I needed to leave in twenty minutes, and none of my ties were suitably clean for dining out. The obvious choice was to borrow from my flat mate, but Holmes had been in his room all day, working (I assumed) on a project of great importance. Pride outweighed timidity, and five minutes later I found myself knocking on his door. When there was no reply, I knocked once more and pushed the door open. "Holmes?"
He was not studying. He wasn't even pacing with his pipe.
The world's only consulting detective was lying on his bed, in his shirtsleeves, with only one sock.
"Holmes, are you feeling quite well?" I tried to meet his eyes, but he stared blankly at the ceiling. Who was this man? What happened to the hound who was always digging, perpetually hunting for new clues and adventures?
The stubble on his face frightened me even more; he always shaved by this hour of the day.
"You must be ill," I said softly, putting the back of my hand against his forehead.
He closed his eyes. "I'm not. Help yourself to a tie, if you can find it in this—" he waved toward the clothing strewn across the floor, before letting his hand fall back.
All happy thoughts of the club dinner had disappeared by now. "Holmes, what's wrong? Are you sure you're not ill?" I took his pulse--he watched dully as I did so--and upon finding it normal I studied the despair in his face. "Holmes, are you depressed?"
He was quiet a moment. "It's nothing to be concerned over, Doctor. The moon waxes and wanes every month, you know. This is my waning time."
"I can't believe that you, of all people..."
"Is it so strange to you, Watson?"
I looked down at my hands. "I didn't think you were capable of feeling depression. I supposed you would never run out of energy, spirit..."
"That is what most people think. And, as you see, they are wrong. The world sees me when I walk along the mountain tops: there am I, the stratosphere my stage. But the valleys, well, I've learned to traverse alone."
"How d'you mean?"
"Oh...just as I say. When this comes upon me, this blackness in the mind, I am able to weather it. And now, Watson—" he took a weary breath. "I would prefer that you leave."
"You've no reason to worry, these fits always pass. Now take one of my ties and go to your dinner. You'll be late if you tarry much longer."
Unhappily I turned my attention from Holmes to the garmets littering the room. After some effort I excavated a black puff tie and a fairly clean collar, both in a valley formed by other clothes.
"Find what you needed?" The dim sunlight slanting across Holmes's face made him look paler than ever.
"No, but I found some things for you."
He snorted as I lay the collar and tie beside him. "If my lack of care in dress offends you, Watson, leave the room. I believe I made that suggestion earlier."
"No! no, Holmes, it's not that. I'm only trying to help."
"My dear fellow, there's no help for me--not now, anyway. Go on and enjoy yourself."
"All right, Holmes, if that's what you want," I said slowly. "I'll be home in a few hours, and I'll come see if you're feeling better. Would you like that?"
"I suppose—" he paused, and a flicker of a smile touched his lips. "I suppose I would like that. And now, Watson, you must take the black tie and be on your way." He put it in my hand carefully.
The tie was more crumpled than any of the ones in my room, but when I put it on and looked in the mirror, all I could think was how the creases in the silk caught and refracted the light so beautifully.