The Adventure of the Missing Bee.
Vanity Fair (UK), December 1, 1904
(Sherlock Holmes is to retire from public life after Christmas, and take to bee-farming in the country.)
“IT is a little hard, my dear Watson,” said Holmes, stretching his long form on the sofa, and injecting another half-pint of morphia with the little jewelled syringe which the Prince of Piedmont had insisted on presenting to him as a reward for discovering who had stolen his nice new rattle; “it is just a little hard that an exhausted, overworked private detective, coming down to the country in search of peace and quiet, should be confronted in the first week by a problem so weird, so sinister, that for the moment it seems incapable of solution.”
“You refer——?” I said.
“To the singular adventure of the missing bee, as anybody but an ex-army surgeon equipped with a brain of dough would have known without my telling him.”
I readily forgave him his irritability, for the loss of his bee had had a terrible effect on his nerves. It was a black business. Immediately after arriving at our cottage, Holmes had purchased from the Army and Navy Stores a fine bee. It was docile, busy, and intelligent, and soon made itself quite a pet with us. Our consternation may, therefore, be imagined when, on going to take it out for its morning run, we found the hive empty. The bee had disappeared, collar and all. A glance at its bed showed that it had not been slept in that night. On the floor of the hive was a portion of the insect’s steel chain, snapped. Everything pointed to sinister violence.
Holmes’ first move had been to send me into the house while he examined the ground near the hive for footsteps. His search produced no result. Except for the small, neat tracks of the bee, the ground bore no marks. The mystery seemed one of those which are destined to remain unsolved through eternity.
But Holmes was ever a man of action.
“Watson,” he said to me, about a week after the incident, “the plot thickens. What does the fact that a Frenchman has taken rooms at Farmer Scroggins’ suggest to you?”
“That Farmer Scroggins is anxious to learn French,” I hazarded.
“Idiot!” said Holmes, scornfully. “You’ve got a mind like a railway bun. No. If you wish to know the true significance of that Frenchman’s visit, I will tell you. But, in the first place, can you name any eminent Frenchman who is interested in bees?”
I could answer that.
“Maeterlinck,” I replied. “Only he is a Belgian.”
“It is immaterial. You are quite right. M. Maeterlinck was the man I had in my mind. With him bees are a craze. Watson, that Frenchman is M. Maeterlinck’s agent. He and Farmer Scroggins have conspired, and stolen that bee.”
“Holmes!” I said, horrified. “But M. Maeterlinck is a man of the most rigid honesty.”
“Nobody, my dear Watson, is entirely honest. He may seem so, because he never meets with just that temptation which would break through his honesty. I once knew a bishop who could not keep himself from stealing pins. Every man has his price. M. Maeterlinck’s is bees. Pass the morphia.”
“But Farmer Scroggins!” I protested. “A bluff, hearty English yeoman of the best type.”
“May not his heartiness be all bluff?” said Holmes, keenly. “You may take it from me that there is literally nothing that that man would stick at. Murder? I have seen him kill a wasp with a spade, and he looked as if he enjoyed it. Arson? He has a fire in his kitchen every day. You have only to look at the knuckle of the third finger of his left hand to see him as he is. If he is an honest man, why does he wear a made-up tie on Sundays? If he is an upright man, why does he stoop when he digs potatoes? No, Watson, nothing that you can say can convince me that Farmer Scroggins has not a black heart. The visit of this Frenchman—who, as you can see in an instant if you look at his left shoulder-blade, has not only deserted his wife and a large family, but is at this very moment carrying on a clandestine correspondence with an American widow, who lives in Kalamazoo, Mich.—convinces me that I have arrived at the true solution of the mystery. I have written a short note to Farmer Scroggins, requesting him to send back the bee and explaining that all is discovered. And that,” he broke off, “is, if I mistake not, his knock. Come in.”
The door opened. There was a scuffling in the passage, and in bounded our missing bee, frisking with delight. Our housekeeper followed, bearing a letter. Holmes opened it.
“Listen to this, Watson,” said Holmes, in a voice of triumph.
“ ‘Mr. Giles Scroggins sends his compliments to Mr. Sherlock Holmes, an’ it’s quite true, I did steal that there bee, though how Mr. Holmes found out, Mr. G. Scroggins bean’t able to understand. I am flying the country as requested. Please find enclosed 1 (one) bee, and kindly acknowledge receipt to
‘Your obedient servant,
“Holmes,” I whispered, awe-struck, “you are one of the most remarkable men I ever met.”
He smiled, lit his hookah, seized his violin, and to the slow music of that instrument turned once more to the examination of his test tubes.
* * * * *
Three days later we saw the following announcement in the papers: “M. Maeterlinck, the distinguished Belgian essayist, wishes it to be known that he has given up collecting bees, and has taken instead to picture postcards.”
P. G. Wodehouse.
In Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Second Stain” (Strand, Dec. 1904), Watson tells us that Holmes has retired to bee-farming on the Sussex Downs. This is Wodehouse’s immediate response; either the December Strand came out well before the deadline for the December 1 Vanity Fair, or Wodehouse had advance knowledge of the Holmes story from his friend and cricket captain Conan Doyle.