Pall Mall, London (Mycroft Holmes’ rooms)
“There is one thing more,” said my brother Mycroft, “that I believe we should discuss regarding your matriculation at Oxford, and indeed your future in general.”
“Only one?” I inquired, not a little impatiently. “We have addressed a veritable catalogue of details concerning my lodgings, finances, academic pursuits, and standards of acceptable behavior among students and faculty. What more can there be to consider?”
Mycroft regarded me with a benign expression which I had learned to perceive as the precursor to a dropped anvil. “Merely the matter of the name under which you shall enroll.”
I blinked. “Why, of course—” and then abruptly broke off, realizing at once that there was no of course about the question at all.
“Exactly,” Mycroft said, easily following my train of thought. “You have done perfectly well for yourself to date by way of your various aliases and misdirections. But by committing to a university career, you are entering the world in a more formal way, and in order to claim proper credit for your studies going forward, you will need to adopt a more permanent identity.”
I nodded. “Quite so. And the choice…is not so simple.”
For indeed, it was not.
Enola Eudoria Hadassah Holmes. I turned the name my mother had given me over in my mind. It had been me for fourteen of my just-past-sixteen years of life. Only in the last two years had I become other than “Enola” to most of those with whom I interacted. I had grown used to being called “Ivy” and “Mrs. Jacobson” and “Girl!” (this last almost always with an audible exclamation point, as an employer or passer-by demanded some service of the person I was pretending to be). But none of those were me in the way that Enola was.
And yet, the me that had been Enola – or “Alone”, the reverse I had so taken to heart when my mother vanished – had changed greatly since my arrival in London. As for the me that was a Holmes – that was another matter entirely.
“I do not think,” I said, slowly, “that ‘Enola Holmes’ will do.”
“Why not?” inquired Mycroft. His tone was carefully neutral. I could tell by certain other physical signs that he agreed with my conclusion, but he was taking as much care as he could to avoid any appearance of forcing the choice on me. It was a sign of how far our relationship had come in the year since I had reconciled with my brothers, and I showed my respect for the gesture by setting aside my own deduction of his opinion.
“There are several reasons,” I replied, “two of which are foremost. The first is admittedly, in part, egotistical, but it is an essential point nonetheless. As Sherlock himself has remarked, I have committed myself to a life as his professional competitor – and I have done so in a field in which he has already made the name of Holmes pre-eminent. If, on completing my education, I hang out a new shingle as Enola Holmes, Scientific Perditorian, I cannot but be perceived by the world as riding upon his coat-tails. And that is a path I shall certainly not undertake.”
Mycroft’s head did not move, but his eyes sparked. “I imagined as much. And the second?”
“That is more personal,” I said, “and less just, although I cannot deny the practical issue. Even as I cannot use Sherlock’s reputation to my advantage, it would be folly to present so public a means for his enemies to make use of me for theirs. As a practicing investigator and—” I shrugged eloquently, “—a woman, Enola Holmes would be a living target. Anyone who wished to gain leverage against Sherlock – or you, for that matter – would naturally assume that kidnapping me or otherwise threatening me with physical harm might easily accomplish their purpose. It would not matter how well prepared I was or will be to defend myself; the attempts would be made in any event. At best, they would be a nuisance and an unnecessary distraction to my own career; at worst, should some villain succeed by pure luck in capturing me, you and Sherlock would be unacceptably compromised. Far better to avoid the problem by taking up another identity.”
“Simple, yes,” Mycroft said. “Yet not without a certain degree of sacrifice. Not in money, I assure you,” he added quickly. “It will be a simple matter to ensure that all your assets –whatever their source – are properly secured under whatever name you ultimately adopt.”
A year before, I might not have believed that promise. Mycroft, however, had proven utterly reliable in the year since he had given his word not to contest my freedom of action. He still grumbled on occasion, but never out of personal malice – rather, it was because I remained an unpredictable element in the world of well-ordered patterns he had trained himself to see and manipulate.
Now, though, he regarded me with a serious expression. “Your choice of names is and must be yours alone,” he said, “and your case for change is soundly reasoned. Yet know this: you were born under the name of Holmes, and you have every right to bear that name proudly. Neither Sherlock nor I would think less of you for retaining it, and both of us would gladly stand beside you in whatever cause you might pursue, irrespective of risk.”
I felt my eyes brighten with moisture, but resisted the impulse to reach for my handkerchief. “That is nobly said. And perhaps the day will come, eventually, when we three may stand together openly as brothers and sister. But this, I fear, is not that day.”
“Very well, then,” said Mycroft, more briskly. “Have you a thought as to your new nom de guerre? I need not have an answer at once,” he added, “but the sooner the choice is made, the sooner we can begin to create the underpinnings of that persona.”
My mind whirled. Who was I now, and what would I become at Oxford and after? I needed a frame of reference, and instantly my thoughts turned to the flower-language Mother and I had shared. “I have it,” I said after a few moments. “I shall be Camellia Wright.”
Mycroft laughed aloud, though not unkindly. “Not perhaps Violet instead?”
I grinned at him. “I fear I will never be modest.”
“Whereas you will always strive for excellence,” he retorted. “I might have been thinking of blue violets, rather than white.”
“For devotion? Possible, if unlikely,” I told him cheerfully. “Suppose we compromise on Camellia Violet?”
One of Mycroft’s eyebrows went up slightly. “Excellence and modesty? An improbable combination.”
“All the more apt, then, for someone you yourself have identified as a highly improbable individual.”
“Touché,” said Mycroft. “So be it, then. When you arrive in Oxford for the fall term, it will be as Camellia Violet Wright. And Enola Holmes,” he added, “will, at least for the time being, disappear from public life.”
“Though not, I trust,” I said, “from her family’s thoughts.”
Mycroft’s smile was grave. “Indeed not,” he replied, “although we must take care in that regard, to preserve against some enemy discerning the truth and making use of it. We may see less of one another than any of us would like.”
Mine, in contrast, was full of confidence. “I am sure we will manage. After all, consider how often we encountered one another when I was actively seeking to avoid the two of you!”
A rueful chuckle escaped my elder brother’s lips. “True enough.”
“If we are finished, then,” I told him, “I must be about my business.”
“Your business?” Mycroft echoed. There was a note in his voice I rarely heard, that of gentle teasing. “Do you not mean Ivy Meshle’s, or the good Mrs. Jacobson’s, or perhaps the estimable Miss Everseau’s?”
There was, I reflected, no small truth to his riposte, and once I might have recoiled from the thrust. But no longer. “Why, all of those and none,” I replied merrily. “I must work out the means of managing my boarding-house once I – and thus Dr. Leslie T. Ragostin – depart London for such an extended period. I must visit Cecily and inform her of one Camellia Violet Wright’s arrival upon the stage. I must alter my arrangements with the Professional Women’s Club, so that I may maintain a London address under my new name. And I must properly acquaint myself with the said Miss Wright, since she appears fated to be a major partner in my life from this day forward.”
Mycroft chuckled again, but his eyes displayed a curious, moist depth as he spoke. “I have no doubt,” he said, “you will manage all that and more. But I hope – and I speak for Sherlock in this as well – that you will remember one thing above all as you make your preparations.”
“And what is that?” I asked.
“That beneath all your names and faces, behind all the disguises you may adopt, you are now and forever who you have always been: our sister, Enola Eudoria Hadassah Holmes.” There had been the briefest catch in Mycroft’s breath between the words our and sister, which I chose to overlook as I nodded. I thought I knew the word he had found so difficult to utter. Sherlock would have spoken it aloud, I was sure; he was always the better of the two at acknowledging the gentler emotions.
“Always,” I said aloud, and went on my way.
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