When Sir Arthur Cwmlech’s home is robbed and the Illogic Engine–his prize invention–stolen, it is only natural that he and his clever assistant Miss Tacy Gof consult with another inventor, the great Mycroft Holmes, about who has taken it. But it is really Mr. Holmes’ Reasoning Machine who they are there to see, for it is only fitting for one automaton to opine on a matter concerning the fate of another of its kind. This charming story by award-winning fiction writer Delia Sherman is a delightful romp set within an a slightly altered version of one of our most beloved literary universes.
On a foggy autumn morning, a horseless carriage chugged slowly along a fashionable London street. The carriage was of antique design, steam-driven instead of the more modern clockwork, with a tall chimney pipe that added its acrid mite to the smoky air. A burly footman sat on its box, peering through the gloom at the house numbers. As they passed a pleasant Georgian lodging-house, he hastily pulled the brake and the carriage came to a halt with a long hiss of escaping steam.
The door burst open and a young gentleman sprang out onto the pavement. He was perhaps twenty-two, tall and knobby, with longish light hair and small, round spectacles. His low-crowned hat was crammed to his ears and his coat was buttoned askew. His careless appearance suggested Bohemian tendencies. The carriage’s obviously homemade shaded fog lights revealed a mechanical bent. Not an artisan, not with that coat. A gentleman mechanic, then—possibly an inventor.
The young woman who alit after him was more difficult to parse. She was younger than the gentleman—between eighteen and twenty years of age—and clearly on comfortable terms with him. One would have thought them brother and sister, had there been the slightest resemblance. As it was, she was dark where he was fair, tiny and compact where he was tall and loose-limbed, and her severe mulberry walking costume spoke of a lady’s companion rather than a lady. She carried a practical-looking cane that she did not seem to need.
A sulfurous swirl of fog briefly enveloped the pair. When it cleared, they were climbing the lodging-house steps with their footman a few steps behind, bearing in his arms what looked to be a large and elaborate doll clad in china blue.
The young gentleman rang the bell. Above them, a curtain in the first-floor window twitched and a figure retreated into the room beyond.
The game was afoot.
Miss Tacy Gof was in a state of tension so extreme that time slowed almost to a standstill. The ride through the fog from Curzon Street to Pall Mall had taken an age of the world, and another had passed as they waited for an answer to Sir Arthur’s ring. Tacy was on the point of reaching for the bell herself when the door snapped open to reveal a small, empty room sealed off from the house itself by a second door.
Sir Arthur stepped in and peered about. “A fog-exhaust!” He exclaimed. “See the fan above the door? I have been longing to see one ever since I read about them in the London Inventor!” Then, impatiently: “Come in, come in. There’s room enough for all of us!”
There was, though it felt very cramped when the street door swung to, trapping them in a cloud of stinging air. The fan whirred, the air cleared, and the inner door opened, letting them into a hall illuminated by a Smith clockwork lamp.
A lady in black bombazine took one look at Sir Arthur’s hat and misbuttoned coat and said, “First floor front, end of the hall.”
Sir Arthur sprang up the stairs like a dog on the scent, but Tacy turned, hesitating. “Angharad?”
The doll answered her, its voice tinkling and tuneful as a music box. “Away with you! James and I will follow.”
Gratefully, Tacy laid the cane she was holding in the doll’s white kid hands and ran up the stairs, reaching the top just as the door to the first floor front opened, revealing quite the largest man she had ever seen. He loomed over Sir Arthur—who was himself a tall man—and was easily twice his girth. Tacy judged him to be perhaps thirty, with a heavy, handsome countenance dominated by a hawklike nose and pale eyes that gave back the light of the Smith lamp like pearls.
Sir Arthur straightened his spine and his spectacles. “Mr. Mycroft Holmes? I am Sir Arthur Cwmlech, of Cwmlech Manor, and I am come to consult your Reasoning Machine on a matter of some importance.”
The pale gaze swept past him to the end of the hall, where a musical voice was demanding to be set down gently, mind. Turning, Tacy saw the porcelain doll at the stair-head. Quite a picture she made, posed under the Smith with one white kid hand on her silver-topped cane and one white kid boot peeking through the elaborate drapery of her skirt.
“By all that’s wonderful,” the big man breathed. “It’s the Ghost in the Machine.”
Although the automaton was indeed haunted by the ghost of Sir Arthur’s noble ancestress, she considered the name bestowed on her by the popular press a slight upon her dignity. Tacy had heard her curse an inventor who had addressed her thus in terms that might have distressed him very much, had he been able to understand Welsh. Tacy was relieved when Angharad contented herself with a haughty lift of her molded chin. “I am Mistress Angharad Cwmlech of Cwmlech Manor. And I believe I am as human as yourself.”
It was a mild enough rebuke, but Mr. Holmes appeared to feel it extremely. “Your pardon, Mistress Cwmlech. I meant no offense, no offense in the world. I am a firm supporter of mechanical rights—although, of course, you are a special case. Your response to Mr. Justice Booby’s denial of your right to testify brought tears to my eyes.”
Sir Arthur’s nervous cough brought Mycroft Holmes’s wandering attention back to the issue at hand. “Ah, yes. A matter of some importance, you say? Then, by all means, come in.” He strode down the hall to where Angharad stood, swaying slightly, and gravely offered her his arm. “Mistress Cwmlech—if you will permit me?”
With equal gravity, she accepted his help, though she must reach shoulder-high to do so. Trust Angharad, Tacy thought, as she followed Sir Arthur into Mr. Holmes’s chambers, to behave, when every moment is precious, as though time means nothing. Although perhaps it did not, to a ghost.
The sitting room was a large and airy apartment in the Aesthetic style, hung with Bird and Gear paper from Morris & Co. Green velvet curtains were drawn against the fog and exquisite automata were ranged like statues between glass-fronted cases of curiosities. Tacy’s eye was caught by a fist-sized bag constructed from sheets of rubber in one of the cases. “That’s never a Peterson’s Mechanical Heart!”
“It is,” Mr. Holmes said. “You are very observant, Miss—”
“Gof.” Having attracted their host’s attention, Tacy found that she’d been more comfortable without it.
“You are Welsh,” he said, his pale eyes fixing her like a bug on a pin. “A countrywoman, and a blacksmith’s daughter, or perhaps sister.” He lifted her hand and examined it. “A mechanic . . . and unmarried. Sir Arthur’s apprentice, then, given your tender years.”
Startled, Tacy reclaimed her hand. “How did you—? Oh.” She touched the iron-and-bronze brooch pinned to her lapel. “This, my old boots, and the stuff of my jacket, is it?”
“And the calluses on forefinger and thumb, the stigmata of our trade.” Mr. Holmes displayed his own plump hands, callused precisely as he had described, then waved hospitably towards a cushioned settee, where Angharad sat, her feet dangling some inches above the carpeted floor. “Pray, be seated.”
Sir Arthur took the nearest chair and Tacy perched by Angharad, trying not to fidget. Earlier, they had agreed that the story was Sir Arthur’s to tell. Tacy would listen, observe, answer questions if asked, and otherwise keep her tongue firmly behind her teeth.
Mr. Holmes settled himself in a Morris chair facing them.
Sir Arthur began, “It’s my Illogic Engine, you see. I—”
The big man lifted a restraining hand. “One moment, if you please.” He raised his voice slightly. “Reasoning Machine, engage.”
The automaton beside the mantelpiece turned its head and stepped forward.
Never had Tacy seen—or even imagined—a machine so very nearly natural in its gait and movements as Mr. Holmes’s Reasoning Machine. Its face was a fine-drawn version of his own countenance—the nose a shade more aquiline, the cheeks narrower, the jaw more sharply cut, the dark hair more abundant. It was almost as tall as the inventor, but much thinner, and its eyes were the same silvery grey. It almost might have been Mr. Holmes’s younger brother.
“Exquisite!” Sir Arthur breathed. Angharad reached over and squeezed Tacy’s hand painfully.
Mr. Holmes steepled his fingers before his chest. “Order,” he said. “Interrogate. Subject: Robbery.”
Lowering itself into a wing chair, the Reasoning Machine assumed an attitude the exact mirror of its creator’s. “What exactly has been stolen?” The resonant voice was neither metallic nor artificially musical; it would have sounded perfectly natural had it not been so utterly devoid of expression. Tacy shivered.
Sir Arthur leaned forwards, blue eyes intent behind his silver spectacles. “My latest invention, the Illogic Engine.”
“What is an Illogic Engine?”
“Ah. Well.” Sir Arthur sat back, ready to lecture. “Simply stated, the Illogic Engine is a variation on the Logic Engine that drives intellects such as your own. It is designed to endow mechanicals with those aspects of human intelligence that exist independent of reason.”
The Reasoning Machine’s fine brows lifted in a parody of surprise. “Engines are, by definition, logical. An Illogic Engine, therefore, cannot exist.”
“It does, then,” Tacy snapped before she could stop herself. “And functions very well, look you, for a prototype.”
After the mechanical’s even bass, her voice sounded high and shrill. She fell silent, blushing uncomfortably, though no one seemed to have noticed her outburst.
“Where were you when the theft occurred?” the flat voice went on.
“At a concert. Lord Wolford organized the party. Miss Gof and Mistress Cwmlech accompanied me—and our footman, James, of course. Mistress Cwmlech is unable to climb steps or walk far without assistance.”
“And the other servants?”
Sir Arthur glanced at Tacy, who answered in a self-conscious murmur. “The butler, the cook, the kitchen-maid, and the parlor-maid were all in the house.” She hesitated. “Also three guard mechanicals in the garden and one in the mews.”
“Did any of these persons raise an alarm?”
Persons. Tacy wondered if the Reasoning Machine had meant to include the guard mechanicals in the term. “The servants heard nothing,” she said. “The mechanicals were . . . incapacitated.”
And not only the guard mechanicals, she reflected. Every piece of clockwork in the house had been frozen solid as a pond in January, from the hall clock to the toasting machine to the little cleaning mechanicals she had made to polish the workshop windows. It was all very disturbing, particularly as the nature of the sabotage made it unlikely that any common criminal could have been involved. It had to have been a mechanic, working with an inventor—or perhaps an inventor himself.
But who? The inventors of England were a contentious lot: suspicious, secretive, jealous, liable to accusations and lawsuits and plagiarism. From jealousy to theft was not so great a step, if one were unscrupulous as well. The question was, which one of them could it have been?
Tacy returned her attention to the interrogation, which was proceeding with logical precision.
Had there been signs of forced entry? There had not, neither to the house nor the workshop. Who knew about the Illogic Engine? Miss Gof, of course, and Mistress Cwmlech. Miss Gof’s father and one Mr. Stanton, who had been his tutor. And Lord Wolford, and perhaps one or two other members of the Royal Society, whose advice Sir Arthur had solicited on one subject or another. “Including,” Sir Arthur said, with a bow to Mr. Holmes, “your distinguished creator’s.”
The inventor, who had been sitting with his eyes closed, as if half-asleep, opened them again. “I was happy to be of assistance,” he said graciously. “Well, we have enough to be going on with, I think. Order: Theorize.”
The mechanical went very still. Tacy glanced at Sir Arthur, who gazed at it with the air of a dog expecting a treat. He clearly believed Mr. Holmes’s mechanical detective capable of pulling the missing Engine from the narrative, like a rabbit from a hat. Somewhat to her own surprise, Tacy shared neither Sir Arthur’s optimism nor his admiration of the big man’s creation. Accustomed to mechanicals from the cradle as she was, she found herself regarding the Reasoning Machine with a discomfort that surprised as much as it distressed her.
The thing is so very nearly human, she thought, and yet it remained a thing, while Angharad, with her obviously mechanical voice, grinding joints, and immovable features, seemed fully human to her. Was it her friendship with Angharad that made the difference?
The Machine’s flat voice recalled Tacy’s wandering thoughts. “Current data suggest two possibilities. One: A rival inventor or a hireling of such an inventor. Suspects: Lord Wolford, Mr. Jeremiah Stanton, Mr. Arthur Fairleigh, Mr. Mycroft Holmes.”
Sir Arthur bridled. “That is impossible! Lord Wolford is a most honorable gentleman. Mr. Holmes is—well—Mr. Holmes, you know! And I would trust both Mr. Fairleigh and Mr. Stanton with anything you care to name. They would never—”
The big man held up a restraining hand. “Lord Wolford is an inventor,” he said. “As are Mr. Stanton and Mr. Fairleigh—as am I, come to that. We all stand to gain by stealing your Engine. And Lord Wolford’s invitation did take you from home last night.”
“He was my father’s friend,” Sir Arthur said stubbornly. “I will not believe it.”
Tacy restrained herself from pointing out that this said more about Sir Arthur’s character than Lord Wolford’s.
Mr. Holmes shook his head. He seemed about to remonstrate with Sir Arthur when Angharad chimed in, “Order: State second possibility.”
After a pause, which Tacy could not help perceiving as startled, the Reasoning Machine said, “Two: A personal enemy. Suspect: Mr. Amos Gotobed.”
“Impossible!” Sir Arthur said, and this time, Tacy agreed.
“But he is in prison,” she exclaimed. “Thirty years in Dartmoor, the sentence was.”
Mr. Holmes shrugged. “Order,” he said. “Search newspaper files. Subject: Amos Gotobed.”
“Amos Gotobed. Remitted to Dartmoor Prison, August 1880. Escaped from Dartmoor Prison, February 24, 1883.”
Escaped! Tacy grew cold. A hand took hers—a mechanical hand, hard and chill under its kidskin covering, but the hand of a friend, and she clutched it desperately. Angharad understood. She had been present in her ghostly form the night Gotobed and his thugs had overturned Sir Arthur’s workshop at Cwmlech Manor. With true Cwmlech recklessness, she had leapt into an expensive French automaton Sir Arthur had purchased to study and attacked Gotobed with a hammer. Even though the adventure had ended with the criminal safely locked up in prison, Tacy still woke in the night from dreams of a hulking Gotobed smashing machines and mechanicals and delicate tools as he laughed like the fiend he was.
Oblivious to Tacy’s distress, the Reasoning Machine went on, “Scotland Yard have received reports from Newcastle, Maidenhead, and Aberdeen. It is thought that he—”
“Order: Stop,” Mr. Holmes said, and the Machine fell silent.
Sir Arthur looked stricken. “I borrowed money from Gotobed, you know, after my father died, leaving me without a feather to fly with. I regretted it almost immediately. It seems I am still to regret it.” He lifted his head. “Will you take the case, Mr. Holmes?”
“My dear fellow,” the big man said. “Of course we will. We should be at your disposal by this evening—tomorrow forenoon at the latest. In the meantime, I suggest you report the robbery to the police. Inspector Gregson is the man to ask for. He has called us in several times to consult on one affair or another, and understands our methods. You may use my name.”
The interview was over.
That afternoon, Tacy and Angharad sat in the drawing room, waiting for Sir Arthur to return from Scotland Yard. Angharad turned over the cards of a game of patience while Tacy stared blankly at a monograph she’d been meaning to read by one Peter Cantrip, Esq., DSc(Oxon). It concerned the effects of certain sound waves on metal, a subject of deep interest to her, but try as she might, she could not progress past the first paragraph, or say what had been in it.
Tacy laid the monograph aside, collected her wooden whistle from the mantel, and raised it to her lips. There was a whistle in the library, too, and a clarinet in the workshop, for Tacy found music a great aid to thought, as well as a balm to a troubled spirit. She had tootled her way through one Welsh hymn and was beginning another when Angharad said, “Your clarinet I can bear, but ‘Llef’ upon a pennywhistle is beyond human endurance. Give over, Tacy, my little one, and come watch my play.”
Reluctantly, Tacy set down the whistle and sat at the table where Angharad was shuffling for another game. The mechanical fingers creaked like an ancient beldam’s as she tapped the cards even. Tacy regretted, not for the first time, that the automaton Angharad haunted was only a rich man’s toy, its joints and gears not designed for hard use. The legs had weakened first, then the finger and jaw hinges, so that the rosy mouth always hung slightly ajar.
As Tacy watched, Angharad fumbled the shuffle, spraying the cards broadcast. She cursed blisteringly in Welsh. “Oh, why cannot I have a body like the mechanical detective’s, with its joints like oil and its mouth that could smile did the creature only know how?”
“Perhaps Mr. Holmes will make you one,” Tacy said.
“More important things to do, he has—playing God on the sixth day, for one. In any case, I do not know how a transfer from one body to another might affect me. I did but jest.”
“I know. But perhaps you might let him replace your joints with something better. A pulley more or less cannot make a difference.”
Angharad raised a warning hand. “Enough. If I will not suffer you—whom I love and trust as a sister—to lay hands upon this mechanical body, why would I suffer Mr. Mycroft Holmes, who is entirely unknown to me? I haunted Cwmlech Manor for upwards of two hundred years while it crumbled around me. At least in this new ruin I can be seen and heard and go about the world a little.”
And that was her last word on the subject. Defeated, Tacy gathered up the cards, shuffled them, and returned them to Angharad, who laid out another hand. As they contemplated the new spread, Sir Arthur burst into the sitting room, accompanied by an acrid whiff of fog and a tall, tow-haired man in a checked coat.
“This is Inspector Gregson of the Metropolitan Police,” Sir Arthur said. “Inspector, this is the lady I was telling you of, Miss Tacy Gof.”
Inspector Gregson linked his hands behind his back. “Yes. Your assistant, I believe you said?”
Something in his voice made Tacy lift her chin. “Sir Arthur is too kind. His apprentice, I am, articled before the Guild of Mechanics.”
“I felicitate you,” Gregson said. This time the sneer was clearly audible. He turned his deep-set eyes to Angharad. “And this is the famous Ghost in the Machine.”
Angharad placed a card with mechanical precision.
“I thought it would move more natural-like,” Gregson remarked. “Does it talk?”
“Of course I talk,” Angharad said without lifting her head. “Though not, I think, to you.”
Sir Arthur’s thumb stole to his mouth and he nibbled at it uneasily. Tacy pressed her lips hard to keep from smiling. Gregson flushed brick red, but before he could gather his wits to speak, Sir Arthur’s butler appeared with the tea tray.
Swindon had come into Sir Arthur’s service from the household of the Marquess of Nether Covington. He was a stately man who, Tacy suspected, felt as if he’d come down in the world. Today, in the wake of a theft, and with police in the house, he had something of the air of an early Christian martyr surrounded by lions. He accepted Gregson’s order to gather the servants for questioning with awful courtesy and bowed himself out.
Tacy asked the inspector if he would like tea.
Gregson eyed her with disdain. “This is an investigation, miss, not a tea party. Sir Arthur, if you will show me the workshop, I can get on with my job.”
As the door closed behind Sir Arthur and the inspector, Angharad launched into a thoroughly seventeenth-century rodomontade on the subject of the encroaching ways of the lower classes when given the least measure of power.
Tacy let her rant for a while, then said, mildly, “A member of the lower classes I am myself, look you. There’s nothing he said that has not been said to you before, by gentlemen of learning. You had your revenge on him. Now let it go.”
Angharad lapsed into a sulky silence and Tacy addressed herself to Mrs. Swindon’s excellent salmon sandwiches and Mr. Cantrip’s monograph. She was lost in the effects of sonic wave-length on various metal alloys when Sir Arthur entered, looking worn.
Angharad lifted her head with a click. “I suppose that fool Gregson has clapped Swindon in prison?”
Sir Arthur sank into a chair and thrust his hands through his hair—not for the first time that day, judging from its wild tangle. “He has not. He has, however, driven both Mrs. Swindon and the parlor-maid into hysterical fits.”
“Oh, dear.” Tacy handed him a cup of tea. “Did he discover anything of interest?”
“He did. It seems Swindon is in the habit of playing darts at the Running Footman with a man called Albert Norris.” He sipped. “Tacy, this tea is cold!”
“Drink it anyway.” With an effort, Tacy banished the image of the dignified Swindon at play. “Who is Albert Norris?”
“A coachman, Swindon said. Swindon asked him to supper in the servant’s hall, where, as I understand, he was the life and soul of the party. Ethel was quite taken with him.”
This meant nothing; the maid Ethel was taken with anything in trousers. “A handsome brute, no doubt.”
Sir Arthur set down his cup. “Swindon described him as being of a fleshy habit, tall as a giant and red-faced. Mrs. Swindon mentioned fish eyes and a mouth like a letter-box, but that may be hindsight.”
“Gotobed!” Angharad and Tacy exclaimed in chorus.
Sir Arthur shrugged. “That is certainly what Gregson thinks. It seems this Norris appeared at the Running Footman not long after Gotobed’s escape from Dartmoor.”
It all lined up like ducklings on a pond. After all, Gotobed was a convicted thief. Furthermore, he hated Sir Arthur and would be glad to do him a mischief. Even now, Tacy remembered how the scoundrel had scowled at her and Angharad throughout the trial and how he’d laughed when the judge sentenced him, saying he was sorry that convicts were no longer transported to Australia, as he’d always fancied foreign travel. A pity for Sir Arthur Cwmlech, too, he’d added, and smiled meaningfully.
It was not a comfortable memory.
“If it is Gotobed,” Sir Arthur said, “he might have been employed by someone else. Swindon mentioned Norris being in the service of one Mr. Peter Cantrip, whoever he may be. Though,” he added hopelessly, “I suppose the scoundrel must have been lying.”
“Peter Cantrip! I was just reading—” Tacy handed the monograph to Sir Arthur, who glanced at it without much attention.
“Very interesting. I shall certainly show it to Mr. Holmes when he comes. If he comes.” He let the pamphlet drop and buried his face in his hands.
Tacy grasped his wrist and shook it gently. “Take heart, my dear. It’s tired you are, and no wonder, dealing with mechanicals and police and domestic upheaval, all on top of losing the Engine. We must trust in Mr. Holmes and his mechanical detective, and if they fail us, in our own ingenuity.”
Tacy woke the next morning to a brisk wind, a clear sky, and a smell of boiling linen rising from the yard where Mrs. Swindon was washing sheets. She dressed quickly and came down to the morning room. After days of fog and rain, it was good to see the sunlight playing over the breakfast table, illuminating the London Times Angharad had spread out before her and flashing from the letter knife Sir Arthur plied on the morning’s post.
He did not look as though he had slept well.
A glance at the toast rack established that Mrs. Swindon had burnt the toast quite black. Tacy understood this as a sign that the coddled eggs were likely to be hard as rocks, but took one anyway, piled marmalade on the toast to counteract the taste of carbon, and poured herself a cup of lukewarm tea.
“Nothing from Mr. Holmes, I fear,” said Sir Arthur, “A letter from Mr. Slovinsky in Budapest, asking if his remarks on escapement pins were useful. I must have forgotten to write and thank him.”
Angharad gave a discordant chime. “There’s dull you are, Arthur, with your endless mechanics! Can we not speak of something else? The agony column of the Times is full of interest this morning.” She leaned over the paper. “A gentleman has lost his mechanical dog in the fog, and a lady left her market basket on the Clapham bus. Full of eels it was, all alive-o—at least when she left them. Ah! Here’s a wonder: a medical doctor, lately returned from Afghanistan. Any decent employment considered, it says. A story there is in that, sure as eggs. Medical men do not easily abandon their Hippocratic oaths.”
Sir Arthur, who had been surreptitiously reading his mail, gave a strangled cry and held up a sheet of heavy cream notepaper, his face alight. “From Mr. William Spottiswoode—the president of the Royal Society, you know—an invitation to luncheon! Perhaps he wishes me to speak at the symposium on artificial humanity.” He read further, his brow creasing. “This is odd. He most particularly asks me to bring Angharad with me.”
Angharad turned her doll-face upon him. “Does he? Well, you may write your Mr. President Spottiswoode and tell him the Ghost in the Machine declines to be questioned and poked at and taken to bits, like as not.”
Sir Arthur frowned. “I cannot write that to the president of the Royal Society!” he wailed. “Oh, this invitation could not have come at an unhappier time! What if he wants to see the Illogic Engine? And Mr. Holmes and his Reasoning Machine may be here at any moment!” He turned an anxious blue gaze on Tacy. “What am I to do?”
“Meet Mr. Spottiswoode for lunch, of course,” she said briskly. “And you must go with him, Angharad. Nobody who has spoken with you would think of taking you apart, not for any reason.”
Angharad was silent, glass eyes glimmering slightly. “Well. I’ll charm the old noddlepate—for Arthur’s sake, mind. It may be amusing.”
Tacy knew a moment of pity for Mr. Spottiswoode. “Not too amusing, I hope. Arthur, pray do not concern yourself over Mr. Holmes and his great detective. I will engage myself to answer any questions they may have.”
He smiled at her warmly. “Yes, of course. Bless you, Tacy. We shall go at once.”
After packing Angharad and Sir Arthur off to Burlington House in the steam carriage, Tacy retired to Sir Arthur’s workshop, with the intention of doing a little investigating of her own.
The workshop had been a conservatory when Sir Arthur first took the house, roofed and walled with glass panes, its tile floor cluttered with dying ferns, orange trees in tubs, aspidistra, and sentimental marble statuary. Sir Arthur had replaced it all with bookshelves and tables covered with papers; mechanical instruments; tools; books strayed in from the library; and boxes of assorted gears, springs, escapements, fuses, and fittings. To Ethel, the workshop was a wilderness of tiny objects she was not allowed to move. To Tacy, it was a model of Sir Arthur’s mind and hers. She knew precisely where she might lay her hand on any tool or paper she needed. Or at least she had, before Inspector Gregson had wantonly reduced it to a chaos of paper, brass, and steel.
Tacy picked up a box containing a set of miniature tools, set it on its shelf, gathered an armful of papers, and began to sort them.
As the clock in the church on the corner struck one, then two, Tacy worked steadily clearing the floor. By three, with the room restored to its usual state, Tacy set to examining the window latches with a hand lens. By four, when Swindon brought in the tea tray, she was spreading the inward parts of a guard mechanical across a workbench. Her hair had unraveled down her back, her skirt was streaked with oil and dust, and her cuffs were in a high state of grime.
At the clink of china on silver, she turned. “Oh, Swindon, it’s you! Is Sir Arthur returned?”
“Any word from Mr. Holmes?”
She bit her lip impatiently. “I wonder what is keeping him?”
“I’m sure I don’t know, miss.”
His tone was repressive, but Tacy was too distracted to notice. “I do wish he’d come. I have more data for him, or at least for that mechanical detective of his.” She turned suddenly. “You’re a clever man, Swindon. Tell me what you think.”
The butler’s small eyes widened. “I hardly think, Miss . . .”
“I’ve examined everything,” she went on, “doors, windows, floor—with a hand lens, look you. But apart from the fact of the missing Engine and its notes, I can find no sign of anyone other than ourselves—and Gregson, of course—having entered the room. Do you not think it curious, Swindon, that a thief should leave no trace at all?”
“No, miss,” said Swindon.
“Well, perhaps you are right. Only in romances are thieves so obliging as to leave piles of ash or flecks of mud or monogrammed pocket-handkerchiefs behind them.” She rubbed her forehead, smudging it with oil. “And then there’s the question of the jammed mainsprings. Every clockwork object in the house, Swindon, saving only the kitchen clock, which runs on a pendulum. How could Gotobed possibly know how to jam them?”
She gazed expectantly at Swindon, who frowned. “Perhaps he learned the trick in prison, miss.”
“Perhaps he did. And perhaps he learned patience, as well. For, between the two of us, the Gotobed I knew was a vicious bully. Grievous bodily harm and destruction of property is what I’d expect from him, not a carefully plotted robbery.”
Swindon appeared to give the point some thought. “Perhaps Gotobed did not plot it.”
“Ah!” said Tacy. “Well-thought-of, Swindon! I wonder . . .” She fell silent, her eyes fixed on vacancy. Something hovered at the edge of her mind. If only Arthur would return! She always worked better when she was able to talk things over with him. He wasn’t particularly clear-headed, but he was brilliantly intuitive. And kind, and dear, and . . . Oh, where was he?
“Will you drink your tea, miss?”
To her surprise, the supercilious butler sounded positively avuncular. She blinked at him. “Oh. Yes. Thank you, Swindon. I expect Sir Arthur and Mistress Angharad will be home any moment. Send them in when they come, will you?” She picked up a tiny turnscrew and bent over the workbench again.
At six, Swindon came to collect the tea tray and inquire whether Mrs. Swindon should hold dinner.
Tacy laid down the clarinet, with which she had been endeavoring to soothe her excited nerves. “Yes—wait, no. I’ll take it here on a tray. I confess, I do not know what Sir Arthur is about, to stay so long with Mr. Spottiswoode when the fate of the Illogic Engine is still unknown!”
“As you say, miss.”
“Swindon,” she said impulsively, “you don’t think anything could have happened to them, do you?”
Swindon’s mouth tightened. “I shouldn’t think so, miss. But I could send Ethel around to the Royal Society to inquire.”
Tacy shook her head. “Thank you, but no. I’ll wait a little longer.”
And wait she did, as the workshop grew cold and her heart grew colder. Would stealing the Illogic Engine satisfy Gotobed’s hunger for vengeance? Would he progress to abduction, even murder?
By the time Swindon brought in her tray, Tacy had made up her mind.
“Order a hackney carriage for me, Swindon, please. I am going to Pall Mall to consult Mr. Holmes.”
When Tacy reached Mr. Holmes’s lodgings, the landlady informed her that the inventor was not at home. “He and that Reasoning Machine of his went out yesterday, and not a word have I heard since. The gentleman comes and goes like a mouse, with never a word to me. He’ll be back when he’s back, and not a moment before.”
If Tacy had been the kind of woman who wept with frustration, she would have wept then. As it was, she nodded briskly, hailed a mechanical two-wheeler, and directed it to drive her to the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police in Great Scotland Yard. The police will listen, she told herself firmly as the hansom whirred across St. James’s Park. They have to listen.
Listen they did—at least, to the extent of sending her up to Inspector Gregson’s office without argument. Inspector Gregson, however, received her story with scant sympathy.
“Sir Arthur’s late to dinner, is he?” he said with a rather offensive jollity. “No doubt he’s still putting that fancy automaton of his through her paces.”
“Mistress Cwmlech is not an automaton,” Tacy said hotly. “She is a baronet’s daughter and a lady.”
Gregson shrugged. “As long as she needs to be wound up with a key, she is not a person under the law, and I can take no official note of her absence—unless you wish to report her as stolen property?”
Tacy glared blue murder at him. “And what of Sir Arthur?”
Gregson leaned over his desk. “I will be frank, Miss Gof. Your standing in this matter is uncertain.”
“Uncertain!” Tacy exclaimed. “I am Sir Arthur’s articled apprentice, sir!”
“Apprentice? Oh, come!” Gregson’s tone was jocular. “Pretty young women are not commonly inventors’ apprentices—particularly when the inventor’s father was a notorious rake.”
Shaking with rage, Tacy rose to her feet. “There’s a foul, low mind you keep between your ears, Inspector.”
“That’s as may be,” said Gregson. “It’s nothing to me if you’re his inventive lordship’s mistress. My superiors, however, take a dim view of females demanding attention to which they have no right.” He picked a piece of paper from the jumble on his desk. “If Sir Arthur and his automaton have not turned up in a day or two, you may send word. In the meantime, Miss Gof, I wish you a very good evening.”
That night, the mystery of Sir Arthur, Angharad, and the Illogic Engine kept Tacy tossing in her bed until, abandoning all thoughts of sleep, she drew a shawl over her night-dress and descended to the workshop. Winding up the heater, she aimed it at Sir Arthur’s ratty leather club chair and settled in, determined to think through the case from the beginning.
Annoyingly, her mind drifted to the interview with Inspector Gregson. Mistress, indeed! Was that what the world thought? The idea was ridiculous. Why, Sir Arthur might have been her brother. No, she thought, oddly repelled—her cousin. Dear and much loved—as a relative is loved, of course. He and she worked well together, like perfectly balanced gears. If something had happened to him—or to Angharad or the Illogic Engine—she did not know how she would bear it.
All at once, she burst into a fit of weeping like a downpour in the mountains, all wind and water and thunder. When it exhausted itself, she fell into an uneasy doze and awoke at dawn feeling like a wrung-out tea towel.
A bath and breakfast of pheasant pie and porridge did much to revive her, and by half past seven, she was back in the workshop with a fresh pot of tea, a stack of foolscap, and the silver propelling pencil Arthur had given her for her birthday, ready to think about jammed mainsprings.
She began with a sketch of the bust Sir Arthur had made to house the Engine: a male head based on an antique model, articulated to reflect all the human emotions of fear, introspection, joy, anger, and love that the Engine would allow it to feel and express. It was not a beautiful or particularly natural-looking object. Sir Arthur’s great gifts as an inventor lay in theory and design rather than aesthetics. Around the bust, she sketched the gears, escapements, springs, pins, pallets, and wheels that made up the Engine itself.
Having filled one sheet with sketches, she took up another for a list of things known to snap, stress, or otherwise wear mainsprings. Dirt, she wrote. Excessive tension. Excessive motion. Sound waves. She paused. Had she not recently read something on the subject of metallurgy and harmonics? She rubbed her forehead. So much had happened in the last two days. Oh, yes—the monograph. In the sitting room, it had been, waiting for Arthur to return from the Yard. The author was not familiar to her, but she was sure his name began with a C. Cantor? Cuspid?
Thanks to Gregson’s sad effect on Ethel, the sitting room had not been dusted and the monograph still lay under the chair. Tacy snatched it up. Ah, yes. “The Effect of Sound Waves on Divers Alloys,” by Peter Cantrip, Esq., DSc(Oxon). She carried it triumphantly downstairs and took up a fresh piece of paper.
Some time later, Swindon came in with a tray of sandwiches and fresh tea to find Tacy playing Welsh hymns on her clarinet.
As the tea cooled, Tacy played on, her fingers dancing over the silver keys while the scientific method, Amos Gotobed, revenge, music, theories of harmonics, artificial emotions, the process of building a mechanical, mainsprings, gears, and Angharad’s insistence on clinging to her worn body danced through her mind, arranging and rearranging themselves into different patterns.
The clarinet dropped from her lips. Suddenly she knew, as if she had seen it, how the Engine had been stolen, and was a good way towards determining who had stolen it. Not Gotobed, whatever Gregson thought. What she needed was proof, and she thought she knew how she might get it. No inventor, once having the Illogic Engine in his hands, could resist trying to duplicate or even improve it. For that he would need materials, most particularly a certain finely-machined gear made to Sir Arthur’s specifications by Steyne & Sons. Number 475-S, it was, the “S” for the ten tiny sapphires set in it to prevent wear. There were dozens of them in the Illogic Engine—and a pretty penny they’d cost, too. She’d teased Sir Arthur about buying jewels for his mistress until he hardly knew where to look, poor lamb.
A hasty consultation of the London Directory yielded an address for Steyne & Sons in Shoreditch—not a safe place for a lady to walk alone. And Steyne & Sons were unlikely to look with favor upon a request to open their ledgers to her. It seemed Tacy needed a man—a gentleman, by preference. And she needed him quickly.
She rang for Swindon, asked him for the Times, then went out to the garden to cut a willow branch. When he returned with the paper, neatly ironed, on a silver tray, she was whittling industriously.
He set the tray at her elbow and Tacy snatched up the paper. “Mistress Angharad found an advertisement yesterday—a military man, it was, seeking employment. Ah, here it is! A doctor, too—even better! Swindon, I will send a telegram.”
“Very good, miss.”
Some minutes later, Ethel ran to the post office with the following telegram:
DR JOHN WATSON STOP SITUATION AVAILABLE TO BEGIN ON MUTUAL AGREEMENT STOP REPLY UPON RECEIPT TACY GOF 9 CURZON STREET STOP
Dr. Watson’s reply arrived just as Tacy thought she must run mad with worry. It contained an address on Baker Street, which led her to a cheerful tearoom that smelled deliciously of baking and strawberry jam. Looking about, she saw a lean, slightly shabby figure hunched at a back table and approached it. “Pardon me,” she said. A pair of grave brown eyes rose to her face. “I am Miss Tacy Gof. I believe you are here in answer to my telegram.”
The man scrambled to his feet, holding out a broad, brown hand. “And I am Dr. John Watson. Please sit down, Miss Gof. Would you like tea?”
Miss Gof would—and some food as well, as it was past noon. As the doctor summoned the waitress, Tacy studied him. He had a pleasant face, she thought, with a firm mouth, though his expression was a little stern. His skin was weathered by the fire of a foreign sun and his mustache was touched with grey, making his age hard to determine.
The luncheon ordered, he turned his attention back to Tacy. “Well, Miss Gof. How do you wish to proceed? I will confess before we start that this is my first interview of this kind.”
“Your candor does you credit,” Tacy said in a businesslike manner. “You might begin by telling me something of your history. Where, for example, did you train?”
His first answers were short and factual, but gradually he grew more forthcoming. He was the son of a country gentleman who had come to London to train at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. Upon receiving his qualification, he had joined the army and shipped out to Afghanistan as a surgeon. A badly treated bullet wound had led to a fever that so weakened his constitution that he had been sent back to England.
“And why, if I may ask, did you not hang out your shingle? There are not so many good surgeons in England that you would want for patients.”
“Most patients prefer an older man—I am only five and twenty. Furthermore,” he went on, “I am done with pretending I know anything about healing. My year in Afghanistan left me with an oppressive sense of my own helplessness in the face of the damage artillery can inflict on fragile human bodies. While I was in hospital, I thought I might try my hand at improving the mechanical limbs currently in use by the army. Clumsy, monstrous things they are, forever having to be adjusted. The men hate them.”
Tacy smiled encouragingly. “There’s a fine ambition. And a practical one.”
“Not without extensive training in mechanics, which I can by no means afford. Thus my advertisement.”
“Indeed.” Tacy made her decision. “The position is yours, should you choose to accept it. That will make a beginning, at any rate. I can at least promise you a mystery, and perhaps even an adventure. But first, I must give you a little background.”
Their food arrived, and over Brown Windsor soup and a chop, Tacy recounted everything she thought he needed to know of Angharad and Sir Arthur and the Reasoning Machine. When she had finished, the doctor regarded her with wonder. “An extraordinary story,” he said.
“I suppose it is extraordinary,” she said, surprised, “if you haven’t been living in the thick of it. Just my life, it is to me, nothing out of the way in it at all.”
He nodded thoughtfully. “If I understand correctly, you need a kind of bodyguard-cum-fellow-conspirator to help you find your colleague and your friend.”
Tacy had not thought of doing the finding herself, but as soon as the doctor suggested it, she knew that was what she wanted. No empty waiting, no fearful imagining, no endless explaining. No Gregson.
Her heart lightened. “That’s it in a nutshell, Dr. Watson. Will you do it?”
“I will, if only so I may make the acquaintance of Sir Arthur and Mistress Angharad Cwmlech. What do you need me to do?”
“If you will procure a cab, Dr. Watson, I will tell you as we go.”
After the bright shops of Baker Street, Shoreditch was unrelieved grey. The sky was grey, the streets were grey, the high walls of the manufactories were grey with smoke and soot. The mechanical hansom dropped Tacy and Dr. Watson at a huddle of grey stone structures built around a yard. A smart sign with the words Steyne & Sons painted on it in gold hung over a shop displaying trays of brightly polished gears.
“Only remember,” Tacy said. “Your name is James Watkins, and I am your sister.”
The young doctor looked at her gravely. “I know my part, Miss Gof. Do not be anxious.”
“I am not anxious,” Tacy said. “Should I be caught spying, I will have the vapors. Men can seldom withstand a thoroughgoing fit of the vapors.”
Inside the shop, a clerk approached them inquiringly. He was a small, square man, amazingly hairy as to the jaw and eyebrows and bald as to the head. Dr. Watson introduced himself as a neophyte eager to learn. The clerk, a true enthusiast, professed himself glad to answer his questions, and they were soon deep in discussion.
Grateful, for once, for the masculine prejudice that dismisses all females as more or less decorative featherbrains, Tacy wandered to the back of the shop, where a promising-looking ledger stood open upon a high desk. A wary glance forward confirmed two masculine backs bent over a tray. She drew a small notebook and silver pencil from her bag and prepared to snoop.
Alas for her plan, the desk was too high, the light too low, the angle impossible—Tacy could not see the ledger entries, much less examine them. She nipped around the counter and mounted the clerk’s platform. Ah, that was better!
As she was running her finger down the column of names, the clerk turned to collect another tray. Hurriedly, she ducked behind the desk and peered cautiously around its side. The clerk was holding a tiny, bright gear up to the light to display its intricacies. She turned back to her task.
The ledger was arranged in a series of columns: date of purchase, client’s name and direction, number and description of the items each had purchased. In addition to Sir Arthur’s own orders, the delicate and expensive Number 475-S appeared thrice. One box had been sold to a watchmaker by appointment to the Queen, and two boxes each to two individuals: A Mr. Thomas Edison, with an address in New York, America, and a certain Mr. Peter Cantrip.
Breathless with excitement, Tacy wrote down Cantrip’s direction. She was making a note of the other addresses when she heard the clerk’s voice asking her what she was doing.
Thrusting her notebook in her muff, Tacy stiffened her back and assumed what she hoped was a forbidding expression.
“Well, brother,” she said. “Are you finished at last? I feel one of my spasms coming on.”
Dr. Watson’s face was the picture of brotherly alarm. “To be sure, my dear.” Then, man-to-man: “You understand, Mr. Clovelly, I am sure.”
Mr. Clovelly’s whiskers trembled slightly. “Yes. I mean to say, what are you doing at my desk, miss?”
Tacy gave an awful groan. The doctor hurried over and took her arm. “She is of a hysterical bent,” he confided to Mr. Clovelly. “Restless, you know. I had better get her home. Thank you for your advice. It was most helpful.”
And he strode from the shop, Tacy clinging to his arm, struggling to stifle her mirth until Steyne & Sons was safely out of sight and sound. “Poor Mr. Clovelly!” she exclaimed as they rounded the corner. “I thought he was going to have a spasm on his own account!”
The doctor smiled. “Indeed. I am much obliged to you, ma’am. Mr. Clovelly has given me a thorough grounding in the science of gears and bearings and drive trains, could I only remember it all. Were you able to procure the information you needed?”
“I think so,” Tacy said. “There were three recent orders for the 475-S, but the only one that signified was Mr. Peter Cantrip. Odd it is how his name is constantly turning up, like a worm after rain.”
“Odd, indeed. Where does this Cantrip live?”
“In Spitalfields,” Tacy said. “What sort of district is Spitalfields?”
Dr. Watson frowned. “Not nearly so respectable as Shoreditch. Ladies do not commonly venture there.”
“A blacksmith’s daughter, I am.” Tacy gave him a sober look. “Have you such a thing as a revolver about you?”
Dr. Watson looked startled. “My service revolver is at my lodgings.”
“We will call at your lodgings on the way, then.”
Where Shoreditch smelled primarily of smoke and stone, Spitalfields smelled of humanity: poor, cramped, and unhappy. As Tacy and Dr. Watson’s hansom churred over the cobbles, rats scampered from its path and hollow-cheeked, ragged men and women stared at it with avid, measuring eyes. At length, the cab turned to enter a barren court, stopping in front of what looked to have been a school, set back behind an iron fence. Its windows were clumsily boarded and its bricks were streaked with moss.
Tacy tapped the hansom’s speaking tube. “Will you wait for us?”
“Not in Spitalfields,” the mechanical coachman replied.
“Come, come, Miss Gof,” said Watson cheerfully. “If you can contemplate with equanimity bearding a mad scientist in his den, the streets of Spitalfields need not alarm you.”
“I am not alarmed,” said Tacy, with dignity. “Just wondering I was, how we are to get Sir Arthur away, once we’ve rescued him.”
“One problem at a time, Miss Gof,” he said. “Before we get away, we must get in.”
The iron fence was provided with a stout gate, secured by a bright new chain and lock. Dr. Watson examined it with a businesslike air. “It seems the mysterious Mr. Cantrip does not encourage casual visitors. Have you such a thing as a hairpin about you, Miss Gof?”
“Full of surprises, you are,” she said, and drew one out of her coiled hair. As Dr. Watson knelt to address the lock, she saw a movement in the shadows by the door of the building—a misty figure in a white nightdress of antique cut stained down the left side from bosom to hem. It was a figure Tacy had not seen since Angharad had possessed the automaton, and the sight of it filled her with dread.
She seized the bars and called out: “Angharad! What has that Cantrip done to you?”
Angharad waved her question aside impatiently. “Around to the yard with you—there’s a door open. ’Ware the rats. Hurry, child!”
“Is it Arthur?” Tacy gasped.
Dr. Watson looked around, alarmed. “What is it, Miss Gof? To whom are you speaking?”
Impatiently, Tacy grasped Dr. Watson’s sleeve and pulled him towards a narrow and noisome alley that ran along a brick wall to an even more noisome yard. And there she halted, overcome with horror. For between her and the half-open door was a heaving grey swarm of rats the size of small dogs. As if moved by a single mind, they lifted their noses and advanced upon the intruders.
Dr. Watson snatched his revolver from his pocket, pulled back the hammer, and shot the foremost rat between its shining eyes. The resulting explosion of fur, springs, and cogs did nothing to halt the gray tide, which rolled forward, chittering shrilly.
Shuddering with disgust, Tacy drew the willow whistle she’d whittled that morning from her pocket, put it to her lips, and blew. It made no audible sound, though her ears rang slightly.
The rats fell over and were still.
Dr. Watson gaped at her. “Mechanicals,” Tacy explained briefly. “I’ve jammed their mainsprings. Come on!”
Much to Watson’s credit, he forbore to question her, but kicked a path through the disabled rats to the door. Soon the pair were standing in a bare and ill-lit corridor, cold as a tomb and smelling strongly of damp and machine oil. At the far end, Tacy could just see Angharad floating above the steps of an iron staircase and beckoning urgently like a specter in a penny dreadful.
Tacy sprang towards her, heart thundering. As she set her foot upon the bottom step, a metallic clatter reached her ears from above, followed by a shriek that froze her to the spot.
Watson dashed past her, straight through Angharad, who swore dreadfully and disappeared.
Shaking off her paralysis, Tacy caught up her skirts and sprang after the doctor. She heard Watson shout, “Stand back, or I shoot!” and then she was at the top of the steps and running down a shadowy hall. When she reached an open door, she plunged through it into an atmosphere permeated with metal, spermaceti oil, and high drama. Under the bright cone of an outsized clockwork lamp, Dr. Watson was holding two tall figures in long leather aprons and magnifying goggles at bay with his revolver. They were surrounded by a dizzying array of machines and devices and at their feet lay the bust that had housed the Illogic Engine, open and empty and dented. Behind them, on a metal table, a figure draped in white linen lay ominously still.
Tacy rushed to the table, her heart clacking like a gear train, and pulled back the sheet to reveal a pair of terrified eyes, lambent as pearls, staring up out of a long, pale face half-obscured by a cloth gag.
She whirled to confront the aproned figures and addressed them furiously. “What is Mr. Holmes’s Reasoning Machine doing here? Which of you is Mr. Cantrip? And what have you done with Arthur?”
After a moment’s hesitation, the slighter of the figures cautiously removed the goggles masking its face.
“Hullo, Tacy,” said Sir Arthur Cwmlech.
In the sentimental romances her mother favored, Tacy had often read of a heroine’s heart leaping in the presence of her beloved. She had doubted, as a scientifically-minded and rational individual, that an actual human heart would do any such thing. Yet, at the sight of Sir Arthur, his sandy hair in elflocks and his spectacles askew, Tacy’s heart leapt—or at least gave a great thump—and she realized that she loved him, not as a cousin or a brother or a friend, but as her own true love.
She burst into tears.
“My dear girl,” Sir Arthur said uncomfortably.
Tacy dragged her cuff across her eyes. “Only glad you’re safe, I am,” she snapped, giving him a look with knives in it. “I was picturing you kidnapped or tortured or worse!”
Sir Arthur fiddled with the goggles. “I was kidnapped!”
Realizing that she loved Sir Arthur did not keep Tacy from wanting to shake him until his teeth rattled. “Kidnapped? This does not look like a kidnapping to me.”
“If you will allow me to interject,” the second figure said, “I think I may be able to shed some light on the subject.”
The voice was familiar—urbane, deep, resonant. Tacy had last heard it promising to investigate the theft of the Illogic Engine. “Mr. Holmes!” she exclaimed as the extent of her blindness came clear to her at once. “You’re Cantrip!”—and then, bitterly: “And I am the greatest fool in creation!”
The inventor stripped off his goggles. “Not at all, Miss Gof.” He shot an irritated look at Dr. Watson, who held his revolver trained steadily upon him. “Please lower your firearm, doctor. There is no danger here.”
Dr. Watson frowned. “How did you—?”
“If you wish to abandon your profession, you must stop carrying a stethoscope in your pocket,” Tacy snapped. “Oh, put away the pistol, man. The rascal is right. There is no danger in the world—only a pair of clever-boots with more notions than sense. Arthur, tell me plain: What are you doing here, dressed up like a mad scientist in a pantomime?”
Sir Arthur wore the uncertain air of a dog standing over a chewed slipper. “Mr. Holmes has been most hospitable.”
Tacy gaped at him, bereft of words.
Watson restored the revolver to his pocket, crossed to the table, and removed the gag from the bound figure’s mouth.
“You will regret that,” Mr. Holmes remarked.
The Reasoning Machine propped itself on its elbows and gave a bark of laughter. “It’s you who’ll regret it, Mycroft, when I’ve told them what you’ve done.”
The voice—wild, half-hysterical—was as far from its previous expressionless tones as possible, putting it beyond all doubt that Mr. Holmes had indeed succeeded in introducing the Illogic Engine into his Reasoning Machine.
Watson unbuckled the straps binding the automaton to the table and helped it to sit on the edge, where it hunched with the sheet clutched around its shoulders, gulping like a frightened child. The doctor laid a soothing hand on its arm, whereupon it buried its face in the astonished man’s shoulder with a piteous wail.
Tacy watched this display of unbridled emotion with wonder. The program needed calibration, of course, but there was no doubt that the Illogic Engine worked more or less as she and Sir Arthur had envisioned. Yet, seeing the Reasoning Machine now—distressed, disheveled, and desperate—Tacy could not think of it as a made thing, subject only to the laws of mechanics, but as a living, feeling, suffering fellow-creature.
“I fear my Reasoning Machine is not nearly as reasonable as he was before the introduction of your Illogic Engine,” Mr. Holmes observed dryly.
“I warned you it hadn’t been tested in a working automaton.” Sir Arthur’s tone was defensive.
Mycroft Holmes sighed. “So you did. No, the fault is mine, for being impatient.”
Tacy rounded upon him. “Impatient, you call it? There’s lazy you were, and irresponsible and deceitful, and—yes—cruel! Quite apart from what you have done to that poor creature by there, there’s you tricking poor Swindon into thinking you were his friend, with your darts and your beer and your good fellowship. Then, to abuse his hospitality so! Can you deny that you took advantage of his invitation to dine with him so that you might take wax impressions of the house keys? The poor man is all but prostrate with shame.”
The inventor shrugged his massive shoulders. “There is no shame in succumbing to a superior intelligence.”
“And that diabolical whistle you made!” Tacy went on. “Not only did it disable the guard mechanicals, but it froze every mainspring in the house. How could you know it would not destroy the Illogic Engine as well?”
Mr. Holmes eyed her with reluctant respect. “So you know about my whistle, do you? It was a risk, but not a great one. A very little investigation informed me that Sir Arthur procured the springs for the Engine from Messires Baume et Gaulitet. Their alloys, I have reason to know, are particularly resistant to sonic influence. Have you any more crimes to task me with?”
Really, the arrogance of the man was almost past comprehension. “What say you to the charges of theft and kidnapping? What,” she said, “of murder?”
“Murder?” For the first time, Mycroft Holmes seemed to be at a loss. Tacy knew a moment of triumph.
“What have you done with Amos Gotobed? Never think to deny it, Mr. Holmes. Having arranged his escape to give the police a convenient red herring to chase, you needed to put him out of the way, in case of blackmail. What surer way than to kill him?”
Holmes’s look of bewilderment gave way to one of pure delight. “Well done, Miss Gof! Now I recognize the intelligence behind the elegance of the Illogic Engine’s mathematics. ” He smiled at her like a mastiff confronted with an angry kitten. “All’s fair in love and invention. There was no real harm done by my little deceptions, and perhaps much good. For instance, you may set your mind at rest over the dangerous Mr. Gotobed. I had him conveyed directly from prison to a ship bound for the Antipodes.”
Tacy was unmollified. “No harm! What of Angharad?”
Mr. Holmes’s pale gaze darted, as if compelled, towards the roof beams. Tacy followed it to Angharad, who was perched gauzily among the rafters, dangling her bare, bloody feet like a small child.
“Angharad!” she exclaimed, relieved.
Sir Arthur brightened. “Am I to understand that Angharad is present? I am extremely relieved to hear it.” He peered around him. “You hear that, Angharad? I am very pleased!”
“Would someone,” Dr. Watson said plaintively, “have the goodness to tell me what is happening?”
Angharad drifted down to the workshop floor, eyeing the doctor with disfavor. “I do not believe I have been introduced to this gentleman,” she announced.
“You know very well he can’t hear you, Angharad,” Tacy said crossly. “Dr. Watson. May I present to you the ghost of Sir Arthur’s ancestress, Mistress Angharad Cwmlech? In front of you, she is,” she added as he stared about him, “and a little to the left.”
Obediently, Dr. Watson nodded at what he clearly perceived as empty air. “Your servant, ma’am.”
The Great Detective lifted his head. “I remember,” he exclaimed joyfully. “It was before I began to be interested in things, but I do remember. There was an automaton here—a clumsy, ugly, awkward thing with a voice like a cheap music box. It cursed at Mycroft in Welsh and then it went still and they couldn’t make it go again. It had quite broken down. Mycroft was most distressed.”
Tacy looked from the inventor’s rigid countenance to Angharad. “Do you mean to tell me, then, that he can hear you?”
“See me, too,” Angharad said. “His ghost I am now, apparently. Got more than he bargained for, look you, when he tried to kidnap me. Oh, he meant well, in his way. Offered me a new body, he did, perfectly and everlastingly beautiful. For what purpose, I know not—and my firm opinion it is that he does not know either.”
Holmes’s face might have been carved of pink marble.
“I told him what he might do with his body,” she went on. “If I am to be some man’s chattel, I would sooner it were my great-nephew owned me than yon coc oen. Quite heated, I became—too heated, I fear. One moment, I was scolding that pig-headed tub of lard and the next, I was as you see me now.”
Her filmy bosom rose in a breathless sigh. “Seventeen years of life I had, with my mam after me day and night to mind my needle and my manners. Then there was the war, and the Roundheads and their rifles sentencing me to two centuries of watching Cwmlechs go about their tedious affairs—in my nightdress, look you, with no hope of a change nor anyone to talk to. And if my mam’s rules of ladyhood were burdensome, then those binding a ghost to its curse were more burdensome still. Poor as it was, young Arthur’s automaton gave me the only freedom I’ve ever tasted.”
At this pitiful speech, Mr. Holmes abandoned his pretense of deafness. “My dear lady!” he protested. “My fondest wish is to make a body worthy of you. You may design it yourself, if you wish, down to the smallest detail.”
“Ha!” Angharad was scornful. “Very well that would be, were that body not your property in law to be turned on and off at your will, displayed, sold, or loaned to an institution, like any other machine.”
“Never in the world,” the inventor cried. “You have my word.”
“The word of a scoundrel and a knave!”
Mr. Holmes pulled himself up to his full considerable height. “How if I see to it that you are granted full personhood under the law? Would you accept a new body, then?”
“I would consider of it,” Angharad said with dignity.
“Now that is what I call a handsome offer!” Sir Arthur exclaimed.
Tacy remembered that she was still angry with him. “And I suppose you knew nothing of any of this?”
“My dear girl!” Sir Arthur was indignant. “Of course not! The carriage broke down some way from Berkshire House, so I left James to see to it and hailed a hackney, which drove us here over my strenuous objections. I promise you, I was as distressed as you to discover that Mr. Holmes had engineered the whole.”
“Which is why,” Tacy observed acidly, “I found you preparing to help him dismember the poor Reasoning Machine.”
Sir Arthur raised his thumb to his mouth and nibbled at the nail. “I cannot deny that appearances are against me,” he said after a moment. “At first I was indignant, and refused to answer a single question Mr. Holmes put to me. Then Angharad’s automaton broke down and I felt obliged to do what I could to fix it—for Angharad’s sake, of course. But between working over her together, and his distress when all our efforts failed, and the Reasoning Machine’s reaction to the installation of the Illogic Engine—well, one thing led to another.”
“I see,” Tacy said. And she did. Sir Arthur lived to experiment. For the sake of an untested theory, he would flout convention, bend laws, and fly in the face of common sense. It was this spirit of experimentation that had led him to hire the sixteen-year-old daughter of a blacksmith as his housekeeper, to have her educated and to work with her as a colleague and an equal. It was one of the things she loved in him. “You thought it would be interesting.”
Sir Arthur nodded.
“And the experiment did not work quite as you expected.”
“It did not.” Mr. Holmes, who had been observing all this time, spoke with some feeling.
“Well, you see for yourself.” Angharad indicated the Reasoning Machine, who was following the conversation with a painful intensity. “All full of emotions, the poor creature is, and not a notion what to do with them—like a baby, really. Only more clever. The things he called poor Mycroft!”
“Just so,” said the inventor. “It is quite unable to control its emotions. After some discussion, Sir Arthur agreed to help me remove the Engine until we could design a better model.”
“Mr. Holmes,” Sir Arthur added eagerly, “has some very sound ideas about regulation and control, Tacy. It is his opinion that—”
“No!” The Reasoning Machine’s voice quivered with terror. “I don’t want to be regulated and controlled! They’re my emotions, and you can’t take them away from me!” He clutched at Dr. Watson’s arm. “You won’t let them take my feelings away, will you?”
The doctor looked alarmed. “My dear chap! Of course it is wrong to deny you your emotions, even temporarily. Yet you must know I have no power to stop Mr. Holmes, should he decide to do so.”
“You have a revolver!” the automaton cried. “Threaten him with it, and we will make our escape into the stews of London and live by my wits and your strong arm.” A smile blossomed on his lean face. “I shall be the Emperor of Crime, and you shall be my consort!”
His words were met by an astonished silence, broken by Mycroft Holmes’s rich laughter.
Her temper in shreds, Tacy turned upon him. “The poor creature has a right to his feelings, look you. Though you forced them upon him, now that he has them, a crime it would be to remove them because you find them inconvenient.”
Which, she realized in the silence that followed, could well be said of her feelings as well. Having discovered that she loved Arthur, she could not un-know it again. Nor would she wish to, aware though she was that such an unequal affection must come to nothing. A baronet, even a Welsh baronet, was unlikely to marry a blacksmith’s daughter, particularly if she was his apprentice. Particularly if he regarded her in the light of a younger sister. There was nothing for it but to go home to Mam and think how a clever spinster might keep herself. A schoolmistress, perhaps, or a mechanic’s secretary. She felt very low indeed.
The Reasoning Machine’s pale gaze flicked from her to Sir Arthur. “I do not entirely understand what is happening. But I have a strong feeling that Sir Arthur should kiss Miss Gof without delay.”
Tacy gave a little mew and covered her blazing face with her hands.
“Oh,” Arthur said. And then, “Oh! Of course,” and pulled her awkwardly to him.
Feeling his arms around her and his lips on her hair, Tacy lifted her face, clutched the bib of his apron, and pulled his mouth down to meet hers.
Someone, possibly Dr. Watson, exclaimed “I say!” in a startled tone. She disengaged herself reluctantly.
The Reasoning Machine was wistful. “I wish I had someone to love, too, and a home, and a proper name, like a real person. Jabez would be nice. Or Algernon. Algernon Holmes.” He turned to the doctor. “What do you say?”
Watson gave him a wary smile. “I’ll give it some thought, old chap. But first things first.” He turned his clear brown gaze on the inventor. “You will let him keep his emotions, will you not?”
The big man cast up his hands in defeat. “I will. He must learn to control them, however—he’s all but useless as he is.” He considered Watson. “Do you think you could undertake to teach him?”
The Machine turned a radiant countenance to the doctor. “The very thing! Oh, do say you will!”
“I . . .”
“It is settled, then,” said Holmes. “In his current state, London is likely to be too much for him. I have a cottage in Sussex, near Bognor Regis, quite sequestered from the world. You shall take him there.” He divested himself of his apron and gauntlets. In his shirtsleeves, with his braces showing, he seemed far less formidable, almost human. He fixed Watson with a measuring eye. “Have you any interest in mechanical engineering?”
Dr. Watson looked startled. “Why, yes. Considerable interest.”
“Excellent. I shall give you a grounding in basic maintenance before you go.”
“And I, myself, shall teach you everything else,” the Machine broke in happily. “I know a great deal about mechanical engineering. Do you think there will be bees, Watson? I have a great desire to observe the communal intelligence of bees. Oh, what fun we shall have!”
Here he showed every sign of throwing his arms around Watson and serving him as Tacy had served Sir Arthur. Watson gently deflected the embrace without absolutely spurning it.
Sir Arthur possessed himself of Tacy’s hand. “I think,” he said, “that I should like to go home now.”
But the dawn of reciprocal love had not entirely robbed Tacy of her common sense. “One more question there is to be settled, before we make an end,” she said, turning to Mr. Holmes. “You have our prototype and all our notes. Without them, we can neither refine our work, nor present it to the Royal Society, nor apply for a patent. In short, it will be as if the Illogic Engine was never invented. Unless, perhaps, you intend to present it as your own work?”
The inventor looked shocked. “I may be a thief, Miss Gof, but I am not a scoundrel.” He rubbed his face with his well-kept hands. “Well. It seems we have a great deal still to discuss. Doctor, would you be so good as to walk through that door behind you and put the kettle on the hob? I think we could all use a cup of tea.”
On a bright, chilly spring morning, Sir Arthur and Lady Cwmlech sat at breakfast in the cozy morning room of their house on Curzon Street. Sir Arthur was reading a book he had propped up against the saltcellar and absently dripping egg over his waistcoat. Lady Cwmlech, a plate of toast and marmalade at her elbow, was poring over the flimsy sheets of the popular journal, the Thames-Side Monthly.
Turning over a page, she uttered an excited squeak. “Here it is at last, Arthur!”
Sir Arthur looked up from his book, pale eyes bleary behind his spectacles. The patent application for the Illogic Engine had kept him up half the night. Bad as a new baby, Tacy thought, and smiled. He smiled back wanly. “Here is what, my love?”
“John’s account of the Bootlace Murders. Never tell me you’ve forgotten! Five cobblers strangled with bootlaces and laid out on their benches all neat and tidy, and the police as baffled as sheep at a gate. Last spring it was, just after the wedding.”
“After the wedding,” Sir Arthur said, “I had more important things to think of than deceased cobblers.” He gave Tacy a grin that brought the blood to her cheeks.
“Of course, my dear. But John wrote us about it, remember? Their first case after the move to Baker Street, and so proud he was of how well Sherlock and the police dealt together, after that unfortunate misunderstanding about the purloined letter.”
“Damned silly name, Sherlock,” Sir Arthur observed.
“No sillier than Mycroft, when all’s said and done. None of our concern, in any case.” She gave him a wifely look. “Will I read it to you, then, while you wipe the egg off your waistcoat?”
Sir Arthur stared down at the congealed yolk festooning his chest. “Oh, dear,” he sighed. “Tacy, do you think . . . ?”
Dipping her napkin in her husband’s tea, Tacy dealt with the waistcoat, then rang for Swindon, who bore off the spoiled napery.
“I’m sorry, my love.” Sir Arthur said. “I’ve forgotten what you were saying.”
“The Bootlace Murders.”
“Ah. The Bootlace Murders. I am all attention. Who did the Great Detective deduce had done ’em?”
“There’s pity,” Tacy said severely, “to set aside all John’s hard work in unfolding the mystery step-by-step, with all the characters of the shoemaker’s wife and Inspector Gregson and the man with the limp drawn as clear as life. Furthermore,” she went on, “we are to dine with them tonight, before the concert. Churlish, it would be, not to mention his literary debut.”
Sir Arthur shook his head. “I dare not, dearest. The patent application—”
“Will be the better for an evening’s holiday. A program of Bach, it is. You like Bach.”
“I thought Watson preferred Chopin.”
“He does. But Madame Neruda plays tonight and Sherlock has conceived a keen interest in the violin. He speaks of learning to play.”
“Heaven help us,” Arthur said. “Very well. Bach, Neruda, and dinner, it shall be. And the Bootlace Murders. I do not wish to disoblige John.”
Tacy had just reached the second murder when Mistress Angharad Cwmlech swept into the room on the arm of Mr. Mycroft Holmes, visible to all and very pretty indeed in a plaid walking dress, with a saucy hat perched on her dark curls. Her lips were soft against Tacy’s cheek, if a little chilly.
“Going to a meeting, we are,” she announced, “with Rosebery and Ball, about the Bill of Mechanical Rights. Mycroft”—she cast a proprietary glance at the big man—“thinks it possible it may pass, if we can coax the prime minister into speaking in support.”
Arthur groaned. “But, my work!”
Mycroft Holmes fixed him with a keen and pearly eye. “This is your work, Arthur—or should be. The patent office will wait—this bill will not.”
“Do I not deserve to be a person before the law?” Angharad demanded. “Does not Sherlock?”
“To be sure,” Tacy answered her. “And so do all thinking mechanicals.”
Sir Arthur sighed and rose to his feet. “You are right, of course. Tacy, ring for the carriage. There is not a moment to be lost.”
“The Great Detective” copyright © 2016 by Delia Sherman
Art copyright © 2016 by Victo Ngai