Sneak preview! Chapter 1 of A House Of Mirrors

Ever wondered what Mrs Hudson’s first meeting with Sherlock Holmes was like?

Here’s my version…hope you enjoy it!

NB While what’s below is in web format, the book is formatted with indented paragraphs and no spaces between 😉

hom-ks-final

CHAPTER 1

221B Baker Street, 4th January 1881

When would he come?

I checked my watch for perhaps the fourth time in five minutes. Ten past two. I risked a peek at the street outside, buzzing with life on the crisp winter day; carriages rattling past, costermongers shouting their wares, nannies with perambulators, and couples arm-in-arm.

Don’t be silly, Helen, I scolded myself. A grown woman of twenty-eight, behaving like a little girl on her birthday morning! I knew full well that between two and half past was the agreed time. I picked up a novel, Edwin Drood, to occupy myself, but my eyes kept straying from its pages to the window and the world beyond.

The doorbell pealed as though the person ringing it was annoyed at being kept waiting.

It was a quarter past two precisely. Billy ran down the stairs, and the front door creaked.

I rose, straightened my skirts, and glanced in the looking glass. All was in order except my expression, which was altogether too excited for a landlady-in-waiting. I breathed deeply to calm my racing heart, but the effort was wasted as I heard Billy’s light steps in the passageway.

Come!’ I called.

Billy entered, grinning. ‘He’s here, ma’am. The man to see the rooms. Name of Holmes. Shall I show him in?’

Yes please, Billy.’

***

Mr Holmes was a tall, spare young man, well-dressed in a frock-coat and top hat. Despite his height, he reminded me of an intelligent bird as his eyes darted around the room. He took my hand in a firm but delicate grip. ‘Mrs Hudson, I am sorry for the circumstances which have led you to take in a lodger.’ His hand was slim and long-fingered, but mottled with stains and little scars. Mr Holmes saw me examining his hand, and gently withdrew it.

I looked down at my black-trimmed dress. ‘Thank you, Mr Holmes.’ I think my voice remained steady, but inside me a tangle of emotions were fighting to break free. There was excitement at what I was about to do; misgiving that it might be too early; curiosity about my visitor; and fear that this might not be what Jack would have wanted. But excitement and curiosity were winning the race. ‘Would you like me to show you the rooms?’

He inclined his head. ‘I would.’

***

I had expected Mr Holmes to ask questions as I showed him the suite of rooms which were to let, but he was quiet. I found myself babbling about breakfast preferences and domestic matters. ‘There are two bedrooms, both opening off the sitting room . . .

Two bedrooms?’ Mr Holmes raised his eyebrows. ‘I was not aware of that.’

Oh yes,’ I said. ‘I am sorry, I thought you had been informed.’

No, Lestrade didn’t mention it…’ His voice tailed off as he wandered round the first bedroom, looking outside, opening drawers and cupboards, inspecting the washstand and the mirror. ‘The room would suit me admirably, though. A good view of the street outside, excellent natural light, plenty of space for clothes…’ He walked back into the sitting room, and I followed. ‘How much do you propose to let the rooms for?’

I should say four guineas a week. That was what Inspector Lestrade said the agent had advised. ‘Three pounds ten shillings?’

Mr Holmes let out a low whistle. ‘That is more than I can afford at present, Mrs Hudson. I am in the process of establishing my practice, which is an expensive business, and my income is not steady as yet. The sitting room would be an excellent consulting room, though, and the address most respectable…’

What is your profession, Mr Holmes?’ I looked at him afresh, to deduce what sort of work he might do. Nothing manual, judging from his hands — but what of the stains and scars on them? Could he be a surgeon? But then he would not need a consulting room. That ruled out a scientist, too. He might be a sculptor, or another sort of artist — but then he would require a studio…

A low laugh shook me out of my speculations. ‘You are trying to work me out, Mrs Hudson!’ Mr Holmes looked at me from under his eyebrows. ‘You won’t guess, though. As far as I know, I am the only one of my kind. Your best clue is my connection to Inspector Lestrade.’

Ah.’ That explained the Inspector’s ready acquiescence when I had proposed taking a lodger, and his recommendation of the gentleman standing before me. ‘You don’t look like a policeman.’ I tried to smile, but my mouth refused to obey. Jack was in the sitting room with me, striding in with a smell of London fog and smoke and outside about him. He would pull off his gloves, fling himself into the basket-chair and launch into a detailed account of the day’s investigations. Perhaps another woman would have been bored, but I loved every minute of it, just as I loved Jack.

Mrs Hudson, are you quite well? You looked a little…’

I waved a hand. ‘I am quite all right, Mr Holmes. Just a — well, a memory.’

Good, good.’ He seemed a little distracted too, as if debating something with himself. ‘Mrs Hudson, I shall be frank with you. I am setting up as a consulting detective. That is why I am seeking rooms, and I have seen none that would suit me so well as those you offer. I take it that you do not mind callers? Frequent callers?’

Now I was back on safe ground. ‘No, not at all. I am likely to receive more visitors myself soon.’ I indicated my half-mourning.

And your staff would provide meals, and clean the rooms? Is that included in the price?’

I nodded.

Then it is settled. I shall attempt to find a partner in these rooms, and contact you if I am successful.’ Mr Holmes rose.

If you can find someone to share the cost, I might be able to reduce the price to three guineas a week.’ The words shot out of my mouth, and I blushed.

Mrs Hudson, that would be extremely kind of you. I shall begin my enquiries immediately.’

I rang for Billy to show Mr Holmes out. Then I sank back onto the settee and clapped my hands to my burning cheeks. Soon I would become a landlady to two complete strangers, an occupation I knew nothing of. Soon I would be able to start my life again, and Mr Holmes had no idea that he was a key part of my plans.

To read on in the free Amazon preview, click here.


The  featured image is Reading by Vladimir Pustovit, which is shared under Creative Commons license 2.0

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