As the years passed by, my adventures with the great Sherlock Holmes inevitably became less frequent. Following his ostensible retirement, Holmes left Baker Street, the seat of his greatest adventures, and retreated to the countryside. My continuing responsibilities at the practice kept me in London and my responsibilities to my family kept me occupied such that it was a rare occasion indeed to be able to venture out into the country and see my former companion. Though I doubt he would appreciate being described as such.
Holmes was not one for bonhomie. Though I would be happy to pass the hours with a brandy in my hand reminiscing in front of an open fire, he would inevitably bore of this and wish to share his current thoughts. Though these largely pertained to bees, it was still a wonder to see that great mind at work.
“You see, Watson, the ebb and flow of the hive can be predicted in just the same way as human behavior, if only we observe instead of merely look.”
His hair was grey with the years and his face a map of lines and wrinkles, much as mine was now I dare say. But when he looked upon his hive Holmes’s eyes would light up, still displaying the sharpness of thought that had propelled him through so many mysteries over the years.
“I just don’t see it, I’m afraid.” I shrugged, peering at the Observation Hive. “For the life of me, I’ve never been able to fathom how you could go from the lights of the city to this.”
“The patterns are there if only you would recognise them,” Holmes tutted at me. “Truly, the years have not changed your fundamental nature, Watson. Still as single-minded as ever. And as for the city. Why, I have a whole world to observe here. I have no desire to return to London.”
The great detective seemed set in his ways and unmovable, but that night a mystery presented itself on his doorstep that demanded his attention. With a pending threat of death and a voice from beyond the grave, not even retirement and his precious bees could keep him away from it. Why, it was like old times again.
The night had set in, the fire was stoked and I was finally enjoying the brandy which I had hankered over. Holmes watched the flames dance with the same keen intent that he had watched over his hive, no doubt spying patterns where I merely saw a good source of heat! I carried the conversation giving updates of the lives he had known in the capital, while Holmes would occasionally interject to scold me on my lack of detail or on not expecting events for certain friends and acquaintances to pan out the way they had.
My report, however, was cut short when a loud rap struck four times at the door. I placed my brandy down and was up at once to answer it. Force of habit, even though I was a guest in this home.
“Who on earth could that be at such an ungodly hour?” I declared.
“It seems someone requires our assistance with a mystery. Well, you can tell them that I no longer engage my services as a consulting detective.”
Despite myself, I was taken aback by my hosts forthrightness.
“How can you be so sure.”
Holmes sighed and looked at me as he had many times before as a man may look at a child when explaining the straightforward ways of the world.
“As you have already observed Watson, it is an ungodly hour. Not the time of day that one would expect a social call! Add to that the remoteness of the location, away from any main roads or thoroughfares, and we can deduce that our caller is not a stranded traveler. And the staccato rhythm of their rapping displays an unmistakable urgency.”
“All well and good, but how can you be so sure that the urgency stems from a mystery?”
“Do you forget that the door they are so uncourteously pounding on is that of the world’s greatest detective? Simplicity itself. Now, be a good fellow and turn them away.”
“I must see Sherlock Holmes!” demanded the dreadful creature that greeted me on the doorstep. I had learnt enough about observation to determine that this was an itinerant of some description. His days-worth of stubble, black-ringed eyes and pallid complexion spoke of a man that had not looked after himself for some time. Nor had anyone else to look after him, at that. His clothes were muck-stained and tattered, framing a body that appeared to be falling in on itself such was his appalling stoop.