
Ridiculously, I felt as if I were a man in mourning, although I had only the vaguest notion of what it was I grieved for.
It was only slightly more than an hour later when I heard Watson’s return. He accepted the offer of tea from Mrs Hudson, but in his agreeable manner insisted upon carrying it up himself rather than ask Mrs Hudson to face the stairs again. He is ever a gentleman.
“Huh,” he said as he walked into the parlour. “Have you even moved at all since I left, Holmes?”
I did not reply, but, as usual, my silence discouraged him not at all. He sat in his chair and fussed with the tea for a moment. Once it was apparently prepared to his satisfaction, Watson leaned back into the cushion and sighed. “Well, that was rather tedious,” he said. “I would have been better served to pass the evening here in your silent company.”
Well, those words came as a bit of a surprise, because he had seemed quite happy when last I saw him skating off with that woman. Finally I rolled over to look at him.
“Stamford is a decent fellow,” he went on after a swallow of tea. “But he does tend towards being a busybody.” Then he chuckled. “He seems always to relish the role of matchmaker. And while I give him full marks for introducing you to me, it would be better if he had just rested on his laurels for that.”
The conversation [if it could even be labelled as that with only one person speaking] was proving to be rather interesting. So much so that I decided to join in. “Did he make a match for you tonight, then?” I asked in a languid tone.
“Well, he certainly tried. A Miss Morstan was clearly meant to catch my eye.”
“And did she?”
“Oh, I daresay she was pleasant enough, with a bit of wit.”
“Was she pretty?” I have no idea why I asked that.
Watson shrugged. “I suppose, if in a rather common way. I am sure that she will make some chap an acceptable wife one day soon.”
“But not you?”
He gave a short laugh. “Certainly not. As busy as you keep me, when would I have time for a wife?”
Should I apologise for that? I heard him take a deep breath.
“Holmes, you must know that I am more than content with our life here. I aspire to nothing more.” He paused and then when he spoke again there was some subtle change in his tone. “At least, I aspire to nothing more beyond these rooms we share.” Abruptly, he stood. “Well, I’m for bed. I am sure that tomorrow my muscles will remind me that it has been a very long time since I was on skates.”
“Watson,” I said as he reached the doorway. “We might go skating sometime if you would like.”
He smiled at me, but did not speak again.
I listened to his footsteps and then to the familiar sounds of John Watson getting ready for bed.
Something seemed to be happening in 221B. Things appeared to be shifting between us. And I could confess, at least to myself, that it all left me feeling more than a bit adrift, in a way that was not quite comfortable. At the same time, the evening had ignited a little flame of…something [desire, perhaps?] within me.
Before I could dig too deeply into it all, however, I fell asleep right where I was.
In my dream, John Watson and I were gliding arm-in-arm across the ice. Much better violin music than that I’d heard earlier serenaded us as we went. In the way of dreams, I did not question how I could be playing my violin at the same time I was holding tightly to Watson as we skated in perfect harmony.
From the shore, Stamford was loudly proclaiming to anyone who would listen that he had made the perfect match.