“The Incomparable Ms. Incognita“
There are some cases that I was reluctant to ever publish, not because of official pressure, but rather due to personal feelings. Some cases simply got under my skin. Others revealed a little too much about Sherlock Holmes’ private life or inner struggles. This case seemed to do all of the above. The government, Sherlock Holmes, and myself were all exposed to enormous trauma. I thus refused to write out these notes for many years. But the truth must out, as Holmes would chastise me, so here I report on a sordid crime that also happened to include my first meeting with a most incomparable lady.
A startling thunder of noise awoke me early one February morning. Shocked, I struggled upright in bed. It was a fierce knocking on the door of 221b, that continued frantically. I heard movement from my roommate on the stairs and a muffled, “Oh, dear!” from poor Mrs. Hudson, as well. Gathering my wits, I rose from bed, lit a lamp, and put on my robe. It was still extremely dark outside the window and momentarily, when I lit a clock face, I was informed it was not even four-thirty in the morning.
“Good Lord!” I swore, and headed downstairs.
I heard voices from the vestibule and was met by Holmes and a young lady swathed in a royal blue hooded cape dusted with snow coming back up the stairs.
“I have taken care of it, Mrs. Hudson. It is nothing. Return to bed!” Holmes shouted to our landlady and then escorted our unexpected visitor into the study.
I followed, curious to discover the nature of this emergency.
“Shan’t you join us, Watson? Ah, then stoke the fire and knock off the chill,” Holmes barked and moved to take off the lady’s outer garment.
I was crossing the room when she threw back her hood and a wealth of red curls sprang forth framing a breathtakingly beautiful young face with eyes so green they almost glowed in the twilight. I dare say I stumbled before recovering my step. She opened the front of the fur-lined cape and unclasped the top for Holmes. Her dress was of very fine cut and fabric, with lines of exquisitely sewn flowers running down either side. She took her offered seat.
Sherlock handed me the kettle and informed her, “We shall have a cup of tea to warm you, and, hopefully, calm your nerves, as I see you are very upset.”
She drew a ragged breath and said, “Thank you, Sherlock.”
I started at this familiarity and darted a glance at Holmes. Then I turned back to study her face more intently. I could see now by the growing light that she had been crying.
“I-I’m sorry,” I began with a slight cough, so common this time of year, “I seem to be at a loss. Your name is, Miss….?”
She looked at me and then turned her gleaming emerald eyes down towards her lap. She twisted her hands, which were shaking, though I knew not whether from the cold or from something else. “Perhaps he should go–”
“No, this is my confidant and partner, Dr. Watson, of whom you have heard. He is safe to share this conversation.”
“Well, thank you,” I said sarcastically. “So that I might catch up to speed, with whom am I speaking?”
There was a long moment of silence. When she took a breath, Holmes clapped his hands. “This is Ms. Incognita. An old friend.” Holmes smiled. She looked up at him, smiling in a grateful way.
My eyes almost popped out of my head at him. We both know Latin quite well, and this sort of blatant silliness is not so much subterfuge, as it is “shutting John Watson up.” I stared at him for a long moment, but he pointedly refused to meet my gaze. I knew that he had convoluted ties with all sorts of people throughout the city, from criminals and drug addicts on down to the beggar children he often employed. This one might just take the cake, however. Was it a professional or actual friendship?