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The Adventure of the Colonial Boy: Excerpt

Had he not been so attuned to nature in that moment, Watson might have missed the subtle hiss that sent the hair standing on end up his arms and neck to every follicle in his scalp.
      Then he saw it – the sinuous coils of an adder writhing towards him over Mary’s grave, dark grey scales marked with a black zig-zag stripe, red eyes unblinking as it slithered towards his bare hand. The reptile – the only venomous snake native to these isles – compacted its great coils as its mouth opened, revealing glistening fangs, and rose up, about to strike.
      Watson, too, reared back, snatching up his walking stick as the creature struck and missed. The heavy weight of its body barely fell as it curled and coiled about for a second attack. Watson swung his cane like a cricket bat at the lunging narrow head. If those fangs once connected with his skin, he’d be in for an ugly death.
      The thought both chilled him and steeled his resolve.
      The stick connected hard with the creature, but Watson was too experienced to be complacent. He swung the cane down and beat the venomous thing on the head once, twice, then a third time to be sure. It lay twitching gruesomely until he took up a stone from the path and beat its head until it was of no further danger.
      Watson stood, one fist clasped around the bloodied stone, the other around his cane, his breath coming fast yet steady, his eyes bright, skin flushed. He was surprised to realise he was smiling. Oh, but that reminded him of the old days of adventure! Even though the matter was nothing more sinister than an adder disturbed while sunbaking. He felt more alive, more awake, than he had in years. Since Switzerland.
     
His smile faded. Mary had been his friend, a good wife and business partner, and he had loved her in that fashion. But she’d never been the one to light the fire in his breast.
      He is dead and she is dead and I deserved neither and I’m alone. Again.
Watson flung the lifeless snake and the stone into the shrub, wiped his hand on his handkerchief and left the cemetery, as melancholy as when he had arrived.
He was wholly unprepared for the telegram awaiting him in his lonely Kensington home.
      It lay with the early mail on the sideboard. At first, Watson let it be. He wished to wash his hands after so strenuous and sorrowful a morning. A peculiar morning, as well. Providence had clearly chosen to present him, preoccupied as he was with Holmes, with grotesqueries as strange as those that once heralded a tangled and dangerous case.
      With clean hands, Watson took up the mail and in the spirit of his strange day, decided to employ Holmes’s methods in sorting it. That thin, cheap envelope no doubt harboured a request for donations to worthy causes that Mary had supported. Next was a sturdier envelope, address typewritten, which smacked strongly of a bill that he was in no mood to see. He set these aside and regarded the telegram and the final, thick envelope with a frown.
      He ought to open the telegram, but he couldn’t imagine it contained good news. Gone were the days when such missives were the harbingers of great adventures.
      The envelope was of thick, high quality paper, also typewritten but unlike any official letter he’d ever received from a creditor or a bank. A friend or acquaintance would surely have handwritten the address. In any case, Watson couldn’t think of a single acquaintance who’d use such excellent paper.
      It might have been mail related to the Strand stories, but those often pedantic missives generally went either to Burleigh Street, or to Baker Street. Mrs Hudson sent them to him every week or so through one of the street boys.
      The letter was one more mystery in a day of oddities.
      Well, if a mystery was to be combined with bad news, he’d like at least to have some strong drink as recompense. Watson poured a measure of scotch from the decanter, took up the letter opener, and slit open the telegram.
      He stared at it for long moments before it fell from his trembling fingers onto the desk.
      It read:
      Come at once if convenient. If inconvenient, come all the same. – S.H.

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