Check out our episode here! The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer
Before the book begins, a stranger in a black veil searches the slums of London for a missing loved one. The searcher is alone, always alone, but is being followed and must stay far enough ahead of them to not get caught. She sees a man in a top hat approach a prostitute. She does not belong on these streets, but she has no home. If she can make it through the night, maybe she'll find her missing loved one.
On Enola's 14th birthday, her mother leaves before she wakes, but her mother is always leaving her alone. Her name is Alone spelled backward after all. Her mother likes to go out exploring, taking her notebooks and watercolors, so surely she'll be home eventually. Mrs. Lane, the cook, gives Enola her birthday gifts from her mother. A drawing kit, a book about the messages of flowers, fans, handkerchiefs, wax seals and stamps, and a handmade booklet of ciphers. She liked all of them, except the ciphers. Enola's mother doesn't return that night and she's still missing the next day, so Enola goes to look for her in all her favorite places, but she is nowhere to be found. She thinks of how her mother is older, and how she was a late in life baby, a scandal, who always caused her mother distress in some way. She could have fallen somewhere, or her heart could have given out. She could even be dead... Oh no, don't think that. She searches all day but can't find her mother. Back at home that night, Enola gives in and writes telegrams to her brothers: Mycroft Holmes and Sherlock Holmes.
The next day, Enola goes to send her telegrams and searches everywhere in town for her mother. She asks everyone at all the shops and all the places her mother might visit. Then she asks at all the shops and places her mother would never visit, but still, no one has seen her. Upon returning home, Enola thinks to look in her mother's rooms. She finds her watercolor kit, which is surprising because she always takes it with her when she goes out. She should have searched her mother's rooms first! She searches all around and finds her mother's bed unmade and several unmentionables not put away. She finds an object she's never seen before and carries it with her to Mr. Lane, the butler. Embarrassed, he tells her the thing is worn to fill out a lady's dress under her bustle. This inspires Enola to ask Mr. Lane if he recalls what get mother wore when she left the house the day before. A very masculine jacket, hat and walking umbrella, and a bustle. That's... an odd outfit.
Enola receives word that her brothers will arrive by train the next day, so she takes a bath in preparation. She thinks a lot about her missing mother, no, stop that, so she thinks about her brothers instead. How they haven't visited in the ten years since their father died because they're embarrassed to be around Enola, the scandalous baby. She thinks about how successful they are, especially Sherlock. She wonders if they'll even recognize her. She wonders about a lot of things. She cycles to the station just as the train arrives. Her brothers are handsome, Sherlock more than Mycroft as Mycroft is a little paunchier, but she knows who they are immediately. They however think she is a scraggly street urchin and are puzzled as to why she didn't bring the coach to pick them up. Uh... Coach? Horses? They don't have those things. Sherlock hires someone at the train station to take them home. On the ride, Mycroft wonders why he's paying their mother for horses and a stableboy if they don't actually have them. Uh oh.
When they arrive at the family estate, the brothers are surprised to see it is in a shambles. Mycroft is even more puzzled now because in addition to the stableboy, he's been paying for gardeners and a full staff, and for upgrades like a washroom and water closet, and for tutors and various instructors for Enola. Nope. They have none of those things. Never have. While investigating the house, Enola finds an odd arrangement of sweet peas and thistles that she pours out. The brothers tell Enola the truth about why they haven't been around. Their mother was upset after Mycroft, who was legal owner of the estate after their father's passing, said she could stay there even though legally she had no right to. Sherlock deduces that after their father died and they had their falling out with their mother in which she told them to leave and never come back, she kept the money they sent for rent and upkeep for herself and now has absconded. But why would she wait until now, so many years later, and on Enola's birthday?
She gets upset, grabs her birthday drawing kit, and runs out on the grounds to her favorite hiding spot where she doodles caricatures of her brothers and writes a list of questions about her missing mother. Sherlock finds her and they discuss her questions and then he tells her he's leaving for London but that Mycroft will be staying for a few days to get things settled. Back at the house, Enola decides she needs to go to her mother's rooms to get a dress to wear, but finds the door locked. Mr. Lane says Mycroft ordered it locked then she embarrasses him by pulling out the bustle and saying she needs to put it away. When he lets her in the room, she finds her mother's key, which if she left really meant that she had no intention of returning home, and grabs a dress. At dinner, Mycroft pulls the same -legally you have to do everything I say- mess and tells Enola that he's hired a London seamstress to fit her for dresses so she'll be properly attired for boarding school. Her mother didn't believe in finishing school, she was a feminist suffragette, but we all know how Mycroft thinks, so Enola storms off to bed, not elegantly, mind you, because she trips on her borrowed dress.
Enola can't sleep, she's too upset. She angrily doodles her mother, thinking about why she rebelled but didn't take her daughter with her. And why did she leave on her birthday? She never did anything without reason. Oh. She left presents for Enola on her birthday, a book of the secret messages of flowers and a book of ciphers. Her mother left her a secret message! The first cipher told her to look in her chrysanthemums. Hmm... Her mother painted lots of flowers, so she should go look at the paintings in her room. She looked up the meaning of those flowers, and the sweet peas and thistles, and learned that her mother had familial affection or attachment and a defiant departure. Well, that's about right. Enola sneaks to her mother's rooms past Mycroft snoring in the guest room and finds money hidden in the frame of the chrysanthemums. Oh ho ho!
Five weeks have now passed and Enola has completed most of her mother's ciphers and found lots of hidden money. In that time, the dressmaker came and made several dresses to prepare her for boarding school and forced her to wear special corsets with built in bustles and bosom enhancers. Now she is being carted off for finishing school. As the trip begins, she begs to stop at the chapel to visit her father's grave and uses this time to sneak away, retrieving her bicycle with lots of previsions she had hidden the night before. Inside her petticoats, corset and bustle she was forced to wear, she has hidden away her money and a trunk's worth of clothing and supplies. Like her mother, she was prepared to run away from this life she was forced to lead. Her brothers would expect her to run far away from London dressed as a boy, so she decided to run away to London, dressed as a fully grown woman, a widow. And now she will find her mother.
Enola rides all day and sleeps under trees at night. She is exhausted, but when she awakens, she realizes she is near a town, which means she is near a train station and that she can catch a ride to London! Perfect. As she arrives at the station to buy her ticket, she finds a commotion instead. A newsboy shouts about a kidnapping and then detectives from Scotland Yard arrive. Passersby are speaking of the kidnapping of a young viscount and how his family sent for Sherlock Holmes to help solve the case, but he was called away on family business. Instead of buying a train ticket, Enola buys a newspaper and decides to solve the case in her brother's stead.
DUKE’S HEIR OF TENDER YEARS HORRIFICALLY MISSING the headline reads. The article talks about the kidnapping of the twelve year old viscount, but looking at the picture in the paper, Enola thinks he looks much younger. Apparently his mother has kept him looking like a baby his entire life. Enola heads to the home of the missing heir and when asked her name, she foolishly forgets the fake name she had decided upon, Ivy Meshle, and declares herself Enola Holmes, relation of Sherlock Holmes, who has asked her to come in his stead to solve the case. As she's walking through the grounds, she's approached by the hysterical mother of the missing boy, then they are approached by someone else, Madame Laelia Sibyl de Papaver. Madame Laelia is a stout woman with bushy bright red hair, a face very white with makeup and yellowed gloves. She claims to be an Astral Perditorian, she uses the spirits to find what is lost. Enola is taken aback by this, not the spiritual bit, but by the Perditorian bit. That's what Enola is, or will be, the world’s first professional, logical, scientific perditorian.
As the mother talks to the charlatan, because Enola's pretty sure she is one, she leaves them to continue her search of the grounds. As she walks, she thinks of her plan for finding her mother. After arriving in London, she'll set up a bank account and then put personal ads in the papers her mother loves to read and wait for her to respond. Seems a decent enough idea. But now, back to the case at hand. She finds exactly what she knew she would: Lord Tewksbury's secret hideaway. Like hers, he has decided to set up a hideout in a tree. She climbs up to find he has built himself a hidden treehouse where he has cut off his long golden curls and shredded his childish clothes. Around the walls of the treehouse are pictures of boats. It seems little lord Tewksbury wanted to grow up but his mother wouldn't allow it, so he faked a kidnapping and ran away, no longer wanting to be the Marquess of Basilwether.
Enola gets down from the tree, thinking how alike she and this little lord are, what with their running away and all. She thinks about taking a lock of his hair to his mother and telling her he's run away, but then she decides not to and plans to get back on with her own adventure. Before she can leave the grounds, she's approached by a small, squeaky detective, Lestrade, who talks to her about how she's acquainted with Sherlock. Instead of telling him any details about herself, she gives him the lock of hair and tells him about Lord Tewksbury's desire to grow up and work on a ship and that he's probably headed toward the docks. She leaves then and catches her train to London.
On her very first train ride, the widow Enola thinks about how she's going to have to change up all her plans since she accidentally revealed her real name at the Basilwether estate. She's working out a new plan when she is startled by a creepy face in the window of her compartment, but no one else seems bothered by it, so it must be a usual occurrence. A squat, nosy old woman in her carriage talks to her then about her mourning garb and how she can make a bit of money by selling her petticoats at a secondhand clothing shop. Ah! Perfect! She can get herself some different clothes there and can continue evading her brothers. The shop is not in the best part of town however, so Enola gets into some trouble on her way.
On her way to the shop, she laments at all the poor indigents in the streets, but then she realizes she's stood staring at them for too long and then she's grabbed from behind by a man with a knife. Is this the same man from the train? Can't tell as she can only see his tawny gloves. The burly stranger demands she tell him where Lord Tewksbury is. What? She has no idea! She screams for help and manages to get away after the cutthroat tries to slice her throat and stab her side but is foiled by the whalebone in her corset. She throws her carpetbag in his face and takes off toward a squeaky voice beckoning for her. The squeaky voice is just as bad as the burly man, though, because as soon as she's with him, he twists her arm back and knocks her out.
Enola comes to on a boat. And she's not alone. Also in the hull of the boat is Viscount Tewksbury, Marquess of Basilwether. He's looking a little worse than his dandified photo in the paper. His clothes are dirty and ill-fitting and he has no shoes. They're both tied up, and Tewky informs Enola that the two culprits went through her pockets, taking a few shillings, some licorice, a frilly booklet and a few other things. Oh no! Her mother's cipher book! Luckily they didn't scrounge around in her corset, though, so all her luggage and money are still with her. The kidnappers took the viscount only an hour or so ago, it seems they split up to grab both him and Enola. But what would they want with her?
The ruffians came down into the hull then, talking about precisely that. She said she was related to Sherlock Holmes, so she's got to be worth something. But when did she say that? One of the men, the cutthroat from earlier, told the squeaky voice man to watch their captors while he goes to sleep, but Squeaky falls asleep too. Enola pretends to sleep, but actually manages to free her bound hands by rocking herself against the exposed steel ribbing from her corset. Squeaky wakes up because of the rocking, but Tewksbury starts rocking then to distract Squeaky so Enola can free herself. He's getting kicked by their captor until Enola, hands now free, bonks him on the head with a huge rock. She frees the viscount too and together, they escape up the hatch.
Outside, as they're about to leave the boat, the burly cutthroat sees them escaping, but luckily he's in his long johns and chooses to dress rather than chase them, so they get a tiny head start. He soon catches up though. And Squeaky is with him now. They run through the shabby streets past vendors peddling used wares and then Enola sees a familiar face. The nosy woman from the train! She fishes some money from her bust enhancer and gives it to the woman who, despite knowing that Cutter and Squeaky will be furious, ushers them inside. They rest overnight, making sure not to speak so as not to be overheard by the nosy woman, the shop owner, Mrs. Culhane. She gets them some different clothes and shoes and everything they need to conceal themselves from Cutter and Squeaky and they leave the next day, another banknote lighter.
They leave that rough neighborhood and finally feel like they can relax a little. Enola turns to Tewky, who asks not to be called that, so we she asks what he prefers instead. What his new chosen name is, but he says it doesn't matter anymore. Then they hear a newsboy shouting about the day's headline: there's been a ransom demand for the viscount. The article mentions that Inspector Lestrade found his hideout and knew that he'd be headed for the docks, but that the family received a ransom letter and that Madame Laelia Sibyl de Papaver the Astral Perditorian suggests that they pay the ransom even though there's no evidence the kidnapper or kidnappers have the boy. Hmm… Enola spends some time thinking and makes a list of questions she has about Cutter. Then she thinks about Madame Laelia Sibyl de Papaver. Before she can connect the dots, Tewksbury says he has to go home. London wasn't what he thought it would be. The people in the slums were so sad. There was so much more happening that he just wasn't ready for. They decide they should go to the police.
On the cab ride to Scotland Yard, Enola pieces together that Madame Laelia must have told Cutter about Enola's discoveries at the Basilwether estate and that they were working together as kidnappers. She doodles them and realizes they are… THE SAME PERSON! At Scotland Yard, as they wait to see the inspector, who should walk in but her brother, Sherlock Holmes. He's talking with Lestrade about them stopping the search for his mother but continuing to search for his sister. She's fourteen and an innocent, neglected, uneducated, unsophisticated girl. Lestrade argues that she seemed intelligent enough when he spoke to her. But dear old Sherlock continues to be dismissive of his sister, even though she's literally sitting feet away from him right this very moment, right under his nose. The conversation moved to Tewksbury, who stands up and announces himself. At the same time, Enola sneaks out a window as if it's the most normal and proper thing to do.
As much as she wanted to spend more time with her brother and to not abandon Tewksbury, she had to go find her mother, especially now since Sherlock has told Lestrade to give up looking for her. She just wanted to know she was okay, to maybe have tea with her every now and then, and to know she had a mom. So where is she? Probably someplace where she didn't have to get laced up in corsets and boots and bustles. Enola pens the personal ads she's been planning to write, and of course, they are ciphers using the language of flowers. She thinks a lot about how much she has changed in the six weeks or so that have passed since her mother ran away. How she's not the insignificant and irrational girl Sherlock thinks her to be. She "could go places and accomplish things Sherlock Holmes could never understand or imagine, much less do." And that's exactly what she did.
At the end of the book, a stranger dressed as a nun takes food, clothes and blankets to the streetfolk in the slums. In a better part of town, Dr. Leslie T. Rangostin, Scientific Perditorian, is setting up offices in the same building as the failed and now arrested Astral Perditorian Madame Laelia Sibyl de Papaver once held her, or his, seances. No one has ever seen Dr. Leslie, but they have seen his secretary, Ivy Meshle. She's a young professional who carries a clipping of a personal ad with her at all times. One that she has deciphered to learn that the person she was looking for is blooming in the sun, living a carefree life. But… why, if she's now free, did she not take her daughter with her? Perhaps one day Ivy Meshle, Enola Holmes, will find her.