Chapter 1: A Modest Reply
Sherlock responds to Mycroft's request for information on Christopher Tietjens.
Sussex, May 1920
Pray feign no excuses or humility on my behalf. From your prior requests, I know you’ve no qualms regarding my “ample spare time among the bees,” as you often opine. Also, do not insult my intelligence by saying ridiculous things that are blatantly untrue, such as “my previous Department” and “My friends.” You may continue to fool some regarding your current level of involvement in said Department, but never, brother mine, underestimate my understanding of exactly who and what you are.
And this Tietjens; what do you care of his background? If he is sound, it is good for you. If he is in straits, it gives your “friends” leverage. I am unclear on how any position – other than one of obvious stupidity, and if such was true you wouldn’t be bothering me with your boring request – is other than gain for you, if you wish to have him.
John is due back from London later this morning. When he returns, I will send him out to make enquiries about your man. Whether good news or no, to this point I have heard nothing of Tietjens.
Cheers, pip pip, and that from the South.
P.S. (Good lord, are we really doing post-scripts now?) Sending you a jar of honey from the “damnable bees.”
Chapter 2: John's Report
John responds to Mycroft's request for information on one Christopher Tietjens. And gives Mycroft a piece of his mind in the bargin.
Many thanks to my excellent betas, brianaphora and 4mpersand. You are both lovely and brilliant.
Sussex, June 1920
Though I am sure it pleases you no end to hear of me being Sherlock’s errand-boy, I send you this report on Tietjens and then respectfully request you go fry an egg. There is no good reason for either of us to waste time as your “Baker Street Irregulars” down here in Sussex. Both Sherlock and I have enough challenges as is, as we try to leave all that nonsense behind. So do be a good man and kindly leave off.
Sherlock instructs me to convey that he is far too busy to “continue mucking about” on your projects. This is well evidenced by his sending me to do this thankless work, and by his current set of projects, which are obviously so all-encompassing that they leave him enough time to drop buttery toast crumbs upon my new jacket as he reads this missive whilst looming over my head.
Enough pleasantries. On to business.
This C. Tietjens is certainly a quiet one. He, his mistress (a Miss Valentine Wannop), and household, keep to themselves. All seems to be in reasonable working order, and general beatific attitudes appear to abound. Businessmen in town, as a rule, say that all lines of credit are paid promptly when due. His business – which you surely know already - is one of antique furniture trade. It is known to be solid and steady, tho’ likely not thriving. His household staff is small: one man for the heavier work about the place and business, and for the animals. There are also a couple of girls who help in the house. All three are from the family’s estate in Groby, and keep as a set, tho’ there is no bad talk about them. There is also a clerk for the shop. He is a Sussex local and, as such, gives Tietjens a connexion with the town (brilliant move, that). This clerk is generally well-liked, but of almost no note. Steady and solid.
Miss Wannop is seen about rarely; she has not gone in for the social life here in Sussex (what there is of it in this sleepy town, in any ways). It is noted that she generally prefers to keep at home or at the shop, where she manages some of the bills and correspondence. Instead of focusing on the social society, she has been increasingly active in helping to care for the town’s orphans, particularly the girls. She worked at a girls’ school before coming here, as Games Mistress, but even so, there is talk about whether she is an appropriate woman to be doing such work. However, as resources are few for this work and the population of orphans is underserved, not many voices have raised themselves loudly enough to pull the rails off those tracks. I find myself interested in such a woman, who perseveres under such challenges. She is truly lovely; tiny and quiet and gracious. Light of hair and skin, with a glowing beauty about her. She is intriguing in a way that I’ve rarely seen in a woman, and she reminds me much of Mary. Right away I could see intelligence in both her eye and her manner, as…
Ah. It seems I digress. Sherlock pointed out this unnecessary line of discussion through first a rather bad spilling of tea upon the aforementioned jacket, which caused a rather lengthy pause in this letter’s creation, as well as the introduction of musical commentary via violin, which can only be described as sawing.
So again to Tietjens.
Of course I remembered the Tietjens name, both from their Family reputation in the North Country and my own town; the scandalous society news of Tietjens’ wife, Mrs. Slyvia Tietjens over the past years; and Tietjens’ own actions during his service in the War. As does happen – albeit infrequently – Sherlock surprised me with his sheer ignorance of the man. Not that I truly should have been surprised, as Sherlock’s study of the news has been, for many years now, confined to deaths, calamities, and endless pages of personal enquiries. But nevertheless, I was surprised that Sherlock had no recognition of him, or of the name.
But I remembered it, and it took little effort to unearth the details of Tietjens’ rise in your Government’s new Imperial Department of Statistics. And following that time of what was surely indentured servitude, his transition into the army and his effective and brave service in France. One confounding fact: I cannot for the life of me determine to which rank he finally ascended. No listing of that seems to remain anywhere, and no one here seems to know that information. However, I’m sure you can procure that detail in the blink of an eye if you set your minions to the task.
Regarding your question of political leanings: Tietjens has, in the past, been known to identify himself as “the last of the Tories.” While an interesting stance in the times and sentiments directly before the War, who knows where he stands now? Certainly he has done nothing in his time here to indicate any leanings, one way or another. He goes about his business in a responsible and solid way, caring for his clerk and staff in a time-honored manner of a gentleman. If that marks him as a Tory, or part of this new Conservative Government, then I am for it more than I can evidence in this brief letter.
As to more… subversive… behaviours on behalf of Tietjens, nothing has been evidenced since his arrival in Sussex.
However, on the issue of political leanings, there is more when it comes to Tietjens’ woman, Miss Wannop. Though that too is old news. Apparently she was something of an outspoken, active participant in the suffragette movement. And of course her mother, whom you know well, has consistently tread a very thin line in this area as well, but has always remained upon the acceptable side of proper in her articles and writing. Mrs. Wannop is known for pushing gently upon the limits of what might be considered appropriate. Certainly her daughter, who helped often with her work, would have similar sentiments and viewpoints?
So now you have the total of my knowledge on the political leanings of your subject. Do these findings mean Tietjens is too scandalous or improper for the work you have in mind? I leave that to you, Mycroft, the only one – save perhaps sometimes your insightful brother – who understands your singular mind and its inner workings?
Regarding your question of financial solvency: My findings on Tietjens’ current business are listed above. Records show that Tietjens inherited nothing upon his father’s death. Tietjens’ wife is enormously wealthy, but the few I’ve spoken with who know anything about the family say he has never used her money. As evidence, one rumored scandal from during the War is that Tietjens was briefly ejected from his Club for lack of funds; but then his wife used her deep pockets and social connexions to shore-up the balance and smooth over the issues with the bank and Club, resulting in the entire mess being put down as a simple misunderstanding. It is difficult to determine whether this story is pure rumor or truth as no-one seems to know. Perhaps you can ferret out more information yourself.
There is some talk about town that the couple are living beyond the means that only the furniture business would provide. If true, then where is that money from? Most likely Tietjens’ older brother. Which brings another entertaining detail: This brother, one Mark Tietjens – the inheritor and Master of the entire family estate, it seems – was entrusted with running Transport for the Government during the war. I mentioned this to your brother, noting that I have finally located his person’s Master after all this time. Need I detail how Sherlock was not as amused as I by my little joke? I thought not.
Rumor is that this M. Tietjens is quite wealthy, but quite ill. Apparently the brothers – different mothers, I hear – were never close. However, M.T. and wife are coming to stay in this tiny town, with his brother and mistress, in their tiny cottage. The town does not quite know what to make of this news, and there is much speculation that they will not all remain in the cottage and that another place will be let and furnished. I do not have to tell you what type of excitement such possibility causes in such a small community as ours. Whether true or no, the talk will be rampant I am sure, and more will be learned. I know nothing of M. Tietjens’ illness, but perhaps as I have earned a small reputation as a discreet and genteel medical man, I may be brought in to the family’s confidence in this area.
So there you have it. That is what I have learned of your man; I hope it suits. If not, it is entirely your own fault for providing such little direction. And for engaging non-professionals such as Sherlock and myself to do your research when you should have assigned your own, more-qualified minions to the task.
Since I know you would find me remiss if I omitted some mention of our domestic bliss, I happily report that the first onion tips are out of the ground; I am riding daily the new bicycle you sent, including the one day each week I provide free medical service to the poor in town; Sherlock has neither blown-up nor melted any household item in five days; and he waits anxiously for the post to deliver his new strain of bees from Italy. Lord knows where he will put them, or how he plans to keep his three hives from co-mingling. But this is Sherlock, so you know as well as I that there is a foolproof plan already in place, and that somehow he will manage it all to his liking.
And what of you? Sherlock informed me that you have Retired, a claim over which we both had a raucous laugh. I am curious to know what that entails; does that mean that you are working solely on a special project, or that they need you even further removed from the limelight because you are working on a project of particular… delicacy? I am always curious as to the machinations of what you have on, Mycroft.
Sherlock’s been mumbling something or other about “New York,” “rather dodgy practices,” and “lambs to the slaughter.” I may be no Holmes – by blood or law, at any sight – but that does not mean I am a stupid man. Pray tell me you are not planning on involving this beleaguered family in some or other scheme of yours. But I fear that is what this enquiry is about, it is it not?
Ah well; not as if I can change a building tide. Never a dull moment with either of you, is there?
Regardless of any “sentiment” described above, please note that you are not welcome here for the remainder of the summer. I have just managed to attain my equilibrium after moving from town, and the thing we need least is your interference and bungling. So kindly stay in London and entertain yourself with real-life chess games involving the poor souls there.
J. H. Watson
Chapter 3: The Soul of Wit
Christopher is not pleased.
Sussex, June 1920
To: Mycroft Holmes
It has come to my attention that some gentlemen, one of whom appears related to you, have been looking into my name and business.
As our working relationship has been neither defined nor agreed upon, I must ask that you cease such activities. Questions are being raised in the community, a situation which you must agree is unsatisfactory. Direct questions to me; as stated previously, I will answer them truthfully and in full.
If you cannot trust me to do such, than any potential partnership must be considered null and void.
Chapter 4: Necessity of Legwork
Sometimes, Mycroft must see to things himself.
London, June 1920
To: Sherlock Holmes
Can I no longer entrust you with the simplest of tasks? Due to your and John’s ham-fisted management of the enquiries into Tietjens, you have fanned the flames of curiosity about the family across Sussex. Which is, I need not remind you, exactly the opposite effect I am trying to achieve with this affair. And Tietjens, although he says nothing outright, is as angry as I’ve seen him as a result. If you have lost me the sharpest mind I have come across in some time…. Well. That does not bear thinking; I will simply have to come down and meet with the man myself.
Tell John that while I clearly understood his requests regarding my presence in Sussex, his shockingly clumsy research methods are the very reason I must descend upon your little haven. The seaside in Summer; droves of common folk taking the air. It turns my stomach.
I will arrive at the start of next week. Make the downstairs rooms ready for my arrival. I care not to live in that sweltering attic you call guest quarters.
P.S. And do start concocting your anti-bee venom. You know how much I hate those despicable stinging insects. I never will understand why you waste your mind on bugs.
London, June 1920
To: Christopher Tietjens
I do regret the clumsy manner in which my brother and his associate handled your enquiries. However, you must understand that an independent evaluation is necessary even though I have no doubts about the honesty and completeness of your answers.
As you must be aware, what is being evaluated includes perception and reputation. I can hardly expect to receive an accurate report on such things directly from you, can I?
I will be in Sussex next week. I believe we can finalize our negotiations within a few brief meetings.
Chapter 5: Best Intentions
Older brothers are pre-disposed to interfere.
London, June 1920
To: Mycroft Holmes
I ask your indulgence in accepting this letter, as it has been some time since our acquaintance when I was the head of the Transport Department during the War.
I write regarding your discussions with my brother, Christopher Tietjens. Christopher told me that your people have been looking into his business and history; by now you will hold no misconceptions about us Tietjens. We have tried to be discreet, but there is no shortage of irregularity associated with the name. If that has not put you off, you must be looking for an interesting man indeed.
In my brother you will have found such a one. As I’m sure you’ve ascertained, he is brilliant; a steel trap of facts and logic. With this comes a stubbornness of purpose which will, no doubt, be useful in whatever work you have for him.
If there is a chance of your engaging Christopher, I beg you do so. You will find no better man, in every sense of the phrase. Christopher needs something to occupy his mind and bolster his financial situation. The latter is currently solvent, but will not be over time. His refusal to accept help, either from his estranged wife or from me, makes his life one that is exceedingly more difficult than needs be.
I am available to you for any further questions. I hear you will soon be in Sussex; I am preparing for an extended visit there myself. Do not hesitate to call upon me if any further information is wanted.