IT was pleasant to Dr Watson to find himself once more in the untidy room of the first floor in Baker Street which had been the starting-point of so many remarkable adventures. He looked round him at the scientific charts upon the wall, the acid-charred bench of chemicals, the violin-case leaning in the corner, the coal-scuttle, which contained of old the pipes and tobacco. Finally, his eyes came round to the fresh and smiling face of Billy* the young but very wise and tactful page, who had helped a little to fill up the gap of loneliness and isolation which surrounded the saturnine* figure of the great detective.
'It all seems very unchanged, Billy. You don't change, either. I hope the same can be said of him?'*
Billy glanced, with some solicitude, at the closed door of the bedroom.
'I think he's in bed and asleep,' he said.
It was seven in the evening of a lovely summer's day, but Dr Watson was sufficiently familiar with the irregularity of his old friend's hours to feel no surprise at the idea.
'That means a case, I suppose?'
'Yes, sir; he is very hard at it just now. I'm frightened for his health. He gets paler and thinner, and he eats nothing. "When will you be pleased to dine, Mr Holmes?" Mrs Hudson asked. "Seven-thirty, the day after tomorrow," said he. You know his way when he is keen on a case.'
'Yes, Billy, I know.'
'He's following someone. Yesterday he was out as a workman looking for a job. To-day he was an old woman. Fairly took me in, he did, and I ought to know his ways by now.' Billy pointed with a grin to a very baggy parasol which leaned against the sofa. 'That's part of the old woman's outfit,' he said.
'But what is it all about, Billy?'