Saturday, 10 October 2015

A Retiring Holmes

Bees are one thing, busy bodies are another. They both buzz around as if the honey is going to run out, but each encounter with them becomes inanely more pleasurable, and as they leave a trail of wanton clutter before them, I can only suffer them for their misdirected loyalties towards me in that neighbourly way that neighbours do. For all their seemingly ingenious prattle, I while away some time sifting through their muddied thoughts and reforge them into harmonic ideas. It is what I do best, so it is a modicum recreation for me to allow them such invasion of my time, that is now fast dimming into the oblivious shade of grey as my years become ever more entwined with that of the past and the eventual scratchings of scribes nibs on parchments of paper recording the life and works of the then deceased Sherlock Holmes.
    I would not change anything from my life, I have lived a particularly rewarding and gifted existence and many lives I would try to save that were extinguished for my slothfulness in solving a case, but one thing I would have accomplished would be to find a cure for “Isle of Wight Disease” or Acarine Bee Mite as they are now known. I am close, but my eyes deceive my somewhat less than tactile mind sometimes and I foresee a longer excursion into the depths of the Trachea mite than I might find agreeable. The bees too I have no doubt.
    My dear friend Watson is coming down to see me this weekend, and my cottage is in need of a quick dust and sweep, although my "help at hand" village maid is more oft to call it a pigsty at times, but with a little encouragement from what is more communally called, my vicious tongue, we manage to ply our trades as boarder and house nurse to effect a high degree of cleanliness that befits such a residence. Harriet Bessel was swift enough to pin a message for me on my mantelpiece this morning, without my knowledge, informing me that she would come over this afternoon, 2:30pm precisely, to help begin the cleaning or cleansing as she names it; although she calls it an exorcism mostly;  I will try to keep out of her way, but the farm cottage is not expansive, and I am positive that at some time our paths will cross and my feet will become so large and cumbersome, that certain words may be exchanged along with a few huffs and puffs from Harriet's Christian mouth. Of course I get the blame for such outbursts, but I receive them with gusto and placate her with my “vicious tongue”, it all lends to some entertainment for the village members as they stop on passing by and take in the show.
      With luck, farmer Gordon will visit with his auspicious "Peck o’ Maut", that will have been sampled I am quite sure by the local militia or The Sussex Samplers as I call them, well, they are deserving of a little tipple now and again, and it will come to us inadequate as a peck but perfectly adequate as a couple of pints of South Coast Wiskey brewed on the golden harvest of Sussex barley that abounds the fields around this shire, tempered by the chalk filtered waters of The Went and to which my friend Watson has acquired an unhealthy reverence to.
      Many halcyon evenings, sat affront the fire have Farmer Gordon, Watson and I, spoke of foxy disappearances of stock and barrel from his barns and the pleasurable observations of vanishing portions of vegetables into the shallow sacks of less economically endowed children to share with their even poorer progenitors. Gordon could never find the heart to stop the groceries absconding, he knew that times were hard (are they ever not) but the harsh winter had made stumps of most root vegetables and this years harvest was particularly low. The potato crop was mostly negligible, so he didn't mind the few herbs that made it into the villagers pots now and again. He was by all comparisons a veritable humanitarian, that bordered on philanthropist, as he was the biggest landowner this side of the Duke of Devonshire who himself owned a plethora of boroughs locally and from which some of Gordon's lands had been leased.  A sufferer of fools was he, and in stark comparison to myself it will be said, but I would welcome his banter and companionship at our table and fireside for longer than I would normally persevere with.

With the barely perceptible sound of un-oiled gate hinges, Harriet arrived almost to the second at 2:30pm, a little puffed and with slightly rouged cheeks. I opened the front door for her and observed a few things that sprang out in earnest about her apparel. After a brief moment of respite, my thoughts meandering in and out of projected moments, they came to rest on one in particular and I asked Harriet how Mr Blackwitton fared. She replied that she would have no notion on that subject and didn't see the purpose in such talk. I then told her that it was strange, as it was obvious she had come from the direction of his smallholding across the way at Millington Ponds.
"And how would you know that Mr Holmes?" she asked with one eye creased, the other knowingly hooked.
"Well, since you ask Harriet” said Holmes, and with a sly smile and index finger on nose continued, “One only has to look at your shoes and find not only mud, but small pebbles encased upon it. To my knowledge only two fordable parts of the Fremwort Stream are accessible to foot and apart from the crossing near the "Dancing Harts" Inn, several hundred yards towards the south side, the other is just a few steps from the bank at the bottom of the back garden. The fact that the pebbles are still adhered to the mud and you have run yourself to redden those rustic cheeks, it takes no time to see that you couldn't have run across all those cobblestones without dislodging them entirely.  I also see that your hems are slightly damp, so either you have crossed a shallow lawn, recently mown, of which I know none this day, being a Friday or you have hitched your petticoat up to try to keep it above the long, dewed grass that hides beneath the willow and encroaches upon the thin path in the back garden. I can only surmise that the hurried style of your arrival, serves notice that the previous visit was possibly of an amorous one, and you came to the front door and not the back, so as to arrive in a manner to conceal your visit to Mr Blackwitton, but was curtailed by the former reserved rendezvous with my cottage dust. I think that accounts for it all Harriet"
I offered my palms together, each finger adjacent to one another with the two thumbs lightly pressed to my lips, to watch the reaction. Harriet replied,
"Very clever I don't say Mr Holmes, quite impertinent and also rude to assume such things, all were suppositions of several outcomes I'm sure. As to my relationship with such a fellow as Blackwitton, that is my private affair and I wish you not to spread such gossip around if you please, there is enough black stuff wafting up and down the back lanes to make the devil blush"
I felt humbled a little, but I replied,
"Harriet, all these would be suppositions were it not for the fact that I heard you entering the back garden through the rusty gate, quite plainly." I smiled and briefly turned to the fireplace to reach for my pipe, when I was halfway there, Harriet informed me that I was a solid cheat and therefore she would double her rate for the very nerve of it all.
Thereafter, armed with her cleansing tools, Harriet began flaying the dust from almost every surface at large, flagellating the carpets outside with grim determination and attacking the kitchen as if every crevice was harbouring an evil spirit (hence the exorcism she inevitably carried out on each visit). Within two hours, my cottage resembled a  mansion, with bespoke furnishings of neatly arranged earthen and silverware upon table and counter piece. Pictures righted and chairs geometrically positioned so they sang to each other in praise of their angles. I curtly thanked Harriet for her unique gifts and encouraged her departure with hand and foot and an envelope enclosing her fare for the day.
    Of course, it was short-lived, all things must pass and in this case two days will languish in Harriet's wake, before I refurnished the cottage Sherlock style. Not that I hated order in things, but my own, seen as disarray to many, became an organized puzzle where I knew the place of everything, because everything had its place and that place became a part of my soul, jigsawing together my thoughts, mirroring my past encounters with the mystical and enigmatic world. It was the way of things that suited me, and Watson was the only person I knew who understood the paradox, that muddle was only a mess to manicured minds.

    I, for myself, saw such chaos not only as a challenge, but a way of navigating through life in a rewarding manner but more importantly, I acted out of an instinctive need to prune the cumbersome dross and reveal meaningful and significant truths to enable me in ways to decipher hidden clues and make them tangible to the keen eye and lead to the eventual apprehension of thieves and murderers who thought they had covered their tracks and committed the perfect crimes. It was as if my life’s blood coursed through rivers of corruption and transgression, as if my mind rode on waves of depravity and extortion only to rise above the oceans of carnage and witness the wickedness with kaleidoscopic eyes . In this way, not only could I solve some cases that Scotland yard would banish to the overwrought courts mired in misunderstanding, but I might be able to stop the perpetrator committing any more heinous crimes in the future. Rewarding as it was sometimes to furnish Lestrade with not only more clues, but an entire case that had eluded his policing mind, it was extremely fruitful to my fertile mind that I had been able to untwist the Klein bottle of crime and delve into areas of detection that were unknown and new to science.

    Watson was prone to remark that I was ahead of my time, but I always parried with the statement that nothing was invisible, all was plain to see, if only one took the time and temerity to look and then look more closely yet. The facts are there, maybe disguised, maybe camouflaged purposely, but it was of the utmost importance to clarify the truth by eliminating the impossible, that way even if the improbable remained, it must be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

    Watson once wrote that - Meandering thoughts interspersed with vague insinuations and peppercorn opinions was not Holmes style, for him, this was all a product of an over-infertile imagination. Yes, he could listen to such outbursts of impractical pride coming from educated minds and even plebeian mouths, but only the lines between would furnish any useful information which would then be corroborated by delving into village life through the conduit of chit chat and listening to the verbal vibrations humming in the grape vine.
    Oh yes, socializing ! What a bore it was for someone who felt such exercises were laborious and wasteful, time is of the essence whether in or out of a case, one minute used for garnering the data needed to expose clues was far more important than an hour listening to here say and expansive over explanations. There were criminals in every pocket of society, of all varying degrees of maliciousness. They upset the balance of life, they wrought havoc to any semblance of goodness and platitude in their ever searching need for ill gotten gains through any portal of theft, time is finite when the next crime is about to be committed.
    Violent murder, committed without a single thought for the victim, carried out with a numb heart and a vacant soul is most heinous   It ate at the very heart of Sherlock’s marrow, gnawed at his spirit and dug the fingernails of evil deep into his flesh in a most uncomfortable, tangible and sickening manner. It was an anathema to Holmes, and as such, drove him to distraction in his unrelenting fervour to cut out the cancer that was destroying lives and creating grief and sadness to thousands every day. He couldn’t fight them all, an impossible dream, but he could go after the clever ones, the criminals who thought they could thwart the law, tweak the nose of Scotland Yard and laugh in their faces. If Holmes could bring them to justice, then not only did he delay any further crimes, might even save a life here and there, but rather self-righteously garnered ever more knowledge as he pursued his quarry by scientific means and used his prowess in the laboratory to experiment and test theories which further expanded his growing encyclopaedia of facts and details, principles and results, all enabling him to make accurate judgements based on sound theory and practice. Yes, this often placed him in the egocentric pigeon hole, but Holmes wouldn't be Holmes if it weren't for his ability to shut out the world around him and remain focused, totally oblivious to his surroundings and able to examine points of interest without succumbing to interruptions or the intrusion of distraction.
Sorting through the plethora of assumptions that plagued his every thought when on a case was an art, and he was an artist. An artist of some renown some would say, others would not, but the facts remain, Sherlock has solved some of the most ingenious and difficult crimes ever to come before the prestigious minds of Scotland Yard. They had often written them off or consigned them to the dust heap, unsolved and too much trouble to pursue further.
That was what whetted Sherlock's appetite, piqued his interest and shuffled his feet in the direction of
Inspector Lestrade to sate his appetite for cerebral fodder. In the past, cases would often come to him in the shape of customers with troubles of all sizes, clients with stories, flighty tales of woe that would dull his senses and he hardly remembered their presence, but once in a while, a worthy case would emerge from the nervous recants of old Ladies and Gents, Politicians and Royalty, Peasants and Pariahs.
But nowadays, it was mostly bees that kept Holmes’ keen mind sharp.

Just how Watson had come to such appraisal and insight had surprised him, Holmes had never realised just how much Watson must have been surveying and scrutinizing Sherlock's personality and his abilities in crime solving. It gladdened him in a confounding way, in one manner Holmes was happy that his life was being chronicled but in another, he was not too secure in the knowledge that the rest of society would know him more deeply than it.

He would have to confront Watson about his fears and hope that he may relinquish those intimate words to an un-published diary, to be hidden among the tomes of forgotten history on the dust ridden shelves of an undiscovered library in some old house, never to be revealed until time ended.

Of course, his friend Watson would likely think long and hard about it and they would come to an agreement as friends do but really Holmes was looking to Watson bringing him some smattering of news from the void that was "His Old Haunt" - London.

As Watson disembarked from Polegate station with a sprightly step from the carriage, he stopped for a few seconds to look around and felt once more the languid atmosphere of the Sussex air. The sea fragrance lightly permeating his nostrils, as it was only a couple of miles away to the south, brought home to him just how tranquil his stay was to become, midst memories of the last two visits to Holmes' retreat. The summer breeze and the deep blue sky, intertwined with the distant chirping of skylark and sparrow, gladdened his heart to bursting, so blissful was his contemplation of long evenings with Sherlock and his neighbours who inevitably dropped in to hear Holmes' raconteur his way through past cases, or more accurately, correct me when I recount them from the copious notes I have kept over the years in my diary. With good luck, Farmer Gordon will have his potent brew to savor, coupled with the local table fare brought to our repast by the congenial cook, Mrs Bretel, the next few days were probably the ones he looked forward to more than anything else he had experienced. Good wine, good food and friends, what more could a man ask for.

He was candidly surprised to find Holmes upon each visit as lucid in thought as he was in conversation, even though his ailing body was bearing down upon his spiritual energy, he somehow managed to acquire enough to see him through the day. I have always advised a good nights sleep to rest his weary bones and for once he has condescended to agree with me. Whether this is in due part to the trials and tribulations of getting old and the fact that at the end of the day, the physical body will argue its case by inducing its own soporific affect to bring the body to horizontal slumber, may explain his submission. But suffice to say, where his body exhibits the ravages of time, his mind remains oblivious to such machinations.
And long may it remain so.

As Watson exited the station main doors, he found a waiting one horse shay and driver to take him to The Dean village. On alighting the chaise, his driver took a swift glance, gave a little nod and reined off in the direction of the Dancing Harts Inn. Watson would stay there for the duration of his visit, being only a few hundred yards away from Holmes' cottage he felt close enough in case of any accidents or illness etc that may befall Sherlock at this time. The cottage being two bed-roomed would normally accommodate Watson sufficiently, but there was a slight problem in that it was packed full of Holmes' instruments and bottled paraphernalia that had come down with him from London. They had not been given permanent homes yet, so there they stayed, planted in boxes awaiting discovery.

It suddenly occurred to Watson that he had not told the driver where he was going, so he asked, almost knowing the outcome, how he had known his destination. To which the driver replied, "Why, Mr Holmes told me to look out for a man, well dressed and looking as happy as a new born lamb, who carried a light brown buff briefcase and matching suitcase and umbrella. A tweed trilby and brown brogue shoes. Well I wasn't particularly aware of most of your attire, but when I saw your face, I was sure it was you Sir. He paid me the fare and asked me to be here for the 10:10 train from Clapham and to then carry you to the Inn Sir."
Just as I thought, remarked Watson, either Holmes knows me too well or I am fast becoming the habitual creature of routine.
Watson asked the driver if he was local to Polegate or Dean village. He replied that he wasnt born here or thereabouts, but come up from Hastings to help his wife look after the Mother In Law who had been taken poorly these last few years. Watson inquired about her medical situation, but the cabby replied that it wasn't so much an illness as a "Hankering for Companionship", he laughed a little at this disclosure, but he continued... "As much as it pains me to say it, I am doing better business up here than I was down the Sink Hole, and to be honest, I never did like the smell of rotten fish."
"Sink Hole?" inquired Watson, "Yes" replied the driver, "Its what we locals call Hastings, as in Cinque Port, that part of our history was beaten into us at school, knows it off by heart, all the Cinque Ports from there to eternity it seemed." another little laugh followed by a leering look at Watson, provided Jim, as he was known, an excuse to laugh even louder on seeing the Doctors look of consternation. A quick lash of the reins followed and the chay lurched forwards and thundered its way across the rough track to The Dean with the countryside flashing past through avenues of trees and high hedgerows. A murder of rooks cackled their voices as the carriage fled past, beating their wings in circles above the rookery, as if in some purposeful giddy dance in the skies, they circumvented the wood in timeless unison it seemed as Watson kept a vigil eye on them from behind. Strange creatures he thought to himself, the harbingers of doom some say, evil eyes others, but to Watson, they represented all that was salt of the earth in animals of the countryside.
In no time it seemed they came upon the outskirts of the village. As it came into view, they were greeted by the high walls of the Priory to the right and the low bank of the River Went to the left, which was at its lowest ebb this time of year and now resembled a large stream instead. As they passed through the northern end, they rode upon cobbles of flint bedded in the clay like structure of the lane surface, the horse hoof making for an unwelcome noise in such a tranquil setting, harmonised by the carts wheels clacking in tandem. With a sudden heave to, they came to rest outside the Dancing Harts Inn and as the racket ceased altogether, the village sights and sounds became more discernible. Being a Saturday morning, late, as in 11am, the market square though small, was a hive of activity with bustling groups of man, woman and child negotiating the wares of purveyors intent on relieving them of their money. About 20 stalls were spread out over the green, the Maypole marking the very centre of life and the heart of The Dean, positioned as it were near the centre of all the stalls, rising above it all and displaying a superiority that separated it from the bustle and hustle that carried on beneath it. A very colourful display of garments, fruit and veg assaulted the eyes in all directions as one surveyed the area, accompanied by the cries of vendor and the hoots of children, but Watson wanted none of that, he'd had enough ruckus on a daily basis in London, enough clatter and hullabaloo upon every waking hour to last him a lifetime. He thanked the cabby, dropped him a few pennies in silver fashion and carried his bags into the Inn's reception. As booked from his previous visit in the Spring of the same year, he climbed the semi circular staircase to his room at the top. He was lucky enough to have secured this room first time around, it afforded views south to the Downs and the surrounding countryside and on a good day such as this, he could see the sea between the dipping hills that rose on either side, a blue saucer caught in waves of green suspended in timeless rhythm, dotted here and there with gorse and brier.

(fill in with unpacking and thoughts of London and work etc)

Watson was as content as he could ever have been, a most comfortable existence he had not known for a long time, but sitting there on the window seat, pipe charged and primed with mellow tobacco, ripe for a puff hanging lopsidedly from his jaw, chin resting on relaxed fingers, he looked out over the low trees and felt a sudden pang of sadness. How he would have liked to have shared all this and his dwindling time on earth with a female companion, a wife, someone with whom he may have held in his arms at this very moment, contemplating the rest of their future if short life together, in blissful ignorance of all that had gone before only savoring each others presence oblivious to all and nothing. But it was not to be, he had led a mostly lonely life in that respect, not out of choice so much or as a predilection in his profession as a doctor. It was an occupational hazard, maintaining aloofness was an expected habit and of course his work initiated no kind of intimacy as was becoming a Doctor of medicine. Having a practice in London combined with Holmes' shenanigans afforded him less time to socialize in the right circles and over time, after the loss of his first wife to consumption very early on in that relationship, Watson consigned himself to a bachelor life as more a necessity as much as fate.
But still, he yearned for that other existence sometimes and it hurt him deep down that he had never been able to acquire a completeness in that manner, no children to worry about sure, and Holmes would say, "Its all stuff Watson, don't trouble yourself over it", but there would always be a part of him that would have liked to have spent time minno'ing in streams and reading stories to a product of his fruitful loins.
At that point, Watson reneged on his peaceful reminiscence and began to get ready to meet Sherlock with a quick shave from brush and blade, and with a fresh shirt and hair combed, he ventured back into the world of reality, down the stairs and outside into the bright sunshine of village life once more. Stopping briefly on the bottom step of the Inn, Watson orientated himself not just to the surrounding habitat, but to re-organise his mind to that which will await him in a few minutes time, to his left and the slightly NW direction of Holmes' cottage, and a meeting with an ageing mind of complexity that still manages to bewilder and amaze.