There were a few minutes after he picked up the telegram which he spent reading and rereading it, then pacing a little with it as if wondering what to do. I wasn't surprised when he cleared his throat to speak in the least, but on looking up from the paper I was taken aback by his solemnity.
"Holmes, it is rare that I ask something of you."
"Quite right, I remember both times. You asked me to give up cocaine and to be your best man. Both were reasonable requests. What might I do for you, my dear Watson?"
"Well, it won't be pleasant. I'm wondering if you might be more useful here, so that you could call me away on an imaginary emergency, but no, they'd know I was lying"-
"But you aren't a very good liar, Watson. Who are you talking about?"
"Why are you considering lying to them?"
"Because… because they are difficult and I dislike going to visit them intensely. No, you'll have to come. You will come, won't you, Holmes?" The plea was coupled with a pause in his stride. He clearly couldn't concentrate on anything but my answer and his own troubled thoughts.
"Then pack a bag. It is my mother's birthday party. She hasn't invited you, but I'll say that we're only passing through the town and can't stay long. I have a patient with consumption and you have a pressing case. Yes. No." He was pacing again now. "Just say you can't discuss it, it's too important. Maybe then I won't have to lie about the patient- you're better than me at all that. We'll stay one night and then leave early morning. Perhaps we could leave before anyone wakes up."
"Why are you so keen to avoid them?"
"You'll see. No- you probably won't from them, more from their effect on me."
For the next few minutes we packed in silence, and we were soon out in a cab on our way to the station. To try and ease my friend's clearly troubled mind I discussed crime, the contents of the papers, anything that might distract him, but Watson was quite miserable, not at all himself. Eventually he decided to tell me more about our destination, more of a warning than anything else.
"You might witness a different side of me than the one you are used to seeing this evening, but you must understand that the way I behave has reason to it… You do trust that, Holmes?"
"I can't imagine you as unreasonable, Watson."
"Well… I can't guarantee I will be pleasant company tonight." He looked out of the window, a frown creasing his boyish face, and I wondered what, or who might provoke an action from him that he would fear I might be ashamed of.
Later, when we got out of the cab, Watson stopped to pluck a piece of thread from my lapel, an as if to add insult to injury straightened my tie for me.
"What does it matter if I'm wearing a fibre of the London cab upholstery, Watson?"
He paused to inspect his own reflection in the window of the cab, and turned only when it pulled away. "You represent me since I last spoke to them. Ideally I'd like you to look perfect. Holmes, you naturally charm people you need to, so I don't need to tell you about that, but I don't want them to be able to criticize anything about you at all."
"Surely you should represent yourself, Watson?" I was daunted by the task of being a walking advertisement for someone I considered to be the kindest and most charming man alive. I felt as though the Watson's were going to stand and give me marks out of ten, and I suspect this is how my friend felt. He had stood with his back to the house and was plainly ignoring its massive presence.
"You are more impressive. Besides, when they see me, they see the boy they once loved –myself in my teens- or my older brother." Ah. So this was what it was about. I had gathered from the only other conversation we had had about him that Watson was very fond of his brother.
"Were you alike?" I asked softly. He didn't answer immediately and turned to the house he had grown up in. "Watson."
"Very much so… for a time."