This is the second of four excerpts I plan to post of my current WIP, The Good Doctor. The complete book is currently running as a series on Bethany’s Woodshed. The first of these excerpts is available here.
The journey from Thistleborne to Baker Street was fairly extensive, but he made it with the knowledge that he would be suitably compensated. Tending to the cosseted daughters of the wealthy was rewarding in more ways than one, a fortunate thing for him as he was without any other source of income.
Upon arrival at the Holmes residence he rapped upon the door, waited a moment or two, then knocked again. There was no response. He checked his pocket watch and knocked yet again. This time there was a shuffling and then a slow creaking as the door was drawn open slowly to reveal the somewhat shrunken apparition of what he assumed was a butler.
“My name is Doctor Watson,” John said. “And I am here to see Mary Holmes.”
“I am Hudson,” the old man replied. “And Mary Holmes isn’t here.” He made to shut the door again, but John put his shined boot in the door jamb, preventing its closure.
“I am the doctor,” John repeated. “I was called to see Mary Holmes.”
Hudson shook himself like an old dog and tried to explain more thoroughly. “Mary Holmes is gone, sir. Ain’t here sir. She’s somewhere else, sir.”
Doctor Watson’s features assumed an expression of undeniable frustration. “I am to inspect her,” he said. “She has been complaining of a cold.”
“That be partly true, sir. She has been suffering with a cold to be sure, but she’s not been complaining. It’s her meddling aunt who laid the complaint on her behalf, I’ll wager.”
“When might she come home?”
The question prompted little more than a shrug which was not followed by a verbal response until it became apparent that the glowering doctor was not satisfied.
“She stays out all hours. Keeps her own hours, she does.”
“But she is unmarried, is she not? And a young lady.”
“Twenty one years of age,” Hudson replied. “A vowed spinster.”
“I hardly think a lady of twenty one could be called a spinster.”
“Lady Holmes would have it no other way, sir,” Hudson said. “No interest in menfolk her. Too busy with her work, she is.”
John had heard all manner of tales about the young Mary Holmes. Tales of her exploits were rife in good society, which she was arguably not so much a part of as a curiosity for.
“Do you know where her work might have taken her?”
“She said something about the Rat’s Shank,” Hudson said.
At first John was almost certain he must have misheard the man. The Rat’s Shank was a well known den of iniquity and the mere mention of its name made John’s brows rise.
“Are you certain? You say she has gone to the Rat’s Shank?”
“Oh yes, sir. Mary Holmes goes where she pleases.”
“I do not imagine her father the Lord Holmes would approve.”
“Isn’t my place to say, sir,” Hudson replied. “Mary lives her life as she pleases, that much I can say. I’ll let her know you called in, sir.”
That was not a satisfactory state of affairs in Doctor Watson’s mind. It was quite obvious to him that he had stumbled upon a situation in dire need of rectification. A young lady of good breeding could not be allowed to wander London by herself, especially not when her wanderings took her into dens of depravity and danger alike.
He took a hansom cab as far as the driver would take him, then walked the rest of the way to the Rat’s Shank. The establishment was located in one of the more dangerous districts in the East End, so perilous a place that men of moral character and concern for their person and property would not walk among those who called it home.
As he passed by various pickpockets, drunks and cursing devils, John was forced to consider that Hudson might have sent him on a fool’s errand, or worse, into the arms of criminal comrades. He was glad for the stout walking cane he carried, and made sure to keep it at a position where it might be most useful for cracking the skull of anyone who were to interfere with his person.
He entered the Rat’s Shank without incident, finding it only half-full for it was not past noon and most drunks were still sleeping off the previous evening’s indulgences.
“Excuse me,” he said, addressing the heap of cloth and gristle which passed for a publican. “Have you seen a young lady by the name of Holmes?”
One eye turned toward him, the other remained staring into the ether, being made of glass. “I might ‘ave.”
“You might have?”
The man made a grimace, rotten teeth and fetid breath causing Doctor Watson to withdraw a step. “Silver helps me think, doctor.”
“Bribery and blackmail,” John observed. “Very well, man, have your piece of silver.”
He reached into his pocket, pulled out a coin and tossed it on the bar. It was snatched up quickly and secreted in the publican’s pouch. A head full of greasy hair was nodded toward the floor.
“She’s down below.”
Now thoroughly concerned for the Lady Holmes, John hastened down rickety stairs which were lit diffusely by a glow from a lamp in the cellar. With each step, his concern grew. What had befallen the young lady? Had she been imprisoned or in some way interfered with?
“Blast and buggeration!”
Unmistakeable female tones carried the words to his ears. He took the last of the stairs in one long stride and found himself staring at the rear end of a woman wearing fine brown skirts and long leather boots. The rest of her person was obscured, pressed beneath a low table, from which edifying noises were arising.