It is late here in the village of Allegany, and yet the reels and jigs drunkenly crawl the stairs to scratch at my door and summon me back to the revel. I should be downstairs, cementing my place in this fellowship by pressing hands, making merry, accepting my laurels, buying another round. But it is, as I have already said, late here on the banks of the Allegheny, and there are only so many drinks that one can tip onto the floor, into a spittoon, a sponge, or another glass, before even my own creativity grows stale. And it is exactly then, when I am most weary of the deception, that I am in most danger. So I have tendered my regrets and stolen away to write quietly to Mycroft and Captain Kell — and growing weary of that endeavour, too, I have stolen time from my codes and ciphers to write to you.
No codes and ciphers for you, my dear boy, just plain speech whispered into a tin cup, and lo, my voice sounds again, thirty-five hundred miles away, among the pages of the British Bee Journal, tinny and stilted but apparently coming from no further than Fulworth village. Ostensibly, I pen my practical observations on beekeeping to demonstrate to the world that I remain in Sussex, but they are more immediately a message to you: if nothing else, a demonstration that I am still capable of moving pen across paper.
You have kept up my subscription to the Journal, have you not? You swore to me you would. Under duress, perhaps, and with only hours left to us, but swear you did — and if I may rely on anyone, I may rely on you.
You swore too, during those last hours, that you would rip up my blameless Rhododendron. You said it only to strike at me, one last mutual wound between us, and yet I cannot be vexed at you. I would selfishly rather you there, taking your revenge on my Rhododendron, than returning to your old haunts in London. Would that I were there to see your revenge! I have not made adequate study of the mining bees, and I would know if Lasioglossum spp. are drawn to that expanse of fresh earth for their burrows. L. calceatum are common enough, but a xanthopus burrow would be a rare find! They are almost entirely confined to the Chalk, you know, and their burrows hardly ever found. A description of one, written up for the Entomological or Microscopical societies, would be a great coup over that fool Ludworth.
My dear fellow, would you recognise a xanthopus again, if you saw it? Surely you remember that morning in October, the last morning of peace before Mr Asquith's visit? You and I, wet from the sea, climbing the cliff in the morning sun, and the pair of bees you found for me, wet with dew, huddled together upon a Centaurea? (You mistook it for a thistle, and yet you tease me about my botany!) That somnolent, affectionate pair was xanthopi, you may recall, two burrowless males passing a night together on a hardhead blossom.
Respected fellows of the royal societies wonder how xanthopus mates, as the males fly so much later than the females. If only we were more foolhardy or more daring, you and I, we might tell them.
It seems I have drunk more than I intended. But be that as it may, I cannot write of Lasioglossum for the pages of the estimable Mr Thos. Wm. Cowan. Regardless of the suggestions of his assorted fellowships, his Journal cares only for A. mellifera.
Well, then, A. mellifera he shall have:
When an onslaught of spring storms, such as disturbed us in Sussex on the 6th through the 12th, brings to a halt the countryside's pollen production, a hive can run through its accumulated pollen store in mere days, leaving the new brood to suffer and starve and setting back the spring increases by as much as a month. In such instances, a foresighted beekeeper might supplement the brood's feed by offering rye meal, typically cut with oats. This correspondent, however, has had better results cutting rye meal with fine sawdust. Wood may seem an inferior feed for bees, and yet Apis shares several notable characteristics with its wood-cutting brethren, Xylocopa. The fine dust of wood joinery, such as produced during the routine tasks necessary to the construction and maintenance of the modern hive, makes for an admirable supplement...
There, do you recognise your steady hands on the scribing saw? Or the sawdust that so often trailed from our workshop to our bed? I think of both often, and your patient sufferance the next morning as you reversed our trail, sweeping it all up again. And by the specific reference to the weather you shall know that I did not write this passage beforehand, but am truly sending you word from America.
Although on consideration, perhaps I should trust nothing to your facility with dates.
Would that I could trust to a more direct line of communication. But you'll recall the example of Mr Birdy Edwards, lately and unfortunately of St. Helena, who spent over a year in disguise among these mountains' secret societies before he was exposed by an eagle-eyed postmaster. Postmasters, like pastors, always do know too much about their flock. No, this letter shall be destroyed when I am done, and I shall have to trust as much of my message as I dare to the bees and their caretakers.
Mr Edwards is much on my mind tonight, for I have just come from his old hunting grounds, downriver from here. His sacrifice resolved nothing; the mine wars continue apace, colliers against owners, sheriffs against police, the streets watered daily with blood. Congratulate me, for I have had a resounding success for the colliers today; the police and detectives thirst for my blood, if only they could lay hands on it. Happily, I am safe across the state line in Allegany. This is an ugly, messy business here between the unions and the detectives; would that you could see it firsthand, as I have, when you come to write Mr Edwards' story for him.
And yet as instructive as you might find it, I cannot trust to having you here any more than I can trust to the postmaster. You are always too much yourself, Watson, fixed and unshakeable. You would be a great liability in this country, and yet I crave your steadiness. With each passing day, I feel myself bleed away more around the edges. I must be circumspect even with my violin, lest it forget that it is a fiddle, and I have not trusted myself to look at a bee, not once, not even sideways, since my arrival.
Who knows what entomological glories exist here, wonders to rival the grizzly and the buffalo? Not I — it has been nothing but bombs, arson, and sedition since I have come. Pennsylvania is the home of the Langstroth hive, did you know? I would pay my respects, and yet I am too busy having adventures. Adventures such as you have not-so-secretly longed for since you came to Sussex.
Here am I, suffering a surfeit of adventure, and there you are, suffering my bees.
Well, you shall have to suffer my bees a bit more. You shall suffer my bees, as I shall suffer this goatee, and we both suffer this long silence.
Please, my dear, be suffering my bees.