The casebook of Sherlock Holmes had become somewhat less congested as he moved into his later years, but the analytical mind of my companion never ceased to amaze me. He was capable of the most extreme leaps of logic, such as those I have recorded in my own modest records, and his perspicacity remained unrivalled. Only on his idle days was his behaviour at odds with that of his former self. He no longer smoked his beloved black shag as he was unable to break up the large blocks in which it was delivered and his violin had been permanently retired, consequent upon his tendency to poke himself in the eye with the bow. His use of drugs had become limited to those prescribed by the doctor to control the more erratic habits of his prostate. The strong lens which had found its place into so many of the cases on which I have reported, lay constantly at his side, used almost exclusively to scour the newsprint of the many daily newspapers he still had delivered. He was much taken with the crossword puzzle which had recently become a feature of The Times, although I noted a tendency for his answers to contain a different number of letters than that intended by the compiler. It was from one such crossword that, pen in hand, tongue curled up over top lip, his cataractous eyes rose and almost met my gaze.
‘Has Mrs Hudson spilled the tea, Watson?’
‘On the contrary,’ I assured him. ‘At least an hour has passed since she was last in the room, and on that occasion to mop up your broth.’
‘Then is it raining outside? The window casement has, I fear, shrunk in relation to its frame.’
‘No, it is quite sunny,’ I said. ‘And the windows are quite secure.’
‘Then the chair that I now occupy has, in the recent past, been occupied by a damp animal of some kind.’ He half-grinned in his triumphant way. I shook my head slowly: he wasn’t good with sudden movement.
‘Aah, a conundrum,’ he said. ‘We must follow my well-established practice, Watson.’
‘Eliminate the impossible and whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth,’ I ventured.
‘Indeed,’ he said, groaning gently as he raised his wiry frame from the chair. ‘If you would be so good as to guide me to my dressing room.’
I held open the door for him and he entered, already preoccupied with the business, lately much more time consuming, of button opening.
‘I would be awfully grateful if you would try not to widdle in my brogues again,’ I said.
Upon his return, Holmes picked up the long clay pipe which he smoked in periods of deepest introspection and attempted to light the wrong end. I returned to my kipper as Holmes threw down the unlighted meerschaum. His temper had deteriorated markedly since Lestrade had confiscated his cocaine. I looked upon his face, so little changed with the passage of years. The thin, aquiline features, still pale and gaunt; the hawk-like nose embellished only with a dew-drop the size of a bulls-eye. The case of the missing slippers was troubling him. He was restless and short, a condition to which I have grown well accustomed over the years.
‘Data, Watson,’ he said at last. ‘I must have data. All is mere hypothesis until I am in possession of the full facts.’
‘But what facts do you seek, Holmes?’ I asked. He looked at me a little strangely I thought.
‘Facts?’ he said.
‘You said you needed facts.’
He took up the position that I know so well: finger tips joined, his chin resting on them, eyes hooded, almost closed. I settled down to review my newspaper whilst he cogitated. Some five minutes had elapsed before I saw his chin slump to his chest. A thin trickle of saliva swelled from his mouth. His breathing became heavier and deeper, reverberating around the room and rattling the china. This happened a lot when he fell to thought these days and I had myself descended to slumber when Holmes emerged from his reverie with a coughing fit that was testament to many youthful trips to the opium den. When the paroxysm at last subsided, I discerned that Holmes had in his eye the bright spark that I had come to recognise as a mark of his genius. ‘The slippers, Watson, are in the third drawer of my desk.’
‘But how can you possibly know that?’ I asked.
‘You know well my methods, Watson,’ he said. ‘Let us start with the hard facts. They are not on my feet. They do not fit your feet which are several sizes bigger than my own and Mrs Hudson is, as we know, averse to all types of plaid footwear. We know, also, that I was wearing them yesterday evening, but not this morning. Therefore, to find the solution to this riddle, we must look for the moment when I ceased to be wearing them.’
‘You used the drawer in your desk shortly before retiring yesterday evening?’ I offered.
‘Precisely, Watson, now, open the drawer and reveal…’
‘… A leather truss I’m afraid Holmes.’
‘Ah,’ said my esteemed friend.
We called upon Mrs Hudson, but she confirmed that she had not seen the slippers since they last resided on Holmes’ feet the previous evening. The mystery was disturbing him and even the giant intellect of the world’s greatest detective was struggling to assemble sufficient facts from which to manufacture a solution. ‘I sense the involvement of Moriarty,’ he said at last.
‘Unlikely Holmes,’ I said, reminding him as gently as I could, that Moriarty, like himself a survivor against all odds and logicality, was currently securely confined in the Bide-a-Wee care home, where he shared a room with Holmes’ brother Mycroft and a selection of spongeable bedroom furniture. Holmes sighed deeply and closed his eyes – only the nervous ripples that passed spasmodically along the lids betrayed the fact that he had not, once again, fallen to slumber – before, with the small cry of triumph that he is known to utter when a thousand impossible threads are woven within his cavernous brain into a single cloth, he snapped awake, took up his strongest glass and peered down at his stockinged feet. ‘At last, Watson,’ he said. ‘There is evidence to be had here. You will notice the minute thread of burgundy weave that lies across my sock. An exact match for the weft of my slippers, I vouch.’
‘It’s a rasher of your breakfast bacon, I fear Holmes,’ said I. ‘And anyway, you have changed your stockings since yesterday, have you not?’
‘By Jove,’ he said. ‘You’ve hit the nail right on the head, old boy.’
‘You have what?’
‘I’m sorry, I…’
‘Don’t worry yourself, Watson. Let us devote ourselves to the matter at hand,’ he said. ‘Now…’ he paused, deep in thought, his furrowed brow almost resting upon his pouting lip, his eyes cast down to his feet. ‘Have you seen my slippers, by the way?’ he said at last…