The Adventure of Hecate House
Chapter 60: When you like and where you like
There was one most gratifying episode in the aftermath to this case. It involved my visiting the Rosehip Heath Seminary with two visitors, and being greeted by its now fully restored headmistress with young Emily Rangaford in tow.
I had communicated mostly via telegram with Violet, to update her on the circumstances of the case, in considerably more detail than I would usually consider necessary to convey – anything less would unchivalrous. I had also asked her, following Mrs Raddison's death and Dr Raddison's compliance, to discover whether Emily would agree to be reunited with her husband, confessing her appalling experiences whilst plainly under no duress.
I suspect much of Violet's soft manner yet implacable good sense had had much to do with Emily's capitulation. I was relieved to hear of it, as the redoubtable Miss Meredith Rangaford had overcome even the remonstrances of Mrs Hudson, usually a better guardian of our privacy than Cerberus, in order to glean news of her sister-in-law following the shocking headlines in all the newspapers. Her rather vigorous ratiocination of her eagerness to seek out her sister-in-law provoked an unworthy and only partly assumed display of exhaustion and weakness on my part. Fortunately the lady was not devoid of sympathy, but I was rather more uneasy that her brother, realising my connection with the villainous Raddisons, would be my next over-exuberant guest. The telegram confirming Emily's resolution allowed a rather more civil exchange than I suspect would had come about had my client still desired concealment.
It was thus that both Miss Meredith Rangaford, and her overwrought brother, virtually tumbled from the cab to embrace Emily. I was thankful, in light of recent experiences, that I was spared the first emotional outpourings; they were reserved strictly for family members. I contented myself with beaming at Violet, and discreetly squeezing her hand when it was clear we were unobserved. Her own face was flushed with gratification at witnessing the reunification; Watson would have said it much became her.
Emily, desperately pale but with more dignity than I would have given her credit for, asked if she could speak with her husband alone. Violet allowed them to use her own study, whilst the remaining three of us retreated to tea in the parlour, and made polite, desultory conversation to conceal our anxiety about the outcome of the interview.
After some eighteen minutes, the parlour door opened, and Emily and George Rangaford stepped through. Emily was tearstained and almost wilting, leaning against her husband's sturdy form as if he were all that was keeping her upright. He in turn had his arm tightly around her waist, his encircling hand gripping her own. I felt a surge of relief. I should not have liked the outcome to be acrimonious for my young client.
Colonel Rangaford turned to me. He was a serious young man, with bristling side whiskers and the slightly pompous manner which often accompanies those who have risen fast through the military. His voice, when he spoke, was steady, but roughened by strong emotion.
"Mr Holmes. I understand you are a man of great discretion?"
I bowed to him in acknowledgement.
"I am very grateful to hear it. As indeed, I am very grateful to you for the assistance you have rendered my foolish girl. I hope I may now be a better man than I appear to have given her reason to believe. Thank you for bringing her home." Despite his blustering manner, and a little residual stiffness which I would imagine was the natural consequence of discovering his wife has been concealed from him, his voice quavered at this, and tears, not the first he had shed that day it was plain, glistened in his eyes.
"It was a privilege to assist you in this matter, Colonel," I replied, formally.
The Colonel now turned to Violet.
"Miss Hunter, I am inexpressively grateful for your care towards my wife in this difficult time. I could wish that she had felt it possible to inform me of her difficulties, but I am glad she encountered such a principled soul upon her flight."
I wondered, madly, for a moment, how he would react if he could have seen Violet scrambling around the edge of a building, dressed in men's plus fours, setting about her with chloroform and a makeshift cosh whilst dressed as a scarlet woman – and of course, what had transpired on the islet out to sea. Violet merely delivered some kindly platitudes.
Colonel Rangaford now turned to me again, and held out in his hand a sheaf of paper. It was the damning contents of the Rangaford's file from Hecate House, which I had restored to Emily prior to her reunion with her husband.
"I would very much appreciate it if you would dispose of these vile pages on my behalf, Sir. I must now return my wife to her rightful home." Emily suddenly gave a little sob at these words, and, as if she had flicked a switch, an enormous smile suddenly split her husband's face, totally transforming it. "Particularly as she informs me she is in a delicate condition; a condition I understand must pre-date our experiences in that infamous house. Perhaps we have reason to feel gratitude to the villainous scoundrel's advice after all." He then realised that his excitement had carried him away and led him to reveal more than was seemly, and his expression assumed the colour of rare beef, and a sheepish quality.
This was news to myself and Miss Meredith Rangaford, whose face performed a brief gymnastics regime before settling on heartfelt delight. I read her thoughts immediately, and hoped sincerely that the couple were right about their timing. Violet's smile told me she had already been in Emily's confidence.
I concealed my misgivings, and offered my felicitations in as hearty a fashion as I could command. I accepted further profusions of gratitude from all three Rangafords, until I was compelled to manoeuvre them into departing by commenting on Emily's exhausted mien. I sighed with relief as Violet closed the front door behind them, and turned to me, grinning, and gesturing quietly with her head towards her private study.
I followed the headmistress through into the orderly little room, and was about to express my concerns about Emily's upcoming Interesting Event when she cut me off by pulling me into a bear-hug. I did not find it as objectionable as the last time I had had a female dangling around my neck, and returned the exuberant gesture. She released me, still grinning.
"Well done, Holmes! Well done indeed. I envy you the moments where you allay all your client's worries; I felt enough of a glow myself when I read your telegrams – thank you for that little courtesy, incidentally – I am indeed honoured - the satisfaction of delivering the good news face to face must be as immense as it is deserved."
I allowed myself a few moments of preening before replying.
"You must take a good deal of the credit yourself, you know. You were incomparable."
She laughed. "You are too kind. I followed, you led."
"Not when you rescued us from the warehouse."
She dismissed this, probably keen to lead my reflections away from her conduct on that instance. "You would have contrived an escape. Well, you are well revenged. I must be a very unchristian soul, as I felt no sorrow whatsoever when I heard of that woman's fate."
"She would have deserved none of your sympathy. Dr Raddison little more."
"I understand he will keep his mouth shut?"
"So I believe. This case really has concluded rather satisfactorily, although I feel I have not expressed adequate regret for some of the dangerous positions you were placed in. I take it you are recovered fully from your ordeal?" I betrayed myself a little, as I could hear the anxiety in my tone as I studied her.
"Not only fully recovered, but a little sorry it is over."
I laughed in some incredulity. "You cannot expect me to believe you would still rather be crouched in Hecate House with that ball of twine? Or subjected to poking from Raddison?"
"Perhaps not. But there were aspects of the case I would be pleased to repeat."
The air between us was suddenly thick with tension. A fanciful notion occurred to me that any words I spoke would be of such moment, they would appear solidly in the air between us, as if sketched there by a cartoonist. My throat was dry.
Violet broke the silence a moment later.
"I should like to recapture some of the air of adventure. I am sure Dr Watson will usually be your most suitable companion, but, on occasions where a female will best suffice, I hope you would consider asking me to help with you cases again in future."
Sherlock Holmes, the unemotional, the unflappable, tongue-tied and indecisive! That was the condition under which I laboured for the next few seconds, until I recalled my wandering wits, and reminded her of the danger she had found herself in.
"I really could not place you in such a position as to compromise your safety..."
I never finished that sentence. Violet found a delightful means of cutting me off. She drew back after a fairly chaste salute upon my lips, merely holding lightly onto one of my lapels, and spoke in a soft, reasonable voice, that nevertheless shook with conviction.
"I know you say such things out of consideration for me, but I beg you will not. I have never wanted a run-of-the-mill existence - I would, in many ways, rather have been born a man to avoid it. You would not have such fear for my safety if I were a man - you do not object to Dr Watson following you, despite the risk. Only imagine his feelings upon being included in your cases, then try transferring them to me, without making any alterations for my sex."
My face must have betrayed my difficulty with this concept, as she placed a finger across my lips, as if I were a child, and continued, her voice throbbing with intensity.
"I am aware that overcoming a lifetime of chivalrous instincts and your evident distrust of most of my sex cannot be a simple matter, so I do not ask you to admit me to your most perilous adventures – although I must beg you to take care – I felt as if I had been stabbed myself when I saw you wounded -" – the hand on my lapel twitched convulsively, and my own breath hitched a moment - " -I merely ask that you occasionally help me to escape the stifling conventionality that would otherwise be unendurable. Let me help you, if the need arises. I know you have used women in this way before – I have spoken to Miss Nancy Harrison."
I was shocked at this piece of underhand subterfuge, and also wondered what else Nancy might have told her about our dealings, but Violet continued before I had time to express this.
"Will you let me take over her role? Please?"
This final appeal was radiant with sincerity. I smiled down at her, this complex creature where respectable headmistress and audacious adventurer jostled behind the freckled complexion.
"London has seemed singularly uninteresting of late. No criminals displaying even a fraction of the Raddison's ingenuity..."
Her face fell slightly. She obviously considered me to be kindly dismissing her.
"...However," I continued, "I have sources in several of the more exclusive London hotels, and they have been bringing me rumours for some time of a rather invidious gang currently fleecing wealthy young fellows at cards. I have been intending to deal with them when the opportunity arose, and no doubt offering myself as a suitable mark is the best way of catching them at their game. A vacuous and expensive young wife would certainly add authenticity to an appealing bait."
I watched as the disappointed expression was replaced by one of mischievous delight and expectation. I quieted my conscience. Ah well, I thought. It is only logical to have reliable assistants.
"Will you be that vacuous and avaricious wife, my dear?"
"When you like and where you like, my dear Holmes."
Good God! I've actually finished Hecate House! I may go on and edit it a little, tone up some of the flabby bits, but otherwise, it's done!
(Although, I do intend an optional card-sharp chasing hotel chapter, which possibly may have elements rather like the missing islet out to sea chapter. I like to keep such elements separate from the main story, but let me know if you'd like to see it written...)
Thanks so much for all of you who read this story, particularly those of you kind enough to regularly review and stick with me when I disappeared for weeks at a time – your encouragement was a great incentive.
And as I do feel a bit bereft now Hecate is done, if anyone has any other ideas they would like to see written, I'd always be happy to try a collaboration with someone – or just ask for a fic! Otherwise, I think Watson has been a bit neglected of late, and needs his moment centre stage again. I have a vague outline for something involving Dutch Steamships in mind...
First I need to think about finishing off my other neglected fics!