There is something about a lowering afternoon in December, when the darkness is creeping inexorably cross the city, that brings on a thoughtful, not to say melancholy, mood. I cannot help but give a snort of derision at my own maudlin musing, knowing all too well what my friend Holmes would have said at the sentiment.
Immediately I felt a twinge of guilt at the thought, which smacked of disloyalty.
Despite the way I portray Holmes in my scribblings, no one knows better than I that he is not the unfeeling machine so often described in the pages of the Strand. Still, it suits us both to have that myth believed by the general populous.
That is true especially in the past year.
Life moved along so quickly that I was a bit startled to realise that it was indeed almost a a full year since Holmes and I had become…what was the word Holmes had uttered during our momentous dinner at Simpson’s? Ah, yes,
inamoratos was the word I sought.
Billy had been up a short time ago to tend the fireplace, so there was warmth in the room, as well as a comforting glow that almost banished the gloom from beyond the windows. It was usually a pleasure to sit in my armchair, snifter and pipe in hand, the muffled sounds of carriages passing below on Baker Street mingling pleasantly with the crackle of the fire. But on this afternoon, I could not really relax into the usual sense of comfort.
Holmes was out, tracking down a petty thief, one who was thought to have information concerning a recent spate of brutal killings in Southwark. I should have been along, would have been along, but instead had kept my word to an old friend from my days at Bart’s and left home early to take his morning surgery. By the time I returned to Baker Street, Holmes was in the wind.
As usual, it chafed at me, not being at his side whilst he prowled the meanest streets in London on the trail of a killer. It chafed as well to be sitting here with the fire and the brandy and my favourite shag in the pipe, whilst Holmes could have stumbled into six kinds of trouble. He has a knack for it, my consulting detective.
But for now all I could do was sit and watch the fire and wait for the gloom to lift while thinking of my inamorato.
And there I go being poetic again.
There are days when I can only wish that my profession were half as romantic as my Boswell paints it in his stories. He will make each tale of sordid crime into an ode to some mythical image of knightly derring-do, no matter how I attempt to persuade him to be more scientific and logical.
My attempts are probably half-hearted, I concede.
No one has ever viewed me in the way that Watson does and I feel quite safe in saying that no one else ever will. Which suits me perfectly.
I am sure that, with his pen, he would be able to make something shining even from this useless day. He would spin my endless trudging through the chill and intermittent icy rain, whilst talking to one hapless down-and-outer after another to no avail, into a stirring narrative. A well-told tale more than worthy of the two pence a word that the Strand would pay him for the effort.
Not even my great coat and wool cap could keep me warm and dry after so many hours. At long last, my self-admitted stubborn nature finally succumbed to reality and I gave in, heading wearily for the main road where a cabriolet would be more easily found.
When I finally [and thankfully it must be confessed] had settled into the cab, feeling marginally warmer, if no drier, I let my thoughts wander to Baker Street. Which meant, of course, that they wandered to John Watson. I leant back against the padded seat and closed my eyes, the better to imagine the scene.
No doubt there was a roaring blaze in the fireplace and my friend would have pulled his chair up close. His second-best pipe would be firmly inserted between his teeth and probably there was a drink close at hand. Perhaps he was reading.
But, no, not my Watson.
Instead of losing himself in one of those ridiculous seafaring tales of which he is so fond, Watson would be fretting about me. Wondering where I was and if I were safe.
The idea that someone other than a member of my immediate family thought of me and worried on my behalf was still a new notion to me and it warmed me even more than the somewhat tattered lap blanket in the carriage.
I was eager to get home. Home to Baker Street and John Watson.
Watson heard the entry door open below, followed by the sound of Mrs Hudson’s greeting and the offer of tea and sandwiches, since he had missed dinner. He could not make out the reply, only the low rumble of Holmes’ voice.
Setting his pipe aside, Watson gave a sigh of relief. He stood and waited as Holmes climbed the seventeen stairs that led up to their rooms, his footsteps sounding heavy with weariness, but no more than that. Not injured, then. A moment later, the man himself appeared, looking rather like a dog left out in the rain too long.
It was in part, at least, as a doctor that Watson crossed the room and began to divest Holmes of his sopping coat and hat. “Goodness, man,” he chided. “You should have come home hours ago.”
Holmes was not oblivious to the fleeting and medically unnecessary warm touches on his neck as Watson pulled off the coat or the several gentle fingertips that slid through his damp hair as the hat went. “I might as well have,” he grumbled. “For all the good my excursions brought me.”
Watson was still at it, easing Holmes’ jacket and waistcoat off as well, finally giving him a gentle push towards the second chair set in front of the fireplace. “Sit down and take off those wet boots,” he ordered. Then he went to the sideboard to pour a healthy portion of whiskey into a glass. “Drink this,” he said, handing it to Holmes.
“Yes, doctor,” was the bemused reply.
Watson took his chair as well and picked up his brandy again.
From below, they could hear the faint sounds of Mrs Hudson preparing a tray.
“I look forward to having a sandwich myself,” Watson said. “My appetite at dinner was not robust.”
Holmes was watching the flames as his hair began to dry and curl. “You fret too much, my dear boy,” he said fondly.
Watson shook his head. “Nonsense. I fret precisely as much as is appropriate.”
Holmes turned his gaze towards him and gave one of his rare [and all the more precious therefore] genuine grins. “I am happy to be home.”
Watson nodded and took a sip of the brandy. “I look forward to expressing my happiness at your return later.”
Probably the pinkness painting Holmes’ sharp cheek bones was down to the warmth of the fire.
Watson only smiled.
They heard the sound of Mrs Hudson bringing up the tray with their tea and sandwiches, the crackle of the fire and the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves from the carriages being pulled along Baker Street. Watson relaxed and let the familiarity embrace him like a blanket.
Holmes, meanwhile, was wondering how he might play alchemist and transform the ordinary sounds into a musical composition that would define Home.
Aloud, all he said was, “Despite my strenuous efforts, the Southwark Strangler remains at liberty.”
“We will find him,” Watson replied in a placid tone.
Before Holmes could chastise him yet again for his unending faith, Mrs Hudson entered the room and they moved to the table for their meal.
Outside, the rain turned to snow.