“It’s not a fit night out for mouse nor beast,” grumbled Basil as he slipped and slid and sloshed along the wet streets. A consultation with Inspector Vole at Mouseland Yard had run unexpectedly long and led to his making his return journey to Baker Street in a veritable deluge.
Unfit as the night was, there were a few poor drenched souls like himself condemned to brave the elements. Basil bumped into a couple of them, the stones being too slick and the wind too fierce for reliable purchase on anyone’s part. There were mumbled apologies beneath dark hats and dark umbrellas as everyone went their own way, pace growing quicker as the desire to reach a warmer, drier destination grew more urgent.
Rain poured off the flaps of Basil’s hat, and with every step, his sodden mouse-sized Inverness hung even heavier on his lean frame. His paws and tail were now almost chilled to numbness. Indeed, the only comfort to be had seemed to be thoughts of a cosy fire, a cheese crumpet fresh from Mrs. Judson’s oven, a draw on a meerwood pipe, and a chat with his beloved mate-companion, Doctor David Q. Dawson. When Dawson saw Basil’s waterlogged state he would, no doubt, fuss a bit, as was his stout-hearted and solicitous nature, and that would be quite all right, too.
As Basil neared the door to his mousehole, he heard the strains of a violin. He glanced up, and a familiar human silhouette appeared in window. Disregarding the downpour, he lifted his snout, closed his eyes, and listened intently to what he now recognised as a Mozart solo. The beauty of the music made him smile and at once, all sorts of fantastical scenes began to crowd his mind. His reveries were cut short, however, by the slap of filthy spray from the wheels of a passing hansom.
Basil wiped his face and chuckled ruefully. It seemed the great detective was showing his superior sense once more by remaining indoors on such a night. He tipped his hat to his upstairs neighbour and passed inside.
But Dawson was not there.
Basil’s call went unanswered, and the sitting room was in a state of mild disarray. Surely Dawson hadn’t gone out? But, on second thought, a patient, if the case were dire or dear enough, might draw him out in the worst weather. The absence of a note, however, gave Basil pause. No matter the haste Dawson would’ve left some indication of where he was going. Perhaps he’d left it with Mrs. Judson.
Basil passed through his mousekeeper’s domain, the kitchen, and stopped short of the threshold to her quarters. The door was partially open. Her back was to him. She was hurriedly filling a suitcase.
“AARGH!” The good lady turned and screamed and threw her paws up and crumpled all at once like a wind-up doll with a loose spring.
“Whatever is the matter?” asked Basil, helping her to her paws.
“The doctor said you were mouse-napped!”
“He’s just rushed out to rescue you! I was to go to my sister’s in case, well, in case, the blackguards came here.”
“But how did Dawson get word of this mouse-napping?”
“A note arrived by messenger, not half hour ago.”
“Did you see the note?”
“No, but it put the good doctor in quite a state.”
“Yes, I imagine so, but why would Dawson even believe such a note? It might very well be a hoax.”
“But it had your coin! The one that nice singing mouse gave you, the one that’s always on your watch chain.”
Basil looked down and gasped at the dangling chain.
The coin was gone! He’d worn it to his meeting with Inspector Vole, and he was certain it had been there when he left Mouseland Yard because he’d checked the time, noting the late hour of his departure. Somewhere en route to Baker Street, the coin had been removed without arousing any suspicion on his part.
“Oh, these are clever fiends, indeed,” said Basil under his breath. “What can they be about?” He turned to Mrs. Judson. “Did Dawson say where he was going? Was he going to Mouseland Yard, perhaps, to inform Inspector Vole?”
“No, sir, he said the mouse-nappers told him to come alone, unarmed, and tell no one or you’d be, you’d be….” The rest of the threat died in a sob.
“There, there, Mrs. Judson,” said Basil, offering her a rain-soaked paw-kerchief.
The good mouse-keeper sniffed and wiped her snout and said, “He was going to the train station and take a train to Moussex.”
“That’s where the note said you were being held.”
Basil flew back to the sitting room and found a railway guide, then he looked at the grandfather clock against the wall. “The next train doesn’t leave for an hour. I may be able to catch him.”
“Mister Basil?” Mrs. Judson’s voice trembled, and she wrung the bit of cambric violently between two paws. “Shall I…?”
Basil nodded and waved. “Yes, just in case, go to your sister’s. I’ll send word when everything is resolved.”
No sooner had Mrs. Judson disappeared than there was a clanging of the doorbell, which Basil hastened to answer himself.
“Mister Basil, the detective!”
An envelope was thrust at Basil’s chest. Then the messenger pivoted abruptly, but before he could escape, Basil reached out and grabbed him by the scruff.
It was, unfortunately, only the scruff of the coat, which was thrashed off in an instant, Basil receiving a sharp rap on the snout in the process.
The mouse hurled himself between the wheels of a cab and was seen no more.
“A coat and a note,” Basil mused as he returned inside and closed the door behind him.
So far Doctor Dawson is safe. He’ll stay that way if you do what you’re told. Take the next train to Moussex. Come unarmed. You’ll be met at the station by an associate. Tell anyone of your movements, and the wellbeing of your friend will be in grave jeopardy.
In the envelope, with the note, was a single whisker, and Basil didn’t need to smell the familiar pomade to recognise the crinkle at the tip. Ignoring the clutch around his heart, he went to work, and so instantly engrossed was he in his investigations that he barely heard Mrs. Judson’s anxious farewell a mere few minutes later.
Basil studied the writing. He studied the ink. He studied the paper and the envelope. He studied the dust on both. He performed all these studies swiftly and methodically and in the end, he was left frowning and scratching his head.
“The words say Moussex, but everything else says Gnawpool.”
Basil turned his attention to the coat. Even a cursory glance, not to mention the sodden scrap of ticket in the pocket, said the wearer was a recent arrival from Gnawpool.
Basil consulted the railway guide again. The next train to Gnawpool left from the same station but twenty minutes later than the one to Moussex.
He must hurry.
As a plan began to form in his mind, Basil’s eyes alit on the coat. He stared; then, with a pair of tweezers, he carefully plucked a single white hair from the tweed lapel.
He flew to his microscope.
It was a rodent’s hair, to be certain, but it was too pale and long and coarse to be Dawson’s, and yet the texture of it seemed somehow familiar.
Where had he seen this kind of hair before?
It would have to wait. Time was running out, and he had a train to catch. Two, in fact.
The hansom cab was barreling toward Euston Station at breakneck speed.
“Don’t mention it, Mister Basil. You did my mate an extraordinary turn when we battled that notorious villain from Sumatra, I could do no less for you now that your own mate is in peril.”
The cab hit a bump, and Basil had to grip the wool pocket with all his strength to keep from flying out of his snug seat. The detective’s words, however, had jogged his memory.
“The hair! Now I know where I’ve seen so curious a strand. Our enemy, the Giant Rat of Sumatra! The same unusual texture, the same length, the same markings, but his fur was a dark brown colour.”
Sherlock Holmes hummed. “When I return to Baker Street, I shall compare the white hair to samples I took at the time of the case. If there is a relationship, it could mean danger for both us. Well, here we are, and, thankfully, it has stopped raining.”
“Look! There goes my brother toward the Moussex platform.”
“You are fortunate that he is the mirror image of you, Mister Basil. Even if he desired it, my own brother could not afford me decoy service under any circumstance. Your disguise as wharf rat will do you very well. Godspeed and may you and yours be ravaging my best cheese stock again forthwith.”
Basil’s eyes scanned the platform. Then he spotted them: two grey mice who were expertly feigning disinterest in the worried, Basil-looking mouse boarding the train to Moussex.
Basil watched as the mice themselves climbed onto the train. He waited, uncertain of his next move, but at the first jerk of the hulking machine forward, the two mice reappeared, dropping to the ground and scurrying away.
Basil followed them at a safe distance.
They were heading for the Gnawpool platform!
Basil took a shortcut across the tracks, deftly dodging murderously turning wheels. He arrived before the mice at the Gnawpool train. He was on the opposite side, moving slowly alongside the car towards them. Just as they disappeared into a car, something heavy struck him.
Holding his head with one paw, Basil looked down.
A mouse-sized pocket watch! And one he knew as well as his own!
After he retrieved the watch from where it had fallen, Basil could not resist opening it and reading the inscription.
To my beloved Dawson. You are my fixed point in a changing age. I’d be lost without you. Yours ever. B.
Basil looked up. He could see nothing but a narrow window which was slightly cracked, but he knew that Dawson was somewhere on the train. He, or his captors, had been responsible for the hurling.
Basil leapt aboard as the deafening whistle gave its final scream.
In no time, Basil had found them, Dawson and his four captors, in a back corner of a shelf in a luggage car. The fiends had pulled Dawson away from the open window and were in the process of stuffing his bound form into dark drawstring sack.
Basil’s blood boiled to see the lumpy bundle being handled so roughly by the two grey mice and two much larger, more formidable grey rats, but he kept his distance and his wits about him. The undulations of the sack were reassuring. While Dawson was still breathing, there was still time to think of a plan.
A human porter arrived with a suitcase. Dawson’s captors instinctively stilled at the intrusion, but Basil took advantage of the noise to exit the car and lay a trap, one to which he hoped that four rodents facing a lengthy train journey could not fail to yield.
His task complete, Basil returned and managed to quietly insert himself into a tiny space between two hat cases on the topmost shelf of the luggage car. The shelves were no more than slats, and Basil could easily peer through a gap and watch the proceedings below.
One of the rats sniffed. “Smells like wharf rat.”
His companion guffawed. “That’s you, Tooth. Heh, heh.”
The retort earned the rat a sharp look. “Shut up, Squeaky.”
One of the grey mice, in fact, the messenger who’d brought the note to Baker Street, whined.
“Are we there yet?”
“We just left, pup! Three hours more—if we’re lucky!” said Tooth. “Six, if we’re not.”
“I’m hungry,” grumbled the other mouse.
“You and Pippy go look for some vittles!” ordered Tooth. “And don’t come back empty-pawed and full-cheeked, eh?”
The mice did return full-cheeked, but they were also pulling a large mound which was loosely wrapped in brown paper. “Look at what we found!” they squeaked.
The rats’ eyes widen. They licked their lips and pounced on the pungent treasure.
Soon the four rodents were fast asleep. As Basil had anticipated, their gluttony was greater than their intelligence or sense of self-preservation; they hadn’t noticed the slight bitter flavour, the result of the sleeping tincture with which he’d doused the cheese.
It was time to put his plan into action.
Basil scurried to one of the passenger cars. When he’d first boarded the train and was looking for Dawson, he’d remembered seeing a human child with a toy mouse in a brown suit. The creature bore a striking resemblance to Dawson himself. It was nothing to steal the toy and return to the luggage car.
Basil tip-pawed silently around the sleeping rodents. He gave Dawson’s bound form a reassuring squeeze as he secured a rope harness ‘round his bound form. Dawson, a veteran of many such dire straits and near escapes, leaned a bit into the touch but said nothing.
Basil flew to his former perch with the rope and fashioned a pulley and pulled.
When Dawson was raised to the top shelf, Basil carefully divested him of the sack, then even more carefully untied him. Dawson didn’t protest when Basil exchanged his suit for the toy mouse’s. Then Basil tied the toy mouse in the same manner that Dawson had been tied, put the toy mouse in the sack, and lowered it down to the centre of the sleeping throng. With a jostling of the rope, the loose harness gave way, and Basil quickly raised the rope.
By this time, Dawson had rubbed the circulation back into his limbs and was ready, able, and eager to follow Basil out of the luggage car.
They said not one word to each other until Basil had found some human perfume in a first-class car. He doused and himself and Dawson, then selected a large hat box for their hiding place.
“Oh, Basil!” cried Dawson when they were finally alone, in the dark, beneath the wire dome which maintained the hat’s centre shape. “You’re all right! How did you escape?”
“I didn’t need to escape because I was never caught, my dear Dawson. It was all a ruse.”
Dawson smacked his head. “And I fell for it! But the coin?”
“It must have been taken off me by a very skilled pickpocket on the way home. Here’s your watch, by the way.”
Dawson smiled. “Got your attention, did it?”
“It did, indeed.”
“It wasn’t much of a breadcrumb, but it was all I had that you might recognise as mine alone. Those blackguards weren’t none too pleased to discover I’d wiggled out of my bonds, but when I saw you down there, I knew I had to do something.”
“You’re a very brave mouse, Dawson.”
Dawson’s nose turned a charming deep pink. “You’re a very clever one, Basil. But how in heavens did you come to be at the Gnawpool platform at all?”
Basil quickly told him of the note and the coat and the rest of events leading up to the rescue.
“But poor Moorcroft! I overheard my captors, Basil. There is another crew of ruffians waiting at Moussex station to waylay you as they did me at Euston.”
“Don’t worry, my dear Dawson. Moorcroft, as you well know, is the smarter of the two of us; he would excel at any discipline, but he simply cannot be roused from his state of inertia by anything short of life or death. Which I made clear that this was in the pigeon-graph I sent him from Mister Holmes’ roof. No, don’t trouble yourself a moment about him. Moorcroft can handle anything—for a short span of time, of course. He’s hopeless at anything requiring long intervals of activity. Nevertheless, long before the train reaches Moussex, he will abandon his disguise, drop off the train, and return to London.”
“I suppose they dared not waylay us both at Euston.”
“Yes, it appears ‘divide and conquer’ was the strategy, but it failed. I just wish I had a clue as to what it was all about. The white hair on the mouse’s coat is highly suggestive.”
“But the Giant Rat of Sumatra is dead! We saw him die with our own eyes.”
“Very true. Did you captors let slip any clues as to who was organising this scheme?”
“Does the name ‘Clancy’ mean anything to you?”
“Clancy!” Basil tapped his snout. “Yes, it does, especially since we are on a train bound for Gnawpool.”
“One of the rats was disgruntled because someone named Clancy had been paid more than he had. The other one said that to get Clancy to leave Gnawpool it would have to be a king’s ransom. Then the first one, the one called Squeaky, implied that, well, this Clancy wasn’t altogether sane.”
“He’s right. Clancy is mad.”
“Oh, great!” groaned Dawson. “Are there any sane mice about these days?”
“Clancy’s not a mouse. He’s a mole, but he’s the most curious mole you’ll ever come across in your life, Dawson. He likes to dig.”
“But all moles like to dig!”
“But do all moles like to blow up their tunnels when they’re finished digging?”
“Oh, yes! Every so often in human newspapers there may be reports of ‘seismic activity’ beneath Gnawpool, the earth shaking and quaking and mysteriously caving in on itself, sometimes in extraordinarily large areas.” Basil huffed. “It’s all the work of Clancy. The more intricate the tunnel and the more explosive the end, the better. And after Clancy’s done a ‘big boom,’ he goes, well, even further to ground and lies low for a while. Any attempts to catch him or trap him have failed. And he never learns his lesson. After a couple of months, maybe even a year, he’s back at it: digging and destroying. We crossed paths in my earlier years as a detective. I even did him a good turn once, thinking he might give up his ways, but alas, no. His demolition obsession runs deep, but, as far as I know, he’s never, ever been tempted to leave Gnawpool.”
“I wonder where he’s going.”
“And I wonder who’s paying him to relocate.”
Dawson stifled a yawn. “What is the plan for us, Basil?”
“Follow your gang of captors to whomever is behind this scheme. If they are as unobservant as I suspect, they won’t notice the switch of their hostage until it’s far too late, but if they do notice and instigate a search, this perfume should throw them off our scent. Have a kip, Dawson. you’re going to need all your strength for what lies ahead.”
“Very well,” said Dawson, now not bothering to conceal his yawn. He relaxed into Basil’s embrace and was soon fast asleep.
“Here we are,” said Tooth, tagging on a clumsy ‘sir’ to the end of his announcement.
Basil had been correct in his estimation of the gang’s powers of observation. He and Dawson followed the four, carrying the sack while giving every indication of being thoroughly oblivious to its genuine contents, from the train station to a hill and then through a series of tunnels.
Though his eyes were keen, Basil had to strain to distinguish the tracks in the dirt as they took one fork and then another. Eventually, he and Dawson were advancing paw-in-paw, with Basil marking the tunnel walls with a stick of phosphorescent chalk, one of the many provisions, including a loaded revolver, he’d wisely tucked in his pockets before leaving Baker Street.
Basil and Dawson slowed their pace when the darkness began to lift, and finally, when they heard movement beyond mumbled complaints and the dragging of the toy captive, they stopped.
A ghoulish cry of glee echoed long and shrill. “Oh, goody!” Then there was a dramatically disappointed sigh. “Oh, it’s you lot. I suppose this is not that pesky interfering Basil of Baker Street? No, but it is the next best thing, his dawdling Doctor Watson! Ah, well, very soon, I’ll have a matching set and then things can get underway, can’t they? Well done, lads. Oh, Mister Clancy? Mister Clancy! Pack your toothbrush, good sir, and your best brolly! I hear it’s raining doctors and detectives in London-town!”
There was a grunt of reply and then, unexpectedly, a burst of song.
Oh, what can I say,
‘bout that long-ago day,
when I heard of my cousin’s demise?
Oh, the dismay,
‘bout the untimely way
he met with a fatal surprise!
‘O vengeance be mine!
I’ll skewer the swine!’
I cried when I heard the news.
‘I’ll scourge like a Tartar!’
[and after all, I’m much smarter!]
And so I set off on an avenging cruise!
As the chanteur paused for breath, Basil pressed the revolver into Dawson’s paw. Then he swiftly removed all his garments and dropped to the floor of the tunnel. He rolled and writhed as quietly as possible, thoroughly coating his grey fur with dirt. Then he flattened himself to the ground, tucking whiskers and tail beneath him, and inched very, very slowly ‘round the bend.
No one looked Basil’s way. All eyes were on an enormous white rat with hideous pink eyes, hideous pink inner ears, and a scaly and most hideous pink tail. The rat was crooning and dancing as if on a music hall stage.
At first it was easy,
Sails full and winds breezy
Like a cheesy
But then I needed a lackey
and I found one in Jacky
a lad as rotten as maggot parfait!
and we schemed
and we schemed!
How to slaughter that Holmes,
leave not a scrap on his bones
‘twas the raison d'être
and if that meddling Basil
was rattled and stewed
in a broth seasoned rude,
well, that’d be a wonderful extra!
And now the time’s here.
The hour draws near.
My late cousin will, at last, get his reck’ning!
Will go BOOM-BOOM! Hee hee!
A blast from the past!
Wrecking all, wrecking fast!
A revenge that no one’s expecting!
Not until it was all over and Basil and Dawson were both back safe and sound in their London address was Basil to learn the rest of the song.
For the time being, he kept one eye on the white rat but the other on the dark figure of a mole who seemed to be the only creature in the audience not enraptured with the performance.
Later Basil would conjecture that it must have been the hideous pink eyes of the rat which held the other mice and rats spellbound. There was something about those pale rose orbs that fixed the spectator with dread, daring the curious to not look away. Even Basil found himself staring more than once, but the mole, being blind, was, of course, immune such things.
Slithering like a serpent, skirting the perimetre, hidden by shadows and the detritus that formed the makeshift furnishings of the cave, Basil made his way towards the mole just as the mole appeared to be conveniently taking his leave down a side tunnel.
Basil followed the mole into utter darkness and only when the song was very faint did he venture to whisper,
“Clancy? It’s Basil. Basil of Baker Street. Do you remember me?”
There was a soft, earthy chuckle. “I never forget a voice, m’boy.”
Ol’ cuz had a dream
a no-fail, much-wail scheme
to take over
the en-ti-re world!
With but a smear from his rheumy eyes
he sent men to death-agony-cries!
Bring crews to their knees!
Begging to please
his wicked design
Which is now MINE, all MINE!
Thought I haven’t quite so sickening a touch
And I don’t want quite so much
Just a morsel of vengeance served chilled
A pair of sleuths killed
But as aperitif
let’s start with this
“What? This isn’t Doctor Dawson! It’s a toy mouse! Oh, you fools! Heads will roll, I tell you, roll—!”
“And then, of course, they did, but not in the way that the Rat imagined,” added Dawson by way of a coda.
There was laughter and applause and gasps of wonder as Dawson, swathed in a costume of Mrs. Hudson’s white napkin decorated two pink marzipan dots and pinned with a long pink ribbon of a tail, took a bow.
Though Dawson often called Basil a master of disguise, it was Basil’s private opinion that the comedic stage lost a very fine actor when his mate-companion chose the profession of medicine.
Basil and Dawson had been invited upstairs for a scrumptious feast following their return from Gnawpool, and Dawson had just finished his re-enactment the performance of the Great White Rat of Sumatra as he’d heard and seen it in the tunnels.
“So the plan was to blow Holmes up,” said Doctor Watson, “as revenge for the killing of the original Great Rat, who, I might add, had also been trying to kill Holmes—"
“Kill me as well as a great number of others,” interjected Mister Holmes, “albeit in a slightly more sinister and abstract way.”
“Yes,” said Basil. “But the Great White Rat needed Dawson and I completely out of the way so that he and his band of villains and his demolition expert could occupy our mousehole.”
“And he was a cousin of the Rat we killed?” said Doctor Watson. “A curious inheritance of theirs,” he added wryly. “A vendetta against you, Holmes.”
Holmes chuckled. “I suspect the family tree was rotten before I came along, Watson.”
“And Dawson and I were added to the list of enemies because of our role in the Sumatra case,” continued Basil.
“But how did you convince this mole, this Clancy, to blow up the Rat?” asked Doctor Watson.
“Well, I called in an old favour.”
“Always a good tactic,” said Mister Holmes.
“Then I appealed to his,” Basil sniffed and shrugged, “baser nature, and by that, I don’t mean greed. I think that’s where the Great White Rat failed. Clancy really is quite devoted to his native soil, no matter how much he enjoys disturbing it. The Great White Rat merely came along when Clancy was unusually bored and susceptible.”
Doctor Watson grunted and cast a knowing look at Mister Holmes, the latter of which Basil politely pretended not to notice.
“So, when I explained that he might have just as much amusement blowing the Rat himself and his pals up and that such diversion would not require him visiting, what was it you called it, Doctor Watson?”
“That great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained?” suggested Doctor Watson.
“Precisely. Clancy saw the appeal at once. And he had all the materials at paw. In recognition of the good turn I’d once done him, he gave Dawson and myself a small amount of time to vacate the premises, which we did, forthwith, guided by lines of phosphorescent chalk.”
“So, my invention came in handy?” said Mister Holmes with a smile, then his brow furrowed. “Or is it paw-dy?”
“Life-saving,” said Basil. “Dawson and I had just surfaced when Clancy decided to indulge his favourite pastime. BOOM!”
“And that was that,” said Dawson. “But in all my years, I’ve never seen anything like it. The hillside puffed up and then caved in, just like a cheese souffle, and bits of mouse and rat came bubbling up.” He grimaced.
“I’m afraid for the purposes of studying the villain’s biology, it was not an ideal resolution. The only substantial piece of Great White Rat left to be recovered was an ear and his tail.” Basil cast an apologetic glance at Holmes.
“Useful specimens, nonetheless. There was even some hair attached,” said Holmes. “I’m more concerned about this Jacky mentioned in the song.”
“He’s still at large,” said Basil. “He’s a young human that the Great White Rat met on board a ship who, apparently, also has a grievance against you, Mister Holmes, but I never saw him so I can’t provide any particulars. He was to oversee the transport of the Rat, the Rat’s crew, Clancy, and all the necessary equipment and explosives to London.”
“Holmes, do you think it might be…?”
“Ferguson’s son? The jealous lad who tried to kill his infant half-brother with South American poison-tipped blow darts? Could be. Though Jack’s a common enough name, even among my known sea-faring adversaries, I suppose.”
“Is he dangerous?” asked Dawson with a quiver in his voice.
“Perhaps, but if it is Jack Ferguson, he’s unlikely to come after you two,” said Mister Holmes. “You’ve done extraordinarily well in vanquishing my rodent foes, leave the human ones to me. And Watson, of course. Really, you’re both to be commended.”
Basil’s chest swelled with pride, and he helped himself to another grape.
When the party broke up, Dawson and Basil returned to their hole laden with two heavy bundle of crumb-treats. Just as they had settled themselves by the fire and were fiddling with their pipes, they heard a crack of thunder and the first hard patters of rain.
“It sounds like a storm is brewing,” observed Dawson.
“It does, indeed,” said Basil. “I’ll wager that very soon it shan’t be a fit night out for mouse nor beast.”
“Then do let’s stay in, Basil.”
“Together,” agreed Basil.
And as if on cue, a lovely bit of Mozart sounded from above.
Basil reached out and covered Dawson’s paw with his. Then he closed his eyes and smiled and said,
“Burns was right and wrong, Dawson, about schemes.”
“Gang aft agley—but not always—it all depends on the mouse.”