Holmes had not had a case in several months, and he was wasting away. I tried to entertain him, converse with him, but he ignored my attempts: he pored over the papers until his fingers were black with newsprint, as if somehow overnight the words in the agonies might have rearranged themselves into fresh, intriguing news. Though Mrs. Hudson made the most tempting meals she could, and I coaxed and coaxed him, he did not even pick at his food.
One morning when Holmes glanced at the tray and turned back to his thoughts, Mrs. Hudson hesitated in the door. "Mr. Holmes…if you're figity, like, you can eat while you walk about the room. I don't mind a few crumbs on the carpet." She tried to smile.
He didn't appear to have heard, and with a desperate look to me, Mrs. Hudson went downstairs.
Holmes was standing in front of the window, his forehead leaning against the glass—he didn't have the strength or spirit to hold it up.
I went to look up a timetable; perhaps he might be entertained by a day in the country. When I returned, he seemed quite different--he stood as if a current of energy ran through him.
"He's coming to our flat," he whispered, rapidly drumming the tip of his finger against the pane. "He's most definitely coming. And he has some desperate cause. I think…" trailing off, Holmes sank into an armchair, hands folded expectantly. We had not long to wait before a knock came at the door, and a middle-aged man entered, hat in hand and a serious look on his face.
"I have a case for you, Mr. Holmes, if you are not presently occupied."
"Pray sit down," Holmes said grandly, gesturing with his spidery fingers.
"I shall be glad to, as soon as we are alone."
"We are quite alone," Holmes said, rather curtly; "d'you think I have spies at the doors and windows? Now: what use can I be to you?"
"I come from my master, and my orders were that I speak to you and none else," the man continued stolidly, though without venom. "I must request that the doctor leave."
Holmes made a dismissive gesture. "Every profession has its particulars and its mechanics; you can't ask to tinker with the formula I use."
"That's plain, but it's just as certain, sir, that I can choose not to accept your help. No doubt you think me old fashioned and stubborn, but I'm only doing what my employer bids. It's an extremely delicate and complex matter, not a trifle to handle lightly."
Holmes gave his most winning smile, but juxtaposed with his gaunt face, it hurt me. He got to his feet, as the client was not sitting down, and took a step forward, hand extended. "Complex matters are my speciality, Mr. Greene, I rarely disappoint. I assure you," here he paused, and his anxiety seeped through his smile, but only for a moment, "You will be most pleased with our help. Some clients, I have found, do need certain…requirements…to feel easy.
And we can be obliging—can't we, Watson, of course we can oblige. Now your master seems a good and sensible man, it makes perfect sense he doesn't want a stranger hearing these delicate matters. But you see, Watson is no stranger, quite the contrary! He is my intimate friend and I cannot solve cases properly without him, you see, so all we must do is send a quick telegram—very quick, hardly any waiting!—to your master, and—"
"I'm sorry, sir, he would want to meet the doctor in person, and there's no time for him to come. I will look elsewhere."
Holmes raised a hand, the index finger extended masterfully, and I saw his racing thoughts in his eyes. His breath failed, however, and the fingers all curled up like a dying insect.
"Now, Mr. Greene," I spoke up calmly, facing the client, "Mr. Holmes is the best help you could have. It's no hindrance at all to acqience to your needs, and I will retire to my room. It was a pleasure to meet you, good day." I reached out to shake the man's hand, but a brittle, metallic voice halted me.
"No, Watson, you shall not be leaving; I do not accept the case. Good day, Mr. Greene, Mrs. Hudson shall see you out."
"Holmes, let me bring him back," I said, when the man had closed the door behind him. "You must reconsider. I'll run down the stairs, I'll get him back, you need this case," the words tumbled out of my mouth. "I don't mind staying behind this time, it will be quite all right, you need a case, Holmes, please take it. It will do your mind good. Please, Holmes."
He gazed straight ahead of him, drawing a thin breath. "Have you ever wanted a smoke from your favorite pipe, Watson, so much that if you can't use that particular pipe, you'd rather not smoke?"
I made him no reply, for I was in no mood for riddles; indeed, I was beginning to feel irritation and despair come over me. I stepped to the window, twitched aside the curtain and watched with leaden spirit as Mr. Greene disappeared around a corner. "Well, that was a disappointment."
"You wish I had gone, then?"
"Holmes, I said plain as day I wouldn't mind. And when he'd left I told you--dash it, Holmes, now you're going to be filling the flat with your depression, and I don'twant--Holmes, wait!"
"No, I'll be in my room. If I close the door, I fancy the black fog of depression will be contained."
"I'm sorry, Holmes, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it!" I caught up to him, at the doorway.
"Yes, you did mean it, and moreover you were right. I was a fool. Of course I should have gone ahead without you, of course this is a disappointment all round. What was I thinking—I wasn't thinking."
"You were feeling."
"Yes, and a fine place it's gotten me now. Bah! let me by, man, spare me some dignity at least. Go take a walk, fly a kite, write the great English novel."
"I'd rather stay here, actually."
"Watson, I'm going to sleep now, and I hardly need assistance taking a nap."
"Well—what if I made a sort of nest on the floor for you, with pillows? You like that sometimes, don't you. And supposing I bring the tea and toast, we can have a bite before you rest."
The two of us managed to carpet a swathe of the floor in toast crumbs, but Mrs. Hudson merely shook her head with a smile before removing the tray. I adjusted the blanket over Holmes's sleeping form, and returned to jotting ideas for our afternoon plans.
Paperwork, tidying and errands can be done any time.
An intimate friend is once in a lifetime.