Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche by Nancy Springer: New Excerpt
By Nancy SpringerJune 3, 2021
Chapter the First
After my reconciliation with my brothers in the summer of 1889, I spent August quite happily with Reginald Collie, visiting Ferndell, my childhood home in the country. Moreover, after returning to London and my very safe albeit somewhat Spartan room at the Professional Women’s Club, I purchased a delightful new dress, apricot foulard with slightly puffed shoulders and a narrow gored skirt, which disguised me as no one but my slender self! At last, and most fortuitously, the “hourglass figure” was going out of style—just when I no longer required bosom enhancers and hip transformers to conceal myself from Sherlock and Mycroft! Eagerly I looked forward to seeing them again as the authentic Enola Holmes.
But days became a week, then a fortnight; August became September, yet I did not hear from them.
My spirits sank. Once more I found myself too much alone, as seems to be my fate; my very name, Enola, when spelt backwards, reads “alone.” I wanted to purchase a hat to go with the apricot foulard, but even contemplation of that pleasing errand failed to rouse me from inertia. So, one sunny afternoon when I could have been making the rounds of the shops, instead I was moping in the Club parlour when a maid brought me a note on a brass salver. “The gentleman said he’ll wait for your reply, miss.”
Males, you see, gentle reader, were not allowed past the door of the Professional Women’s Club.
No gentlemen ever called for me; therefore the note had to be from one of my brothers, almost certainly from Sherlock, as Mycroft could hardly ever be induced to stray from his orbit among his Pall Mall lodgings, his Whitehall government office, and the Diogenes Club. So my heart quite leapt as I reached for the note, written upon a sheet of stationer’s paper, and unfolded it to read. But first I looked at the signature.
Bother. It was just Dr. Watson. He wrote:
Dear Miss Enola,
Your brother Sherlock would deplore my applying to you in this fashion, I am sure, but both as his friend and as his medical advisor I feel compelled to notify you of his alarming condition. Perhaps you are unaware that he is prone to fits of melancholia. And undoubtedly he will castigate me for my interference. Just the same, I must beg you to come with me to see him, in hopes that your presence might influence him for the better. I await your response.
Your humble servant,
John Watson, M.D.
My heart recommenced its gymnastics. Sherlock, in an alarming condition? Whatever did Watson mean?
I must needs go see at once.
Bolting to my feet, I instructed the maid, “Tell the gentleman I will be with him directly,” and ran for my room to put on my newest boots—I had been wearing delicate silk slippers fit only for indoors; they would have been shredded on the street—and find a matching, decent pair of gloves, and tidy my impossible hair before topping it with a hat, and snatch up a parasol. A fashionable lady must never be without a parasol, or a fan, or at least a handkerchief, something pretty to carry, and the gentle reader will doubtless have noticed by now that I had become fond of appearing to be a fashionable young woman of society.
So much so, indeed, that I had a fancy to change my dress, but I overruled it. Rather than leave Dr. Watson waiting on the sunny pavement any longer than was necessary, I assured myself that the taffeta-and-dotted-Swiss frock I wore was quite smart enough.
When I hurried out of the front door of the Professional Women’s Club, the good doctor was waiting with a hansom cab, into which he helped me with some conventional words of greeting before seating himself at my side and bidding the cabbie to convey us to Baker Street.
Of course I then had to make the usual inquiries: were Dr. Watson and his wife quite well? I liked Dr. Watson a great deal, and hoped he could hear my affection in the warmth of my voice. Were I not so fond of him, I would have rudely skipped these preliminaries, for I quite wanted to know more about what was wrong with my brother.
“And Sherlock? Something causes you to feel alarmed about him, Doctor?”
The good doctor sighed, his honest brown eyes troubled. “For the past ten days, Holmes has exerted his amazing powers nonstop on a case concerning secret papers purloined from the Admirality, the Princess Alice shipping disaster, and a rare species of Malaysian spider. Working around the clock without pause, he has strained his extraordinary constitution to its breaking point, and now that he has resolved the matter, he has plunged into the deepest depression. At the triumphal hour when our nation’s leaders praise him in the halls of Parliament, he will not leave his lodgings nor eat, and it took all of my persuasive powers earlier today to get him out of bed.” Dr. Watson, who had been speaking to the floor of our cab, now raised his steadfast gaze, making no attempt to conceal his distress. “I exhorted him to shave and get dressed as a rudimentary step in exerting himself towards recovery, but to no avail. He refused me without uttering a word. He turned his head away and ignored me.”
The hansom halted in front of 221 Baker Street. But after we had descended and the cab rattled away, I balked on the pavement, telling Dr. Watson, “I will not go up until I understand what I am to do.”
“You are unfamiliar with melancholia?”
“Not entirely.” I tried to smile but grimaced instead. “I’ve had such dark fits myself; I suppose the predisposition runs in the family. To me, the mood seems rooted in spleen, and I think a fine fit of temper, some cleansing anger, might be its best cure. Do you agree?”
Watson seemed a bit flummoxed by my views, but replied staunchly, “Any rousing change should surely be an improvement.”
“Then I think, my dear doctor, you had better go about your business. I believe I am likely to have better luck with Sherlock on my own.”
* * *
Mrs. Hudson, Sherlock’s amiable, long-suffering landlady, gave me a wink and a smile as she unlocked his door for me.
Letting myself in, I found myself stepping into melancholia made manifest in the form of gloom. Draperies closed over the windows and unlit lamps made Sherlock’s sitting room a dim and dusky Lethe through the shadows of which I could barely see him lounging on his settee—or at least I saw a long, featureless, motionless figure reclining there.
“Dear me, how very crepuscular we are,” I chided as I crossed the room to throw open the window blinds. Daylight flooded in, and I turned to have another look at my brother. Wearing a mouse-coloured dressing gown, Sherlock lay with his lower limbs stretched out on the couch and crossed at the ankles—his bare, bony ankles seemed oddly vulnerable to me, although he had carpet slippers on his feet. Beside him on the floor stood a stack of newspapers, placed there for his diversion by the faithful Watson, I felt sure. But I saw that not one had been touched. Sherlock leaned back against the settee’s pillowed arm, his long hands lying idle in his lap. He had turned his head towards me, yet hardly seemed to look at me, his gaze unfocused. With a pang in my heart I missed his usually keen eyes. His skin looked pale, his face unshaven and haggard.
“My dear brother, whatever is the matter with you, sitting in the dark?” I said in an officious way meant to be annoying. “We have a case of the mopes and we need treatment, do we? Well, let us see to it.” Setting my gloves and parasol aside, I helped myself to a pencil and a tablet of rather expensive paper from his desk. Appropriating a dining chair, I placed it beside the settee and seated myself upon it, directly in front of him, peering into his bristly face and nodding solemnly. “If you were in the asylum, they would give you chloral hydrate and black hellebore to take the spleen out of you,” I said, “but I suppose we could start with a purge.” I began to scribble on the tablet paper in my lap, muttering as if to myself, “Laudanum, belladonna, antimony, all highly efficient if they do not cause your untimely demise . . . I’m sure Dr. Watson could recommend something. Or we could try sweating the black bile away, Sherlock!” I glanced at him, not so much in search of a reaction as to show him my fanatically gleaming eyes, for my sense of melodrama had quite taken charge of me, and I am sure I quite looked the part of a fervid female determined to help at any cost to the sufferer. I returned my attention to my fiendish list, augmenting it. Sweat. Turkish bath. No, total immersion in cold water! “Tonic, sweat bath, ice water,” I gabbled, “or—” As if the lightning of genius had struck me, I stiffened straight up in my chair. “Or one of those new galvanic baths! Have you heard, Sherlock, they place one in the water and pass electricity through—”
O joy! He interrupted! “Leave me alone or I’ll galvanize you.”
I beamed at his stormy eyes now focused upon me. “Galvanic belts are also available for purchase, you know, at some of the more up-to-date shops. I could bring you one and you could wear it until you are feeling better.”
“Get out of here and let me be, Enola!”
“Let you be like a mole in the dark eating worms? No indeed, my dear brother. It is my mission as well as my duty to take care of you.”
“Your mission be damned!” He sat up straight, his hands clutching the couch, and, glory be, he raised his voice at me! “Interfering female,” he shouted, “what do I need to do in order to—”
“Exactly!” I grinned at him. “Galvanization is indeed what you need to do in order to cure yourself. And along with the galvanic belt, certainly I could purchase you some mustard plasters. I have heard that, for melancholia, sometimes a counter-irritant—”
“You yourself are quite irritating enough! Would you please leave?”
I gentled my voice. “Not until I see you dressed and eating, my dear brother.”
He turned away from me. “No.”
“No.” He lapsed back onto the settee, his voice a monotone. “No. Go stick your head in the Thames, fancy hat and all. Let me alone.”
“Sherlock,” I complained, more coaxing than provoked.
He did not answer. Leaning over to peek at him, I saw that his eyes were closed, the better to ignore me thereby.
I sat back in my chair, sighing. Although determined not to give up, I had no idea what to do next. I had shot my bolt, and had no other arrows at hand—except, I supposed, my obstinate presence.
So I sat where I was.
Time passed as I listened to the silence, trying without success to think what next to do or say. Sherlock lay taut and still but not asleep; he scarcely seemed to breathe, and the clock ticking on his mantelpiece made more noise than he did, that and the traffic rumbling over the cobbles of Baker Street. After a while I heard the bell ring at the front door, and Mrs. Hudson’s matronly footsteps as she went to answer it, but I gave the matter no thought—until, a short while later, I heard Mrs. Hudson again, this time ascending the stairs! She knocked at the door in her usual crisp fashion, let herself in, and said to the motionless form on the settee, “It’s a young woman to see you, Mr. Holmes, all pale and trembling, so beside herself with some terrible trouble that she won’t take no for an answer. I know what you told me, Mr. Holmes, but—”
Her voice choked to a halt as he opened his eyes and glared at her. That single dagger-sharp look answered her as clearly as words.
“But I can’t just put her back out in the street,” Mrs. Hudson appealed with distress I had no doubt was genuine.
I stood up and walked over to her. “Never mind, Mrs. Hudson.” I took the card from her salver. “Send the young lady up directly. Tell her that Mr. Holmes’s sister and associate will be happy to advise her.”
Excerpted from Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche. Copyright © 2021 by Nancy Springer.