This, too, proved elusive: No sooner had he begun reading than his eyelids closed and his chin gradually sagged toward his chest. Then sleeping, he wouldn't feel the letter slide through his fingers, or hear the faint choking emanating from his throat. And upon waking, he wouldn't recall the field of marigolds where he had stood, nor would he remember the dream which had placed him there again. Instead, startled to find Roger suddenly leaning over him, he would clear his throat and stare at the boy's vexed face and rasp with uncertainty, "Was I asleep?"
The boy nodded.
"I seeI see"
"Your supper will be served soon."
"Yes, my supper will be served soon," he muttered, readying his canes.
As before, Roger gingerly assisted Holmes, helping him from the chair, sticking close to him when they exited the study; the boy traveled with him along the corridor, then down the stairs, then into the dining room, where, at last slipping past Roger's light grasp, he went forward on his own, moving toward the large Victorian golden oak table and the single place setting that Mrs. Munro had laid for him.
"After I'm finished here," Holmes said, addressing the boy without turning, "I would very much like to discuss the business of the apiary with you. I wish for you to relate all which has transpired there in my absence. I trust you can offer a detailed and accurate report."
"I believe so," the boy responded, watching from the doorway as Holmes propped his canes against the table before seating himself.
"Very well, then," Holmes finally said, staring across the room to where Roger stood. "Let us reconvene at the library in an hour's time, shall we? Providing, of course, that your mother's shepherd's pie doesn't finish me off."
Holmes reached for the folded napkin, shaking it open and tucking a corner underneath his collar. Sitting upright in the chair, he took a moment to align the flatware, arranging it neatly. Then he sighed through his nostrils, resting his hands evenly on either side of the empty plate: "Where is that woman?"
"I'm coming," Mrs. Munro suddenly called. She promptly appeared behind Roger, holding a dinner tray that steamed with her cooking. "Move aside, son," she told the boy. "You're not helping nobody like that."
"Sorry," Roger said, shifting his slender body so that she could gain entrance. And once his mother had rushed by, hurrying to the table, he slowly took a step backwardand another, and anotheruntil he had removed himself from the dining room. However, there would be no more loitering about on his part; otherwise, he knew, his mother might send him home or, at the very least, order him into the kitchen for cleanup duty. Avoiding that eventuality, he made his escape quietly enough, doing so while she served Holmes, stealing away before she could leave the dining room and summon him by name.
But the boy didn't head outside, fleeing toward the beeyard like his mother might expectnor did he go inside the library and prepare for Holmes's questions concerning the apiary. Instead, he crept back upstairs, entering that one room in which only Holmes was allowed to sequester himself: the attic study. In truth, during the weeks that Holmes was traveling abroad, Roger had spent long hours exploring the studyinitially taking various old books, dusty monographs, and scientific journals off the shelves, perusing them as he sat at the desk. When his curiosity had been satisfied, he had carefully placed them again on the shelves, making sure they looked untouched. On occasion, he had even pretended that he was Holmes, reclining in the desk chair with his fingertips pressed together, gazing at the window, and inhaling imaginary smoke.
Excerpted from A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin Copyright © 2005 by Mitch Cullin. Excerpted by permission of Nan A. Talese, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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