Basil and the Royal Dare
1 At Loose Ends
“HAVE A TASTE OF THIS, Basil.” I held out a crumb of cheddar.
There was no response from across the table. My dear friend Basil—better known throughout mousedom as Basil of Baker Street, the world-famous detective—sat staring glumly out the front window of the Holmestead Cheese Emporium. His chin rested on his paw, his whiskers drooped, and even his deerstalker cap appeared less jaunty than usual.
I sighed. “Basil!” I said in a louder tone. “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Mr. Holmes says so quite frequently himself, remember? You need to eat something.”
I figured that would induce Basil to eat if anything could. He admired Mr. Sherlock Holmes, the famous human detective, to no end. For some years, he had regularly dragged me through the dangerous London streets to visit the great man’s study at 221B Baker Street so he could listen to Holmes’s conversations with his friend Dr. John H. Watson. The two of us would hide in the walls or beneath the furniture as they discussed how Mr. Holmes solved his many cases. Eventually
Basil had struck upon the idea to build the town of Holmestead in Mr. Holmes’s cellar, and there we and many other mice had lived happily since the year 1885. The cellar was warm and dry and safe from cats and other dangers, which was important to most of us. But even more important to Basil was its proximity to that study. Now we made the trip upstairs daily—sometimes more than once!
But on this particular day, Mr. Holmes was absent from the house and, in fact, from London itself. He’d departed for the Continent the previous afternoon, leaving Basil at loose ends with no case of his own to distract him from his idol’s absence.
“What shall we do today, Dawson?” Basil asked me with a sigh, poking at the uneaten cheese on his plate. “Shall we take a long ramble by the Thames or pay a visit to the British Museum? Or perhaps we should stay here and assist Mrs. Judson with the laundry for want of loftier occupations.”
Despite my concern for Basil’s mood, I couldn’t help smiling at the thought of him assisting our mousekeeper with her work. I had little doubt that my friend could conquer the laundry of all
of Holmestead if he put his mind to it. But I suspected his perfectionist nature might drive poor Mrs. Judson crazy in the meantime!
“We haven’t visited the museum for some time,” I said. “I have no patients to see today, though I’d hoped to catch up on my paperwork.”
Basil eyed me blankly. Sometimes I think he forgets entirely that I am a medical mouse—Dr. David Q. Dawson, to be precise—and not merely the sidekick for his detecting adventures!
“More cheese, sirs?” asked Miss Hazel, the proprietress of the cheese shop. “Oh dear, Mr. Basil, you haven’t touched your Camembert! Is there something wrong with it?”
“Not a thing, my dear,” Basil responded in his gallant way. “It is my appetite that is amiss.”
Miss Hazel looked concerned. But before she could say anything else, the shop door flew open. A mouse stood there, though not one I’d ever seen before. He was nearly as tall as Basil, with an elegant set to his ears, and dressed rather formally in a cutaway coat and dark breeches.
“Pardon me,” the stranger said, sweeping into a bow. “I am in search of a certain Basil of Baker Street, the famous detective—it’s rather urgent that I find him at once.”
Miss Hazel and I were so startled by the well-dressed mouse’s sudden appearance that we could not respond for a moment. Basil, however, is rarely at a loss for words. He stood immediately and returned the stranger’s bow.
“I am the mouse you seek,” he said. “How may I be of service?”
“Oh, thank goodness I’ve found you.” The
stranger hurried forward. “I must beg of you to come with me at once. Your services are required by the noblemice of Marlborough House.”
“Marlborough House?” Hazel cried. “Why, that’s where the royal family lives!”
“Precisely.” The stranger didn’t spare her—or me—so much as a glance, keeping his gaze intent upon Basil. “Please, sir. You must come quickly!”