Last and First Meeting
From the Journal of Mrs. Hudson. (British spelling, 19th-Century language.)
“Garden as though you will live forever.” – William Kent
21 September, 1880
My autumn London day began blue-skied and cold. Its capricious nature soon embodied my own state. Equinoctial winds whipped the trees and an hour’s dreich downpour pummelled the city. Streets became fast rivulets, and rain thrust inside my coal-black cape. I arrived dripping puddles.
This was not what we had planned.
Inspector Lestrade met me at the mortuary, he hung my cloak and offered his arm, then coolly shepherded me down the grey hall he was used to treading. I am desperate to find James. Yet not this way. Maybe they are wrong? Maybe it is someone else?
I was keenly aware of the sharp astringent of the morgue as the inspector and I trudged the faded whitewashed hall. We turned into a white-tiled room, well-lit by gaslight. Beneath my capable exterior, a waif cowered. The coroner in lab coat and black apron discoloured with the blood and offal of his subjects, and a tall young man stood near. The inspector mechanically brought me to the table, nodded to the coroner and uncovered the head and chest of the corpse.
My husband lay naked on a slab beneath a sheet. So perfect, I was afraid to touch him. Afraid the mirage would break apart or fade. His wound was visible for inspection. His face was as beautiful as in life. I took hold of his hand. It was shockingly, inhumanly cold.
The young man rushed over as my knees gave way. The room was stone silent except for the clatter of his walking stick as it fell to the tile. His strong arms must have caught me before I hit.
“Lestrade, ammonia, now!” he called.
I awoke sitting on a bench in the hall with the sting of brandy on my lips and pushed aside the gently offered flask. The young man was very solicitous, a look of care on his thin, prominent, and handsome features. There was the young’un about him as if he had not yet grown into his nose, ears, or feet. The long, lean fingers of his right hand were warmly patting mine.
One bullet, a small internal explosion, a blemish on perfection. James’ perfectly sculpted Adonis body rebelled at the very idea of death. Gods lived forever!
I thought, Where was he now? James was so alive, lived every minute compassionately, joyfully. We married for life. How could I go on? This was not real. James was still alive. I knew it! I felt it! That frigid body in the morgue had no feeling, no life––it could not be James! What was I going to do without him? How could I go on?
Someone coughed, and I realized I was standing in an open office with tears running down my face. I signed papers conferring my beautiful husband to the West London Synagogue for British Jews. The young man offered his handkerchief. But the tears wouldn’t stop. A dam was bursting.
“His wedding ring, Inspector? I would like it.”
“Jewellery is routinely removed. But he had none and no identification of any kind. The Jew, Dreyfus, identified him.”
Like a bluebottle buzzing into my thoughts, Inspector Lestrade questioned me about my husband’s involvement in illegal activities. I told him unequivocally that James never would.
He continued as if my words were meaningless. Realizing his horrible questions were tinged with that sneer usually reserved for those of the Jewish faith, I lost my fine senses and hollered.
“Are you, deaf, Inspector? James was as law-abiding as you!”
At this point, the young gentleman introduced himself as Mr. Holmes and offered his arm. He led me out of the morgue, into deep night and brought me home in a cab. I fumbled with my keys and unlocked my door. He hung up my wet cape, sat me down, wrapped a blanket around my shoulders, stoked the fire, and made tea in my kitchen. The dam had burst, and my tears were endless. He gave me another handkerchief, picked up the awful telegram from the hall carpet, and threw it in the fire. He wrote a message on the back and placed his card on the table.
Then he left me to the horror and regret of my grief.
22 September 1880
Murder in Westminster
James Hudson Killed in Baker Street
Tuesday, 21 September, 1880.
A young ruffian of the Jewish persuasion, identified as James Hudson, was found dead under circumstances that point to foul play. He was a member of the notorious St. James’s Boxing Club. The coroner reported he was shot through the heart and died where he fell. The discovery was made first by moneylender Dreyfus’ in whose disreputable premises the dead man was found. Inspector Lestrade, a new and promising member of Scotland Yard’s Criminal Investigation Department, reported the dead man was built like a pugilist.
“I see it all the time. In his line of work, this is not unusual. Thugs like this specialize in assaults, intimidations and the like. They are hired by moneylenders to put pressure on clients or to collect on a debt. He may have simply met his match this time. It is an occupational hazard,” the inspector said.
At least one other unsavoury-looking brawler was found lurking at the Baker Street windows with other gawkers outside the scene of the shooting. Authorities pursued the miscreant and were confident of a quick apprehension.
Let this be a warning to all citizens of our fair city––beware of devious associations and unscrupulous practices!
23 September, 1880
Mr. Holmes came again, always with staples, milk for tea, fresh eggs for breakfast. I went to unlatch the door and heard shouts on the other side.
“Tell your hounds this house is under my protection!” It was Mr. Holmes’ voice.
I opened the door, and he was standing on my step dusting off his frock-coat. A little rumpled, Mr. Holmes entered and firmly closed the door behind him. Yet he had a triumphant smile and the air of one whose decision has been made. In my kitchen, he washed his hands, wrapped his handkerchief around the knuckles of his right fist, and put my kettle on to boil.
“Excuse me, Mrs. Hudson,” he sheepishly said.
That was all. Mr. Holmes was a young man comfortable with silence. Then, as I poured the tea, he asked if my lodger had moved out. How he knew was beyond me, but I told him the rooms would be available at the New Year. He gave me a generous advance right then and there. Said he would take it. Then he warned me to keep my doors and windows locked, and left.
While washing the tea things, I thought about what Mr. Holmes had announced to all the ears of Baker Street. Was he truly my protector? Did I need protection? He thought I did.
Out in my garden, the trellised roses were blooming, most of the beds were now fallow, dried stalks, leaves, and marigold seeds to be gathered. My beautiful husband and I planted this crop. It had begun with hope and love. Provided for me throughout the season, and now was over.
Like so many comings and goings of my life, it was unusual that James and I had met at all. Being of an adventurous Scots disposition, I was attending the Lectures for Ladies at Newnham College, one of two women’s colleges founded by Jewish and suffragist educators at Cambridge. No woman could achieve a degree at this time, yet we were now allowed to study the same subjects as men students. And the colleges were filled with the excitement of history being made.
A tall, young gentleman, with a musician’s gifts, came into my life during the Peterhouse November Concerts. We discovered our many shared interests, and it seemed natural that we should court. One afternoon he steered me to Claridge’s and over tea, he asked for my hand. As we were of different faiths, and both living in London now, our casually heretical wedding fete was held in the Summer Garden of the Imperial Theatre. The orchestra played, minus one French Horn, all morning.
James’ parents had a unique openness toward their son and his exceptional choices. During his early years at the prestigious Priory School and later the intense focus required to achieve each stage of his Cambridge degree, his Jewish life remained in London. In this way, Rabbi Moshe hoped his son would achieve his goals bypassing the anti-Semitism that even now existed in many British communities.
James and I built a joy-filled life here in Baker Street. My beautiful husband. What do I do now?