Mr. Sherlock Holmes retired from active practice in early November, 1903. Although not yet fifty, Holmes had served his country many times in the past ten years, but Holmes always felt that his career hit its climax with the death of Moriarty. While he still enjoyed his work when he was on the scent, he clearly felt much of the joy and challenge of his cases was gone. As the years passed, he grew further disillusioned with mankind and frustrated with the ineptitude of the police. He has long yearned the quiet life of a country squire in a little Cornish style farm in Sussex where he could raise bees. The case that I relate to you now is likely to be the last case of Sherlock Holmes that I will ever be present to chronicle, and I feel obligated to describe how his career and this chapter of our relationship came to a close.
It was the morning of the first Tuesday of the month. Holmes was leaving the next day for a two week visit to the continent. When he returned, he would head directly to his new house in Sussex where I would not be able to visit him very often due to my practice and my home life in Queen Anne Street in Marylebone. Therefore, I was determined to see him on this day at Baker Street. My wife, as is customary when I visit Holmes, made a polite excuse and did not join me. Except for myself, Holmes has few social visitors. Although he is capable of being most charming when the situation calls for it, many find his biting satirical wit, his unusual interests, and his peculiar habits overpowering. I, however, understand my role in our alliance, and I am proud to be called Holmes's friend.
When I rang the bell at 221B, I realized that this might be the last time that I might enter the place I had called my home for many years. My heart was feeling heavy when the door was opened by Mrs. Hudson, our landlady. She gave me a warm smile and welcomed me in. Mrs. Hudson was undoubtedly the most tolerant landlady in the city, for she surely had the worst tenant one could imagine in Holmes. Among the inconveniences were clients at all times of day and night, providing meals for someone who would not eat for days, smoke-filled rooms, invasions by an army of street urchins, periodicals strewn around the room that were not to be touched, violin music at strange hours, and malodorous scientific experiments. Above all, she lived within a house frequented by victims, criminals, and murderers. Except for the three years when she was paid during Holmes's supposed demise and the one short break when Mrs. Turner attended to our needs, Mrs. Hudson had neither taken a vacation nor left the country. Yet it was clear that, despite her complaints, she enjoyed the excitement, and had even actively participated to some risk to herself in The Adventure of the Empty House. Furthermore, Holmes had paid her princely for the inconveniences, especially in the later years. Mrs. Hudson was now ready for retirement herself. She and her sister were preparing for a world tour soon after Holmes was settled down in Sussex. Martha, an acquaintance of Mrs. Hudson, would be the new housekeeper for Holmes. I knew I was going to miss Mrs. Hudson. She was more than a housekeeper and landlady. She played an essential matronly role by taking care of Holmes, for he would not do so himself, especially when I was not around. She also helped maintain a feeling of normality despite the chaos that so often surrounded Holmes. It was with these retrospective thoughts that I looked up at Mrs. Hudson and noticed that she was looking sadly at me with moist eyes.
"Ohhh, I'll miss you too!" she said and we gave each other a long warm hug. Mrs. Hudson was beginning to sob a little when suddenly, the sound of violin music pierced the air. Mrs. Hudson regained her composure, and smiled through her puffy eyes. "He was practicing earlier, but stopped when he heard the bell. You mustn't keep him waiting."
I excused myself and climbed the stairs. If she noticed the tear in my eye, she didn't comment.
The music from Holmes's violin was melancholy. One would think that retirement would be a cause for celebration, a happy affair, but often it is not. Good or bad, work occupies a large percentage of a man's life and it can not help but to leave a hole when it suddenly ceases.
As I turned the handle of the door to our sitting room, Holmes stopped his playing. As I entered the room, Holmes was putting away his Stradivarius into its case. Instead of returning it in its customary corner of the room, Holmes placed it into a large chest of personal belongings sitting in the middle of the room. Without looking up, Holmes stated "I believe I'll be wanting this during my trip to the continent."
"It is always good to express your feelings, one way or another."
"Was that what I was doing?" Holmes contemplated. "I suppose it was."
"Yes it was. You do not always wish to confide in me, so you confide with your violin. When you are playing your violin, it is sometimes as if you are writing your emotions or thoughts on a blackboard. Remember the time that you read my mind about Henry Ward Beecher and the way he died? I have often tried to do the same with you when you play music. With some success I may add."
"Have you? Most interesting. Pray, tell me more!"
"I can walk into a room while you are playing, or be woken up in the middle of the night for that matter, and immediately be able to tell what stage of a case you are in and how well the case is progressing. For example, when you are formulating alternate theories for a problem, you will scrape the bow across the violin while it sits on your knees. As the theories solidify, your fiddling becomes less careless and more melodic. If you are trying to determine what future actions a villain may take that is likely to threaten the safety of a client, you will play a furious, angry solo. I do not feel I can do adequate justice to imitate the chords you play when you improvise, but there are a recognizable few that show up repeatedly depending on the severity of the situation. When you solve the problem, you no longer improvise. If you feel that the solution will have a good outcome, you will play some of my favourite airs. If the outcome is expected to be very favourable, you will play Mendelssohn's Lieder."
Holmes seemed quite amused by my analysis. He chuckled as we went to our armchairs by the fire. I continued.
"When you are distracted by a thought that it is not related to a current case, you pluck at your violin; high notes for something light-hearted, low notes for something sad. When you think back at certain events, you may play some music that impacted you at the time of the event. For example, if you think of something that happened during the year of 1887, you invariably play one of your two favourite pieces that was played during a concert by the Spanish violinist Pablo Sarasate who we saw at St. James's Hall. That's it in a nutshell."
"What was I thinking about just now?"
"Earlier you were playing a piece we heard played by the Czech violinist Wilma Norman-Neruda. This piece was one of the saddest ones that she played, and I could tell it had an effect on you. Since you were not improvising, you were not working on a case. You were instead reflecting on something personal and recent, your decision to retire I presume. Evidently, your thoughts drive the music when you improvise, but it is often the other way around when you play concertos. Your interpretation of the piece was interesting though. It was more melancholy in parts, indicating some regret in your decision. In other parts, it sounded as if you were longing for the little farm of your dreams. In other parts, uncertain. Personally, Holmes, I am surprised at your decision to retire."
For one of the few times in our relationship, Holmes looked awed. He stared at me with a combination of surprise and delight. "Watson! I believe I have succeeded in making a detective of you at last! Your reasoning and deductions were impeccable. I am most pleased. I believe I can now retire in peace. I never realized how transparent my inner thoughts were. You always were perceptive about emotions as well as colour." He smiled at me whimsically. "Perhaps that is why women are your department and not mine."
I felt like a young student who has just been praised by the hardest of professors.
"I'm pleased that you can now retire in peace, but does that imply that you could not before?"
"One does not work for thirty years in the same field without feeling some regret when retirement day approaches. Yet retirement is the logical thing for me to do. I was in the game for the game's sake, but I no longer want to play. The thrill of the chase is gone. The London criminals have no originality. I've seen it all before. I'm getting careless, I know it. One of my worst fears is that I'll get gunned down or defeated by the commonest of criminals. I do not want to leave the field in disgrace. I want to leave my mark. I want to leave while I still have all my faculties."
"You will never leave the field in disgrace. Your methods are famous throughout the world."
"Thanks to you, that is true, but that is among the masses and it does little for those in the field. I intend to finish those many monograms I have started and combine them in a book that explains the science of observation and deduction to educate those who want to practice the trade. Then I will have left my mark."
"It will surely be the last word on the subject."
"I hope not. It should only be the start. Society changes, and my methods must evolve with it. Science continues to progress in leaps and bounds, and we must continue to use it to our advantage. The world has finally woken up to the role of science in detection. For example, Germany has improved upon my test for blood stains. They have recently discovered a way to distinguish between human and animal blood. Even Scotland Yard is showing some signs of improvement, with their use of fingerprints and photography. One day, I hope to see Scotland Yard devote a whole department to scientific detection. It has not happened yet, despite my best efforts. Mostly, they continue to bungle along."
"What will Scotland Yard do without you?"
"Many in Scotland Yard will be glad to see me go. Your stories make them out to be the fools that they are. Poor Lestrade has faced much animosity despite being the only one with brains enough to realize when they need help. Scotland Yard now prefers to use some of my competitors. They eventually used Dr. Thorndyke as the scientific crime expert earlier this year for the Hardcastle murder. They used him in the Blackmore case last year. At least I leave Scotland Yard in his and Commissioner Henry's competent hands."
"Won't you miss the mental stimulation and the action?"
"I'll still perform my experiments and I don't mean to say that I'll never take a case again. Already Mycroft has asked me to perform counter-espionage along the south-eastern coast. I will refuse him and others for now, but I cannot say that will always be true." Holmes reflected for a moment. He shook his head calmly as a warm smile came across his face. "With my writing and my bees, I will be more than pleasantly occupied for the foreseeable future."
"Bees! I never understood your interest in them."
"It is not as strange as it sounds. Here, let me show you something." Holmes went to his shelf. The shelf was mostly packed except for few items that he intended to take with him on his journey to Sussex. From this small pile, Holmes pulled out his old copy of 'The British Bee-Keeper's Guide Book' and opened it to the beginning of the book. He handed me the book and pointed to a line.
I read it aloud. "Although anyone may possess bees, it is not everyone who can become a proficient bee master. Only energy, and perseverance, together with aptness for investigation, can ensure real success."
"I believe that describes me quite well, don't you? I also believe that bee keeping encourages one to philosophize, something I intend to do a lot of. I often think back to my visit to Tibet and my discussions with the Lama. I wish to devote much time to philosophy, and now I will have that time." Holmes smiled and continued. "And you, Watson? I perceive that your practice is doing quite well again. It took a pretty penny to buy your practice in Kensington, and from the looks of it, your current practice would take a few more pennies to buy! Being my biographer has its benefits, eh?"
"My patients are most understanding when I am out or late. They assume I have been assisting you!" I chuckled.
"Why don't you retire to the countryside with me? The wild raspberries, the white clover, and the sea air would suit you to a tee."
"I'm not ready to retire now that I've had some success in my chosen field. I finally feel that people appreciate my medical contributions. I will definitely visit you on weekends though."
Our conversation was interrupted by a sharp ringing of the bell. The front latch was clicked open by a servant and the muffled sound of voices could be heard below. Holmes rolled his eyes.
"Oh no, not today. Another trivial case by some self-important member of society that must be immediately handled by nobody but myself."
"I'll get rid of him Holmes. You deserve to spend your last day at home in peace."
The servant knocked and entered, presenting Holmes a card on a silver tray.
"A member of Parliament, Watson. For King and country, why don't we hear his story before we decide whether to take the case?"
Soon, our room was occupied by the Honourable George Chesterson, a conservative representative in the House of Commons. He was a handsome, well-dressed man of over forty. He looked distressed and preoccupied in his own problems and didn't even notice the several packed travelling chests around the room. Our residence in Baker Street had the reputation of being cluttered and in disarray, so perhaps he thought this was its normal appearance. Before I had a chance to explain that Holmes was retiring from practice, Chesterson started his story.
"Mr. Holmes, I'm honoured to make your acquaintance. As you know, I am Mr. Chesterson, a new member of the House of Commons. I am up for re-election next year, and I'm afraid that my Liberal opponent will discover the scandal that threatens me before I have a chance to deal with it. I have come to you to uncover the extent of the scandal. As you no doubt understand, I require the utmost discretion so that I do not lose my seat."
"Please continue," Holmes said before I had a chance to interject a word.
"Yes, I was trying to. My district includes Manchester, where my wife and I live. Of course, I actually spend most of my time in London this time of year. My wife dislikes London, and stays in Manchester. I try to visit our house on the weekends, but as you can imagine, I am often too busy to be able to make the trip. Since our youngest child left for Oxford, my wife occupies her time with charities and afternoon teas.
"A few Saturdays ago, October 10, was one of the weekends that I expected to stay in London. However, my meetings were cancelled, and my weekend freed up. I decided to surprise my wife and took the train to Manchester. When I arrived home, I was disappointed to find that she was not home. Knowing that she often attends a tea with some of her lady friends on Saturdays that I am not home, I decided to go for a walk downtown for an hour or so. I was on Bond Street, when I noticed a worker from a cotton-mill on the other side of the street. She was looking right at me, and I was astonished by the resemblance with my wife. I don't know what got over me, but I impulsively decided to cross the street to take a closer look. Unfortunately, when I got there, I could not locate the woman who had somehow disappeared into the crowds.
"When I returned home, my wife was already there. Although pleased to see me, she looked flushed and anxious. I asked her if anything was wrong, and she said no, but that she had walked home from the tea and was tired from the exercise.
"The rest of the weekend passed pleasantly and I returned to London on Monday night. On the following Thursday, I bumped into Mr. and Mrs. Andworth from Manchester. Mrs. Andworth hosted the tea that my wife was invited to last weekend, but to my surprise she expressed her disappointment that my wife was unable to attend. I was determined to return to Manchester that weekend and find out more.
"My wife was so pleased to see me two weekends in a row that I found it awkward to approach the subject of her tea. The weekend passed quickly, and I thought any suspicions were unfounded. On Sunday night, I was preparing to leave for the train back to London when the weather took a turn to the worse. As winter was to arrive soon, and the evenings were getting colder, I decided to get my warm overcoat and some waterproof boots for my trip. I had not used these coat and boots since last winter and was unable to immediately find them in my closet. I thought that the servant that we had hired earlier in the year may have misplaced them. Before bothering to call the servant, I decided to make a quick check for the coat among my wife's clothes. You will never guess what I found there!"
Holmes looked at Chesterson and said in a rather bored voice, "The clothes of a mill worker." Holmes took a seat in his favourite armchair.
"Why yes!" said a startled Chesterson. "The same plain skirt, blouse, and wooden shoes that I saw the woman wearing the previous week. I examined the skirt and looked in the pockets. In the pocket, I found a receipt for a room at the Atherton Hotel on Bond Street. I am now convinced that my wife had managed to disappear into the Atherton Hotel when I thought she had disappeared into the crowds. She then rushed home before me and changed into her clothes just in time for me to return. That was why she was so flustered! As I was already in jeopardy of missing the train back to London, I quickly copied down the hotel information from the receipt, returned the receipt to the apron, and left the house without locating my coat and boots.
"I had intended to wait until the following weekend, last weekend, to visit the Hotel. Unfortunately, I had meetings on Saturday morning from which I could not excuse myself. So, on Saturday afternoon, I telephoned the Hotel and tried to extract more information about my wife's stay at the hotel, but the lady on the other end of the phone was quite unhelpful. Frustrated, I requested to talk to her manager. She replied that she was both the manager and owner of the establishment and disconnected me! I was infuriated. I caught the next train to Manchester and arrived late. A few hours sleep managed to calm me somewhat by the time I confronted my wife the following morning. She denied everything. I went to find the mill-worker clothes and shoes, but they were no longer in her closet! I asked her about the tea, and she told me that she went to another tea party held by Mrs. Belmont and that I could talk to her to verify it. Convinced that she was lying, I left the house by myself and went to the Atherton Hotel. There I met the woman I had talked to on the telephone. She is even more uncooperative, infuriating, and insulting in person! After failing to obtain any more information, I dropped in on Mrs. Belmont unannounced and asked her if my wife had attended her tea party the previous week. She confirmed my wife's story, but I am sure that she was not telling the truth. After years in politics, I am able to determine when I am being lied to, and Mrs. Belmont is not a good liar. I went back to my house, where my wife avoided me by strolling through the garden while I went back upstairs to look for signs of the mill-worker's clothes. In our room, something attracted me to the fireplace and I noticed some scraps of paper. I carefully picked them out for they are badly charred. I have them between pages here in my notebook. Here's the first, the remains of the receipt to the Atherton Hotel. " He reached over to hand them to Holmes, but Holmes did not move to receive the open notebook. I took it from Chesterson. Although the slip of paper was badly burned, and only the top remained, one could clearly see the words 'Atherton Hotel'.
"Between the next pages is an envelope addressed from someone named Nelson" I turned the page to find that only a tiny fragment of the back of an envelope remained. The envelope fragment was black and crumbling into ashes that fell within the creases of the notebook. The only legible word on the envelope was a hand-written 'Nelson', apparently the first line of a return address.
"Between the next pages were the contents of the envelope. Although it isn't much, the words are more readable."
"Not unexpected," Holmes interjected, "the envelope must have prevented its contents from being exposed to oxygen."
I carefully opened the notebook to expose a delicate piece of letter paper. All that remained of this page was the last line of a hand-written note. I described it out loud. "At the edge of the burn, one can make out the full stop of the previous sentence. Then it says 'Because of my husband, I cannot come often' - the rest is unreadable because the paper is burnt. Sounds incriminating, are you sure that your wife is the author of this letter?"
"Positive. It is her hand writing." Chesterson looked at Holmes, his eyes pleading. "See where I stand Mr. Holmes? A scandal is upon me, certain to bring an abrupt end to my political career unless you help me. Can you follow her and find out if she is having a criminal relationship and with whom?"
Holmes sighed. I knew how to interpret his signs. The great calculating machine that was Holmes was being asked to simply follow a wife suspected of having an affair. I interposed. "I'm sorry, Mr. Chesterson, Mr. Sherlock Holmes is leaving for the continent tomorrow and won't be able to take your case."
Holmes unravelled himself from his chair. "True, I cannot go to Manchester, but perhaps I can be of some assistance anyway. I believe that your wife has been deceiving you, but not in the way you suspect. You may yet be able to suppress your wife's scandalous actions if you are able to keep your wife in her proper place. Watson, can I have the remnants of the letters?"
I handed the notebook containing the fragments to Holmes. He took it over to his chemistry table whereupon a trunk sat. My friend opened up the trunk and carefully unpacked its contents until he unwrapped two plates of glass. Using tweezers, Holmes put the envelope and letter fragments on one of the plates and then put the other plate on top.
"Most of my instruments have already been packed. This will have to do." Holmes pulled out his magnifying glass and turned on a bright electric lamp. Holding the glass plates with the remnants up to the light, he examined the slips of paper for a minute or so. Holmes looked up at Chesterson. "Nelson is a street, not a person's name. Do you know any person on a Nelson street? The last number of the house is a two."
"No, nobody comes to mind." replied Chesterson.
"The letter fragment ends in mid-sentence. It states 'Because of my husband, I cannot come often. I am devoted to W.S.P.' Do these initials mean anything to you?"
"No, I'm afraid not."
"Then we must resort to other means." Holmes went to the telephone, and within a half hour of telephone calls to Manchester, he had a dozen names of people whose Nelson Street residence ended with the number two. The names were extracted from several sources who would normally be reluctant to divulge, but Holmes used a variety of stories that touched a chord with the person on the other end of the line. Chesterson was impressed, commenting that it was not too late for Holmes to consider a career in politics. Holmes read out the names, one by one. None of the names rang a bell with Chesterson, until the thirteenth person, Mrs. Pankhurst of 62 Nelson Street.
"There was a Dr. Pankhurst in London who was active in politics a few years past. He was a member of the Independent Labour Party, and I believe authored a bill for Women's Suffrage. I have not heard anything about him for a while."
Holmes went to his book of biographies, but did not find an entry. "I do not follow politics. A waste of time for a person in my field. Nevertheless, I'm certain we've found the right house."
I saw a connection. "The letter mentioned W.S.P. Was the Doctor's name William?"
"No, Watson, I believe you are on the wrong track. Mrs. Chesterson disguised herself so that she could attend a meeting of lower class suffragists without notice. Mrs. Belmont and the owner of the hotel are evidently suffragists as well. It is easy enough to confirm." Holmes returned to the telephone to call the residence of Mrs. Pankhurst. A servant answered. "Is this the right connection for the Woman's Suffrage Party? Yes, I meant the Women's Social and Political Union. I am a journalist for the London Times, and I was wondering if I could ask you a few simple questions about the W.S.P.U. Yes, I understand. I will call back later when Mrs. Pankhurst is available. Thank you."
Mr. Chesterson was pale. "My wife is a suffragette? If my conservative opponents found out, I would never be re-elected."
Holmes was quick to express his opinion of the sex. "The thought of a government partially elected by women would be truly terrifying. All logic would be thrown to the wind. Elections would be about emotions and appearance, not issues."
"Perhaps they will merely vote as their husband wishes, if they vote at all," I suggested. I have long disagreed with Holmes's viewpoint of the fair sex. Yet Holmes's life as a bachelor has only solidified his position, which I have learned to tolerate.
"Haven't you just seen evidence of the deceit of a woman? They will tell their husband that they agree with their choice, and then vote any way they so desire."
"I quite agree with you Mr. Holmes." said the politician. "You have done the conservative party a service today. I will set my wife straight."
Soon, Mr. Chesterson excused himself. He was anxious
to fetch his wife to London. Holmes and I were alone again. Holmes
sighed and shook his head. "The segregation of the queen
will be easier to perform with bees."
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