Mycroft Holmes is not so unlike his younger brother Sherlock. Mystery-solving and clever solutions set in the eighteen-eighties are afoot in a collection of tales featuring “The Other Mr. Holmes”. Tearing through London in hansom cabs and knee-deep in the twists and turns in pursuit of adventure alongside Mycroft is his plucky, crack-shot mistress Anna.
“The Adventure of the Royal Revelations”: Queen Victoria’s personal diary goes missing and an equerry is murdered. Certainly the murderer must be found; however, the Queen’s comments on some of her ministers must never reach the Continental press. Mycroft is just the man to find the murderer and save Her Majesty’s reputation. Mycroft and Anna attempt to keep the damning volume out of the hands of dastardly foreign agents.
“The Adventure of the Flame of the Natal Retrospect”: Mycroft and Anna set out to save the reputation of a leading actress and keep the unique gemstone, the Flame of Natal, from the grasp of audacious thieves.
“The Adventure of the Reuters’ Agent Summer”: Mycroft and Anna cross swords with one of the deadliest enemies of Mycroft’s brother–Colonel Sebastian Moran.
GENRE: Mystery (Historical) ISBN: 978-1-920972-26-4 ASIN: B003Y74HIW Word count: 55, 630
CASE NO 1
THE ADVENTURE OF THE ROYAL REVELATIONS
April 24th – May 12th 1891
In which we enter the Diogenes Club, Mycroft’s friend and colleague springs a surprise on us, and Queen Victoria is saved from an Awful Embarrassment
A fortnight ago Sherlock Holmes horrified his friends, and delighted the criminal fraternity, by plunging to his death down the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland. Apart from his faithful friend Watson, no man has been more deeply affected by Sherlock’s disappearance than his brother Mycroft. 1
I have known Mycroft for five years. He works in Whitehall, where he is employed in the office of the Government Solicitor. As a founder member of the Diogenes Club, he has the privilege of living in an apartment on the top floor. I shared rooms there with him until a few days ago, and became involved in many of his unofficial cases, such as his latest, which I call the Adventure of the Royal Revelations.
It began late on Friday April 24th. I was gazing idly from the window of the club library when I noted Mycroft’s corpulent figure lumbering hastily across the street to a set of rooms which he owns. He was looking warily about him, and, as he reached the door of the block, he spent some time carefully gazing up and down Pall Mall before disappearing into the building. Those rooms of his are fitted out as offices, and I discovered later that his brother had been hiding there from Professor Moriarty. On Saturday morning Mycroft rushed from the club without touching an excellent breakfast.
I learned later that he had driven Dr Watson to Victoria for the boat train. He returned that afternoon, said nothing, and disappeared into his room. Within minutes the rumbling of his tuba came from behind the closed door. Where Sherlock was a master of his instrument, the violin, Mycroft could best be described as not quite a master of his.
Sharing rooms with a man who plays the tuba badly is not something I would recommend. He spared me the full horrors of his performances by shutting himself in his bedroom of an evening. At times he would concentrate on scales, the false notes dumping down like suet puddings. At other times he would work on his compositions. When he felt light-hearted, his little tunes would bubble forth with a suet pudding every so often. When he was melancholy, he would rumble in the cellarage of his instrument. Sometimes he would soar to the very top of its register until the notes split and drove me to clap on my hat, struggle into my coat, and flee down the stairs into the street, where passers-by stared about them in bewilderment at the distant bull-bellowings.
For several evenings I was constrained to go strolling, Harris, the under-porter, nodding sympathetically as I hurried out. I would return late, glancing up at Mycroft’s bedroom window to ascertain whether the torment had stopped.
On Wednesday April 29th, as I returned at dusk, I almost walked into a heavily-built man, swathed in overcoat and silk scarf, lounging on the pavement with his back to me. As I side-stepped and entered the lobby of the Diogenes, Dinwoodie, the aged Senior Servant, shuffled forward.
“Mr Dalziel, sir,” he quavered, “Mr Holmes has a visitor in the Strangers’ Room. Will you join him, sir?”
The Strangers’ Room, where visitors to the Diogenes were received, was a typical club room with well-appointed leather chairs, a fine mahogany bookcase and occasional tables of polished rosewood. As he saw me, Mycroft, filling an armchair, waved a languid hand at a gentleman occupying another.
“Come and join us, Dalziel.”
Only one table lamp was lit so that the firelight flickered on Mycroft’s heavy but handsome face while nothing but the ticking of the case clock disturbed the silence. Because the club was founded for the most unsociable men in London, no refreshments were served to visitors, so that our guest had to content himself with a cigar. He was a small and stocky man, who rose and shook my hand cordially. He wore a trim beard and moustache, and even in the softened light of the shaded lamp I marked his sunburnt face.
“Sir Marcus,” said Mycroft, “may I present Mr Warren Hastings Dalziel, my invaluable friend and colleague. Dalziel, this gentleman is Sir Marcus de Groot, equerry to the Prince of Wales. Sir Marcus has news with the gravest implications for our country and the monarchy. It concerns theft.”
“And murder, Mr Holmes!”
The voice came from the doorway where stood a top-hatted man, the muffled-up man who had been lounging outside. Sir Marcus did not move, but Mycroft rose and clumsily bowed.
“If Your Royal Highness wishes to remain incognito,” he replied, “it would still give me the greatest pleasure and honour to act for you.”
“Damn me!” said our visitor.
He threw off his silk hat, scarf and coat to reveal himself as the Prince of Wales. His figure was as portly as Mycroft’s, but he was bearded where Mycroft was clean-shaven, and a good few inches shorter.
“My little charade is ended, Marcus,” said the Prince. He turned to Mycroft. “You possess uncanny powers of perception, Mr Holmes. I was sure I should be unrecognised.”
“If you did not wish to be recognised, sir,” said Mycroft, “you should not have travelled in your own carriage.”
“But I did not,” replied the Prince. “I engaged a plain and unprepossessing conveyance.”
“Yes sir,” smiled Mycroft, “but you should also have engaged a team of indifferent hacks, and a slovenly and careless driver to complete the ensemble. I was in the lobby when your equipage drew up. Your own horses and footmen betrayed you before I ever looked out. Your team are distinguished by their precise and disciplined manner, and your footmen have a certain brisk efficiency which quite gives them away to the attentive observer. There is also the question of the horse-shoes.”
“Yes, Mr Holmes?”
“Nickel steel shoes have a distinctive ring, and the hoof beats suggested a team of the size and weight of Cleveland bays. Before you alighted from the carriage I was more than half certain of your identity. Once I saw you under the street lamp, your disguise was transparent.”
A study in amazement, the Prince took the seat that Mycroft offered. I was presented, made a bow and began to leave, but the Prince stopped me.
“Any man who enjoys the confidence of Mycroft Holmes shall enjoy mine,” he said, whereupon I sat down in the background while our new guest lit a cigar. He seemed to be on edge, and Mycroft nodded in approval as I stayed at a respectful distance.
“Mr Holmes,” began the Prince, “as Sir Marcus has told you, there is at present a great danger to the throne, and at the heart of the matter lies my mama’s personal diary. I intended to remain outside and let Sir Marcus explain everything, but my anxieties became too great.”
“Sir Marcus was beginning to recount the details to me, sir,” said Mycroft. “But he did not mention murder.”
The Prince drew heavily on his cigar before resuming.
“Since my father’s death thirty years ago, it has been my mother’s practice to enter long and detailed confidences in her personal diary. She summarises policies, and writes her private opinions of Cabinet ministers. Half a dozen foreign powers would give anything to lay their hands on even a single page of that diary.”
Mycroft leaned forward eagerly, his keen grey eyes glittering.
“So I understand from Sir Marcus, sir. And I also understand that the diary has disappeared.”
“It has, Mr Holmes,” replied the Prince grimly. “At the weekend, my wife and I stayed with Mama at Sandringham. At some time between Sunday evening and lunch on Monday someone stole her current diary.”
“So much Sir Marcus told me before your arrival. And the murder?”
“One of my equerries, Sir Charles Quincanneaux, was stabbed to death in the room from which the diary was stolen.”
“Can you give me more details?”
“Sir Marcus!” commanded the Prince.
“The body was found at Monday lunchtime, Mr Holmes,” said Sir Marcus, “in the upstairs room where the diary was kept in a locked cabinet. Sir Charles was lying on the floor with an assegai buried in his back.”
“The weapon had been torn down from a wall mounting. The door of the room was locked, and the key was in the keyhole on the inside. The doctor said that Sir Charles had been dead since the previous night.”
“Closed and fastened, Mr Holmes.”
“Who had the key to the cabinet?”
The Prince answered: “My mother had one, and the other was in the possession of Sir Charles. It was found in his pocket.”
“When was the body found, and by whom?”
“Two footmen found it at about one fifteen on Monday afternoon,” said Sir Marcus. “The evening before, Her Majesty gave Sir Charles the volume to be locked away. He went to do that after dinner. By Monday lunchtime, no-one had seen him and we undertook a search. Eventually the room was broken into and the body discovered. Shortly afterwards the diary was known to be missing.”
“May I ask, since this is now Wednesday, why you did not seek immediate assistance?”
“We had to make certain that the diary was indeed missing and not mislaid, Mr Holmes. We had to be discreet, since the fewer who know about this, the better.”
“Quite so. I imagine that the missing volume could only aggravate the situation in Southern Africa, and seriously affect our relations with France.”
The Prince nodded.
“It is my belief, Mr Holmes,” he said, “that the diary was stolen on the orders of my royal nephew, Wilhelm.”
“The Kaiser,” said Mycroft sombrely. “Has anything appeared in the foreign press?”
“Not yet, Mr Holmes.”
“That,” said Mycroft, “leads me to believe that the thief is still in this country. He may be hoping to make a financial gain in exchange for the return of the book. He may be hoping to play off the British and German intelligence services against each other.”
“Quite so,” said the Prince. “You grasp the danger, Mr Holmes, and the need for a speedy and discreet recovery of the diary. And of course, we must find the killer and bring him to justice. I have little doubt that the thief and the murderer are one and the same. I should have consulted your brother, but I find that he is away.”
“He is abroad, sir,” replied Mycroft gravely.
“In any case,” said the Prince, “although your brother is of the highest integrity and capability, he is a private gentleman, and is therefore outside the influence of your Government Department. Mr Holmes, I would deem it a favour if you would attempt to recover my mother’s diary and involve no-one other than Mr Dalziel here.”
“I shall have to involve the police, sir.”
“Naturally. But I trust – indeed, I know – that I can rely on you. Mr Dalziel, it goes without saying that I rely on your own absolute discretion.”
“Of course, sir,” I replied.
“May I ask, sir,” asked Mycroft, “when the footmen discovered the body, what did they do next?”
Again Sir Marcus supplied the details.
“One remained in the room while the other went for help.”
“And the police?”
“Were wired immediately. A Scotland Yard man. Inspector – I forget the name.”
“Goodfellow?” said the Prince helpfully.
“Not Straightfellow?” queried Mycroft.
“That’s the name!” said Sir Marcus. “He’s down there now.”
“To investigate the murder,” added the Prince. “But the diary I leave to you, Mr Holmes. The inspector knows nothing about it at present, although if you wish to enlighten him that will be up to you.”
“Inspector Straightfellow is a good and trustworthy officer, sir,” said Mycroft. “I should very much prefer to have him on this case.”
“Very well, Mr Holmes. It is all in your hands. You will be able to take leave of absence from your office? Excellent!”
The Prince resumed hat, coat and scarf and left with Sir Marcus. Mycroft and I accompanied them to the door, or to be truthful, Mycroft accompanied them while I merely bowed them out.
Mycroft strode briskly back into the lobby where Harris, the under-porter, sat gaping.
“Come, Dalziel, we must have an early night, for tomorrow we make a start.”
“Sandringham, of course. But for now, bed.”
As I expected, Mycroft invited me to his bed that night. I went to his room naked, for I knew that he would be, and scrambled in with him, snuggling up and squashing my breasts against his huge and comforting frame.
I loved it when Mycroft took on a case, when, for the bedtime hours at least, I could give up all pretence of being a man. At such times he always called me by my proper name, Anna, and made love to me passionately.
Normally unaffected by carnal desires, Mycroft was a different man whenever something came to tax his intellect. He was corpulent and lethargic, often preferring to reason and theorise from the depths of his armchair at the Diogenes Club. But at bedtime his animal spirits rose to an uncontrollable level, and the man whose circle thought him a cold, intellectual being became a tender and expert lover.
We reached the highest plane of sheer physical pleasure, and when it was over I collapsed upon him, covering him with loving kisses. Contentedly I nestled against him and fell into a happy sleep.
I dreamed of my teens when I left England to live with an aunt in Ohio. There I had spent several happy years, learning to shoot under the tutelage of a young woman named Annie Butler, who is now better known as Annie Oakley, the sharpshooter. I was a tomboy in those days, and when my aunt moved West I saw violence and death in that hardy land. 2
Returning to England, I went on stage and played Shakespeare at Henry Irving’s Lyceum and elsewhere. My best roles were Rosalind and Viola, two young ladies who successfully disguise themselves as men. The experience led me to develop a music hall act as a male impersonator.
At twenty-one I was in Parisian cabaret, where my male impersonations were so successful that I continually fooled whole audiences. I would keep my long dark locks well hidden under my hat. My natural contralto sounded like a light manly tenor until I removed my hat, shook out my hair, and thus revealed myself as the woman I was. How the audiences roared with delight!
At the Folies Bergere in 1886 I met Mycroft Holmes and began a liaison with him. I hoped against hope that he would marry me, but he refused. In desperation to remain with him, I fell in with his outrageous plan. I became a resident member of the Diogenes disguised as a young man of the name of Warren Hastings Dalziel.
I cut my hair like a man’s, kept nothing womanly in my wardrobe, apart from some costumes locked in a secret cupboard, and bound up my bosom beneath my shirt. Fortunately I am not particularly well-endowed in that area.
The fat under-porter, Harris, was stupid, the middle-aged junior porter, Henderson, was half blind, and the Senior Servant, old Dinwoodie, was half senile. So for some years I passed off successfully as a man. 3
Except in bed or when otherwise alone, Mycroft and I addressed each other as Holmes and Dalziel. Unless Mycroft was undertaking a case, we slept apart in celibacy, voluntary on his part, enforced on mine, but all the better for the pleasure I experienced when we became physically lovers again.
The arrangement suited us both very well. It was the only way in which I could remain with Mycroft, for I knew that he would never leave the Diogenes.
I shared Mycroft’s cases from the first, and, as I was a better shot than he, I was taken with him as “Mr Dalziel, my assistant.” The danger never bothered me; I experienced more in the Wild West, and as long as I was with him, I was happy. So I dreamed and remembered and passed a contented night.
In the morning we breakfasted quickly, ready for our trip to Norfolk. I put on my gentleman’s tweed coat while Mycroft wore a belted Norfolk jacket. We both wore shooting knickerbockers, Mycroft topping off his ensemble with an ear-flapped cap while I wore a smart sporting cap. Mycroft had wired ahead to Straightfellow and our train, on the Great Eastern Railway, left shortly after nine. There was no time to lose.
One or two cabs stood in readiness practically all the time outside the door of the Diogenes Club. Mycroft was known among the cabbies as a tipper generous to the point of recklessness, although he drove them unmercifully whether his destination was Whitehall or W. H. Smith’s. As the leading cabby saw Mycroft he rolled his hansom forward.
“Liverpool Street, cabby,” rapped Mycroft, “and a bonus if you can do it by eight fifty.”
The cab flew. It was the fastest and most dangerous trip through London that I had ever made. Barrow boys, flower girls, gentlemen staggering home from a night’s carouse leapt for safety from our wheels. The cabby flung all his energy into his task, his swaying hansom throwing us from side to side as we thundered on with the bell jingling madly. His whip cracked freely, matched only by the oaths streaming from his tongue with variety enough to astound the lower deck of a man of war. I always have to suppress a smile at the way cabbies behave in front of me when I’m dressed as a man.
When we alighted, thoroughly shaken up, the cabby beamed as Mycroft threw him a half-sovereign. I had to run to keep up as he strode onto the platform where we boarded our express.
In a little over two hours we drew into our destination where a dark-browed, blue-chinned man in a faded mackintosh greeted us on the platform. The inspector lived up to his name. Huw Gareth Straightfellow was taller by a head than Mycroft himself. Where Mycroft was, I must admit, fat, the ramrod physique of Straightfellow was packed solid with muscle.
I knew that in his youth Straightfellow had played rugby and Watson, Sherlock’s friend and colleague, had played against him at Blackheath in his younger days. Or was it cricket? I’m never sure.
“Ah, Mr Dalziel,” said the inspector, his Welsh lilt still strong and musical after years in London. He scrutinised me closely. “I don’t know how you do it, Mr Dalziel, I really don’t.”
I felt myself colouring up. I knew what was coming.
“Don’t tell me you’ve started shaving, because I shan’t believe it. Look at that face, Mr ‘Olmes. Like a baby’s bottom.”
I knew I was turning beetroot. I often had to put up with the raillery of Straightfellow, as my face had obviously never been shaved, but even that shrewd policeman never guessed my true identity.
“Some of you young chaps have all the luck. I’ll bet the young ladies love to run their hands over that skin, eh, Mr ‘Olmes? Not like mine.”
“Possibly, Straightfellow,” replied Mycroft. “Just now, however, we are more concerned with this murder, and the stolen royal diary.”
Mycroft’s last remark took the inspector aback, and he was a study in fascination as he ushered us into a dog cart and drove us to the estate. By the time we reached the royal residence, Straightfellow knew all that we knew about the murder.
“This is the room, gents.”
The three of us were in the first floor room where the murder had occurred and from which the diary had been stolen. Apart from moving the body out, no-one had touched anything, and Mycroft began a diligent examination of our surroundings. He made measurements with a tape and minutely inspected the frame of the single window with a folding pocket lens. Straightfellow produced the assegai, one of many pairs mounted on the wall, which had killed Sir Charles.
“Looks as if the murderer snatched up the first thing handy, Mr ‘Olmes. It makes me wonder whether the whole business was done on the spur of the moment.”
Mycroft leaned out of the window.
“Gravel walk and stone flags below, no drainpipe within reach. Quiet side of the building, would you say, Straightfellow?”
“Thinking of ladders, eh, Mr ‘Olmes? I’ve already examined the ground below and allowed no-one near it. But I couldn’t find any footmarks, and if a ladder was used, I reckon it would be propped on the stone flags, you see. I got a ladder, put it up to this window and went up to see what I could do.”
“I could easily open the window by pushing the catch back with my penknife. But the thing was, we found the window fastened, which means the thief would have had to shut the catch as he got out. Now, try as I might, I couldn’t do it with my knife. I couldn’t lever or pull the catch shut, you see. So he locked the room from the inside but I don’t think he got out by the window.”
“Have you a theory, Straightfellow? The chimney, perhaps?”
“No, sir,” smiled the inspector. “I think there were two of them.”
“I agree. One waiting below.”
“Right, Mr ‘Olmes. The assassin chucked the book to his mate. But he didn’t leave the room immediately. Look here.” He opened the window seat. “This space under the seat is too small for me, and also for you, Mr ‘Olmes. But Mr Dalziel is smaller than either of us. Would you mind, Mr Dalziel?”
In an instant Straightfellow was helping me into the space beneath the window seat. There was just enough room for me to curl up. He shut the close-fitting lid.
“There you are,” I heard him say. “A little bloke like Mr Dalziel can hide easily in there.”
I tried to push up the seat, but it creaked as someone sat on it.
“Nobody would know, and if the murderer was small enough, he could have waited till the body was discovered and then escaped along the passage.”
“Possibly,” said Mycroft. “I doubt whether he could have remained in there for long.”
By now I was having difficulty breathing and was trying to push up the lid. Failing that, I began to knock. Straightfellow ignored me.
“He wouldn’t have to hide in there for long, Mr ‘Olmes. Just when he heard someone trying to open the door.”
“But didn’t someone stay with the body after it was discovered?”
“Ah, but anyone who knew the house could have – ”
I missed the rest because by then I was breathlessly pounding with both fists on the underside of the seat.
“Is that Mr Dalziel knocking?”
Straightfellow opened the seat.
“Out you come, sir. Why, you’re quite purple in the face! Better sit down.”
I did so and spent a few minutes getting my breath back while Mycroft peered into a pair of tall Chinese vases. He sniffed carefully at each one.
“That’s what I thought too, Mr ‘Olmes. If he spent the night here, where did he relieve himself? Not in those vases.”
“I should hope not,” said Mycroft. “They are Ming.”
“Out the window’s my guess,” said Straightfellow. “But that’s the theory: he stayed in the room and hid when necessary. I reckon we should be looking among the staff. Someone who knows the routines here.”
“There will be very few of the staff who could have hidden in the window seat, Straightfellow.”
“There’s one, sir. One of the footmen, about Mr Dalziel’s size. Not been here long. Apparently took the Sunday night off claiming to be sick.”
“Then we shall see him,” replied Mycroft, who was again examining the window catch with his lens. “I should like to inspect the ground below this window, and would you be kind enough to send for the servants who actually discovered the body, Straightfellow?”
We went outside, and Mycroft spent some time with his lens on the stone flags and the gravel beneath the window. With a great effort and much grunting, he reached over and picked up something tiny from the gravel.
“Lucky!” he remarked to himself. “Lucky that it has not rained here recently. Have you an envelope, Dalziel? Thank you.”
He put something into it, then peered again at the same place. With another grunt and much effort he picked up something else which I could not even see, a hair, I thought, and put it into the envelope. Finally he made a measurement with his pocket tape.
By then the footmen who had discovered the body had arrived, together with the one whom Straightfellow suspected, a small man, pale-faced and seemingly short of breath. Mycroft took each aside in turn and asked a few questions. Seeming satisfied with the answers, he turned to Straightfellow.
“As I expected. Well, Straightfellow, you can interview the suspect if you like. We are returning to town. Good afternoon.”
We travelled back in the fading twilight of spring, the budding trees soft against a metallic blue sky. We had a compartment to ourselves, and Mycroft stretched out his legs, tilted his cap over his eyes, and, hands folded on his ample stomach, he seemed to go to sleep.
He was not sleeping, however. His alert mind was analysing the information he had amassed and formulating a theory. I knew better than to disturb him, so I pulled from my pocket a racy novel I had brought with me – Moths, by Ouida – and got into it. It was eye-opening stuff, and something I should not have dared read in front of the strict Methodist, Inspector Straightfellow, had he been with us. 4
At length Mycroft sat up and turned to me. I put my book away.
“Anna, why did you knock so violently on the bottom of the window seat?”
“Because I could hardly breathe.”
“Quite so. Your face was almost blue. And I am now certain how the assassin escaped. Through the window.”
“Locking it after him?”
“Yes, and quite simply too. You see, had he stowed away as Straightfellow suggested, he would have suffocated in minutes, as you can testify. I found from the two footmen that one had indeed gone for help, and the other had stayed there the whole time. Both heard the clock chime the quarter and the half while they were getting help and dealing with the body.”
He took out his snuffbox and helped himself to a pinch.
“All of that disproves Straightfellow’s theory. No-one could have concealed himself in the window seat during that time and survived. The little man could not have hidden in the seat. I noticed his breathing: he has asthma; I asked him. His Sunday night off was due to an attack.”
“What’s your theory, then?”
“There were indeed two men involved. One committed the murder, the other waited outside with a ladder. The murderer, having obtained the diary, dropped the book down to his colleague, then left through the window, pulling shut the fastener by means of a length of fishing line and descending the ladder.
“The colleague below missed his catch, for I observed the deep indentation made by the book in the gravel and picked up a small piece of leather binding. Because they were careful not to stand on the gravel, I calculated the reach of the accomplice by measuring the distance from the edge of the path to the mark made by the book. I have therefore been able to calculate his approximate height.”
“Fishing line? What makes you think they used that?”
“I observed the mark it had made rubbing on the brass catch. I was lucky to find it though: the man must have dropped it.”
“And who are they?”
“That, I fear, is the riddle we have yet to solve, Anna.”