My account begins on the morning of October 6, 1897, when Sherlock Holmes and I learned that a young woman had been murdered in Whitechapel.
I had overslept. The midnight chimes of the church clock had jarred me out of a distressing dream, and I tossed and turned and listened to the rain pelting down against my sleeping room window until the first gray light of dawn emerged between the curtains. Then, perversely, I fell into a heavy slumber, not waking until the sound of voices and breakfast dishes came from below my sleeping room at 221B Baker Street. I dressed hastily and shaved badly, and I was still groggy when I came down my stairs to our sitting room.
My first glance at our breakfast table showed me that Lucy James, Holmes’s daughter and frequent investigative partner, had come and gone. Her plate and coffee cup and napkin were stacked tidily on a tray opposite Holmes’s usual place. Breakfast had been prepared by Mrs. Hudson in her kitchen, of course. Lucy had taken the spare flat on the ground floor below ours, partly as a security precaution and partly because of the distressing memories associated with her former residence on Exeter Street. She had lately begun the practice of carrying up our meals on those occasions when she wanted to see Holmes. I was always glad to see her, particularly at breakfast, for that meant she had come home safely from the previous night’s performance at the Savoy Theatre. Holmes and I both worried about her safety, though neither of us admitted it.
I was also gratified to see Holmes’s napkin and utensils atop his own plate on his side of our table, which indicated that he had also breakfasted. He was now in his chair by the fireside, his face hidden behind an unfolded newspaper, wreathed in a blue-gray cloud of shag tobacco smoke. A stack of unread newspapers lay before him on the hassock, and more papers, those he had already perused, lay in an untidy heap on the carpet.
I filled my own plate with a generous helping of Mrs. Hudson’s scrambled eggs, crisp bacon, and buttered toast, and was about to sit down when I heard Holmes’s voice coming from behind the newspaper.
“I have ordered a cab for Downing Street. Ten o’clock.”
I consulted my watch. The time was half past nine. At eleven, we were due at Downing Street for an appointment with Sir Michael Hicks Beach, Chancellor of the Exchequer. Holmes had been looking forward to the meeting ever since it had been arranged, more than a week ago.
“Then I shall have a half hour to enjoy a leisurely breakfast,” I replied.
“I fear not. Inspector Lestrade will be here soon.”
“You’ve heard from him?”
“I have not.”
“What makes you think he is coming?”
“An incident reported in The Morning Post tells me that his arrival is inevitable.” Holmes paused. Then he went on, “It's just as well that Lucy did not notice it.”
He was silent as I poured my coffee. There was no point in querying him about the incident. He would tell me what he wanted to tell me in his own time, if he told me anything at all.
Then he said, “I take it congratulations to you are in order, then?”
“Your editor at The Strand has engaged you on a new project.”
My cheeks flushed hot. “How do you know that?”
“You remarked on receiving his letter when you took it from your mail basket two days ago. You went out for an appointment yesterday afternoon. You returned with a new leather-bound notebook and reservoir pen, which you unwrapped in my presence. And, as I know you would not break our understanding by allowing yourself to become engaged in a retelling of any of our current adventures since I returned from the Reichenbach Falls—”
He paused, lowered his newspaper, and looked at me expectantly. His hawk-like features and keen gray eyes appeared perfectly tranquil.
“That goes without saying, Holmes.”
“Therefore, I conclude that you have a new writing project and that it must be one of your own invention.”
“I admit that the other links in your chain of reasoning are sound,” I said. “But your last conclusion is incorrect.”
“You did not invent the new project?”
“I had it thrust upon me, so to speak. My editor has a client—a charity for deserving young women—which needs someone to document the success of the organization in a way that will attract donations. The editor thought that since my name is already known to the public—”
Holmes interrupted in the dismissive, perfunctory way he adopts when he wishes to move the discussion along to other matters. “Then the outcome is satisfactory. You will gratify your natural need for public acclaim, and perhaps your association with the charitable organization will prove congenial. I take it you have already met the lady in charge.”
I felt my cheeks go hot once more. “How could you possibly know that?”
For a long moment he regarded me with what I thought was a mixture of fondness and disappointment. It flashed through my mind that I must have betrayed my feelings in some manner that was obvious to him but of which I was unaware.
At that moment, we heard the sound of our bell-pull being rung.
“That will be Lestrade,” Holmes said. He folded his newspaper and tossed it aside onto the pile. “We will continue this conversation another time.”
Inspector Lestrade soon was admitted by Mrs. Hudson and appeared on our doorstep, hat in hand, squinting and shivering in his wet mackintosh. He gratefully accepted Holmes’s direction to warm himself at the fire and stood for a time on our hearthstones, hands out to absorb the heat as small puddles of rainwater spread from beneath his worn brown boots. His wary, close-set eyes and slumped, furtive posture showed the effects of the grinding frustrations that were his lot as a detective inspector in the great city. Perhaps to compensate, Lestrade had an irritating habit of assuming that his position as a police official made him superior to an amateur such as Holmes—until the opposite was made evident. Yet Lestrade’s officious pride never seemed to nettle Holmes, who frequently gave Lestrade credit for successful outcomes in cases that Holmes himself had solved.
Now, Holmes leaned forward. “Inspector, I trust the warmth of the fire has done its work. Will you take coffee? No? Brandy, perhaps? No? Well then. Pray take the chair across from me. I take it you wish to discuss the Mitre Square killing.”
Lestrade’s pinched features opened up into a cagy, knowing smile. “You have read the papers.”
“The Post, to be precise. Beyond what I found there, I know nothing. What do you know?”
“Well, Mr. Holmes, I expect that you already have your response prepared to what you think I’m going to tell you. You’re going to say what you always say, that every time a dead woman turns up in Whitechapel, the entire Metropolitan police force flies into a panic, thinking the Ripper may have returned. And now that you’ve read The Post, you’re going to point out that aside from the location of Mitre Square, where the fifth victim of the Ripper was found, there is no resemblance whatever between this killing and those of nearly a decade ago. You’re going to point out that the woman found in Mitre Square last night was strangled and that all the victims of the Ripper were set upon with a knife. Then you’re going to wave your hand in an airy gesture of dismissal.”
A flicker of interest passed across Holmes’s hooded eyes. “So you do know something that is not in The Post.”
Lestrade fairly beamed. “I know the victim was stabbed, Mr. Holmes. Stabbed in the heart by a narrow blade. And if this really is our man, and we can bring him in—”
“Where is the body?”
“St. Thomas Hospital. We had it moved from Whitechapel to keep away from the press.”
Holmes stood. “Is your police coach outside? Yes? Then, Watson, get your coat and umbrella.”
“Are we not going to Downing Street?” I asked.
Lestrade’s eyes widened.
“We can walk there from the hospital,” Holmes replied, “after we have seen what we need to see.” To Lestrade, he said, “The Downing Street matter is an unrelated one.”
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