‘Mr Holmes, I simply don’t have the words to express my gratitude to you.’
‘No need, Ms Voigt. The case was an interesting one. I might thank you for bringing it to my attention.’ Sherlock granted his hostess a quick smile. The case had been interesting, an actual challenge, not like most of the chaff he’d got from Scotland Yard lately. But now that it was over and the offending party on his way through the justice system, Sherlock was anxious to be done with both it and Greta Voigt. All he needed was to find a cab and get back to his flat and the experiments he’d left to take on the case.
But Ms Voigt was still chattering on.
‘And you know… Well, I told you, and you can see…’ Her wave took in the sparse, worn furnishings and dingy walls of her flat, sadness and guilt taking over her normally happy expression. ‘Money’s been so short’, she finished quietly.
‘Ms Voigt, as I said when I took your case, I don’t require compensation. Just as true today as it was on Wednesday, I assure you.’ He flashed another tight, practised smile, and reached to shake her hand, hoping the gesture would be accepted for its finality.
‘Yes, yes, of course, Mr Holmes, but you must allow me to give you something for all your trouble.’ She took his hand and held it in both her own, drawing him towards her kitchen. ‘Running all over London and halfway to Canterbury and back. Your transportation expenses alone… Well. And you found Robert so quickly.’ Sorrow and disgust mingled on her face a moment before her earnest smile returned. ‘Please, just a little something.’
They were standing now beside the tiny kitchen table, two chairs tucked close under it so as not to block the fraction of space left to move in. Letting go of his hand at last, the woman opened a cupboard above her and drew out several jars.
‘You were so kind as to compliment me on the honey my bees produce. It’s rare to meet anyone in London with an interest in keeping bees. You simply must come back this summer and see my little roof-top garden and the hives in their full glory.’ She smiled broadly now, pleasure and pride in her voice and eyes. ‘So unusual to find someone that can even recognize a hive around here. Most of the neighbours just think I’m dotty and worry that their kids’ll get stung. As if they could, holed up in their flats all day watching telly and playing games on their mobiles. Most of them wouldn’t recognize a bee even if it did sting them.’
She paused, focusing her attention on lining up the jars on the counter. All of a size, calico-print fabric tacked to their lids, labelled and dated in careful handwriting.
‘So I thought, of course, you might like a bit of honey. It’s the one form of gold that’s always been in plenty in my home.’ She beamed up at him and held out a jar. ‘This is from last year—you liked it quite well the other day. And these two are from the year before; different flowers so there’s going to be a different taste there, but it was a very good year.’ She looked expectantly at him.
Sherlock thought a moment, then took the jar from her hand, a slight upturn of his lips betraying his pleasure at this gift. It had been very good honey she had served with tea on his first visit. Surprisingly flavourful, not at all like the bland syrups the shops carried in those ridiculous bear-shaped jars, cartoon bees buzzing about the labels. Real honey from real bees.
‘Well, yes.’ His face warmed further as he held the jar to catch the light. ‘Yes, I suppose I wouldn’t mind taking a jar or two. Your bees do generate a worthy product.’
‘Oh, they certainly do. Hard workers they are and no complaints from them either. “Admirable creatures”, as you said.’ Her face relaxed into a smile again, displaying her relief that he would accept this modest payment. ‘I hope you get the chance to keep your own hives someday. Though, mind, you don’t need a fancy garden in the country to keep bees and make a worthy product. Just a little corner and a bit of dirt to put there. I’d be happy to help you set up a small hive to start with whenever you’d like.’
Sherlock dropped the jar into his coat pocket and happily added the promise to the list of Grateful-Client Favours he kept in his head; they were his favourite form of currency. He started to place another jar into his pocket, paused, then placed the jars back on the counter, frowning. ‘Not soon, I’m afraid, but someday. Do you have an old newspaper?’
‘’Course, yes. And let me just get you a sack for those.’ As he began to wrap the jars so they wouldn’t jostle each other, she moved to her sitting room and pulled a file of envelopes from a bookcase. ‘Those jars should keep you for a while’, she called to him. ‘And don’t think you can’t come back for more any time you please. But’, she added, returning to the kitchen with a small buff envelope in her hand, ‘I don’t think you should wait to start working on your own. Why, the right flowers and the bees will find you, even in the heart of London.’ She laughed lightly.
‘I’m afraid I don’t have the space to grow anything.’ He visualized his flat: boxes full of case files stacked along the walls, every horizontal surface filled with experimental apparatus, and so little light. Such a dark hole he had fallen into after getting booted from his last place.
‘Oh, not even a little window box? A pot out on the fire escape?’ She was fixing the envelope to the top of one of the jars.
‘What’s this?’ he asked, running his fingers over the tiny packet. A bean-sized lump met his touch.
‘A seed to start you off with’, she said brightly, turning to him. ‘Now, this is very easy to grow… a little water and some sunlight… why you could throw a bit of dirt in a teacup and grow this little gem! No fuss at all, it’ll practically care for itself, you wait and see’, she went on.
‘Just one?’ he asked, amused and bemused at once.
She levelled a serious gaze at him and assured: ‘One should be all you need, Mr Holmes.’
So Sherlock had taken the seed and the honey, the promise and the thanks, then got a cab and returned to the dark, cramped flat on Montague Street.