Welcome back, one and all. Before I let you loose, I would like to explain what went into this little fic. This fic is based on the long-lost Prince Albert Victor of England, who died leaving some interesting rumours flying around about him, such as his proposed homosexuality, his guilt in the case of Jack the Ripper, as well as some overexaggerated descriptions of his intellect and character. I wrote this fic using mostly fact, but emphasizing upon the rumor that "Prince Eddy", as his family members and friends called him, was romantically involved with his tutor James Stephen (one of the most widely supported theories, though very few of them are actually based in fact). Please enjoy, as I put a great deal of research into this bad boy. I would like to finish with stating that in no way am I trying to smear the reputation of poor Prince Eddy, as historians and rumormongers have done enough of that already. I do not actually endorse any of the theories used to create this fic. Also, all of the events and people (save for the random butler) mentioned in this fic are real. With that said, enjoy, please.
THE CASE OF THE PHANTOM PRINCE
"Good Lord, what nonsense. If Mycroft should ever endeavor to visit here, remind me to refuse him instantly."
Looking up from my newspaper I turned my gaze to Holmes, who was grimacing as he turned the pages of a pristine leather-bound book with utter distaste. I recognized it as a gift from his brother, arrived in the mail just this morning; it was another in a series of attempts to verse him in the cultural world. From the sound of his voice and the disgusted sneer upon his face, the venture had, yet again, been a complete failure. With a heavily exaggerated sigh, my companion let the book slide from his long fingers onto the small table beside his chair.
"That dunce brother of mine; what on earth gave him the idea that I would waste my time with such a ridiculous piece of 'literature'? Pah! I am quite sure now that the man has set himself on a personal vendetta against my sanity." I chuckled in spite of him. These little eruptions of his always put a smile on my face, and although I usually let them run their course, I was curious to find out what Mycroft had sent his cantankerous younger brother this time.
"Well, Holmes, do tell. What did he send you?" Scoffing, he settled further into the well-worn cushion of his chair and lit his pipe, clamping down upon it with his teeth and taking a puff before answering my query.
"I am quite sure that a Romantic like you will find it quite amusing indeed, Watson. He sent me a copy of that abominable Stoker man's novel.God forbid my eyes ever fall upon its pages." Shaking his head, he took another long drag of his pipe, the smoke spiraling up to the ceiling in grey tendrils as he released it into the air. "Really, he should know better." This I could not deny; it was common knowledge that the supernatural was nothing more than a bad joke to Sherlock Holmes, and chances were that Mycroft had sent it for that same reason: as a lark.
"Holmes, I do not see why you are getting so upset over this. After all, it was just a gift." But it was plainly obvious that it was far too late now; once he had something rolling about in his head, it was only a matter of time until he shared it with everyone who happened to be in the room at the time. I braced myself for the inevitable storm.
"Can you imagine, Watson? The very thought of the walking undead, feasting upon the blood of others by latching onto their necks and sucking them dry! Preposterous; the laws of science—nay, possibility—could never support such a proposition." At this, I had to rebut.
"Holmes, it is only fiction. The point isn't to be scientifically accurate; it is to entertain, to thrill, to…" His thin index finger slashed the air.
"Yes, yes, I know precisely what the point of fiction is—to cater to the degradation of the human mind with delusions of fantasy and nonsensical imaginings. If you recall, I have already disproved the existence of vampires in one of my cases. What is the point of perpetuating such foolishness?" I rolled my eyes before returning to the periodical in my hand, scanning through the weekly reports. There was really no point in arguing with him when he was in such an unpleasant disposition.
As I finished my perusal of London's latest news, a knock came at the front door, and as Mrs. Hudson answered I saw Holmes' pale lips turn upward in a smug smirk.
"It appears our good friend Lestrade has returned yet again, begging for alms." Just as he had predicted, in barreled the Inspector, his bowler hat askew upon his head and his face pink with the cold and the brisk stroll to our doorstep.
"Holmes! We have a case for you! It is of the highest importance, sir!" said he, and my companion raised a dark eyebrow, a perfect arch above his eye, in a typical gesture of mute skepticism.
"Mm, I am sure that it is quite important, as ever. Considering that my assistance usually saves you from the depths of disgrace, I can see your dilemma." Ignoring yet another assault upon his intelligence—he had become quite immune to them over the past few years—he removed his hat, turning it nervously in his gloved hands.
"Be serious, Holmes! This commission comes straight from Her Majesty herself." At this, his interest as well as mine was piqued; though he tried to hide it, I could see that familiar gleam in his eye: the gears were turning once more.
"The Queen? What does she need from me?" inquired Holmes, emptying his pipe and setting it onto the table next to Mycroft's gift. "I take it that a tale is in need of telling." Holmes gestured to the numerous chairs and sofas that circled the fireplace.
"Yes, Lestrade, please sit down," said I, and he obliged with a thankful smile, shedding his sodden coat and settling into the chaise lounge comfortably. "Now, do tell us what Her Majesty requests from Holmes." Anxiously twiddling his thumbs, he began:
"It began last week, actually, as a rumour. The Prince Albert Victor has been visiting at Ludlow Castle, as he typically does during the winter season. However, upon the third night of his stay, the groundskeepers began to see strange things. Mysterious lights were seen in the middle of the night upon the moors, footsteps seemingly belonging to no one are heard in the halls and courtyard, and just recently…" Lestrade's face grew pale and he pursed his lips tightly, as if it pained him to even think about what was to come next. I urged him to continue.
"Yes? Out with it then, man, what is it?" Clearing his throat, the inspector continued his story grimly.
"Three nights ago, as the butler was picking some fresh herbs from the garden, he saw something terrifying. The way he described it, he saw a ghostly prince or king, pale as death, dressed in his bedclothes and wandering the length of the courtyard. When he ran for the maid who was cleaning in the foyer, they returned to find the "phantom prince" had mysteriously vanished, as if he were never there. Of course, after several more sightings they began to want confirmation of what they had seen. They called in Scotland Yard to investigate; we looked for footprints, fibres, hair…anything that would point toward a living creature, but there was nothing. As far as everyone in Ludlow Castle is concerned, they are being haunted." After the story was complete, there was silence, the only audible sounds being those of the fireplace crackling and Mrs. Hudson tinkling the china in the kitchen. Finally, Holmes broke the unsettling stillness.
"So, what you have for me is not a case; rather a ghost hunt. Is that what you are trying to tell me, Lestrade?" Lestrade's beady eyes shifted and he squirmed uncomfortably on the chaise.
"Ah, well…that is to say…yes." I held back a chortle as Holmes' fingers began to tap against the table impatiently. It was painfully obvious that this was not the kind of "case" that he had been hoping for. This was not the first time that he had been asked to investigate supernatural presences, and he was expecting to be vindicated. Sometimes I wondered if perhaps such things annoyed him because he would like to be proved wrong, just for a change of pace. Then I remembered who I was talking about and chided myself for such a thought.
"Well, Lestrade, if the Queen is really so concerned, I suppose I have no choice but to accept. Watson, shall we head off to pack? A trip to Wales is in order, I do believe." I nodded and rose, heading upstairs while Holmes and Lestrade finished discussing the arrangements. Before long, I heard his footsteps on the staircase as I packed away a few suits into a small suitcase. The door opened behind me, and he entered, shaking his head and settling into my favorite chair.
"Are you going to pack, Holmes, or are you going to force me to force you?" But he was in deep thought by now, pondering upon the endless possibilities, the infinite probabilities that so often escaped me, but seemed to come to him like a wave perpetually returning to shore. I shrugged and finished putting my own things in order, placing them by my door before sitting opposite of my comrade. "Well. It seems that you have gone into another one of your intellectual trances, I see."
"Mm." It was all one could really expect to get from him when he was in this state. I sighed and tapped his shoulder genially. "Hmm? Ah, Watson, yes. I was just thinking…"
"About the case?"
"Yes. The whole thing seems rather…"
"Dubious?" His dark eyebrow arched over his left eye.
"Yes. By the by, Watson, I do find it fascinating how you finish my thoughts, and yet you cannot organize your own any better." It was the frustration talking; I had learned to ignore it quite well.
"Who is the one with their packing finished; you or I?" That left him irritably silent, and I smiled, placing my hand on his and gently squeezing it. "Don't strain yourself over it, Holmes. This ghost story is certain to be another hoax, just as you suspect. You will catch the suspect, bring him to justice, and you will yet again be vindi—" He held up his hand to stop me.
"You do not have to tell me all of this, my dear Watson. I know it all too well. It is just…I suspect that this time, I might be…wrong." The prospect was indeed quite frightening to him; I could see it in his eyes. To Holmes, error would ultimately segue into failure, and that was something that he could not abide. Touching his face tenderly, I pulled him into a comforting embrace which he reciprocated in short order.
"You will be fine, Holmes. Come, now. Let's get you packed and ready to go." I finally managed to drag him with little resistance into his bedroom, where we packed his things together, using my limited influence to slip a few acceptably formal suits into his trunk, just in case we were to meet Her Majesty in person. He may not have cared to embarrass himself in front of her, but I did. Our ever-helpful friend Lestrade had taken the liberty of calling us a hansom to take us to the castle, and so after a very quick lunch, we were on our way to Ludlow, where Prince Albert, grandson to the Queen, awaited our arrival.
In the hansom, Holmes was uncharacteristically quiet, and I glanced over to him. His eyes were closed, and he was fingering the notes that I had taken from what I had been able to deduce from Lestrade's story. His long fingers grazed the paper, as if he could take the words in through his pores and process them. To amuse myself, I spent my time watching the scenery change from the green fields of England to the grey foggy moors of Wales. It was very gradual, like slipping into a dreamland, akin to that of Lewis Carroll's little Alice. Finally, the hansom stopped at the grand castle of Ludlow, and with a jolt, the wheels stuck fast to the muddy earth. It was only then that Holmes looked up, as if snapping out of his own dream. Deep down, though, I knew that he had been wide awake the whole time.
"Well, my dear Watson, it appears that the case has officially begun. Shall we?" I nodded, draping his coat over his shoulders before he was out of my reach.
"The air here is rather cold, Holmes. I don't want you catching a chill. Again." With a curt nod he resumed his trek to the castle, I following in his wake, the mud giving way to our feet and bubbling as if it were something alive. The guards allowed us swift entry, thankfully, and before long I was more preoccupied with my beautiful surroundings to notice my frigid feet and dripping pants legs. Though the castle was crafted from rather simple stone, the interior was anything but plain. Then again, I should not have expected anything less from the ancestral home of the Princes of Wales.
"His Grace will be with you shortly." One of the many butlers milling about bowed and addressed us. Holmes sighed and took off his hat, shaking off the rain that had collected there in fine droplets.
"Yes, the sooner we get this over with the better." I rolled my eyes and gave him a small shove.
"Really, Holmes, can you not mind yourself even here, in the Prince of Wales' home?"
"My dear Watson, I will not put on airs for anyone, not even the Queen herself."
"Well, let us see if you follow through with that assessment of your character the next time you meet her." This left my prickly friend quiet enough for a while. A voice from the top of the staircase echoed in the high-ceilinged foyer.
"Ah, Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson, I presume?" It was Prince Albert Victor, dressed in a silk dressing gown and trousers and his feet comfortably nestled in fine, hand-crafted slippers that no doubt came directly from his Grandmother Empress' kingdom. He descended the stairs with an odd gait, as if he had injured his leg, and greeted us with a warm smile. "Thank you for coming on such a dreary night; I was afraid that you would have trouble getting through the mire. Wales is rather…unpleasant this time of year." Holmes nodded and swept into a quick bow. I followed suit, and the prince waved his hand genially. "Now, now, no need for that. You are our guests." He finished descending the stairs and took Holmes' hand, shaking it firmly. "Lovely to meet you, Mr. Holmes—and you as well, Doctor. It is quite the pleasure." Before I could respond, Holmes intervened.
"Yes, I am sure. I will begin my investigation posthaste, Your Highness. In the meantime, it is rather late. I shall assume that you will be providing us with lodging, Your Grace?" Blinking, the prince nodded, taken aback by Holmes' standoffish behavior.
"Yes. Of course, you will be staying here in the castle while you conduct your search. If you need anything, there is typically a maid or butler in the hall; all you need do is ask. Rothsbury will show you to your rooms." With that, a sharply-dressed usher appeared out of nowhere and motioned for the stairs.
"If you will, gentlemen?" Holmes refused to budge.
"Your Grace, if I may request an audience—to discuss what you know of this affair? Our collaboration will be essential to this case, as you must understand." Prince Albert nodded and smiled.
"Certainly. However, I do believe that you are in need of rest, Mr. Holmes. Perhaps after a good night's rest and a filling breakfast, we shall commence our discourse?" Holmes was clearly displeased by the impediment to his investigation, but he agreed, and the two of us ascended the stairs to our rooms. His face, normally imperceptible when in the presence of others, was downturned in a puzzled frown.
"What are you thinking, Holmes?" I asked, raising an eyebrow and grinning at his frustration in spite of him.
"Mm. Nothing about this seems right. The Prince calls us here, worried about a ghastly spirit roaming his personal castle, and he is fine and dandy, as if he had invited us to a tea party. It does not add up." I shook my head.
"With that, Holmes, I must disagree. Already picking out suspects, are we? I highly doubt that His Grace has anything to do with this situation."
"This is his father's castle—and don't you think that he was in rather a hurry to get us out of the way?"
"Holmes, he is a prince; son to the Prince of Wales, grandson to Queen Victoria and future heir to the throne of England! Not only that, he is a military man, like me. He is supposed to appear unshakable. I am sure that when you attend your private audience with him, you will see that he is more worried about the "situation" than he seems to be." With a grunt of displeasure he entered his room, and I chuckled as I walked into my own. The elegance of it was almost overwhelming, and I could not help but stay awake, if only to take in as much of it as I could. I had never been inside a royal castle before, you see, and new experiences were very highly valued to me. I had no doubt, though, that Holmes was dead asleep already—such things had little effect on him.
Towards midnight I was just about to drift into a contented slumber, my eyelids drooping and my body sinking comfortably into the satin blankets, when there was a quiet rapping on my door. I sighed and rose reluctantly from my warm bed and answered.
"Wh—Holmes?" Without a word he pushed me back inside and pulled me to the window, pointing down at the courtyard. "What on Earth is it, man?" The stark cold of the room had jolted me awake, and I followed his finger to the grounds, where a figure, white as the moon that shone down upon it, was walking slowly away from the castle through the garden, its pale skin shining with an ethereal light. I could hardly believe what I was seeing; could it really be the mysterious ghost prince?
"There he is, old boy! Our culprit. If I could just see its face…" Though he strained his eyes to discern the identity of our spirit, he cursed to himself and moved away. "There is no point in going down now, but…I get the feeling that there is more of a mystery afoot than I expected." I sighed and leaned against the window sill, rubbing my eyes. "Odd; there seems to be some sort of smoke rolling off of him. Spiritual essence, perhaps?" He observed mockingly. "I shall have to investigate further—" At that, I had to stop him. There was no way that I was going to be dragged out in that mire in the middle of the night, when a huge bed awaited right behind me.
"Holmes. It is late. I am tired. I would greatly appreciate it if we could continue this tomorrow." His eyes dropped to the floor and he sheepishly apologized.
"I am quite sorry to have rousted you out of bed in such a manner, my dear Watson. Perhaps, if you would allow me, I could show you the way back?" I rolled my eyes and smiled in spite of myself.
"Well, if you so choose." With that, he lifted me into the bed and placed a small kiss upon my lips before pulling away. I took his arm and objected softly, whispering to him in the dark as clearly as I could through the growing fog of exhaustion and delirium that clouded my mind. "You cannot tell me that you are going to leave me like this, Holmes?" A serious look came over his face, and I tried not to snicker.
"The home of a royal is a very dangerous place to be doing such…" A mischievous smile overtook his severity, and before he could think of a word to describe them, I did so with my mouth, which I pressed hungrily to his.
"I am sure, Mr. Holmes, that with your not inconsiderable stealth, you can find a way to keep our dalliances a secret." Holmes needed no further encouragement, and by sunup the next day I found myself in quite the tangle of bedding and pillows that I could hardly move. Above me, long fingers stroked my neck, sending a shiver down my spine that chased away the drowsiness lingering in my eyes.
"Good morning, Doctor. Sleep well, did we? You seem to be in a bit of a predicament." I shot a half-hearted glare at him and struggled against the tightly-wound blankets.
"I wonder whose fault that could be." With a peal of barking laughter he assisted me in unraveling the death-trap of linens, handing me the clothes that I had set out for myself the night before.
"You are not too sore, are you? I tried to be as gentle as I could, but those hands of yours, Doctor, are very persuasive."
"I believe that I can manage, Holmes. Have you been able to speak to the prince as of yet?" He shook his head and crossed his arms petulantly.
"No I have not, and his reluctance is starting to make me very suspicious."
"Reluctance and hospitality are two completely different things, Sherlock."
"Yes, but all the same—" I silenced him with a finger to my lips.
"You will speak to him after breakfast, just as he promised. Mm?" Sighing dramatically he agreed, and the two of us walked down to the dining hall, led by a chipper young chambermaid. The Prince was already sitting at the table, twirling his fork in his hand. When he saw us enter, he rose with a small wince and welcomed us.
"Ah, good morning, gentlemen. Sit, sit; breakfast will be served shortly." We obliged and seated ourselves, one on each side of His Highness. Holmes wasted no time in forcing himself upon him, and I nearly cried at his impertinence. If he wasn't thrown in prison before the day was through, I would be most surprised.
"Your Highness, a good morning to you. I wanted to tell you as soon as I saw you—I have witnessed the phenomenon that has terrified your household." The Prince's eyes widened in surprise.
"You have, then? And? What is your opinion?"
"I have none, as of yet. The figure was too far away to discern any identity or clues as to the origins of this spirit, but I have not given up hope yet. There is still much work to be done." Prince Albert nodded solemnly.
"Of course. If there is anything that I can do to assist your efforts, do not hesitate to ask."
"I shall not." Thankfully, the platters of food were brought out to us before Holmes could completely overwhelm His Grace with questions, and soon we were eating heartily, save for the prince, who was merely picking at his plate. My concern as a physician was piqued and I could not help but put a small word in on the behalf of his health.
"Your Grace, you do not seem to be in good humour. Is something troubling you?" He smiled weakly and shook his head.
"I have been feeling…ill, as of late, Doctor. My own physician has not given me word as to my condition, but I assure you that it is not the cause of my lacking appetite. I have never been much of a heavy eater, you see." He chuckled light-heartedly. "I suppose that you could say that I am rather finicky." I nodded and continued to sample the wares of the cooks, noting that none of the items compared to those of our own Mrs. Hudson. After a time of back-and-forth conversation about the weather and things of the like, Holmes sat back in his chair, smiling contentedly.
"The meal was exquisite, Your Grace, truly. Now, if our good doctor is as satisfied as I am, perhaps we three could retire to your study and discuss our ghost prince."
"A capital idea, Mr. Holmes. Doctor? Will you be joining us?" How could I say no? I sat my fork down and quickly wiped my face before following the two into the prince's study. When I went inside, however, there were not many things that pointed toward it being a study so much as a conference room. There was only one shelf of books lining the back wall, and in the centre of the room was a long oaken table surrounded by severe wooden chairs. On the wall in front of me hung a portrait of Her Majesty, directly in front of which stood a glass case full of strange artifacts: old rings, medals, and the like, which Holmes strolled by briefly and glanced over in short-lived interest. If I had not known better I would have thought that we were going to war, rather than catching a rogue spirit. This was his father's house, however, and I could hardly blame the son for a lack of decorative savvy.
The prince sat at the head of the table and we joined him, I pulling out my notebook, in which I would chronicle the following conversation.
Holmes leaned back in his chair, crossing his legs and folding his pale hands in his lap. "So, Your Highness, I must know. Have you seen this spirit yourself?" The prince shook his head solemnly.
"No, I have not. You see, the moist night air that is characteristic of Wales is bad for my health; it gives me terrible chest colds that I cannot shake off until I have left the country. Therefore, I very rarely go out of the night-times. Before you mention the possibility of seeing it through my bedroom window…" Holmes' eye twitched at being predicted by a complete stranger; I thought it rather funny. "I would tell you that my personal rooms are facing the opposite direction of the courtyard, and so if the spirit did appear there, there would be no way for me to notice. Your own sighting last night should prove this." Holmes nodded curtly and tried to hide an unpleasant sneer.
"Quite so, Your Grace. How is it that you know for a fact that this "ghost prince" is indeed a prince at all?" The prince settled further into his seat before explaining.
"Each member of royalty is given a ring, bearing a seal specific to him or her that is used on letters and decrees and the like." To emphasize his point, Prince Albert displayed his own where it sat on the index finger of his right hand. "This seal is more typically used when he or she ascends the throne, so most princes and princesses' seals are not brought into the public eye, as it were, until then. When the butler, who has worked for the royal family for most of his life, saw the ghost, he noted that there was a ring on the same finger of the spirit's left hand, bearing a symbol that was undoubtedly that of a royal." The prince pulled a small piece of paper from the pocket of his jacket. Upon it was a quick ink sketch of a crest that I could not recognize, but that Holmes must have been vaguely familiar with. "As you can see, Mr. Holmes, it is a very old seal. Only a member of royalty from long ago would utilize it."
"Yes, indeed. Well, Your Grace, I want to know what you think of all this." This seemed to surprise the prince, but he continued to speak nonetheless.
"I…I do not know exactly what to think, Mr. Holmes. The sensible part of me says that someone is pulling the wool over my eyes."
"And the insensible part?"
"It tells me that there is a force out there that we cannot understand that is trying to tell us…something. What that something is, I cannot guess." The strange, cryptic words and his lilting whisper of a voice made me shudder with trepidation. Now I could see, for the first time, how Holmes could have suspected the Prince of foul play.
With that, the doors burst open and another man, similarly dressed in royal formal attire, rushed in, beaming brilliantly. He resembled the Prince Albert very much, save for the lack of moustache and a stouter composition.
"Ah! Eddy! How are you, brother??" Prince Albert reciprocated the grin and rose from his chair, encircling the young man, who we now recognized as Prince George, with his arms in a strong embrace.
"Hello there, George. I would like you to meet my most esteemed guests, Mr. Sherlock Holmes and his companion, Doctor Watson." Giving us the slightest of strange looks, it soon disappeared in favour of another broad smile.
"Very nice to meet you, gentlemen. These are the detectives that you sent for to take care of your little haunting, Eddy?" The elder prince found his condescending tone rather irksome, and he responded with irritation tainting his calm voice.
"You still do not believe it, brother?"
"I have never believed in such things, Ed, and neither should you."
"Are you calling my butler a liar?" Holmes cleared his throat and intervened.
"Actually, Your Highness, I am the detective. This man," he motioned toward me. "He is my assistant and very dear friend, who takes down the account of my cases in writing. It is an honor to meet you, Prince George." He bowed, and this prince, I noticed with displeasure, found great stock in it. I found myself reluctant to prostrate myself to him.
"Ah, well. Eddy, I have come to invite you to join me at dinner next week at Sandringham House. I am sure that Mary would be pleased to see you again; she is much anxious to reunite with her fiancée." He winked and nudged Prince Albert with his elbow, which he deflected, and nodded somberly.
"After this affair is settled, I would be more than happy to join you, brother." I could not tell for sure, but it was my opinion that His Grace was not quite as pleased at the thought as he wanted his brother to believe. I looked over to Holmes, whose puzzled expression told me much the same.
"Very good, very good." George placed his hands on the shoulders of his elder brother and kissed his cheeks. "I have missed you, Eddy. Truly; we have not been able to really talk since your tour of India. You shall have to tell me all about it at Sandringham, hmm?"
"Of course, but for now, I cannot keep my guests waiting any longer, George. After all, they are trying to solve my little dilemma, and the sooner that is out of the way…"
"Yes, yes! Of course! I shall see you then." With another boisterous hug, George left as quickly as he arrived, like a whirlwind. It was then that Prince Albert turned back to us.
"Please forgive my younger brother. He is…excitable." Holmes shook his head.
"It is really of no concern. I feel as much disdain toward my brother as you appear to have toward yours." At this, the prince quailed.
"Oh, no, Mr. Holmes, you must not misunderstand me! I love my brother very much, he is just…" He sighed and shook his head. "Now then, I imagine that you are rather anxious for nighttime to arrive, so that your investigation can continue. If you do not mind, I shall be retiring to my room for a while. There is a book that I have been longing to finish for some time. I believe you may have heard of it—ah, Dracula?" Holmes' face fell so dramatically that I almost could not hold back my laughter. "You are welcome to explore the grounds or the castle as you would like, and across the way there is a stable, where you can help yourself to any of the horses bedding there. They are all suitably trained; they should take to you well if you wish to ride. If you will excuse me…" With that, the prince left the study and went to his bedroom, leaving Holmes and I alone at the table.
"Well, that was certainly—"
"It was a waste of time. At least now we know that we are, indeed, looking for a member of royalty, dead or otherwise." Holmes rose from his chair and motioned for me to follow. "Come, Doctor Watson! We shall investigate the courtyard. If something was left behind, let us hope that it hasn't been blown away by the wind or washed away by that accursed rain!" With that, he stormed out of the meeting room, I following at his heels as fast as my feet could carry me. Grabbing our coats from the rack by the large oak doors, we headed out into the castle grounds. The deluge that had greeted us the night before had calmed to a light drizzle that tickled my nose and stuck in the filaments of my moustache. "Watson, prepare to note my observations, if you please." As he requested, I withdrew my notebook once more and my pencil, preparing myself for the flurry of murmurs and exclamations that would no doubt come.
"I am ready, Holmes." But he was already on the scent, his mind sharp as a trained bloodhound's as his eyes scanned over the walk leading to the courtyard. I stood back and observed as he knelt to the moist ground, disregarding the growing stains on the knees of his trousers in favor of the leaves of a hedge that lined the walk. He ran his finger over the bush's branches and plucked off a twig, darting his tongue out like a curious lizard to taste it before sliding it into his pocket and continuing his examination of the area. After a while, he straightened again, glancing back at me and pulling the small twig from his pocket with a flourish.
"Tell me, Doctor, what you see here." I fixed my eyes upon the tiny leaves of the branch, at first seeing nothing out of the ordinary. The drops of rain that had settled upon the little buds had been rubbed away by the cloth of Holmes' pocket and all that was left was—
"I see a film of white powder on the leaves."
"Yes! A white powder!" Holmes' eyes gleamed with delight. "The question remains, what sort of substance creates a film of this sort?" I thought for a moment before answering. In my medical career I had seen many varieties of white dusts, typically ground medication used in tablets or solutions. This, however, was a much more common item, one that you may find in your own lavatory or upon your vanity.
"Talcum powder, I believe, mixed with the rain water." Holmes nodded.
"There can be no doubt. There is no flavor, but the slightest fragrance of perfume is similar to that of the powder our own Mrs. Hudson uses upon her face on the rare occasion that she ventures out into public. This, my dear Watson, is the source of our ghastly character's mysterious pallor. We can also infer that a powder-puff could easily be concealed in the pocket of our ghost prince to produce a light mist, which would appear quite ethereal in the moonlight." Holmes laughed and slapped his soggy knee. "Fantasy, it seems, has yet again succumbed to fact, old boy!"
"True, Holmes, but that still does not tell us who carried out this clever hoax—or why, for that matter. It all seems rather pointless to me, especially if they are going to be so careless about the abandonment of evidence." Holmes smirked victoriously, and I knew that the case was nearly, if not completely, solved.
"Patience, Doctor. All will be revealed shortly." With that, we headed back to the castle, where we shed our damp coats once more and warmed ourselves by the parlor fire. A lovely maid brought in tea as if called by an instinctive duty to do so, and we helped ourselves each to a steaming cup of Earl Grey, the best that I had had in years. "What do you think, Watson?" He said, the silence broken by the smooth contour of his voice on the air. "Any hypotheses as to our culprit?"
"I get the feeling that you have already deduced his identity, Holmes. I do not see why my input is so necessary."
"Not necessary, John." I held back a smile at the usage of my given name, which was typically withheld for more intimate occasions. "Not necessary, but desired. I enjoy discussing such things with you." I sighed and leaned back in the comfortable chair, letting the fire's heat saturate my outstretched body, deliciously noting the subtle movement of Holmes' eyes over it.
"Truthfully? I have no idea. Perhaps a jealous neighbor?"
"No. A neighbor of any kind would have no way to procure a ring of the royal family without causing a stir."
"A servant ,then? Perhaps wishing to spice up his life of servitude?"
"No, no. If it were a servant, then there would be no doubt that the other servants would be involved. The camaraderie that is built among chambermaids is not to be underestimated, my dear Watson. Continue, please."I tried my hardest to formulate another valid theory, but the warmth of the hearth and my hunger was draining me of any rational thought.
"Alright, I concede defeat, Holmes. Tell me, please." Holmes smiled warmly and shook his head.
"Not yet, but soon. I fear that if I expose this particular solution without the proper degree of tact, the life of our dear prince will take a turn for the worst." At this, I was taken aback. What on Earth could Holmes mean? Was this case really more than just an elaborate prank gone wrong? Before I could dwell upon that possibility for too long, it was time for dinner, which we took silently and, strangely, without the prince, who had until that point been most attentive to us as his guests.
"Where on earth is Prince Albert? I would have thought that he would join us for dinner…" Holmes' mouth was pressed tightly shut and he did not answer, only nodded and took a sip of his wine solemnly. "Holmes? Something is bothering you?"
"I am not looking forward to the completion of this case, John." Twice now he used that sacred name, but this time I did not reap any joy from it. He was clearly troubled, and I had learned well that anything that troubled Sherlock Holmes did not bode well for anyone.
"Holmes…" I sighed and pulled my chair closer to his. "Please, tell me if something is wrong. Seldom have I seen you so troubled by a case of any kind, my friend, and what troubles you…"
"Troubles you, my dear Watson?" I nodded, keeping my eyes on his in a desperate attempt to keep him from evading me further. With a sigh, he placed his hands upon the table and began his description of what he had deduced last night. What he said shook me to the bone, and I nearly fell from my seat in alarm.
"Good Lord, Holmes! You…you cannot really believe that—"
"There can be no possible alternative, Doctor. As I have told you numerous times, whatever remains, however improbable…" I gulped and finished the old familiar phrase.
"Must…must be the truth."
"Quite so. Quickly finish your meal, Doctor. We will be meeting with the prince posthaste." I obliged, quickly devouring the last bits of my chicken and potatoes before following Holmes up the stairs, down the corridor, and into the prince's hall.
"Holmes…"I was disturbed by the brashness of what he was doing. "You cannot tell me that you plan to simply barge in on the prince." He chuckled and patted me on the back.
"Calm yourself, Watson. I am doing nothing of the sort. I am going to knock." With that, he tapped his knuckles against the slick wooden door that separated us from His Grace's bedroom. Our only answer was a bout of ragged coughing that I painfully recognized as respiratory infection. If what Holmes had told me was indeed the truth—and my faith in his deductive abilities gave me no reason to think otherwise—this meeting could cause more harm to Prince Albert than I had previously believed.
"Come in, please." The weak voice of the prince welcomed us into his room, and Holmes and I obliged him, stepping carefully inside. I was rather shocked at what I saw. The opulence of the room could not be denied, but the lack of ostentation in its design was surprising. It could have been any other wealthy businessman or lawyer's room, from what I saw. The only real extremity in its décor was a beautiful glass sculpture of a pair of dolphins that sat on the mantelpiece. The candles in the room shone through it, casting a faux rainbow on the opposing wall and upon the prince, who stood in its light. "Doctor? Mr. Holmes? I am somewhat confused. I thought you were Rothsbury with the tea. Can I help you?" Holmes sighed and gestured to the chair behind the prince.
"Perhaps, Your Grace, you should sit. What I have to say will no doubt greatly upset you." Running a hand through his dark hair the prince nodded and sat carefully upon the velvet cushion of his seat. Holmes and I sat ourselves opposite of him, each of us pulling an unused chair toward Prince Albert and seating ourselves. When Holmes was sure that the room was totally unoccupied otherwise, he began his discourse on what he had found, and I tried my best to keep my eyes from meeting the prince's. "Your Grace, I have solved the mystery."
Oddly enough, the prince's reaction was more of annoyance than that of gratitude. "Mr. Holmes, that is all well and good, but I did ask that I be left to my own devices for a while. I am tired, and my health is not the best. It isn't so much to ask, is it?"
"I found the situation far too pressing to ignore, Your Grace, as I am sure you will understand when I finish my discourse." With a heavy sigh, Holmes rose and paced slowly back and forth before us as he spoke. "This afternoon, after your brother's visit, I went out into the courtyard with Dr. Watson to ascertain if any evidence had been left behind by our mysterious ghost prince." Prince Albert shifted his weight in his chair and crossed his arms over his waist.
"And? What did you find?"
"Upon one of the hedges, I discovered a branch spotted with a strange white film that I identified as talcum powder that had mixed with the rain and congealed; the kind that ladies often use to powder their faces before going out to dinner and the like. It would be very easy in the moonlight to mistake this powder for an ethereal glow upon the culprit's skin, Your Grace. I would wager that the effect is quite prized among women—but that is beside the point. When I first saw you, Your Grace, I was quite puzzled by a small patch of white powder upon the sleeve of your dressing robe." At this, the prince's face grew pale, and I could barely watch as he quailed for an answer to Holmes' thinly veiled accusation.
"You…believe that I am the guilty party, Mr. Holmes?"
"I do not believe it, Your Highness. I know it for a fact." The prince slumped back in his chair and shook his head, but his eyes shone with visible fear.
"You cannot expect me to believe that a smudge of powder upon my sleeve is enough evidence to solve the case at my expense!" Holmes shook his head, his expression grave and severe.
"Of course not, Your Highness, but if you will let me continue, I will reveal the rest of the evidence. I told you that that night I had seen the phantom walking along the courtyard walk. The ghost was walking with a limp, Your Grace, favoring his left side. When you descended the stairs to meet us that night, you also walked with a slight limp, favoring your left side. After breakfast the next morning, we met in the study to discuss the case; I took a quick glance at the medal case placed in front of Her Majesty's portrait. I noted that there was a ring missing from it, and after you explained the connection between the crested rings of the royal family and the ghost prince, I had little doubt that the one missing from the case was the very same. I wager that if I were to open the first drawer of your bureau…" He walked over to it and gently pulled it open, removing from it the very same ring that he described. "This ring has the very same crest as that of the one you described to us in the study, the one seen upon the ghost's finger. If you study it close, you can see a small mark of powder upon the inside. I am afraid, Your Grace, you have been caught." I stole a glance at Prince Albert, but I could not see his face, for his head had fallen into his hands and his shoulders were shaking violently. Easing myself out of my seat, I placed my own hand upon his arm, compelled to give the poor man as much comfort as I could, for I had the sinking feeling that this story would only grow worse as the rest of the case unfolded.
"Your Grace, you could not have expected to hide this forever." He shook his head and said nothing. Holmes stood before him and spoke, his face stern but his eyes forgiving.
"Your Highness, what you have done is a clever prank, not a crime—"
"But it is! You do not understand, you cannot understand what ruin has come to me this night! I am…I am finished! God help me, I-I am finished…" His sobs pierced my heart. Seeing the heir to the British throne stripped bare like this, crying beneath my hand, was almost too much to bear.
"Your Grace…" Holmes spoke, all vestiges of his customary harshness gone. "Explain to me why this has disturbed you so." Prince Albert threw hands into the air and let out a pitiful wail as he pushed the words from his throat.
"Why bother?! You are the great detective, sir! Deduce it for yourself!" Holmes did not flinch away at this attack.
"I could do so, Your Highness, but it would require me to inquire further. From your distress I reason that such an action would cause you even more pain. By no means is this my goal. I assure you, if you divulge to me your motives, no one has to know of them."
"But they do! You know very well that my grandmother was informed of this situation. She is very concerned about me. She wants to know how this case turned out, and she will demand the truth! And when the truth comes out…" Another round of sobs racked the prince's body and I tried my best to comfort him without distressing him further. "God forgive me…"
"Listen to me, Your Grace. Whatever it is, it cannot be so terrible that…" Before Holmes could finish his sentence, the prince raised his head, locking eyes with my friend and smiling weakly.
"But it can, Mr. Holmes, and if I can guarantee your confidence…I will tell you everything." Holmes nodded and took the prince's hand in his, as if shaking it to seal an important business transaction.
"I swear to you, Your Highness, my unconditional silence on this matter." Prince Albert sighed and leaned back in his chair, removing a handkerchief from his pocket and wiping his eyes with it.
"Very well, Mr. Holmes. Doctor, I take it that I can expect the same degree of secrecy from you?" I nodded and he continued. "Then I shall not waste any more time. The reason that I devised the great scheme, gentlemen, was to hide the fact that of the nights, I have been sneaking from the castle to…" He paused and closed his eyes, forcing another pair of tears down his salt-streaked face. "To my lover." Holmes and I looked at each other in utter surprise.
"Your…lover?" Prince Albert nodded and kept his eyes locked firmly on the gleaming floor. "May I ask who this lover may be? I take it that it is not your fiancée that you are talking about."
"No, not Mary. She is with my brother at Sandringham, just as he said. No, I met my lover much earlier, while I was being taught at Cambridge. His name is Joseph Stephen, and he was my tutor there, and my greatest friend." The room was deathly silent as the two of us began to understand the gravity of the situation. Not only was Prince Albert being unfaithful to his fiancée, but he was doing so in the most unlawful way possible: with a man. I truly sympathized with him now, for I was very much in the same abominable situation. "You can surely see now that I am undoubtedly doomed." Holmes smiled wryly and sat down again, leaning over to face the prince.
"I highly doubt that, Your Highness. As we said, we are now under an oath of silence. We shall just have to think of something else to tell your Lady Grandmother, and that will be the end of it." The prince looked up at Holmes with such childlike hope that I could not help but smile. "Distressing as the idea of lying to the Queen may be, the thought of what would become of you should word of this come out is much more so."
"You…would really keep my secret? Truly?" He nodded and I followed suit, patting the prince on the back.
"We have no desire to ruin lives, Your Grace, and we can understand your situation better than you know. You can count on our discretion." The prince leaned back into the chair and sighed, new tears welling in the corners of his eyes.
"You do not know how much you have done for me. You cannot know." Rising from his seat, he went to his bureau and pulled out another ring—his own—as well as a blank sheet of paper, upon which he scrawled for some time before stamping it with his seal. "This is the most that I can do to repay you. It is a royal affidavit; a written favor, if you will. Should you need anything that you cannot acquire on your own terms, this can be redeemed as payment for your kindness." The prince leaned against the bureau and sighed. "I have found that everyone at some point faces a danger that they cannot escape on their own. You have saved me from mine, and now I give you the ability to do so for yourselves. As the grandson to the Queen, I have a little pull in the grand scheme of things, and if I tell my grandmother that you have solved my problems here, she will support my decision wholeheartedly." He handed the paper to Holmes, who scanned over it curiously. "You will also receive the original payment of 100 pounds, as promised."
"I was promised 50, Your Grace." The prince smiled and placed his hand on Holmes' shoulder.
"Well, now I am promising you 100. Unless you would object, in which case I shall have to present you with 150." Holmes' barking laughter filled the air, startling the prince and causing him to jump.
"I see. Well, I suppose I have no choice but to accept. Doctor? Shall we prepare for our departure?" At this, Prince Albert objected.
"Wait, Mr. Holmes. There is one more thing I wish for you to do for me." From the same drawer that he pulled the paper and ring, the prince procured a letter with the initials "J.K.S." written in beautiful calligraphy. "Will you please ensure that this letter is delivered to the address written on the back? I would be eternally grateful. I will be preparing to depart for Sandringham House as soon as you leave, and I will not have time to send Rothsbury with it, so it would be a great help to me." I nodded and took the envelope from him.
"It would be our pleasure, Your Grace."
"Thank you, Doctor. Now, I will let you go. Have a safe trip, Doctor Watson; Mr. Holmes. I hope to see you again very soon." With a kindly smile, the prince excused us to our rooms, where we packed our things, called back the hansom, and made our way back to 221B Baker Street. On the way there, Holmes was again quiet as the dead, and this time I made sure to make him notice.
"Holmes, tell me. What is bothering you, old friend?" At this, he laid his head on my shoulder and sighed, nuzzling into my neck.
"That could be us, you know, John. That is us. We will never be truly able to express our love for one another. Always reduced to hiding in the shadows, whispering in the dark…" I smiled and kissed his forehead, taking his hand into mine.
"If we are forever forced into the shadows, I believe that I could stand them as long as you are there with me." Holmes looked up at me with his dark eyes, warm with emotion and he touched my face with his cold fingers, where they remained until he fell asleep upon my arm. When we arrived home, I told the hansom driver to deliver the envelope from the prince, plying him with sufficient funds as a bribe to keep him silent, and then helped my drowsy friend into the house, where we slept the remainder of the afternoon away.
Holmes roused me violently from bed the next morning, his face pallid and his expression bleak. "Watson! Something terrible has happened." At those words I hurriedly dressed, pulling my trousers and chemise haphazardly onto my body and sliding my feet into my slippers before following Holmes downstairs. I could tell that something was immediately wrong. Outside, the street was practically empty, the shop windows were closed and dark, and from the kitchen I could hear the sound of soft sobbing that I recognized as belonging to Mrs. Hudson. Holmes himself motioned for me to join him where he stood at the breakfast table, the pale index finger of his right hand directing my gaze to the morning paper, where on the front page it read:
"TERRIBLE TRAGEDY STRIKES ROYAL FAMILY: PRINCE EDDY DIES AT SANDRINGHAM HOUSE!"
My heart flew to my throat, a throbbing lump that constricted any speech that may have escaped my lips. I could hardly believe it! We had seen him just the night before, sporting a nasty cough but otherwise as healthy as any other young man could hope to be. I sat limply at the table where I usually ate my eggs and toast, my legs giving way to my shock.
"Holmes…how? Why?" He took the paper into his shaking hands, scanning the column with his hawk-like eyes. Behind me, I could hear Mrs. Hudson sniffling loudly as she tried to clean the morning dishes with little success. I lifted my cup of lukewarm coffee to my lips as I listened to Holmes read:
"This morning at 10:23 AM, Prince Albert Victor Christian Edward, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, died in his rooms of a bout of influenza. Those present at the time of his death were his fiancée, Mary of Teck and his brother His Highness Prince George, among other members of the family and household. Services—"
"Oh, for God's sake, Holmes, stop reading! I can't hear any more of it!" I bit my lip and tried to keep any stray tears from falling, but to no avail. It was simply too tragic to believe. Just as he thought that he had his life restored to him, that he could be happy and free, it was ripped mercilessly away from him forever.
"The whole country is up in arms, Watson. The street has been closed down from grief, and the rest of the city is no doubt doing much the same. It is a sad day in England today, John. A sad day, indeed." I nodded and took Holmes into my arms, buried my head into his shoulder and sobbed. I cannot remember another day that caused my heart so much sorrow, and though there would be days in the future to outmatch it, the greatest of these perhaps being those chronicled in "The Final Problem", I still recoil from thinking upon it to this very day.
"Holmes," I said, when I was finally able to speak. "I think, perhaps…he knew. He knew that he was ill, that he was going to die. Why else would he ask us so urgently to send that letter to Mr. Stephen? And why was he so upset to hear that his secret may be revealed?" Holmes nodded somberly in agreement and took a drag from his pipe, which he had filled and lit as I had been composing myself on the settee.
"He did not want his family to be left in disgrace. It is understandable. Prince Albert was willing to forfeit everything for the honor of his family. He was marrying a woman he did not, could not love, and was sacrificing even his health for them. He was a much nobler man than anyone will ever know." I nodded and took a sip of the tea that dear Mrs. Hudson had set out for us. Before I could settle in much further, though, a knock on the door drew me to it, and when I opened it, a young man, dirty but otherwise presentable, handed me a crisp envelope addressed "To Mr. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson". I thanked the boy with two shillings and took the letter inside, opening it and scrutinizing it before nearly dropping it in surprise.
"Holmes…" My friend rose to meet me in the foyer.
"What is it, Watson?" I handed him the letter, which he read to himself before retreating to his room, and which I will copy here for you, the reader:
Dear Misters Holmes and Watson,
Today, the greatest love of my life has died, from the selfsame epidemic that has plagued his beloved country for the past year. I cannot think upon it without an unseeable dagger of sorrow piercing what remains of my heart. I have decided to move away from this place as soon as possible, but before I did, I felt it my obligation to thank the pair of men who kept our love the well-kept secret that it remains, even though it was required of you for only a few days. Were it not for your gallantry, I could not hope for any kind of freedom, and his name would be tarnished in the history books forever. It is not the first time that his honor has been at risk, and surely the twisting and contortion of history will ensure that it is not the last, but all the same, I thank you; a thousand times I thank you.
I am also grateful to you for ensuring that his last letter to me was delivered safely and without interception. He explained the favor that you granted him in great detail, as well as the skill with which you unraveled his little mystery. I found great joy in it, perhaps the last joy that I will ever feel again.
With that, I leave you sirs a most grateful soul. May you continue to use the brilliance that God has gifted you with to help those like us; those in danger and with no hope for escape.
James K. Stephen
Three years after the death of Prince Albert I heard in an offhand comment from one of my medical colleagues that James Kenneth Stephen, successful Cambridge tutor, had been institutionalized in an asylum not far from London. As he described the manner in which he had been dragged sobbing and screaming from his home, they laughed that it must have been his work that drove him insane. I could not bring myself to do the same, knowing most certainly that the death of Prince Eddy had been the catalyst of his madness. It is for that reason I feel the urge to chronicle this story for you, the reader: not to justify history, or for fame, but to illustrate love's awesome power to create or, in poor Mr. Stephen's case, to destroy. The Case of the Phantom Prince is closed, but the wounds that it inflicted upon our hearts will no doubt be open for all eternity, and even today, I cannot look up at the moonlit sky without thinking of the poor ghostly prince, and his battle against all odds for the one he loved most.