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A Gentleman’s Gratitude

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My over-bearing brother occasionally accuses me of taking John Watson for granted.

I could argue the point, but probably will not trouble myself to do so. On one occasion when Mycroft expressed that particular opinion, Watson overheard his words and replied mildly, “If a man cannot take his most intimate friend for granted sometimes, then perhaps their bond is not as strong as it should be.”

Watson is one of the few people [our mother and occasionally our French grandmama are the only others] who can leave the British government dumb and I delight each time he does so.

Still, sometimes it must be said that Mycroft might have a valid point. A very tiny point, but nevertheless...

This particular night might well serve as one such example. I had just come bursting into our rooms after an extended and unexplained absence. Shortly after breakfast, Watson had ventured out into the chill, grey day just long enough to obtain some shag and a copy of the Illustrated London News which I had requested him to fetch. Whilst he was absent, one of my more reliable Irregulars appeared with a tidbit of news about a notorious sneak thief who had recently turned to murder when two householders caught him in the act. The first victim was a hapless housemaid, so the crime barely bestirred the clumsy officers of the Yard into an investigation. Two nights ago, however, the dead man turned out to be a prominent barrister with ties to the royal family, so all was a flurry of activity. With little result thus far, unsurprisingly.

Given that, it was understandable that the news from the boy drove me out of 221B immediately, forgetting even to leave a note to explain my disappearance.

After such a careless disregard for his feelings, whom but my dear Watson would respond so promptly to my current cries of “The case, my boy, the case! We must get to Shoreditch immediately.”

Undoubtedly, most men would be, at the very least, a bit irked at such a demand, especially when a glance out the window revealed the worst kind of an evening for traipsing around the city. A freezing rain was falling and threatening to turn into snow at any moment. A steady wind blew the frosty downfall against the parlour window, providing a stark contrast to the cosy warmth of the room in which Watson sat, pipe in hand, slippers on his feet, a glass of port at his elbow. Here was a man thoroughly settled into his evening.

But without hesitation, Watson stood. “Give me a moment,” he said; walking past me, he took note of my wet coat and hat. “Put on some dry things,” he ordered, before vanishing into the bedroom.

I stood in front of the fire for a few moments, warming myself a bit before doing as Watson had instructed and donning a warmer coat as well as a dry hat. Just as I finished, Watson reappeared, ready and apparently eager to accompany me to Shoreditch or even to Hades should that be my destination.

Very soon we were tucked inside the growler waiting at the kerb and racing towards a new adventure. I gave Watson a quick summary of events and he was like an eager young colt, chomping at the bit to engage, absently touching the pistol tucked into his pocket.

Outside, the snow was now falling at a rapid pace. I am not a man much given to thoughts of contentment, but at that moment, with the game afoot and Watson at my side it did not seem as if life could be much improved upon. As unlikely as it seems, I even spared a moment to feel a smidgen of pity for my poor brother, sat, as he no doubt was, alone in the Diogenes, with only his whisky and his Times for companionship.

*

There was no denying, however, that two hours later, Watson’s enthusiasm had significantly...diminished. Not that he said as much, but his sighs had increased exponentially and the slumping of his shoulders was unmistakable. The cul-de-sac had held few enough charms when we first arrived and took up a position behind a small shed to await the suspect and by now it was even less inviting. The snow had continued to fall heavily throughout our vigil and I had the whimsical thought that Watson, covered in the white stuff, was taking on the appearance of a snowman.

I opened my mouth to point that out (and to share my moment of whimsy with John, because I knew that he would usually enjoy it) but something told me that the time was not perfect for whimsy. Instead, I merely reached out to brush some of the snow from his shoulders.

He looked at me and any irritation he had been feeling was gone from his gaze, replaced by something that might be called tenderness. After a moment, he used both hands to remove the snow from my shoulders as well. I lifted my thumb and tried to clean away the frost that had gathered on his moustache.

For just a moment the air between us seemed filled with possibility or perhaps something else that I lack the words to define. But the mood was shattered by the sound of a dog-cart approaching, signalling the arrival at last of Ross, our villain. He bid a slightly drunken farewell to the driver, then took a key from his pocket and began to open the door of the shed. Before he could accomplish that task, we stepped out of the darkness.

“Ross,” I said loudly.

Startled, he dropped the key and turned to stare at us wildly. Then, as they always do, Ross tried to run, but his inebriation and my own quick movement put an end to the attempted escape, landing him flat-faced in the snow. Watson placed one firm boot on the murderer’s back and took out his pistol, just to make the point perfectly clear. Meanwhile, I reached into my pocket for the silver whistle and blew several loud blasts to summon Lestrade and his officers waiting around the corner.

While we waited, I looked at Watson, still snow-covered and red-faced from the cold. He smiled at me as if there were no other place in the world he would rather be and no one else with whom he wanted to share the moment.

Yes, it is entirely possible that my brother had a point and I resolved to do better by my dear friend.

*

Later that same night, I made a start on my resolution by taking out my violin. Sometimes music can speak more clearly than words.

Watson was once again sat in front of the fire, this time wrapped in his warmest dressing gown. The tea Mrs Hudson had provided was now finished and two glasses of port had been poured. Watson lit his pipe and settled more deeply into his chair.

“What shall I play?” I asked.

“Something for the season?” he suggested.

His musical taste could not be called sophisticated, but I knew that he would appreciate whatever I choose to offer him.

After a moment, I lifted my bow and began to play the gentle notes of Saint-Saens’ Oratorio de Noel.

Watson smiled in obvious and unabashed delight as he watched me and listened

In a sudden flush of gratitude, I resolved to send my odious brother a bottle of his favourite whisky as a gift for the holiday.

***