The occasion upon which I found myself in Manhattan came about over the proposed publication of my second folio of stories involving my good friend, Sherlock Holmes, who, unfortunately, was not immediately available to accompany me as he was in the Crimea with Lady Penelope Ashton and her band of rogues on another matter. A bidding war raged over what Holmes often referred to as my ‘dime store dreadfuls,’ which were as accurate of an account of our exploits as could be written. The offers outdid one another for months through correspondences with three notable publishing houses, those being Gray Coyne Books, Brady Hall Publishing, and Mangum House.
To be truthful, of which I always am, our escapades had become a tad pedantic to the general public of the British Empire; however, our popularity in America continued to grow. I thought it best to travel to the States as quickly as possible before the three major distributors lost interest in me or, worse yet, the Yanks grew restless waiting for my tales to be told and turned to someone else like Stephen Crane or that blowhard, Mark Twain. The publishing world can be a tad frenetic. Like a struck match, the slightest change in direction can quickly extinguish the flame.
Before leaving on my short, albeit a month long, excursion, I took it upon myself to stop off and inform Mrs Hudson of my departure. Since Mary’s death, Martha and I developed a sympathetic ear for one another. Several years before we met, she lost her husband, Ned Hudson, in a pier fire up in Liverpool. Rumours persisted that Ned was responsible for the arson that would eventually kill him. When pressed to have her detective tenant investigate her late husband’s fate, Martha shook her head saying, “Sometimes it’s best to let a matter rest.”
She was just sitting down to tea when I arrived.
“John! I wasn’t expecting you today.”
“If my presence is preventing you from other activities I won’t stay.”
“Nonsense. Baker Street is quiet when your friend is gone. Come in.”
“Have you heard from Holmes?” I took a seat at her table.
She poured, shaking her head. “No, I’m afraid not. I just hope he and Lady Penelope aren’t lost in the Crimean Mountains. They aren’t due back for several weeks. Provided of course, that they don’t run into any trouble.”
“I share your concern, Martha. I am afraid I won’t be here to welcome him home.”
“Oh? Running off, are you?”
“I’ll be in Manhattan for two weeks negotiating the publication of another book of our adventures for the good people of America.”
Martha scoffed. “I do wish you be kind when it comes to me.”
“I only write the truth I see.”
“Oh. Wonderful. You’ve described me as a long suffering, decent cook and of having a queenly tread.”
“Holmes’s words. I just record them.”
“How would you describe me, John?”
I sipped my tea. “I’m afraid I’m not very good at extemporaneous speaking.”
“I don’t have my pen or ink.”
“I have pen. I have ink. Shall I get them for you?”
Martha rose. I took her hand. “Mrs Hudson may have endured a number of dubious visitations by nefarious guests seeking the assistance of her extraordinary resident, yet she hardly showed any dissatisfaction in the arrangement.”
“All very clinical, John.”
I gently squeezed her hand. “Bear with me, Martha. Most of my work is completed after the fact. It’s a reflection as opposed to a declaration.”
“She entered the room like a spring morning. Fresh. Bright. Magnificent. I could never be more than a shadow in her presence for standing anywhere else when she was near would be to block her beauty from the world.”
“Now you’ve done it,” she said softly.
“I have, haven’t I?”
We kissed as passionately over a table set for tea as people our age could. When we parted, there were tears in her eyes. I feared I had misinterpreted the situation.
“I shall miss you,” she said. She placed a hand to my cheek.
“Pity you can’t come with me.”