In view of Holmes many triumphs, the visits of the Foreign Secretary Lord Fortescue to Baker Street became increasingly frequent in the early years of the century. Europe was in diplomatic turmoil, and exploration of the possible outcomes of military actions was a major effort. Most of these schemes were straightforward, and a warning diplomatic shot across the bows of the offending nation was enough to maintain the peace. Sometimes, the plans were pure rumours, and yet the Ministry for War wished to be made aware of all possibilities.
So it proved with the strange case of the confederation of neutral states. It was a plan that caused great excitement throughout Britain for its apparent deadly intent, but in reality was mere academic mischief-making by a miscreant who was never identified.
On a damp November night, I returned to find Holmes and Fortescue in deep discussion. I crept into the room, hoping not to disturb them, but no sooner had I reached the door to my own room than Holmes said: "Well, Fortescue, it is a tricky problem; let us see what the good Doctor makes of it."
I was filled with dread -- at the end of a tiring day I could hardly face a problem that had stretched those two fine minds. But obediently I drew up a chair and listened while Fortescue outlined the problem.
"We have received information of a lightning offensive to achieve control of Europe within three years, without any other nation being able to build any new forces. The trouble is that we do not know how it is intended to be achieved or by whom. The first part of the plan involves the Confederation of Neutral States. You will recall that all European powers are bound by treaty not to occupy any Neutral supply centre at the end of any year. It was believed that this would prevent any rapid expansion. Furthermore, a new treaty is being considered that would compel all armed units to occupy home supply centers at the end of each year. Although we do not expect this treaty to be agreed, according to our information one foreign power has drawn up plans to abide by the rules of both treaties, and yet to capture all home centers of all the Great Powers by the end of 1903. We do not believe that such a feat is possible, but we thought it prudent to consult Mr. Holmes before ignoring this information."
"So there you have it Watson," said Holmes. "Do you think it possible?"
I thought for a while. "Am I correct in assuming that while all powers must (certainly) abide by the agreement that is currently in force, perhaps only the power that is considering this abominable plan would abide by the conditions of the second, unsigned treaty?"
The foreign Minister nodded to me, and I pondered the question a bit more. Soon I was able to offer my first conclusion. "Certainly England could not achieve such a thing," I began. "For England can capture at most one enemy home center in 1901: Brest. With a size of but four centres in 1901, it would be impossible to grow to control twenty-two by the end of 1903."
Holmes got to his feet, sighing: "England would indeed be ruled out if that were true, Watson. Regardless, I do think that our friend the Foreign Minister would be aware of any plans Her Majesty's Government might have for European conquest. No, no, the feat cannot be achieved by England."
At the half-acknowledged success of my reasoning I became more animated, and following Holmes' example, I stared at the ceiling as a torrent of pure logic poured forth. "Nor yet Turkey," I continued, "for it too can reach only Sevastopol in the first year. I think I can also rule out Germany since the Kiel fleet cannot reach a foreign home center and even a size of five centres at the conclusion of the first year is insufficient to the task. Since Italy cannot get to a foreign home center from Naples, nor can Russia with his St. Petersburg fleet, the options are certainly closing down. That leaves only...." My argument was terminated by the closing of the door as Holmes saw Lord Fortescue out and I glanced around the empty room.
Can you determine which power can take all twenty-two home centers by the
end of 1903, without breaking the two agreements? And can you determine
the power's military moves that do so? If so,
mail your answer to The Pouch.
-- Dr. John H. Watson
via Graeme Ackland
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