The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline

Table of Contents
 
 
 
PHILOMEL BOOKS
A division of Penguin Young Readers Group.
Published by The Penguin Group.
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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England.
 
Copyright © 2009 by Nancy Springer. All rights reserved.
 
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Springer, Nancy. The case of the cryptic crinoline : an Enola Holmes mystery / Nancy Springer.
p. cm. Summary: In late-nineteenth-century London, fourteen-year-old Enola Holmes,
much younger sister of detective Sherlock Holmes, turns to Florence Nightingale for help when
her investigation into the disappearance of a Crimean War widow grows cold.
[1. Mystery and detective stories. 2. Missing persons—Fiction. 3. Characters in literature—
Fiction. 4. Nightingale, Florence, 1820-1910—Fiction. 5. London (England)—History—
1800-1950—Fiction. 6. Great Britain—History—Victoria, 1837-1901—Fiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.S76846Care 2009 [Fic]—dc22 2008040475
eISBN : 978-1-101-02481-2

http://us.penguingroup.com

To my mother
ALSO BY NANCY SPRINGER
THE ENOLA HOLMES MYSTERIES
The Case of the Missing Marquess
The Case of the Left-Handed Lady
The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets
The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan
THE TALES OF ROWAN HOOD
Rowan Hood, Outlaw Girl of Sherwood Forest
Lionclaw
Outlaw Princess of Sherwood
Wild Boy
Rowan Hood Returns, the Final Chapter
THE TALES FROM CAMELOT
I am Mordred
I am Morgan le Fay
Ribbiting Tales
SCUTARI, TURKEY
,
1855
(The faint of heart may proceed directly to Chapter the First.)
ON THE HILLTOP ABOVE THE HARBOUR STANDS THE huge square building that used to be the barracks for the Turkish army, but is now Hell’s home on earth. The stench of bloated carcasses—cow, horse, human—floating in the sea is nothing compared with the stench within that massive masonry cube. Shoulder to shoulder on its stone floors lie wounded, sick, or dying men, mostly young British soldiers, many without even a straw pallet beneath them or a blanket for covering. Hell is relatively quiet; so deeply desperate, helpless, and weak are the patients that they languish almost soundless, dying by the thousands of infection, gangrene, and cholera.
One of those lying insensible, not likely to live through the approaching night, is a young fellow just twenty years of age. By his side crouches a frightened girl even younger than he, his bride of less than a year, who has come to this awful place with him. Most of the men’s wives have come along, trailing the regiments with babes in arms, for no way is provided for the soldiers to send home their pay, and separated from their husbands the women will starve.
Many of them are starving anyway.
Watching her husband die, the girl maintains the mute, shivering, and mostly silent misery characteristic of Scutari, for she has seen too much death; she realises that she herself might well die, and she does not dare to hope that the new life she carries within her thin body can survive.
A little farther down the ward, a woman wearing a shapeless grey wrapper and cap washes crusted mucus from a soldier’s eyes. Since recently arriving from England, the small group of determined nurses has managed somewhat to improve matters in Scutari. They have scrubbed filthy floors, bathed filthy bodies, boiled the lice out of some of the blankets. The soldier with the infected eyes may go blind, but, as fewer than half of those who enter Scutari come out alive, he should consider himself lucky.
“Keep your hands away from your eyes, now,” the nurse tells him, “no matter how much you wish to rub them, for your touch transfers foul matter into them.”
Walking through the eight miles of wards comes another nurse, a thin, aristocratic woman who carries a lamp, for night is falling. Her oval face is remarkably sweet, symmetrical, and placid. Her hair, parted precisely in the middle, lies smooth like brown wings beneath a white lace cap that ties under her chin. Slowly she progresses, pausing at the foot of many a patient’s pallet and speaking in a soft, melodious voice. “The letter to your mother has been sent, Higgins. . . . Not at all, you are very welcome. Did you eat today, O’Reilly? Good. I should have a blanket for you tomorrow. Did you use a fresh sponge, Walters?” As she pauses where the nurse ministers to the man going blind: “Good. Go to your quarters, now; it’s getting dark.”
As the nurse leaves, the Lady with the Lamp walks forward again, to pause where the trembling girl crouches beside her unconscious husband. After a look at him, the lady sets down her lamp, seats herself likewise on the cold stone floor, takes the man’s blue bare feet into her lap, and begins briskly to rub them with her hands, perhaps warming them a bit.
“It is the only comfort I can give him,” she tells the girl, who sits mute and huge-eyed by his side. “You must go now, child. You may come back in the morning.”
The thin young wife gazes back at her, wordless and imploring.
The lady replies to that gaze as if to a spoken plea. “I know you wish to stay with him, child, but the rule is that there are to be no females in the wards at night, and if we do not obey, the army may send us back to the kitchen or, even worse, back to England.” Her soft voice never rises, and her face, although thin, shows no weariness, resentment, or frustration; it remains angelically serene even as she says, “If that happens, then there will be no nursing for the unfortunates, not even in the daytime. So we must go. Do you understand?”
And, assuming that the girl can hear her, perhaps she thinks the child does understand. Although the younger woman fails to move, there is no defiance in her eyes, only wretched exhaustion.
“Come.” Placing the dying man’s feet gently back on the floor, the lady takes her lamp and rises. “Come, I will walk with you and light your way.” She offers the girl her hand, and after a moment the young bride reaches up to accept that warm grip. The older woman helps her to her feet. For a moment the two of them stand, hand in hand, over the—one might as well call it a body.
The girl’s thin lips move three times before, with an odd plangent abruptness, she speaks. “’E’s my ’usband,” she states helplessly and unnecessarily.
“I know, dear, but you still cannot—”
“’E’s a good man,” the girl goes on without seeming to hear. “’Is name is Tupper. Thomas Tupper. Somebody besides me oughter remember.”
“Yes, of course they should,” soothes the Lady with the Lamp. Those who survive Scutari will make famous the comfort of her quiet voice. “Come along now, Mrs. Thomas Tupper.”
CHAPTER THE FIRST
“MISS MESHLE,” SAID MRS. TUPPER AS SHE TOOK my empty plate away, “if ye ’ave time to set an’ talk a while . . .”
Before my elderly, deaf-as-a-dumpling landlady finished the sentence, she had my fullest attention, because she spoke softly instead of shouting as she usually did, but mostly because, due to her deafness, any attempt at conversation was most unusual. Indeed, her request to “talk” was unprecedented. Generally, after one of her frugal suppers (tonight, spring onions being in season, it had been fish-and-onion soup with bread pudding), I would give her a nod of thanks and retreat behind the closed door of my room, where I could rid myself of the poufs, baubles, and underpinnings of “Miss Meshle,” sit in my overstuffed armchair with my feet upon a hassock, and be comfortable.
“I could use a bit of advice,” Mrs. Tupper continued as she took the white crockery soup tureen and placed it on the stove as if it were a pot, then scraped leftover bread pudding into the slop pail rather than into the cat’s dish. Greatly wondering what ailed her, I nodded and gestured, signalling my willingness to listen.
“Let’s go set down,” Mrs. Tupper said.
I was, of course, already sitting, at the table, but we moved to the shabby “parlour suite” at the other end of Mrs. Tupper’s single room—her house, although clean, was little more than a hovel—and there, as I took a chair, Mrs. Tupper hunched on the edge of the horsehair sofa, fixing me with her watery grey gaze.
“It hain’t none of my business, but I’ve noticed there’s more to you than meets the eye,” she said as if she felt it necessary to explain why she would confide in such a youngster. “You hain’t just a working-girl like you seems to be, not when ye can pass as a street beggar or yit a lady to the manor born, an’ when ye took sich pains goin’ out as a nun—”
I made no attempt to hide my shock; she was not supposed to know this. If word were to reach my brothers, Mycroft and Sherlock, enabling them to locate my place of lodging in London’s East End, my freedom would be greatly endangered.
But Mrs. Tupper seemed not to notice my consternation. “—in the dark of night tryin’ to ’elp them as is cold an’ ’ungry,” she went on, “an’ where ye get the means, dear only knows.” Peering up at me, for she had never been tall, and a dowager’s hump had shortened her yet more, she added, “Ye’re a good person, Miss Meshle, or whatever yer real name may be—”
“Enola Holmes,” I whispered involuntarily. Luckily, she could not possibly hear me and went on without noticing.
“—an’ ye’re a force t’be reckoned with, an’ I’m ’oping ye can ’elp me.”
Often enough she had helped
me,
nursing me through colds or fevers or, once, injuries, when a garroter had attacked me. She kept a motherly eye—while I could only imagine what it might be like to have a normal mother, Mrs. Tupper, pressing blood sausage upon me at breakfast and exhorting me out of my fits of melancholia, surely resembled a proper mum. Of course I wanted to help her. “Good heavens,” I exclaimed, leaning forward in my turn, “what is wrong?”
Reaching into her apron pocket, she produced an envelope that had evidently come in the day’s post, which she handed to me. Nodding and gesturing as if I, not she, were deaf, she encouraged me to open this and read the enclosure.
The daylight from Mrs. Tupper’s downstairs window—of which she was rightfully proud, as windows were taxed—the light was waning, but so heavily was the missive printed, in densely black India ink, that I could see it clearly. Slashed across thick paper in the most brutal handwriting I had ever seen, angular and bristling and penned with weapon force, each stroke a club at one end and a rapier at the other, it read:
CARRIER PIGEON, DELIVER YOUR BIRD-BRAINEDMESSAGE AT ONCE OR YOU WILL BE SORRY YOU EVER LEFT SCUTARI.

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