The empress of india, p.1

The Empress of India, page 1


The Empress of India

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The Empress of India



  Also by Michael Kurland


  The Infernal Device

  Death by Gaslight

  The Great Game


  My Sherlock Holmes

  Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Years


  Too Soon Dead

  The Girls in the High-Heeled Shoes



  A Professor Moriarty Novel



  THE EMPRESS OF INDIA. Copyright © 2006 by Michael Kurland. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

  The quatrain on page 84 is from the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám as translated by Edward Fitzgerald, copyright © 1859.

  The jackal story in chapter 17 was borrowed from a real incident described by W. S. Burrell and Edith E. Cuthell in their book Indian Memories, copyright in London © 1893.

  The lines of the song on page 214 come from “Going to the Derby in a Four-in-hand,” Alfred Lee, composer, Frank W. Green, lyricist, copyright © 1870.

  Design by Susan Yang

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Kurland, Michael.

  The empress of India : a Professor Moriarty novel / by Michael Kurland.

  p. cm.

  ISBN 0-312-29144-2 EAN 978-0-312-29144-0

  1. Moriarty, Professor (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Gold theft—Fiction. 3. Scientists—Fiction. I. Title.

  PS3561.U647E66 2006



  First Edition: February 2006

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  For Linda—

  Let me count the ways . . .



  1. Calcutta

  2. Hide and Go Seek

  3. The Schemers

  4. The Maharaja’s Golden Houri

  5. The Enigmatic Dr. Pin Dok Low

  6. Government House

  7. West of Suez

  8. The Jadoogar

  9. The Phansigar

  10. Punctuated Equilibrium

  11. The Game’s Afoot

  12. The Empress of India

  13. The Scorpion Killers

  14. Shipmates

  15. All That Glisters

  16. Bombay

  17. All at Sea

  18. Stirring and Twitching

  19. Elephanta

  20. A Number of Things

  21. The Lonely Sea

  22. Hugger-Mugger

  23. The Gathering Storm

  24. The Marquis of Queensberry Doesn’t Rule Here

  25. Who Is This Man?

  26. Missing

  27. Altered Patterns

  28. Into Thin Air

  29. A Pretty Trick

  30. The Return

  31. The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street





  All the world’s a stage,

  And all the men and women merely players:

  They have their exits and their entrances;

  And one man in his time plays many parts . . .

  —William Shakespeare


  It is with a heavy heart and much trepidation that I set down on these pages the incidents surrounding the sudden and mysterious disappearance of Sherlock Holmes. I shall record the few things that I now know, as they happened, and can only hope that later entries in this journal will reveal a satisfactory explanation, and indeed will record the return of Holmes to his familiar surroundings alive and unharmed.

  It was precisely one week ago, Tuesday, the fourth of February 1890, that saw the beginning of the incidents that I am about to relate. My wife had gone to Bristol for the fortnight, visiting an aged and infirm distant relation (indeed, she is not yet returned), and so I found myself at loose ends that afternoon after completing my hospital rounds and seeing two or three private patients at their homes. I decided to brave the chill winds a bit longer and knock up my old friend and companion to see if he was free to share a bite of dinner with me.

  “Ah, Watson,” Holmes said, turning around to peer at me as I entered the old, familiar sitting room, “quite recovered, I see.”

  “Why, yes, thank you,” I said, hanging my overcoat and scarf on the brass hook by the door. “I won’t bother asking you how you know I have been ill; you probably deduced it from a little spot of grease on my waistcoat.”

  “Actually, from that second handkerchief peeping out of your back pocket,” Holmes told me, “as well as the fact that you’re wearing your Windsor hat, which I know even the coldest weather would not cause you to put on unless you were in the grip of the, ah, grippe, or something of the sort.”

  “And that I’m recovered?” I asked, pulling off the hat in question.

  “Well, look at you,” Holmes said. “Despite the precautions you felt it necessary to take when you left the house this morning, the spare handkerchief seems to be unused, and you seem quite like your sprightly usual self.”

  “Quite so,” I agreed. “Quite so. And I’ve come up to invite you to dine with me at the Croydon, if you’ve nothing else on.”

  “But I have, Watson,” Holmes exclaimed. “And you shall join me. Your timing is excellent.” He jumped to his feet and strode to the door, clapping me on the back as he passed. “Just give me a moment to throw on my overcoat and we’ll be on our way to a better, or at least more interesting, dinner than the Croydon could supply.”

  “What is it, Holmes?” I asked, pulling my own overcoat back on.

  Holmes grabbed his cane and bowler from the rack by the door, wrapped a long silk scarf around his neck, and started down the stairs. “Come along, Watson,” he said over his shoulder, “and dine with me at the Bank of England!”

  “Really, Holmes,” I said, hurrying after him. “I’m delighted to be of assistance, as always, but what is to be our agenda? Is this to be an evening of hiding in the cellar waiting for criminals to tunnel up into the vaults? Are we to bring sandwiches and revolvers, and perhaps a jug of hot tea?”

  “Not at all, old friend,” Holmes reassured me. “The dinner will be in the private dining room of the Honorable Eustace Bergarot, the governor of the bank, and the meal and the wine will be of the finest his personal kitchen has to offer. In return, I believe, I will be expected to offer advice on some trifling problem of bank security over our postprandial snifter of brandy and several of the governor’s excellent cigars.”

  “But, Holmes,” I protested, “you can’t just bring me along, uninvited—”

  “Nonsense!” Holmes expostulated, winding a long scarf around his neck against the damp chill of the February evening. “Besides, the Honorable Bergarot mentioned that he enjoyed those little pieces you write about my cases, and warned me that if you joined us our conversation over dinner was to be regarded as confidential, sub-rosa as it were, and you were not to put it in one of your little stories. His phrase, ‘little stories,’ not mine, old chap. So, you see, you have explicitly been invited.”

  Holmes raised his arm to hail a passing hansom cab, and we were on our way to visit that ancient institution that has become known as the Old Lady of
Threadneedle Street.

  The dining room in the private chambers in the Bank of England was small, furnished with comfortable leather-covered chairs around an oval cherrywood table, rather like a private room at one of the better clubs. Its walls were covered with framed mementos from two centuries of private banking with clients that included dukes, earls, and archbishops, as well as sultans, emirs, aghas, kings, and queens. The Honorable Eustace Bergarot, a short, heavy man with muttonchop whiskers and a totally bald head, put us at our ease immediately with his informal manner and his humorous attitude toward the perils of banking and life. I should say put me at my ease, since Holmes has long since ceased to be impressed by any man or woman, or surprised by any circumstance that I am aware of.

  We, in our turn, entertained the Honorable Bergarot with tales of Holmes’s exploits. I told the tales, actually, and Holmes corrected me when I strayed too far from the truth, or drifted too far from the strict, almost scientific narrative into the romantic. Holmes still fails to understand that most people want to hear about the human aspects of his cases and not about what he deduced from two specks of green wool on a brown coverlet or a smear of liver sausage on the cheek of the portrait of a seventeenth-century baronet. I told Bergarot of a couple of cases I intend to write up someday that I believe show the human side of Holmes’s work. In my notes I call them “The Case of the Alabaster Skull,” and “The Case of the Myopic Magician.”

  After the dinner dishes were cleared away, Bergarot, as predicted, produced a decanter of brandy from the tantalus on the sideboard and a box of cigars from a drawer in the same sideboard, and reflected on the security aspects of running the world’s most important bank. He told us, for example, of an incident in the 1830s when the directors of the bank received a letter from a man who offered to meet them in the bullion vaults at a time of their choosing. They didn’t believe the letter, but took the anonymous author up on his challenge, assembling in the vault one night. At the appointed time there was a scraping sound, two of the floorboards were pushed aside, and a man in dirty white coveralls pulled himself up out of the hole thus revealed.

  The man worked in the London sewers, and he had discovered, quite by accident, an ancient drain running directly under the bank and connecting to the vault. For his honesty in not making off with the millions of pounds’ worth of bullion within easy grasp, the bank rewarded him £800. Which was a small fortune for a sewerman, but still one wonders how the figure was arrived at.

  After perhaps half an hour of brandy, cigars, and stories, Bergarot leaned forward. “Now, if you have no objection,” he said, “a brief spot of business.” He put his hands flat on the table. “Mr. Holmes, on behalf of the Bank of England, I would like to employ you.”

  “So I surmised,” Holmes said. “To do what?”

  Bergarot considered. “I’m not sure how to put it,” he confessed. “Perhaps it would be nearer to the mark to say that the bank would like to place you on retainer for the next few months. We would like you to, as the barristers say, hold a watching brief.”

  Holmes nodded. “And for what am I to be watching, burglars rising out of the drains?”

  “Ah, yes, well, the answer to that is difficult. We don’t know exactly. There is—now, this is strictly confidential, you understand—there is a large quantity of gold bullion even now being gathered in Calcutta for shipment to London, specifically for storage in our vaults. It is gold reserve that we are to hold for several Indian princes and maharajas and the like—people who rule over immensely wealthy provinces of India.”

  “I see,” Holmes said. “The Raj is making sure that the underling princes behave by holding their wealth in protective custody.”

  “Even though it’s a great aggregate of gold, it’s only a small part of their collective wealth, Mr. Holmes,” Bergarot said. “And, as many of these princes are now sending their children to public school or university here in England, I think we hold even more effective assurances of their good behavior. The gold is being sent by a group of the more, ah, progressive maharajas, who intend to use it to modernize their kingdoms and provide services for their subjects. Also part of the reserve is to be used to back a new paper currency that will be used throughout the subcontinent. Or such is my understanding. Besides, the Bank of England is a privately held company, and we do not make government policy.”

  “True,” Holmes admitted. “But I don’t know what you need my services for. I assume that this hoard will be adequately guarded. Surely you must take no chances with such a responsibility.”

  “It is precisely with the idea of taking no chances that we wish to hire you,” Bergarot explained. “As you must know, shipments like this are best conducted in complete secrecy. Well, somehow word of this shipment has leaked out. Rumors have spread through the upper classes, and I must assume they have filtered down to the lower orders. Why, only last weekend at a dinner party the Duchess of Denver asked me whether we were going to have to enlarge our vaults to hold all this new gold.”

  “Ah!” Holmes said. “And are you?”

  “No,” Bergarot said. “Our vault space is adequate to the occasion. But we are worried that, as word seems to have gotten out, criminal gangs might be planning to make an assault on the gold.”

  “They might indeed,” Holmes agreed. “There is one man in particular—but that is merely surmise.”

  “We would like you to surmise, Mr. Holmes,” Bergarot told him. “We would like you to use your knowledge of the criminal classes to tell us what we must guard against. Also we would like you to use your contacts in the criminal underworld to discover any plots against the shipment so that we can foil them before they have a chance to mature.”

  “How is the bullion being shipped?” Holmes asked.

  “In the steamship The Empress of India. A special vault is even now being constructed in the cargo hold. The ship leaves for Calcutta at the end of the week. It will be used to take the currency to India, and to bring the gold back. The return journey should begin in about two months.”

  “Ah! The paper money is being printed here.”

  “Yes. The Tainsburn and Belaugh Mint here in London is printing the paper currency. We are not too concerned with protecting that on its way to Calcutta, as the currency is of a new design, and thus it is useless to anyone until after it has been introduced. We are concerned with safeguarding the gold on its journey from Calcutta to our vault.”

  Holmes shook his head. “That is not merely a watching brief you require of me, Mr. Bergarot; an assignment of that nature would occupy me full time until the shipment is secure in your vaults.”

  “Yes, of course,” Bergarot agreed. “And we will pay you commensurately.”

  “I wasn’t thinking of the money, sir,” Holmes said. “I have other commitments at the moment.”

  “Surely none as important as this?”

  “They are as important to the people involved,” Holmes said. “But I’ll see what I can do. I’ll give you as much of my time as possible, and we’ll have to hope that it will be enough. In the meantime, ask Scotland Yard to send along either Inspector Gregson or Inspector Lestrade; I’ve found them to be the most alert and capable of the men of the detective division.”

  “I’ll do that. Thank you, Mr. Holmes,” Bergarot said, reaching over and shaking his hand.

  When we arrived back at Baker Street, Holmes suggested that I stay the night. “You can have your old room,” he said, “and leave for your hospital rounds tomorrow after breakfast.”

  “Gladly, and thank you,” I told him. “And I have no rounds tomorrow.”

  “All the better. You can assist me in a little direct research. We’ll let the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street pay your wages for the day.”

  “What do you have in mind?” I asked.

  “Merely eliminating a few improbabilities,” he told me. And, in his usual infuriatingly taciturn manner, he offered no further information.

  Holmes stayed up long after I had retired,
poring over ancient maps and charts of London that he took from his vast collection of such things, or so I surmised from the clutter of such documents on the table and the empty coffee urn on the sideboard when I arose the next morning. After Mrs. Hudson served up her usual overabundance of good, wholesome British food, we strode out into the chill fog in search of, so Holmes informed me, a specific manhole cover. “There are several possibilities according to the old maps,” he told me. “We have to see which one still exists. If one man can come in through the drains, possibly another can follow where he led.”

  “But Holmes,” I protested, “that was over fifty years ago. Surely that access has been thoroughly sealed by now.”

  “Probably,” Holmes admitted, “but it’s best to be sure.”

  It was close onto noon when Holmes found a suitable manhole in an alley by the side of an old brick office building on King William Street, so we paused for lunch at a nearby chophouse. By this I could tell that Holmes wasn’t taking the current investigation too seriously. When he was truly on the scent of a criminal, or gathering information in a case, he would often forget meals entirely, sometimes for several days. It was this sort of single-mindedness, combined with his high intelligence and his great font of specialized knowledge, that made him the indefatigable crime-solver that he was.

  After lunch we returned to King William Street and Holmes artfully removed the manhole cover with the aid of a small pry bar he had concealed under his inverness. My instructions were to wait on the sidewalk by the cover while Holmes dropped down into the sewer tunnel and investigated. “I don’t really expect to run into a gang of desperate gold thieves down here,” he told me, “but in case there is any trouble I leave it to you to give a few short blasts on your police whistle—you do have your police whistle with you?—and then come to my rescue with such reinforcements as you can gather.”

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