“I was as surprised as you to see her, Watson,” he replied.
“So your client is…?”
“Irene Norton, née Adler. Her husband Godfrey was about to be exposed for having an affair with his partner in law. Mrs. Norton and your wife, as you may have already deduced, have been lovers for months.”
I had assumed Mary was involved with her friend Mrs. Norton, but it never once occurred to me it was the same woman with whom Holmes had tangled years ago on behalf of the hereditary King of Bohemia. I was having some difficulty accounting for the sense of betrayal I felt.
“She’s my wife…” I started to say.
“Your wife whom you left to return to Baker Street for reasons you have already disclosed to me,” Holmes said evenly.
“That does not matter. To have kept me in the dark,” I said, the emotion rising in my voice, “to have been conducting your inquiries behind my back is…its…”
He gave me a hard, steely glare. “I did not presume you still laid any claims to your wife. I told you I why was trying to protect you from this mess.”
I knew he was right, but I hated knowing that I alone had remained ignorant. I felt like a fool.
“She’s my wife,” I repeated, but instead of trying to argue the point, I shook my head and left the sitting room, slamming the door behind me. I went upstairs to my room and sat on my bed. I had not yet taken off my coat and I still held my hat in my hand.
I sat there for some time, replaying the shocking events that occurred at Milverton’s, fixating on the way Mary had looked right before she killed him, how her face remained so calm even as she pulled the trigger. I imagined Irene Adler Norton and still could not believe it was she who had taken Mary in, who won her heart after I cast it aside.
There was a light knock at the door.
“Come in,” I said when I snapped from my reverie.
Holmes entered the room. He was half-undressed, having removed his collar, cravat and waistcoat, and I surmised he’d had a sudden change of mind in his decision to let me alone. He sat beside me on the bed and said nothing. It was I who eventually spoke first.
“Why did you not tell me, Holmes?” I asked him quietly.
“Honestly, Watson? Because I was afraid that great big heart of yours would move you to commit an indiscretion, however unwittingly.”
I sighed. He gently pried my hat from my hands and leaned over to lay it on the bureau.
“It’s not that she’s taken up with Irene Norton. I understand that, and she’s entirely within her rights to do so. God knows I’m even happy for them. What I most regret is that I was not permitted to help her in this distressing time. Supposing the police find out? What then?”
“You needn’t worry, Watson. Those two have more strength between them than the entire British army.”
There again, I knew he was right.
Holmes brought his hand to my face and turned it towards him. He kissed my lips once, then again.
“Please, Holmes, I haven’t the wherewithal for one of your experiments tonight,” I said, pulling away from him.
He brought my face back to him.
“This is not an experiment,” he said, and kissed me again.
“Well, I certainly do not require your pity,” I said, though I let him kiss me this time.
“Nor is it pity,” he replied, holding my gaze as he touched my lips once more.
He searched my eyes for a moment, then closed his and leaned into me for a longer, deeper kiss. He pushed my coat from my shoulders and lowered me onto the bed.