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The Unlikely Heir

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The Unlikely Heir Commission by yelnatsdraws

 Art by yelnatsdraws


 

I returned to Zootopia on Boxing Day of 1881 still in a state of high Christmas cheer after a fortnight spent on holiday with my family. Although the sprawling farmhouse in the quiet little village of Bunny Burrows was my birthplace and would always hold a piece of my heart, it was no longer my home. That I should consider the flat in the city I shared with an extraordinary fox my home that I would long to return to is something I would most likely have dismissed as impossible a mere three months before, when I had arrived in the city entirely unmoored. Following my injury in service of Queen and country abroad, and the resulting dismissal from the medical corps, I had taken a position at a teaching hospital in Zootopia when it had seemed the best use of my hard-earned skills while I continued my recovery. It had been in searching for reasonably priced lodgings that what I now consider one of the most fortuitous events in my life occurred—I made the acquaintance of Nicholas Wilde, consulting detective. Following my involvement in a case of his, which I hope to someday publish the incredible details of, I had come to consider him a dear friend.

It was for his sake that as I trudged up the snow-covered steps to our set of rooms, my cane in one paw and a heavy package in the other, it made my heart glad to hear the sound of a violin being played poorly. I took a moment to appreciate the cacophony as I dug out my key, my breath coming out in little puffs like a locomotive and the gently falling snow sticking to the fur of my long ears. When I opened the door, the sight that met my eyes was much as I had imagined it to be. A little ferret kit, her eyes screwed shut in a grim expression of intense concentration, was attempting to cajole something like music from the over-sized violin she held clutched tightly beneath her chin. Next to where she stood in front of the merrily crackling fireplace, Nicholas Wilde sat in his favourite chair.

His features, lean and angular as was typical for his species even when softened by his winter coat of fur, were set in a contemplative mien. Although he wore a fine maroon smoking jacket, his pipe seemed entirely forgotten where it rested on the small table to the side of his chair. The ferret had given no reaction to my entrance but Wilde's triangular ears had flickered briefly in my direction at the sound of the door being opened and he clapped his paws. "We shall stop here for to-day, Molly," he said, "I believe Dr. Hopps has arrived with your payment."

Molly eagerly, though still with a reverential amount of care, set the violin and the bow aside, and ran towards me, her face split by an enormous smile and her paws flashing through sign language so rapidly that I could scarcely catch the few signs I had learned. Although the ferret was about as grubby as she ever was, the scarf she perpetually wore to disguise the twisted scar on her neck and her dress both soiled and stained, I did not resist the embrace that she drew me into. Molly was a member of what I had termed Wilde's Barker Street Irregulars, and her help had been instrumental in the solution of the first case I had accompanied Wilde on. I looked over her head, wryly noting that it would not be too much longer before she was taller than me, and gazed at Wilde askance. "Payment?" I asked, doing my best to sound bewildered.

Wilde chuckled as he unfolded himself from his chair, rising to his full height. Not even his loose-fitting smoking jacket could hide how slim he was, and his brilliantly green eyes positively sparkled with amusement as he took up his pipe and lit it. "Your concern for my entertainment in your absence was touching, though entirely unnecessary. That you endeavoured with Molly to find ways of driving me to distraction was a rather rudimentary deduction."

I laughed, glad to see him in good cheer. He was, of course, entirely correct that I had arranged for Molly to take lessons from him, for I had been truly worried as to the lengths that boredom might drive him to without my moderating influence. After the excitement of the first case in which I had seen him work, when he had recovered an absolute fortune in gold which all the power of the police could not, it had been something of a disappointment for him when no cases of a similar calibre had presented themselves. Even the business with the Red-Furred League, though nearly as baffling to the police, had done little enough to engage his keen mind.

Indeed, while I doubt that there is another mammal alive capable of such patience while stalking his quarry with a single-minded intensity that not even his distant ancestors could have matched, I also doubted any other mammal alive chaffed so at boredom while unengaged. "You have me quite red-pawed," I said, shaking my head as I pulled an orange and a few coins from my pocket to give Molly.

The ferret dropped me a quick curtsy as she accepted the items and then was out of the flat like a shot. I watched from the window as Molly cheerfully skipped through the snow that was blanketing the city under a brilliantly clean layer of pure white, softening the hard angles of buildings and hiding the refuse in the gutters. Carriages and pedestrians were already cutting slushy paths through the streets, but for the moment the illusion of purity held. "You had a happy Christmas, I hope?" I remarked as I watched Molly vanish from sight.

From where he had moved to stand beside me, Wilde sighed contentedly. "Well enough, I suppose. I solved one or two trifling matters that are hardly worth speaking about."

I turned to look at my friend more closely. His idea of a trifling matter sometimes bore little resemblance to what other mammals would consider one; if he had caught Guy Fox about to light his barrel of gunpowder Wilde would have likely considered it a dull affair unless it involved a particularly clever bit of ratiocination. Still, he seemed hale and hearty enough and I allowed him to continue. "I see you have passed a pleasant Christmas, at least, even if you had to peel potatoes. With rather less skill than I might expect of a surgeon, I might add, but I suppose your mother's baked aubergine made up for the trouble."

When I gaped at Wilde in surprise, he continued. "It was quite considerate of your family to see you off at the train station to-day, and I expect your carriage ride back to our flat was rather less pleasant than the one to the Bunny Burrows station."

I had seen Wilde's powers of deduction at work on many occasions, but I didn't think anything matched the amazement I felt when those powers were applied to me. He was correct in every detail and I could do little more than shake my head. "You have read me like a book," I said, "Though I confess I cannot guess how."

"It was a trivial series of deductions," Wilde replied, though I thought I could see him preening in delight at my reaction, "That you peeled potatoes is writ in the small cuts in the fingers of your left paw. Peeling potatoes leaves distinctive marks on the paw opposite the one holding the knife; I know you are right-pawed. That you are somewhat less dexterous—"

He paused a moment to smile at his little joke before continuing, "—with a paring knife than a scalpel is evident in both the number and depths of the cuts in your left paw. They are quite recent, too, and Christmas dinner is the logical deduction."

"And that my mother baked aubergine?" I asked.

"Well, you would not have enjoyed a Christmas goose, as I did, but in much the same way that the remains of my Christmas dinner are evident on the sideboard, yours are evident in the pocket of your jacket."

My mother had made me an enormous sandwich, stuffed nearly to bursting with leftover aubergine and smothered in mushroom gravy, to take with me on the train and I still had more than half the sandwich left in its twist of waxed-paper. I pulled the still bulging sandwich from my pocket and Wilde nodded in satisfaction at the proof his deduction was correct. "You could never have seen it in my pocket," I protested.

Wilde smiled. "Indeed I could not. I could certainly smell it, though, and you have a dab of gravy at the corner of your mouth."

He gestured vaguely at his own face as he spoke and I quickly pulled out my handkerchief to remove the stain from my own. "I suppose you could assume, from what I've mentioned of my family, that they saw me off, but I confess that I am completely lost as to how you could comment on my carriage rides with such accuracy."

Wilde clucked his tongue. "I did not assume, my dear doctor. The evidence is on your trousers, which answer both lines of inquiry in part, with the clock and your coat providing the rest."

At his words, I looked down at my trousers, which were somewhat splattered with mud and slush. "You see?" he said, "You have a number of stains from sticky little paws about the legs of your trousers—your younger relatives' embraces after enjoying a Christmas orange, no doubt. But those stains are atop the few speckles of mud you got on your trousers when you left your carriage upon arrival at the Bunny Burrows station. The remaining stains are much fresher, from which I can gather that your carriage ride to the station was in a fully-enclosed cabin, while I would say that from the Zootopia station to our flat you took a dog-cart which left you rather splattered in a pattern completely unique to that conveyance. Finally, while your train arrived two hours ago, should I be remembering the schedule properly, that you are only now arriving with such a build-up of snow atop your shoulders tells me it was an unpleasant endeavour."

"Well," I said, and I opened the parcel I had left on the table to withdraw a small box wrapped in gaily coloured paper, "Perhaps, having your deductions so entirely correct you can attempt one more. Happy Christmas, Wilde."

As I gave the present over to him, I was rewarded with a rare sight indeed—my friend completely lost for words. At last, he accepted the box, holding it delicately in his paws. "This is most kind of you, Dr. Hopps," he said quietly, and in his expression, for but the briefest of moments, I fancied that I saw the same simple joy that had illuminated the faces of my nieces and nephews when they pulled apart their Christmas crackers.

The moment passed, though, and Wilde gave the box a gently experimental shake, listening gravely to the delicate tinkling sound it made. A thoughtful expression, no different from the one I had seen him wear when pondering mysteries no other mammal would have been able to untangle, spread across his face. "Four glass jars, quite full I should think," he said, turning his gaze to me as though looking for confirmation.

I said nothing and he continued his musings. "The contents cannot be liquid, for they do not slosh about, but neither can they be any granular sort of solid for I cannot hear any sort of movement. Jam, I would suppose, from your family's farm."

"But can you deduce the flavour?" I asked, my tone rich with mock severity.

"Only what I hope it to be," he said, gently removing the wrapping paper without tearing it and pulling out one of the jars.

"The fruit is well out of season, but I thought you might yet enjoy the jam," I said as he studied the jar.

Wilde had, of course, been completely right that I had gifted him four jars of my mother's finest jams. Quite contrary to what I might have expected, when first we met, Wilde had something of a taste for sweets despite his slender build and the inborn preference of predators for more savoury fare. Indeed, the fox looked delighted as he read the label made in my mother's smooth script. "Blueberry!" he cried, "Oh, I shall have to ration it."

He carefully slid the jar back into its box and looked down at me. "Thank you, Hopps," he said, and then he pulled something from the pocket of his voluminous smoking jacket and gave it to me.

It was circular and a bit wider than my palm, wrapped in plain brown paper held together with a bit of twine. "Happy Christmas," he said.

"Thank you," I replied, even as my fingers began picking at the twine, "I'm afraid that I cannot reproduce your feat of deduction, but—"

I stopped speaking as I opened the package and saw what was inside. It was my turn to be speechless, for what Wilde had given me was the single most remarkable gift I could ever remember receiving. When I was a kit, each Christmas had been marked with an orange, a cracker, and perhaps a piece or two of hard candy, in much the same way that my nieces and nephews had celebrated the holiday only the day before. I had always been quite happy with those presents myself and had never dreamed of being given something so nice as Wilde's present. It was a magnificent sterling silver pocket watch in a little nest of velvet, its key secured with a loop of ribbon. I recognized it instantly, for it had the distinctive design of the solar system engraved on the lid surrounded by the motto "E pur si muove."

It was the watch that Wilde had purchased at Weaselton's shop in the course of the first investigation I had ever accompanied him on, but when I pressed the latch to open the watch I saw that my monogram had been engraved on the interior of the lid. "I thought you might like it, for you did choose it yourself," Wilde said as my silence dragged on.

I closed the lid of the watch and looked at him. "This is the single nicest present I've ever received," I said as I set the watch down.

Wilde turned his head to the side as I clasped his arm in both of mine, a small smile playing across his muzzle. "I am happy to hear so," he said, and after my embrace ended he retired back to his chair.

"But I am certain you must be weary from your trip. Please, do not allow me to impose upon you."

Although I did indeed feel somewhat worn out by the tribulations of my travels, the wounded leg that was the lasting reminder of my service beginning to throb incessantly, it had been a fortnight since I had seen or spoken to my friend. Rather than retiring to my bed-room I took the chair at the fire opposite his. "I would rather warm myself with both the fire and your good company," I remarked, "And hear of what has come to pass in the city in my absence."

We spent a pleasant few hours in idle conversation and, after our conversation had wound down and it had gone so completely dark outside that the gentle glow through the windows of the streetlights off the snow was only dimly visible above the light of the fire, I left my chair to light the gas lamps in our parlour and to retrieve my writing materials from my bed-room. Following the first case on which I had accompanied Wilde, I had been quite bitterly disappointed to see that not a single one of the newspapers which gave the particulars of the case so much as mentioned my companion, to say nothing of giving him credit.

Indeed, the story did little more than fizzle like a damp squib, kept alive only by the debates in Parliament brought up by a junior member of the opposition party who had fiercely devoted herself to the cause of banking regulation reform to prevent another such financial catastrophe should a similar robbery occur. Although before taking up the case Wilde had remarked upon his belief that his aid would pass unremarked, I still found it galling to see him correct. When I had finished my lesson plans, and faced with well more than a month with little to keep my evenings occupied outside of the time I spent with Wilde, I had therefore devoted myself to doing what I could, in my meagre way, to get him the credit that he so richly deserved.

I had shared my first drafts of what I had dubbed "A Study in Gold" with him about three weeks previously, and while Wilde had made no quarrel with my desire to publish it, I confess that I had found myself somewhat disappointed by his reaction. When I had first showed him my writing, done so neatly as I could with pen, he had glanced it over only briefly. "I am afraid, dear doctor, that you have taken what could be described completely with but a paragraph or two and stretched the whole matter out unnecessarily. What truth these pages contain is almost entirely obscured by the romanticism with which you have injected the facts."

I was, I admit, somewhat annoyed by his criticism, as I will confess that no small part of my desire to see him receive the credit he deserved was to please his not inconsiderable vanity. It was, therefore, with somewhat more heat than the matter deserved that I had replied, "I made no attempt to tamper with the facts."

Wilde had inclined his head towards me at my words, taking a long draw of his pipe before at last replying. "If you have erred, then, it is perhaps in attempting to make the matter appealing to the general public. It may play well to the desires of readers for whom the cold and unemotional matter of deduction is entirely unappealing, though I think they may be frustrated by your sometimes colourful turns of phrase and your tendency to leave matters unresolved where your chapters end."

"Have you taken a turn at literary criticism, then?" I had asked, my tone somewhat teasing.

While Wilde's words had no small bite to them he spoke with a playful sort of half-smile upon his face and no rancour in his voice, and by that I knew that my writing had pleased him no matter how inaccurate a reflection he thought it to be of his work. "Now that would be a career to drive me mad. The writing I shall leave to you, Hopps," Wilde had said, "Though I cannot guess if there exists a publisher willing to print your words."

Despite his scepticism, I had kept at my little project, and after the gap my holiday at the family farm had forced I fell back to work eagerly, laboriously writing up my words as Wilde played his violin with far greater skill than his young pupil, incorporating a mixture of my favourite pieces. The pleasant evening was interrupted, however, when there came a purposeful rap at the door. "A visitor?" I remarked as Wilde set his violin aside and got up to answer the door, "Are you expecting someone?"

I, of course, was expecting no callers myself; I was still a few days away from my first class in my new-found profession of teaching, and while I had attended a meeting or two with the other staff members of the teaching hospital it was quite unlikely that any would seek me out so late at night.

"I am not," Wilde replied, and in the warm glow of the gaslights I could see how curiosity illuminated his features, making every movement purposeful as he made his way to the door and opened it to expose a visitor quite unlike what I had expected.

Rather than a mammal in need of Wilde's services as a consulting detective, their breast heaving with emotion as their features took on a cast of desperation, it was only a young goat holding an envelope before him. "Telegram for Mr. Wilde," he said, and was off the instant Wilde had tipped him, scarcely pausing to give a tug at his hat.

Wilde opened the telegram on his way back to his chair, and I could see his eyes shuttling back and forth at high speed as he read the message. "Now this is interesting," he murmured, stroking his muzzle thoughtfully, "Hopps, what do you make of this?"

He thrust the message into my paws and I read, my eyes widening as I absorbed the extraordinary words. I had no doubts that he would take the case, but I cannot imagine that even he could have guessed at the absolute furore that it would eventually cause.


Author's Notes:

I'm very excited to return to the world of 19th century Zootopia as I imagined it in the story that this one is a sequel to, "A Study in Gold," and I hope that the same is true for you! I tried to write this story in such a way that reading "A Study in Gold" is not strictly necessary, in much the same way that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original works may be read in any order and still stand on their own merits as self-contained stories even if there are elements of the overall narrative that only make sense in the context of the others. I've somewhat wryly dubbed the series of stories that form the over-arching plot "Simplicity Itself," which all explore the relationship between consulting detective Nicholas Wilde and Dr. Judith Hopps while also telling what are hopefully engaging mysteries.

Therefore, a portion of this chapter is devoted to what hopefully works as a recap of events of the previous story: Dr. Hopps was an army doctor, injured during the Second Anglo-Afghan War and subsequently released from service. Arriving in Zootopia to take up a teaching position at a hospital, her financial situation required her to find a place to stay she could split with a roommate. Consulting detective Nicholas Wilde was that roommate and with assistance from Dr. Judith Hopps, he successfully solved the mystery of the theft of a large quantity of gold from a bank.

This story picks up a few months after that story ended, beginning on December 26, 1881. I try to research my historical AUs as much as possible, and this one is no exception, so the rest of these author's notes will be devoted to providing some historical details and context. I've tried not to make it mandatory to read these notes if all you're interested in is the story itself, but I've had enough people tell me that they enjoy my author's notes that I'll keep providing these details.

One thing that I'm doing in this story that I didn't do in its predecessor is using the British spelling for words to match the style of Doyle's works as much as possible. As this version of Zootopia is inspired by the original Sherlock Holmes stories, most of which are set in the London of the 19th century, it seemed appropriate, and it also means that in this story I've attempted to get the little cultural touches of the time and location right.

Boxing Day isn't really a holiday that's celebrated in the US, but it originated in the UK and is still celebrated there and in other commonwealth countries. Boxing Day always falls on December 26th, and it likely arose from servants getting the day after Christmas off, having to work Christmas day itself for their wealthier employers, who would reward them with gifts as thanks for their service. It's a bank holiday nowadays in countries that celebrate it, so most (but not all) people have it off.

Molly the street urchin being a member of the Barker Street Irregulars is a reference to the Baker Street Irregulars of the original Sherlock stories, although I've used 221B Barker Street as Wilde's and Hopps's address for the pun. She's a character of my own creation and did indeed play a significant role in the previous story. Wilde, like Sherlock, is an excellent violin player; Molly is not.

The reference to a case involving the Red-Furred League is a reference to the Sherlock Holmes story "The Red-Headed League." One of the things that I enjoy about the Sherlock Holmes stories is the sense that we only see a fraction of the cases that Sherlock takes on, which I feel makes the world of the stories feel larger.

Guy Fox is a reference to Guy Fawkes, who attempted to blow up Parliament in 1605, leading to Guy Fawkes Night being celebrated on November 5th in memory of his failure. As Guy Fawkes was a Catholic and the UK was mostly Protestant, the celebrations have sometimes veered into anti-Catholic sentiment. As I imagine Guy Fox to be, as the name implies, a fox, it helps explain some of the general anti-predator prejudice in this setting.

Aubergine, in addition to being the name for a dark purple color, is a somewhat old-fashioned word for eggplant. As Wilde rightly points out, the Hopps wouldn't eat a goose, and it seemed an appropriate substitution for a Christmas dinner. Baked eggplant with mushroom gravy sounds pretty good to me, at least, and it could be made without any meat products.

Wilde's joke about Dr. Hopps's dexterity is a small one, derived from the fact that the word "dexterous" to mean that someone is skilled with their hands comes from the Latin word "dexter" that means "right," as in right-handed. Incidentally, the Latin word for left gives us the word "sinister." As a left-handed person myself, I'll admit that I'm somewhat amused by the fact that my handedness implies that I'm evil.

That Dr. Hopps has a distinctive series of cuts on her left paw as a result of peeling what was presumably a lot of potatoes to feed her family is a reference to the Great Brain series of books, where Tom is caught having his friends help him peel potatoes rather than doing it alone when they all have the distinctive cuts.

Wilde having a goose left on his sideboard wouldn't be good food safety practice nowadays, but sideboards were very much in fashion in the 19th century. Sideboards were small tables for the purpose of serving food, and the French word for them gave us the term "buffet" for serve-yourself meals.

Oranges are a traditional Christmas stocking stuffer dating back hundreds of years, when citrus fruits were considerably rarer and more expensive than they are now. As I imagine the Hopps family to be somewhat prosperous farmers but far from wealthy (something not helped by how many of them there are), having their Christmas presents limited to the kits and only to oranges, crackers, and hard candy was appropriate for the time period.

Christmas crackers themselves are a staple of Christmas in the UK that are somewhat uncommon in the US, and doesn't refer to saltine crackers or the like. Christmas crackers are little cardboard tubes filled with small and cheap presents and covered in brightly colored paper that comes apart when either end is pulled, making a cracking noise and leaving one end with the tube containing the gifts. They were first sold in the 1840s, making their appearance here in 1881 period-appropriate.

A dogcart is a real type of carriage, and as Wilde implies is not enclosed. It's a small, light carriage that gets its name from having a compartment for holding a retriever dog so that the carriage could be used for sport shooting. In my previous story I implied that "dog" is a somewhat impolite word for a mammal that's a member of the canid family, so its use here does say something about the setting.

In the UK, blueberries can generally be harvested from June to August, so Dr. Hopps is right to say that the fruit is out of season. Real foxes do tend to enjoy berries and other fruits, so it's not simply in reference to the movie that Nick expresses an interest in blueberry jam.

The watch that Wilde gives Judy, and the details of how he purchased it from Weaselton, are described in chapter 10 of "A Study in Gold." "E pur si muove" is Italian for "And yet it moves," words that are attributed to Galileo immediately after he was forced to recant his belief that the Earth moved around the sun rather than the sun around the Earth. Dr. Hopps did indeed choose the watch, although I'll leave it to the reader to make conclusions about how well both characters did in getting gifts for the other.

Squibs, meaning a small explosive, have been used for hundreds of years going back at least to the 18th century when they were used to assist with mining.

In this story, and in my previous one, I make the meta-fictional conceit that Dr. Hopps is the one actually writing the stories, in much the same way that almost all of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories are written as though Watson is the author. For that reason, one of the things that I considered is the impact and influence of the stories that Dr. Hopps writes. As this story starts, she's in the process of writing the previous story; I did plot out how this all fits into the larger setting, which will continue to develop in both this and subsequent sequels. Wilde's criticisms of Hopps's writing serves two purposes; it's both an homage to the original Sherlock Holmes stories, in which Sherlock frequently took a dim view of Watson's writing (see, for example, "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches") and it's to allow me to poke fun at myself. His remark about cliffhangers is remarkably apropos, wouldn't you say?

I'm also very happy to have some wonderful cover art for this story that I commissioned from yelnatsdraws over on DeviantArt. She's an incredible artist and I love the work that she did; I definitely recommend checking out her other work, too:

https://yelnatsdraws.deviantart.com/

As always, thanks for reading! I'd love to know what you thought!

Addendum:

I'm very sorry to be publishing this, the first chapter of my next story, instead of chapter 40 of "…And All That Jazz." However, that I'm not publishing that chapter doesn't mean that I've lost interest in continuing the story or that I won't finish it. It means that my computer unfortunately died today, and with it the remaining chapters of "…And All That Jazz." I do keep backups, though, so as soon as I manage to repair my computer I'll post the next chapter of that story. I had the first chapter of this story all typed up and ready to go, saved in my drafts on A3O because I was playing around and making sure that the series would link it up with the previous story properly, meaning that I was able to write this addendum and post it from my phone.

In all the time that I've been posting chapters I've never missed an update, and my desire to keep that streak going means that I'm giving you what I have available. I apologize again, and hope that it won't be more than a day or two before I can post the next chapter of "…And All That Jazz."