It was a chilly and blustery day when Holmes and I ventured down to the port to bid goodbye to Godfrey Norton and Eduard Thermopolis. Over the last week, Norton had regained enough strength to return to
Norton was still pale, but he had begun to put on weight again and once I saw him I knew it would not be long before he was fully restored to his hale self. He grasped our hands and thanked us both profusely while Eduard, with tears in his eyes, told Holmes that he had spared him the shining light in his life. I was gratified to see Holmes respond with a genuine smile.
Mary arrived at the pier with her mistress, who was every bit as elegant and lovely as I remembered. Irene Norton stepped aside to give her personal thanks to Holmes and while the two quietly and briefly conversed I noticed what a striking pair they made, a tall polished gentleman standing proudly before a well-known adventuress and star of the operatic stage. I saw her give Holmes a white envelope, which he tucked into his breastpocket before taking her hand and bowing graciously.
Mary appeared her calm, unruffled self with the one notable exception of the radiance behind her eyes, and when I took her hand, her face broke into a wide smile. I wanted to tell her I wish there was more I could have done, but she simply shook her head and assured me it had happened exactly as it should have.
“I won’t forgive him for preventing me from assisting you,” I confessed just before we parted.
“And she won’t forgive me for risking my life,” she said with a laugh.
“We’re in good hands, aren’t we?” I asked her, and she returned my knowing grin with an enthusiastic nod. We glanced over at our pair of lovers who were waiting patiently for us to return to their respective sides.
“You know you can always count on us, either or both, at any time, for anything,” I told her after we embraced.
“You may do the same, John,” she replied in kind, and I was again reminded of her unwavering strength, particularly now that she was partnered with such a force as Irene Norton, and there seemed no challenge the two of them could not face. We would stay married for ease and protection, unless there came a time when one of us would find greater benefit from a legal divorce, but for all practical purposes we finally and fully released one another to our lives and loves.
I found Holmes waiting for me by the railing of the pier, and together we watched Mary and Irene bid their farewells to Eduard and Godfrey.
“Fine fellows,” I remarked to Holmes. “That was rather a sweet thing of Eduard to say about Godfrey being the light of his life.”
Holmes turned towards me, offered a rapid smile before turning serious again, and looked down for a moment. When he again brought his gaze to mine, his grey eyes flashed with a particular intense sincerity I have only ever seen on a handful of occasions. He brought a gloved hand to my face.
“I hope you know, Watson, that you are of no less value to me,” he said in a low voice.
“Of course I do,” I smiled and I took his hand in mine. One day I might tell him that such a sentiment from his lips was tantamount to a week of lovemaking for the joy it brought me, but for now I simply touched a light kiss to his fingers.
“Let’s go home,” I murmured, and offered him my arm.
It wasn’t until we reached
“What was it that Mrs. Norton gave you?” I asked him as we alit our cab.
“Ah, Watson,” he said mischievously as we climbed the seventeen steps to our rooms. “As a token of her gratitude, she presented me with a pair of tickets and the only key to her private box for her performance of Lakmé at the Royal Opera House next month. Are you interested?”
I opened my mouth to tell him just how very interested I was, and to suggest that perhaps we should set to certain rehearsals of our own for this event, but we were both suddenly distracted by strange noises coming from the sitting room.
The door was only slightly ajar, but the sounds of a woman’s sighs and giggles were unmistakable. Holmes put his index finger to his lips and approached the door while I hung my hat and coat. I watched his face go from surprise to amusement when he took in the scene before him, and he motioned for me to come take a look myself.
Mrs. Hudson was sitting on the settee fully clothed, but her small body was wrapped around the form of an unidentified woman with neatly coiffed hair and fashionable clothing. Our landlady was straddling the woman’s lap, whose arm disappeared into Mrs. Hudson’s skirts and was moving about with distinctive rhythm.
“Oh, Julia, Julia,” Mrs. Hudson sighed, and when she threw her head back that blissful, climactic smile poured across her rosy cheeks. She gasped and laughed and bounced gently on top of her friend.
Holmes and I stepped back from the door and stared at each other in delighted shock. He loudly cleared his throat, I followed his lead, and we allowed the ladies a minute to right themselves before we entered the sitting room.
When Holmes pushed the door open Mrs. Hudson had risen rather unsteadily to her feet and was making a clumsy attempt to smooth her loosened hair and load half-empty teacups onto her tray.
“Dr. Holmes, Mr. Watson,” she said in an unnaturally high voice without looking up at either of us, “Mrs. Julia Weatherby…here to see you…”
She dropped the sugarbowl onto the tray with a loud clack.
“…she’s a dear friend from my school…her late philanthropist was a husband who…”
The tray wobbled in her hands as she picked it up.
“…in an endowment…possibly there may be…something to….investigate…,” and she giggled again as she almost dropped the china on her way out of the sitting room. Holmes, who was staring at her in eager disbelief, opened the door to let her out and it was all I could do to stifle a laugh as we watched her teeter onto the landing.
Mrs. Julia Weatherby, who remained the very picture of dignity, smoothed her hair into place and rose proudly from the settee.
“Ah, Mrs. Weatherby, do sit down. I am Sherlock Holmes and this is my partner Dr. Watson, before whom you may say anything as before me.” He swiftly loaded his pipe from the Persian slipper and settled majestically into his armchair. I retrieved my notebook from my desk and pulled up beside him.
“Now,” he said after he puffed his pipe to life, “lay everything before us and tell us how we may be of assistance in this matter.”