Christmas Plans

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.

I 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 experiments.

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 first train.

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 London.”

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 him.

He deposited me on the sofa and hurried off. I lay there, feeling miserable.

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 comfortable."

I must have given him a rather pathetic look, because the thought of trudging back up the stairs to my room was overwhelming.

“Go 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 you.”

Holmes smiled. “Go,” he said, giving me a gentle push on the back.

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.

Yet, 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 me.

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.”

“It 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.”

“Well, yes, 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 croaked.

“It is regrettable that you feel so awful.”

“I’ll be 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.”

“Yes, perhaps, but this was wonderfully unexpected and very much appreciated.”

“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 underfoot.”

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 own.”

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 friend.

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 again.

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 of toast.

We sat at the table in comfortable silence. “What is it, Watson?” Holmes finally demanded.

I started.

“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.”

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.”

“Also 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.”

I 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.”

He gave 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 mine.

“Happy Christmas,” he said as I looked at him in amazement.

I smiled and began to open the package.

“You’re not even going to make an attempt to surmise the contents?” he asked reproachfully.

“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 complaining.”

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.




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