The Mystery of the Tankerville Leopard
A few days after Lestrade's visit, it was strongly suggested that it was time I thought about vacating my hospital bed. According to the Chief Surgeon, I was healed as much as I was ever likely to be; the pink scar on my side would serve, so he said, as a permanent reminder to me to be more careful in the future.
His final words of advice, which seemed to be standard whatever the complaint, ran along the lines of my consuming a bottle of whisky every day and hiring of pretty nurse to tend to my needs. This last he said with a knowing wink, as though to suggest that this was the course of treatment he regularly followed himself. If so, then his careworn appearance did not offer much by way of recommendation. I thanked him for his consideration, and left without delay.
I returned to Montague Street in low spirits, expecting to find a nagging landlady on the doorstep and my things long since distributed to the rag-and-bone men. I was pleasantly surprised to find that neither were the case.
My landlady was all smiles and consolation. She inquired constantly about my state of health and asked more than once if there was anything I needed. I perceived that Mycroft's influence lay behind this transformation, a suspicion that was confirmed when she remarked what a nice gentleman he was, her countenance aglow with admiration as she said it. I gathered that he had achieved this rare feat through the liberal application of money and had not been there in person – for the simple reason that no one who has had the misfortune to meet Mycroft has ever thought him 'a nice gentleman'.
More gratifying was what awaited me in my rooms. On the table lay a violin case, and an inspection of the contents settled my mind that it was indeed the Stradivarius I had pawned, now returned to me in perfect condition. With the three days' grace long passed, I had imagined it lost forever. Mycroft's agent had performed admirably, having found the pawnbroker's slip in my pocket and redeemed the instrument for me.
My brother's contribution in this endeavour consisted entirely of a tersely-worded note.
"If you are reading this, then you are certainly recovered enough to call upon me at Whitehall at your earliest possible convenience."
Evidently, we were still talking, although I fancied Mycroft envisaged that our interview would involve a lengthy lecture from him and a meek submission from me. The choice of location confirmed that, and I could already foresee the lines of our discussion. The merits of a respectable and stable occupation would be exhorted and as usual I would have to stand my ground.
Granted, my last case had ended in my near demise, but I did not consider that to be indicative of failure. Man will err while yet he strives, to paraphrase Goethe.
I could deny, however, that there were certain issues which needed to be resolved, not least the question of his high-handed behaviour of late in dispossessing me of certain hereditary rights. Before facing the wrath of Mycroft, I had a duty to perform. I gathered up my things, barricaded myself against the cold and took a cab first to Lincoln's Inn and then onto Soho.
The house I sought lay in the centre of Seven Dials, jostled by stews and gin palaces. The cabman refused to take me into the heart of the reeking rabbit-warren of courtyards and alleys, and drove his steed away at a goodly clip before the scavenging children could wrench the shoes from the horse's hooves.
I picked my way through the foul, narrow ways, avoiding drunken men, who were already propped up this early in the day against walls bearing posters for cheap entertainments and public announcements. Middle-aged women, red-cheeked and pinched from the cold, pawed at passers-by, making dubious claims about their years in an attempt to add appeal to their faded charms.
This, the worst of the so-called 'Rookeries' – the slums where the poor crowded thirty or more to a house – stank of human misery and despair, as malodorous as the effluent and dead cats that lay half-frozen in the gutters, offering scant interest to dogs and half-naked children alike. The clean, respectable streets where the genteel promenaded lay not half a mile away, but it could have been a million miles for all these people knew of it.
I fancied that I understood, having known what it was to have to abase myself to the needs of others in order to earn a living. Yet to believe this was to deceive myself in the worst possible manner.
I had played a role, flirting with the issues that affected these people every day of their lives whilst secure in the knowledge that I had only to shed my disguise to step back into my own comfortable existence. I had not known what it was to live in fear of unemployment, the despair of returning empty-handed to hungry children or the pain of separation from loved ones that entry into the workhouse would bring.
I had only to walk away to leave these wretched streets far behind me; the majority of the people here, watching me with resentful, distrustful eyes, never would. I was a fraud, worse than the condescending rich, expecting to receive a beggar's gratitude and prayers for a token penny. I deserved their scorn, as much as they deserved my pity. The only salve to my conscience was that for one amongst this multitude, I brought glad tidings.
My destination was at the end of an alley, which opened out into a cramped court, festering with dirt, miasmic odours and a wilderness of vermin. Bare-foot infants stamped on frosted pools of human excrement, laughing in delight as the ice cracked to splash freezing slime up their legs. Poles draped with washing, patrolled by pigeons as skinny as the people themselves, protruded from every casement. From behind broken panes wary eyes paused to watch the newcomer in their midst.
Footsteps sounded from within in answer to my knock. A moment later, the door opened and Miss Emily Rush appeared, her hands red and bleeding from their constant immersion in cold water, and her face registering her shock at seeing me.
"Mr Holmes." A blush of colour touched her cheeks. "Whatever are you doing here, sir?"
"I must talk with you," I said. Several women had emerged from the house opposite to stare at us. "May I come inside?"
She led me in to a small parlour festooned with shirts and sheets. The atmosphere was oppressive, rendered close and steamy by the acres of wet washing drying before the meagre fire. Seated to one side of the fireplace was a sunken-eyed child of about eight years of age. A pile of socks lay on her lap, which she was employed in darning.
As fragile as gossamer, she presented the frightening appearance of a living skeleton, so closely did her skin cling to her emaciated frame. This, I gathered, was the younger sister, the child suffering from consumption for whom my last pound had bought medicine.
"How may I help you, sir?" asked Miss Rush.
She kept her eyes averted and had contrived to put as much distance between us as the cramped conditions would allow. As outside, we were under close scrutiny, this time in the form of an elderly woman stuffing a mattress with chicken feathers and no fewer than ten young children, pricking fingers on needles as they sewed buttons onto shirts.
"Your sister?" I inquired, gesturing to the child beside the fire.
A glow of pride touched her pained eyes. "Yes, that's my Alice." Then in a louder voice to the child: "This is Mr Henry Holmes, what lent me the money for your medicine."
It seemed to take the child every ounce of strength to raise a smile.
"I'll pay you back, Mr Holmes," said Miss Rush with sincerity that I did not doubt was genuine, but was ill-matched by her income.
I waved the offer aside. "Sherlock," I said instead. "My name is Sherlock Holmes, Miss Rush. Not Henry."
It mattered little now, but it felt important to shed Henry in his entirety. While a single trace remained of the man, I would never be entirely free of my creation.
"Shame," said she. "I thought Henry suited you. Though looking at you now, you look every inch the proper toff, sir. I always knew you weren't no ordinary steward."
I smiled in acknowledgement of her insight. "How did you know?"
"Your hands, sir. You ain't never done no hard work with nice hands like that."
I considered my palms and the pinkish skin where my burned flesh was healing. I had thought, arrogantly, that a pair of glasses and a grovelling manner was all that was needed to become someone else. It is always a sobering revelation to realise one is not as clever as one thought.
"You're quite correct, Miss Rush. I am a private consulting detective. I came to the Tankerville to investigate Michael Harding's death."
"You did that, sir," said she. "They told me what happened and how you near died because of it."
"Not my finest hour," I conceded.
"Oh, no, sir, that's not what I meant. You gave my Michael justice. I thank you for that, Mr Holmes. Michael would too, if he was here, God rest his soul."
The mention of the murdered man's name reminded me of the reason for my visit. "Miss Rush, is there somewhere we can talk?"
"Here?" she said with an uncertain glance at the gathering behind us.
"I meant, alone."
Too late, I realised how my remark could be misconstrued. Her face reddened. The elderly woman shook her head and muttered something disparaging.
"I always knew you'd end up on the streets, Emily," said she. "If your old Mother could see you now—"
"Don't you start, Mrs Craddock; I'm a good girl, I am, and always shall be. Mr Holmes here is only a friend." She took my arm and led me over to the door. "Why've you come here, sir?" she hissed. "What is it you want?"
Since this corner appeared to be the best she could provide by way of privacy under the circumstances, I lowered my voice and hoped our disapproving chaperone suffered from deafness.
"It is because of Mr Harding that I am here," I explained. "Had he lived, he was due to receive a not inconsiderable sum. Now he is dead, the money has come to me. And I in turn pass it to you, as he would have wished."
She gasped and clasped her hands over her mouth.
"It was Harding's gift to you," I continued, "enough for you to be able to leave this place, Miss Rush, and tend your sister."
Her face crumpled and tears began to creep down her cheeks. "He always said he wanted to take me away from here. I thank you, sir, but I can't accept it. That money's tainted with Michael's blood. It's what they killed him for. He died because he wanted to get that money for me."
I shook my head. "The blame for what befell him does not lie at your door." I took a deep breath and lowered my voice to barely a whisper. "I believe he held you in high regard, Miss Rush, and intended to marry you. Because of that, I cannot in all good conscience keep the money. He would have wanted you to have it."
She was crying bitterly now. What was needed was an arm of support and words of condolence and comfort. Instead we stood, awkward and distant, aware that we were still watched, as I waited for her to dry her tears and listen to what I had to say.
"I have left the money with my solicitors, Young, Young and Young," I explained. "Call on them at your convenience at their offices in Lincoln's Inn and they will help you with whatever you decide to do."
She scrubbed at her tears with the heel of her hand. "Brighton, that's where Michael always said we should go. He said the air was good there for Alice's chest. He said I'd get work in a shop down there, and we could have a nice little room all to ourselves. It was our dream, Mr Holmes."
"An excellent one, Miss Rush. When will you go?"
She glanced at the child and the acres of laundry that littered the room. "I can't leave yet," said she. "There's still another three piles of washing and I daren't be late with it."
A long pause ensued. "When Alice is better, Mr Holmes. Look at the poor girl – she looks like she'd break into a hundred pieces if I tried to move her out of this place. No, we'll go when she's stronger and the weather is warmer."
"Miss Rush, you should not delay," I urged.
The smile that came to her face was tinged with sadness. "We've been here this long, Mr Holmes. The money'll keep, and it'll come in handy, what with the cost of Alice's medicine. A few more weeks here won't hurt us none."
Had words been sufficient to change her mind, I would have tried to persuade her otherwise. I saw, however, that further discussion was futile. I knew that a few more weeks would stretch into a month and then another and another. Miss Emily Rush and her sister would not leave, not because they lacked the means, but rather the courage. A bird may be caged for so long that even when the door is thrown open it will not venture forth.
And whether here or Brighton, the outcome would be the same: the child would die. What then for her elder sister? With no skills and no prospects, she would return to the drudgery she had always known and the people with whom she had spent her whole life. There would be no brave new world for the Rush sisters; Seven Dials would never relinquish its hold, whilst it surrounded them with all that was safe and familiar.
I took my leave, feeling more disheartened than when I had arrived. I had thought I was helping; instead I was not sure that I had made matters worse. No amount of money would save the dying child nor console the grieving sister. I had deluded myself into believing that philanthropy alone was enough – but then, as Mycroft had delighted in telling me, in many ways, I was as unworldly as a babe in arms.
I brooded on this as I wended my way to Whitehall. In light of events, I had been forced to concede that my brother's words on the night of our disagreement had contained more than a grain of truth. I was not so gullible to believe that Mycroft had chanced upon an accurate reading of the situation by accident or that a simple clerk in a nameless government department was privy to sensitive information about the criminal activities of an outwardly respectable London club.
What was evident to me was that he had known more than he had been prepared to tell me. He had admitted that much. Instead of confiding in me, he had employed insults and threats. And then, when he had failed to turn me to his way of thinking, like the petulant sibling he was, he had retaliated with the derisory shilling. If he now expected to find me humbled by my experience, he was in for a rude awakening.
Not knowing where to find him, I presented myself at the door of Westminster Hall. The policeman on duty sent for an official, who made vague noises and disappeared. In his place came another official, of a higher rank if his imperious manner was any indicator of status. He appraised me with a critical eye and then directed me to the Banqueting House, where I was reliably informed that my brother was expecting me.
Another policeman took another round of convincing, although the portly official who came to escort me within accepted my identity without question. From this, I suspected this was the gentleman sent by my brother to oversee my hospitalisation and settle matters with my landlady. When in reply to my thanking him for the return of my violin he gave a small bow, I knew my deduction had been correct.
I was shown in to the great double cube of the interior, resplendent with its white walls and columns, and the painted ceiling, its swirling clouds, gods and old kings captured for posterity amid acres of gold leaf. There, I was left by a window near the door to await my brother's convenience.
I recognised his back amidst the jumble of gentleman at the further end of the room. All were studying something intently on the table before them, and I gathered that I was to be kept waiting, as befitted my brother's inflated sense of self-worth.
My attention turned to the window and the view beyond. For over two centuries had this building had kept its vigil, witness to the execution of kings and the demise of even older structures around it. One may speak of history as an abstract concept and of people distanced by time, but in some places is one aware of the very presence of the past, as though the walls contain a dim memory of bygone days to be conjured up when required.
I wondered at those who had stood in my place and had looked out on this same view. The age may have changed, but how much remained the same. The yells of cabmen echoed down the busy street, pedestrians hurried along the crowded pavement, and life continued its daily round in the shadow of this venerable building as it had always done and would continue to do so, long after I was gone. There is something to be said for permanence in changing times, for fixed points that endure whatever else befalls the world around them – if such virtues could be found in people, then how much more tolerable life would be.
"'There is nothing in this world constant, but inconstancy'," came an intrusive voice that cut through my musings. "I dare say that is true enough, but then Swift never had the pleasure of making your acquaintance, Sherlock."
I had not been aware of his approach. For one so large, Mycroft possessed a lightness of step that bestowed upon him an almost feline stealth. As usual, he presumed that I had no objection to his reading my thoughts, a habit which in truth has always rather vexed me. We regarded each other, he with an air of superiority, me with simmering contumacy, each daring the other to weaken and be the first to speak. That day I achieved the impossible and forced my brother to take the initiative.
"You came," he stated.
"You summoned me; I am here."
"I was not dragged here in handcuffs, if that is what you mean."
This remark made little impression on him. "I see your peculiar sense of humour has survived your recent ordeal intact, even if you did not."
"I am told I am quite recovered. Your money was well spent."
"Evidently." His gaze flicked over my person. "Am I to assume that that is all I am to receive by either way of gratitude or apology?"
"As regards gratitude, I did not ask for your assistance. As to the other, I deny knowledge of anything for which I have reason to make apology."
Mycroft sighed. "As I feared, this experience has brought about no change in you, Sherlock. You have learned nothing."
"I have learned," I said with care, "that there is nothing my brother would not sacrifice for the sake of a principle." I fixed him with an accusing look. "You knew, Mycroft. You knew what was happening at the Tankerville and you said nothing."
A long moment paused before he replied. "Yes, I did."
"You do not deny it?"
"Why ever should I, since you have reasoned the thing for yourself. I do refute, absolutely, your claim that I said nothing. I told you to leave, Sherlock."
"Had I enlightened you as to the nature of the situation," he said calmly in the face of my hostility, "would you have condescended to come with me?"
I considered. "No."
"Well, then, there was nothing to be gained by it."
"Men died, Mycroft."
"And how you have not been counted amongst their number heaven only knows," he retorted. "You were told not to meddle, Sherlock. As usual, you laboured under the delusion that you knew better. I said you would have to accept the consequences, and yet it is I who has been inconvenienced in having to bring order to the chaos that you have created!"
His face was growing redder by the minute as he continued with his tirade.
"Handyman and Stanhope were nothing, mere links in a chain. In time, we would have been able to trace their activities back to their paymaster. Had I wanted them exposed, I would not have told the Chief Superintendant to send a scapegoat to deal with the matter."
Whatever my opinion of Lestrade, I fairly bristled to hear a man's life dismissed so callously. "That scapegoat has a family, Mycroft."
"That is immaterial. I never expected him to go running to you. After my conversation with you, when I saw that you were determined to seek the truth whatever the cost, I had no choice but to have him replaced with that Gregson fellow. He at least did what he was told and brought the case to a speedy conclusion. Would that you had followed the same course. Now months of work are in ruins, and it is entirely due to your rash and foolish actions!"
I stared at him, feeling for the first time that perhaps I did not know him at all. When I had accused him of knowing the danger of the situation, when he had admitted as much that night of our quarrel, I had not expected that knowledge to be of this nature.
"Mycroft, what is that you do?"
His features softened. "You ask me that now."
"Are you prepared to tell me?"
"Is it conditional on our continued good relations?"
"Do we have any?" I spoke in anger and regretted it when I saw a momentary tightening of the lines around his eyes. "No, Mycroft, it is not. All the same, I should prefer to be taken into your confidence. Perhaps then I could avoid becoming an inconvenience to you again in the future."
He inclined his head. "Then know you shall, for despite what you may think I do trust your discretion. I have a somewhat unique position, one which, like yourself, I have largely created for myself, born from that somewhat eccentric trait peculiar to our family, whereby I find myself endowed with an extraordinary and sometimes burdensome capacity for the assimilation and retention of information, whether of use or not."
"You mean you have a good memory," said I glibly.
I caught the faint gleam of censure in his grey eyes. "This allows me to operate from a position of omniscience. In a few short years, I have made myself indispensible. I have the ear of Prime Minister. I am the greatest unofficial adviser to the government that the country has never heard of; nay, at times I am the government."
I was tempted to suggest that he was overrating his importance, but there was that about his manner that defied any facetious remark I was about to make.
"At first, it was vaguely amusing," he went on. "Now I find it tiresome to be at the beck and call of every perplexed servant of the state and minister of government. I had hopes that in time this role we would share and the burden would be lifted from my shoulders. I see now that is never going to happen. You are ungovernable, Sherlock, and better suited to follow your own inclination."
His disappointment was genuine, as was my bewilderment at this revelation, not least because he seemed to be giving his approval to my chosen profession, something I thought never to hear from his lips.
"If you can bear it no longer, Mycroft, why you do remain here?"
"Because the alternative is worse. Where else might I find a position that allows me to indulge my intellect to such an extent? I must have diversions, Sherlock, and I dare say that this is as noble a calling as any." He raised his gaze to mine. "You see, brother, I do understand, more than you realise. I have no wish to clip your wings, but I do question whether your chosen profession is enough to satisfy you."
"I thought I embarrassed you, Mycroft," I said harshly. "You were explicit in your disapproval the last time we met, even to the point of disowning me as your brother."
"That was an error on my part. I imagined that the threat of destitution would work where other arguments had failed."
"It had the opposite effect. It hardened my resolve."
"Yes, I feared that was the case. Under normal circumstances, I should not have interfered. I will admit that I was torn between our ties of kinship and the greater good. I could not in all good conscience allow you to walk blindly into the lions' den. Nor could I simply tell you all I knew and risk greater harm by whatever precipitate course of action you might take in order to discover the identity of the criminal mastermind behind their schemes."
"You do not know who he is? Stanhope referred to him as the 'Professor'."
"Then you know as much as I." Mycroft shook his head. "A pity he eluded us. London would be a far safer place this day had he been apprehended. So rarely does he allow his presence to be detected, except when his minions err, as at the Tankerville. Harding's death presented us with the best opportunity we have had thus far. Still, one must not lose heart," said he, brightening. "I dare say there shall be other times, and at least you have emerged from the encounter relatively unscathed. That is some consolation."
With Mycroft in good temper, I decided that now was the time to state my other grievance. I cleared my throat, feeling a nagging sense of embarrassment for what I was about to ask.
"I will not be held to ransom again over the question of my allowance and my entitlement to our father's estate," I said. "I request that you grant me equal status as administrator."
A faint smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. "That I cannot give you."
"Cannot? Or will not?"
"The former, Sherlock. It does not lie within my power to give you what you ask. You cannot be an administrator for the simple reason that there is no estate to administer."
I stared at him. "Our father left—"
"A mountain of bills," he finished for me. "After the death of our mother, he largely neglected his affairs. By the time his debts were paid, there was little enough to provide a decent living for one son, let alone two. Since I had a position, I decided to relinquish my claim and left what little there was to you. However, you have a habit of living beyond your means. The return on the investment was not enough to meet your needs, and so five years ago, the capital was finally exhausted. I faced a choice: either to tell you or to supplement your income. My preference was for the former, but old Mr Young persuaded me otherwise."
"What does our solicitor have to do with anything?"
"You owe him a great deal, my dear boy, so try to be civil. Young Mr Young was all for honesty, but old Mr Young said that young men should be allowed the time and opportunity to make mistakes and find their own level. He said that a fragile child as you had been needed it more than most. All things being equal, I saw the wisdom of his advice. Whatever money you have received since then has been from my own pocket."
I did not know how to reply to this, but that, I gathered, was Mycroft's intention. He had always taken a certain delight in seeing me confounded and now I was utterly lost for words. Where I had expected to read triumph in his expression, however, I saw only weary resignation.
"Mycroft, you should have told me. This cannot continue."
He made a dismissive gesture. "You are my brother, and the only one I am ever liable to have now that our parents are dead. As to the money, it matters little to me. Old Mr Young said to look upon you as one might a spinster sister – and to act accordingly."
"Sister?" I said indignantly. "I am quite capable of fending of myself!"
His eyebrows rose quizzically. "Were you paid for your last case? You mentioned a sum of fifty pounds."
"Which I received, and a little more. Except…" I hesitated to tell him. "I gave it away."
Mycroft tutted. "In which case you should not be so hasty in scorning the little I can afford to give you. As it is, I have been obliged to settle your debts. You may rest assured that your rent is paid in full for another month, for which I expect a small service in return."
Before I could press him for details, I was aware of the approach of another. Elderly, grizzled of hair and whiskers and wearing the careworn appearance of man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, the newcomer presented a stately if not impressive figure. To anyone familiar with the daily press, his identity was never in question.
"So," said he to Mycroft, "is this the young man who caused you so much trouble over the Tankerville business?"
"Yes, Prime Minister. This is my younger brother, Mr Sherlock Holmes."
The faded blue of his eyes, once said to be piercing, seemed to me to have lost none of their fire as they took in my measure. Beneath the hardened mantle of authority, I glimpsed a kindlier soul and a yearning for a life away from the pressures of high office.
"Well, I cannot say I see the resemblance," said he. "But there, I was as unlike my own brother as it was possible to be. One may too similar after all." The smile he offered did little to dispel the sense of sorrow I read in his greying features. "Now, Mr Holmes, your brother tells me that you have certain interests."
"As any man may have, Prime Minister."
He chuckled. "I am a busy man, Mr Holmes, so let us get to business. What do you know of a chiromancer by the name of Ricoletti?"
I was forced to admit my ignorance on the subject.
"My brother disdains the questionable pleasures of society," Mycroft explained.
"Quite right too," said the Prime Minister. "Regrettably, for me it is for me a necessary evil, one for which I shall not grieve too greatly when the weight of my years renders me unable to fulfil my obligations. One is forced to associate with the most atrocious people." The vehemence with which he spoke was tempered by his long sigh. "This Ricoletti character is currently the talk of fashionable circles. In my view he is a charlatan, but he has charmed his way into the best houses."
"On the grounds of his ability as a reader of palms?"
"He calls himself a divinator of the future and has acquired such a reputation that none dare marry without his prior approval."
I was struggling to contain my mirth at what seemed to me an absurd tale. I looked to Mycroft for support, but he gave a warning shake of his head and I kept my silence.
"So believed my dear wife's favourite nephew, the Honourable Arthur Bassett. He was a sensitive soul, the best of men, and engaged to wed. Last week, on the basis of this blackguard's prediction, he took a gun to his head and ended his life."
This was indeed sobering news. "My condolences, sir. What had Signor Ricoletti predicted?"
"That young Bassett would one day betray his country. The note he left said he could not live with the shame and the knowledge that such treason – so heinous to his gentle soul! – lay in his future. Sheer nonsense, of course, but a fearful thing for any man to hear." The steel returned to his eyes. "Mr Holmes, this man killed him as surely as if he had fired the bullet himself. I would not have him destroy another young life."
"You wish me to expose him for the fraud he is?" I glanced uncertainly at my brother. "But surely there are other means by which to negate his influence. I seem to recall that the 1842 Rogues and Vagabonds Act makes provision for such an offence, under which a person may be prosecuted for 'pretending or professing to tell fortunes, by using any subtle craft, means or device'."
The Prime Minister nodded approvingly. "You know your law, Mr Holmes. Yes, that is one course we have considered. However, should he come to court, the case would become a cause célèbre. He would have any number of witness, and of good birth, to testify to his powers. No, Mr Holmes, this requires a subtler touch, at which your brother assures me you excel." He held out his hand. "May God go with you, sir. The future happiness of many young people rests in your hands."
With such an exhortation ringing in my ears, the venerable gentleman took his leave and returned to the gathering at the furthermost end of the hall. When he was out of earshot, I turned to my brother.
"Mycroft, I am correct in thinking there is more to this tale? If this fellow is such an obvious fraud, why has the matter not been referred to the police?"
"Because it is not obvious, Sherlock. Whether by happy coincidence or more insidious means, Ricoletti has proved himself startlingly accurate in his predictions. He told Lady Anstead that she would never wed young Sir George Graham, and he was right."
"She died two days before the wedding. A discreet post-mortem was conducted and her heart was found to be much diseased, not unsurprising for a woman of eighty-two. No foul play was found – nor would it have been suspected but for Ricoletti's prediction."
"The Graham family naturally would have been suspects. So elderly a woman marrying a much younger man—"
"Not at all. There were a few eyebrows raised, but the family very much approved of the match. Her wealth was considerable, after all. When one is that rich, eccentricity is obligatory."
"Then Ricoletti made nothing more than a fortuitous guess. Or do you pretend to lend credence to his claims of prophesy?"
"You may scoff, Sherlock, but many people were convinced of his powers on the basis of this demonstration. Only the day before, Lady Anstead had been in the best of spirits. Her death was not anticipated. The question is, how did Ricoletti know?" Mycroft shook his head. "We live in credible times. Young Bassett believed in him, poor devil."
"The circumstances of his death did not affect Ricoletti's standing?"
"It was reported as misadventure. Given the current political climate, it was considered safer that the details of the incident were not divulged to the press. For the breath of scandal to touch a member of the Prime Minister's family at this time would be detrimental to the good governing of this country."
"This is why you want me to do your dirty work." I caught myself sighing to relieve my vexation. I had hoped to set some time aside for my neglected studies of late, and Mycroft had effectively put an end to that. However, I will not deny that I was intrigued, perhaps too much for own good. "There is of course one problem: how am I to gain access to the man? I do not have an entrée into the type of circles he frequents."
Mycroft grinned, broadly enough to leave me feeling unsettled about his plans. "Yes, you do. That has all been arranged."
"Who have you enlisted for this role?"
There are some members of our extended family about whom the least is said, the better. Cousin Miles was one such person. Three months older than Mycroft, the eldest child of our grandfather's second son, on his father's death he inherited a not inconsiderable fortune and gave himself up to as decadent a lifestyle as he could find. He appeared to do little else than wander from one party to another, scandalising society with his outspoken opinions about everything and everyone, and indulging in as much gossip as possible.
As vacuous an individual as one may ever have the misfortune to encounter, I would have rather returned to the Tankerville to polish the gymnasium floor for a week than to spend any time in Miles' company.
"Is there a problem?" Mycroft inquired innocently, as if he was ignorant of my feeling on the subject of our objectionable cousin.
"Yes, because you know full well what I think of him," I retorted. "Miles is a vain, pompous, arrogant, conceited—"
"Then you should get along with him very well. I told him to expect you on Friday." He smiled sympathetically, a look which sat ill on my brother's features at the best of times, worse now when he was trying to persuade me to his cause. "Come now," said he. "It is only for a few days, after all. And you are looking decidedly peaky, Sherlock. What you need is rest and recuperation. Yes, a few days in comfortable surroundings with a mystery to solve will do you the world of good. Now, what do you say to that?"
Well, dear friends, readers and reviewers, we've reached the end of the Mystery of the Tankerville Leopard, but if that ending doesn't look like the set-up for a sequel, then I don't know what is. Of course he says yes – who would give up the chance to meet Signor Ricoletti and vain, pompous, arrogant, conceited Miles Holmes (for those who read The Addleton Tragedy, yes, he is the elder brother of Peregrine)?
Young Mr Sherlock Holmes will soon return in…
The Abominable Adventure of the Charming Chiromancer!
Sherlock Holmes, Mycroft Holmes, Inspector Lestrade et al are the creations are Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Characters and incidents mentioned in this work are entirely fictitious. This work of fan fiction has not been created for profit nor authorised by any official body.