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Diamond Jubilee: Sherlock Holmes, Mark Twain, and the Peril of the Empire

It is June, 1897, the eve of the greatest celebration in the history of London—the Diamond Jubilee of Her Royal Highness Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom and Empress of India. At 221B Baker street, happy anticipation of the event is shattered when an alarmed Samuel Clemens bursts in and informs Holmes and Watson that his life is threatened by a bizarre international conspiracy. Holmes, Watson, and Clemens spend the frantic final days before the Jubilee discovering that the conspiracy is much worse than Clemens imagined. The very fate of the Empire is at stake. Replete with the trademark Holmesian insights and London underworld adventuring, Diamond Jubilee features a host of colorful London characters, including a brilliant London "crime queen," Prime Minister Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, Mycroft Holmes, Scotland Yard's best and worst, the Baker Street Irregulars (themselves infiltrated by unknown sinister elements), and thousands of the most appalling rats.

Excerpt from Diamond Jubilee:
Chapter One, The Other Distinguished Guest

“Watson,” Holmes said, looking up from the pile of newspaper cuttings on his lap, “Your fidgeting is unseemly for such a fine day.”

I stopped pacing and turned to the window. “I suppose it’s the weather,” I said nonsensically, looking out on a perfectly splendid June day. The only clouds I could see above the houses down our row were of the least threatening sort, gold-rimmed and glowing in the late afternoon sun.

“Ah, you have enlisted in the legions of worriers, then,” he said, and returned to his sorting.

I had, indeed, become one of those vexed souls. Spread in our thousands, if not millions, across the land—but particularly across the city—we intended through sheer force of Christian will to reshape the barometrical isobars of the North Atlantic and ensure that Tuesday next be not merely free of rain, but of such surpassing meteorological glory that jubilation would suffuse the very air. Our Queen deserved no less.

“And in the midst of these meditations have you found the leisure to secure our places?” He asked this through teeth clamped around the stem of a cold and undistinguished clay pipe, his recent favorite.

“My editor has things all arranged. I would have preferred St. Paul’s, but he guarantees us the best of vantage points in the Strand. Somewhere near Somerset House, though on the north side. He assures me there is nothing to worry about in the construction of our grandstand.”

“It had not occurred to me to worry about that,” Holmes said. “Is it too late, or should I begin now?”

“Oh, there’s been some stew in the papers over public safety. Throwing up all these rickety wooden stands along the procession route, and stacking hundreds of people on them, you know. Makes the old maids nervous. Temporary workmanship and all that. The prospect of a tier of citizens pitching over into smoking rubble just as the Queen passes by has the alarmists in its grip.” Holmes gave me a raised eyebrow, as if to congratulate me on my much more sensible and productive fretting over the weather, but said nothing. “But it appears that the construction of our stand is being overseen by the most prudent of contractors.”

I hesitated before continuing, not sure how Holmes would respond to this next. “However, what with all that flammable bunting and raw wood, there is some talk of banning smoking entirely.”

“Is there?” He seemed unperturbed. “Well, I suppose heroic measures are called for.”

It was a small remark, but along with several other quiet signs over the past fortnight⎯including his easy sarcasm⎯it reassured me greatly. Sherlock Holmes had gone into the previous winter with his reserves depleted, and his pace had been grueling ever since. He fancied that he flourished on overwork, but eventually the toll was too great even for his extraordinary constitution. That beastly business in Mullion Cove in March was followed by an unrelenting succession of exhausting and not terribly satisfying little problems. Except for the matter of the Tibetan entomologist, none of his recent cases had done more than annoy him with their tedious hours and transparent solutions. Knowing Holmes’ apolitical disposition, I had little hope that the Queen’s Jubilee, just now filling the papers and engaging the nation with its anticipatory excitement and impending pageantry, would distract him, so I was delighted to see that he was pulling himself out of his distracted fatigue.

I was about to elaborate on the arrangements for our seats when a hansom separated itself from the thinning flow of traffic and scraped to a stop against the kerb.

“Holmes,” I announced, as I watched a most singular figure alight from the cab, “We are about to receive a distinguished guest.” I could not keep a bit of thrill from my voice.

“What? Now?” Holmes frowned at the clock in surprise. “She’s two hours early.”

“It’s not a woman, Holmes. It’s a man. A very famous man.”

“Ah! That explains it, then,” he said, setting aside his pipe and newspaper slips and rising to face the door.

I had no time to press Holmes for an explanation of “it” before there was a series of sharp raps on the door. Without a pause, it burst open to reveal Mrs. Hudson attempting to usher an older and very agitated man into the room.

But he was unusherable. Without waiting for Mrs. Hudson’s introduction, he rushed across the room, hand extended toward my companion. “Mr. Sherlock Holmes, my name is Sam Clemens, and I need your help.”