The Adventure of Silver Blaze, or “I’ll Take That Bet”

Full disclosure: I’m writing this while watching a “Firefly” marathon inspired by nothing more than it being too long since I’ve last had one and it showing up in my recommended list on Hulu (it’s already in my queue on Netflix, of course, and the DVDs are just across the room from me.  We’ll leave the digital copies in my iTunes out of this).  I apologize now if a “shiny” or two shows up along the way because of that.  I’ll try to restrain myself.

Victorians kind of lacked a bit in terms of exciting modes of entertainment.  They didn’t get recorded music, by way of wax discs, until the 1890s.  Mostly they got by on books, museums, the theater, sports, concerts, dinner parties, hunting, and the occasional oddity that came to town or opened up shop.  (Competitive walking, known as “pedestrianism” was also a thing, by the way.)  Of course, there were your less virtuous varieties of time-passing too, same ones that exist today.  Prostitution was a thriving business, after all; alcohol was a free-flowing thing, despite the Temperance movement; and narcotics were considered medical miracles (potentially with the exception of opium, as opium dens were looked down upon more than a bit).  Then, on top of all those, there’s the other favorite Victorian vice – gambling.

Some quick history

Horseracing was probably the most respectable of the gambling institutions of the time, enjoyed by and bet upon by members of all the various classes.  The “season” for racing ran the summer months and involved races with fancy-sounding names like “The Derby,” “The Ascot,” and “Goodwood,” all three of which still exist as part of Britain’s racing season today.  Men and women put on their Sunday best to come out and watch the collected horses and their jockeys speed around an oval track and try to cross the finish line ahead of the rest of the pack. Envision the race scene from “My Fair Lady” and you’ll have a good visual cue to go by.  It wasn’t just about the betting or the winning; it was a social event, vice mixed neatly and acceptably with the equivalent of a garden party.

Other forms of gambling existed too, of course.  Gaming houses, some of them within the gentleman’s clubs, some setup in private homes or other buildings, ran games that likely looked a lot like the casino table games that exist now.  Private parties also hosted a variety of opportunities for anteing up.  Families played penny hands of Whist or Cribbage or Loo, then the men of the house would go out and up the stakes at less friendly tables.  Poker hit Britain in the 1870s.  Queen Victoria showed interest in the game, which inspired the first publication specifically about poker to be written in order to provide her the rules of the game; it didn’t gain widespread popularity there until around World War I, influenced by American troops.  The predecessor of Craps, known as Hazard, was a highly popular dice game in gambling “hells” – less posh than gambling houses, more likely to be rife with criminals and the lower classes.  They were called hells for a reason, after all.

It wasn’t just the poor that lost their shirts.  Whether it be in upscale halls, private games, or seedy hells, gambling ran rampant among the upper classes and cost more than one respectable gentleman his estate or his reputation.  Even the Royal family had their gaming scandal, called the Tranby Croft Affair, that involved baccarat, Prince Albert, and an accusation of cheating.

Back to Holmes

“The Adventure of Silver Blaze” is a story about the disappearance of a race horse and the mysterious death of its trainer just before the Wessex Cup.  Blaze is the favorite to win this year’s Cup, in fact, before he disappeared.  That there are just as many people who would profit from his not running as would if he did is obvious, which means there are more than a few suspects to choose from.  Holmes is only on the scene a few hours before he has most of the sordid tale figured out – cracked via a cataract knife, a handful of bills in someone else’s name, a few horseshoe prints in the mud and “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

If that last one sounds weird, it just eludes to the fact that the dog didn’t bark at the person who took the horse out of the stall, which is a highly important detail to Holmes’ deduction.  When wouldn’t a dog bark at a horse thief?  Why, if the dog knew the thief, of course.  How can a murder be committed without an actual murderer?  Eh, for that one, you probably need to read the story.  It’s an interesting twist, though.  Let’s just say, Silver Blaze gets to run in the Wessex, and Holmes gets to show off in front of the uninitiated again while also frustrating the hell out of them.  Because that’s what Holmes does.

There seems to be some speculation among fans and scholars that Watson had a bit of a gambling problem of his own, of the “lost the rent on more than occasion” level.  It seems to stem from good old Mr. Baring-Gould, who speculated that the doctor must be a gambler because Holmes keeps Watson’s checkbook in a locked drawer of his desk, per a reference in “The Adventure of the Dancing Men.”  The same story would maybe infer his game of choice is billiards, by the way, since the two references – to billiards and Watson’s hidden checkbook – appear in relation to each other.

There’s no other mention of Watson and gambling in the canon to provide any sort of support to Baring-Gould’s conclusion, but it’s a flaw in Watson’s character that gets mentioned as fact often enough.  Jude Law’s Watson in Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes” and its sequel is a confirmed gambler.  Holmes makes sure to illuminate that particular flaw on numerous occasions in the course of the films, using it to demonstrate the doctor’s unfitness for matrimony, in fact.

None of us can know for sure, unless someone has their hands on notes to the contrary, whether Doyle intended Watson to be a gambler.  He doesn’t state it plainly anywhere, nor does he explain exactly why Holmes keeps Watson’s checkbook in a drawer to which only he has the key.  So we only have conjecture to base any discussion of Watson’s gambling on.  If it’s true, it does even out the vices between the two, though: Holmes has his cocaine (and morphine, though we only have one reference to that as well), and Watson, possibly, has his gambling.  What we do know, though, is that it’s Holmes, not Watson, that places a bet on the second race at Wessex during “Silver Blaze.”  Whether that means anything in the grand scheme of the debate or not I can’t say.    I kind of like a character with a few flaws.  Even heroes aren’t perfect.

Four Cures for Boredom

(Author’s Note: This was written over the course of several days and under the influence of cold meds.  That may account for any oddities in the text.  Any oddities beyond the usual, that is.  

Also, this video is directly related to part of the payoff in the last bit.  That, and the inclusion of the following bit of dialogue provided by Dr. Watson in next-to-last chapter of The Sign of the Four:

“Thank God,” I ejaculated from my very heart.

Yes, I admit it, I am occasionally as mature as a twelve-year-old.

Now, onto the story.)


It starts with a tin of lozenges bought at the chemists on a whim after a succession of long, dull days.  The city lingers in a seemingly endless, crime-free state that has left me incurably bored and those around me surly in response.  By the time the lozenges are purchased, I have exhausted all other standard forms of engagement: puzzles have been meticulously pieced together, books have been read, entire symphonies’ worth of violin music have been played in the sitting room.  Anne made the mistake of attempting another cooking lesson at my lowest point; it cost her a perfectly good roast and a set of curtains.  I’m still unsure how exactly the fire started.

Artificial means of stimulation are now required.

I add the tin to an order that otherwise consists of Anne’s headache powder and a load of gauze and tincture of iodine for Watson’s practice.  Mr. Peters, the chemist, gives me a sympathetic look when he picks up the tin to add it to the parcel.  “Who has the toothache, Miss Charlotte?” he asks.

“Small bit of one flaring up,” I say, touching the side of my jaw.  It seems odd to tell the man who has overseen the necessities of my various illnesses since childhood that I’m only interested in the purchase for experimental purposes.  Too much explanation involved.

“If it’s not improving after a few days of this, I suggest a trip to see Dr. Taylor to have it addressed.”  There’s a pause as he does the sums; it takes as long as it does because, I’m sure, he gives Anne a small discount out of fondness.  A fondness Anne’s never returned, to my knowledge.

“I will.”  I smile and pay the man.  “Thank you, Mr. Peters.”

“Give your aunt my regards.”

I wait until Watson is busy with patients and Anne is situated in the kitchen to begin my experimentation.  The lozenges themselves taste horrid, too much sugar thrown into the mix in an attempt to make something unpalatable the opposite.  Some things no amount of sugar can help.  They leave a spot on my tongue where they rest to dissolve that feels numb and dull even after they’re gone.

It takes time for the effect of the cocaine to settle in.  When it arrives, it is a warm spark in my brain, a strange, restless clarity, a fizzle of excitement much like what comes with a new case or an especially twisted puzzle.  My heart beats faster against my chest in a way it rarely does without the direct influence of a certain former Army surgeon.  The restlessness forces me to move, to busy myself, to do something with the energy sizzling through me.  I am halfway through organizing a stack of unfiled clippings when the effect begins to fade.

My tongue, however, is still numb.


My next visit to Mr. Peters involves the purchase of Elixir Mariani, a French restorative tonic quite popular with the Queen, amongst others, and sold as a fixative for a variety of illnesses.  The list on the advertisement doesn’t leave out a single malady known to afflict the common Londoner.  It’s the ingredients – or one ingredient in particular – that drew my attention.  As I read the list of health benefits scrawled on the label, I find myself skeptical.

“But how does it taste?” I ask Mr. Peters as I place the bottle on the counter.

“Haven’t tried it myself.  Heard it’s a quality concoction, though.”  He places the bottle carefully inside the bag beside the smaller ones of medicines Watson requested this morning.  “How’s the toothache?”

“Better,” I say.  “Passing thing.  No need for a visit to Dr. Taylor.”

“Good, good.”  He looks up from his ledger.  “Your aunt’s still well?”

“Oh, yes.  She’s fine.”  I pick up the bag.  “Dr. Watson’s curious to see if this Mariani fellow’s on to something with his tonic.”

“If Dr. Watson finds the elixir to be useful for his patients, tell him I wouldn’t mind him directing them my way to purchase it.”

“Of course.”

The elixir goes down roughly.  The flavor is off-putting to me, though not as bad as the lozenges had been.  My tongue tingles but doesn’t go numb.  My whole mouth tingles, in fact, a sensation that is not altogether unpleasant, though odd.  As with the lozenges, the effect comes on with some delay, but a shorter one and stronger when it comes.  The energy arrives with a delightful rush.  I finish a monograph on the differing qualities in soil varieties before it fades, leaving me fatigued and irritable at the monotony of the world once more.

Further research may be required.


Two months have passed without a single case of interest when I discover the efficiency of intravenous cocaine.  Mr. Peters isn’t at the counter the day I purchase the syringe and vials of cocaine suspension and saline solution.  Tommy, his apprentice, rings me up without conversation or question.  Tommy knows a doctor shares the rooms at Anne’s brownstone and finds nothing odd about my purchase.

I start with a ten percent solution, but discover it to be too strong a mixture for my purposes.  It leaves me nervous and unsettled, two things not easily hidden from the others, despite my best efforts.

“You’re more skittish than a cat with his tail afire,” Anne says as I pace the sitting room from end to end.  “Is everything all right?”

“I had more than my fair share of your coffee this morning, I think.  You brew it to melt paint off the walls.”  I smile at her, though I’m aware on some level that it is a less than reassuring expression, combined with my other state.

Watson eyes me in that curious and skeptical way I sometimes find him doing while staring at his patients’ notes, particularly the ones who like to lie about following his instructions.  He makes it to my position in three strides and has his palm to my forehead before I can stop him.  “You feel a bit warm.  Are you sure you’re not feeling ill?”

I swat his hand away and scoff.  “I’m fine.  Stop fussing.”

He returns to his notes reluctantly, eyeing me now and again for the rest of the morning with skeptical concern.

A seven percent mixture, however, provides just the desired effect, and quicker than the previous methods.  There is a lovely moment of release when the plunger is fully depressed and the full dose is administered.  Once it passes, the familiar burn follows.  I feel my mind slip into that bold clearness that only otherwise comes with a question to answer or a problem to solve.  The heavy dullness of complacent reality fades away.  My thoughts race as quickly and steadily as my heart beat, which quickens without pounding.  I smile as the sensation spreads through me.

I am so caught up in this feeling that I don’t notice the door open or a set of curious eyes spying on it all.


The problem with the use of cocaine is the havoc it plays on my sleep after.  I lay in bed for over an hour, staring at the ceiling overhead and wishing for sleep that is more than a bit elusive.  When it threatens to reach hour two, I throw off the covers and grab my robe, knotting it with a frustrated tug as I stumble out into the sitting room.  I expect to find the room dark; Watson sits at the dining table instead, a single lamp burning in the center of it.  He appears hunched over the morning paper, the same posture as seen many a breakfast, though there is a tension in his shoulders that The Times rarely inspires.

“Something in the news troubling you now that didn’t earlier?”

Watson shakes his head without looking away from the paper.  “I’m occupying myself with the daily word puzzles.  Anagrams seem a fitting way to lull myself to sleep.”

“Which has you flummoxed then, doctor?”

“The phrase is ‘a dual eject.’  The clue is ‘excited reply.’”

I think for a moment, then grin.  He misses the expression. “I didn’t think insomnia was infectious,” I say as I take up a spot next to his chair.

“It’s not.  Though, I’m sure our mutual sleeplessness shares a cause.”  He lifts his head just enough to look at me down the slope of his nose.  More specifically, his gaze focuses on the bend of my left arm.

“You saw me.”

“I did.”

“And you disapprove.”

“I do.”  He drops his gaze back to the newspaper.  “Just because the rest of my profession sees no danger in it doesn’t mean I have to agree.”

“It puts a clearer spin on the monotony,” I say.  He huffs.  “The slow, uneventful drudgery of normal existence is nearly torture for me, Watson, something you well know.  This…this at least makes it somewhat palatable.  This…”

Perhaps it’s exhaustion that keeps me from reading his intention in the tensing of his muscles or the shift of his weight; Watson would blame it on the narcotic, of course.  Before I notice he’s moving, he twists in his chair and pulls me into his lap.  A hand cups my chin and drags me into a kiss that burns hotter than any drug ever could.  The thrill racing up my nerves and sizzling through my veins knows no match.  Every kiss is more thrilling than the last, as if they all build to some grand, tumultuous inevitability and this kiss feels closer to the precipice than the others.  My heart is racing.  The cocaine has nothing to do with it and I wonder, briefly, how I thought anything would be a fair substitution to this.

The kiss breaks.  Watson’s lips drag their way to my ear.  “If you’re in need of a distraction, I think I can offer a better one.  If the lady doesn’t object.”

I manage little more than a breathy “Yes, please.”  One of his arms tightens around my waist.  The other slips beneath my knees.  He stands with a determined steadiness, but pauses once he’s fully on his feet and I’m cradled effortlessly in his arms.

“Are you sure?”  He’s breathless, too, but there’s concern in his darkened eyes.

I smile and pet his jaw with a remarkably steady hand.  “So noble, my dear doctor.  Even when you don’t need to be.”  I steal a kiss of my own, intent on leaving him as addled as his left me.  “Yes.  Please.”

Watson wastes no time making it across the room; I waste no time opening the door between increasingly desperate kisses.  I grin when I remember what had me near chuckling a moment earlier, pulling back to look up at him.

“Ejaculated,” I say, causing his confused blinking.


“’A dual eject.  An excited reply.’  Ejaculated.”

Watson tosses his head back in a deep, chest-rumbling laugh, then nudges the door shut with a kick.

Sleep will have to wait.

The Sign of the Four, or “Drugs and the Victorian Detective”

So, this post was supposed to go up Monday evening, but it got slightly delayed by nine episodes of The Walking Dead which apparently needed to be watched after I got home from work.  Blame my sister; she’s the one who finally wore me down and got me to watch the show.

Sunday was Sir Arthur’s 157th birthday.  If I were a better organized person, I would have had this post up then.  Instead, I celebrated by attending Planet Comicon in Kansas City this weekend, reading this week’s story during the drive back and forth with Lisa of The Prolific Trek and while standing in one line or another.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot Holmesian about the con to really make it relevant here, but I can squeeze it to fit enough for one quick mention.  How?  Well…


Jenna Coleman, Planet Comicon panel 2016.  A very Charlotte look, I think.  Can see the mischievous wheels turning.

Yes, the living embodiment of Charlotte, Jenna Coleman, was in attendance, and she was very nice and put on a great (if shortened) panel.  I also may have reconsidered my view on Book One’s villain thanks to that con, and not even because of the “What Makes a Good Villain” panel I attended.  Let’s just say, I’m reconsidering my casting and a few small details about him and his backstory.

The Sign of the Four

I thought I knew what I was going to write about when I got to the second of Doyle’s Holmes novels.  It’s probably the book I’ve spent the most time with.  I mentioned in an earlier post that it’s my favorite.  I’ve listened to the audiobook version at least a dozen times and read it more frequently than any of the others.  While I haven’t always been a big fan of Mary Morstan (excepting the BBC “Sherlock” version, who was awesome from day one), I do enjoy Watson fumbling through the romance. He’s adorable in his insecurity and we get to see all of it play out from his perspective.

I planned to write about that romance and how Watson’s marriage changed the dynamic of the Holmes and Watson partnership when I got here; I also planned on the accompanying story focusing on the introduction of Miss Morstan into Charlotte and Watson’s lives and how that affects all aspects of it.  The problem is, now that I’m here, I’m not ready.  See, I already know how this is going to go, and I’m not prepared to dive into it yet.

Mary’s an interesting character, not so much because of what Doyle put into her, but the public reception to her, moreso in the adaptions than the books.  Not a lot of people are ambivalent about her presence – she’s loved or hated without much shade of gray, and the reasons vary.  (At least with BBC’s “Sherlock” some of the irritation has to do with Mary getting in the way of John and Sherlock’s “true love.”)  But Mary isn’t the only polarizing aspect of canon we’re introduced to in Sign of the Four.  Some would call Holmes’ use of narcotics in the canon merely recreational, or would point to the acceptability of cocaine and morphine at the time the stories were written.  Others apply a fairly weighted term to our beloved detective based on his behavior.

That term is addict.

Which is it Today? Morphine or Cocaine?

The second novel in the Sherlock Holmes canon starts off with Holmes prepping a syringe and then giving himself an injection.  Watson then tells us that this has been a three-times-a-day habit for months.  Many months, in fact.  The good doctor, contrary to his contemporaries, objects to his friend’s habits – Watson’s belief in the ill effects of cocaine flew in the face of medical opinions of the era, including that of Sigmund Freud, who saw no detriment in the use of narcotics.  But Watson’s objections don’t stop Holmes from indulging; in fact, he dismisses the concerns by telling Watson “I find it, however, so transcendently stimulating and clarifying to the mind that its secondary action is a matter of small moment.”

If that doesn’t sound enough like an addict’s rationalization, look at this iconic bit of dialogue from the same conversation:

“My mind,” he said, “rebels at stagnation.  Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram, or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere.  I can dispense then with artificial stimulants.  But I abhor the dull routine of existence.  I crave for the mental exaltation.”

It takes a missing captain, mysterious packages, a damsel in distress, a murder, a missing treasure, a native savage (let’s just not touch that right now), and a high-speed boat chase through the Thames to provide Holmes enough stimulation to keep him from the contents of his morroco case.  That’s an awful lot of distraction necessary to keep someone sober.

There are other instances of Holmes’ use or familiarity with drugs.  In “The Man With The Twisted Lip,” Watson accidentally stumbles upon Holmes undercover in an opium den, a type of location he seems a little too familiar with.  In “Scandal in Bohemia,” Watson describes Holmes’ life on Baker Street without him as “buried among his old books, and alternating from week to week between cocaine and ambition, the drowsiness of the drug, and the fierce energy of his own keen nature.”  We also know that Watson helped Holmes kick the habit sometime before “The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarters” because he tells us as much:

For years I had gradually weaned him from that drug mania which had threatened once to check his remarkable career. Now I knew that under ordinary conditions he no longer craved for this artificial stimulus, but I was well aware that the fiend was not dead but sleeping, and I have known that the sleep was a light one and the waking near when in periods of idleness…

Dithering Over Definitions

So why do people complain so loudly that “Elementary,” “Sherlock,” and even the Guy Ritchie “Sherlock Holmes” movies don’t shy away from calling an addict an addict?  I’ve heard and read people who like to wave the canon around and swear Doyle never wrote Holmes that way.  Or they’ll point to the era and the legality of the substances in question as if that made it impossible for someone to be addicted to them.  Or they’ll trot out definitions of addiction and then go to great lengths to show how Holmes doesn’t meet them.  I work in behavioral health, so let me spare you the dictionary definitions and tell you how American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction:

Addiction is a primary, chronic, neurobiologic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. Addiction is characterized by behaviors that include one or more of the following:

  • Impaired control over drug use
  • Compulsive use
  • Continued use despite harm
  • Cravings

So let’s look at this.  Addiction is marked by the presence of impaired control over a substance, compulsive use of it, continuing to use it despite ill effects, and a craving for the substance.  I’m pretty sure that using something three times a day, for MONTHS, despite your best friend the doctor telling you it’s probably not good for you, and being compelled to use it because you’re bored, probably fits, whether there’s marked impairment during use or not.  That isn’t recreational.  That’s a crutch.  That’s physical or mental dependence.  That is the working definition of addiction.

Maybe the most telling note, for me, is Holmes’ own parting line at the end of Sign: after Watson informs Holmes that he and Mary are engaged and they have discussed the conclusion of the case, Watson muses about the fact he got a wife out of the deal and Inspector Athelney Jones gets the credit.  He asks, very simply, what Holmes gets out of the equation.  Holmes answers:

“For me,” said Sherlock Holmes, “there still remains the cocaine-bottle.”  And he stretched his long white hand up for it.

That isn’t someone reaching for a little mental stimulation.  That’s an addict reaching for a fix.

The Holmes Interpreter

The invitation arrives by the morning post and finds Watson alone and, unusual for him, bored.  Holmes and Mrs. Hudson are gone when it comes; the elder having requested the younger’s company on the day’s errands.  The motivation behind the invitation appeared obvious – separate the two potential troublemakers when the chaperone is unavailable.  Charlotte agreed to go without incident and Watson had initially looked forward to a bit of time to himself.  He hasn’t a single patient on his itinerary and any number of journal articles he should read and patient notes he should transcribe and having the whole house to himself for the duration of the morning seems the perfect opportunity to achieve those goals.  Once the silence truly settles in, however, he finds it more unnerving than inspiring.

Watson is sure he’s never been completely alone in 221B since moving in.  It’s an odd feeling, the usually chaotic house so quiet and still.  The ticking of the clock on the mantle or the occasional creak or crack of the old brownstone settling might break the hush but even that is calm compared to the usual clatter of the place.  He’s used to hearing Mrs. Hudson bustling about in her spaces below, or Holmes puttering about with her experiments or her violin or her rambling (mostly to herself, occasionally to him) in the sitting room.  The absence of that familiar noise and chaos is a surprising paralytic; the leaden weight of it perches on Watson’s shoulders and presses him deeper into the couch cushions and his boredom as the silence stretches on.  So, it’s a relief when he hears the peal of the doorbell; the sound is all it takes to shake off the dust and drive him down the stairs in desperate relief.

He tips the messenger better than the young man expects; for a moment, he stands staring at the coins in his hand as if waiting for Watson to realize his mistake and correct it.  Watson pats him on the shoulder instead and sends him on his way.  The boy has no way of knowing he’s spared the doctor from death by ennui.  Once shuttered behind the door again, he examines the envelope that is his salvation.  Holmes would likely glean no end of information from the choice of stationary, the penmanship, and the ink selection.  All he takes away from a cursory glance is that the writer has access to fine paper products, that he favors a heavy hand with his pen, and is likely left-handed.  The latter he bases on Holmes’ instructions on the topic of letter angling, the others on the depth of the pen strokes and the weight of the paper.  Gender is only made clear by the letter itself (his mind tends to wander when Holmes gets started on things like the handwriting styles of men versus women), which confirms all the other deductions as well.

Doctor –

Please join me for lunch at the Diogenes Club this afternoon.  It isn’t an urgent matter, though your company is most necessary.  I will send a driver to ensure your prompt arrival.  Please be ready at half past eleven.  I will leave word with the front desk to expect you.

– M. Holmes

“I wonder what the devil this is about?” Watson mutters aloud, re-reading the missive.  He can count on one hand, with fingers to spare, the number of times he’s shared more than a passing word with the eldest Holmes sibling outside the presence of his aunt and sister.  Mycroft is of the intellectual sort and, like Holmes, is hardly ever drawn in by discussions of things like sport or hunting or other matters Watson tends to associate with conversations among men of certain age and status.  They have very little in common, in fact, except for Charlotte, which makes the purpose of the invitation clear.



The Diogenes Club is one of many such establishments situated along St. James in Pall Mall.  While it looks no different than the rest, it serves a segment of the club-going men of London that are disinterested in most of the benefits such institutions typically provide.  These are men who prefer their own company, but wish to enjoy it in a certain degree of comfort and richly appointed rooms with the presence of like-minded individuals nearby.  And, additionally, in absolute silence.  Speaking is prohibited and three violations of this rule can lead to a member’s excommunication.  The only exception to this rule is the Stranger’s Room, where conversation and guests are allowed.  There is nothing social about this gentleman’s club, and that does little to decrease its membership.

Per Mycroft’s instructions, the driver offers to escort Watson inside.  The doctor declines the offer; while he has never visited the club before, he has been warned about its peculiarities in advance.  Holmes spends an inordinate amount of time railing against the club and the excuse it gives her brother to embrace his tendency toward laziness.  Watson rarely reminds her of her own somnambulant moments; while she abhors boredom and tends towards unspecific mischief when it settles in, she spends great periods of time in idle consumption of scandalous periodicals or traversing the landscape of her own mind for long, indolent stretches.  The only differences between the siblings on the topic of inactivity are their individual tolerances for ennui and how they choose to alleviate it.

The gentleman at the front desk greets Watson with a brief wave and a gesture Watson knows is intended to represent “Doctor.”  Once identity is confirmed and the required niceties completed, he is then escorted through a large, open room in use at current by a smattering of well-dressed men deeply engrossed in newspapers or magazines and seemingly unaware that a member of the uninitiated moves among them.  At the end of the room, he’s shown down a narrow hall and deposited in front of a closed door.  The first sound his escort has made since his arrival is the quick, quiet knock of his fist to the wood.  He bows then and turns to leave with only a smile offered in farewell.  Watson is still looking after him, wondering what sort of man it takes to spend his entire day in enforced silence, when the door opens.

It’s easy for Watson to forget sometimes that Mycroft is not only Holmes’ sibling, but her twin.  He is taller by half a foot, and leaner; the softness that Holmes might come upon purely by consequence of her gender is missing entirely from Mycroft’s over-thin frame.  This aspect of him is a constant source of amazement for the doctor, who has seen the amount and quality of food the elder twin is capable of consuming.  (Watson once asked Mrs. Hudson if Mycroft acquired a tapeworm at some point in his youth that went untreated.  She laughed.).   It’s not until his eyes make it up to Mycroft’s face that the resemblance is too much to ignore.  The same too-keen brown eyes and smug, all-knowing grin look back at Watson from a narrower, bonier  visage than he’s used to.  The quizzical arch of the left eyebrow is also a well-acknowledged Holmes trait.

Mycroft waves Watson inside and shuts the door quietly behind him before speaking.  “So good of you to join me, doctor,” he says after a quick and cursory hand shake.

“The invitation didn’t sound as if it allowed for the possibility of refusal.”  Watson removes his hat and clutches it loosely with both hands, held in front of him like an ineffectual shield.  Some would call the action unnecessary, based on Watson’s size, age, and martial experience comparative to Mycroft’s; those people have never dealt with an annoyed Holmes sibling, nor contemplated inappropriate things with the younger before being called to the carpet, theoretically, by the elder.

“Perhaps not.  Though I still appreciate your willingness to acquiesce.”  Mycroft lays claim to one of a pair of armchairs nearest the window.  A tray sits on a low table between with a tea service and a selection of finger sandwiches and pastries upon it.  “I requested a light meal, if that’s all right.  More of a mid-morning tea, really, than a lunch.  It’s not so far off my own breakfast so I wasn’t quite prepared for anything heavier.”

“More than sufficient, thank you.”  Watson takes the opposite chair, nearly sinking into the soft cushions.  As he reaches for the teapot, with Mycroft’s nod of permission, he says, “Your letter didn’t specify what you wished to discuss.”

“Didn’t it?”

“No, just that my presence was requested, in a necessary but non-urgent capacity, and when.”

“I would think the topic is quite obvious.”  He reaches for the cup Watson offers him, fingers curling around the handle in time with the upward arch of the corners of his lips. The smug smile is just mildly frustrating on Holmes; it’s temptation for a punch on her brother.  “Charlotte, of course.”

Watson fumbles his teacup.  It hits the table, though not hard enough or from enough height to crack it.  “She would be the one topic the two of us have in common, being your sister and my friend.  Unless you’re in the market for a new physician, of course.”

“Friend.  Yes, I suppose that word suits at least one aspect of your association well enough.”  He waits until Watson has reclaimed his cup and begun a sip before continuing.  “Lover likely fits the remainder, of course, and is the part I’m far more concerned with.”

A mouthful of tea finds its way down Watson’s windpipe as he attempts, by way of a shocked gasp, to breathe it.  It takes several shallow coughs to clear his airway, amusement sparkling in his companion’s eyes throughout the struggle.  “Sorry?” he asks when he can finally speak again.

“Don’t worry, doctor.  I’m aware you haven’t actively defiled my sister yet.”  He raises a hand when Watson opens his mouth to object.  “Defile may be the wrong word.  I’m well aware she’s no naïve child unaware of the workings of the world and that she would brain me for the use of the term in connection to herself.  And yes, my sister has discussed the, shall we say, developments in your association, with me.  There is very little she doesn’t tell me; a fact you may wish to keep prominently in mind.”

“If she tells you everything, then you’re aware that those developments have been, though perhaps bold, not wholly inappropriate.”

“You and I may have differing views on what inappropriate consists of.”

Watson huffs a discordant laugh.  “You and your sister may as well.”

“True enough.”  Mycroft takes a sip of his tea and reaches for a cucumber sandwich with the relaxed air of a man discussing the latest gossip, not his sister’s honor.  “Though I think cavorting with a naked man in a bathroom-“

“There was no cavorting, nor was I naked.”

“-meets most definitions of the term, barring perhaps Charlotte’s own.”

Watson sets his teacup down on the table purposefully this time, and hard enough to rattle the spoon in the sugar bowl.  “I have not taken advantage of her, nor would I ever.”

Mycroft’s smile dips.  The amusement fades from his eyes, which are drawn to the cup and Watson’s white grip on the handle.  “I know you wouldn’t.  If I had reason to think otherwise, this talk would have a different location and involve more fists than words.”

One of the doctor’s eyebrows arches.  “A conversation that would turn out worse for you than me, I think.”

“Be that as it may…”  Watson watches as Mycroft settles further back in his chair and his hands settle nervously in his lap; the doctor forces himself not to grin at the sight.  “I have thus far let the matter go, because I do believe you to be an honorable gentleman, doctor, and as such…”

“And as such you decided we should calmly meet as men so that you could suggest that I, what…gently remove myself from the situation?  Persuade her of the folly in continuing, or present myself in such a way that she reaches the opinion on her own?  If I disagree, do you plan to offer a financial enticement?  Or threaten my circumstances, as I’m sure your aunt has considered already?”


Watson rises from the armchair and picks up his hat.  “I think you may have wasted a perfectly fine light meal on me, Mr. Holmes.  I have no interest in it or further discussion of your whip or your carrot.  While I understand and appreciate your position here, your sister is an adult.  A very unconventional one, yes, but still within her rights to make her own choices and decide her own fate, no matter what you or society would otherwise think on the topic.  So if you will excuse me…”

He almost makes it to the door before Mycroft’s voice causes him to pause, hand nearly on the knob.  “Do you care for her, John?”

Watson takes a deep breath, trying to force his jaw to loosen and his hands to relax before he turns to face his inquisitor once more.  He follows Mycroft’s focus down to the fist at his side, not the one clenched around the brim of his derby, and reads the wariness in the younger man’s eyes and the way he stiffens and presses even further back into his chair.  No matter the earlier comment about conversations involving fists, he can tell Mycroft has little interest in seeing the result of that particular contest.  A fistfight, Watson knows, is a much different animal than singlestick or fencing; he wouldn’t like his chances against either Holmes in those events but doubts Mycroft has ever gotten his knuckles bloody before.

As the fist uncurls, the young bureaucrat visibly relaxes; the previous wariness bleeds away to leave only the pending question behind.  Curiosity looks similar from one Holmes to the other – thoughtful, wondering, and mildly impatient.  Watson discovers it is nearly as much fun to leave Mycroft waiting as it is his twin.  There is something endlessly amusing about withholding information from a creature that thrives on it and watching the resulting frustration it brings.  If he has to compare it to something, Watson thinks it is most like dangling a length of string a foot out of a cat’s reach and watching it jump for it, repeatedly.  Mycroft has earned his torment; he deserves to watch the yarn swing a moment longer before he gets a swat at it.

“I would think,” Watson finally says, not moving from his spot by the door, “given I’ve put up with this farce for this long, that the answer is a simple enough one to guess.  Especially for the self-proclaimed smarter twin.”

Mycroft’s lower lip threatens to jut out in a pout Watson knows too well, typically seen on a different and more suiting face.  “Speculation is for amateurs and assuming never ends well.”

“Then let me remove the necessity of either of those things.”  Watson pops the derby onto his head and straightens the lapels of his coat.  “Yes.  I care for your sister quite a bit.”

He has the door half open when Mycroft’s voice stops him this time.  “If you hurt her, Watson, I will have to make you pay for it.”

Watson nods then sees himself out, leaving Mycroft to finish off the tea.

“The Adventures of the Greek Interpreter”, or “The Rather Tame Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother”

Mycroft_Holmes SP Wikicommons

Mycroft Holmes, by Sidney Paget (wikicommons)

Here’s the thing about siblings: they can be your best friend or your arch-nemesis, dependent on the situation, and sometimes can seem like both at once.  Sometimes they might fall in that murky middle ground between Watson and Moriarty, but rarely, and more often in adulthood than when we’re kids.  These are the people who possess the details of our most embarrassing moments – and who will make them available to the highest bidder unless you make it worth their while.  Professional extortionists have nothing on a really determined sibling, let me tell you.  Older ones usually like to tell you what to do; younger ones just want to make you insane.  If you have one of each, God help you.  (I can get by with that comment, since I’m pretty sure neither my older brother or my younger sister actually read this blog.  Hi guys, if you’re actually peeking for the first time ever.  No, I don’t usually cast aspersions on your character here.  I save that for Facebook.)  They’re also, more often than not, the people who you know best in the world and are the most direct links you have to your past.

It takes Doyle two novels and twenty short stories to clue us in that Holmes has any family at all.  Prior to this, our best theory about Holmes’ upbringing probably involved him springing to life fully formed, with his Inverness cloak and deerstalker, like Athena from Zeus’ forehead.  We have a laundry list of Holmes’ specialties and weaknesses provided to us by Watson, but we have very little personal information otherwise about the Great Detective.  Our well of knowledge on that doesn’t really expand until we get to “The Greek Interpreter,” when circumstances cause Watson to be introduced to Holmes’ one and only known relation, the illustrious – and frightfully lazy – Mycroft.

And our introduction is fairly brief, really.  He plays intermediary between Holmes and the eponymous Greek interpreter – Mr. Melas – who has unexpectedly and by no fault of his own gotten mixed up in some pretty shady business involving a brother and sister being held against their will and the sort of men that are willing to kill to further their ends.  Melas asks his friend, Mycroft  (acquaintance is probably a better word; the Holmes boys don’t really make friends, Watson excepting)  to enlist his younger brother’s assistance in finding the men that kidnapped him.  That’s the only purpose Mycroft serves in this narrative: we have to wait until “The Bruce-Partington Plans” to really get to know Mycroft and the important job that’s only really hinted at over the course of this story.

We are given a few bites of information, though: that Mycroft is likely smarter (this from Holmes’ own mouth), is definitely lazier, and is certainly larger than his “little” brother.   He is just as interested in puzzles, but prefers to solve them from his armchair at the Diogenes Club – which we’re told he’s a founder of – than by going out and doing any sort of active investigation.  He leaves the legwork to Sherlock.  The two are very competitive, as siblings sometimes are.  Within a minute of introducing himself to Watson, Mycroft says, “By the way, Sherlock, I expected to see you round last week to consult me over that Manor House case.  I thought you might be a little out of your depth.”  An even better example of this is seen in the exchange between the Holmes’ a few paragraphs later as they try to out-deduce each other while people-watching out the window of the Diogenes Club’s Stranger Room:

“An old soldier, I perceive,” said Sherlock.

“And very recently discharged,” remarked the brother.

“Served in India, I see.”

“And a non-commissioned officer.”

“Royal Artillery, I fancy,” said Sherlock.

“And a widower.”

“But with a child.”

“Children, my dear boy, children.”

They then take turns explaining how they came to each conclusion for Watson’s benefit, or just to show off.  Probably mostly the latter.



Mycroft on film: (left to right) Christopher Lee (, Charles Gray (, Richard E. Grant (, Stephen Fry (, Mark Gatiss (, and Rhys Ifan (

TV and movie adaptions love to play with Mycroft, though I think the BBC production of “Sherlock” might give Mark Gatiss’ version the most screen time and narrative impact the character’s ever had.  He’s not the only Mycroft to be given more than a passing cameo, though.  Christopher Lee played both Holmes’ siblings in different productions, taking on Mycroft in Billy Wilder’s “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.”  Charles Gray took a turn at the role on film in “The Seven Percent Solution” and then opposite Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock in six episodes of the Granada series.  Richard E. Grant had his own go at the older brother in 2002’s questionable “Sherlock: Case of Evil.”  Stephen Fry, who claims to have been the youngest person ever inducted into the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, took  Mycroft for a spin in Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Homes: A Game of Shadows.”  And, of course, Rhys Ifan’s Mycroft in CBS’ “Elementary” has been a great source of angst and trouble for his baby brother, and for Joan Watson.

I think the reason Mycroft is so fun – and necessary – to adapt is that he brings a humanness to Sherlock that Watson’s observations about the cold reasoning machine lack.  He is the link that binds Sherlock to the world.  Sherlock didn’t burst into the world with magnifying glass in hand and a pipe already clamped between his teeth.  He was born, just like the rest of us.  From Mycroft’s existence we can infer the existence of Sherlock Holmes’ childhood without having seen or heard it, to paraphrase the detective himself.  Once upon a time, he was a little boy who did little boy things and dreamed little boy dreams and had no plans necessarily to grow up to be a walking Analytical Engine someday. Plus, it’s really nice to know there is someone, somewhere in the world who can knock his ego down a notch or two and remind him that, no, he isn’t the smartest man in the world.  And the banter is always fun.

There’s a bit of symmetry in this story, though I’m not sure Doyle intended there to be.  We are introduced to Sherlock’s brother in the same story that involves a brother and sister who find themselves wrapped up in a horrible business.  It takes the intervention of another pair of siblings – one directly, one indirectly – to bring the whole horrible thing to light.  Doyle could have made the victims husband and wife, father and daughter, cousins, or any other reasonable combination that fit the role he needed them to play.  Instead, he picked a brother and sister.  I don’t know if it really means anything, but I find it interesting.


I’ve probably mentioned before, but my Mycroft hasn’t made it to his predecessor’s inactive state quite yet.  He’s still a young man, and while he definitely has lazy tendencies, he prefers to be in the thick of things as much as his position allows.  Likes a little bit of adventure now and then, you see.  Eventually, his metabolism has to slow down, especially with the way his aunt feeds him, and his tendency to want to laze about and look intelligent is going to catch up to him, but he seems to think that’s what middle age is for – getting fat and boring.  He can’t let Charlotte have all the fun, can he?  And while this Mycroft definitely enjoys tormenting and teasing and one-upping his sibling just as much as the rest, he is also vastly protective of her.  There is nothing he wouldn’t do to keep her safe, even if it means lying to her to do so.

Or, you know, just threatening a certain doctor within an inch of his life, like all big brothers do.

The Adventure of the Tell-Tale Typewriter

Mr. James Windibank sits in the center of our couch, fidgeting in the midst of a prolonged and deliberate silence.  He has been there, exactly so, for five minutes; I have spent the same amount of time perched in my usual armchair, stirring milk into my tea.  As I do so, I watch him.  Stare, really, my gaze broken only by lazy, intermittent blinks.  The longer the silence stretches, the closer Windibank creeps to the edge of the couch cushion and the more his eyes drift to the door, contemplating escape.  Watson, for his part, stands by the curtained window overlooking Baker Street with his hands in his pockets, the perfect picture of silent ease.  

Windibank clears his throat.  It sounds dry, possibly from nerves, possibly because he has not been offered tea.  He is little older than I, something I expected after talking with Mary Sutherland but have hammered home deftly by the sight of him.  Some might find his keen gray eyes and square jaw with its haughty, roguish grin appealing – obviously, as they worked enough to his advantage to snag him a fairly well-off widow.  I see nothing of the sort.  There is ice in his stare if you look long enough.  His smile, his manner, his every glance and gesture read as false.  He is a caricature of a person, designed to fill the role each person or situation requires.  “I’m not quite sure why I’m here,” he says, breaking the silence I refuse to.

“I had the great pleasure of making the acquaintance of your stepdaughter, Mary, recently.”  I lay my spoon on my saucer with a soft, but definitive, clink.  “She requested my assistance in determining the fate of a gentleman named Hosmer Angel.”

Disbelief, of the sort typically inspired by my gender, stifles a momentary flash of panic in Windibank’s eyes.  “Why would she seek out your assistance in such a matter?”

“Because I specialize in solving such puzzles, and someone wisely informed Miss Sutherland of such.”

“A strange preoccupation for a young woman,” he says.  I shrug and take a sip of my tea, unaffected.  It’s not as if I haven’t heard similar things from similar sorts before.  “I’m sorry she bothered you with the whole mess.  Little more than a folly, really.”  He begins to rise, hands pressed to the cushion to serve as leverage.  “If you’ve come to me looking for some form of reimbursement for your trouble, I’m afraid you’re out of luck.  My stepdaughter may be gullible, but…”

“Sit down, Mr. Windibank.”  I lean forward to set my tea on the coffee table, affording me the opportunity to catch his gaze directly.  “Your stepdaughter is a sweet and tender-hearted young woman in a world both ill-suited for and in desperate need of such.  Her compassion is to be envied and admired; it is also in need of protection.  Such a rare and fragile nature otherwise leaves itself exposed to misuse.”  I settle back into my chair and rest my hands on the arms of it.  “You, sir, are guilty of just such misuse.”

Windibank tenses.  Now it takes longer for the panic in his eyes to be overtaken, this time by anger.  “I beg your pardon.“

“It’s not for my pardon you should be begging.”  I nod at Watson.  He brings me a small stack of paper from my desk before returning to his sentry post by the window.  “You recall, do you not, answering my request to meet by a typewritten note?”  Windibank nods.  “Funny thing about typewriters.  Over time, they develop small faults – a letter will wear unevenly, a key will chip or crack – that makes that typewriter’s output easily identifiable as belonging to it and it alone.  These faults will show themselves in any document typed upon it.  As you see, the ‘e’ on the typewriter you used for this letter strikes the page unevenly, giving it a smudged appearance.  The ‘r’ appears broken, missing one of its tails.”  I hand him the first sheet of paper; I had earlier circled each of the letters in question.  “Do you see?”

“Yes,” he says.  “I suppose.  It was typed on a machine at my office.  It is the only typewriter there and gets quite a lot of use.  Should I inform someone it’s in need of repair?”

“No, but you should perhaps rethink using the same machine for honest communication that you do for dishonest ones.”  I produce the other four documents – the letters from Mr. Angel – and spread them out on the coffee table.  “As you can see, I’ve gone to the trouble of circling the e’s and r’s on these as well for the sake of comparison.”

Before the last letter is left on the table, Windibank hops to his feet and grabs his hat.  “I refuse to sit here and listen to the fantastical nonsense of a woman with too much time on her hands.  If you will excuse me…”  When he turns to leave, he finds Watson standing in his way.

“I’d really sit down if I were you, Mr. Windibank,” he says, intimidation threading thinly through the good doctor’s usually calm tone.

“Are you going to make me, doctor?”

Watson squares his shoulders and thrusts his jaw toward our guest.  “Am I going to have to?”

“Gentlemen, we’ve no need for violence.”  I gather up the papers into a neat collection and tap them against the table.  “We can inspire your presence without it coming to fisticuffs.  We could, perhaps, mention a very dear friend of mine who happens to have the ear of a Times correspondent who might find all this of the utmost interest.”

“Newsworthy even.”  Watson winks at me over Windibank’s head.  Our prey, meanwhile, sinks back into his seat, reclaiming the very edge of the cushion once more.  He has the unsettled posture of an animal in a trap; I can see the cogs spinning in his head, searching for the appropriate lie and not yet finding one.

“If I’ve done anything – if! – it’s nothing the authorities can touch me for at all.   Inactionable, that is the word.”

“Not the legal authorities,no, though I find myself hoping that a more celestial judgement exists and waits to intervene.”  I rise, taking all the papers save one back to my desk.  I worry what Windibank might do to them in an attempt to protect his reputation.  “ As to what you have done, you courted an older woman, recently widowed and with some bit of income, and eventually married her.  Afterwards, or perhaps even during the course of the courtship, you discovered that her daughter had inherited a tidy sum as well, which she generously provides to you and her mother while living with you both.  You become accustomed to that extra bit of income, and then you begin to worry what will happen if it ever disappears.  Someday, a sweet, personable girl like Mary, being pretty enough and clever enough and with a hundred pounds annual stipend to sweeten the deal, is going to draw no shortage of suitors.  One day, she’s going to marry and then some other man is going to benefit from that hundred pounds.”

“Quite an unfortunate, but inevitable, outcome.”  Watson clucks his tongue.  “It must have been a kick to the teeth, that realization.”  Windibank glares at the two of us but says nothing.

“Oh, don’t worry, Watson.  He devised a plan to prevent it.  Of course, the initial one didn’t work out so well.  It’s nearly impossible, after all, to prevent a young woman from running into eligible men short of locking them in some tower, as my aunt would likely attest.  Trying to keep her separated only made her more determined to escape.  Thankfully, for you, she did warn you of her plan to mutiny and that gave you time enough to adjust your strategy accordingly.”

“I assure you, I haven’t a clue what you’re on about.”  Windibank sounds less and less comfortable with each word out of his mouth.

“And I assure you that you are well-acquainted with every detail.  Your first mistake was not the typewriter, but your choice of disguise.  Only an amateur uses so many conceits  at once.  The glasses and the mustache and the sideburns…it all seems such an obvious attempt at altering one’s face to almost be comical.”  I bring the remaining letter back to the table and slap it down onto the surface.  “I took the opportunity to inquire at your place of employment after a gentleman of Mr. Angel’s description, leaving off the aforementioned embellishments.  According to that letter there, my description matches only one person in the entire firm – one Mr. James Windibank.”  Windibank’s well-admired jaw ticks with the effort taken to suppress some unhelpful emotion.  He refuses to set a single eye on the paper before him.   “You, with the assistance and cooperation of your wife, I think, decided to cut Mary’s matrimonial prospects off at the knees by wooing her yourself in disguise.  Then, once you obtained her heart and her hand, you pried an unreasonable promise from her and disappeared just in time to avoid becoming a bigamist.  Clever, sir.  Cruel, but clever.”

Windibank rises slowly from the couch.  Watson does nothing to deter the action this time.  “It doesn’t matter if you know or not.  The law can’t touch me.  You can’t touch me.  And even if you tell Mary all this, she’ll never believe you.  She’s too trusting.  Too gullible.  She will continue to pine and continue to hand over her allowance month after month because she-“

“Is right here.”  The voice of Mary Sutherland is muffled by the heavy curtains she hides behind and thick with tears as it floats from the direction of the window.  When she steps into view, her cheeks are streaked with silent tears; her hands grip her ridiculous feather hat tight enough her knuckles are white.  Her eyes, however, are clear, dark, pitiless pools belying the reason for the tension in her grip.  Anger keeps her hands as they are, not shock.

Windibank instantly blanches.  I see the color bleed from his face as Mary approaches him.  “Mary, dear, I can explain.”

Mary Sutherland, so sweet and kind on our first meeting, raises a hand to stop her stepfather’s excuses.  Then, she curls her fingers into a tight fist and slams it into Windibank’s jaw.  “Explain that to mother when you see her,” she says, and before he can pick himself up from the floor, where Watson’s jaw may have nearly stretched from the shock, Mary stomps to the door and sees herself out.

Watson turns back to me once the front door slams below.  “Did you teach her that?”

I shrug. “There may have been a brief lesson on the basics of pugilism while you were downstairs earlier.  She has quite good aim for someone so short-sighted, don’t you think?”

Watson laughs.  On the floor, James Windibank groans.


A letter arrives three months later, postmarked Edinburgh.

Dear Miss Holmes –

I fear I didn’t take the opportunity to thank you properly last we saw each other.  My stepfather’s confession, and my own mother’s possible collusion, left me in a highly ill-mannered state.  It’s very distressing to learn you’ve been treated so poorly, especially by those you trust.  I was adrift over it all for several days, unsure what to do with myself, or what to think or feel.  I may have muttered unkind things in your direction for a while for opening me up to it all, and for that I do apologize.  You didn’t do me harm, providing me with that unpleasant truth.  You freed me, in point of fact.

I have left London, my household, and the scandal behind me.  I am now in Edinburgh and have been for near on a month.  Something of the Scottish manner appeals to me.  They are bluntly honest, but warm-hearted as well, and I appreciate both of these qualities greatly.  The former perhaps especially, though it does take some getting used to, as does the accent it’s delivered in.  I have found steady work typing up notes for a local physician.  I have full use of my stipend now but I prefer to keep busy.

I have put all romantic thoughts on hold for the immediate future.  It’s best, I think, to give my heart time to fully purge itself of Hosmer Angel.  My head was easy to clear; the heart is always a different matter.

I hope this finds you well and that perhaps someday I will have the opportunity to repay you for all that you have given me.

Forever indebted,

Mary Sutherland

“A Case of Identity”, or “That Time Sherlock Holmes Was an Idiot”

Before we get started, I should warn you: there will be spoilers in this post.  I’m going to spend the entirety of it talking about the end (because that’s where Holmes is an idiot) and have to spoil the plot in order to talk about it.  So, if you don’t want to know how this story ends, turn back now.

Well.  Now that that’s out of the way…

Sherlock Holmes is an idiot.  A well-meaning idiot, sure; one of the smartest idiots on the planet even.  Still, he’s an idiot.  He may know all there is to imagine about the science of crime, the overall workings of the human mind, and what kind of ash different tobaccos leave behind, but he’s still not all that good with people when it comes right down to it.  How he chooses to deal with Miss Mary Sutherland and the truth of her situation is definite proof of that.

Miss Sutherland has a very simple problem: her fiancé disappeared the day of their wedding and she’d like Holmes to find him.  Problem is, she has very little information on the man she plans to marry, beyond a name, a vague location of his place of employment, and a description that reads as a little suspect, even on first blush.  You don’t really have to be Sherlock Holmes to hear the whole sordid tale and start thinking the stepfather and Hosmer Angel are one in the same.  Miss Sutherland has an annual stipend that must be a very handy additional bit of income, seeing as she hands it over to the folks when she gets it.  If she met and married a real gentleman, Mummy and her young, handsome husband would lose it.

So, the ending’s no surprise to anyone with basic reading comprehension.  Holmes has it mostly figured out before Miss Sutherland leaves after their initial meeting, much like the reader.  He requests an audience with Mr. James Windibank, Miss Sutherland’s step-father, and lays it all out neatly for him:

“Now, her marriage would mean the loss of a hundred a year, so what does her stepfather do to prevent it?  He takes the obvious course of keeping her at home and forbidding her to seek the company of people of her own age.  But soon he found that that would not answer forever.  She became restive, insisted  upon her rights, and finally announced her positive intention of going to a certain ball.  What does her clever stepfather do then?  He conceives an idea more creditable to his head than to his heart.  With the connivance and assistance of his wife he disguised himself, covered those keen eyes with tinted glasses, masked the face with a mustache and a pair of bushy whiskers, sunk that clear voice into a insinuating whisper, and doubly secure on account of the girl’s short sight, he appears as Mr. Hosmer Angel, and keeps off other lovers by making love himself.”

Windibank doesn’t deny the accusation.  Why should he?  He hasn’t broken the law or done anything he could get into any real trouble for.  “It is unactionable,” as he tells Holmes.  Holmes threatens to give him a good wallop with his riding crop but the bastard takes a runner before he can get his just desserts.   It’s all fine and good, and you figure Holmes will next invite Miss Sutherland over, explain it all calmly and compassionately, and after some time working through the Five Stages, Mary will get on with her life, better off for having this miserable chapter over and done with.

Problem is, you figure wrong there.  Holmes takes it upon himself not to tell her.  Her mother and stepfather have manipulated her, abused her good nature, stomped all over her trust, and the man she came to for help decides that he’s…not going to inform her of any of it.  Why?  Well…

“And Miss Sutherland?”

“If I tell her she will not believe me.  You may remember the old Persian saying ‘There is danger for him who taketh the tiger cub, and danger also for whoso snatches a delusion from a woman.’  There is as much sense in Hafiz as in Horace, and as much knowledge of the world.”

Sure, Mary Sutherland is a bit naïve, and she did fall quickly in love with the first man who paid her any sort of positive attention.  That doesn’t mean, however, that she’s incapable of understanding a rational argument when it’s presented to her.  It also doesn’t mean she loses the right to know about the people that are manipulating her or to have the opportunity to make an informed decision about what to do with her life.  Hiding this information from her essentially leaves her open to continued manipulation and mistreatment at the hands of her mother and stepfather.  Holmes is essentially leaving Mary open to continued victimization at their hands.

For all his protectiveness of women, his proclaimed respect for them, here Holmes decides to treat a woman as too fragile and delusional to handle the truth of her situation.  And he is very, very wrong.  Mary Sutherland deserves to know what is going on.  She deserves to know that the people she trusts are working against her – actively betraying her, in fact -and they likely will continue to do so despite being caught, because there are no consequences to their actions.  No legal ones, no personal ones considering the person they acted against is never going to be told what they did, not even any financial ones if Mary continues living there, giving them her monthly stipend and getting along herself on what she brings in doing piecemeal typing.

This bugs me.  It bugs me a lot.  The good guy isn’t supposed to leave the person asking for help in the same situation they start out the story in.  Holmes leaves Mary thinking the man she loves is missing, presumably to pine over him for the rest of her life and never find real love, while bank-rolling her mom and her boytoy to keep them in the lifestyle which they’ve become accustomed.  That isn’t what heroes do.  And while BBC Sherlock might tell John “Heroes don’t exist, and if they did, I wouldn’t be one of them,” that doesn’t mean canon Holmes should flout his responsibility here.  He has some duty of care to his client and this time, he failed.  Miserably, by my estimation.

So yes, this one time, Sherlock Holmes was an idiot.  It’s not a bad record, really, just getting called the dumbest smart person on the planet once in fifteen blog posts.  And it’s not entirely his fault.  Doyle did kind of make him that way.

You’d better bet this week’s story is going to be an attempt to fix what Doyle got wrong.

The Erichson Cipher

“You get the strangest deliveries,” Watson says, standing over me as I sit at the small dining table in the sitting room. From his vantage point, he has an unobstructed view of the letter Anne just brought up with lunch. “It’s nothing but a string of numbers and a few odd letters.”

“But absolutely fascinating, all the same.” I reach for the butter dish to spread a swipe onto a piece of fried bread as Watson takes his chair opposite me.

It is an otherwise dull and uneventful day, the third in a series of the same. At least the weather has decided to be warm and relatively pleasant, so escaping the drudgery of the quiet flat is possible. While that provides a lovely view, it only holds my attention for awhile. Wandering the Natural History Museum only occupies me so long. Without proper stimulation, boredom has begun to settle in, bringing an increasing restlessness with it.

And then came the letter.

“Never found numbers all that interesting, myself. Mathematics were never my strong suit.”

“Hence why a doctor should always have a nurse nearby to double-check his sums when doling out medication.” Anne appears with a second plate of bread and sliced meat and cheese, which she sets in front of Watson with a distinct, annoyed thud. There is a tension there of late – a strain between tenant and landlady that began the night of the St. Simon incident. The night of the bath intrusion, more precisely, and my delayed departure from it.

“We would be soundly lost without you all. As Holmes and I would be without you.”

Anne makes a sound best described as a “harumph,” and departs. Not for long, of course. She has taken to spending as much of her days as she can working in the sitting room, claiming the couch as her own to knit, sew, answer correspondence, plan meals, or do the household budgeting. If she could manage the washing up and cooking from that spot, she would never leave it. She is, by all appearances, determined that Watson and I are never, ever, alone together again.

Over dinner the night before, I had complained to Mycroft of Anne’s latest habit. He laughed. “Can you truly blame her? It’s never been wholly proper, Charlotte, and seems less so now.”

“I am a grown woman, far beyond the need for a nanny,” I said. I may have stomped a foot for emphasis as well.

“A grown woman you may be, but the doctor is a grown man as well, and throwing those two things together, alone, rarely remains uncomplicated for long.”

“Depending on the criteria required to obtain that classification, said grown woman and grown man may be looking forward to a bit of complication.”

The comment had earned me one of Mycroft’s patented knowing looks. “Just be careful, sister-mine, that eviction doesn’t become one of the doctor’s particular complications.”

“Is it a problem?” Watson asks, redrawing my attention.


“The message. Is it possibly just a very long and awkwardly arranged computation?”

“I don’t think so.” I set the paper on the table, turning it so it is easily readable for Watson. “It lacks any of the proper symbols to mark it as an equation, even a strange one. There are punctation marks, though, which indicate sentence structure. And see this odd bit here?” I point to the lower left corner with the butter knife, leaving a greasy smear behind. “’TSaAoS, Erichsen, 1857.’ Seems a strange note, don’t you think?”

“The whole thing is strange to me,” he says. “Could it be a signature and date?”

I laugh. I can’t help it. “Would indicate a very delayed post, for starters, based on that date. And the name is printed, not signed. That fact alone tells me nearly everything I need to know about the author.”

Watson scoffs. “That small detail tells you that much?”

“There are no small details. Even the tiniest is significant when viewed in the right light.” I take a bite of meat before pressing on. “The fact the author chose to print the message instead of merely writing it indicates an attempt to disguise themselves.”

“An easy enough conclusion.” Watson nods and works on a bite of bread and meat. “But surely that is the only hint to be gleaned from the choice of writing style.”

“It could be assumed as such, and if I were a simpler person I might agree. But it’s a mistake to do so.” I pull the letter back around so it faces me. “The only reason someone would go to the trouble of disguising their handwriting is that they think the person they intend to read it would recognize it otherwise. Thus, I can conclude that the author of this cryptic correspondence is someone I know. And that I know well enough to have reason to have knowledge of their handwriting style and recognize it at a glance.”

“That narrows the suspect pool a bit, doesn’t it?”

“Indeed.” I layer the remaining meat and cheese on the buttered fried bread and take a thoughtful bite. “I have been well-acquainted with Anne’s and Mycroft’s for some time. Yours has become quite familiar to me as well. I am learning the peculiarities of Fi’s still. I know no one else’s well enough, I’d say, to identify them at a glance without another sample to compare it to.”

Watson’s left eyebrow ticks and a corner of his mouth twitches in an attempt to suppress a smile. “Can only be one of those closest to you, then?”

“Yes. Of course, why any of you would feel the need to send me such an odd note…” I look at the notation in the corner again, head canting as I process the purpose of it. “You know, I think I know what part of this means. I do believe that this,” I say, pointing to that corner, “refers to a book.” I push back from the table and spring to my feet, making a quick path to the book shelves surrounding Watson’s tidy desk. “Are these organized alphabetically by title, author, or subject? I never remember which system you prefer.”

“Because you refuse to utilize any system of your own at all. By title, for the record.” He mutters the last before rising to follow me. “Please don’t make a mess, Holmes. I just got it all sorted to rights after the last time you went digging about.”

“Pish. You fuss far too much, doctor.” My fingers glide over the spines of the collected books as I scan their titles, searching for something that matches the initials by the listed author. On the second to last shelf I find my prey – The Science and Art of Surgery. Upon opening it, I discover the author, one John Erichsen, penned this particular edition in September of 1857. “Isn’t this an extraordinary coincidence, you possessing the book that most likely serves as the key to this strange message?”

“Or whomever wrote it did a quick scan of the books available here and chose one that seemed unlikely to be an obvious choice?”

“Well. We’ll see, won’t we?” I take the book back to the table and splay it open beside the note. “I think it’s safe to assume that the first number in the pairing refers to a page, given that a few of these entries feature a V that likely indicates the existence of a preface. That would mean the second number probably references a certain word upon that page. Given that…could you hand me a pencil, doctor?”

Watson produces the requisite writing utensil and I set about scanning the indicated pages and counting words, jotting them on a piece of scrap I also grabbed from his desk. When I have the last of them down, I sit back in my chair and scan the collection of words that I jotted down automatically and without initial comprehension:

My affections are not practical, yet they are increasing. I think of nothing but the time we embraced. I beg the reader operates in a similar manner. It is my first and most favorable wish. Diligently, your doctor.

When I look up from the paper, Watson is watching me with open expectation and the slightest hint of fear. I imagine a thin filament stretching between Watson’s heart and this piece of paper. The wrong word may sever it and shatter the former without doing the slightest damage to the latter. The only option, then, is a nonverbal response; I vacate my seat once more, this time to approach his. He continues to wear that slightly terrified look until I lean in and kiss it away. It is a far cry from the shy attempt in his office. I’ve learned a little boldness since then, taught at his hands – lips, technically, I suppose – and returned to him now. It’s his turn to be left breathless.

“Only you would send me a coded love letter written from a surgery text,” I say when the need for a pause arises. I don’t give him a chance to respond yet, stealing another before he can answer. His arm slides around me, his hand on my hip. I am highly aware of the placement of each of the fingers on that hand by weight alone, despite the layers between them and my skin.

He ends the kiss, breathless and glassy-eyed. “Someone had to give you a puzzle to occupy you for a few minutes at least. You were about to go mad from boredom.” I open my mouth to object and he shakes his head. “Don’t deny it. I heard you complain to the newspaper boy yesterday that there aren’t any decent murders in the city these days.”

“Well there aren’t.” I pout. A smile tugs at one corner, ruining, I’m sure, the effect. “If Anne had half an idea what that note says, she’d be livid, I think.”

“More reason it had to be a cipher.”

“Indeed.” I pull away, as reluctant to complete the action as Watson is disappointed that I do. I reach for the decoded note and the volume, wadding up the former and carrying it to the fireplace. One touch from a match and the whole thing is ash in a moment. Then I replace the book from whence I took it. “More reason to ensure she can’t ever discover the key. It leaves us a perfect means for communicating beyond her reach.”

I settle once more in my chair just a moment before Anne returns, her quilting basket over her arm. She looks toward the table, a searching glance, examining the scene for clues of our misbehavior. “Any luck with the odd delivery?”

I shake my head. “Not a single clue. I may be working on this one a while.”

“Someone has managed to stump you? I’m shocked.” As she makes herself comfortable on the couch and starts digging out her pieces of fabric, I quietly tear the corner identifying the book from the page. Anne is a clever woman; she might figure out the reference, given half a chance. “Don’t let me interrupt whatever you two may have been discussing.”

Watson looks at his watch and stands, dabbing his mouth with his napkin as he does. “I actually have patients imminent, so I bid you two ladies adieu. Good luck with your mystery, Holmes.”

“And you with your medical complaints, doctor.”

Anne watches Watson leave, then turns her attention to me. I take another bite of my lunch and try not to smile.
(Author’s note: I actually found a copy of Erichsen’s 1857 edition of The Science and Art of Surgery online and made sure all the words necessary appeared in it. Because I’m that kind of thorough/crazy. The only word I needed that I couldn’t find was “you”; thankfully, Erichsen used “the reader” twice in the course of the preface, and that worked well enough.)

The Valley of Fear, or “Fun With Fictional Freemasons”

Good ol’ Sir Arthur sure did love his secret societies, didn’t he? And who can blame him? There’s nothing more intriguing than a group of people with odd (to us) beliefs and rituals (that may or may not be real) that go out of their way to keep those beliefs and rituals hidden from the rest of the general population. You can make up all kinds of theories about what they do and why they do it and assign motives, malicious or benign, to their every action when you don’t really know what goes on behind those closed lodge doors. Epic fodder for fiction, right?

Sherlock Holmes’ entry into the world of mysterious organizations of dubious intent started with A Study in Scarlet, when Doyle introduced his brilliant detective and stalwart doctor to the odd ways of fundamentalist Mormonism. Then, in “The Five Orange Pips,” he introduced British audiences to the violent ways of the Ku Klux Klan. In The Valley of Fear, Doyle decided to take a stab at the strange, ancient ways of the fictional group The Eminent Order of Freemen, a riff on the Freemasons, starting a tradition that “National Treasure” and Dan Brown would follow decades later. Except, Doyle wasn’t really talking about Freemasons when he invented the order, Body Master McGinty, or his murderous pack of Scowrers . What he calls Freemen, and applies Freemason-like ceremonies to, are actually based on the Pennsylvania branch of a group better known as the Molly Maguires.

Quickish history lesson: The Molly Maguires, or “Mollies,” were a collection of young Irishmen rebelling against what they saw as the destruction of Ireland’s traditional agrarian industry by large-scale pasteurization and corrupt landlords. Land that had once been primarily used for potato farming was being bought up and doled out in tenanted tracts by “evil” land agents, and the Mollies objected, strenuously, to this practice. Dressed in women’s clothes and with their faces blackened by burnt cork, they would break fences, plow over pasteurized fields, and “disturb” livestock in the name of the fictional Mistress Molly Maguire. (“Disturbing livestock,” by the way, translated to running the animals off on a good day, or killing and/or mutilating them on a bad one). The Mollies generally targeted land agents and their employees, those unfortunate souls who took possession of homes or lands taken by said land agents via eviction of the previous owners, or shopkeepers whose prices were deemed unreasonable. Threats were common practice; agents and tenants also ran the risk of beatings, or worse. “Donations” were solicited from local merchants and failure to comply with the request for “charity” usually led to wholesale theft and a stern reminder of what might happen to them if they decided to go to the authorities.

Irish immigrants brought the concept of the Mollies with them to the states and applied their techniques to the coal and iron mines of Pennsylvania and the cause of unionization. The American Mollies didn’t dress like their traditional counterparts or dedicate their acts to ol’ Mistress Maguire, but their techniques for showing their displeasure with the mine bosses (and anyone else that looked at them funny) were otherwise identical. For the sake of appearances, they hid their association behind the façade of another Irish group – the Ancient Order of Hiberians, which were a fraternal organization with lodges all across the United States. Organized in these “lodges,” usually headed by a local tavern owner, the Mollies often loaned out their members to neighboring, similarly-minded AOH’s if there was crime that needed doing, in return for the promise of a similar loan when they needed someone roughed up, intimidated, or killed. These trade-offs allowed the local lodge to claim innocence, should the authorities come looking to cause trouble. The mine bosses and railroad owners eventually recruited the assistance of the Pinkerton Agency to put a stop to the Mollies’ reign of terror. Allan Pinkerton sent one of his agents, an Irishmen by the name of James McParlan, to infiltrate the gang and hopefully find evidence enough to bring them down. Eighteen months of deep cover work eventually led to the conviction, and hanging, of thirty Mollies.

Doyle once spent a transatlantic boat journey in the company of William Pinkerton, Allan’s son, where he heard the whole sordid tale of greed, assassination, intrigue, and eventual justice. From that conversation, he created the character of Birdy Edwards, aka John McMurdo, a Pinkerton agent sent to infiltrate a lawless band of Freemen in the mining towns of California who winds up crossing paths with Sherlock Holmes eleven years later in connection to a murdered man and a missing wedding ring. To this, he added the specter of Professor James Moriarty, adding breadth and reach to the mild-mannered maths professor-turned-master criminal that was lacking in his previous appearance in “The Final Problem.”

Much like A Study in Scarlet, the story of McMurdo is a prolonged flashback that takes up the majority of the second part of the novel, book-ended by the investigation and the explanation of the deed. It seemed less jarring, the transition to this California adventure than the sudden relocation to Utah in Holmes’ first adventure; Watson spends time preparing us for the fact we’re about to be told someone else’s story, and is, in fact, handed said story in paper form to relate to the reader when he gets around to penning the tale. It’s not quite the same experience as turning the page, finding yourself suddenly in the American West without much explanation, and wondering if there was a mixup at the publishing house and two unrelated stories got mistakenly smashed together.

I personally enjoyed McMurdo’s tale more than I did Jefferson Hope’s, though I couldn’t really put my finger on what about it I like better. Maybe Doyle had more practical information about the organization he was writing about and could paint the scene better because of that. Or maybe it’s because I found McMurdo a more interesting character and that his story was intriguing on its own, beyond just how it related to the central mystery waiting for us back in a dreary Sussex study.

Secret societies are a trope that writers have made use of for years, and it’s not likely it’s going to disappear anytime soon. Doyle made plentiful use of it himself – for good or ill, depending on your opinion of the stories he used it in or the execution thereof. At least his use of them remained somewhat realistic: Holmes wasn’t doing battle against an unstoppable Illuminati slowly taking over the world with the cunning use of flags control of the global economy. Fictionalized Freemasonry served only as a backdrop; the real villain at the end, who succeeds and escapes only because he has to in order to show up later in the timeline to fall over a cliff, is Moriarty. And he is much more deadly than all the Masons, real or fictional, in the known world by Sherlock Holmes’ estimation.

The Darlington Substitution

(Author’s Note: This week, I face a problem I’m likely to encounter about twice more in this project: I’m at a story whose characters – one of the most iconic of characters, too – I can’t include in one of these snippets because they’re in use already in the two in-progress novels. I can’t give you Charlotte meeting Irene, because it already happens further along in her timeline. Same problem’s going to come with Moriarty, too.  

But, I’ve got a few name-dropped cases mentioned in “Scandal” to choose from, and an original character I’ve mentioned in passing but never introduced yet, to play with. So, let me properly introduce you to Fidelia Thomas (and Charlotte Holmes, of course), in “The Darlington Substitution.”)

I sit on a pristine cream divan in the even more pristine and cream lobby of the Langham Hotel, smiling intermittently a a glaring concierge. He has been assigned to “keep an eye on” me, as the manager said. In case I do what, I don’t know. My warden leans against the reception desk with his arms crossed over his chest, watching me as if I might try to run off with his sofa, or will defile it somehow if he looks away for a second. His suspicion – his supervisor’s as well – relate directly to the somewhat unconventional state of my appearance. Of course, when one receives a knock on one’s door at three in the morning, requesting their assistance in a matter of utmost importance, one’s first thought does not tend towards their apparel. Mine hadn’t.

This is why I am sitting on a divan in the lobby of one of the poshest hotels in London in my pajamas.

“How long has your wife been away?” I ask the concierge, to interrupt the quiet and for lack of any other source of amusement.

He looks down his short, blunt nose at me; his eyes never rise higher than my chin. His abject disgust is palpable. “I beg your pardon?”

“By the look of your suit jacket, it’s only received a cursory cleaning of late. And whoever reattached the button on your right cuff has a clumsy, unfamiliar hand with a needle.” I nod to the cuff in question. He tucks it behind his other arm, out of sight. “Then there is te matter of the fit of your coat.”

He scoffs, but tugs self-consciously at his sleeve all the same. “There is nothing wrong with the fit of my suit.”

It’s a half size too large, in fact. See how the center button sags a bit instead of laying flat against your midsection, as it likely did when you originally had it tailored? You’ve lost at least five pounds since you purchased it. Haven’t quite adapted to your own cooking yet. Your wife took the cook with her, I presume?”

The concierge opens his mouth to protest, but the quick click of hard-soled shoes over the tile interrupts our exchange. The night manager rushes towards us, as much as his stiff bearing allows for such things.

“I apologize, Miss Holmes,” he says. His voice is tight and gruff – more annoyance than repentance. “After speaking with Miss Thomas, I have confirmed your version of events, and the existence of the message you speak of. You will, of course, forgive us for assuming as we did. When a woman arrives at our establishment at this time of night, dressed as you are, its only natural to think…” He shrugs one stiff shoulder.

“Of course,” I say, meeting his shrug with a sweet grin. “Do most of the prostitutes that frequent your establishment often show up in flannel pajamas, slippers, and a bathrobe?” Before he can answer, I stand, silencing him with a cluck of my tongue. “Never mind. Could someone direct me to Ms. Thomas’ room, please?”

The concierge loses whatever silent argument the two men share via glares and pointed glances and escorts me to the central lift. By the look on his face as he stops in front of it, he expects the sight of it to impress me. As if I have never seen such magical contraptions before. I resist the urge to point out that I’ve visited the hotel before – have seen other elevators before as well, thank you. I leave the explanation unspoken and my expression bland. Lack of conversation may be best at this point, I decide.

I’m deposited on the second floor and abandoned to my own resources with the delivered message as my only guide. Fidelia’s request was brief in its urgency: 

Charlotte: I am in need of your assistance. Please come to the Langham Hotel, room 214, as soon as possible. It is a desperate situation. – FT

Since meeting her over the course of the investigation into the restaurant critic’s murder, Fi and I have continued our association. She is a rather intriguing woman with a vast and varied collection of experience I find amazing, and she is similarly entertained by the tales of my investigations. I think, though, my awkward foibles with Watson amuse her more.

I find the appointed door and knock, unsure now that I’m here what to expect. Her summons is vague, after all, and makes no explanation of the source of the desperation. The door cracks after a second knock, just wide enough for a tall, thin man with light hair and a greying mustache to peek through. I discern both height and girth by the position of his head and the width of his neck., I glance at the note, then the room number, and the back to him.

“I’m sorry, I must have the wrong…”

“You’re Holmes?” His lips barely move beneath the thick cropping of hair planted upon the top one. I nod, half fascinated by the abundance of the decoration. Watson’s previous mustache, in all its military glory, falls short in the face of this. He appears as confused by my appearance at the door as I feel by his . “But you’re a woman.”

“Yes, at last I checked.”

“I was expecting…oh, never mind, then. Come in. Step to. Can’t keep the door open all night.” The odd fellow steps out of view to pull the door open wider. I step in, glancing about as I do. It’s a very simple suite, elegant and yet minimal, holding a bed, a pair of side tables, a desk, a lounger placed in one corner, and a small chair placed in front of the desk. The bed, normally dressed in opulent linens, is a mess of tangled sheets. The duvet is kicked to the footboard. It doesn’t take a brilliant mind to discern what’s happened there, and quite recently.

“Is Fidelia in? By her message and the manager’s words I expected…” I turn slowly to face the gentleman and stop mid-sentence. He stands by the door draped in a pale green silk robe that barely reaches his knees. It’s obvious the garment isn’t his, and that he has nothing at all beneath it. “I’m sorry. Where are your…”

“Charlotte! Oh, thank goodness you’ve come.” FIdelia steps out of the bathroom and crosses the room in three long strides. She moves as a dancer should – fluidly, precisely, every sweep of the arm and extension of the leg a smooth and graceful arc. It’s not hard to see the former ballerina in her; nearly impossible to spot signs of the back injury that put an end to that particular career. She embraces me warmly with a kiss to each cheek, then steps back into flawless first position as naturally as I draw breath. The shimmery mint gown she wears appears a perfect match to the robe her guest is wearing. “I apologize for the time and the urgency. I honestly couldn’t think of anyone else to send for.”

“It’s fine.” I force my attention away from the awkward man at the door, who has taken to holding the lower part of his robe closed in the unlikely case a stray wind blows through and sends the hem over his head, or he moves wrong and it causes a revealing gap. “I’m quite glad to be of assistance to you and…”

“John Smith,” her companion supplies quickly, casting a warning look to Fidelia. “The name is John Smith.”

“Actually, it’s William Darlington, of Darlington Shipping, but we can play your game if you’d like.” His eyes shoot to Fidelia, accusation burning in his eyes. I chuckle. “She didn’t have to tell me anything, you fool. Your face has graced the front page of the Times on more the one occasion.”

“Yes, well…” He casts a wary look my direction without entirely removing his focus from Fi. “Are you sure she can be trusted?”

“I would trust her with my very life, Willie. She’s the sole of discretion, I promise you. And may be the only one who can help you with your current predicament.”

 “It involves Mr. Darlington’s lack of proper attire, I assume?” I take the lounger in the corner, my elbows resting on the arms as I watch Mr. Darlington fidget in his gown. “I doubt he finds himself borrowing part of your matching sets often, Fi.”

“You’re bloody right I don’t,” he huffs as he tugs at the lower hem. “Wouldn’t be now if someone hadn’t come in and made off with my things while we…I…was in the shower.”

“We?” I cock an eyebrow at Fi. She shrugs. Her gentleman caller squirms. “Have you checked with housekeeping to see if they gathered them up accidentally?”

“If it were that simple, do you think we would have called you?” Darlington strides to the desk, picking up a folded sheet of paper, which he tosses into my lap. “That was found in place of my belongings.”

What he hands me is a note, brief and direct, written on plain white paper. It looks like a female hand, though an unhappy one. The anger is clear in the sharp breaks between words; the gender of the author evident in the graceful loops and the light press of the pen to the paper. Its brief message read:

William –

I know about your whore. And all of London is going to know, too. If you try to request assistance from the hotel staff, you will expose yourself. If you send for the staff to bring you replacements, you will expose yourself. If you try to leave discreetly, you will expose yourself. There is no option that allows for you to sneak out unseen.

I will ruin you, William. It seems appropriate, after what you’ve put me through.

– Regina

“I suppose that explains the few members of the press I saw lurking in the public house across the street,” I say, flipping the page over out of habit. No watermark or seal, no markings specific to a personalized stationary set. Just random, simple paper. “What precisely is it you wish me to do?”

“Find my clothes, of course! Or a way to get me out of this situation with my reputation in tact.”

I tap the note against my chin, running the options through a filter of potential success or lunacy. Despite Watson’s assurances, I don’t lean automatically and unfairly toward the lunacy option. “Assuming the thief didn’t return them back to your home, which would be the best option for them and the worst for you, that leaves the hotel. There are roughly four hundred guest rooms here. A dozen maintenance, storage, or office spaces. That’s a full day’s worth of searching for the possibility of finding nothing at all, and that’s only a cursory inspection. A thorough search might take two days. The scandal you’re so worried about won’t be put off that long.”

“Which leaves us with what option, Charlotte?” Fi kneels in front of my chair, her clasped hands resting on my knee. “There has to be something.”

I sit in silence a moment, pondering the option lingering in the lunacy section of my brain. For once, Watson, I think, lunacy is the best option. “I do have an idea. I don’t think Mr. Darlington is going to appreciate it, but it is likely his best chance.”

“I will do anything.” His desperation is evident in his tone. There is no shame or penance alongside it. He’s not sorry for what he’s done. He’s only sorry he’s been caught doing it.

I smile and turn to Fidelia. “Do you happen to have a razor?”


An hour later, concealed in Fi’s corset, dress, hat, and a good two layers of makeup and without his impressive mustache, William Darlington walks out of the lobby of the Langham hotel, ignored by the Fleet Street gents loitering on the same couch I started my interrupted evening. Fidelia and I watch from the anonymity of the elevator corridor. Each awkward step he takes in Fi’s ill-fitting shoes elicits a giggle from me. The third earns me a poke in the ribs.

“I almost think you came up with this plan just to torture him,” Fidelia says. I hear a laugh bubbling at the edges of her words.

“I won’t deny a bit of amusement. He did bring it on himself. Since his wife can’t punish him fairly in divorce court, he should suffer somehow, even if I can’t stand for making him do so in the public eye.” I glance at her from my periphery. “Do you ever feel badly, offering ‘companionship’ to married men?”

Fi leans against the wall, arms crossed beneath her chest. She’s reclaimed the robe that matches her gown, now that Darlington doesn’t need it anymore. “Marriage does not always equate to happiness, and fault can be applied equally to either party. And some men would rather not destroy their families or leave their wives destitute just to seek out a small piece of happiness for themselves. Not all men who philander do so because they’re scum.” She shrugs her shoulders. “I choose my ‘companions’ carefully. I don’t have time for louts and bastards.”

I nod. It wasn’t a fair question. I’m too tired for tact, and have so little of it to start. “Shall we go back upstairs and request a good, hearty breakfast? I’ve sent word to Watson to bring ‘round a few changes of clothes. Enough to get us both home without raising too many eyebrows.”

“A brilliant idea. They do a lovely breakfast. And I could certainly use a considerable amount of tea as well.” She slides one of her arms around mine and spins me for the elevator. “While we wait, you can tell me more about this incident in the bath. We were interrupted by Willie needing help with his stockings.”