THE BAKER STREET IRREGULAR The first chapter of my new YA book inspired by a true story. Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, adopts the tactics of his fictional character and with the aid of a 12-year-old orphan and a Lestrade-type Detective
If you're intrigued, let me know.
"It is impossible to read and weigh the facts in connection with the conviction of Oscar Slater in May, 1909...without feeling deeply dissatisfied with the proceedings, and morally certain that justice was not done."
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Case of Oscar Slater, 1909
THE BAKER STREET IRREGULAR
“Ladies and gentlemen, I beg your indulgence for a few more minutes. Please queue to the left under the portico out of the rain,” announced the Lyceum Theater manager.
An anxious cross-section of London society moved through the theater’s elegant marble columns festooned for the Christmas season with pine branches and red berry holly.
“The famed spiritualist Madame Lubella has arrived and is making her way to the stage as I speak. As soon as she is ready, the doors will open,” the manager said.
“What about Sir Arthur?” a man shouted.
“That’s right. It’s him what we come to hear,” said a woman in a cloth coat with a scarf wrapped twice around her neck.
“Do not be concerned. Sir Arthur will take the stage this evening,” responded the manager.
“Right you are. He’s our Christmas present,” said a gentleman in a silk hat.
A mournful organ echoed from inside the theater. Doors opened and the audience filed in. Lights slowly dimmed and an uncanny glow flickered across the dark red curtain. It parted revealing Madame Lubella asleep in an oversized chair atop a platform. She lifted her head slowly and opened her eyes wide. An amber spotlight threw an unearthly sulfurous glow around her.
“I feel sad emanations rising like a tidal wave,” she said in a low, trembling, vaguely foreign accent. Madame Lubella pointed at the audience. “One has a lost a loved one, a husband who died suddenly and could not say his farewells.”
“My Davie. That’s my Davie,” a woman shouted.
“He prefers being called David in the netherworld. David, what do you wish to tell your wife?”
Madam Lubella’s head rocked back until all the audience could see were whites of her eyes. A growling sound rasped through her throat.
“I am at peace,” she said in a low voice. “Farewell my love until we meet on this side of the river.”
The woman stood. “That’s my Davie, my David.” She fainted. Attendants rushed her out of the theater.
Madame Lubella continued communicating with departed souls. The audience cried, applauded, and cheered.
“My friends, I have discovered that many well-known men and women in the other world wish to make their presence known to the living. I am an ordinary person who has been honored by these souls to become their vessel on Earth,” Madam Lubella announced. The lights changed to an eerie green.
Madam Lubella’s head jerked up and down. A woman in the first row screamed with fear. “The flames, the flames surround me but I do not burn. I, Joan of Arc, the Maid of Orleans, have come to tell you to be true to yourself and you will be rewarded in the life to come,” Madam Lubella called out in a thin, reedy voice. The audience sat in stunned silence. Madame Lubella pitched forward. Her head rested on her knees. She looked up as if startled to find herself in the theater.
“I have come to educate you,” she announced in a low, angry voice. “I, Leonardo da Vinci, painted the Last Supper. I gave you the Mona Lisa. They embody the essence of my art. A poet knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
Madame Lubella fell into deep unconsciousness and the curtain dropped to raucous applause. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle strode onto the stage swinging a gold-headed cane to even louder applause. He wore a tweed jacket, trousers buckled at the knee, and long argyle socks. The audience stamped their feet and cheered. Doyle glanced at the audience with startling blue eyes and rapped his cane on the stage floor.
“Raise the curtain!” he commanded in a booming voice that crackled through the theater.
It rose on Madame Lubella who remained in her chair.
"Ladies and gentlemen, you have witnessed an incredible exhibition demonstrating my firm belief that the spirits of our loved ones surround us. With the assistance of gifted mediums such as Madame Lubella we can reach out and discover the treasures they bring us.”
Cheers rose once more. When they faded, a woman with regal bearing stood up.
“I am curious, Sir Arthur, from your experience, can you explain why St. Joan did not speak French and why Leonardo da Vinci spoke English?”
“Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce the great mathematician and president of the Society for Psychical Research, Eleanor Sidgwick. On many occasions, Miss Sidgwick has used her scientific skills to verify the existence of psychical phenomena.”
“Thank you for your introduction, Sir Arthur,” Miss Sidgwick said.
“Madame Lubella is a channel, a conduit for great souls hovering in the space between heaven and earth. Their voices are translated in the ether so that anyone can understand: the Russian, the Hindu, Arab, or Chinese.”
A man rose from his seat. “That’s all well and good, Sir Arthur, but I find it strange that you, the author of one of the most scientific and rational detectives, Sherlock Holmes, actually believe this nonsense."
A woman behind the speaker raised her umbrella. “How dare you question someone with an impeccable reputation?”
"Do not berate this sad man. I would only reply that I find it more strange you believe in the reality of a fictional character created for your amusement," said Doyle.
The audience shouted its approval. An organ played a sprightly march. They walked out with the assurance they had witnessed a peek into a supernatural world endorsed by their favorite writer.
Lady Jean Doyle, Sir Arthur’s wife, a slim, delicate woman wrapped in a blue coat, waited at the stage exit. It burst open and Doyle held the door for Mary Louise Doyle, his nineteen year-old daughter, and Madame Lubella. The light of day revealed Madame Lubella as an ordinary looking middle-aged woman with brown eyes. Throngs of fans holding magazines and books raced toward Doyle. He graciously scribbled his name on the pages.
After they broke out of the horde circling him Doyle frowned. “Not one of them has read my best books.”
“Don’t fret, Arthur. Accept the appreciation of your readers,” smiled Lady Doyle.
“Which of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries do you consider your finest, Sir Arthur?” asked Madame Lubella.
“We ought to return home.” Mary Louise waited for the expected explosion.
Doyle puffed up indignantly. “Madame Lubella, Sherlock Holmes is a trifle, a diversion, a distraction. My finest work involves the real world where the righteous fights against evil on battlefields of honor. Have you not read ‘The Great Boer War’?” He took his wife’s hand and strode along the sidewalk with Madame Lubella and Mary Louise trailing behind.
“I wrote it while tending our brave soldiers suffering from an epidemic at Bloemfontein in South Africa. Officers and men informed me of the battles in which they were engaged. Differing from most correspondents, I had the advantage of immersing myself in the midst of carnage. I visited scenes of this great drama and met many of the chief actors thus viewing with my own eyes the actual operations that took place during the war.”
“It will do you no good to go on like that. And if you do continue I will insist on driving and you can ride in the back seat,” said Lady Doyle.
Madame Lubella trotted after Doyle and gasped for breath. “I had no idea, Sir Arthur, and will do my utmost to retrieve a copy of your book.”
She patted her forehead and her foreign accent faded into a Lancashire lilt. “Ah’m fair worn out,” she sighed.
"I would deem it an honor if you would visit with me and my wife at Windlesham. Others who believe as we will greet you with open arms." Doyle kissed her hand.
Madame Lubella blushed under her wide-brimmed flower decorated hat. "Sir Arthur, thou’rt welcome.” She put her hand over her mouth. “I'd be so pleased."
Mary Louise pulled his hand. "Papa, we have to get along before it's dark."
The medium smiled. "I'm sure your chauffeur knows how to maneuver at night."
Doyle drew himself up and brushed his fingers along his moustache. "Madame, a man always drives his own automobile."
“Sir Arthur, I must talk with you.”
“Arthur, we must go,” his wife insisted.
A man ran out of the shadows, his feet slipping on the wet sidewalk. He waved a paper in his hand.
“Please, Sir Arthur, this is a matter of utmost importance. I have been wrongly slandered and may be tried in court. You must help me.”
“You promised you would not do this again,” urged Lady Doyle.
“Have you a solicitor?” Doyle asked the disheveled man.
“No. I thought you could help. After all, Sherlock Holmes...”
Doyle straightened up and interrupted the man. “I am not Sherlock Holmes. Dare I say that you would have a better chance with a solicitor to defend you than ask for my assistance.”
Lady Doyle and Mary Louise pulled him to the car. “Papa, I’m proud of you,” his daughter said.
“Rot and balderdash. I might have considered his plight except for that damned Holmes.”
“Remember your promise not to become engaged in any more detective work. The last time almost killed you,” said Lady Doyle.
“Nonsense. Exhaustion, that’s all,” said Doyle sliding into the car. “Off to Sussex and Windlesham,” he shouted exuberantly as the sun lowered on the horizon.