Disclaimer: I do not own Sherlock Holmes, Dr. John Watson, or any associated characters invented by Arthur Conan Doyle. Neither do I own Dr. Victor Frankenstein or any associated characters invented by Miss Mary Shelley. I am borrowing these characters with the utmost reverence, and intend to return them in the condition in which I found them.
Author's note: This story came to me in a dream, and I thought the idea so intriguing that I decided to try to bring together the two storylines. This story is a what-if AU of "Frankenstein".
Quite possibly the most shocking case I have ever experience, either in my long career as a physician or in my rather shorter but certainly no less eventful vocation as the biographer of my dear friend Sherlock Holmes, began one grim evening in late November of 1891. It had been sleeting all evening, offering no indication of letting up, and thus the weather itself offered a fitting background for the visitor who obviously felt her case dire enough to brave such conditions.
The giantess who greeted me as I answered the bell was well over six feet tall, potentially rivaling my own lanky friend in height, but rather than possessing the unnatural gangliness of limb that generally plagued those afflicted with giantism, she was as well-proportioned as a woman of normal scale, though I wondered that she had managed to find a seamstress and corsetiere intrepid enough to fit her. She possessed the poise of an educated woman, however, and I dared not turn her away.
"I wish to speak with Mr. Sherlock Holmes," she said, in a voice that was rather further down on the musical scale than made me entirely comfortable, and left me with the impression that she was a man dressed up like a woman for some perverse reason, although as she pushed back the wet hood of her cape I saw nothing masculine about her face and that, but for her shocking size, she was a mildly attractive woman, albeit one who had apparently fallen into the habit of painting her face too heavily for good taste. I turned to indicate my friend, only to notice that he had already marked her extraordinary presence and was already standing to greet her.
"I am Sherlock Holmes," said he, offering his hand to her as if there were nothing out of the ordinary about her, and as she took it in her own gloved hand I saw that she did indeed surmount him by several inches.
"My name is Bridget LeJean," she replied, "And I have a difficult matter to discuss with you – privately if at all possible." She shot me a distrustful glance.
"You may speak freely in front of Dr. Watson," Holmes assured her, "And trust that your words will be held in the utmost confidence." He took her wet cape and hung it before the fire to dry, and motioned her to a chair before the fire, and we all sat.
"For most of my life I never knew my father or mother," Miss LeJean said, "For reasons that were not explained to me I was sent away to live with one Dr. Septimus Praetorius, who said he was my uncle, though I have since learned that this was not so, and that he was merely a friend of my father's. He raised me and tutored me the best he could, and kept in contact with my father via regular correspondence, in the course of which Praetorius would tell my father of my progress with this and that, and my father would send along money or baubles for me to wear, along with instructions for how I was to be raised to be a proper lady. The later letters explained his ultimate plans for me, hinting at the possibility of an arranged marriage – but tragedy struck before these plans could come to fruition. My mother died in a violent attack, and my father thereafter disappeared, fleeing my mother's murderer according to his last letter, and I heard no more of him until his body was brought back from far to the north by a ship captained by a Mr. Walton. The identity of my intended husband went with him to his icy grave, leaving me with a lonely future.
"I hold no illusions about my marriageability, Mr. Holmes. I am terrible to behold, and no man would have me as his wife if he were given the chance to refuse. Therefore, the arrangement my father had been orchestrating was my only chance to marry, thereby avoiding the life of spinsterhood that currently awaits me. I must find out the identity of my intended husband, for certainly he must be waiting for me as well. Please, Mr. Holmes – I beg you to help me!"
At this last she impulsively grasped my poor friend's wrist in a grip so fierce as to elicit a small grimace from Holmes, which she also noticed, much to her embarrassment, and released him.
"Your tale is a tragic one," he said, "And while I do not usually play matchmaker for forlorn women, I feel your desperation is genuine. Have you asked Dr. Praetorius what he knows of the bridal arrangement?"
"Sadly, he has died," she said, "and his passage came not long after the news of my father's death reached England. I had not the opportunity to ask him after he took ill, but I spent many fruitless hours sifting through his papers, looking for any clue but finding none."
"Did you keep any of his papers?"
"I kept his study exactly as it was before he died. Having no place to go, I remained at his house after he died, and nobody has asked me to leave." She gave the address.
"I assure you, Miss LeJean, that I will make every effort possible to find out the identity and, if possible, the location of your intended husband, and see to it that you are united as your father intended."
She gushed her tearful thanks, wiping her eyes with a silk handkerchief, and Holmes saw her to the door. He stood before the door for a few minutes after she'd gone, in a pose that I had come to recognize as one of deep meditation. Finally, when the sound of the departing taxi had faded into silence, he turned to me.
"Watson, did you happen to notice anything unusual about our visitor?" he asked me. My jaw dropped, for the number of possible answers to his question would have filled many hours. "I mean," he continued, waving away my shock, "Aside from her great size. I noticed a number of noteworthy features, if you would care to listen.
"First was her choice of name. I can say with confidence that it was a pseudonym or some sort of assumed name, because while her surname sounded French, her Christian name was more likely of Irish or Gaelic origin – not a common combination. This tells me that her true surname would be widely known, or else have negative connotations that she felt might influence my decision about whether or not to take on her case.
"Second was the amount of makeup she'd used on her face, generally indicating some skin condition such as leprosy or smallpox. However, when she wiped her eyes I noted the true underlying reason – Miss LeJean's complexion was unlike any I'd seen – quite yellowish, in fact, but not apparently to indicate any skin condition, for the skin under the makeup was smooth and unblemished."
"Jaundice?" I asked.
"The pallor I observed was not that of jaundice – but what it might be I do not care to speculate at this time.
"The third feature I noticed was, of course, her great strength – highly unusual in an Englishwoman. When she grasped my wrist I quite felt the bones being ground together – but fortunately she has learned to be somewhat mindful of this, and she released me before any damage was done. Whether this is of any importance, of course, remains to be seen.
"The fourth feature about her I noticed was, I believe the most telling – her eyes were mismatched. The left one was blue and the right was green. How often have you come across mismatched eye coloring in your medical career, Watson?"
"Hardly ever," I confessed.
"Again, this detail may be of no great import, but it is certainly noteworthy. But for right now, let's see what light we can shed on the true identity of our foul-weather visitor. Kindly retrieve the 'P' volume of my index and read to me what it says under 'Praetorius'."
I retrieved the appropriate volume of Holmes' extensive library on all noteworthy families, however socially obscure they might be, and found the entry for Praetorius.
"'The Praetorius line was a distinguished family of musicians in Germany in the 16th and 17th centuries…'" I began, but he waved impatiently.
"I have no interest in the 16th and 17th centuries," he said, "What does it say about current members of the family?"
I scanned down the entry until I found a familiar name. "Here we are. Septimus Praetorius, a noted scientist, physician and biologist, born in Germany in… Holmes, this can't be right."
"What can't be right?" he asked, a bit nettled that his index was being called into question.
"Holmes, Septimus Praetorius was born a hundred years ago! He died in 1853 – certainly he couldn't be the same man to whom Miss LeJean referred!"
"This does indeed bear further investigation. Read further – did he have any associates or colleagues?"
I read further. "Married once… widowed… no children… Scientific contemporary of…" My blood ran cold when I saw the name. "Holmes, I think you should see this for yourself."
He took the book from me and glanced at the entry. A small smile crossed his features. "Well, well," he said, "It appears our guest has a predilection for scientific horrors and fairy stories. A flair for the dramatic as well, I expect. This should prove to be a very interesting case indeed, Watson."
I wholeheartedly agreed, for Dr. Septimus Praetorius was none other than the man who taught Dr. Victor Frankenstein!