Another Sherlock Holmes Misadventure…
It had been a quiet evening at 221b Baker Street in the apartment shared by Sherlock Holmes and his companion, Dr. Watson. Worse, it had been a slow fortnight that had drugged on after their last adventures had entirely faded from memory. The Adventure of the Society of Accordion Collectors and The Pork Pie Horror had been notable ones. So harrowing had been the events of those escapades they had taxed even inestimable Mrs. Hudson’s housekeeping skills in her effort to keep their linens adequately laundered.
Yet now, time was weighing heavily on the World’s Greatest Detective. He looked up from cleaning the dottle from his pipe to see that his erstwhile roommate had dropped his paper in his lap, his head slumped, and was quietly snoring.
“I say, Watson! What ho?”
“What? What?” cried the good doctor, startled out of his beery drowse. “I’ll have another round, landlord! Oh … it’s you, Holmes,” he said, a little disappointed by discovering that he was still in their Baker Street lodgings. Holmes had strongly disapproved of the amount of time the doctor had been spending at the public house of late, and begun to encourage Watson to use his hours more profitably … much to the doctor’s annoyance. He had tried to take up Cribbage, but found that napping was more to his liking.
“Have I ever mentioned to you, my good Watson,” said Holmes in a tone suggesting a revelation of great import, “That I have an older brother, named Mycroft?”
“Yes, Holmes, I believe you have. In fact, many, many times.”
But Holmes refused to be interrupted in his narrative. “I not only have a brother, but he is in fact much the more intelligent of the two of us … in his own way, at least. I’m surprised that I hadn’t thought to mention this before!”
Watson sighed and folded his paper neatly, preparing himself for a long peroration.
“Perhaps it is time that I looked in on how my good brother has been doing,” mused Holmes. “Care for afternoon of stimulating conversation at Pall Mall … and a free lunch into the bargain?”
The simple matter of it was that, indeed, Sherlock did have an older, smarter brother. When Holmes spoke of him, there was never any trace of intentional sarcasm … and yet Watson was never entirely certain whether or not Holmes meant his words at face value. If it was so inarguable that Mycroft was the more brilliant of the two, and that there was no jealously between them, then why was it apparently necessary for Holmes to bring it up every time he spoke of his brother? Holmes with an “inferiority” complex? It confounded the senses!
Through repetition, Watson had probably learned more about this brother Mycroft than he had ever wanted to know. On two occasions, moreover, he had been obliged to meet the man in the flesh. And so much flesh there was! The elder Holmes defied conventional descriptions such as “heavy,” “stout” or “rotund” – he was outrageously, ponderously obese! On neither occasion did Watson observe the man to once stop eating. He fed buttered scones to his mouth with one hand, and – as soon as that hand was empty – lifted oysters to his mouth with the other. On the table next to him were easily two dozen empty cups, drained of coffee and surrounded by drying, brown rings.
This was not the first time that Watson had had the pleasure of the Diogenes Club’s hospitality, but once again he marveled at the number of important personages quietly minding their own business in the public room. No less remarkable was the unnatural hush that settled over the dark wood wainscoting, heavy Georgian furniture and the choking fumes of exclusive Indian cheroots and hand-packed pipe tobacco. Leather chairs squeaked obscenely under heavy buttocks whenever they shifted to a more comfortable position. Most importantly, no one person paid any other occupant in the room the least notice.
“Is not that His Emminance, the Bishop of Hucklebury, reading in that wing chair?” whispered Watson. “I wasn’t aware that French novels of that sort were appropriate reading for the clergy?”
“Make no mention of anyone,” Holmes muttered, and again cautioned the good doctor to act as though completely alone in the room. They waited in silency until they were escorted to the private room where his elder brother waited.
With a satisfied, yet discreet belch, Mycroft greeted his guests in the comfortable sitting room he had selected.
“Sherlock, you are three minutes, forty seconds late. What can I do for you this abominable afternoon?” It had been hot and sunny all morning, a most un-English condition that caused the corpulent elder Holmes sweat profusely.
Remembering his manners, Mycroft added, “Shall I call for brandies all around? The club steward can bring a plate of cunningly made sandwiches with all four crusts pinked around the edges very artistically! First-rate roast of beef, finely sliced, as well as a plate of assorted imported pâté and cheeses!”
“No thank you,” replied the abstemious Holmes. “You remember the good doctor Watson?”
“Charmed, I’m sure,” responded Mycroft, not sounding very sincere about it.
“The pleasure is all mine,” Watson responded, not very enthusiastically, but already anticipating the delicacies mentioned. “A brandy would be delightful, if you would be so kind.”
“You! Lackey!” A servant appeared seemingly from the wainscoting, the order was given and he rushed off to fetch a bottle of the club’s best Rémy Martin Cognac. Content that his order would be promptly obeyed, Mycroft turned his attention back to his younger brother.
“I see you have been researching the favourite dish of the Pradesh of Membcabo. I take it that your efforts have been largely without useful result. Before you give up on the stacks at the British Library, I suggest you enquire of Lord Nimby – the second Lord Nimby, not his father, who bought his title with his donations to the Tory Party and was not noted for his fondness for books – but his son, who has educated at Cambridge and is a scholar of some reputation in the field of curries. He can no doubt direct you to spiced dishes of The Sind, and satisfy the Bishop of Frogmorton Hops. I do hope the good Biship’s dinner will be a success, and he may hope to be transferred to a more prosperous Diocese?”
Sherlock didn’t miss a beat. “It was kind of you to notify Lord Formby of my need in advance, but I fear that the Bishop’s dinner will be a failure, since Lady Goshockton is a devotee of table rapping and spirit raising. She will doubtless insist upon a lengthy session of communicating with the dead before the first course is served, and it will be thoroughly cold before she can be discouraged from proceeding. I am surprised that you find it so amusing that the American businessman, one Mr. Phelps-Knotts, will also be entertained by the Bishop, as he is a teetotaler, as well as a Free Mason of the Scottish Rite of the Grand Lodge of New York. He cannot know that his cheating at cards has been discovered by the Prince of the Tabernacle – who means to expel him – and so he will not be in a fine mood for pleasantries!”
“But the Bishop will easily mollify the man with some new business opportunities,” countered Mycroft. “That will greatly profit him … at least until the market rises in a fortnight or so, when his investments will undoubtedly take a turn for the worse. More to the point, the Bishop’s chief domestic has given notice, and the new cook has already shown a propensity for drink. Moreover, there is a stork that has constructed a nest in the Bishop’s grand fireplace chimney. Sweeps will not be available to clear the obstruction until Monday next. Fits of coughing are sure to drive his Excellency outdoors more than is his wont, where he will have an excellent chance of contracting a cold in an unseasonable rain!”
“It matters little, since Mrs. Stupps will probably over-indulge on the Lamb Masala, and suffer a spell of choking,” Sherlock shot back.
Mycroft reparteed with, “Fortunately, the boy next to her is a Boy Scout and will know the symptoms of acute tracheal angina!”
“They will need more shoe polish if they are to go out in the garden, however.”
“The tomatoes will not be ripe yet!”
“Parliament will be prorogued over the Isle of Wight question!”
“The characterization of minute particles bearing a negative electric charge surely will be discovered that will expand our understanding of the physical universe in ways that we cannot imagine, but may well unlock the secrets of the structure of matter itself!” the exultant Mycroft retorted.
“What nonsense are you two on about!” complained an impatient Watson. “How could either of you have such foreknowledge of things that Parliament has not yet to decide upon, nor that science has been able to determine?”
This was a capital mistake, one that the Good Doctor repeatedly made, but was never the wiser for it. For once, however, the two Holmeses decided not to shed wasted light on Watson’s impenetrable obtuseness.
A servant effortlessly filled a side table with plates and brandies, and melted away as though never there.
“Capital!” declared Mycroft, chortling. “By the way, Sherlock, it is fortuitous that you should happen to come by this afternoon: I was reflecting on a small matter that had been something of a puzzle over the last few days, and I was giving serious thought to sending a commissionaire to carry a message to you at your quarters on Baker Street. You still do occupy that modest little flat of yours above Mrs. Hudson’s back rooms? I was afraid you might have relocated to a more suitable location … one more fitting your success and reputation,” he coughed discreetly.
“That would not suit me at all,” barked the detective. “Fame and recognition as such would only embroil me in public admiration, and greatly impede my ability to make enquiries, as well as to move freely in a multitude of different social circles. I cannot have people, whom I may be investigating, recognizing me in the role of book maker or mendicant street artist!”
“Besides,” Watson added, unnecessarily, “Sherlock does love his disguises.”
“Are you enjoying your sandwiches?” Holmes said, sourly. “I do like seeing your mouth full and in no danger of opening while you eat.”
“Quite!” replied Watson, unaware that he had been admonished.
Having lost control of the conversation, Mycroft began once again.
“Now that you are here, without need of sending for you, there is a pretty little puzzle that may interest you. I have not the time, nor liking, for tedious investigations. It involves a high-ranking church prelate, whose name I expect I need not disclose.”
“Oh, you mean the mysterious circumstances surrounding Bishop Algernon Abernathy’s stubborn circumspection?” said Holmes. “It was in the Police Gazette.” This esteemed publication had been transferred from the Home Office to Scotland Yard in 1883, and was a staple of Holmes’ reading along, with the agony columns.
“Indeed. Quite,” stalled Mycroft, looking for a less awkward way to proceed. “Perhaps you are already aware that the Bishop was discovered dressed in women’s attire while recumbent in the sacristy of St. Hucklebury Church last Thursday. It was most tawdry. A risqué little number is scarlet chiffon, I understand.”
“Does anyone not know the circumstances?” groaned Holmes. “Public opinion has it that it was ice-blue lace and ribbons. He had been last seen in a semi-conscious after a formal dinner with a number of gentlemen who were celebrating the marriage of the newlywed Colonel Moutard. It was only with the greatest difficulty that the club hushed it up.”
“Well, I jolly well did not hear about it!” cried Watson, outraged by the news. “What did the Bishop mean by this un-clerical behavior?”
“That is the question,” shot back the Great Detective. “He offered no explanation at all!”
“Quite, quite,” echoed his older brother. “What the Gazette would be unaware of is that this is not the first example of aberrant behavior exhibited by the Bishop in recent months. Quite the contrary, he has been seen acting in a disgraceful manner on several occasions, and each time it has been more difficult for the Archbishop to cover it up than it was the time before. It has come to a head, in fact, and public pressure might yet force His Eminence to remove the Bishop from his See. Otherwise the Church of England will fall under criticism that will inevitably reach the Crown itself … and that would upset the Queen’s digestion.”
Watson was visibly disturbed by the chain of logic that was slowly turning over in his mind. Holmes merely reached for a digestive biscuit and nibbled on it.
“Clearly, there is some outside agency causing him to act in such an unaccountable manner?”
“One must suppose that it is so,” said Mycroft. “But the Bishop will not speak of it. Two weeks ago, he was found to have several marked cards in his possession while engaged in a friendly rubber of bridge with the Duke of E’arle and Lord Moleswurth. He protested his innocence, but was without a proper explanation of how the cards came to be there. He would only say that his sacristan was excessively given to the game, and deeply in debt. This excuse was met with well-deserved skepticism.
“But then, a week later, the Bishop was discovered to have taken a number of bottles of vintage liquors from this very club, and attempted to smuggle them out in his carriage.”
Holmes finished the last of his digestive and suggested, “It is surely an open-and-shut case? The Bishop has been the victim of a plot to incriminate him, very likely for the purpose of blackmail.”
“It is not quite as simple as that,” Mycroft said, with some asperity. “Any fool would guess blackmail! But why?”
That was, indeed, a puzzling question. The Bishop had been a prelate for many years, and his conduct had been impeccable until now.
Watson, having enjoyed his fourth glass of sherry for the afternoon, had begun to slur his speech slightly. “I don’t shuppose,” he began, “that the Archbishop’sh announcement of retirement and the queshion of his shuccesshor might have anything to do with it? Do you shuppose it might have to do with a rival claimant?”
Both the Holmes brothers stared sourly at the Good Doctor. Clearly, this possbility had escaped their notice…
Over the following week, Holmes was rarely at home at his Baker Street lodgings. Therefore, Watson had enjoyed a very peaceful several days, and at one point was even so bored that he was inclined to look in on his practice. To his surprise, his locum tenens was not anywhere to be found, the office door wide open, and most of the doctor’s tinctures, tonics, balsams, elixirs and pills had been stolen or spilled out on the floor … as like as not, in search for opium or alcohol. There were obvious signs of homeless occupants at night, and trash everywhere. “Oh, bollocks!” swore the Good Doctor. “You just can’t find a good locum!”
“That is true,” Holmes spoke from the open doorway. Watson turned in surprise, but he did not find not the Great Detective standing there, but instead a Portuguese sailor with a peg-leg, tattoos up and down both arms, clad in a threadbare oilskin, battered sou’wester, scraggly beard and with a string of cod thrown over his shoulder.
“Holmes… why in God’s name are you attired in such a get-up?”
“To escape notice, of course!” said Holmes, shutting the door behind him and exposing the leg he had tucked up behind his thigh with a strap. “Be a good fellow, and – “ he groaned, “ – help me free my bound leg. It’s killing me!”
Watson did as he was told, but was naturally full of questions. In many ways, however, he no more understood the answers than he usually did when the Great Detective’s methods were explained to him. Apparently, Holmes had spend much of the previous few days around the Sailor’s Union, listening to hearsay, but had also checked the registry of ownership of several sailing ships bound for the China seas, been in conversation with a number of suppliers of barbed wire, posed as a blind jockey, bought several handsome full-skirted dresses and spoken to a number of female impersonators of note from the London stage. It was only the latter that Watson was able to follow the logic of.
“To be honest,” Holmes explained, “I was not only investigating the matter of the Bishop of Hucklebury, but several other matters as well, particularly an urgent need to disentangle the provenance of a Grecian vase.”
“A Greek urn?” replied, a puzzled Watson.
“Yes … specifically, what return does a swindler make on the manufacture and sale of counterfeited ancient artifacts?”
Watson stared at the detective. He had never known Holmes to show any sign of humour before, so dismissed the thought from his mind.
The truth was, that Holmes had not discovered much at all, although he had bought an enormous number of petticoats and blouses in the effort to encourage a free exchange of information with several ladies of the night, and consequently would have no trouble knowing what he was going to present to Mrs. Hudson for Christmas.
What little the detective had uncovered had at the very least clarified the motive for the conspiracy against the Bishop of Hucklebury.
Although the current Archbishop had not yet set a date for his retirement, it was likely that the 93-year-old Prelate was under pressure to leave office gracefully, and no later than Saint Murgatroyd’s Day … before the decision was taken out of his hands by advancing age and wandering mind. There was no end of aspiring younger churchmen, hardly in their 60s, and eager for advancement. The Bishop Abernathy was the leading candidate to try out the Archbishop’s jeweled mitre for size … however, there was the question of his fitness for the appointment.
And yet, The Great Detective stated unequivocally, “There has been a concerted effort to blacken the reputation of the esteemed Bishop Abernathy, so that he could not be named as the outgoing Archbishop’s successor without controversy. Who, then, is most likely to benefit from this foul scheme if not one of his likely rivals?”
Holmes pondered this conundrum for several moments before his reverie was interrupted by his companion, Watson.
“Might the plot not be aimed at the Church as a general principle, and not at any specific target, such as one successor or another?”
Holmes stared at his companion for a moment, until an unexpected inspiration at last dawned upon him. “I think I’ve come to the bottom of it! This is not about the Bishop Abernathy at all, but an attempt to discredit the High Anglican Church of England, Scotland and Wales in entirety!”
Then, still limping from hours with one leg bound up behind the other, Holmes ran out of the door of Watson’s office, leaving behind a string of fish that – by the olfactory evidence – had clearly ceased to be palatable.
“I must be away,” shouted Holmes as he disappeared up the street, still wearing his oilskin and sou’wester. “Be at the Diogenes Club tomorrow at tea. I will arrange for the Stranger’s Room be available through Mycroft. If I hurry, I can return those thirty-nine Pounds-worth of women’s finery before the shoppes close, and recoup the entire expense of my research!”
Watson took a cab back to Baker Street alone, quite uncertain when or whether the detective would return, or in what guise. Supposing he chose to appear at the Diogenes Club attired in the silk coat and pigtail of a Chinaman? Or dressed as a Native American, stripped to the waist and trailing a long, feathered headdress? Very little ever fell outside the range of eccentric behavior that could be expected of Watson’s unpredictable roommate. But the next day, when Holmes appeared at the entrance to the Diogenes Club, Watson was much relieved to see that he was dressed normally, in black frock coat, weskit, high buttoned shoes and black silk topper. Fortunately, Holmes had chosen to disguise himself as a respectable gentleman.
A footman met them inside the foyer with a doubtful expression, and escorted Holmes and Watson to the Stranger’s Room with a shrug. He was not accustomed to anyone of less significance than a minor earl or member of the Lords in the hallowed premises of the most private club in London, but neither was it his place to question the choice of visitors of one of the founding members of the club.
As before, they were led through the silent and smoke-filled sitting room, populated by many of the greatest notables in the realm, including a great African Explorer, several members of Parliament, a poet named Wilde, with an exceedingly disreputable reputation, and … Watson noted out of the corner of his eye … the Bishop Abernathy.
In the Stranger’s Room, the two brothers greeted one another, and Mycroft threw a negligent nod toward Watson as before. As usual, the brothers proceeded to trade recondite observations whose logic the befuddled Watson was unable to discern. Then, having completed the necessary preliminaries of testing each other’s wits, they settled down to the business of untangling the puzzle of the case before them.
But first, Holmes was moved to recollection. “There was method in the events of the last few weeks, involving the Bishop of Hucklebury. A sinister intelligence that we have not suspected! Have I mentioned that I have encountered such a diabolical mind at work on a previous occasion, a man who could well be called the Napoleon of Crime?”
“Yes!” both the other men in the room cried. “On many occasions,” elaborated Mycroft, “At very great length, and encyclopedic detail!”
Watson nodded vigorously.
Momentarily taken aback, Holmes began again. “Clearly, there is a hidden agency behind these events, one that has orchestrated the attempts at discrediting the name of the Bishop of Hucklebury for the purpose of forcing the High Church to name a new Archbishop of that agent’s choosing. I spent the greater part of last night, after leaving the Good Doctor at his office, chasing down the registry of secret societies at the British Library that might have a vested interest in naming a new Archbishop. I quickly dismissed the Knights Templar, the Priory of Zion, the Rosicrucians and the Knights of the Golden Circle – even the Scottish Free Tartan Party – but without luck.”
Holmes selected an unbuttered scone from the tea service, and nibbled one corner of it. “Having exhausted the resources of the British Library, I turned to an arcane bookstore in Hammersmith, near St. Paul’s, that I frequent when all else fails.”
“Where the Romanian Consulate General of Romania is located, of course,” Mycroft needlessly added. As the unofficial advisor to the government on all foreign policy decisions, he was professionally interested in the affairs of suspicious outsiders skulking around the capital, and was easily distracted by the subject.
“Quite,” affirmed Holmes. “Perhaps you are familiar with M. Ramone Stanze Bibliotheque Occulte?”
“I believe it came to my attention two years ago when it acquired a previously unknown copy of a lost Shakespearian play in dubious circumstances that, as I recall, you became involved in with that Adler woman. That Woman … as you call her.”
Holmes’s eyes became momentarily dreamy, but then reverted to the semblance of a pair of cold chisels. “After rousing M. Stanze from sleep and prevailing upon him to open the shoppe in my hour of need, I spent the better part of the night tracing the history of a number of obscure and secretive secret societies, as well as their current status, memberships and recent activities. Most had been extinct for many years, or whose members were exceedingly old and quite past carrying out any sort of conspiracy.”
“By Jove,” said Watson, hanging on every word of Holmes’s narration. “And what have you discovered in your research?”
“Not a blessed thing,” replied Holmes, despondently. “However, upon my shaking him awake a second time, M. Stanze was able to recall a number of very valuable and very much forbidden tomes that you, my dear Mycroft, had confiscated through the Homeland office of government security.”
“Oh, yes,” Mycroft admitted, thoughtfully. “I thought that name sounded familiar. It was during a sweep of dangerous foreign agents and subversive materials that they had been distributing among the lower classes in an effort to stir up discontent. Most of the material that was found turned out to me relatively harmless, along the lines of that German blowhard who was promoting his fraudulent theories of economics back in the fifties and sixties. Surely, dear brother, you have no interest in any of that?”
“Indeed not!” cried Holmes. “No doubt, your spies had already infiltrated the ringleaders and misdirected them into any number of foolish actions that distracted them into useless demonstrations, instead of purposeful use of their buying power or votes!”
Mycroft wore a satisfied smirk. “Quite. It was all in the line of duty in my humble capacity as advisor to the government, a government that least of all wanted to countenance anything as undesirable as change!”
“Nevertheless,” persisted Holmes, “I believe there were pertinent documents that must hold the key to our puzzle in the form of a secret brotherhood intent on destroying our Realm, by whatever means presented to it, and it has been carefully laying its plans for years! If I am to get to the bottom of this conspiracy, I must have access to those books!”
“Surely not all of them?” the astonished brother exclaimed. “That would fill a library in itself. Can you be more specific, Sherlock?”
In answer, Sherlock handed his brother a short, handwritten list on a sheet of his own notepaper, which (unfortunate to say) still smelled somewhat of the detective’s previous night’s disguise.
“I will send for the books immediately,” said Mycroft, “and have them sent around to your apartments.” With a snap of Mycroft’s fingers, a servant sprang to his side. The brothers made stiff farewells while Watson did his best to finish the last of the scones and jam.
Having already spent most of the previous night at the British Library and in M. Stanze’s bookshop, spent the entire next day deep in study among the stack of musty, decaying books that had been delivered to Baker Street on Mycroft’s instructions. Once immersed in his reading, the detective rarely rose, occasionally crying, “Watson, be a good chap and bring me fresh tobacco from my Persian slipper,” or “Confound it, I jolly well think I should know better than to drink so much Lapsang Souchong!” as he jumped up to repair to the water closet in the other room.
Sensing the proper juncture to leave, Watson retreated to his upstairs bedroom, discreetly closing the door behind him.
Some hours later, a triumphant cry from downstairs startled the dozing doctor in his chair, the current issue of Punch fallen to the floor beside him. “What is it, Holmes! I’m coming!”
In his hurry, Watson nearly tumbled pell-mell down the staircase, and burst into the sitting room with enough violence to rattle the collection of pipes on the mantle.
“Ah, you’re here, Watson! Good man!” Holmes was pleased with himself, and wanted someone to know it. Having a roommate was useful in more ways than one. “I have finally cracked the case. The agency behind the effort to blacken the Bishop’s reputation, and damage the standing of the official Church of England, is no less than … the Fenian Brotherhood!”
Watson stared at the detective, not quite understanding what he had just been told, then ventured. “Are you quite sure of that, Holmes?”
“Of course, I am sure,” said Holmes with some asperity. “The foul plot delves far deeper than I had even supposed! The conspiracy that we have uncovered does not merely involve the fate of the Established Church, but of the English nation itself! In fact, the entire British Empire is at stake if we do not nip this conspiracy in the bud!”
“But,” objected Watson, “The Fenian Brotherhood were destroyed over thirty years ago … rooted out lock, stock and barrel! They have presented no danger to the empire in the interim!”
“That is what The Brotherhood wants us to believe, Watson! The reality is that the apparent dissolution of the secretive Irish organization was not only to hold the British colonies in Canada hostage in exchange for an independent Ireland, but to destroy England in its entirety, and reduce it to a number of squabbling tribal kingdoms, as it had been twelve hundred years ago! To this end, the Brotherhood employed a cunning plan, a ruse, by allowing the government to conclude that the danger was over, and that it was safe for it to dismiss it from further thought. Nothing could be farther from the truth, Watson! The conspiracy merely went deep underground, rebuilding itself, biding its time, and laying plans to strike a mortal blow at the Empire!”
Watson digested all of this slowly, with growing skepticism. “There is proof of these assertions?” he asked, meekly.
“Of course, my good fellow!” Holmes barked. “When have I ever failed to back up my deductions?”
The following morning had been a busy one, requiring careful preparations to be carried out by an exultant Holmes. “I tell you, Watson, this subterfuge is infallible!”
The Good Doctor had an unusual, cryptic expression on his face. As a rule, he accepted Holmes’ pronouncements unhesitatingly, but on this occasion Watson had long ago lost the thread of the Great Detective’s reasoning. “Perhaps,” he said, “If you were to repeat the essence of your plan to draw the Brotherhood out into the open, I would begin to perceive the excellence of your arrangements?”
“Of course, Watson,” Holmes answered at once. “It is St. Patrick’s Day, and the Brotherhood cannot fail to respond to the stimulus by striking a blow at Crown and country. As has been arranged through my brother, the Peelers have been set in place around the Houses of Parliament … where there will inevitably be the usual disturbances by drunken Irishmen in a mood for a fight. This will be the signal for the machinations of the Brotherhood, who will then be caught in the act of violent sedition!”
Watson protested at once, “But why will the Brotherhood show their hand on this occasion, and not somewhere else and some other time?”
“Simple,” Holmes continued, “Mycroft made a persuasive appeal to His Excellancy, the Bishop, to make an appearance and attempt to quell the demonstration with an impassioned speech to the crowd … one that will counsel order and loyalty to the Crown! This cannot but infuriate the angry Irish who have gathered around him, and who will likely pelt the Bishop with whatever refuse is at hand.”
“Rather hard on the Bishop, don’t you think?” protested Watson.
“Oh, doubtless, but be a good chap and let me continue. I’m not finished,” said Holmes, counting down the points of his plan on his fingers. “Without question, the Brotherhood will be ready, shouting encouragement to the mob and adding suggestion to egg it on. Of course, that is only to build the volatility of the mob, until it is ready to resort to violence. But the police will be prepared for this, and instigate the mob to attack the Bishop prematurely, by responding to a pre-arranged provocation.”
“This sound quite… er… involved, don’t you think?” said a worried Watson. “What if the mob is not triggered by this… er… provocation?”
Holmes steepled his fingers as he regarded his companion. “Not to worry. My brother Mycroft has instructed an agent to plant incriminating evidence on the Bishop’s person that will be discovered at a most awkward moment. As he is praying from his Bible, a blighted potato will fall out of his hassock and land at the feet of the assembled Irishmen! A carefully instructed actor will pick it up and announce, ‘Look, fellow Sons of Eire, the English oppressor has a blighted potato to be carried back to Ireland!”
“My God,” Watson cried, “The infuriated mob will tear him into pieces! Tiny pieces, Holmes!”
“Exactly,” Holmes declared, triumphantly. “However, we will not sacrifice the good Bishop needlessly. The Metropolitan police are ready to intervene at a moment’s notice, and they will drive the rioting Irish back, and then whisk his Eminence to safety. Or to the St. James Infirmary, if matters develop somewhat farther than expected.”
“But what is the point of this contrivance, Holmes? Why imperil the Bishop, when permitting the St. Patrick’s Day parade to proceed peacefully would cause no public disturbance at all?”
“Obviously,” explained Holmes, “I will be watching the crowd from a vantage where I will be able to spot the ringleaders. Those will be the members of the Brotherhood that we need to corner in their nest, and arrest.”
Watson blinked vacantly for almost an entire minute before understanding dawned, but slowly his face grew animated, and he exclaimed, “Capital, Holmes. Capital! And when shall this splendid plan commence?”
“In about eleven minutes, I should think. We are near front of the Palace of Westminster now, and, as we speak, I believe I can hear the raucous sound of many marching boots and loud cries of ‘Erin go Braugh” up the street.”
However, everything did not go as the Great Detective had planned…
Although the Bishop did attempt to address the crowd of easily offended Irish marchers, and to dissuade them from further demonstration of their grievances against the English government, and although the potato was indeed dropped in front of the leading marchers, and without a doubt they were instantly outraged, the Metropolitans were unable to react quickly, and the hapless Bishop Abernathy was only narrowly saved from a quick lynching … but nevertheless suffering a painful drubbing. The worst of it was that, despite watchful eyes planted in several places where they were to watch the mob, no suspicious behavior was observed. The Bishop’s beating was in vain.
Instead, the Brother apparently invaded the sacristy of St. Hucklebury, and left there a variety of implements of a personal nature that modestly forbids mentioning, and which were more commonly found in the stews of Whitechapel than in a holy setting.
“We have been outwitted in our own ruse,” declared Holmes in uncharacteristic irritation. “This will not do!”
Lounging in his accustomed armchair at the Diogenes Club, his brother regarded Holmes with a speculative eye. “What do you propose to do … if anything? You appear to have been outwitted in your own scheme.”
“Our scheme!” Holmes reminded him, indignantly snorting at Watson for good measure.
“Of course, of course, how absent-minded of me,” said Mycroft, backpedaling furiously. No one in the room believed he meant absent-minded in the least.
“Notwithstanding,” continued Holmes, “We must do something to bring our adversaries to heel, and must do it soon. The Brotherhood’s plans are coming to fruition, and our best chance to thwart them lies in goading them into acting before they are ready. We must devise a new ruse, and this one must carry the day!”
“Capital!” roused Watson, spreading a thick layer of French pâté on a rice biscuit. “But… er… have you devised a plan, then?”
Holmes thought for a moment, and shook his head.
A voice suddenly broke the silence. Someone was speaking from the far end of the table – someone bearing a platter of cold roast beef for Watson, and a fresh bottle of sherry for Mycroft. “If I may interrupt, gentlemen,” the servant said, “You have allowed the criminal the advantage of initiative. You must seize it for yourselves, and this time not follow his lead. Force his hand!”
“Out of the mouth of servants!” observed Holmes. “But it is good advice.”
Mycroft said curtly, “Mind your place in future.”
The butler bowed and silently slipped away.
Over the next few minutes, however, the two most brilliant minds of the century – barring a certain criminal genius – conceived a devious stratagem that was certain to succeed. But first, they agreed, they would need persuade his Eminence, the Bishop Abernathy of Hucklebury, to expose himself for a second time – but this time, to conclude with a completely different outcome.
“He may not be entirely enthusiastic about cooperating,” Watson said. “Not after his previous experience, the multiple contusions and the mild concussion he suffered.”
“Mere details,” Mycroft observed. “I think he will come around if he wishes to succeed in becoming the new Archbishop.”
At Mycroft’s urging, the retirement of the old Archbishop and the investiture of the new one was advanced by four weeks, driving any number of ecclesiastical planners to nervous breakdowns from overwork, curtailed ceremony and offended sensibilities. Not the least of many objections to the ceremony was the recent scandals by which the old Bishop had been tarnished.
During the grant event, the new Archbishop was nearly in a state of nervous prostration, darting his eyes to one side to the other as every little noise startled him. His hands shook, and he looked longingly at the sacramental wine on the altar. Plainclothes police from Scotland Yard stood at ready throughout the crowd. Holmes himself mingled with the higher-ranking dignitaries, disguised as an altar-boy, waiting to give the signal for action.
For all of that, and much to everyone’s surprise, there were no incidents of note. The ceremony went off without a flaw, the higher ranking celebrants mounted the dais to congratulate the new Archbishop, and made toasts to his long and uneventful occupancy of the Diocese of Canterbury.
“What now, Holmes?” said Watson, clearly disappointed that their plan had once again been thwarted. “It appears that the Brotherhood has been forewarned, or at least never planned to attack the new Archbishop at his investiture at all.”
“So it would seem,” answered Holmes … but there was a slight smile showing in his expression. “But all is not as it seems. It was never my intention to apprehend the Brotherhood on this occasion. The pretext was far too transparent to have succeeded in fooling a foe as clever as the one I faced today. It was but another ruse, this one of my own devising, that not even Mycroft was privy to!”
“But… but… ,“ Watson stuttered.
“Tomorrow, we shall see my brother once more. The game is finally afoot. Or perhaps a … footman, eh, Watson?” The Great Detective smirked with satisfaction, in foreknowledge of the next day’s events.
As always, the service at the Diogenes Club was superb. Holmes and Watson sat to an exquisite spread of gâteaus, tartes, patisseries and other French delectables ordered by Mycroft with a wave of his hand to the nearby servant.
As Holmes’ insistence, the newly enthroned Archbishop Abernathy attended their conference. Until that moment, he had been silently nursing his bruises.
“I rather fail to see why you find it necessary to include me in your impromptu tête-à-tête,” said the Archbishop, nervously. “Wouldn’t it be better if I remained, um, ex communicado, don’t you think?”
Holmes chuckled, indulgently. Much to the Great Detectives satisfaction, his older brother sat, blank-faced, unable to discern why Holmes had called for this meeting, but unwilling to give away his lack of comprehension.
“No doubt you are wondering why I thought it necessary to involve His Eminence in our lucubrations,” said Holmes, clearly taking pleasure in rubbing in his ascendancy over his brother. “But there was purpose in misleading you, dear Brother,” emphasizing dear. “It was never my intention to carry out the plan to embarrass the Archbishop at his investiture. My original ruse was, you see, only another ruse, but this time on our unknown adversary, who all along was behind the blackmailing of his Excellency. For it was not the Fenian Brotherhood as first seemed, but it was necessary to let on that I had been deceived so that I would be able to close in on the actual culprit!”
“Is that true?” exclaimed the astonished Watson, mouth hanging open widely enough for crumbs from a petit four to escape. “But, if it wasn’t the Brotherhood at all, then must we start our search all over?”
Feeling magnanimous, Holmes confessed, “I’m afraid that I was deceived at first.” But, after a moment, he reconsidered his statement. “ … However, only very briefly!”
Unexpectedly, Holmes beckoned to the butler serving them.
“Your wish, sir?” the servant murmured obsequiously.
Watson spoke first, however, “Yes, I think we are quite out of sherry. And I wonder if the kitchen has a little of that excellent cold beef that you served during our first visit, a few days ago? Or better still, a little cold venison?”
“Never mind the venison, Watson,” snapped Holmes. “Leave the gamey meat afoot!”
“Yes,” said Mycroft, “the venison can wait until later. What is this about the Fenian Brotherhood not being responsible for the repeated attacks upon the person of the Archbishop? How is this possible? If not the Sons of Eire, then who the deuce do we suspect, Brother?”
“The true culprit has been staring us in the face all along, had we the wit to discern it. The clues had been all around us, but only I finally perceived the truth! Among all the attacks on the Bishop, what has been a common thread? Drink? Cards? Women’s dress? Yes … but all irrelevant! There has only one pertinent factor that has been present in every one of the attacks. They all occurred in the precincts of the Diogenes Club, or originated from here!”
Holmes paused for effect, and then continued – but instead of developing his conclusions, he gestured toward the servant who was ever present in the Strangers’ Room. “Would you be so kind as to pour a celebratory glass of that excellent sherry at the sideboard?” he said, slowly turning to the waiting butler.
The man nodded and brought the bottle to the table. Just as he began to pour, Holmes sprang up and clapped a pair of businesslike darbies on the startled server’s wrists. At once, a pair burly policemen burst into the room, and it was over before “Bob’s their uncle!”
“Sir! What is the meaning of this?” cried the butler, wedged between the two police officers.
“You know perfectly well,” Holmes admonished. “It had been you all along who was stalking and incriminating the Archbishop. Who else would be placed in such a way as to carry out such a nefarious scheme to ruin the good name of his Excellency, or had better reason!”
The servant stared at the gentlemen that he had been attending as though his eyes alone could kill, but before he could speak he was hustled ungently from the room by the officers.
“Reason?” gawped Watson. “What reason could there have been? Would you be so kind as to enlighten me to how your suspicion finally came to rest on the wine steward?”
Mycroft slowly began to chuckle. “Of course, dear Brother! I should have mentioned it before this moment … I was almost thinking you hadn’t come to the correct conclusion, since you had taken so long.”
“And what conclusion was that, pray tell?” Holmes said, acidly.
Mycroft thought frantically until a look of comprehension broke over his face. “Naturally, there was no alternative. When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
“Yes. Naturally,” replied Holmes, acknowledging the quote. “The fellow has been advancing the parsimonious Archbishop small sums of money in order to pay trivial bills he had run up while enjoying the many services offered to the membership by the Diogenes Club! But his Eminence is notorious for forgetting to settle his debts, as is evidenced by his studious avoidance of the table and wine cellar. Thus His Eminence’s notorious freeloading, his penurious, penny-pinching tactics rebound upon those least able to refuse him… ”
“Oh, I say, I am sitting right here, you know…” the Archbishop said, plaintively.
“…While servants are paid but a pittance, moreover,” Holmes continued smoothly, “and are under considerable constraint when regular members of the club abuse their privileges. It was a small leap of deduction to realize that your wine steward had been coerced into a considerable loss for someone of such limited means, and greatly resented it!”
“You mean, after all,” gasped Watson, “That the guilty party was the but… “
“Do not say it!” cried both Holmes brothers together.
The Archbishop pushed back his chair, and rose from the table with an air of solemn dignity.
“I must thank you, Mr. Holmes, for your elucidation of a rather indecorous situation in which the Church of England found itself. Please send an itemized invoice for your services to ... to the offices of the See,” he concluded blandly. "And now, farewell... I must return to the duties of my sacred office...”
Pausing, he made a show of patting the pockets of his ornate cassock, and then said, “Oh dear me... I seem to have left my purse in my quarters. Could I possibly trouble one of you fellows for the loan of a few bob wherewith to hire a cab back to the diocese?”
Sighing, Mycroft passed over a fiver.
“Thank you so much,” the Archbishop smiled benevolently. “I was very hansom of you to provide me with the means to hire a waiting cab. And now, Benedictus...” Mycroft did not smile at a bon mot so far beneath him.
After he had gone, the brothers and Watson sat in thoughtful silence for a time.
“Well, I must say, it was altogether a rum show,” Watson mused. “All this time I believed that you were on the trail of Irish revolutionaries, and their goal was to discredit the Established Church and the Realm! But it was never about the Church at all, was it, Holmes?”
“That is true, Watson. Once the plan had been fully revealed to me, it was as plain as day that nothing we did served the purpose of protecting the sanctity of sacraments, holy relics or the mass. There was never a critical mass, so to speak,” chuckled the Great Detective.
Not to be up-staged, Mycroft added, “No indeed. In so far as it was in anyone’s interest to bring disrepute upon the new Archbishop, what we have here is a failure to excommunicate!”
The brothers watched Watson expectantly, but there was only a hanging silence. Finally he spoke. “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean, but clearly you meant to be quite witty, and I am too obtuse to see the humour.”
“Perhaps you are right,” Holmes sighed. “Word-play is a very low form of humour, after all. I believe I shall partake from my brother’s excellent whiskey.” He poured himself a full glass from the decanter. “I see that it is Irish,” he added.
“Scotch, actually,” corrected Mycroft. “Double malted.”
Holmes winced, but replied, “Did I ever tell you about – “
“Yes,” shouted all three other men, loath to hear about The Napoleon of Crime once again.
But Holmes continued smoothly. “ – tell you about my smarter, adopted brother, Sighart?”
Fraggle Tails (The Stories)
The first rule of the Diogenes Club is: you do not talk about the Diogenes Club.
The second rule is clearly that you do not discuss whom or what you see there.
Witty (if odious) puns in personal names, titles and places. And I am frequently guilty of the same...