My first Christmas at Baker Street was also my first Christmas back in England
after many years. I had left for the army in 1878 and had been abroad ever
since. Christmas in the army, while observed, was hardly a festive affair. For
Christmas the previous year, 1880, I had been on a transport ship heading back
home and still recovering from my wartime injuries. I do not even think that I
noticed when Christmas day came and went, having been wrapped up in my own
private misery at the time.
As a result of the past several years, it had
been some time since I celebrated the holiday season properly. It is an
interesting phenomenon that once you stop following a tradition, it is actually
quite difficult to get back into the mindset. As such, I found myself in
December 1881 feeling melancholy, out-of-sorts, and completely disinterested in
the upcoming festivities.
Our landlady, Mrs. Hudson, had decorated our
cozy rooms with the traditional Christmas trimmings, but they, to be honest,
failed to stir my heart. I had to admit that my flat-mate, Mr. Sherlock Holmes,
also seemed equally unmoved by the season. I privately considered that his lack of
interest had to do with his singular focus on crime. If Christmas had led to a
criminal spree, he would have been all atwitter.
considered my options for Christmas day and decided that I should vacate myself
from our rooms. In all honesty, I did not wish to spend the day watching Holmes
mope in some languid black mood or, in the alternative, have it so blatantly
obvious that he would prefer a more festive companion. Furthermore, I knew that
Mrs. Hudson planned to spend the day with her sister, so my departure would
hardly be noticed.
I made enquires at an inn in the Cotswolds, where I
had once spent a pleasant summer holiday. I thought that perhaps a few days away
from the dismal London fogs would improve my spirits, although I secretly
doubted it. I fear I had fallen into far too deep of a black mood of my own,
which was further deepened when I announced my intentions to Holmes. I think if
he had shown any regret that I was leaving, it might have alleviated my
depression (and I would have cancelled my plans immediately). As it was, he gave
a noncommittal grunt at my announcement and went back to his chemistry
Thus I packed and made ready for my departure, wallowing a
little in self-pity. I packed early, trying to convince myself that I was
looking forward to the excursion, yet knowing in fact that no such thing was
true. However, on the eve before my departure two days before Christmas, my
despair had lessened somewhat, and I planned to rise early so as to catch the
Although I had strongly suspected it from past events, it was then
that I realized that nothing ever goes according to plan.
I knew upon
awaking that my health had taken an acute turn for the worse. I was feverish,
sore, and, worst of all, the contents of my stomach refused to stay in their
proper place. I cursed the world for the unfairness of it all, but was,
nonetheless, determined to persevere.
I dressed and then made my way down
the stairs, carrying my luggage to the first floor. It was then I realized I was
actually quite weak, and was forced to make a detour to the sitting room to
catch my breath for a few moments. I was quite surprised to find Sherlock Holmes
already seated at the breakfast table, for he had been rising late recently due
to his lack of cases.
“My dear fellow,” he exclaimed, seeing me stumble
into the room, “whatever is the matter.”
“Nothing,” I replied shortly,
sinking onto the sofa in some relief.
“Nonsense. What is wrong? You look
pale and sickly, Watson.”
“I’m fine, Holmes,” I said wearily, fighting a
wave of nausea that threatened to overwhelm me.
“Watson,” Holmes said
very firmly, “you are not fine. And if this is your esteemed opinion, I have
some serious reservations about the medical program at the University of
I smiled briefly at that, but was then hit with a wave of
abdominal pain so severe that I gasped. “Toilet,” I blurted out, and then
hastened to get there as quickly as possible.
Holmes was waiting on the
other side of the door when I finally emerged. “No, not fine at all,” he said.
He took my arm and led me back toward the sitting room. As we passed my luggage,
still sitting upon the landing, he flashed me his quick smile and stated, “You
are not going anywhere right now.”
I was not inclined to disagree with
He deposited me on the sofa and hurried off. I lay there, feeling
He returned in a few moments, carrying my nightshirt and
dressing gown. “I’ve informed Mrs. Hudson of your disposition, and I believe she
has gone off to the market to get the ingredients for chicken soup.” He thrust
my nightclothes into my hands. "Here. You should change. You will feel far more
I must have given him a rather pathetic look, because the
thought of trudging back up the stairs to my room was overwhelming.
into my room and change,” he said, surprisingly gently. “Then come back in here
and rest on the settee for a while.”
“I do not wish to bother
Holmes smiled. “Go,” he said, giving me a gentle push on the
Within a few moments, I was firmly ensconced on the sofa, a rug
pulled up to my chin. Within a few more moments, I was asleep.
I will not
recount the details of the day. Suffice to say, it was an unpleasant experience.
My existence consisted of rather desperate journeys to the toilet and sleep. An
attempt to consume Mrs. Hudson’s excellent chicken soup was disastrous. When I
was awake, it was all I could manage to do to lift my head.
surprisingly, Holmes was there beside me during the entire ordeal. He helped me
to sip water and assisted me in standing. His demeanor was unexpectedly gentle
and he never complained. I attempted, repeatedly, to shoo him from the room in
order to protect his own health, but he would not hear of it and I had not the
strength to argue vehemently. I would wake to find him either reading or working
on his chemistry experiments, but always with an eye toward
Unfortunately, even with the remarkable care, I awoke the next
morning, Christmas Eve, feeling even worse. My fever had worsened and, even
though there was nothing left in my stomach for my body to expel, I was
thoroughly nauseated as well as dehydrated.
I heard Holmes and Mrs.
Hudson speaking at the sitting room door.
“I really am reluctant to
leave, Mr. Holmes, what with the good doctor feeling so miserable.”
is quite all right, Mrs. Hudson. I will take care of Watson. You have been
looking forward to visiting your sister for quite some time.”
but I still don’t feel I should abandon you gentlemen.”
“I assure you, we
will be fine.”
I could sense her reluctance, and wished to reassure her
myself, but could not summon the strength.
“Well, if you’re certain,” I
heard her say. The door gently closed.
I awoke a few moments later to the
feel of a cool cloth on my forehead.
“Hush, Watson,” Holmes said, for I
must have started. He began to stroke my hair soothingly.
“Thank you,” I
“It is regrettable that you feel so awful.”
fine.” I smiled weakly. “It is not nearly as bad as when I had enteric fever. At
least I know I shall survive this ailment.” I tried for a light-hearted tone,
but even I could see Holmes’s eyes widen in worry.
“That must have been
rather terrible,” he said, continuing to stroke my hair. His actions were
comforting, and the cool cloth felt wonderful.
“Yes. But the worst, I
think, was the care. There is no time for gentleness in the face of so many sick
and wounded soldiers. The care I received there was not nearly as tender as what
you have done for me.” I swallowed around the sudden lump in my throat. “Thank
you, Holmes,” I said, my voice suddenly thick.
“Tut, tut, Doctor,” he
replied with a little wave. “You would have done no less for me.”
perhaps, but this was wonderfully unexpected and very much
“The only regret, Watson, is that you will not be able to
engage in your holiday plans.”
The illness must have made my defenses
weak, for I found myself blurting out, “Oh, I planned to leave because I did not
wish to bother you for the holidays. I thought you would not want me
The hand in my hair stopped momentarily, and then continued
its calming strokes. “My dear Watson,” said Holmes, his voice hushed. “I am not
the type to go calling, and I expect no visitors. However, I do think it would
be preferable to spend Christmas day with a dear friend than on my
I swallowed. “Thank you,” I whispered.
He smiled a quick
quirk of a smile and then leapt to his feet. “Come, let me play for you,” he
exclaimed as he grabbed his violin.
I fell asleep to the soothing strains
of Holmes’s music.
Sometime during the night my fever broke. I could
almost feel my body shudder in relief. I awoke on Christmas morning feeling
significantly healthier. I was still weak, but I was definitely on the right
side of the sickness.
I looked about the room and found that Holmes had
fallen asleep in his chair, his violin in his lap. I smiled, still bemused by
his unexpected care, and wondered if I would ever fully understand my dear
I rose quietly and left the room to attend to my toilet. I felt
as if I was washing the remnants of my sickness away. I made it to my bedroom
and dressed for the first time in days. I felt, almost, like my self
By the time I made it back to the sitting room, Holmes had risen
and breakfast was laid out on the table.
“There you are, my dear Watson.
You look better. Do you feel up to eating?”
I smiled. “That’s usually my
line, Holmes. I think I can try and manage something light.” I picked up a slice
We sat at the table in comfortable silence. “What is it,
Watson?” Holmes finally demanded.
“I can see you
watching me in a state of slight anticipation, as if you wished to say
something.” He looked at me expectantly.
I smiled, not even aware of my
own nervousness, but not doubting Holmes’s observations. “I just wish to give
you this,” said I, taking out a wrapped package. “Happy Christmas,
Holmes actually looked a bit surprised. “Thank you, Watson,” he
said. “This is unexpected. And unnecessary.”
“I hope you like it. I just
wanted to wish you the joy of the season. Now I especially feel I owe you
something after your wonderful care for the past few days.”
entirely unnecessary.” He examined the package closely. “Ah. Plain brown paper,
I see, in an attempt to throw me off the scent.” He brought it to his nose.
“However, the scent is exactly what will give you away. There is a faint odor of
tobacco. I believe, Watson, that you have been to the tobacconist.”
smiled, since Holmes was indeed correct.
He opened the wrapping to
uncover a meerschaum pipe. I had seen him admire it, ever so briefly, on one of
our visits to the shop. He also put it aside quickly after looking at the price.
If I had not been watching him so intently, I would not have noticed. Soon
after, I had an exceptionally lucky day at the track, and purchased the pipe as
a gift to Holmes on the spur of the moment.
He stared at the pipe in
silence and I began to doubt my course of action.
“I—” he began and then
stopped, still looking at the pipe in his hands. He finally raised his head, and
he looked more open and vulnerable than I had ever seen him. “I rarely receive
gifts, Watson,” he said in a soft tone, “and I do not think I have ever received
one that was both so unexpected and to my liking.” He smiled at me, a genuine,
soft smile. “Thank you.”
“You are welcome,” I said gruffly, pleased that
my gesture was so well received.
“Of course, you observed me admiring the
pipe. Soon your observation skill will rival my own.”
I laughed outright
at that. “I hardly think that will ever happen, my dear Holmes.”
me a strange look, part wistful and part trepidation. “Nonetheless, I shall have
to guard myself against you.” He smiled again, but this time there was a twinge
of sadness. There was a message there, some underlying tension, but for the life
of me I could not fathom its meaning.
Before I could reply, he leapt to
his feet. “Wait here, Watson,” he exclaimed. He hurried to his bedroom and
returned a few moments later, a package in his hand which he thrust into
“Happy Christmas,” he said as I looked at him in
I smiled and began to open the package.
even going to make an attempt to surmise the contents?” he asked
“To what purpose,” I said as I started to rip off the
paper. “For me, the joy is in the surprise.”
He sniffed disdainfully as I
uncovered a beautiful leather bound journal of fine quality paper, monogrammed
with my name. There was also a beautiful silver pen. It was my turn to to give
Holmes an astonished look.
“I see you scribbling on every scrap of paper
we have, Watson. I thought that someplace to collect your writings would help
cut down on the mess. Perhaps now Mrs. Hudson will stop her infernal
I smiled, since we both knew that the disorder in our rooms
was caused by Holmes’s lax filing system and had nothing to do with my writings,
which were kept at my desk or in my room. He grinned at me in return.
“Thank you, Holmes.”
He stopped me from going on with a wave of
his hands, which was probably beneficial since I would have waxed on and
embarrassed myself. “Come, Watson,” said he, rising to his feet, “do you feel up
to accompanying me on a walk?”
I had not been out of our rooms for days
and suddenly there was nothing I would have wanted more than to join Holmes for
a walk around London.
We strolled arm-in-arm, but kept our walk brief
since I was still feeling a bit weak. However, I felt far more invigorated than
I had in days.
We returned home, and Holmes settled down for a smoke
with his new pipe. I, on the other hand, sat at my desk with my new journal and
began to write of these events. I also pondered how different this Christmas was
from the ones of my recent past and smiled, realizing that the miracles of the
season do not always have to be as spectacular as a magical star in the sky, but
can be as simple and wonderful as the affirmation of a friendship.