"Have I taken you to see the chalk scarps yet, Watson? Well, that shall be to-day's destination then."
We set out north from his little villa, skirting a sheep pasture and walking beneath clumps of trees. It was a rare sunny day and we were both in high spirits.
"Watson, do you know much about atoms?"
"That's what you were reading about this morning, eh? Well I'm not an expert, but I know of John Dalton's theories, and Rutherford's experiment of course. Why does it fascinate you?"
He gave me a gleeful look, like a child handed a new toy. "With the knowledge being discovered, more precise experiments will be possible—things I could never have dreamed of. Even the way we can think of atoms. For example, moles."
"No, no, Watson, not like that—a mole is a number, in terms of chemistry. A very large one too. You're familiar with scientific notation?"
"Yes, of course."
"Well a mole is 6.022, multiplied by ten to the power of twenty-three."
"Good heavens, that's enormous!"
"Not when talking about atoms, Watson." He put his hands together and looked down reverently. "Who knows but that a million trillion oxygen atoms are dancing in my palms this very minute!" He flung his hands to the sky, releasing the minutiae treasures.
"It is astounding, Holmes…"
"And only the start!" He interrupted eagerly. "The number of a mole is the same as the number of atoms, in twelve grams of a certain type of carbon."
"Yes, and when you chalk up the fraction--mole over grams--you can plainly see the relationship of grams to atoms. This is the key to measuring and counting atoms, as if they were simply fruit at a market." He finished in a rush and looked to me, all aglow.
"Is it not magnificent? The very grass we walk on, the trees we touch, just like--this--they're all made of atoms that can now be measured and calculated. Look around you, Watson--just look! Any object we see on this very slope--it's almost like being in a market, ordering this much of a stone wedge, that many grass loaves--the world is opened to us as never before. Surely you see it!" Flushed and panting, he again whirled on me like a hound one leap behind its prey--only the hound was growing a bit desperate.
"Could you...go back to the fraction bit?" I asked timidly.
"It's so simple, Watson, childrens' arithmetic. I'm sure you'll grasp it in a moment. Say you have 2 kilometers and you need it in centimeters. What do you do but chalk up 2 kilometers over one, multiplied by one thousand meters over a kilometer, finally multiplied by one hundred centimeters over a meter. Everything cancels but the centimeter, of course, and your conversion is done. Simple, eh?"
"Yes," I said in relief. "But what has that to do with moles?"
After gritting his teeth a bit, he began in his masterful way to explain to me again, point by point, citing numerous studies and statistics as if he could somehow convince my brain to believe by the sheer authority of his words. I honestly tried, but his brain was too far ahead of mine, and I could not grasp it.
We got nowhere except into foul tempers.
He began walking rapidly and I was too cross to ask him to slow down, so for a stretch I trailed behind. I caught up when he came to a steeper point of the scarp; there we paused and looked down at the grasses waving gently in the wind, sweeping down until—a glint of sea below. Holmes rested his chin atop his hands on his walking stick.
We had been standing this way for some time in the salty breeze before I spoke.
"Don't be gloomy, Holmes. I'm sure it's amazing, it's only--it's too difficult for me."
He sighed deeply, coming to life from his stiff pose. "When one's forced to hoard a treasure, Watson, the glint of gold becomes sickening."
His grey eyes looked to the end of the world.
I watched a butterfly alight on my sleeve, turn about once on its jointed gangly legs and take off again, with a flash of powdery dust and origami wings. "Holmes—everything around us right now--you find it amazing and complex, don't you?"
"Yes," he said after a moment.
"As do I, only...in my own way."
We listened to the distant spray of the ocean.
I came to stand beside him.
"Do you see that, over there, a stone's throw—looks to be a rabbit run. I don't usually see much of rabbits, in this area."
"Perhaps we should take a closer look?"
He took my arm, and we walked nearer to investigate.
The tiny flowers in the grass peeped shyly at Holmes' shoes, but he was unaware; the wind brushed the nape of my neck, yet I could not tell how many particles there were. Still we both felt the warmth of the sun, and the wind and laughter showed no discrimination when stealing our breath as we talked through the afternoon.
And who is to say we were thinking the same things?