In the late Victorian days, a large amount of gold is arriving unannounced on the cargo ship The Empress of India. Yet the impossible happens--the shipment of gold disappears en route. Sherlock Holmes, brought in by Her Majesty's Government, knows that only one man is both diabolical and clever enough to pull off such an outlandish, daring, and, yes, theoretically impossible crime: Professor James Moriarty.
Moriarty, however, had nothing to do with the crime and yet finds himself under siege from all sides. To regain his peace, Professor Moriarty undertakes to locate the missing gold. But the gold is only the exposed tip of the iceberg and he soon finds himself matching wits with a mind as nimble--perhaps even more so--than his own.
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About the Author
Michael Kurland has written almost forty books. He was the editor of the Sherlock Holmes collection Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Years. Twice a finalist for the Edgar Award, he lives in Petaluma, California.
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The Empress of India
A Professor Moriarty Novel
By Michael Kurland
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2006 Michael Kurland
All rights reserved.
A thousand tymes have I herd men telle
That ther ys joy in hevene and peyne in helle,
And I acorde wel that it ys so;
But, natheless, yet wot I wel also
That ther nis noon dwellyng in this contree,
That eyther hath in hevene or helle ybe ...
— Geoffrey Chaucer
East is East, strange and mysterious and slow to change, and West is most definitely West, and during the closing years of the nineteenth century there was little chance of their meeting. Bumping shoulders, crossing swords, shouting epithets, ruling and submitting, perhaps, but they made no pretense of understanding each other, and they seldom sat down anywhere as equals. Yet they mixed and mingled in almost unseemly intimacy throughout the vast, febrile reaches of the Indian subcontinent; mainly in the great cities, where the British Raj ruled, administered, taught, and imposed its will on Her Majesty's teeming multitude of Hindu, Muhammadan, Jainist, Christian, Buddhist, Parsi, Animist, Zoroastrian, and other assorted subjects. And the greatest of these cities was Calcutta. Some visitors found it the richest city they had ever seen, and wrote glowingly of its riches, its magnificence, and its multifarious wonders. Some found it the poorest place on earth, and wrote angrily of overcrowding, poverty, filth, and ignorance.
And both were right.
The capital of British India, and the terminus of the East Indian Railway, Calcutta had been an important outpost of British power since Job Charnock came to the Indian state of Bengal in 1690, and combined the adjoining villages of Sutanuti, Govindapur, and Kilikata to establish a trading post of the British East India Company. Some said that the name of the new city came from Kali, the Hindu goddess of murder and unspeakable crimes. Some, who should know, said that was not true, but they looked away nervously when they said it.
Over the next century Calcutta grew in importance, both as a major port and as a symbol of the East India Company's dominance. There were a few setbacks along the way: In 1756 the Nawab of Bengal died, and a power struggle arose between his widow, Ghasiti Begum, and his grandson, twenty-seven-year-old Siraj Ud Daulah. The Company sided with the widow, which proved to be a mistake. When Siraj became the new Nawab, his troops took Fort William, the British strongpoint in Calcutta, and occupied the city. They thrust over a hundred British prisoners into a small cell in the fort, and then promptly forgot about them. By the next day, when they remembered, many of the prisoners had died of heatstroke and dehydration — the temperature, even at night, was over a hundred degrees. This became known as the infamous "Black Hole of Calcutta" incident.
In 1757 Robert Clive and his army won the Battle of Plassey, retook the city, and ousted the Nawab. Calcutta was never again to suffer the embarrassment of being out of British hands. A grateful king ennobled Clive, and he became Baron Clive of Plassey. In 1855 political and military power was taken away from the East India Company, which had grown too big for anybody's britches, and Great Britain became the direct ruler of much of the Indian subcontinent, and the power behind the throne of most of the rest of it. In 1877 Victoria Regina, Queen of the United Kingdom of England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, was crowned the Empress of India.
By 1890 Calcutta was thoroughly British, except those parts of it that were thoroughly Indian. A short distance from Fort William, past Eden Gardens, were Government House and the High Court; around the corner was the Imperial Museum and, a block farther, the United Service Club. Under the Gothic clock tower of the red brick Sir Stuart Hogg Market building sat all the shops one could possibly need. The Calcutta Turf Club, more popularly known as the Race Course, was just south of Fort William. The streets had names like The Strand, Grey Street, Wellesley Street, and Cornwallis Street, and broughams and chaises took the English sahibs and memsahibs on their rounds of shopping and visiting.
On the other hand, the Calcutta waterfront was on the Hooghly River, not the Thames. A ten-minute stroll from Government House would find the wanderer in a warren of twisting, narrow dirt lanes, where cows, goats, chickens, beggars, and rats fought off the flies and mosquitoes. If one continued along Lower Chitpur Road, skirting past wagons and carts of all shapes and sizes, drawn by bullocks, donkeys, and unbelievably skinny men clad in dirty white dhotis, dodging the emaciated cows that ambled anywhere they chose, secure in their sacred status from human molestation, one would pass within blocks of the Leper Asylum and Alms House, and the Hindu Female School, before reaching Bagh Bazar Street. Troops of jackals roamed the city in the night, breaking the silence with their barks, coughs, and howls.
The first assaults to the senses of the European visitor to Calcutta were the heat, the glare, and the smell. The sights came shortly after — the palatial structures housing the British colonial administration and the very rich, mostly within sight and easy running distance of Fort William in case the natives should get restless once again; and all around them the narrow streets fronted by ancient brick buildings, and even more ancient stone buildings, squeezed next to wooden buildings of indeterminate age, with narrow alleys leading to other buildings, possibly of wood, and narrow doorways in walled-off areas with buildings constructed of God-knows-what and older than anyone would care to speculate.
And the whole filled with street stalls selling just about anything you might possibly want, along with a variety of things that the visitor couldn't begin to identify and a few things that he would avert his eyes from. There it was: a chaotic jumble of structures that assaulted the eye, twisting and turning along the constricted, improbable streets and alleys.
That was extraordinary enough; but the odors! Cinnamon and allspice and coriander and turmeric and cow dung and camel dung and oranges and lemons and horse dung and more cow dung and cedarwood and sandalwood and olibanum, which we know better as frankincense, and sweet pastries and human excrement and the olfactory ghosts of curries long gone, and still more cow dung, and a thousand years of this and that and long-forgotten those. The odors assaulted the nose of the visitor, not all at once, but in an ever-changing mosaic of smells that shifted and combined and recombined as the visitor moved about the city.
Margaret St. Yves, the only daughter of Brigadier General Sir Edward St. Yves, stood in the middle of Agincourt Street holding a large white umbrella over her head, and stared up at the house she'd be living in for the next few months. "I suppose one gets used to it after a while," she said.
General St. Yves looked over at his daughter from where he was supervising the transfer of trunks, boxes, cases, and other large, bulky items from the army goods wagon into the house. "I'm sure one does, m'dear," he said. "Get used to what?"
"The odor," she told him. "The all-enveloping stench of — of — various things, some of them, I believe, unmentionable."
"Oh," her father said. "Oh, yes. One does eventually get used to the odor. On occasion, as it changes in intensity and, ah, composition, one is strongly reminded of it. One never grows very fond of it, I'm afraid."
"One would think the rain would wash the smells away, but instead it seems to intensify them."
Her father looked up speculatively. "One would not call this a rain," he said. "More of a heavy mist. When it rains around here, you know it."
"Well," Margaret said, "it's misting all over my bonnet, and I wish it would stop. And it doesn't seem to have any effect on the heat. When it rains in Britain, the rain cools the air. Here the air heats the water."
"Yes, m'dear," her father said. "Why don't you go inside?"
Margaret stepped sharply forward to allow an oxcart to clatter its way past them. "I prefer standing out here for now," she told her father.
"Of course, m'dear. Silly of me."
Brigadier General Sir Edward Basilberg St. Yves, Bart., I.C., D.S.O., was the commanding officer of the Duke of Moncreith's Own Highland Lancers. The Lancers were not at the moment in the Highlands, but had been stationed for the last four years in India, "upcountry," as it was called by their English compatriots lucky enough to spend their winters in Calcutta. It got too bally hot in Calcutta during the summer, and the viceroy and all of official Anglo-India retired to the summer capital at Simla, high in the foothills of the Himalayas.
For the last two years Margaret St. Yves had been upcountry with the Lancers. She had elected to join her father in India rather than staying with a pair of maiden aunts in Bournemouth, after her widowed Aunt Louise, who had taken care of her for the past ten years since her mother died, had decided to remarry. Louise was marrying a Livonian prince, and moving with him to his ancestral castle in Kurzeme. Neither the maiden aunts nor the mouth of the River Bourne had held much interest for Margaret, but India was unknown and promised at least mild excitement and a modicum of adventure.
Margaret had arrived in Calcutta in March 1888, stayed for three days, and then been whisked off by her father to the Highland Lancers' camp in Assam, farther from Calcutta than Bournemouth was from London. General St. Yves had spent the year suppressing what were described in the dispatches as "minor disturbances" in Assam and Bhutan, and an outright rebellion in Oudh, and Margaret, an extremely bright and curious young lady, had used the time to pick up more than a bit of Bengali, a touch of Urdu, and a smattering of the native customs and history.
Now, on February 12, 1890, a steamy, rainy Wednesday, the Duke's Own had trotted back into Calcutta, and with them came eighteen-year-old Margaret St. Yves. The troops and the junior officers were quartered in Fort William, and the senior officers were finding housing wherever housing could be found. General St. Yves and Margaret were taking over a house that had been loaned to them by an absent civil servant, a public school classmate of St. Yves who was returning to England for a sabbatical.
Lieutenant Gerald Ffoukes-Just, the young officer whom Margaret was currently allowing to annoy her with his attentions, was overseeing the transfer of the officers' accoutrements to the officers' mess. The regimental battle flags had to be hung around the room; the regimental silver plate to be unpacked and polished; the regimental table linen to be ironed and stored; the regimental china to be carefully uncrated and sideboarded; the regimental mascot, a thirty-four-inch-high bronze statuette of a dancing girl acquired during a previous sojourn in India, that they called "the Lady of Lucknow," to be placed in an appropriate position of honor in the room. Gerald considered the job to be one of trust and responsibility; Margaret thought it was just a ruse of her father's to keep Gerald occupied and away from her.
"We won't even bother unpacking most of this stuff," St. Yves said as the last of the trunks disappeared into the house. "We'll just be p-packing it up again in a short while." He gave a few coins to the wagon driver. "Let's go inside, m'dear," he said.
Margaret linked arms with her father, and they entered the house. The waiting house servant confiscated Margaret's umbrella and helped her out of her rain cape almost before she knew it, and then quietly disappeared. "Efficient," Margaret commented. "Your friend has a good staff."
"His wife wouldn't have it any other way," St. Yves told her. "I don't know how she's going to manage back in England, where the servants are only moderately obsequious."
"I doubt whether they could manage a house quite this large back home," Margaret commented. She peered into the front parlor. "This must be where they stable the gazelles," she said.
"Perhaps we could p-pitch a tent in the library," St. Yves suggested. "We wouldn't want to get used to all this munificence; after all, I'm only a poor soldier boy."
Margaret leaned over and gave her father a kiss on the cheek, to which he reacted as one might expect a British father to react: He affected not to notice.
"I'm looking forward to going home," Margaret said. "I've only been here two years, but it's long enough to realize that, were I to stay here for twenty years, I still wouldn't truly understand the culture."
St. Yves nodded agreement. "And if you did start to really understand, then they'd probably move us to another part of the country where they do everything differently, and you'd have to start all over again."
Margaret smiled. "If I really did start to understand," she said, "then all the memsahibs would murmur that I've gone native, and shun me in the streets."
"Well, there is that," St. Yves said.CHAPTER 2
HIDE AND GO SEEK
Look round the habitable world! How few
Know their own good; or knowing it, pursue.
— Juvenal (translated by John Dryden)
At six minutes before nine in the morning of Friday, the fourteenth of February 1890, a four-wheeler pulled up in front of the town house at 64 Russell Square and four angry and determined men emerged. They marched as one up the front steps and paused at the door. A hand reached out for the bellpull and then drew back, as a brief but animated discussion began, accompanied by much arm-waving. Then the hand reached out again, and the bell was pulled. Moments later the door was opened. A shoving match began, as they attempted to push their way inside en masse, but they were blocked by each other and by the massive, stolid butler facing them. They remonstrated and there was more arm-waving. Finally the butler allowed them inside and closed the door carefully behind them.
When Mr. Maws felt irate — which was seldom, as by nature he was inclined to be placid — the muscles in his back and shoulders bunched up and his earlobes turned red; a prelude to the sort of fighting fury that had made "Gentleman Jimmy" Maws bare-knuckles heavyweight champion of England for three years running back in the early seventies. For over a decade now, since he had given up the ring to serve as butler and occasional bodyguard for Professor James Moriarty, Ph.D., F.R.A.S., his essentially peaceful nature had hardly ever been tested, but now, as he stood in the doorway of Moriarty's dressing room, his earlobes were tipped with red.
"There's four of them downstairs," Mr. Maws told the professor. "The same ones as has been trying to see you for the past two days, and didn't want to hear that you was out of town. They would have searched the place had I let them. I do believe they would have torn the place down, had I let them. They are impatient, uncivil, and intemperate of language. They wish to see you now. They said 'now' several times, along with other words which I shall not repeat. And they call themselves gentlemen; or at least two of them do. The other two, being Scotland Yard detectives, quite possibly do not. I tried putting them in the drawing room, but they wouldn't go. They're waiting in the hall. I think they're afraid you'll sneak past them and out the door."
Moriarty took the pocket watch from his dresser and clicked it open. "A hair's-breath before nine," he said. "They've shown admirable restraint. Or perhaps they had trouble getting a cab." He adjusted his cravat, slipped into his gray jacket, and started down the stairs with a measured tread. The knot of angry men awaiting him in the hallway below glared upward with an intensity that would have done him severe damage if the claims of several prominent psychics were true, and mental power alone could have a physical effect. The professor seemed unmoved by the almost palpable anger of those below. He paused on the landing to survey the group. "Inspector Gregson," he said. "Inspector Lestrade ... Dr. Watson ... and you must be Sherlock Holmes's brother Mycroft — the resemblance is quite evident, despite the difference in your, ah, girth," he said. "You wish to speak to me?"
"Yes, sir, we do!" Mycroft Holmes affirmed, his voice filling the narrow hallway.
"Wish to speak with you?" Dr. Watson screeched, and then fell silent, in the grip of some powerful emotion, unable to continue.
"Very good, then," Moriarty said, and continued down the staircase.
The men parted grudgingly for him as he reached the ground floor and passed between them. "I believe I know why you're here, gentlemen," he told them, opening the door to the left of the stairs. "Please step into my office."
Dr. Watson was unable to contain his feelings. "Know why we're here?" he moaned, stalking into the room behind Moriarty. "Damned right you know why we're here!"
"Quiet, Watson, control yourself," Mycroft murmured, gliding into the room behind the doctor. The two detectives, bowler hats in hand, tramped into the office after Mycroft and closed the door.
Excerpted from The Empress of India by Michael Kurland. Copyright © 2006 Michael Kurland. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
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,
15. All That Glisters,
17. All at Sea,
18. Stirring and Twitching,
20. A Number of Things,
21. The Lonely Sea,
23. The Gathering Storm,
24. The Marquis of Queensberry Doesn't Rule Here,
25. Who Is This Man?,
27. Altered Patterns,
28. Into Thin Air,
29. A Pretty Trick,
30. The Return,
31. The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street,