It was mid-autumn of 1915 when I, having had a rather vicious spat with my aunt, found myself pedaling to Holmes’ cottage at a much later hour than I usually would even consider arriving. The sun was well below the horizon, the last faint rays dying away, as I turned up the drive that led to his door.
To my mild surprise, there was an automobile parked in front, London plates. It was not unusual for Holmes to have visitors in the evenings, of course; even in the earliest days of our friendship I had discovered that he was not, perhaps, so uninvolved in the War effort as he would have me believe. Nonetheless, I knew he’d had visitors not two days ago-- also from London, judging from the mud in the tire tracks-- and it was unusual for him to have a guest more than once a month. I would have supposed it to be Dr. Watson, if I hadn’t met him earlier in the autumn and known exactly what sort of automobile he drove.
It was with these thoughts in my head that I slowed my pedaling and allowed myself to coast, quietly, to the door. It wasn’t that I intended to eavesdrop, per se. I knew quite well that Holmes’ visitors were usually not the sort one listened in on. I had once encountered Vernon Kell on my way into Holmes’ cottage, before Mrs. Hudson intercepted me and sent me to the Monk’s Tun to pick up luncheon; another time it had been a somewhat grubby-looking fellow in a suit that I didn’t recognize at all until days later, when I came across his photo in the newspaper. All of them, however, had visited during the day; I was quite curious as to what sort of government fellow would visit at night.
I was just dismounting when a voice, a woman’s voice, erupted from inside. “You simply must speak with Blinker! I have outlined my rationale quite clearly for you, and I know you agree with me.”
The voice was cultured and aristocratic, except for a harder edge to it that spoke to me of a lower class lifestyle. It was, of course, possible that I was wrong; my work on accents was, in Holmes’ opinion, sloppy and unsystematic. I had several of his monographs on the subject piled next to my bed at my aunt’s house, currently useless to me. I paused, hoping to hear more of the conversation, one leg resting awkwardly on my bicycle seat in mid-dismount.
“I may agree with you, but that does not mean I can simply walk into Hall’s office and demand that he bring you in,” Holmes replied, his tone even.
The woman made a frustrated sound, a heavy grunt of disapproval. “Stars and garters, Sherlock, it’s not like I’m asking you to get me work for which I’m unqualified. Blinker Hall has brought in a handful of ladies, lovely girls, whose entire experience with codebreaking is deciphering their husband’s terrible handwriting! You know I could be useful to him.”
“He is only bringing in people he knows. Well, he knows you. Everyone knows you.”
“You exaggerate. I have never met Hall before. I will not simply walk into his office and begin making demands.”
“You know Kell. Talk to Kell. Kell can send it on up the ladder.”
“Kell and Hall are in completely different branches of the government, Enola,” Holmes said with a long-suffering sigh. It seemed to me that he had explained this before, going by the weariness in his voice.
“Different, yes, but working towards the same end. Please, Sherlock. You know how useful I could be. You know how important this is.”
Holmes sighed again, and I heard the furniture shift. I imagined him standing from his seat, perhaps approaching the woman. She sounded as desperate as some of his clients from Dr. Watson’s stories, albeit with a bit more fire in her voice than the more simpering ones (oh how I had hated Mary Sutherland as a girl!). I found myself hoping he could do something for her, whoever she was. Carefully, I eased my leg off the bicycle seat, setting it upon the ground once more.
“It is not that I doubt your abilities. After all these years, you know it is not that. I merely wonder about the timing.”
One of the chairs in the sitting room made an abrupt screeching noise. In my mind’s eye, I could see her standing up, abruptly and angrily, and her voice confirmed my imagination.
“Don’t make this about Cec, Sherlock. Don’t you dare.”
It was in that moment, of course, that the conversation halted, just as the tire of my bicycle let out a small whine as I eased it forward. I winced; I had been witness to Holmes’ excellent hearing before, and I couldn’t imagine him having not heard that. To my astonishment, however, it was not Holmes that summoned me inside, but the woman, her voice still taut as she said, “Also, there is a girl standing outside who has been there for the past minute. I assume you know her, and that’s why you’re letting her continue to eavesdrop?”
I cringed further. Apparently I had not been nearly as subtle as I had wished. I had just undergone yet another growth spurt, having gained an inch with which I was not yet comfortable. I braced my bicycle against the side of the cottage, as I had been in the process of doing, and let myself into the Holmes’ home, trying not to feel overly ashamed. I made my way to the main room and, before walking in, set my shoulders back and lifted my chin.
Holmes was sitting in his basket chair, fingers steepled in front of his mouth, not concealing his smirk at all. I gave him a brief glare, for allowing me to flounder so, and then looked at his guest.
The woman (Enola? That couldn’t possibly be her name, it was entirely too strange) was standing in front of one of the wingback chairs. She was tall, even taller than myself, with a large, beaked nose and sharp, grey eyes. Her brown hair was pulled back into something vaguely Edwardian, high upon her head, although wisps had escaped the pins and were flying everywhere. Her temples were slowly giving way to a shock of white. I still found age difficult to pinpoint, but I thought her to be in her late thirties, or maybe her early forties. Her calf-length brown skirt was of the most recent fashion, as was her white blouse, which had a strange brooch pinned at the neck. Her hat was tipped in a distinctly jaunty manner, though I supposed it could have always been dislodged somewhat in her travels. Her gloves, suit jacket, and coat, I noticed, were tossed haphazardly on the floor. Fashionable, yes, but not so concerned with clothes that it was all consuming.
“You must be Miss Russell,” the woman said, stepping forward and extending her hand. I shook it automatically. “A pleasure. I’ve heard a great deal about you, of course.”
Her grip was strong, but not as dominating as I might have expected from a woman with that straight a back, such clear eyes, and so sharp a tongue. I looked past her, at Holmes. “A relative of yours, I presume?”
Holmes inhaled, beginning to reply, but the woman cut him off with a loud laugh. “I would compliment you on your powers of observation, but then, this doesn’t leave much to deduce,” she said, gesturing flamboyantly at her nose. “My name is Enola Holmes; I am Sherlock’s sister.”
The pronouncement, said so matter-of-factly, took the breath out of me. Of course I knew about Holmes’ brother, that seemingly omnipotent character from the stories, though I had never met Mycroft Holmes. And I had seen the family portrait Holmes had by his desk when I first met him, but there was no girl in that photograph, just a steel-eyed woman, a distant looking man, and two boys. I had not known Holmes long, of course, and it wasn’t as though he’d shared family secrets with me, but- a sister?
Miss Holmes laughed again, a chuckle this time, a tad more genteel. “I’m afraid I’m a bit of a black sheep. Sherlock wouldn’t mention me unless it were absolutely necessary, and he carries nothing of mine in his home. Not to worry, you haven’t missed any pertinent clues.”
“You have made it clear I’m not to mention you, Enola,” Holmes said waspishly, finally joining the conversation with a frown. “You were quite insistent that I let you make your own way, without the Holmes name to burden you or ease your way. Which is why,” he added, “I find your request now so unlike you.”
“Not the time, Sherlock. We can return to this discussion later,” Enola said dismissively. “For now, tea I think? Miss Russell looks a bit done in.” She turned and sat down, beaming up at me. I’m afraid I rather gawped at her, however. Her observation wasn’t very off the mark at all. I was tired from my flight from my aunt’s house, and found myself floundering in the conversation, with none of my usual topics to rely upon.
Holmes rolled his eyes, muttering, “I did not invite either of you for a visit,” but he rose anyway and disappeared into the kitchen, presumably to make some tea, or perhaps to rouse Mrs. Hudson to handle it instead. I suspected he would make it himself, however, if only to give him time to regain his footing.
Miss Holmes waved at the sofa across from her. “Please, sit,” she said. “I’ve been hoping to meet you, of course. Watson had such wonderful things to say about you.”
I sat down gingerly, on the edge of the sofa, for the first time finding myself ill at ease in Holmes’ home. “You’ve spoken to Dr. Watson?” I asked.
She waved a hand in the air, a gesture so very Holmes-like that my small doubts began to disappear. “We talk frequently on the phone; after his last trip up here, he actually came to visit me. You’ve made quite an impression, I must say.”
I lifted my chin higher. “The doctor is a kind man. I found him to be lovely, and enjoyed his visit immensely.” I paused, and then added, pointedly, “He mentioned nothing of you.”
Miss Holmes laughed again, throwing her head back. A few more strands of hair slipped from her pins, and she reached up and tucked him haphazardly into her hat. “No, he wouldn’t have. He said similar of you, by the way: lovely, enjoyed your visit, etcetera. Though he had many other insights to share with me as well,” Miss Holmes said, somewhat cryptically. Her angular face eased somewhat, and she leaned back in her chair, eyes sparkling. “Please, Miss Russell, tell me how you met my brother?”
My feet on firmer ground, I allowed myself to sit back on the sofa and told her the story of my walk on the Downs, my inattention nearly leading me to tread upon Holmes, our subsequent volley of snark, and my coup de grâce in our battle and what my victory won me. By the time I had finished the story, Miss Holmes was laughing so hard she had tears in her eyes, I had a broad grin on my face, and Holmes was back with the tea.
“Ah,” he said, and sighed. “I see Russell is telling tales.”
“Holmes,” I protested, and reached to accept my cup of tea. “I would never tell tales. I merely told your sister the full facts of our first meeting, unembellished.”
Miss Holmes took her tea as well, smiling brightly over the rim of the cup. “It’s good to know that some of your blind spots haven’t changed, Sherlock,” she said. She winked at me and added, “Sherlock must have walked past me while I was in disguise at least a dozen times, while he was actively looking for me.”
“I wasn’t in disguise,” I corrected, feeling a need for complete honesty. “I simply prefer the practicalities of male dress.” I made sure to simply take a sip of my tea rather than cast a glance at her gloves, hat, coat, and skirt, all embroidered and fashionable and completely impractical if one wanted to move at all.
She was her brother’s sister, however, because my studied attention to my tea didn’t go unnoticed. I saw her quirk an eyebrow, open her mouth, and then seemingly change her mind, for her mouth closed once more.
“Russell, I don’t believe telling Enola that you weren’t in disguise actually helps my reputation,” Holmes said. His tone was annoyed, but I could tell he was enjoying himself. His eyes went back and forth between myself and Enola, a smile toying at the corner of his mouth.
“You’re out of practice, Sherlock. It’s quite all right,” Miss Holmes said sympathetically, reaching over and patting Holmes on the knee.
The evening continued in much the same vein, with Holmes and Miss Holmes trading toothless barbs about detective work. I allowed myself to relax into my chair and just watch while they spent a truly amusing twenty minutes debating deductive reasoning versus inductive reasoning and which one was more common, and useful, in detective work. Then they moved on to the process one used to solve a kidnapping (which Miss Holmes had very strong opinions about, I was surprised to note), and then further on to what one studied to become an excellent detective. Holmes argued for chemistry and anatomy and geology; Miss Holmes argued on behalf of psychology and gossip and social trends. I occasionally chimed in with my own thoughts, as unformed and untested as they were, but both Holmeses took my views seriously, even if they then proceeded to strip them apart. For a while, parts of the conversation were conducted in a mix of languages, ranging from French (which both Holmeses spoke fluently, apparently) to what I took to be Polish, then German, Spanish, and Dutch in rapid succession, until I told them in Hebrew to please stop showing off.
It was oddly pleasurable, similar yet dissimilar to the day I had spent with Holmes and Dr. Watson. I felt comfortable, included, as I had when the good doctor visited, but nor did I feel like I ever understood fully what was happening. It struck me, toward the end of the evening, that they both seemed to be speaking about something else entirely even as they discussed detection.
My impression was confirmed when, after the tea had gone cold and the fire run low, Holmes slapped his hands on his knees and said, “Very well, Enola. You shall have your way. As usual.”
Miss Holmes smirked and nodded, rising. “Thank you, Sherlock. Was that so difficult?” She began gathering her items of clothing, sliding gracefully back into her jacket and then her long coat. As she tugged on her gloves, she turned to me and said, “It truly was a pleasure meeting you, Miss Russell. Would you mind terribly if I called upon you again, next time I’m in Sussex?”
I blinked, a bit startled at the request. I found myself quite liking Miss Holmes and her brand of wit, her strength of will, but I had largely remained silent during the conversation, content to watch. I could not imagine what interested her in visiting with me, specifically, but I nodded. “Why, yes. I’d- I’d quite like that.”
“Delightful,” Miss Holmes said, her accent suddenly taking a sharp turn towards aristocratic. She reached up and adjusted the tilt of her hat, did something to the lay of her jacket, and changed her posture just slightly, and suddenly she wasn’t the roguish, effortlessly charming Miss Holmes I had known all evening; instead, she was a sharp, no-nonsense matron, with clearly impeccable breeding. I looked at her, stunned by the transformation, accomplished with just three small changes. She reached into her coat and pulled out a card, extending it to me. “My card, should you ever wish to call upon me at my residence in London.” She turned to Holmes, nodding briskly. “Sherlock. Thank you for a wonderful evening.”
And then she was gone, the automobile in the drive cranked to life and gone before I really had time to contemplate the card I held in my hand, which said, in stark black letters:
I looked at Holmes, feeling utterly lost. “Who is Ivy Meshle?”
The second time I met Enola Holmes was in 1916, almost an entire year after we initially met. Her card had been well handled by that time, for I had contemplated a trip to London to visit with her on several occasions, usually when most irritated by Holmes’ blithely condescending ways or my aunt’s domineering cruelty. But I could not justify the expense, with my pitiful allowance, and so her card had sat, tucked in a book, looked at but never followed up on.
And so I was surprised to open the door one day, while my aunt was visiting some neighbors, to find Enola Holmes on the other side of it.
“Miss Holmes!” I exclaimed, taking a step back. “What are you- that is to say- well, no, what are you doing here?”
Miss Holmes smiled and stepped inside at my gesture. She was dressed as fashionably as ever, in a summer frock that was voluminous and, it must be said, somewhat shapeless. Her hat was once more at the jaunty angle I had seen when I first met her, and her gloves were already off. “Please, none of that ‘Miss Holmes’ nonsense. You really must call me Enola,” she said, and looked around my kitchen.
I shut the door and followed her inside. “If I am to call you Enola, then you will call me Mary?” I asked, extending my hand to take her gloves and whatever else she might wish to put away. She waved me away.
“I thought we might take a walk, actually. I’ve just been to see Sherlock, and after hours of chat, too many cups of tea to count, and an embarrassing number of Mrs. Hudson’s muffins and scones, I’d enjoy the chance to stretch my legs,” she explained.
“Certainly,” I said, and grabbed my cloth cap, pushing my braids up inside of it. She took my arm and tucked it companionably in her own, and out we went.
We walked for a while in silence, and I found myself watching my companion from the side of my eye. Her stride was long and sure of itself, utterly unhurried. She knew the Downs well, I decided, for she showed no hesitation as we walked, turning me this way and that with my hand still tucked into her elbow. Her face was pale; she hadn’t seen much sun this summer. Or sleep, I thought- her eyes were shadowed with dark circles, which she had not had when I first met her.
“I am sorry I did not call sooner,” Enola said abruptly, almost a mile into our walk. “I’m afraid things became rather… involved… at home, and I couldn’t find time to slip away.”
“I did not expect you to actually visit,” I said, raising my eyebrows at her. “I took it as an expression of interest, not intent.”
Enola released my arm, turning to look at me, a frown marring her features. “Well, you misunderstood me, then. I apologize for that. I very much intended to visit.”
“Your War Work keeps you busy, I’m sure,” I said blandly, and watched with gratification as her eyebrows shot up. Then she smiled.
“Ah, yes, I can’t really be surprised by that. I did have a somewhat revealing conversation in front of you, after all.”
“You did. Although I think you probably talked about more than I understood; much of your conversation that evening went over my head,” I admitted.
Enola laughed quietly. “Good. I’d like to maintain some of mystery, at least.”
We returned once more into silence. Enola turned us towards the sea, and slowly the fields gave way to cliffside. She took a deep breath, her shoulders lifting and then dropping dramatically. I followed her as she walked to the very edge of a cliff and sat down, dangling her legs over the side.
I sat next to her. “Speaking of mystery…” I began hesitantly.
Enola lifted one eyebrow. “Yes?”
“Who is Ivy Meshle?” I blurted, feeling like a fool. I had spent a better part of the year looking at the card, intrigued by the idea of visiting her and knowing her and learning from her, maybe, and simultaneously completely baffled by who Ivy Meshle was and why Enola carried a card with that name and not her own. It had frustrated me immensely, and Holmes had been no help, refusing to tell me about the name or provide an index that would explain it. My aunt, despite her fascination with London, did not own anything that listed London businesses or tradespeople; her obsession only extended to the higher classes.
Enola grinned, and then quickly covered the grin with her hand. “Oh dear. Sherlock didn’t explain?” It was my turn to raise an eyebrow, which made her laugh, the easy, loud one. “Of course he didn’t. Well, Mary, meet Ivy Meshle,” she said, her accent once more leaning towards the arrogantly aristocratic one she had used by briefly once before. She tipped her hat back to a proper angle, straightened her frock, adjusted her posture, and very abruptly she was no longer Enola Holmes, but someone else entirely.
“Oh!” I said. “Ivy Meshle is a persona you adapt?”
She relaxed, returning to herself. “Ivy Meshle is, for many people, the only persona I have. You see, the Holmes name can be a blessing and a curse. It will open doors, certainly, but it also means that your life becomes a bit of an open door; people will gawk at you wherever you go, feel a familiarity with you that you don’t feel towards them, and will, quite honestly, just barge into your life without any thought at all. If I wanted to live my life the way I saw fit, I needed a name that didn’t draw nearly so much attention. Attention is such a bother, Mary, when you need to blend in.”
“But why the demeanor?” I asked, gesturing at her hat, which she had not adjusted back to the angle that I had come to associate with her. “I can see using another name, but why the personality change? Surely your personality isn’t so- so Holmesian- that it would be connected to Holmes?”
Enola hummed quietly for a minute, nibbling on her lip. “The personality was Cec’s idea,” she admitted finally. “She thought that clients wouldn’t be as interested in working with someone like myself—she says I can be a bit overwhelming, as though she’s one to talk—and would rather talk to someone more serious, more reserved. I can’t say she was wrong.”
“Cec?” I asked, feeling lost once more.
“Oh, my apologies, Mary. Lady Cecily Alistair. She’s my partner; we’ve worked together for years.”
I began to slot all of this new information into place, trying to fit it around what I knew about Enola Holmes herself, which was admittedly very little. A love for fashion, an effortless charm that certainly didn’t come from any finishing school, a business, a business partner with a woman with a title, and some sort of War Work. That was as far as my knowledge extended.
I began to think of my next question for her, but before I could, Enola tapped my leg with one of her gloves. “Why the trousers?” she asked.
Instantly, I felt annoyed. “Why the frock?” I asked, regretting my tone immediately. I wanted to know more about Enola, and, to my shock, found myself wanting her to like me. A waspish tone would not accomplish that.
“I wear the frock so I blend in and no one takes a further look at me,” Enola replied, not hesitating in the slightest. “Women’s fashion is remarkably useful in that way. Wear the right thing and everyone simply ignores you.”
“Oh,” I said, thrown. “I didn’t think of it that way. I’ve never cared for fashion,” I confessed.
“Well of course you haven’t. Look at you. You’re a girl prone to quick thinking and even swifter action. I imagine no one ever taught you how to actually move in the clothes they foisted upon you.”
It was the most insightful, most bluntly honest assessment of my approach to dress that I had ever heard. I’d never really thought much about my disdain for dresses and the like, beyond the fact that I didn’t like them. It was enough that I didn’t, and I never felt a need to explore it further.
“Well. I never really gave them a chance to try, to be honest. The frocks my grandmother put me in were always so itchy. I had to wear dresses for the stuffiest of occasions, and my mother’s friends would fawn over me, and they were terribly frivolous… Plus,” I added, “it’s an awful lot of expense, and I have a tendency to grow at the most inopportune times.”
Enola passed an assessing eye over me, and then climbed to her feet so suddenly that I found myself staring at her knees. “Up you go,” she said, and hauled me to my feet. “Come along, we’ll have to walk quickly to make sure we’re there before they close.”
“Where?” I asked, but she gave no response, instead beginning to tell me about her partner, Lady Cecily, who I understood to be somewhere along the Front as an ambulance driver. She was quite the daredevil, to hear Enola talk about her, though I suspected exaggeration.
We walked at an almost punishing clip, until we arrived in the village. My hair was matted to my face, sweat dripping down the back of my neck, the summer sun burning brightly still despite the increasing lateness of the hour. Enola looked perfectly fresh, however, her skin pinked only slightly. I found myself envious of Holmeses and their uncanny ability to walk through the elements completely untouched.
I was especially envious of that ability when Enola walked right into the tailor’s shop, waving at me to follow despite my level of perspiration. “No!” I hissed at her, but she was already gone, having immediately struck up a conversation with the clerk about something called “ready-to-wear” clothes.
Thirty minutes later, my suit was in a bag and I was wearing a summer frock not entirely dissimilar to Enola’s, although mine had a spray of roses printed on it, while hers was a navy-and-white check.
“I am so glad Holmes is not here,” I said fervently, staring down sadly at my bestockinged legs.
Enola chuckled and took my bag from me. “Now, now, not to worry. He’d appreciate this. Tell me, Mary, where will you keep things in this dress?”
I didn’t understand what she meant, and my expression must have given me away, for she took me by the arm once more and led me away from the village, back onto the Downs, heading in the direction of my house. “For instance,” she began, “I am a Scientific Perditorian. I find things, people, whatever it might be, in a way not entirely unlike Sherlock. Sometimes, this means I encounter some unsavory people, while wearing this very same frock.”
“So you ought to wear trousers instead of that frock,” I said, glaring at her dress. “In order to best deal with these unsavory characters.”
“Ah, but wearing trousers won’t do in this case. I’m moving along the upper echelons for this case, and while some ladies might put on trousers for a lark, they certainly don’t attend parties in them. Wearing trousers amongst these sorts will most assuredly draw attention to the fact that I am Not Like Them, which would almost certainly tip off my suspects that they are being watched.”
I wanted to argue further, but I could see her point. I couldn’t see myself attending a royal party in my mud-splattered walking trousers. I would prefer to avoid the invitation entirely, but I could see how Enola, because of her work, would be unable to avoid the same if she wanted to help her clients. “Very well,” I said grudgingly. “Trousers might not be the best thing to wear in this scenario.”
“Very rational. So I wear a frock, or perhaps even a full evening gown. But I am not a stupid woman, and neither are you. A villain won’t hesitate to hurt us just because we’re women, and would probably wish to take advantage of our apparent vulnerability in these dresses. So. How do we fix that?”
I understood where she was leading me, but it seemed hardly likely. “We make ourselves less vulnerable. But how? Look at this,” I said with disgust, grabbing the skirt of my dress, the roses wrinkling sadly. “There’s so much fabric here, how could I even run in this, let alone defend myself?”
Enola turned and grabbed at the odd brooch she wore at her neck. A split second later, there was a thin, yet clearly sharp, blade near my neck. I froze. “Here’s one way,” she said conversationally. “I’ve worn this little thing since I was fourteen; it’s saved my life a number of times.”
She returned the brooch to her neck. Then she bent down, toward her boot, and out came another blade. “I keep this one in my boot; a pen-knife can be quite useful, and is easily concealed in a woman’s shoe.”
There was another movement, which seemed to involve separating the layers of skirt (impossible, I decided), but it happened too fast for me to follow. And then she had a small revolver in her gloved, dainty hand. “Layers can conceal as much as they constrain,” she said, and smiled.
I was, I admit, impressed. It wasn’t that Enola appeared harmless; it was simply that, looking at her, at the way she did her hair, at the outfits she wore, I had never considered even the possibility that she might be dangerous. I hadn’t considered her either way. And yet, she had two blades on her (that she had shown me, at any rate) as well as a revolver, and seemed absolutely confident in her ability to protect herself.
Belatedly, I realized that it was ridiculous for me to be considering such things. I was not a detective; I was going to be a scholar, studying theology, and theologians rarely needed to concern themselves with fashion or defending themselves. I expressed as much to Enola, who laughed.
“Clearly you haven’t been up to Oxford much. It’s true that they don’t concern themselves with fashion on a daily basis, but academia is as much politics and hobnobbing as it is about rigorous study. One must attend lectures, and dress their best, and there are always parties among the students which inevitably lead to important connections, without which you can accomplish nothing.”
I frowned. “How do you know?” I didn’t like the brief image of academia that she had conjured. I imagined stacks of books, dust motes in sunlight, debate with my fellows who judged me only for the diamond-like quality of my brain.
“I attended Oxford. Somerville.”
I don’t know why I was surprised. She was a Holmes, after all.
“At any rate, Mary, it isn’t that you need to learn to love fashion or stop wearing trousers. There’s nothing wrong with such things, not at all,” Enola said. Her words warmed me. Holmes had never commented upon my sartorial choices, but Mrs. Hudson had expressed motherly concern, and of course my aunt had much to say on the subject of my wardrobe.
“However,” Enola continued, starting to walk once more, “one should not discount the power of a woman’s wardrobe to conceal, to allow us to hide amongst crowds, to be underestimated at the precise moment you need it. A knowledge of women’s fashion allows you a modicum of disguise, access to places otherwise forbidden to you. Also, it’s always good to know what exactly you’re rejecting, and why.”
I contemplated her words as we walked. It was true, there was certainly something vaguely fascinating about the way a woman could transform herself so completely just by changing her outfit. I had dim, but fond, memories of my mother, wearing her sensible suits during the day, only to bedazzle and awe myself and my brother as she prepared for an evening party. It had seemed like her personality changed, too, in subtle ways. She was always quintessentially herself; she was simply more, or less, in those moments. I considered, too, the magic of my mother’s emeralds, which she wore only for the best events, and which instantly made her regal, a queen, rather than a somewhat worn mother of two children. I thought about the way I looked past some women. I had been to the Monk’s Tun often, and yet I could only remember Tillie Whiteneck, the proprietor, and none of her girls.
Nonetheless… “But how do you run,” I asked irritably, thinking of my father and his loathing for the cultivated uselessness of ladies, a loathing with which I passionately agreed.
Enola turned to look at me, an absolutely wicked grin on her face. “Why, Miss Russell,” she said, her accent dipping alarmingly, “you simply lift your skirts and go!”
And she did just that, hiking up her skirts to a scandalous height and taking off at full tilt. I let out a startled laugh, hoisted up my own skirts, and took off after her.
The third I met Enola Holmes, it was under similar circumstances. On her next visit to the Downs, she telephoned ahead to Holmes, who passed along the message to me with an aggrieved sigh, and we spent a truly enjoyable afternoon climbing trees, both of us in skirts, followed by a swim in the ocean, and then she taught me how to dress my own hair (though she admitted, with a laugh, that she learned how to dress hair on wigs). The circles under her eyes were darker now, and she’d lost half a stone since I’d last seen her.
The fourth time, we argued about women’s arts.
“It is all useless folderol,” I snorted, comfortable enough with her now to not hide behind niceties, “designed to keep women passive and compliant while the men do what they will.”
“I don’t disagree,” Enola said blandly, her skirts hiked up to her thighs. It was 1917, and fashion had changed once more, the skirts narrower, but she still managed the maneuver, somehow. We were sitting on the roof of Holmes’ cottage, having climbed the drainpipe to get up there. Holmes was away for a training in London, otherwise I’m certain he would have put a stop to it. Not for our sakes, but his roof’s. “But just because it’s designed to keep us passive and compliant, doesn’t mean we actually are.”
By now I recognized that my conversations with Enola were just as much training sessions as my long walks with Holmes were. Holmes’ training challenged me, certainly, stretching my brain to heights I had never considered. Enola’s, however, was the sort that made me look again at what I had already considered and dismissed.
“How do you mean?” I asked, finally.
“Do you really think women have existed under these strictures for centuries and never found ways to rebel, to carve out their own freedom?” she asked. “That we’ve never used what kept us passive and compliant?”
“I mean, certainly, there have been women who chafed at their role, but--”
“The language of flowers,” Enola interrupted, “can be used to facilitate communication between a lover, of course, but they can also pass messages to enemies, or send warnings to friends. A fan, held at a particular angle, can tell the world the state you’re in. Embroidery can be a code as much as a decoration. Wax flowers can hide things within them, in plain sight of everyone, without any suspicion at all.”
I nodded slowly. “I suppose so. But doesn’t it bother you, that this is all we’re meant to be? Decorations?”
Enola’s eyes flashed, and for a moment I saw her as she must truly be: angry, sad, impatient, incredibly frustrated. But then her expression smoothed, and she returned to being my odd mentor in the womanly arts, a very different sort than Mrs. Hudson was. “Of course it does. It has always infuriated me, to be honest. I spent much of my life feeling as you do. But women will always be forced to learn and act out this role, even if the fripperies change. So I am going to learn them all, to subvert them, meet others who do the same, and maybe help others find their own way too.”
We sat for a while, the silence that was customary between us falling once more. I thought through her words and, again, considered my mother. Her letters. Letters were a woman’s domain, in some ways, and my mother had written daily letters, seven or eight going out every day. My father never even glanced at her writing, accepting easily the validity of whatever she did. My father being my father, and my mother being my mother, it was trust, not complacency, that led to such a habit, but I could easily see a wife relying on her husband’s condescension to write seditious letters.
“But most of those past times are outdated and unfashionable,” I said, thinking of wax flowers and wrinkling my nose at the sheer oddity of such a hobby. “Not many people use them anymore, I imagine.”
“True. But that in many ways makes them better. And new things have replaced the old arts. For instance, typing is far more common today, and useful. A typist is a natural spy.”
I looked at her hands, gloveless for the moment, and at the signs of significant typing upon her fingertips, the smears of ink still in the corners of her fingernails. Enola was a woman who did a great deal of typing.
I had gotten better at looking at people without them noticing, but Enola was a Holmes, and I’d yet to fool a Holmes. She smiled and tapped her fingers against her leg before she folded them, firmly, in the folds of her skirt.
When next I saw Enola, it was a complete surprise. I had just hugged Mrs. Hudson goodbye and shook Holmes’ hand, turning to greet my new life at Oxford, when Enola emerged from the crowd.
At first I didn’t notice her. Despite our long conversations about women’s dress, and the firm admonishment I had given myself to start actually noticing women, I still looked right past her, the woman in the shapeless coat. I nearly walked past her as well, and likely would have, if she hadn’t grabbed my arm as I walked past and tucked it into her own. My body, used to this habit, responded immediately, waiting for my brain to keep up.
“Enola!” I gasped, once it did. “What are you doing here?”
“You didn’t think I’d miss greeting a fellow Somerville woman, did you?” Enola asked. Her voice was hoarse and had a throaty quality to it that I hadn’t heard before. I wondered, not for the first time, what exactly it was she was doing for the War that took such a toll on her.
“You got my letter,” I said, relieved. I still had her card, now so worn that the ink was fading, and had sent a letter to her using the name and address on it. I had no faith that it would arrive, however; given what very little I knew about her War Work (which consisted entirely of: she had War Work), I couldn’t imagine that she was often able to check her persona’s mail. Unless I had entirely missed my mark, it was unlikely she’d even been to that address since she began working.
Yet here she was.
“I did. It was lucky I did; I only pick up the mail there once a week or so. I’ll make sure you give you an address you can more easily reach me. I do have to leave in a few minutes,” she said apologetically.
“I’m just so thankful you were able to come. Holmes and Mrs. Hudson…”
“They don’t quite understand University,” Enola agreed, and pulled me into a swift hug. It was the first time she had ever hugged me, and my body stiffened at the embrace. “Oh, buck up, Mary,” she said in my ear, and I relaxed.
I gripped her tightly, unsure of why I so desperately needed her in that moment. I’d only met with her a handful of times, and yet I cared for her as much as I cared for Holmes. “Thank you,” I whispered in her ear, my eyesight blurring. My glasses, I decided, must have been pushed aside.
“Stars and garters, don’t thank me at all. I’ve done nothing. It’s all you, Mary. It’s all been you.”
I held her tighter, but Enola pushed me back, her hands on my shoulders. “Has Sherlock ever told you why I’m named Enola?” she asked. I shook my head. “My mother… she was who she was. She named me Enola, which is ‘alone’ spelled backwards, because she knew that, at some point, I’d be very much alone.”
My throat tightened as she spoke. I understood, all too well, being alone.
Enola squeezed my hand, eyes gentle. “She was wrong. She didn’t- she was trapped, the way we’ve discussed, and she never found her way to freedom until the very end. But I’ve been very lucky, to have found people, to never have been alone. You’re my sister, Mary. If you ever need anything, anything at all, please know: you’re not alone. Not as long as I’m here.”
I didn’t have a chance to respond. She pulled me into another firm hug, pressed a kiss to my cheek, and said, “Write me,” before stepping onto her train.
I slipped my hand into my pocket as I waved farewell to her. The new card simply said:
Personal Secretary to Rear-Admiral William Reginald Hall
I did not see Enola again until 1919.
We wrote, extensively. My friendship with her, as well as my friendship with Ronnie, introduced and guided me through the realm of the feminine in a way that was so matter-of-fact, so kind, so loving that I could not imagine why, up until that point, I had not had many female friendships. Of course, I knew: I’d always dismissed girls my own age as thoughtless, not worth my time. It was with a certain amount of shame that I recognized that was my own shortcoming, my own failure, and rarely the fault of the other girls I must have encountered. I silently sent apologies out into the universe to Flo, my childhood friend in California, for all the times I’d dismissed her in favor of her brother.
Once the War ended, I also began exchanging letters with Cec, as Lady Cecily preferred to be called. She was charming in an entirely different way than Enola, whose charm was almost entirely incidental. Cec’s charms were the cultivated sort, turned vicious against the world. With Enola I discussed politics and theology and detective work; with Cec I discussed the cruelty of the world, the injustice we saw everywhere, the indifference from the systems of power. It was freeing.
It was not that I couldn’t discuss such things with Holmes; indeed, we discussed these topics, and more, with frequency, depth, and sometimes disagreement. But it was… cleansing, I think, to discuss it with women. We had our differences, details which baffled and confused, and we could rub each other wrong, but we also understood each other in an almost instinctive way about other things.
But we did not meet. My studies were all consuming, for a while, and then there were cases, and then there was the woman who stalked Holmes and I, desiring our demise above all else. Enola was busy reestablishing her practice, and Cec was too busy readjusting to civilian life. My visits to London were incredibly rare, and our schedules never aligned.
So I saw nothing of Enola, and did not meet Cec, until the day I stepped off the boat from Palestine, playing at alienation with Holmes, and encountered a dock full of people I loved. As we approached, I saw Uncle John and Inspector Lestrade and Mycroft, and I remained steady, until I saw Enola and a smaller, lovely woman with short golden-brown hair who could be no one other than Cecily Alistair. My heart stuttered, but only for a moment.
I had committed to this path. No matter what.
I walked past them all, shouting my invectives, and took myself to the nearest train station, my hands shaking only slightly. It was while waiting for the train that Enola found me.
“So this is how it is to be, I take it,” she said without preamble as she sat down next to me, looking directly ahead.
It was foolish, I suppose, to have believed I could have fooled her, that Holmes could have fooled her. Holmes had told me little about his history with his sister, and Enola had told me even less, but I had pieced together some of it. I could not see Holmes lying easily to her, although I did not doubt for a moment that he spat insults about me as soon as I had gone.
“I take it Mycroft knows, too?”
“Perhaps, although we do not often talk. How long?”
I glanced at my watch, wishing the train would arrive and end this awful conversation. “As long as it takes,” I said softly.
I could just see, out of the corner of my eye, Enola purse her lips. “Even if it kills you both?” she asked, voice low with concern.
In the distance, I heard the train whistle. It was coming, and it was time for me to go. Though I hated to walk away, part of me longed for my room in Somerville. It had been too long since I’d slept on a bed that didn’t move.
“The idea,” I said, standing and gathering up my bag, “is to avoid the killing part.”
Enola stood as well, crossing her arms over her chest. She looked better. Healthier. The shadows had faded from her eyes, and she’d gained some weight back. The War was over for her. My war was just beginning.
“Very well. Be safe. I shall write you, from time to time.”
“I will not answer,” I warned, and stepped back. “Please give Cec my regards.”
Enola’s nod was curt. She did not hug me farewell, as she had done last time. I felt the absence of her arms all the way back to Oxford.
When my own war finally ended, my mood dark and faith shattered as badly as my shoulder, I did not expect to see Enola for some time. I snapped at Holmes relentlessly; I could not imagine him letting his younger sister walk into such a foul atmosphere.
Yet this was Enola Holmes, and she walked where others feared to tread. So it was with resignation, rather than surprise, that I greeted her at the cottage one day in the middle of July, Cec at her elbow.
“Mary,” she greeted me, eyes sparkling, and she folded me into a hug.
I did not hug her back. I couldn’t. It had less to do with the stiffness that still plagued my shoulder and more with my irritation at the world in general and, more specifically, with her in this moment. She could see I was injured, and surely Holmes told her not to come. Why couldn’t she just obey, for once. Why did she always have to be so Enola?
It was Cec that came to my rescue. She was a small, petite woman, who barely came up to our shoulders, but she put her hand on Enola’s shoulder and said, “Enola, dear, that’s enough.” She spoke with such gentle command and surety that Enola stepped back immediately. She looked confused, and even hurt, when Cec continued, “Go visit with your brother. I’d like a moment with Miss Russell.”
Enola slunk off, and something eased in my chest. “Thank you,” I said in a low voice. This was my first time actually meeting Lady Cecily Alistair, and while once I yearned for the opportunity, now I just found it somewhat irksome.
“Of course,” she replied, and took a seat on the sofa, moving as though she knew Holmes’ cottage well. I wondered if, before the War, she and Enola had visited, asking his opinion on a particularly tough case of theirs. If they dined together, from time to time. Her footfalls were confident enough that she must have been here before, at least.
I followed her and sat gingerly in one of the armchairs. Cec smiled politely. “Your recovery is going poorly, I see,” she said, and her bluntness startled a bark of a laugh out of me, though I felt no humor.
“Not as well as I’d hoped,” I muttered, and hoped she’d drop the entire conversation. I wanted to sit in silence, and let it draw out long enough that they both just left. Cec looked at me for a long moment, her rich brown eyes unnerving me with how deep they seemed to look.
“Your shoulder is fine, or will be. It’s your head that isn’t right.”
I bit the inside of my cheek, irritation flaring once more. “Is it a habit, of Holmeses and their associates, to just say what they’re thinking without regard for others’ feelings?”
She smiled, a small lift to the corners of her mouth. It was incredibly ladylike, in fact, the smile of someone who was raised to be a very particular type of woman. I wondered, briefly, how she came to be this version of a woman, with cropped hair and trousers (trousers! I wanted to crow at Enola) and calloused hands.
“I think you know the answer to that. I understand, of course, the black moods, the irritation, the lethargy. I saw it a lot, during the War. I myself fell victim to it, and still do, from time to time.”
“Is this where you tell me to count my blessings, that things could be worse, that if I have a better attitude everything will fix itself?” I asked. I’d heard such murmurings from people in the village and from my doctor. Uncle John knew better and understood, I think, having lived with Holmes for so long. Mrs. Hudson simply ignored my moods and told me to knead the bread, stir the stew, scrub the pots.
“No,” Cec said, and stood up. “Feel what you’re feeling. But trust yourself to heal.”
It hit me like a blow, and I inhaled sharply.
It was the kindest advice I’d received, and the most devastating.
Cec stood up, brushing off her trousers and tucked a stray bit of hair behind her ear. Given how short it was I was surprised she was able to manage it. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must collect Enola; we have business to attend to in Sussex.”
“You aren’t staying?” I found myself asking, though I did not move from my chair.
Cec looked down at me, her eyes warm. “I don’t think us staying will serve anyone right now. When you’re ready. When you want us. But not before then.”
Five minutes later, they were gone.
One week letter, I received a letter from little Jessica Simpson, and I began to trust myself to heal.
My visits with Enola, and occasionally Cec, increased after that day. I gave myself permission to visit London as I wished, when I wished, and always made a point of calling on them. Enola adored taking me around, introducing me to both the glamorous side of London, with its restaurants and theatres and Society, and to the seedy, dangerous side. She took me to the docks, telling me the tale of her first case (although she refused to tell me how old she was, making me suspicious about her supposedly idyllic childhood). Cec traveled constantly, but on one visit she was home and delighted in pointing out her own landmarks, each one more harrowing than the last. Hearing their stories made me grateful, more than I would otherwise have supposed, for my relatively sheltered and quiet childhood, tragedies aside.
Occasionally, Enola would invite my insight on one of her cases. Though I’d known Enola was a detective since I’d met her, I presumed her to have a rather quiet business. That is, until one day when I visited unannounced and discovered she was working, simultaneously, on four different cases. Oh, two of them involved missing pets, but that didn’t discount the work involved. I knew she missed Cec in those moments, as Cec had been a full partner in the business before the War.
(One of the missing pets was not so dull a case as I would have initially presumed, and actually involved an entire kidnapping ring of purebred dogs. Enola asked for my assistance on it, and it had some uniquely tense moments, including a memorable hour I spent hiding underneath an utterly enormous Saint Bernard who was very interested in my glasses, judging by his monotonous licking at them.)
I enjoyed giving Enola my opinion, and felt pleasure when she would nod seriously at my thoughts. It was as good as Holmes giving me a “well done, Russ.”
Enola also visited me at Oxford more than once. I considered myself well-acquainted with the grounds, but with her, I discovered new nooks and crannies, hideaways, and secret lairs. She was fearless, cheerfully breaking every rule I knew of, though I certainly didn’t mind. My own time at University wasn’t exactly traditional, itself. When Cec visited, the risks were even greater. As Cec put it, she survived a war; she wasn’t going to be intimidated by a bunch of dons.
Despite the increase of our visits, I still only saw them perhaps ten, twelve times a year. Cec traveled often, and whenever possible, Enola went with her. On more than one occasion I would knock on the door to their flat, only to find them gone, disappeared to Italy, to Germany, to Russia, even, once. And besides that, Enola was in high demand, and I preferred to spend most of my spare time with Holmes. Still, I appreciated Enola’s friendship. It was haphazard, filled with months of silence and then sudden, unexpected visits, but it felt stronger for it, somehow.
And of course, the day I married Holmes, I appreciated my friendship with her even more. Not because the transformation from friends to sisters meant much; as Enola had said years ago, we were already sisters, and I felt no different having the law declare than having chosen it myself. Nor did I appreciate my friendship with Enola more than ever because of the usual wedding reasons: I had no attendants. There was no white dress to contend with, no extended family that needed intercepting and redirecting, all things that Enola would have been forced to do if Holmes and I had had a traditional wedding.
No, I appreciated her friendship that day for two reasons:
One: She was quite eager to help me and Billy steal a painting, no questions asked, and indeed, appeared to relish the challenge of doing it quickly and silently. And when the dogs inevitably found us;
Two: Enola knew how to run in a dress, and had taught me the same. It was a most valuable skill that night. And when we outran Billy, me in my wool skirt and she in her Worth evening gown, we laughed so hard our sides hurt.