The occasion, on the 11th of November 1896 in Buckingham Palace, is etched upon my memory. We were in the Royal presence for a little more than two minutes, ushered in through a back door and led through circuitous hallways to a magnificent room, the details of which were obscured by my emotions at the time. The Queen, small, frail, and dressed in the plainest and nearly threadbare black silk mourning garb, sat in a wheelchair, dwarfed by her palatial surroundings.
Her voice came in a shrill, croaking whisper, as though each syllable cost her substantial energy and effort. “We have not many years remaining to us, Mr. Holmes,” she said, “and Salisbury here”—she nodded towards the Prime Minister—“tells us that, if it had not been for your prompt and effective actions at the Radnar estate in Dover several weeks ago, my son Bertie would have preceded me in death.”
Holmes inclined his head in a respectful bow. “No more than my duty, Your Majesty,” he murmured.
“I am glad you take that view,” she said. “For I am in need of your services once again. The sixtieth anniversary of my reign will fall within the next year. There will be a series of celebratory events. We shall refer to them as the Jubilee, as we did for the fiftieth anniversary celebration. Some of the arrangements have yet to be made. However, thousands of distinguished visitors from all over the world will attend, and interference of any kind would be a sign of weakness and insecurity within the Empire. I need you to prevent that. Do I make myself clear?”
“Amply, ma’am. I shall do what I can.”
The Queen gave a little sigh, settling back into her wheelchair for a moment. Then she drew herself up again, with a visible effort. “That will no doubt be sufficient,” she said. “You and Dr. Watson may go. Salisbury and I have other matters to discuss.”
I had nearly died serving her in Afghanistan seventeen years earlier. I had returned with my health broken, and I carried within my memory the indelible recollections of the iron gates that I had passed though at the War Office to collect my pension. I remember too clearly the look of pity on the guards who admitted me and the perfunctory smile of the clerk who handed over the envelope containing the seventeen pounds, twelve shillings, and six pence that were to sustain me for the next thirty days. Had it not been for my chance meeting with Holmes, only the Lord knows what would have become of me. More to the point, I reflected, had it not been for Holmes’s subsequent triumphs, I would never have seen the inside of the palace, much less have heard the Queen speak my name.
Now the Queen had given Holmes a mission. I was deeply moved by her small, frail figure and by the Royal will that she exerted with such determination. I had a far deeper appreciation of the loyalty that a sovereign can command than I had known in Afghanistan. As we left the palace, I resolved to assist Holmes in every way that I could.
Holmes never spoke of the meeting.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish