28 January 2013

Ad Finem

This was originally a sort of epilogue to my story "The Mystery of the Last Line" (which is now my most popular title on Amazon Kindle, you can check it out here). It sets up Sherlock Holmes' retirement. Back when I wrote the story, I was playing within Doyle's timeline a bit. You'll see, too, in "Last Line" (should you read it), I placed Holmes' birthday in October rather than at the traditional 6 January.

***

Sherlock Holmes' fiftieth birthday had been overlooked during a holiday taken in Yorkshire at the Holmes family estate. (Indeed, the holiday had inevitably become a series of mysteries entwined with Holmes' personal past.) Now, upon our return to Baker Street, Mrs. Hudson saw fit to bake a cake in honour of the belated event. Holmes then surprised both our landlady and me by saying, "Mrs. Hudson, won't you join us?"

In all our shared years of companionship, never had Holmes suggested Mrs. Hudson share our company. Not even at Christmas had he warmed enough toward her for that. I had always assumed it had to do with his general distrust of women, although I knew Holmes' attitude sometimes hurt dear Mrs. Hudson's feelings.

Now she appeared both suspicious and hopeful. "Well, Mr. Holmes I—I'd be delighted, I'm sure." She hesitated, then started for the door. "I'll just go and get myself a fork and plate."

"And we shall save the biggest piece for you," Holmes told her with a smile.

She blinked at him as if disbelieving, then exited.

"I do say, Holmes, this is quite nice of you," I said. "She cares for you a great deal, you know."

"Yes," answered Holmes somewhat absently, "although I can't imagine why. Still, it will be difficult for me to get on without the two of you."

"What do you mean?" I asked in alarm.

"Simply that I have decided to retire."

"Retire?" This from an astounded Mrs. Hudson, who stood in the doorway with her utensils.

Holmes waved her into the room. "Come, Mrs. Hudson, sit here." He rose and pulled out a chair for her.

She advanced slowly. "You mean to retire?"

"Indeed."

"To Holmesweald?" I asked.

"No, I have found someplace much better suited to my tastes. A country house in Sussex. I mean to conduct my experiments there and perhaps keep bees."

Mrs. Hudson eyed Holmes in disapproval as he placed a generous slice of cake in front of her. "You'd hardly get on by yourself," she said. "You should take Dr. Watson with you."

Holmes smiled knowingly at me as he seated himself once more. "Watson has been aching to go to the States," he said. "Pennsylvania, I believe, is his first choice."

I gasped. "But Holmes, how did you know that?"

"It takes no great mind or particularly observant eye. You have been reading books, pamphlets, papers about America and Pennsylvania in particular."

"I would hate to leave you," I admitted. "Especially now you would be alone." This one fact distressed me deeply.

Mrs. Hudson grunted. "Then I suppose I'll have to go with him," she said.

Holmes was visibly surprised, and I myself taken aback by her forward statement. "You?" asked Holmes.

"You can't cook, as both the doctor and I have learned. You won't clean. And I doubt you'd be able to keep a maid very long with your temperament."

I laughed aloud; it was so very true!

"But I'm used to you and your strange ways," Mrs. Hudson went on. She sighed. "I'll miss London, but I can't in good conscience let you go off by yourself to starve."

Holmes stared at our landlady for a long moment. "Well," he then said abruptly, "I suppose it's settled. We should be out by January."

A profound sadness swept me then. The holidays were nearly upon us, and January was not so far away.

"Watson, don't look so morose. I'm sure Mrs. Hudson will rap my knuckles if I don't write."

"I feel as if a chapter of my life is ending," I said.

"And so it is," said Holmes, ever practical and never terribly sentimental. "Omnia mutantur . . ."

"Nos et mutamur in illis," I finished.

Mrs. Hudson looked first at Holmes, then at me. "I don't know about the two of you," she said. Then with a sigh, she rose and began clearing the table. "January doesn't give me much time," she reprimanded. "I'll be working right through the holidays to get this place packed up."

Holmes twisted his lips in amusement. "I have every faith in you, Mrs. Hudson."

"Faith won't get me packed," she told him as she departed.

"And what will you do in Pennsylvania, Watson?" Holmes asked me.

I shrugged. "I don't know. I'll decide when I get there, I suppose. Maybe I'll meet yet another amazing mind to entertain me."

He lifted his brows and replied with his characteristic arrogance, "Amazing as mine? Not likely."

But I had to agree. "Our world is ending, isn't it?" I asked.

Holmes nodded gravely. "England herself is changing more every day, and Europe is in general unrest. I don't blame you for choosing America; it is the safest place at the moment."

"Then come with me!" I entreated. "We could—"

But Holmes shook his head. "No, Watson, my place is here. France would be the only other place I'd consider as a permanent home, and it's in as dire straits as Britain now."

We contemplated this in silence, even as the sun sank beneath the rooftops and the shadows grew long in our rooms. Then of a sudden Holmes stirred himself and said, "Come, Watson, I have it in mind to hear the symphony tonight. Will you join me?"

"Always, Holmes," I said as I went to change into evening clothes. "Always."

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