There are very few things for which I have longed during the year since I abandoned my life and career in London and resettled in the relative calm of East Dean in Sussex to occupy my time as an apiarist. One such is the ability to visit on a regular basis the tobacconist’s shop located in Oxford Street, not far from the dwelling I shared for so many years with my friend and biographer John Watson. There are also dinners at Simpson’s on the Strand and concerts at the St. James Music Hall. Perhaps it is unnecessary to state that I also miss the presence of the good doctor, whose effect on my life and career I had not fully realized until he left Baker Street to assume the duties of a husband. The pursuit of criminals and the quest to solve the various conundrums brought to me by the public became an increasingly empty endeavour without the participation of my friend and sounding board. I still occasionally hear from Watson, most recently through a missive he sent in January to congratulate me on my fiftieth birthday, an accomplishment to which I had little to contribute save for the art of staying alive.
There is, alas, one inexorable force of the modern city-state of London toward which I have given little thought since my relocation here in South Down: my brother Mycroft. While we had long been adjunct factors in each other’s lives—two men of a common name who more often than not moved within their individual spheres—a seemingly irreparable rift had developed between us due to my retiring from the pursuit of crime detection in order to keep bees, which he considers a waste of my knowledge and skills, if not my very life. I came to realize that a certain measure of his standing in Whitehall, where Mycroft was more involved with governmental matters than his ostensibly minor civil servant post implied, was predicated on the fact that I was his brother and could be summoned for official assistance whenever necessary.
That is why I was so startled on an otherwise lazy Saturday in late March of 1904 to see a carriage approach my home in the Downs and stop at my front door, from which Mycroft emerged (with aid from the driver). Always weighty, he was now quite portly, so much so that he was forced to walk with a cane. “Brother,” I said, attempting to mask my startlement not only at seeing him, but seeing him so far from his refuge in London, “what brings you here?”
“That carriage behind me,” he replied testily. “Have you lost your vision as well as your mind?”
“Would you like to come in?”
“I did not travel all this way by coach merely to stand out here listening to the buzzing of bees.” He began to lurch toward my cottage, forcing me to step out of his way since the walkway was not wide enough for the both of us. Once inside, he looked around at my humble abode and said, “No laboratory equipment, no years’ worth of newspapers stacked from floor to ceiling, no bust of you in the window. How do you live here?”
“There is no laboratory equipment because I do not need to test the chemical make-up of honey,” I told him. “There are no newspapers stacked to the rafters because there is no local source of London periodicals. And there is no wax likeness of me in the window because so far at least, no one in East Dean has tried to shoot me. Shall I invite your driver in as well?”
“No, he will wait,” Mycroft said, lowering himself into my settee, which creaked under his weight. “Do you have anything to drink?”
“I have a fine mead, which I make myself.”
“It will have to do.”
I fetched him a snifter of mead and a glass of water, both of which he consumed. “Now, then,” I said, “if it is not too much trouble, would you care to tell me why you have made this journey to me? You are not ill, are you?”
“Aside from a touch of phlebitis in the leg, I am as well as I have ever been. My reason for visiting has nothing to do with my health.”
“Then why are you here?”
“Is it not obvious?”
“Mycroft, there are some mysteries whose solutions are beyond even my capacity to deduce.”
“For the sake of peace in the world, let us hope not. I am here, Sherlock, because I need your help, or perhaps I should say we need your help.”
He did not have to explain whom he meant by we.