Eleanor Witherington was a young lady who lived life a little boldly - at least, she liked to imagine she did. She took her tea with three spoonfuls of sugar, she sat in the park to eat her bagged lunch - alone (after all, it was the 1890s!) - she attended every lecture the Athenaeum hosted, regardless of subject-matter (although her favourite topics were those hosted by the Society of Antiquaries), and she was a collector of both clockwork oddities and mechanical curiosities.
One should never be too afraid to keep learning, she would tell people, and as a librarian she was in the perfect position to enforce this firmly-held belief. But even Eleanor could not have expected to learn quite so much as she did that day, which just happened to be a Tuesday (not that the day of her adventure was significant in itself, but it was the day each week new arrivals of books could be unpacked and catalogued - one of her favourite tasks).
She awoke as normal, and as she sat quietly sipping her second cup of tea - sweetened with the three measured spoonfuls of sugar - she gazed out her window while contemplating the lecture she had attended the previous night, and processed all the new information she had absorbed from it. Her brain was quite remarkable in that it retained everything and anything she learned, and she could quote verbatim anything her memory recalled. She had never met, amongst her peers, anyone else with this gift - or curse, if her lack of social acquaintances was anything to judge by. People became quite intimidated if they heard her rattling off facts and passages of text, and often avoided her henceforth.
Mulling over the evening, Eleanor suddenly frowned as she recalled the slightly strange event which took place while everyone was mingling during the usual after-meeting refreshments. She had been approached by a man - a stranger to her - who had not introduced himself, as social etiquette required, but had still initiated a conversation with her. A tall, lean man with the greyest eyes and the blackest hair she had ever seen on a person. A clergyman, who seemed amiable and altogether a little simple-minded in manner; and yet Eleanor swore she had caught glimpses of a far greater intelligence lurking in his eyes. There was truly something a little odd about the man, not that she was any great expert on men or in fact people in general.
Eleanor realised with a start that her mulling was going to make her late for work and hastily continued her daily routine. Being a librarian was her second greatest pleasure in life, attending the lectures being her first. She sighed with contentment after unlocking the large wooden door and getting her first view of the day of the extensive rows of books the library had collected over the years. The small pleasure such a scene gave her had never dimmed, and she strongly doubted it ever would.
Then, hearing a sound, she turned around in time to see an elderly-looking man, wearing a well-worn tophat and carrying a briefcase overflowing with papers, rushing up the front steps of the library building towards her where he stopped to catch his breath. "Oh, do pardon me Miss," he said, "but I am in a terrible rush and wished to get to the library as early as possible."
Eleanor frowned. "I'm sorry, but we don't open for another fifteen minutes," she told him.
"But as I have said, I am in a great hurry and it is imperative I get inside. I have undertaken an important research project, and there is a particular tome I must look at!" He then looked around quickly, clicked his tongue, and dove one hand inside his briefcase.
The man seemed to be getting rather agitated, Eleanor thought. "The rules are the rules, I'm afraid, and .." but before she could finish her sentence she was shocked into silence when the man suddenly moved and opened an umbrella in front of them both, while at the same time hearing what sounded like a soft plopping sound. It surely could not be, but it sounded like ... bullets?
"We need to get inside ... you need to get inside," said the man as he gripped Eleanor's arm and steered her towards the library entrance. Once they were in safely, he swung the door closed and proceeded to fold up his umbrella and place it back in his briefcase. Eleanor stopped and turned to look at him in annoyance, while he simply stared back calmly.
"What do you think you are ...," she began but then something clicked then in Eleanor's brain, which had simply been a small niggle since the man had first approached her, and she snapped her fingers in emphasis as she addressed the man. "It is you! You are the man from the lecture last evening. So tell me, Sir, what is your purpose in disguising yourself?" She narrowed her eyes, tilted her head, and waited for him to reply.
The man's eyes widened ever so slightly, and then he removed his hat and took a deep bow in front of Eleanor. "Well spotted, young lady, no one has ever noticed before. You must tell me please, Miss Witherington, just how you came to recognise me? I was obviously somehow careless and wish to not repeat my mistake." the man looked at Eleanor intently, and she sighed gently.
"If you really must know, Sir, both characters were of the same height and build - which you cannot fully disguise; your eyes are a most unusual shade of grey, you had the same smell of pipe tobacco wafting about your person, and the thing that truly clinched it was when I noticed you had worn the same pair of shoes and indeed socks each time you met with me." Eleanor took a breath and waited for the fall-out from her observations, but the man surprised her by throwing back his head and laughing soundly.
"Why Miss Witherington, I do believe I have finally met someone whose intellect does not disappoint me!" the man offered her a fleeting grin. "Now, may I be permitted to look for the book, as I requested earlier? I fear the task is now even more time-sensitive."
Eleanor chewed on her bottom lip for a moment, as she contemplated, then came to a decision. "Yes, I believe that - just this once - I will allow a bending of the library rules. Which book is it you are looking for?"
"Thank you," he replied, bowing slightly in acknowledgement of her favour. "It is John Airey's Railway Diagram of London and its Suburbs1 and was printed approximately twenty years ago. Do you think it is here in the library?"
"Yes," replied Eleanor. "I have seen that book and I know just where it is being kept. We will have to take a trip down into the basement, though, to retrieve it. It has not been a popular book and was removed into storage recently," she continued, as she led the way through the maze of shelving which made up the library's main floor and headed towards the back of the building, drawing out a large iron key in readiness, but when they arrived at the basement door Eleanor stopped suddenly. "That is odd," she murmured. "The door is ajar, and I know I checked it last night - as I do every evening before leaving." Pushing the door fully open, she reached for the electric light cord and tugged gently but nothing happened. "That is also odd," she said, frowning. "The electrical system has not long been installed here so I do hope nothing has gone wrong with it already."
Delving into her bag, Eleanor pulled out one of her mechanical curiosities, fiddled with a few switches, and suddenly there was light flooding the basement stairwell. "Come, Sir, let us find you your book," she said, and proceeded to walk down the flight of steps and was almost at the bottom step when she stopped with a gasp. "My boots are wet," she exclaimed. Swinging her lighting device around she could now see that the basement was flooded and she could see books floating around in the dirty water. "No! Oh, no!" All the stored books were damaged or ruined. "I am so sorry, Sir, but it appears that you will not get to take a look at your book after all." For one of the only times in her life, Eleanor felt like curling up into a ball and weeping. She really, really loved books and could not bear the sight of so much ruin before her.
"Damn and blast it all!" the man bellowed in frustration, which not only startled Eleanor so much she almost dropped her mechanical device, but had the effect of snapping her out of her woebegone thoughts.
"Again, I apologise Sir, but there was no need to be rude." She brushed past the man as she walked back up the stairs into the library. "I will escort you out."
But the man caught her elbow to halt her. "The information in that book was extremely important, Miss Witherington. Is there another copy of it anywhere? Anywhere at all? I need to study one of the maps that was in those pages." Eleanor could see the man was truly agitated, and again she chewed on her bottom lip as she mulled some things over.
"If ..." she began slowly, "if this map you seek is truly important to you then there is one thing I can do to help you." Eleanor offered to the man. "I ... I have a gift, in that once I have seen a page I can recall it in perfect detail. I have looked through that book and so I am sure I can duplicate the page you seek." Back to chewing on her lip, because she had never before told another soul of her ability, and she did not know how it would be received.
"Miss Witherington," exclaimed the man, "I do believe you may be twice the genius today! Let us find some paper and a pencil and begin, we have no time to lose." Eleanor believed he may have even been inclined to hug her in that moment if it had been in his nature to do so, he was that happy. "The little things are infinitely the most important, Miss Witherington. Even the trivial fact may start a train of reflection in the mind, and one must really pay attention to details as the gravest issues may depend upon the smallest things,"2 said the man seriously. "Please concentrate carefully and recall to your mind the entirety, in detail, of what you saw on those pages."
Twenty minutes later, her recreation of the map was complete, and although she would never be able to call herself an artist the diagram she had produced seemed to satisfy the man as he studied the map intently for several moments and murmuring to himself under his breath, before rolling up the paper and slipping it inside his jacket. "Thank you for your help, Miss Witherington. You may never know just how crucial your help has been today, but it has been I can assure you. Now I must be off." The man bowed again slightly before hurrying to exit the library.
Eleanor was left standing, her mouth slightly open in surprise, as she watched him leave. "Well!" she said to herself. "Well, that was a fine turn of events." Then, being a practical sort of a girl, proceeded to continue with her routine of opening the library and completing all the tasks as she did every other working day. Except for calling in the maintenance men to fix and clean up the tragic mess in the basement. As the library's wall clock chimed twelve o'clock precisely, she pulled out her own pocket watch just to check the clock's accuracy. It wasn't that she did not trust the clock, but more that she liked to use any excuse to look at her own watch - which had been a remarkable find in a dusty little curio store some years ago. It was one of her 'clockwork oddities' as she liked to call it. It had a glass face and she could see all the tiny gears and mechanisms inside whirring away. It was a man's large-sized pocket watch, which was why she kept it tucked away in her skirt pocket. Women were supposed to wear small, delicate-like watches pinned to their shirts. Sometimes Eleanor really disliked what she called silly social conventions.
She hurriedly closed up the library for lunch, shooing out the straggling patrons, and grabbed her brown paper bag packed with snacks before walking briskly off to the nearest park, as she did every day, to sit on one of the benches while reading a book chosen off the library's shelves. Today's book was in fact another one of Eleanor's secrets - she loved Penny Dreadfuls3! It was called The Black Band; or, the Mysteries of Midnight by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and Eleanor loved it.
Just as she had begun chapter fifteen, and was entirely riveted by the story's turn of events, she was quite rudely interrupted by the intrusion of a man sitting down heavily on the seat beside her, uncomfortably close, and in fact so close she could smell his body odour and the unpleasant things he must have had for lunch on his breath as he leaned in close and growled into her ear, "I know what you did for that man this morning, and now you will come with me and do the same for my boss, or there will be much trouble for you." Eleanor tried to rise and flee but the man gripped her elbow very hard and began to haul her unceremoniously off into a waiting and ominously-looking blacked-out enclosed carriage.
Eleanor had to think quickly. There were no other park-goers nearby, as she always liked to chose a secluded spot to read her book, so she could not call for help. Then she went over the inventory she had in her bag, and almost sagged in relief as she remembered something. Something very useful. Using her free arm to quietly delve inside the bag and search around until she found the very thing she needed, and as her hand closed over it Eleanor sent up a silent "Thank you!" to her friend, Lady P, who had been thoughtful enough to send it to her.
As the rogue, now they were stopped in front of the carriage, grappled with opening the carriage door with one hand (while keeping the other still firmly gripped on Eleanor's elbow), Eleanor slowly and carefully withdrew her small but handy device out of her bag and pointed it at the awful man. "You, ruffian, will Let. Me. Go. This Instant!"
The rogue turned his head in surprise, and came face-to-face with Lady Ada's pocket revolver4. Luckily he was so surprised that he loosened his grip on her and she was able to yank her arm away and take a step back from him. He reached for her again, but she cocked the small gun and tried to look as fearsome as one of the characters from those Penny Dreadful stories. "Do not think I will hesitate to shoot you," she told him firmly.
He opened his mouth to reply, but glanced over her shoulder, groaned, growled at Eleanor "This is your lucky day, madam" and spun on his heels before vanishing into the park's trees.
All Eleanor could think to do in that moment was blink rapidly in astonishment, before looking over her shoulder as she heard the sound of footsteps as they ran towards her. Spinning around, while holding the gun up, she wondered whether this was a new problem or a continuation of the last one. Instead, and to her immense relief, she found herself face to face with a police officer. A very handsome-looking policeman if she was any great judge of these things. (She wasn't certain, but she liked to think she was despite her lack of actual experience.)
"Miss," the man came to a halt in front of her, hardly out of breath, "please put down your weapon. I am here now and can take care of the situation."
Eleanor thought to herself "I do believe I had just taken care of the situation myself!" but knew that men liked to feel they were in charge so she kept that comment to herself and instead simply thanked the man for his aid, and slid the revolver back inside her bag. "But how did you know I was in trouble?" she asked him.
"A gentleman saw what was happening and alerted me," the policeman replied. He turned and pointed, "That gentleman in the bowler hat." he said, and Eleanor saw just the back of a man as he strode from view down the path.
"Oh, he is gone. I would have liked to thank him." she murmured. "But .... oh, what is the time? I must get back to the library and open for the afternoon session." She began to hastily walk back through the park.
"Please, Miss, allow me to escort you. I would hate for anything to happen to you again." The police officer smiled at Eleanor and gently laid his hand at her back, offering her a further feeling of protection, and something else she did not have time to mull upon. The man really was most handsome; and smelled nice, too. They reached the library building steps, but before she could walk inside the door he touched her arm so she would turn to him. "I understand this may seem quite forward of me, so I do beg your pardon, but ... I was wondering whether you might like to attend a lecture tomorrow night? With me?" he added hastily.
"A lecture? With you?" Eleanor proceeded to chew her bottom lip for a moment. "I would love to, thank you. But I really am very late now." she told him as she (now) reluctantly turned and walked into the building. Eleanor couldn't help it, but she suddenly grinned to herself. Eleanor rarely had cause to grin.
The rest of the afternoon passed by uneventfully, but as Eleanor locked the library doors and began to walk home down the front steps she stopped suddenly as she almost ran into a man. A tall man, with piercing grey eyes and the blackest hair she had ever seen. "Oh, it is you Sir!" she exclaimed. "I did not think to see you again."
The man gave her a small smile. "I felt I had to come back and offer both an explanation for my earlier actions, and a satisfactory conclusion to the story to which you have no doubt been puzzling over. Especially since I heard that you had an eventful lunch!" he concluded gravely.
Eleanor was delighted that she would get to hear the story. "There is a tea shop just around the corner from here, if that would be a suitable place for us to talk?" So they strolled to the place, were shown to a table, and ordered a large pot of tea between them.
The man then began to tell Eleanor a tale. A tale too lengthy to repeat in detail, but suffice it to say it involved a spy network, secret underground tunnels, the Big Ben clock, and national security. Eleanor's eyes grew wider and wider with each new turn of events, and interrupted the man with many questions along the way - some of which he ignored, because of said national security, but he felt he could trust her with many of the other facts involved. Once concluded, they both rose from their seats and began to exit the tea room. Eleanor leaned towards the man, with one last question burning on her lips. "Are you a spy too, Sir?" she whispered. But the man just chuckled quietly and shook his head.
Once the man and Eleanor were standing out on the street, each realising their adventure together was at an end, a man in a bowler hat and sporting a dapper moustache came jogging up to them, addressing the man even while trying to catch his breath. "So sorry I am late" he puffed, "but I was writing up my notes on our last case so I could send it off to be published on Steemit before the end of the day."
As her co-adventurer turned to leave, Eleanor impulsively laid her hand gently on his arm. "Before you take your leave, Sir, might I at least have the courtesy of knowing your name?" she asked of the man, knowing she was unlikely to ever see him again.
The man bowed slightly. "Indeed, Miss Witherington, my apologies for being so remiss and forgoing acceptable social etiquette. My name is Holmes. Sherlock Holmes."
2 Quote borrowed and adapted from: https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php/Sherlock_Holmes
4 a device from the steempunknet game world https://steemit.com/@steempunknet