THE ROOSEVELT DECEPTION
"What a simply splendid woman!"
The speaker was Lord Royston, too fond of champagne and too loud, talking to the new Lord Bywell, formerly the Honourable Stephen Mandeville.
"She must be thirty if she's a day, but what a complexion! What a superb figure! I danced with her, and she has the most wonderful perfume about her, a sort of natural scent. Who are her people? Why ain't she married, a splendid little thing like that? Oh, is that who she is? Good God! I remember her from that Hanover Square business. Tell me, Stephen, is something going on between her and Sherlock Holmes's brother? Keep my voice down? Why?"
I wriggled past a table to another corner of the crowded ballroom. Thirty if she's a day, indeed! True, I was in my thirty-first year, but it was a pleasure to know that I was still attractive to men my own age.
A little way from me Mr Theodore Roosevelt, the important American visitor, was trying to cope with the complexities of British high society. Already he had spilt his drink over someone, and dropped a plate of canapes on the shoes of the Belgian ambassador. On my dance card he was down for the next waltz with me. Thank God it isn't a polka, I thought, and caught Mycroft's eye across the room. We smiled. The plan was working like a dream up to now.
Two other men, keeping their distance from Mycroft, were also watching Roosevelt. Our old enemy, Colonel Fritz von Tarden, now with the Berlin Diplomatic Corps, had with him one Colonel von Frimmersdorf, of His Imperial Majesty's Brunswick Guards. Space on my dance card had been found for both, but only after I had danced with Mr Roosevelt.
Tubby Winstanley, officially of the Advocate-General's Office and now my chief, was at the other side of the floor, uncomfortable in white tie and tails. Near him was his brother Richard, a little thinner than when I had last seen him, and unsteady on his feet, as if he had been ill. He was with his ever-beautiful wife, my good friend Joanna. Close by was the American newspaper proprietor, Mr Hearst, who knew a lot about Teddy Roosevelt. But Mr Roosevelt wasn't Mr Roosevelt... and I'd better start at the beginning.
Mycroft was staying at my flat in Walpole House, after the fire in the spring of 1894 that damaged much of the upper floor of the Diogenes including his quarters. He owned my rooms and I rented them from him, but if our living arrangements had become known, the scandal would have forced him to resign from the club and his Whitehall post. I too would have had to resign the post that I had just taken up, as an agent in Tubby's secretive Department, for his post in the Advocate-General's Office was merely a blind for the gathering of intelligence. Luckily my maid, Marie, was a broadminded and reliable young Frenchwoman who could collaborate in the pretence that I was living alone.
Mycroft and I were most careful. Most of the time we slept apart, but he would share my bed if the excitement of a case gripped him. Yet I had begun to detect a cooling off in our relationship, and not merely because I had banned the tuba from my flat. (Unfortunately it had survived the fire.) Something was wrong between us, but I did not know what.
One bright Friday afternoon in October Marie and I returned from a shopping expedition. As I paid off the cab, Marie, laden with my parcels, nudged me.
"Mam'selle! There, across the street, in the window of the Diogenes. Mr 'Olmes he is waving to you."
Mycroft was signalling from the lobby window. Sending Marie into the flat, I met him on the club steps. With him was a florid-faced man of about my own age, walking with a bit of a swagger. With his teeth clamped on a cigar butt, he was clad in a fashion proclaiming America to anyone who had lived there, as I had.
"Miss Weybridge," said Mycroft, "this is Mr William Randolph Hearst, an American newspaper proprietor. Hearst, Miss Weybridge is a very dear friend of mine who may be able to help us."
Mr Hearst threw away his cigar butt, raised his hat and bowed.
"Mr Hearst," continued Mycroft, "has been sent to me by Sherlock to seek my help. However, as we have done no more than introduce ourselves, I do not yet know what the problem is."
Hearst seemed astonished.
"One moment, Holmes! I never mentioned your brother! Ah! Of course! This club of yours has a telephone."
"Certainly not, my dear fellow. What would the Diogenes need with one of those things? Baker Street, or the stretch where 221B is found, is presently undergoing road repairs, and the distinctive clay is clinging to your left boot. Besides, your fingers are stained with chemicals. Sherlock had you interested in some experiment."
Hearst looked at me in amazement, then burst into laughter.
"Well, Mr Mycroft Holmes! Your brother impressed me in the same way, and I should have been prepared. Why, I never met such keen observation yet."
"Which part of the West are you from?" I asked. "California?"
"You too?" he gasped. "What is this? Have you folks fixed this up?"
"I lived for some years in the West," I said, "and I seem to recognise the accent. Do you know Annie Oakley?"
"Do I know her? I should say so! Everyone knows Annie."
"Well, she taught me to shoot."
"You don't say, ma'am?"
By now he was looking thoroughly impressed. Much of the bounce and swagger vanished, and Mycroft looked pleased.
"The thing is, Miss Weybridge," pursued Mycroft, "we are baffled. We need a private place where we can discuss the matter which Mr Hearst is anxious to unfold to me."
"What about your lodgings, Holmes?" asked Mr Hearst.
"I live in the Club, but we suffered a fire and at present our Strangers' Room is being used for storage by the workmen carrying out repairs. I cannot entertain you in any other part of the Diogenes."
Something was clearly in the wind and Mycroft had nowhere to take Mr Hearst. He looked at me in desperation.
"Why don't you come across to my flat, Mr Holmes?" I said. "There's my maid at the window."
I gave Marie a little signal, pointing to Mycroft, Mr Hearst and myself. She nodded and disappeared.
"Miss Weybridge," said Mycroft, "you are too good. If we might ensconce ourselves for half an hour in your study, I promise we should not be in the way."
Mr Hearst, however, objected.
"Now see here, Holmes, I don't see why we should impose ourselves on this good lady. Isn't there another room we could use in your club?"
"Impossible, my dear fellow. The Diogenes is not a sociable club, and the staff will not offer rooms to non-members. The Strangers' Room is stripped of its furniture and is full of paint pots, bags of plaster and builders' tools, with workmen constantly coming and going. There is no privacy."
"Of course you may come, Mr Holmes," I replied, leading the way to the flat. "If you would give me a moment to put things straight."
I entered and made sure that Marie had understood my purpose. She had already removed all traces of Mycroft. Pipe rack, snuffbox, hat, umbrella, framed photographs, all had been whisked from sight, and his bedroom door was locked. Mr Hearst should entertain no suspicions of where Mycroft really was living.
I showed my visitors into the study, the office-like room that Mycroft kept for interviewing clients. Marie had placed a vase of late chrysanthemums on a table, with a framed photo of Henry Irving, Ellen Terry and me, had thrown some feminine-looking cushions on to chairs, and scattered some flowery notepaper on the desk.
"Tea or coffee, gentlemen?" I asked.
"Now, Miss Weybridge," began Mr Hearst, "this is awfully good of you, but we must not take advantage to that extent."
"I insist, Mr Hearst."
"Miss Weybridge's maid makes excellent coffee the American way," said Mycroft.
In the hallway, Marie hastily gathered up the shopping.
"Well," said Mr Hearst, "as long as you don't mind, Miss Weybridge, I'm very grateful. But it still seems a liberty. Why, with men in your rooms like this, and you a single lady, people might think something improper was going on here."
Marie dropped a parcel, recovered it, and hurried to the kitchen. Mr Hearst was interested in my time in America, so, while waiting for the coffee, we chatted.
I was curious about what could be so important that my flat had to be used as an emergency meeting place, but after coffee I left them in peace and went to my bedroom. There I spent some time trying on the new frocks from my dressmaker, and the gloves and hats that I had ordered to match. Marie admired some of the items, and frowned and clicked her tongue at others while suggesting alterations. I found her invaluable in matters of dress.
After a while there was a knock at the bedroom door, and Mycroft asked if I was respectable, and if so, could I please come out.
"Anna," he said as we stood in the passage, "I want you to come and listen to what Hearst has to say. I've told him how much I value your opinion. He knows you work for Major Winstanley, of whom he has heard."
Mr Hearst was straddling the hearthrug when I appeared, but he made haste to seat me.
"Miss Weybridge," he said with a certain respect in his voice as he took a seat himself, "Holmes here has told me a lot about you. Why, I had no idea you worked for Major Winstanley, who they say is quite a character. Is that true?"
"He's certainly one of our great British eccentrics," I replied, smiling. "But he has the sharpest of minds, beaten only by Mr Holmes here and his brother. What were you talking about? If it's newspapers or politics, I know so little about them."
"Holmes warned me you'd be modest, Miss Weybridge. But any lady who did as well as you in tracking down that Colonel Moran"--here I shot a startled glance at Mycroft. What on earth had he told him?--"and in trapping that crazy and murderous young woman at Cambridge in the summer can help me. Do you mind if I smoke a small cigar? It helps me concentrate."
He leaned back in his seat as his cigar began to fill the room with pungent smoke.
"I don't know how much you're up in politics, Miss Weybridge, but here it is. There are people in Cuba who wish to free themselves from Spain. If it means civil war, the Cuban secessionists will get help from Uncle Sam."
I nodded, but I knew nothing of what he was talking about. I had had enough trouble understanding the Hawaiian affair. However, Mycroft obviously wanted me to take an intelligent interest in this business, whatever it was.
"Well, I can't reveal my sources," went on Hearst, "but I recently heard of a plan so incredible that I feared that neither your government nor mine would believe it. I was due to visit Europe, and I decided to see someone who might help me fathom it all out."
He blew out another great cloud of blue smoke. I moved to the window seat.
"Sherlock Holmes?" I asked.
"Correct. I wanted to know how things really stood. But Sherlock Holmes sent me to his brother here. He also mentioned that his brother was acquainted with a young lady who helped out in his cases. I presume he meant you."
Sherlock had obviously been busy since I last saw him in the Backs at Cambridge. How much more did he know about me? I wondered.Mycroft, who had been furtively looking in vain for his snuffbox on the mantelpiece, took out a pipe instead.
"One moment, Hearst," he said. "When did you embark?"
"Monday of last week. September 24th."
"And you had a ten-day crossing in breezy weather, I see. Your ship docked today and you went straight to Baker Street."
"Say, how do you know all this about the voyage and my movements?"
"Merely because you have not yet had the salt cleaned from the welts of your boots by a hotel boot boy. Pray go on."
A blue cloud from Mycroft's pipe began to compete with Hearst's smoke, and I had to open a window, as his taste in tobacco was similar to his brother's.
"As you know," said Hearst, "a faction in the German court wishes to take over the British South African possessions. They hope to stir up anti-American feeling in this country."
"By convincing the British public that the United States is planning to seize both Canada and the British West Indies, as well as the Spanish possessions in the Caribbean."
By now Mr Hearst had lost me. I thought Cuba was somewhere near Hawaii, and had never heard of Spanish possessions in the Caribbean. But I sat at the window and tried to look intelligent.
"You see," said Hearst, "the German faction hopes to inflame the French-speaking population of Canada. A rebellion in Quebec, apparently supported by American agents, could be stoked up into war between Britain and the United States and might draw in France on the American side."
"I see," said Mycroft. "And if the British and Americans fight, the Boers in South Africa could rise against us."
"Right," said Hearst.
"The Boer republics could end up as part of a Greater Boer South Africa, protected by Germany."
"Why, that's exactly it, Holmes! You've hit on it. Britain would lose South Africa with all its riches, which is exactly what this German faction is aiming at. Well, Miss Weybridge, that's the story, and I hope it hasn't bored you, or even Boered you, ha ha! Sorry, poor joke."
I looked to Mycroft for inspiration, for I was completely lost.
"It seemed far-fetched to me," went on Hearst, blowing a smoke ring through the fog from Mycroft's pipe, "until I discovered that the guns for the South African rising have been supplied. The arms for Canada are on their way via Ireland."
Both men ignored my coughs and the fan I was now wielding.
"And the man behind it," he continued. "Have you heard of Fritz von Tarden?"
Streaming though they were, my eyes were wide as I opened the window further.
"To that man, nothing is impossible," said Mycroft. He sat for a moment, reflecting, then rose and, to my relief, knocked out his pipe on the grate.
"Now do you believe me?" asked Mr Hearst.
Mycroft nodded, but sat down without answering. Hearst threw the end of his cigar into the fire.
In the window seat I looked from one to the other, while the weak October sunlight streamed through the tobacco smoke swirling out into the fresh air.
"If what you say is true, Hearst," said Mycroft, refilling his pipe to my dismay, "I shall certainly help to prevent von Tarden from carrying out this plan. But I must ask three things of you."
"Name them." Hearst lit another, larger, cigar. "You don't mind, Miss Weybridge?"
"First," said Mycroft, breathing out a great cloud of foul blue smoke, "you must ensure that no whisper of this reaches the Press in either your country or ours unless it comes through me."
"Easy enough," answered Hearst. "No-one else in the Press knows of this plot."
"Second, tell me which of your own prominent countrymen you would not expect to see over here now. Finally, you must accompany me to a ball arranged for Wednesday week, the 17th. It is at Richmond, at the new home of Lord and Lady Bywell."
"Why do you want a prominent man who would not normally be visiting here?"
"To create a surprise for our German friends. To lead them to believe that something is in the wind about which they know nothing, and which I can use to make them show their hand sooner than they wish."
Mr Hearst blew out a cloud of smoke and considered.
"I can keep myself free for the ball, but this other thing ain't so simple. A prominent man who wouldn't normally be expected here?"
He knitted his brow, then smiled.
"Say now! The very man! He's not yet very prominent, but he's been on my mind since I left New York, because someone on the ship reminded me of him."
"An up-and-coming fellow. President Cleveland took him on as the statutory Republican representative in his Civil Service Commission. Theodore Roosevelt, known as Teddy. Heard of him?"
"Not at all."
"Been over here before; married in London back in the eighties. Big game hunter, President of the Boone and Crockett Club for conserving game, and historical writer to boot. Very active. Likes chopping trees down, that sort of thing. Out West for a while before he was married, which I guess must have been '85 or '86. Maybe you ran into him, Miss Weybridge."
"I was back home by '82, Mr Hearst," I replied, pointedly taking up the fan again.
"Pity. You'd have liked him, I guess. He's been asked to run for Mayor of New York."
Mycroft drew on his pipe thoughtfully.
"Impressive, Hearst, but would von Tarden have heard of him?"
"Maybe not, but I guess he'd lose no time in finding out. Von Tarden, as you know, is no fool, and likes to keep one jump ahead, and if he thinks something's in the wind, he'll try and find out what."
"Good. If we can convince von Tarden that this--what's his name?--Roosevelt is due to arrive here for secret talks, a coming man at that, then we may upset the apple cart for the plotters."
"We give it out that Teddy's coming over here?"
"Correct. My Department can use the Press to mislead von Tarden and perhaps convince him that their plot is mistimed, which would give us all a breathing space. That's why I should like you to attend the ball. I can easily arrange it, and if we introduce you, a newspaper proprietor, to the right people, it should give credence to our fabrication."
Hearst blew a smoke ring and nodded.
"I see what you mean, but I can't cable Teddy to come over here at a moment's notice, and he wouldn't come without a good reason...hey! wait a moment! Wait a moment." He rose and paced thoughtfully about the room. "This fellow I met on the ship. Didn't I say he reminded me of Teddy Roosevelt? It was the face and voice, mainly, for he was a little shorter and plumper than Teddy. Now if I could get him to play the part and go along with me to this ball -"
Mycroft rose from his seat.
"First rate, Hearst, if we could produce a convincing impostor. But could we? And what if there are Americans there who know this Roosevelt?"
"If I get a sight of the guest list I'll soon tell you. First I must ask the fellow if he'd do the impersonation. I have his card here. Let's see. Jedediah Spruce, that was his name."
"Mr Spruce!" I exclaimed.
"You know him, Miss Weybridge?"
I recalled that although I did know Mr Spruce, it had been in the time of my masquerade as Dalziel. Mycroft came to the rescue.
"I had dealings with him when he was working for Reuters," he said. "You'll remember him from then, Miss Weybridge."
"An unusual fellow," said Mr Hearst. "Spectacles, moustache, just as Teddy has them. As I said, he's on the small side for Roosevelt, and too rotund, but then I guess hardly anyone over here knows Teddy."
"Rotund?" asked Mycroft. "He was quite slightly built when I last saw him. He was Reuters' agent in Brazil."
"So I understand," replied Hearst. "He was finishing a tour of the States when I met him. I know where he's staying. What do you say I go see him and put this proposition to him?"
"He's helped me before," said Mycroft, and briefly recounted the story of Moran and the diamonds.
"You don't say?" said Hearst. "Spruce did that? Why, what a devil of a fellow! I'd no idea, for he seems so proper, so respectable. And this Dalziel, could we get him? Went to Canada? Say, that's too bad! He sounds the sort of guy we could do with. Oh, by the way Holmes, if I'm to go to this ball, I'd like to take a young lady with me." Here he reddened slightly and turned to me. "Would it be impertinent, Miss Weybridge, to ask if you'd do me the honour?"
"She'll be coming with me," answered Mycroft. "Sorry, Hearst, but you'll have enough with Spruce on your hands."
After Hearst had left, I flung my arms about Mycroft's huge bulk.
"Thank you," I said. "I've never been to anything as grand as this ball."
"My dear Anna," replied Mycroft, squeezing my shoulders, "you are indispensable to this scheme. Your stage training and your experience of being Dalziel will help enormously in coaching Spruce, and of course you must come to see the result."
"If he does it," I replied. "But Mycroft, what if he recognises me?"
"We'll cross that bridge if we come to it."
We agreed to use my flat to prepare our impostor, and next morning Mr Hearst came with our old friend Mr Spruce. Although he had wasted no time, he had met some difficulty in persuading Spruce to take part in the plan, the journalist finally agreeing with reluctance to come and talk it over.
Spruce's moustache was now a more sensible length, and the spectacles he had used once or twice when I last met him were now permanent. As Hearst had said, he was rotund, and there was in his neck and face a nervous twitch that had not been there before.
I feared recognition. He did look carefully at me as we were introduced, and I could not easily meet his gaze. I felt myself turning pink.
"Haven't we met before, Miss Weybridge?"
"You remember Mr Dalziel?" asked Mycroft. "Miss Weybridge is a relation."
"That's why your face seems familiar. Young Dalziel, eh? Oh dear! I trust that you are not a near relation."
"Quite distant," I said hastily.
"I'm glad to hear it," said Spruce. "Do you know this Mr Dalziel, Hearst?"
"No, sir, but I've heard he's a fellow we could do with right now. Unfortunately, he's gone to live in Canada."
"Thank the Lord for that," said Spruce. "Dalziel was the most incompetent, fancy-ridden young - well, Miss Weybridge, forgive me for speaking my mind about your distant relative, but I thought him a nincompoop of the first degree." His head twitched sideways. "His insane ideas! I was foolish enough to fall in with them. He was kidnapped and finally blown up with Holmes! My dear Miss Weybridge, Holmes put his life at the mercy of the most dangerous man in London, all because of Dalziel's hare-brained notions of heroism."
"Sherlock called Moran the second most dangerous man in London," said Mycroft.
Spruce made a dismissive gesture. "Yes, yes, I know, the late Professor Moriarty being the most dangerous. You're splitting hairs, Holmes. The thing is, Dalziel put himself, you and me needlessly into danger."
"You played your part very well," said Mycroft.
"Oh, that was nothing," replied Mr Spruce. "And, Miss Weybridge, I can see that I've offended you with my plain speaking. I'm sorry, but the memory of that escapade still gives me bad dreams. I sometimes wake screaming aloud." He twitched. "I started drinking strong Brazilian coffee to try to steady my nerves."
I was surprised by his confession, for Spruce's coolness throughout the adventure had greatly impressed Mycroft.
"I had no idea that Cousin Warren was as foolish as you say, Mr Spruce," I replied. "But if that is how he behaved, then there was no excuse for it, and he must owe you an apology."
"If you had been there, Miss Weybridge, you would no doubt feel as I do." His face twitched and he turned to Mycroft. "I trust, Holmes, that this scheme of yours is capable of being carried out? A simple impersonation, so Hearst said, but frankly, where you are concerned nothing is simple."
"My dear fellow," said Mycroft, "think of your country. For all his faults, you know, Dalziel at least never let his country down. His rashness was due to youth, but his heart was in the right place."
"Perhaps," replied Spruce. "But he certainly caused us both a good deal of inconvenience, to put it mildly. And to cap it all," his voice rose indignantly, "when it was all over, the wretched fellow swooned to the floor like a woman!"
Mycroft turned away with his shoulders shaking. I rang for coffee so as not to meet his eye, for I would have burst out laughing. Mr Hearst, meanwhile, studied a copy of the guest list which Mycroft had obtained.
"Why!" he said, looking up. "I see Major Winstanley's name here."
"A hasty addition," said Mycroft. "His brother too, and his wife as company for Miss Weybridge."
"And here's von Tarden. Nice work, Holmes."
"Colonel von Tarden, as he now is," said Mycroft, "has acquired diplomatic status, and can therefore be invited as a bona fide guest. That makes our little deception all the easier, of course."
"Now," said Hearst. "Teddy's maybe half a foot taller than Spruce and not as full in the figure. But that won't matter, for no-one on this list will know him personally, including the two from our Embassy."
"Hearst, you haven't told me much about this Teddy person," complained Spruce. "If I'm to pass off as him--and mind you, I don't say that I will--I must know more."
"Oh, you will," replied Hearst as Marie brought the coffee. "You'll have Teddy Roosevelt coming out of your ears, Jedediah old scout, by the time we've done with you."
"And must I be called Teddy?" continued Spruce irritably. "Can't I be Edward? It's what? Theodore? Oh my God! Excuse my language, Miss Weybridge, but I always thought my name was bad enough. But Theodore!" He grimaced.
"But you'll do it, Spruce?" asked Hearst anxiously. "We all rely on you. Come on, man, don't let us down."
Spruce paused and looked at us all. We waited for his decision, Hearst clenching and unclenching a fist, Mycroft gazing impassively. Eventually Spruce nodded and took a sip of his strong black coffee.
"Oh, very well. But mind you, only for one night."
Hearst slapped him heartily on the back.
"Good man! Oh, I'm sorry! I hope the cup's not broken."