I waited a moment for my wife to admit the visitor, presumably an unexpected patient, but when I heard no footsteps in the hallway I went to the front door myself to see who might be seeking my assistance. I opened it to find myself face-to-face with one of the most unexpected sights of my life, for the expansive figure of Mr. Mycroft Holmes of Pall Mall filled the doorway. To my great consternation, he was unkempt and shivering; his suit dripping wet, and his shoes caked with mud.
"My goodness, Mr. Holmes! What has happened? Mary! Quick. Some brandy!" I cried. But as there was still no sign of my wife, who no doubt had retired to her sewing-room, I rushed to the sideboard to pour a stimulating glass myself, while Mr. Mycroft Holmes stamped his boots and shook his sodden overcoat in my front hallway.
I handed the glass to the elder Holmes, all the while wondering what cataclysm could possibly have stirred one of London's most sedentary men to visit my humble practice.
I'm sorry to trouble you, Dr. Watson, but I have been unable to locate my brother this evening. I thought you might know of his whereabouts."
I had seen little of Holmes for some days, and had no idea what might currently be occupying him if he were not at his familiar rooms in Baker Street. Mr. Holmes's hands shook visibly as I offered him the glass my wife provided, and my curiosity only grew in its intensity.
"There, there, sir!" I exclaimed, catching Mycroft Holmes's suddenly swaying figure and guiding his great bulk towards my settee. "Indeed Mr. Holmes," I said to him in a comforting voice," I have not heard from your brother for five days, since he sent a telegram to my home wishing me the compliments of the season."
Mycroft swabbed his brow with a handkerchief. "This has been most trying on my nerves, Doctor."
"Tell me," I urged him, "what crisis has arisen that makes it so urgent for you to find him, and that brings you to my door in such a state? "You must know as well as I that it is his habit to disappear for weeks at a time. Yet you are clearly disturbed for some specific reason."
He finished his brandy in a single swallow, closed his eyes and whispered, "It all began with the disappearance of the French ambassador. Five days ago, you say? The matter first came to my attention on that very day. I began to take it seriously when the Belgian attaché vanished on the following day."
"Good heavens!" I proclaimed. "I have read none of this in the papers!"
"Of course not!" he hissed. "It is of the utmost importance that not a word of this is breathed to the press. It would be disastrous!"
"Very well," I answered, "but what has it to do with Sherlock?"
"You may as well ask," he replied, "what it has to do with the wet and filthy condition of a middle-aged civil servant who has just run to your door from Whitehall, rather than waiting for a cab. Sherlock is, at this very moment, undercover as a butler in the Federal Republic of Germany's Embassy, but I have reason to believe his identity is known! I had consulted with him earlier this month about the situation. The utmost secrecy had to be assured. Even to you, my good man."
I was, admittedly, slightly piqued at the perceived slight to my discretion, but I was used to the Holmes brothers and their ways by this time.
"And what is your reason for approaching me now for assistance rather than inquiring directly at the German Embassy?"
"You will note," he replied, "that I referred to the embassy of the Federal Republic, which in our conventional timeline will not be founded for some fifty-two years yet."
"Sir, do you mean to suggest that you have ensconced your brother in service of a rebel political movement on the Continent?"
"My brother's placement relates to political machinations of a delicate nature, Doctor, intended to assist persons and forces to take their proper places for the anticipation of future global events, of which few are aware."
"Well, that certainly does add to the mystery. I'm afraid this all very beyond me. However," I added, "I take it that you wish me to accompany you - but if not to the Embassy, then where?"
"I wish you to contact Wiggins and the Irregulars immediately. Only they have the resources to track Sherlock! Coins, good Doctor, do you have any? The boys may need to be attracted by a reward. I have also taken steps to contact my brother using an emergency contact in the Netherlands; Sherlock and I have established an emergency rendezvous point in that nation, though I now suspect he may have already made his way back to London, which Wiggins will be able to detect if lured by an extra guinea or two. And the guineas, Doctor. Don't forget the guineas."
I nodded vigorously. "If you are quite recovered, we can leave for Baker Street at once." I hastily scrawled a note for Mary, and grabbed my coat from the closet. "Holmes calls them 'Irregulars' but I find them most predictable in their habits. We will find them."
With uncharacteristic energy, Mycroft Holmes sprang to his feet and threw open the door. "Let us immediately engage a hansom, Doctor!" he cried. Off we went into the cold night in an attempt to hunt down Wiggins.
"Are you confident you will find Wiggins and his unsavoury associates so close to my brother's rooms?" Mr. Mycroft Holmes asked me as we walked. "And I trust you speak the urchin argot, Doctor. We don't tend to meet many in the Diogenes Club".
I had never before seen this proactive an aspect of the elder Holmes's character, but I began to realize that his passions could be deeply engaged where his brother was concerned, however much he might still avoid speaking with London's commoner element. So engrossed were we in contemplating the urgency of ascertaining the whereabouts of the Great Detective, we, almost as one, stumbled over a poor dirty wretch who was lying, insensible, in our path.
"My boy, can you hear me? Do you know where we can find Wiggins?"
"Wotcha wantin' wiv Wiggo, eh? Wot's in it for me, then, guv?"
As he said this, the boy pulled his cap from over his face, and I saw that he was no child at all, but rather a man approaching middle age, with a very familiar gleam in his sharp eyes and a familiar beak-like nose.
"I say, Watson, it is an awfully bleak night to be out looking for street urchins," he said with a smirk.
"Sherlock," said the elder Holmes, "must you always be so dramatic?"
I pulled Holmes to his feet, and watched as he dropped the beggar persona and became himself again - albeit a much scruffier version of himself.
"As for you, brother," said Sherlock Holmes, his lip twitching, "it appears you have run afoul of the river in your zeal to find me."
"Regardless, Sherlock," said Mycroft. "You should be flattered by my concern. My trousers will never dry."
"Brother, I had no choice but to draw your attention by making myself absent," said the younger Holmes. "Now to business! The matter of Little Belgium (as I call him) is pressing."
"Not to mention Less Little France," Mycroft added drily, his brother's presence seemingly increasing his tendency toward sarcasm.
"Your arrival on the scene complicates matters," Sherlock Holmes continued, "as you have undoubtedly been followed by agents of at least three, if not four, of the European powers. I have reason to believe that a Hapsburg embroilment may lie at the heart of this nefarious matter."
"Just so," answered the older brother, "and it was entirely my intent that I should be followed around London, seemingly on a fool's errand to search for a brother I well knew was elsewhere, in order to make those involved think my attention was not pointed in their direction. Why else do you suppose I would throw myself off a skiff into the murky depths of the Thames other than to throw the blackguards off of the scent?"
As the two brothers spoke, we had continued to walk into Pall Mall and turned into Belgrave Square, the neighbourhood where so many of London's embassies are concentrated.
"Good heavens! Have we been followed here?" I said, looking aimlessly off into the darkness.
"Of course you were followed. As I have often said, Watson, 'you see but you do not observe'."
"I am well aware of my own limitations," I snapped rather testily, conscious of the warm fire and loving company I had eschewed for the evening's excursion.
"But, of course, you are always handy with your service revolver, and that makes up for a great many faults," added Sherlock with a wink. Now don't fret, old boy. I wanted us to be followed. It's the only way to drive the fox out of his hole!" He turned dramatically, coming face to face with a rat-faced man in a cape, who was hiding ineffectually behind a piebald horse.
"Really, Inspector, I'd have thought you would have learned enough of my methods to do a bit better than this by now," my friend snorted.
"Well, ah, Mr. Holmes," the rat-faced fellow began, "not everyone is as sharp-eyed as you are."
"It seems we have all serendipitously converged on just the spot to catch our nefarious diplomat poacher!" Holmes exclaimed, rubbing his hands together.
I let go of the service revolver in my pocket, hoping that Lestrade had not been offended at my enthusiasm. "Well, Holmes? What do you propose we do now?" I asked, my thoughts mildly puzzled.
"At any rate, as my brother has departed, we are now better equipped for an active operation," Holmes muttered, surprising me with the observation that his brother had seemingly melted into the night, his part of the evening ostensibly concluded.
"We have already attracted attention," he continued, nodding at a slight figure leaning against a lamp post, with his cap drawn down over his eyes. "I suggest we divide and conquer. You take the right, I will close in on the left of the scoundrel! Since we can no longer rely on the element of surprise, we must take the campaign inside our enemy's stronghold."
In the matter of a second, from a tiny seam in his trouser leg, Holmes drew out a thick wooden stick, such as the type I had seen him use in bartitsu practice. Inspector Lestrade could not contain his astonished admiration; however much he might take pains to conceal it, his face betrayed him.
It took Holmes only a matter of moments to incapacitate the scoundrel. "Now, Watson, perhaps we shall finally get some answers," he said, standing over the incapacitated man. "Doctor, inspect the man for tattoos, scars, and the like."
While I did so, with his usual speed, my friend bent down and relieved the barely-conscious prisoner of the contents of his pockets, one of which looked like some sort of official identification, judging by its seal, written in a language with which I was unfamiliar.
Given his keen powers of observation, I should not have been surprised to discover just the thing Holmes had tasked me to seek.Above the fellow's right wrist was an ornate tattoo representing an eagle, an arrow, a wheel, and two or three other symbols I could not identify in the wavering gaslight. But above his heart I saw one that any Briton would recognize: the flag of the Saxe-Coburgs.
"Ha!" said my friend, punctuating the night with a loud stage whisper, "he's the bodyguard of the man we seek, the one responsible for this whole entanglement."
"It couldn't be... not the Prince Consort's guard!"
"Indeed it is," said Holmes grimly, "and I can only conclude that the Prince himself is inside this Embassy that we already know to hold so many secrets. Come," said my friend, the scent of the chase in his nostrils, "it is time to act and avert national disaster."
He took off at a quick march. I was close upon his heels. Lestrade, looking baffled, followed a moment behind, after he handed the bodyguard off to his constables.
"I'll wager," Holmes continued, "that a thorough inspection of the basement will discover at least two lost attachés of French extraction, who have been living well, and unabashedly at the expense of the Crown!" I was no less astonished at this than Inspector Lestrade, who only complied with Holmes's insistence on an inspection when he was assured that the full authority of Mycroft Holmes stood behind the investigation. Of course, just as my friend had predicted, the men were found in the embassy, and the Prince Consort gave them up in exchange for the promise of being saved from national embarrassment.
Mr. Mycroft Holmes reappeared at the Embassy in impeccable evening dress, though I never did learn how he came by it on short notice on such a rainy evening. "I just can't believe that the Prince Consort was in on it the whole time," I murmured to him.
It remains only to add that my friend, Sherlock Holmes, resumed his German post for some time longer, but he returned to England within three months, and I was none the wiser for anything he communicated. And in not many more years' time, we would come to find out why the Prince had been so suspicious of the "German Embassy," as it took his hereditary kingdom to make a German nation that fought a war with Britain.
I knew that I would never fully understand the political implications of that evening, nor did I wish to, but when I finally re-entered my cozy bedroom and took my place beside my sleeping wife, I reflected that I would be glad to go another lifetime without a visit from Mycroft Holmes.
Copyright © Chris Redmond and Lindsay D. Colwell 2013