Silchester's sweet tooth leads him to the indomitable Mr. Mycroft, a retired beekeeper possessing an encyclopedic knowledge of bees and a Holmesian penchant for sleuthing. By matching wits and strategies, the persnickety Silchester and the determined Mycroft seek to thwart Heregrove and his stinging minions before they strike again.
"We may know whodunit, but the question of 'why' is altogether more disturbing," writes Stacy Gillis, Ph.D., who contributes a new foreword to this reissue of the 1941 detective-fiction classic, A Taste for Honey. Listed among the Haycraft-Queen Cornerstones of essential mystery fiction, H. F. Heard's masterpiece became a runaway bestseller, provoking Baker Street Irregulars founder Christopher Morley to declare it "the most original and enchanting crime story of the year." Loosely adapted into the 1967 movie The Deadly Bees, A Taste for Honey is required reading for all Sherlockian aficionados.
MURDERED BY BEES?
Until the last few years, there had been quite a lot of bee-keeping in the Ashton Clearwater district. But lately nobody, except the sinister and solitary Heregroves, had managed to make their bees thrive.
This was tiresome for Sydney Silchester who had gone to the country to be on his own and undisturbed by friends and garrulous neighbors. It was even more tiresome for him when Mrs. Heregrove was stung to death by her husband's bees. His situation suddenly became fraught with mysterious terror when he met his extraordinary neighbor, Mr. Mycroft, a scientific apiarist who had made discoveries about Heregrove's bees which pointed to murder on wings.
Who is Mr. Mycroft? The true identity of this magnificent, inscrutable old gentleman is a deep secret--but there are echoes of Baker Street in his voice, and a familiar gleam in his eyes that miss no clue. In A Taste for Honey, he meets one of the most sinister murderers of all time, and encounters one of the most fiendishly ingenious murder methods ever devised.
from the back cover of the 1964 Lancer Books paperback edition
"A Taste for Honey is intriguing and sinister, somewhere between G. K. Chesterton and John Wyndham; Heard has Chesterton's conviction that the most important mysteries are moral questions reaching beyond 'whodunnit,' and he shares Wyndham's fascination with the disquieting, almost alien forces that threaten the quiet of pastoral England. But Heard's style is entirely his own. Few crime novels of the period take quite so much pleasure in language, except maybe for the lyrical evocation of the mean streets of the American private eye, but even then Heard is definitely of the English school; his prose is more rarefied than muscular." Dr. Christopher Pittard, distinguished University of Exeter scholar of British Detective Fiction
"With a seemingly omniscient detective, a reluctant sidekick and a disturbed rural idyll, A Taste for Honey is firmly embedded in the Golden Age detective genre. Yet it also seeks answers for wide-reaching questions about personal responsibility and ethics, questions which anticipate later developments in the genre. While definitely a paean to the Holmesian tradition, A Taste for Honey does not rely on simple answerswe may know whodunnit, but the question of why is altogether more disturbing." Dr. Stacy Gillis, Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Literature at Newcastle University, UK. www.ncl.ac.uk/elll/staff/profile/stacy.gillis
"More than 30 years before Nicholas Meyer's The Seven Percent Solution opened the floodgates of Sherlockian imitation, H.F. Heard's A Taste for Honey was the first significant book-length Sherlock Holmes pastiche, and it remains one of the very best. This new edition should be welcomed by all lovers of classic detective fiction." Jon L. Breen, noted mystery and crime-detective wiriter, scholar and critic
"The narrator of A Taste for Honey is a prissy dilettante who closely guards his privacy from the hubbub of the tranquil English village he has moved to. Mr. Silchester likes honey, is persnickety about its quality and therefore seeks out the only beekeeper in the neighborhood. But there is something odd about his supplier, who is unfriendlier than Silchester himself. When the beekeeper's wife dies horribly of bee stings, Silchester becomes the next-intended victim of a killer who is experimentally breeding fatal bees." February 9, 1981, Newsweek review
"I thought I knew all the tricks of the horror trade but I never expected to have my hair stand on end when a bee flew in through an open window... A triumph of ingenuity and horrific simplicity." Boris Karloff
"...the most original and enchanting crime story of the year." Christopher Morley
"A veritable triumph of modern mystery...packing plenty of horror." Will Cuppy, The New York Herald Tribune
"Slow-moving, whimsical, somewhat weightily allusive, this tale is definitely caviar to the general; in a sense, it may be called a bookman's book." New York Times Book Review
"Terrifying...perfectly done...The most original contribution in many years." Vincent Starrett
"Starting in the 1970s there was a proliferation of Sherlock Holmes pastiches that is still going on today. The vast majority of them have been written for the author's self-aggrandizement. They also don't capture the essence of the Victorian era (and some don't even try). Professor Moriarty, Irene Adler, a long chase scene, an international crisis, famous personages - one or all of them are often present. The more absurd ones have Holmes trekking off to the United States to solve a case. Having him get married or piloting an airplane as an octogenarian even occurs in several instances. The best thing about all these imitations is they show how good the original stories were by comparison. Thank goodness H. F. Heard eschewed the above. His Mr. Mycroft tales are not pretentious but instead encompass the style of the 'old-fashioned' mystery. A delightful read!" Paul D. Herbert, founder of the Cincinnati-based Sherlockian society, The Tankerville Club; member of the Baker Street Irregulars; author of The Sincerest Form of Flattery and articles for The Baker Street Journal, the Sherlock Holmes Journal, and Baker Street Miscellanea
Review from Peter E. Blau
Christopher Morley called H. F. Heard's A TASTE FOR HONEY (1941) "the most original and enchanting crime story of the year," and it is grand to have the book back in print (Nevada City: Blue Dolphin, 2009; 180 pp., $16.96) as the first in "The Mr. Mycroft Commemorative Series." The book is about "Mr. Mycroft" (many have suspected he's really an elderly and retired Sherlock Holmes); the book was adapted for television as "The Sting of Death" (1955) with Boris Karloff as Mr. Mycroft (kinescopes survive, but are not available commercially), and the film "The Deadly Bees" (1967) was based on the book, with a script by Robert Bloch (who was so annoyed when a British writer removed the Mr. Mycroft character and "juiced up the script" that Bloch never saw what he called his "deformed offspring"). The new edition has an informative foreword by Stacy Gillis, and an interesting afterword by John Roger Barrie, who addresses the question, "Who Is Mr. Mycroft?"
Review from Roger Johnson, The Sherlock Holmes Society of London
A Taste for Honey by H. F. Heard (Blue Dolphin Publishing Inc., PO Box 8, Nevada City, CA 95959, USA; $16.95) is a welcome new edition of an unusual and rather brilliant detective novel, first published in 1941. When Mrs. Heregrove dies after being stung by her unpleasant husband’s bees, Mr. Sydney Silchester, reserved and fussy, resolves to buy his honey elsewhere. At the far end of the village, he discovers another beekeeper, a tall, thin gentleman who calls himself Mr. Mycroftand who already suspects that Mrs. Heregrove’s death was not natural. Very clearly, this is Sherlock Holmes, guarding his privacy in his rural retirement. Eventually he admits: "Mycroft is only one of my family names." But one of the delights of the novel is that Sydney Silchester is not John H. Watson; even if he knew who Watson was, he would have no wish to emulate him. On learning his new acquaintance’s real name, he says, with devastating frankness, "I have to own I have never heard of you before." And when he comes to write an account of their curious investigation he can remember only that the name "was something like MycroftMycroft and then another word, a short one, I think." (Early British editions of A Taste for Honey, published as by Gerald Heard, call the detective "Mr. Bowcross," to avoid trouble with the Conan Doyle estate.) Silchester’s opinion of Mycroft in some ways reflects Watson’s view of Holmes"I was nettled by his absorbed interest in his own wretched bees and then in Heregrove’s supposed motives," he writesbut his style and character are refreshingly different. As in some of the canonical short stories, the criminal’s identity is evident almost from the beginning, and his motive and modus operandi are easily discovered. Mr. Mycroft’s task is to bring the crime home to its perpetrator and stop him killing again. It’s a task that requires formidable intelligence, obscure knowledge and a nimble brain. The nice new edition, the first in "The Mr. Mycroft Commemorative Series," includes an entertaining foreword by Stacy Gillis and a most interesting afterword by Heard’s literary executor, John Roger Barrie.
Review from amicusproductions5.blogspot.com
It really is amazing the things you learn late in life that you can't believe you never came across at an earlier age. A lot of times it makes me feel rather uneducated in the genre and world that I have prided myself on being involved and knowledgeable in for so many years. That's basically how the book A Taste for Honey hit me as I was reading it. There were so many things I learned from this brilliant piece of murder-mystery fiction. Sherlock Holmes had a brother named Mycroft? As a Holmes fan, I should have known this. How has this eluded me for 36 years? That was the first piece of information I learned that put me in my place. Also, author H.F. Heard worked with an editorial board at Oxford University with H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, and Julian Huxley. He worked with H.G. Wells! Now there's a reference for you.
A Taste for Honey is many things. It's a great crime story. A brilliant murder mystery. An education on the wonders of bees. A study of morality. All of these things make up the properties of this little novel. Did the author know what he was accomplishing? It's hard to know.
Without going into too much detail on all the events that take place in the book, here's a quick synopsis. Sydney Silchester is a lover of honey. He gets his honey from a local beekeeper named Heregrove. After Heregrove's wife dies from being attacked by the bees, all of the hives are destroyed. This leaves poor Silchester to find a new honey supplier. He finds one in the form of Mr. Mycroft. An interesting man, who seems to have quite a knowledge of investigation and also is a beekeeper. It is never revealed if this Mycroft is indeed Holmes' brother. From the extremely intelligent deductions and attention Mycroft pays to details, some have actually speculated that it is Holmes himself, using a different name to keep anonymity. Maybe he had moved to the country to escape the ruckus of an evergrowing modernized London. Who's to know, which only adds to the brilliance and mystery of the novel. To keep things simple, after a change of events, Mycroft and Silchester begin an investigation of Heregrove. Did he kill his wife? Is he trying to kill Silchester because he thinks he knows too much and is too suspicious? It's really almost too much to try to describe to you. You need to read it for yourself.
All I can say is, the novel is very intelligently written, as you would expect after reading the small bio on the author. His attention to detail is wonderfully done. It reminds me of Ian Fleming's descriptions of food and clothing in the James Bond novels. Every little detail and thought of the main character (this is written in first person from the point of view of Silchester) is delicately drawn out.
If you love love smart and well-written murder mysteries, my advice is to read this novel immediately. First published in 1941, it can definitely be regarded as a classic that many may have overlooked or never heard of. My advice is don't read the Foreword before you read the actual story. It had what I would call some spoilers that might prove more interesting reading in hindsight. If you have trouble finding it or can only locate it at an astronomical price through Amazon or E-bay, it is actually being re-published by Blue Dolphin Publishing later this year. You can go to www.geraldheard.com for more info on ordering and the author's other works.
Review from Better Holmes & Gardens
“I turned to see beside me a serene face, a sort of political Dante, if I may so put it and not seem high-brow. It was cold, perhaps; or maybe it would be juster to say it was super-cooled, cooled by thought until the moods and passions which in most of us are liquid or even gaseous had become set and solida face which might care little for public opinion but much for its opinion of itself” (14-5).
Nowadays, it seems as if new Sherlock Holmes pastiches are coming out consistently, if not constantly. The advent of e-books, and self-publishing, has certainly increased the amount of reading material on the market in general, not just in the mystery and Sherlock Holmes genres. With that said, however, it is sometimes easy to forget just how very far back the tradition reaches. According to Richard Lancelyn Green, in The Sherlock Holmes Letters, “The earliest pastiche is thought to be ‘My Evening with Sherlock Holmes,’ which appeared in the Speaker on 28 November 1891 and described a visit to Baker Street” (7). Issues with copyright and the appropriation of the character of Sherlock Holmes have further complicated matters over the years, forcing some authors into new and innovative methods of representing the Great Detective. H.F. Heard’s novel is a prime example of both an early Sherlock Holmes pastiche, and an inventive method of skirting around the character of Sherlock Holmes, without ever really addressing him directly.
H.F. Heard’s novel, A Taste for Honey, is the first in a trilogy of novels featuring a retired detective turned beekeeper, who goes by the name, “Mr. Mycroft.” Other novels in the trilogy include: Reply Paid and The Notched Hairpin. In 1955, A Taste for Honey was adapted into a made-for-television movie called The Sting of Death, which featured the iconic Boris Karloff in the role Mr. Mycroft. Heard’s novel runs in the same vein as Michael Chabon’s The Final Solution: A Story of Detection, in that the story never explicitly states or outright names the main detective character as Sherlock Holmes. In Chabon’s novel, he is referred to only as “the old man,” and in Heard’s book, he is “Mr. Mycroft” (a name, which he eventually reveals to the narrator, is only one of his many “family names”). But there are certainly enough clues in both stories for the reader to draw the intended conclusion, to find them at turns clever, touching, or even humorous.
A Taste for Honey is narrated by the exceedingly neurotic and mostly unlikeable Sydney Silchester, resident of the quiet village of Ashton Clearwater. He is remarkably particular in his ways, ill-tempered, and anti-social in a way that makes Sherlock Holmes look positively chummy in his interactions in the canon. As Silchester himself puts it, the whole mystery of the novel began: “…through my breaking my rulethe rule, as it happens, of all village life of the better-off, of ‘keeping myself to myself’” (6). But the narrator is also an incurable honey-addict, and his quest for his preferred sweet leads him directly into the path of the villainous Heregroves, then to Mr. Mycroft, and then, finally, into a swarm of feral honeybees. Silchester has no desire to ally himself with Mr. Mycroft (or with anyone, for that matter), but his survival depends upon finding a solution to the mystery of the murderous swarm, and the eccentric beekeeper is clearly his best chance at finding that answer. It is not possible, even for the briefest of moments, to confuse Sydney Silchester with Dr. Watson. The Doctor was constantly in awe of his friend; Silchester is, at best, confused and at worst, horrified by Mr. Mycroft. Mr. Mycroft, in turn, seems to spend a copious (and occasionally tedious) amount of time simply assuring his new companion of his competency.
On that front, the beekeeper’s efforts seem to be mostly in vain. At the end of the novel, when Mr. Mycroft reveals his “real” name (to which the reader is never privy) to Silchester, the man’s reaction is frankly underwhelming. He says: “'You see,' I said, ‘now that I do know your real name, I have to own I have never heard of you before.’ Then, I must own, he looked amazedperhaps the only time I had seen him profoundly surprised, and he turned away without a word” (141).
Mr. Mycroft is, naturally, the great mystery of Heard’s novel. While he is clearly intended to stand in the stead of Sherlock Holmes, and the similarities are obvious and numerous, the characters are not perfect parallels. Occasionally, there are aberrations in Mr. Mycroft’s character that seem possibly jarring and discordant to those who know the Great Detective well. For example, Mr. Mycroft demonstrates an appreciation for fine cuisine that seems better suited as a characteristic of another Holmes relation (comparisons further strengthened by the conspicuousness of the character name). According to Silchester, “The [food] was as good to my eye as to my ear and even better on the tongue. My host knew about food and wine. He talked both, well and fully, as if he wouldn’t touch on shop at mealtimes” (25). But Mr. Mycroft has endless wells of energy, a brain that turns endlessly, and a manner of interacting with people that seems equal turns calculating and charming. Andas the reader learnsMr. Mycroft has absolutely no problem with being both judge and jury when the situation sees fit, and the novel's climax rings familiar in a way that will probably bring to mind the concluding scene of "The Abbey Grange."
In his essay, “Who Is Mr. Mycroft?” John Roger Barrie discusses the various theories and possible identities of Mr. Mycroft, their pertinence to Heard’s novel, and applicability to Sherlock Holmes pastiches, in general:
“…by utilizing powers of deductive reasoning that would put Sherlock Holmes to shame, we are now able conclusively to state with absolute and unequivocal certainty the answer to our question, who is Mr. Mycroft. Add 1 ¾ cups Sherlock, a dash of Mycroft Holmes, 5 ounces of Heard, ½ cup archetypal investigator, 3 tablespoons quintessential justice seeker, and voila. The true identity of Mr. Mycroft is, and will forever remain…Mr. Mycroft.”
And that’s the crux of it, I thinkcan the reader find Sherlock Holmes in the weeds? Is he identifiable in the morass of original characters? Can he be found among features that seem incongruous or incompatible? H.F. Heard’s “Mr. Mycroft” is not a perfect parallel to the Sherlock Holmes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s source material, but he is recognizable in A Taste for Honey nonetheless; Sherlock Holmes is indeed detectable in his original shape. And when Mr. Mycroft speaks, the reader knows his voice, even if his profile no longer stands in sharp relief.
Interview from amicusproductions5.blogspot.com
We had the great pleasure to do an interview with John Roger Barrie, literary executor of H. F. Heard, whose 1941 novel A Taste for Honey was adapted into The Deadly Bees. Barrie runs the official Heard website at www.geraldheard.com.
AP: Have you seen The Deadly Bees on DVD?
JRB: Yes. Legend Films did a superb restoration job.
AP: The movie is based on the novel A Taste for Honey by H. F. Heard. I've read the book, which is a very smart, taut murder mystery.
JRB: A Taste for Honey sold more copies than any of Heard's 38 major books, about half a million, which was a huge amount for its day. Christopher Morley and Boris Karloff praised it, among others.
AP: I understand the book will soon be reissued.
JRB: We're aiming for this fall.
AP: The book's main character is Mr. Mycroft. Is he intended to be Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's brother?
JRB: That remains a mystery. Heard never said. By the same token, he never refuted those who claimed it was Sherlock.
AP: Didn't Heard write some other Mr. Mycroft novels?
JRB: There were two more, which we'll eventually be reissuing. Heard wrote other fiction as well. His collection of eight short stories The Great Fog was just reissued last June.
AP: The Mr. Mycroft character does not appear in The Deadly Bees.
JRB: We're careful to state that The Deadly Bees in very loosely adapted from A Taste for Honey. In many instances the setting, plot, and characters have been changed, so that the movie often bears little or no semblance to the book. Mycroft the investigator becomes Manfred the villain. The narrator Sydney Silchester morphs into Vicki Robbins. The rural countryside of Ashton Clearwater turns into Seagull Island. The wife and dog are stung to death onscreen, whereas in the book the wife's death is related after the fact, while the dog - a mastiff, not cuddly little Tess - succumbed to only one bee. And so forth.
AP: Do you think Amicus Productions massacred the novel?
JRB: I would say the novel inspired the movie. But the movie they made is a decidedly different from the book. Those who purchase the book should not expect to read about pop singer Vicki Robbins or Ralph Harvrove's favorite pub.
AP: In the June 2008 issue of Little Shoppe of Horrors, Philip Nutman's "The Uncensored History of Amicus Productions" reveals that the novel had been changed by Milton Subotsky of Amicus, then by Paramount, and then scripted by Robert Bloch. Then director Freddie Francis had a comedy writer rewrite Bloch's script.
JRB: Well, that pretty much explains why the movie is not a strict adaptation of the book.
AP: How did the production come about?
JRB: Amicus' Max Rosenberg first contacted the publisher of A Taste for Honey in May 1963 about obtaining motion-picture rights to the novel. Max stated that in about 1948 his partner Milton Subotsky had discussed with Heard the possibility of making a play from his novel. After all, Christopher Morley glowingly wrote in 1946, "A Taste for Honey is one of the greatest undramatized plays that has ever been written."
AP: And so negotiations proceeded smoothly?
JRB: The extensive correspondence over negotiations indicates a fairly smooth ride, punctuated with a few bumps in the road. In October 1965, Heard and Amicus reached an agreement. By February 7, 1966 the principal photography had been completed. By then it was titled The Deadly Bees. It's further documented that the picture went over budget due primarily to its being shot in Techniscope.
AP: What did Heard think of the movie?
JRB: Unfortunately Heard suffered a major, incapacitating stroke in October 1966 so, for better or for worse, he never saw the movie. For that matter, he never saw the February 22, 1955 ABC-TV adaptation of A Taste for Honey that was titled The Sting of Death, and which starred Boris Karloff.
AP: Many reviewers have trounced the film.
JRB: Not you. Not George Reis of DVD Drive-In. Sure, it has some hokey moments, and it's a bit slow at times. But for what it is - the first-ever killer bees flick - it's really not that bad. It's grossed $3M since its release in April 1967. It served as a platform for Ron Wood's first rock group.
I think that it was miscast in its genre. It's billed as a horror film, but it's not. If one views it as a mystery-suspense story set in a claustrophobic English hamlet, populated with characters who range from semi-neurotic to sociopathic, and featuring a few crazed bees, I think it holds its own.
AP: Anything you would like to say in closing?
JRB: When I spoke with Max in 2002, he referred to the book as "a splendid novel." He's right. I believe it's time to rethink the movie. As you write in your review, "I think that the film deserves another look."
Table of Contents
Foreword by Stacy Gillis, Ph.D.
1.The Solitary Fly
2.The New Beekeeper
3.Rolanding the Oliver
4.Fly to Spider
5.The Fly Is Missed
6.Fly Made to Introduce Wasp to Spider
8.Wasp Strikes Spider
9.Fly Breaks from Wasp
10.As We Were?
Afterword by John Roger Barrie
Publishing History of A Taste for Honey by H.F. Heard
About the Author
SOMEONE has said that the countryside is really as grim as any big city. Indeed, I read a novel not long ago that made out every village, however peaceful it looked, to be a little hell of all the seven deadly sins. I thought, myself, that this was rather nonsense - a "write-up" - devised by those authors who come to live out of town and, finding everything so dull, have to make out that there's no end of crime going on just behind every barn door and haystack. But in the last month or so, I'm bound to say I've had to change my mind. Perhaps I have been unfortunate. I don't know. I do know that many people would say that I had been fortunate in one thing: in meeting a very remarkable man. Though I can't help saying that I found him more than a little vain and fanciful and rather exhausting to be with, yet there is no doubt he is a sound fellow to have with one in a tight corner. Though, again, I must say that I think he is more to be valued then, than when things are normal and quiet. Indeed, as I shall show, I am not sure that he did not land me in one trouble in getting me out of another, and so, as I want to be quiet, I have felt compelled, perhaps a trifle discourteously, to refuse to go on with our acquaintanceship.
But I must also own that I did and do admire his skill, courage, and helpfulness. I needed such a striking exception to the ordinary (and very pleasant) indifference of most people, because of the quite unexpected and, I may say, horrible interest that one person suddenly chose to take in me. Yet, as I've said, perhaps I would never have known that I had become of such an awkward interest - the whole thing might have passed over without my ever having to be aware of my danger if this same well-meaning helper had not uncovered the pit past which I was unconcernedly strolling. And certainly the uncovering of it led me into great difficulties. I don't like being bothered. I like to think sufficiently well of my neighbors that I can feel sure they won't interfere with me, and I shan't have to do anything to them, and, perhaps I should add, for them. I must be frank, or putting all this down won't get me any further. I suppose - yes, there's no doubt - I came to live in the country because I wanted to be left alone, at peace. And now I have such a problem on my mind - on my conscience! Well, I must set it all down and then, maybe, it will look clearer. Perhaps I'll know what I ought to do. At the worst it can re-main as a record after me, to show how little I was really to blame, how, in fact, the whole thing was forced on me.
As I've said, I came to live in the country because I like quiet. I can always entertain myself. When you are as fortunately endowed as that, mentally, and your economic endowment allows you to collect round you the things you need to enjoy yourself - well, then, persons are rather a nuisance. The country is your place and No Callers the motto over your door. And I would have been in that happy condition today if I had stuck to my motto. I'm a Jack-of-all-trades, a playboy, if you will. I potter in the garden, though I really hardly know one end of a flower from the other; amuse myself at my carpenter's bench and lathe; repair my grandfather clock when it ails; but fall down rather badly when it comes to dealing with the spring mechanism of the gramophone. I'm no writer, though. I write a neat hand, as I hate slovenliness. But I like playing at making things, not trying to describe them, still less imagining what other people might be thinking and doing.
I have some nice books with good pictures in them. I'm a little interested in architecture, painting, and, indeed, all the arts, and with these fine modern volumes you needn't go traveling all over the place, getting museum feet, art-gallery headache, and sight-seeing indigestion. You can enjoy the reproductions quite as much as the originals when you consider what the originals cost, just to look at, in fatigue and expense. I like turning over the colored plates and photographs of my books in the evening, looking sometimes at a cathedral and then, with only the exertion of turning the page, at the masterpiece of painting which the cathedral contains, but which the photographer was allowed to see in a good light and the visitor is not, and then at an inscription which is quite out of eyeshot of the poor tourist peer he binocularly never so neck-breakingly.
I read a novel now and then, but it must be a nice, easy story with a happy ending. I never wanted to marry; and certainly what I have to tell should be a warning. But I like - or liked, perhaps I should say - to think of people getting on. It made me, I suppose, feel they wouldn't trouble me if they were happy with each other. I suppose I liked life at second hand - reflected, not too real. And certainly, now that it has looked straight at me, I can't say I wasn't right, though I may have been irresponsible.
Well, I mustn't waste more time on myself, though perhaps in a record like this there should be some sort of picture of the man who tells the story and how he came to have to tell it. My name - I believe they always start by asking that - is Sydney Silchester. My age doesn't matter - though I suppose they'd pull that out, if they were once on the track of all this; though what difference it makes whether I'm thirty or fifty I can't see. "Of years of discretion," is the description that occurs to me and seems apt. For certainly I am not of years of indiscretion - never, as it happens, was. "Old for his years," they used to say; and now, I believe, young. But am I any longer - "of years of discretion?" Certainly had I been discreet I would somehow not have become involved in all this! But my mind goes round and round like a pet rat in his whirligig. That's because I can't write and also because I am really considerably worried, shocked, and perhaps frightened. Getting it all down, I must repeat, will help. Get it down, then, I will, and no more blundering about as though I were trying to keep something back from someone.
As I've said, it all began through my breaking my rule - the rule, as it happens, of all village life of the better-off, of "keeping myself to myself." It was an accident, in a way, or rather two accidents coming on the top of each other. I'm fond of honey and one of the pleasant things about living in the country is that you can get the real stuff. But what was a little odd in my neighborhood, though I never thought about it, was that practically no one kept bees - said they couldn't make them thrive. Now I wish that I hadn't been so fond of it. Somehow I was too lazy or too busy with other things to try beekeeping myself. That was certainly fortunate. Bees always seemed to me troublesome insects - but how troublesome I never suspected.
I'd found, however, that there was one place where bees were kept and honey for sale, a house toward the end of the village. I found it because it lay on the way to the open country and you needn't go through the main street and run the risk of being stopped and being compulsorily gossiped. I never set out to be a recluse - only just didn't want friends, hadn't time for them. The couple who lived up there seemed quite as uninclined to make a small business transaction into a bridgehead for talk leading to a call. That seemed to me to be a distinct additional find. They were a Mr. and Mrs. Heregrove. When I called for my monthly supply, sometimes I saw one, sometimes the other. It wasn't a very small place, but they, too, never seemed to entertain. For all I know, they ran the house, gardens, and paddock themselves. They may have had a servant the first few times I called. Certainly I never saw anyone but themselves about the place later. If I had wanted to make friends they were hardly the people I would have chosen. I hate untidiness.
I saw Mrs. Heregrove first - or, to be quite exact, heard her before I saw either her or her husband. She had an unpleasantly penetrating voice and she was using it with such effect that she herself was evidently quite unable to hear the rusty doorbell I was ringing. Eavesdropping has never appealed to me. Other people's affairs always appear quite dull enough when one has to be told them and is expected to sympathize. I keep what little patience I have for such occasions. So when for the third time the unpleasant voice had asked of what was clearly a tense and provocative silence, What he meant to do about it and whether he was going to live on her money until they both starved, as the question was certainly not for me to answer or to hear, I rapped sharply with my stick on the door. That brought immediate silence, and a few seconds later the voice's face was before me. They matched....
Blue Dolphin Publishing, 2009
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