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The Women in the Case

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April 1891: Oxford

Mycroft had warned me of what was coming. He sent general notes at first, by way of the agony columns, followed by a detailed message coded into a letter (ostensibly) from my London solicitor regarding certain expenses connected with my studies at Oxford. The latter missive assured me that he and Sherlock had overlooked nothing in their campaign to bring down the criminal empire of Professor James Moriarty.

Yet as I read Mycroft’s message over a simple breakfast, I realized that he had indeed failed to account for one critical element of the Moriarty equation – and that I was uniquely situated to rectify that omission.

Time was of the essence. Based on Mycroft’s revelations, both Sherlock and the professor – the former with Dr. Watson in tow – had already departed for the Continent. A confrontation between them was clearly inevitable, and it was very possible that one or both might not survive such an encounter. I needed to act before any of the principals returned to England.

The necessary preparations took a mere ninety minutes: half that to prepare and encode a reply to Mycroft’s reports, and the remainder to craft and assume the persona necessary to accomplish my ends. That work completed, I called for a cab and left my rooms.[1]

My first stop was my bank, where I performed several transactions and saw to the posting of my letter to Mycroft. My second was Mansfield College, from whom James Moriarty held his current professorship.[2] A discreet inquiry at the warden’s office yielded the address of the Moriarty residence. This proved to be a well-kept house in Warnborough Road, where I instructed my cab-driver to wait, then approached the front door and gave a brisk rap with the brass knocker.

A shy housemaid took my visiting card, returning promptly to usher me into a tidy sitting room with large west-facing windows, shaded from the morning sunlight by a tall hedge. The mistress of the house regarded me with open curiosity, but said “Please do sit, Miss Rosemont[3]. I’ll have Belinda bring tea – but I must tell you, my husband is away at present, and if it’s a confidential matter, you’d really be better off speaking with him.”

“Do call me Violet, Mrs. Moriarty,” I replied pleasantly.  “That would normally be true, yes, but not in the present case. I am here – informally, you understand – on behalf of your husband’s solicitors, in the hope of correcting an unfortunate oversight.”

“Lansbury & Shaw, you mean?”

“I do. I am Mr. Shaw’s private secretary,” I said. After receiving Mycroft’s first missive, I had assembled a brief but thorough dossier on the professor’s known activities and associations. It was this research that had alerted me to the fact of his marriage, a point that my elder brother had not thought to mention. Mrs. Eileen Moriarty, however, evidently kept almost entirely to herself, and I had been able to determine very little more about her before Sherlock’s pursuit of the professor brought matters to a head.[4]

“We are aware of the professor’s current trip abroad,” I continued, “as he consulted with us prior to his departure. At that time, we assisted in the preparation of a highly important document, to be retained and opened by you only under specific circumstances. Can you confirm that you were given such a document?”

In truth, this was pure speculation on my part. Still, I thought it improbable that a true Napoleon of crime would not prepare for the possibility – however unlikely – of his own demise. What I did not know, and desperately needed to learn, was whether Mrs. Moriarty was at all aware of or complicit in her husband’s illicit activities…and in turn, whether the professor had chosen to hand her the keys to his kingdom, or to shield her as best he could against those who would seek to acquire them.

Eileen Moriarty pursed her lips. “There’s a letter, yes. James didn’t give it to me directly, but he showed me the hidden cubbyhole where he left it.  If he isn’t back by the first of May, I’m to open it and follow the directions.”

I nodded. “Then it is as we feared. There are two sharply different versions of that letter – he rewrote it before leaving on his present voyage – and we believe one of our clerks handed your husband the wrong draft when he last left our offices. If I may be permitted to examine the document now in your possession, I can easily discern whether or not it is the newest version and, if necessary, replace it with the correct one.”

We were briefly interrupted by the arrival of tea and biscuits – nothing fancy, but wholly acceptable in preparation. After we had both sipped from our cups and consumed a biscuit or two apiece, Mrs. Moriarty broke the silence.

“You realize,” she said, “that you’re putting me in an impossible position. My husband is fiercely protective of his privacy; I’ve only been allowed in his study three times since our marriage. If I do as you ask, he’ll certainly realize it when he returns, and God only knows what he might do.”

I nodded sympathetically. “I appreciate your concern. There will be no avoiding some level of wrath on the professor’s part should he return in timely fashion, that is true. But he would only have prepared the letter in the first place if he foresaw that he might well not return. And we would be remiss in the extreme if we allowed the wrong document to reach you in your hour of need. Better, surely, to correct our error – which we will ourselves acknowledge at once upon his safe arrival on these shores – than to allow you to see and act upon faulty and outdated instructions.”

Mrs. Moriarty frowned, but before she could answer there was a clatter on the nearby stairs and a small oaken-haired hurricane whirled into the sitting room, followed at a more sedate pace by the same young woman who had delivered the tea service. “Sorry, ma’am,” the maid said breathlessly. “She’s just that lively today.”

The hurricane resolved itself into a sturdy girl perhaps two years of age, a plush toy clutched in one hand, who glared fiercely up at her mother. “Don’t want letter blocks! Want horses! Winda want horses!”

“My apologies,” said the senior Moriarty woman, smiling wearily. “It’s the governess’ day off, and Patricia is a handful at the best of times.”

I returned the smile. “Not to worry,” I told her. “I recall being a handful myself, at that age. Good morning, Patricia,” I added, addressing the girl. “I gather this is Winda?”

“Windward Lady,” Patricia replied firmly, holding up the plush horse, which looked to have been hand-stitched – and restitched several times over – in varicolored patches of cloth. “Winda for short. Fastest filly in all the isles.”

“She was my mother’s first, then mine,” Mrs. Moriarty said, brushing a finger fondly over the toy’s nose, “and now my daughter’s. As it happens, my husband owns a sizeable force of tin cavalry figures, and Patricia likes to ‘borrow’ them for her games. Unfortunately, he doesn’t approve.”

I nodded. “And while the professor is absent for a time, she sees an opportunity.”

“So she does,” said Patricia’s mother wryly. “Very well, then – but the horses must go back exactly as they were when you’re finished.  Can you see to it, Belinda?”

The maid shrugged. “I’ll do my best, ma’am. Patricia?”

“Horses!” the little girl said happily, and followed Belinda upstairs again.

Her mother and I regarded one another with what I suspected were matching expressions of bemusement. “Let’s take a lesson,” said Mrs. Moriarty, “from my  daughter. We have an opportunity to correct your clerk’s mistake. It would be foolish to ignore it.”

So saying, she rose and led me up to the first floor. To our left could be heard the clatter of tin cavalry; we turned instead to the right, where Mrs. Moriarty took a key from a pocket and unlocked the door at the end of the corridor. We entered James Moriarty’s study, where she locked the door behind us.

“Stand back,” my hostess advised me, stepping toward the tall roll-top desk which stood, its panel secured, to one side of the chamber. “The mechanism is somewhat difficult to manipulate.” She selected one of three keys lying atop the over-shelf, inserted it into the keyhole at the base of the roll-top, turned it, and slid the panel upward. That done, she opened the central drawer, thrust her hand inside, and made what appeared to be a pressing motion. There was a soft click, a narrow panel in a different part of the desk flipped downward, and Mrs. Moriarty used her free hand to remove a slim letter-sized envelope from the compartment so revealed.

“A moment, if you please,” I said, settling into a chair across the room from the professor’s desk. Using a small blade from my purse, I carefully pried away the envelope’s wax seal without breaking it, set the waxen disc on the window-ledge next to me, and removed the envelope’s contents.

The answers to my questions were evident at once. There was no mention whatsoever in Professor Moriarty’s own packet of any criminal activities or untoward business interests. There were, however, identity papers in the names of Eileen and Patricia Cavanaugh, a letter of credit in the amount of £100, fifty pounds in bank notes, and a letter strongly advising his wife to leave England to avoid such enemies as the professor had possessed (Vienna or Switzerland were suggested). I was also convinced, having now met both mother and daughter, that neither was in any way complicit in Professor Moriarty’s criminal enterprises.

For the most part, this was good news. In principle, there was actually a strong argument against interfering further with Moriarty’s own arrangements – save only that while the professor had left sufficient funds for his family’s immediate needs, their long-term financial status did not seem to have been addressed. More, I was wary of trusting Moriarty’s own instincts to be sharp enough to truly protect his family from the nastier and more disreputable minds among his villainous minions. A decision was called for…

…and I made it, and another besides.

Working swiftly, I removed an unsealed envelope from my document case, added the cash and identity papers from Moriarty’s original missive to its contents – time had not allowed me to create or obtain a substitute for the latter – and carefully applied the seal from the professor’s envelope to the one I had brought. In point of fact, the false letter I had typed was strikingly similar to the professor’s own missive, though we had naturally diverged somewhat as to detail. Moriarty’s letter I thrust into my own case. Then I handed the substitute envelope to Eileen Moriarty.

“Now,” I said, “you have the freshest advice you are likely to need. Yet there is one thing I have failed to mention, because it somewhat exceeds the instructions Mr. Shaw has given.”

The professor’s wife frowned at me. “What is it?”

“Word came to our offices this morning, even as Mr. Shaw was assembling the packet I have just handed you, that your husband is being investigated by none other than Sherlock Holmes, the well-known consulting detective.”

“Good heavens!” Mrs. Moriarty let out a shocked breath. “Why would Mr. Holmes do such a thing?”

“I have no idea,” I replied, “but I find it worrisome news when it coincides with the sort of letter with which we are now concerned.”

“Agreed. This letter, and James’ trip – the timing can’t be coincidence.” She stood silent for several moments, shifting the sealed envelope from one hand to the other. Then, with a quick motion, she took it in both hands and broke her husband’s seal. “Waiting won’t do,” she said, “with Sherlock Holmes involved. We’re to be on our own, I fear, and that’s best faced sooner than later.”

I met her eyes, gray-green and bright with resolve. “It is as you say. Legally speaking, Lansbury & Shaw has completed its duties in this matter. Speaking purely for myself, however – if there is any immediate aid I may render, great or small, I will gladly provide it.”

As I spoke, Eileen – Mrs. Moriarty no longer – began glancing quickly through the materials I had handed her. “I think we’ll manage, mostly,” she said. “Then again…if we’re to disappear properly, hadn’t we’d best avoid any name or destination James chose for us?”

“As to destination,” I said thoughtfully, “the point is well made. I would consider smaller cities over larger ones: Venice over Rome, Seattle or Oslo over San Francisco or Zurich. In a place of your choosing, the papers you have should be safe enough – the one thing you ought not risk is resuming your maiden name.”[5]

Eileen nodded. “Agreed. Thank you again, Miss – Violet, rather. You’ve done my daughter and me a great service. I wish we’d met under better circumstances.”

“As do I,” I said sincerely as we turned toward the study door, which Eileen briskly unlocked and opened. At the other end of the hall, the cheerful din of rattling tin hooves was still clearly audible.  “Safe journeys, then – to you, and Patricia, and the Windward Lady.”

“Fastest filly in all the isles,” said Eileen softly behind me as I descended the stairs. “Safe journeys, indeed.”

February 1916: London

Rain was falling briskly when I opened my front door late in the afternoon of the 2nd, to find a girl wielding a none-too-sturdy umbrella perched on my doorstep. She was tall for her age, which I estimated at sixteen, blonde hair trailed downward from inside a man’s cap, and the expression on her face shifted from urgency to surprise as she studied me in turn.

“Do come in – Miss Russell, is it?” I said, stepping sideways and opening the door more widely. “The fire is lit, and tea will be on in just a few moments.”

She entered promptly, furling the umbrella and hanging both that object and her hat on the rack as she passed. “There’s no time for tea,” she said. “How quickly can we get to Cairo?”

“Not, I suspect, quickly enough,” I said calmly. “Mr. Holmes and Doctor Watson will certainly be travelling by aeroplane. That will give them well over a day’s head start over any other vessel we might arrange. We would most likely arrive only to find that they and their quarry had long since moved on.”

Miss Russell gave me a dark look as she strode into the sitting room, but made a visible effort to appear calm as she settled into one of the two armchairs adjacent to the fireplace. “You’re very well informed, Miss – is it really Wright?” she inquired, one eyebrow crooking upward. “The resemblance is subtle but striking. He’d have mentioned a cousin, I think, so that won’t do. Younger sister, then?”

There was no point in denial – and, I judged, much to be gained by frankness. “Indeed. ‘Camellia Wright’ is a necessary fiction[6], adopted to ensure that my brothers’ careers and mine do not unduly interfere with one another. The name of Enola Holmes has not been spoken in public for many years,[7] and I hope I may trust you to abide by that arrangement.”

“You may,” Miss Russell said at once. “I see you know me already – by way of Holmes, I presume – but do call me Mary.”

“In part,” I told her, “and with pleasure. I must tell you, Mary, that I have my own sources in Sussex – Mycroft and I agreed that was wise after Sherlock retired – so what I know combines their reports with what my brothers have mentioned. And I particularly admire your patience, with both Sherlock and your aunt. In your place, I would have long since arranged for the latter woman to experience a disastrous but unfortunate accident.”

Miss Russell – Mary, I corrected myself – laughed. “I’ve been tempted. But to the point - you seem to know something of why I’m here.”

I nodded. “Mycroft and I correspond, though mostly by indirect means. I knew he would seek Sherlock’s aid in recapturing Von Bork, though the matter has unfolded more rapidly than I foresaw.”[8]

“Yes,” said Mary. “I persuaded Holmes – Sherlock – I should come along when the car from Mycroft’s office came, and Mycroft even let me sit in on the briefing. But none of them would agree when I said I’d go on the mission – and they need me! Doctor Watson’s too old for a spy case, and I can blend in at least as well as your brother will!”

It was a reasonable argument, so far as it went. Indeed, the aging Watson was a less than ideal partner for a complicated, physically demanding chase after a foe such as Von Bork. And between what my Sussex irregulars and Sherlock himself had reported – for indeed, he had written to me about Mary Russell more than once since taking her as a de facto apprentice – I judged that she had at least as much raw talent for the work as any Holmes, myself included. Moreover, I knew from my own experience that youth in itself was no bar to enduring or surviving extraordinary danger.

Age, however, had taught me other lessons, some less satisfying than others. “All true enough,” I said, “but as a practical matter, you were speaking to a roomful of English gentlemen – and no English gentleman could in honor allow a woman in her legal minority to hare off unchaperoned with a pack of male adventurers. It is not fair,” I added, lifting a hand at her yelp of protest, “but it was, I fear, an inevitable outcome.”

Mary scowled fiercely, a biscuit just retrieved from the tea table crumbling in her hand. “What can we do, then? Without – wait, might we hire our own aeroplane? I have some access to funds….”

“Not in time, I fear,” I told her, “and I imagine your solicitors would resist such an expense, however well-meant. Your aunt would insist on joining us, and we would have to invent an acceptable reason for her unfortunate failure to return.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Mary said, unable to resist another chuckle. “But if we can’t catch up, how can we assist in the case?”

I took a deep breath. “With respect to the Von Bork affair, I fear we cannot. It is frustrating, I know – but in this instance we must trust Sherlock and the doctor to resolve the matter as they have so many others.”

My visitor’s face darkened as if a thunderstorm were brewing, and then as quickly cleared. “I suppose we must,” she agreed. “Yet in that case, why did Holmes direct me to call on you at once?”

I smiled. “The answer is obvious, I should think. He has been training you in the finer arts of detection, has he not?”

“He has.”

“Yet now he is unavailable, perhaps for an extended period, and your education in such matters is scarcely complete.”

Light dawned in Mary’s eyes. “He wants you to pick up where he left off. Will you? Can you?”

“Of course,” I said. “There are a number of points on which Sherlock and I disagree as to technique or intuition, but in the end you will have both our perspectives to draw on. If you are so inclined, I can offer the spare room upstairs while you pursue your studies – and a reference, should you wish one, to study at Oxford when you are ready.”[9]

My visitor was clearly resisting the impulse to leap from her chair in delight. “I accept,” she said, now in high spirits. “I’ll just need a day or two to pack, and to let Patrick and Mrs. Hudson know where I’m going.”

“Indeed. I daresay they will not be surprised; you may find they have both heard of Miss Camellia Wright – and Mrs. Hudson knows me by both that name and my own.”

Mary gave me a quick, sharp glance, then nodded. “Of course.”

“We are settled, then. Now as your mentor, you had best call me ‘Miss Wright’ in public or professional circumstances. Between us, however, ‘Camellia’ is more than acceptable.”

“A moment,” Mary said, her tone abruptly taking on a softer note. “Tell me if I presume too much, but just between us may it be ‘Enola’? If we’re to be proper friends, I would rather ‘Camellia’ not stand between us.”

I let out a breath I had not thought I was holding. “That is well said. I agree.”

My guest began to rise from her chair. “Well then, Enola, I had best see to the necessary arrangements.”

A smile formed on my lips, and I lifted a hand in admonition. “Now, Mary, you need not rush off quite so soon. You must at least tell me the full story of your meeting with Sherlock – he refuses to discuss it, yet I hear that it was uniquely memorable.”

Mary laughed as I refilled her teacup. “Memorable? Oh, yes. It was this way….”

Dusk fell before our conversation waned.

May-June 1916: London

Word arrived from Mycroft early in May – via our usual covert channels – that the mission to capture Von Bork had succeeded. The outward voyage, however, had given Sherlock a violent aversion to aeroplanes. They were therefore returning by ship, and were not expected in London before mid-June.

The next news we had, just as May ended, was a singular cablegram:

RUSSELL SENDING BRIDE ON ARRIVAL STOP PYGMALION MATTER STOP HELP URGENTLY APPRECIATED LOVE UNCLE JOHN

Mary showed me the message at once. “It is not unprecedented,” I told her, bemused. “Watson has married Sherlock’s clients before, admittedly with mixed results.”[10]

“So I’ve heard,” Mary replied. “But this is awfully abrupt. He says ‘bride’, not ‘fiancé’, which suggests the marriage has already occurred. And the reference to Pygmalion—”

I nodded. “That is unusual. Mycroft did mention that they were stranded for a time in the African jungle, which is…curious, on closer examination. If true, it is extraordinary that they are returning so quickly – indeed, that they are still alive and relatively unharmed.”

Mary nodded back. “So rather than escaping on their own, they must have had help – perhaps considerable help – in returning to civilization. But from what quarter?”

I turned the matter over in my mind. My own knowledge of Sherlock’s exploits is limited, coming mostly from Dr. Watson’s published accounts of the duo’s investigations and to a much lesser degree from details Mycroft has let slip in our correspondence. It was one of the latter that came to me now.

“Are you in any way familiar,” I asked Mary, “with the name of Greystoke?”

She was silent for some moments, lips pressed together thoughtfully. “Not,” she said at last, “in connection with Holmes. I’ve read the books by Burroughs, of course….”  The look Mary gave me as she trailed off was incredulous.  “Good God, you can’t possibly be serious.”

“I cannot be certain,” I told her. “But Sherlock’s axiom regarding the improbable may apply. At least one Lord Greystoke has dealt generously with Sherlock – Watson changed the name in his published accounts.[11] The Greystokes do have holdings in Africa. And the writer Burroughs is evidently working at least in part from authentic Greystoke family manuscripts, though it is unclear where and how he obtained them.”

We traded glances with one another, then turned our eyes back to the telegram. “Very well,” Mary said. “So we’re expected to believe Sherlock and Uncle John ran into Tarzan of the Apes, who helped them catch Von Bork and introduced Uncle John to a jungle princess, whom he’s bringing back to England.”[12]

“And whom Watson hopes we will civilize,” I put in, “as Shaw’s Professor Higgins tamed the play’s Miss Doolittle.”

Mary was clearly trying not to chuckle. “If she is a jungle princess, one wonders who performed the marriage rites.”

“An excellent question,” I replied, “but one which must wait upon the lady’s arrival.”

=/=

As it happened, my case-load that summer was relatively light, so that Mary and I were at home taking tea some two weeks later when, once again, the metallic tap of brass on wood signalled a caller.

My housekeeper, Mrs. Clemens, set down the tea service and went to answer the door. A few moments later, a brisk clatter of footsteps was followed by the arrival of a striking young woman in the sitting room. She was, from appearances, perhaps eighteen or twenty years of age, with golden hair not unlike Mary’s save that it reached nearly to her waist. She wore a sleeveless calf-length ivory dress cleverly designed to make a curvaceous wearer appear much less so, its neckline plain but for a narrow vertical slash from neck to breastbone. A carved golden disk set with a blue gemstone peeked out from the slash, suspended from a slender chain. Her skin was a rich, tanned bronze, though smooth and unblemished in contrast to the weathered, rugged-mannered explorers one usually associated with such a tone.

In one hand our visitor gripped the handle of a large valise; the other held a large, slightly battered envelope, with the name Miss Camellia Wright and the legend CONFIDENTIAL!!! inscribed upon it in what I recognized at once as Dr. Watson’s hand.

“Welcome!” I said briskly as I rose to my feet. “It is Mrs. Watson, is it not? I am Camellia Wright, and this is Miss Mary Russell. Do sit down and join us; Mrs. Clemens, may we have another setting?”

I expected an instantaneous CLUNK, but rather than merely dropping the valise where she stood, our visitor stepped sideways and set it neatly behind the couch before crossing the sitting room to where I sat. Once I had accepted the envelope from her outstretched hand, she retreated, folding herself neatly onto the opposite end of the couch where Mary was seated.

“Thank you,” she said warmly. “As to your question – the answer is both yes and no. John firmly believes the myth that ship captains may legally perform weddings while on the open sea. My grandfather, himself a master of sail, knew better. I rather think Mr. Holmes does as well, but until now it has been simpler all around not to argue the point.”

I exchanged a brief glance with Mary, who tilted her head slightly in agreement. “We were, as you may have surmised,” I said, “advised to expect you. Beyond that, however, we know almost nothing, what we think we know is of doubtful reliability – and while we will both gladly aid you to the best of our abilities, we cannot yet establish what form that aid should take.”

“In other words,” Mary put in, “you’d best tell us the whole story first.”

Our guest’s laughter held a decidedly musical quality. “Just so,” she said, “though I’ll abbreviate as much as I can. My name is – well, will be soon enough – Nell Watson. But before I met John, I was Nylephtha Alicia Good Curtis of the Zu-Vendi,[13] granddaughter of queens and explorers, heir to the secrets of ancient gods, et cetera.

“My grandfathers stumbled on the hidden valley in Africa where the Zu-Vendi live, got tangled up in tribal intrigue, and stayed on when the leader of their exploring party escaped. They made sure their children and grandchildren knew how to read and write in case the valley was ever found again – which did happen once or twice every few years. Mostly, though, the finders came in ones and twos, and got themselves killed one way or another in pretty short order with no help from us.

“At the same time, because my grandmother was queen of the tribe, her daughters and theirs were taught the secret mystical traditions of her Zu-Vendi ancestors.  That’s less exotic than it sounds, by the way. I could get you into a vault full of ancient gold treasure…if it weren’t underneath the ruins of a temple at the bottom of a 200-foot-deep lake. I can control bees by playing the right music on the right flute (which I have) – but as far as I know, those bees only live in that one valley in Africa. And I can call on the ancient patron of the Zu-Vendi, once and once only, to defend a warrior against all evil for the space of an hour, provided the cause is deemed just. But that also requires the flute and She gets to decide what constitutes ‘just’, so I’m not sure how well it would work this far from Her home ground.”

“Logical,” I said. “Pray continue.”

“Of course,” said Nell. “There was one exception to the steady trickle of failed explorers – Tarzan, whom John and Holmes call Greystoke. He might pop up as often as twice a year, or as rarely as one year in four. He almost always came alone, and sometimes brought small things from the outer world. Sometimes enemies followed, but he always defeated them and left us to our own devices.

“This year was different. First came the shadow – the airship – in the eastern sky, and the thunder and fire when it crashed. Our hunters searched, and found your friends and the Germans and Tarzan all approaching our territory. We brought everyone to our valley, and the chiefs debated what to do. I was not consulted – my parents died years ago, and I pledged to the goddess instead of taking a husband. The chiefs thought to sacrifice all the outsiders – save Tarzan, who had vanished – to the goddess. Then Tarzan returned, your friends planned their escape…and John insisted I come along.”

“Insisted?” I inquired, my voice a trifle sharp.

Nell’s eyes, previously a cool emerald, flared brightly. “Yes, but not forced! I, too, was to be sacrificed – I’m not sure why. Tarzan was arranging the men’s escape, but John wouldn’t cooperate unless I was included in the party. It was quite noble of him, really it was.”

She met my gaze steadily, recognizing my skepticism. “I should add,” she continued, “that he could not have seduced me against my will. The chosen of Zu-Vendi are trained to resist such tactics, whether by guile or force.”

“Understood,” I said mildly, adding just such a notation to the writing-pad on which I was recording her narrative. “We must therefore regard Dr. Watson’s intentions toward you as wholly honorable in all respects. You will forgive me,” I went on, “for this next inquiry, but it must in fairness be made: may we be assured that your intentions toward the good doctor are of equal depth and sincerity?”

For an instant, there was pure fire in Nell’s – no, Nylephtha’s – eyes, as they burned deep into mine. Then they cooled again, amusement sparkling gem-like around her pupils. “Yes,” she said, “and yes. I do forgive you, Miss Holmes, and likewise assure you – and you as well, Miss Russell – that John and I shall ever be on equal footing, one with another.”

Mary and I exchanged yet another set of glances. “In that case, I believe we are all of like mind as to the way forward. Between the three of us you will be Nell–” I paused, and our guest nodded her agreement “–just as we are Mary and Enola – or Camellia, as context requires – to you.”

Mary leaned back and grinned. “I feel as if we ought to cross swords, like Dumas’ musketeers.”

“I fear I don’t know the reference,” said Nell, also smiling, “but I approve of the sentiment.”

“Clearly,” I said, “we need to set you a reading list. Dumas, Baroness Orczy, Verne – though not, I think, Shaw just yet. But first, am I right that we need to find you a solicitor? If your case is anything like Greystoke’s, there’s likely to be money waiting for you somewhere, possibly a good deal of it.”

Nell nodded. “That’s what about half of those papers concern,” she said, gesturing at the side table where I’d set her envelope. “And of course there’s a proper wedding to organize – by which I don’t mean a garden party for three hundred people neither John nor I know.”

I beckoned to Mrs. Clemens, asked her to see about supper for the three of us when the time came, and took up the envelope again. “Let’s begin, then.”

And we did.

May 1919: Sussex

There were three of us in Sherlock’s cottage on that dark, clear night, waiting for Sherlock and Mary to arrive. Mrs. Hudson was away, of course, out of any possible danger.

Then came the soft clatter of a key in the end door, and coats being shed. The laboratory door opened softly and Sherlock entered, frowning. “Something is wrong,” he said as he lit a lamp.  “There ought not be – Von Bork!”

But there was. Yet Heinrich Von Bork, most dangerous spy in Germany, was not (as he had hoped) holding a revolver trained on the world’s most famous consulting detective. The revolver was on the floor, and Von Bork was huddled as tightly as he could manage on a chair, trying to ignore the immense cloud of bees that surrounded and hovered about him like a softly buzzing black-and-yellow shroud.

Behind the buzzing, an equally soft yet unmistakable web of flute music permeated Holmes’ laboratory. Nell Watson, once known as Nylephtha of Zu-Vendi, played quietly and steadily from another corner, smiling grimly at Von Bork all the while.

Sherlock’s eyes – and those of Mary Russell, as she stepped into the room behind him – darted from Von Bork in one corner to where Nell and I stood. “I trust,” I said, “you’ll forgive us for defusing the death-trap ahead of schedule. We didn’t think you were expecting the gentleman quite this promptly.”[14]

My brother nodded. “The gesture is appreciated,” he said, scooping up Von Bork’s gun, “and your instincts were impeccable. And I hope,” he added, “that I may discuss that curious music with you, my dear Nell, at your earliest convenience. It is clearly both remarkable and efficacious.”

“Hah!” snarled Von Bork, abruptly rousing himself from stupor. “Now I truly have you all – and you shall all perish!”

And with that, he drew from within his jacket a compact brick-like object and pressed a button. “Thirty seconds,” he screeched maniacally, “and the whole cottage goes around us!”

We all froze, shocked – and then Nell’s eyes and mine met, fire matching fire. “This may not work,” she breathed, too soft for any but my ears.

“Try!”

“Yes!”

The flute’s music transformed in an instant from subtle to strident, whisper to whistle, cajoling to commanding. The bees swarmed out through an open window, while I – wrapped in what felt like a cloak of sound – leapt at Von Bork and tore the brick from his grasp. It was obviously a bomb, but its design was unfamiliar, with no obvious mechanism to detach or connection to break. There was but one clear strategy, and I ran for the window, Von Bork tugging at my legs as I went, seconds passing tick by audible tick.

Eighteen seconds. Eleven. Six. Three. I was nearly to the window…

Time stopped. A presence unfolded from between and beneath the flute’s melody, rippling up and out like a different sort of cloak, manifesting as an eye made of emerald flame.

Who are you?

No mere name, I knew, would serve. A warrior, pledged to justice.

Whose justice?

Arguing my own case would not answer. Read my life in my eyes, and see.

I felt Its gaze – no, Hers – probe my mind and memory. Years passed like seconds, seconds as if they were years.

It will serve. You are not Mine – but I shall be Yours this once.

Thank you.

There was a ripple of not-sound that might have been a laugh. Tell She Who Is Mine that I have called in Your marker rather than Hers. It is done.

And with those words, there was a peculiar gurgling SNAP as the bomb I was clutching simply vanished…as did Von Bork, who in the space of a single breath folded in on himself and was gone.[15]

Sherlock, Mary, and Nell were all rubbing their eyes. “Impossible,” Holmes said flatly.

“I don’t think you ought to complain about the result,” Mary replied, her voice dry. “Although how we’re going to explain this to Mycroft, I haven’t the slightest idea.”

Nell was eyeing me curiously. “It’s the strangest thing,” she said, “but I feel as if that didn’t go quite the way I meant it to.”

“It didn’t,” I told her, relaying the message I’d been given. “On the one hand, it’s good to know the Powers That Be approve of us.”

“Hah,” said Mary. “And on the other?”

“I can’t help thinking that if Nell here still has a one-shot protective charm in her back pocket, it means that Someone out there thinks we may need it.”

=/=

[1] The narrative fails to identify either its author’s lodgings or the college with which she was affiliated while in Oxford.

[2] No other account of Professor Moriarty’s career places him among an Oxford faculty, but it is hardly surprising that the University and its constituent colleges would disown him after his exposure as a criminal mastermind.

[3] The name is clearly false, as is its bearer’s affiliation with Moriarty’s solicitors.

[4] Apart from the clear implication that Eileen Moriarty, like her husband, was of Irish descent, the present account is virtually all that is known regarding her character and background. A few other sources offer varying data regarding the Moriarty family, but none can be counted wholly reliable.

[5] The surname itself is omitted, but the details given tempt comparison with those supplied in the controversial account popularly known as The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. This, however, raises serious difficulties with regard to later sections of the present narrative.

[6] This passage has now been restored to its original state, the alias previously given having been substituted to comply with the protocols associated with Holmestice. As some readers may have suspected, the account appearing as “By Any Other Name” in a previous round of Holmestice is also part of the group of manuscripts in which this narrative was found.

[7] Birth records confirm the existence of this younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft, but most researchers assumed she had died in childhood until a cache of manuscripts ascribed to her authorship appeared in 2007. 

[8] The reference is obviously to the German spy first mentioned in “His Last Bow”.

[9] This remark may shed light on the apparent ease of Miss Russell’s acceptance at Oxford, which – as an orphan, an American citizen, and a woman of Jewish descent – could easily have been both a difficult and complex matter.

[10] This strongly implies at least three marriages on Watson’s part, especially if one accepts the theory that his first marriage occurred long prior to his contact with Sherlock Holmes.  

[11] The Adventure of the Priory School is the case in question, “Holdernesse” having been substituted for “Greystoke”. A handful of other connections have been drawn by Philip José Farmer, author of a detailed biography of the most famous Greystoke.

[12] This episode is recounted in The Adventure of the Peerless Peer, a manuscript also edited by Farmer.

[13] Captain John Good and Sir Henry Curtis were companions to Allan Quatermain, adventurer and protagonist of a series of “novels” by H. Rider Haggard. The events described occur chiefly in the volume titled Allen Quatermain.

[14] Based on the date and general description, this scene is evidently meant to correspond with that described in Chapter 18 of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, in which Patricia Donleavy – daughter of James Moriarty – confronts Holmes and Russell. The problem of fully reconciling these conflicting manuscripts is left as an exercise for serious Holmesian scholarship.

[15] While the science-minded reader will doubtless regard this bit of intervention as pure deus ex machina, one must admit that aspects of this sequence are somewhat consistent with the portrayal of She Who Must Be Obeyed, who figures in another series of works by H. Rider Haggard which overlaps the Quatermain chronicles.