It was a most unusual and improbable occurrence, and most people who knew my husband refused to believe it was true or even remotely possible. Nonetheless, it was exaclty how we had met, and exactly how he had proposed, and neither one of us cared a tuppence whether anyone believed it or not. We knew the truth of the matter.
I opened the door and nearly let out a yelp. There was a man on the front porch.
I froze as he looked up at me with glazed, unfocused eyes. He looked as if he had grabbed on to the railing and fallen there, no longer able to stand. He was probably a homeless drunk. Why else would he be out in weather like this?
I started to dart back into the house, and the drunk's eyes widened. His hand reached out as if to snatch at me, but I was, thank heaven, too quick for him.
He paled, and a moan escaped through a tightly clenched jaw. Then he slumped forward, unconscious.
I darted back inside, but hesitated to shut the door. Whoever he was, he looked so helpless lying there.
It was cold tonight.
I made up my mind. Drunk or not, I wasn't about to let anyone freeze to death at my door.
I called for my father.
"What is it, Lizzie?" He asked, worried. I led him to the door. He took in the form on the step and huffed. "It's a drunk, Lizzie. You've seen them before."
"It's cold out there tonight, Papa." I insisted.
"I'll call a constable to roust him off the steps." He said.
"Then he'll be in trouble with the police." I pointed out. "That's not much better than freezing to death."
My father sighed. "I'll just rouse him, then." He decided. I watched from inside as he knelt by the still form.
"Lizzie, hold the door." My father's tone was now one of alarm. I opened the door further, and watched in confusion as he maneuvered the man into a position that allowed him to lift most of his body off the ground and drag him inside.
I closed the door and rushed to help my father get the man onto the couch in our sitting room, wondering all the while what had made my father decide to help the drunk.
"Get some towels and water, child." My father said quickly.
That was when I noticed the blood.
I was out of the room and back in a flash with the towels and water. In the dark I had failed to see the gash in side of the man's head. He wasn't a drunk, then; he was injured.
I went for Papa's bottle. He would need to clean the man's wound, and would want more than water for it. Nothing stopped infection like a little bit of that stuff. Of course, it also stung worse than anything I'd ever experienced.
Papa thanked me as I set the bottle down, and sent me for some blankets; the man was now starting to shiver. "He might appreciate some tea when he wakes up as well, dear." He suggested.
I was glad Mum was visiting her sister in the country. She would not have approved of having the man in whether he was injured or not. She would have simply called for the police.
I set to brew the tea and wondering about the man in the other room. I hoped he was not too badly off. I wondered how long he'd been sitting there half conscious on my step.
Papa had finished cleaning the wound when I returned with the tea. He took his cup wearily, and I guessed that he would be dozing in his chair before he had finished it.
The man on the couch was stirring. As I watched he stiffened, and his eyes flew open. Dark eyes darted around, studying every aspect of the room, and finally came to rest on me.
"You were on the front step." I told him before he could ask. "You must have passed out. Papa brought you in and saw to your head wound."
He blinked. I have never seen such dark eyes in my life.
He was thin, almost to the point of looking malnourished, and I wondered if he had been ill recently. More likely, he just didn't have anyone at home to look after him. I offered him a cup of tea, and a ringless finger confirmed that much as he reached out to take the offered beverage.
His hands were shaking, but managed to steady as he accepted the cup and tried to sit up. Without thinking, I reached out a hand to restrain him.
He blinked again. Then he reddened, and I jerked my hand back. He didn't try to sit up again, but turned his attention on his tea.
After a moment's study he took a tentative sip. His eyes went back up to me. "Thank you." He croaked. Again I wondered how long he had been out there.
He suddenly set the cup down, and those dark eyes squeezed shut. "Are you all right?" I asked quickly, alarmed.
"Just-dizzy." He managed. "I think I've lost quite a bit of blood." Then he realized what he had just said. "My apologies." He said weakly. "I-"
"You've been quite lucky." I interrupted him. "Don't worry yourself about it." After a moment, he retrieved his tea and started sipping on it again.
I made up my mind. "Would you like some soup? I always try to keep some on the stove in this sort of weather." I rose, and headed for the kitchen before he could refuse.
I returned and handed him a bowl. "There you are." I said. "You look like you could use it."
He considered the bowl for a moment, then the smell hit him. No one has ever turned down my cooking, and for good reason.
He looked a little better once he had some food in him. "Thank you." He said again. "The soup was very good."
I smiled at the way he said it. As if very good coming from him could mean anything from horrendous to heavenly. "Would you like some more?" I asked, and was amused by the way he just barely kept his dark eyes from brightening.
"No, thank you." He said, ever so politely.
"I'll get you another bowl." I said. "And some bread to go with it."
"I should apologize." He said as I returned. "I think I remember seeing you on the porch. I fear I may have acted rather rudely."
I waved the apology aside. "You were bleeding out of your head and half frozen, and your best chance of help was going to leave you out there. I think it might be understandable if you were a little abrupt."
He stared at me. Then he nearly laughed. "I suppose when you put it that way…" He offered. He was sounding better already.
He went back to studying the soup. "What is this?" He asked.
I shrugged. "Vegetables, mostly, barley, a bit of beef. Some seasoning." I wondered why he asked.
"Pepper?" He ventured.
I nodded. "Salt and butter. Very little milk." He was listening. More, he was interested. "Do you cook?" I asked.
"A bit." He replied. "I've yet to figure out how to make a decent stew."
I laughed. "Oh, that's easy." He listened with rapt attention as I enlightened him in the makings of an admirable stew. I couldn't help but laugh at the man's eagerness.
"I live alone." He pointed out. "You need something hot when it's this cold out, and a good stew can keep you on your feet…" He trailed off and suddenly looked stricken.
He was trying to stand up the next instant, and I shot out of my seat, certain the man would hurt himself further.
He turned even paler, and swayed slightly, but remained on his feet. Then he turned and tried to stagger for the front door.
"Sit down!" I barked. The madman was going to kill himself, the way he was going. His eyes widened, and he promptly obeyed.
"My apologies." He said meekly. "I just remembered-" I cut him off.
"Whatever it is, it can wait." I said firmly.
He opened his mouth. "But-" I gave him a look, and he stopped.
"That's better." I said. "I'm not about to have you crack your head open again when you fall on the step."
He sighed, but remained seated, so I let him explain. "I need to get a message to the men. They'll be looking for me. Probably think I'm dead." He muttered this last to himself.
"There's a constable on the corner." I offered. "I know it's not their job to run errands, but if it's that important…" He nodded, but refrained from speaking again.
"I'll call for him. He can have some soup too."
I darted outside, and caught sight of the constable as he turned the corner. I waved and made my way to him. "Could I trouble you for a minute, Constable?" I asked.
The man was preoccupied, but polite. "What can I do for you, miss?" He asked, and was not completely successful in hiding his wariness.
I ignored it. "There's a man inside the house. He was wounded, and needs to get in contact with someone."
The constable almost scowled, but caught himself just in time. "Lead the way, miss." He said. It was the only thing he said as he followed me back to the house.
When he reached the sitting room he turned as pale as the injured man he was staring at. "Inspector!" He exclaimed. "We've been looking all over for you. Patterson was sure you were dead-"
"I'm alive, Westfall." The man said wearily. "But I'm afraid Carp-"
"They got him, sir." The constable interrupted. "But he was laughing about how easy it was to get rid of you. They had us searching, but everyone feared the worse."
I left to get a bowl of soup for the constable. They always appreciated it in such cold weather.
He thanked me, and looked to the injured man as if for permission. "Go ahead, Westfall. I had some earlier. It'll do you good tonight."
"Thank you, sir." The constable started on the soup. "I'll let them know you're all right, Inspector." He said when he was done. "Thank you, Miss." He said to me. Westfall hastily excused himself then, and set off to inform the police that this Inspector was alive after all.
"I didn't realize you were a Yarder." I said curiously. "Or an Inspector. I wouldn't have shouted at you."
He did laugh that time. "Wouldn't you?" He challenged. I blushed, for he was right. I still would have shouted.
"So is it just Inspector then?" I asked. "Or is there a name to go with it?"
"Lestrade." He replied. "I fear I have been appallingly uncivil tonight, in not asking for your name, Miss."
I smiled. "Elisabeth Lindgren." I offered. "My Papa calls me Lizzie. The Inspector returned the smile.
"I was always just 'boy." He admitted. "I always thought it odd, since he was the one who had named me." He considered this. "But it may have been a form of affection for him. He always called my sister 'Sis.'"
"Did you call her that as well?" I asked.
Mr. Lestrade scowled. "Heavens, no. Not after I turned five and she threw me down the stairs for it." I tried not to laugh as he shook his head. "No, it was Kristina from then on."
"She's older, I take it?" He nodded. The conversation continued from there, taking some of the most unusual and entertaining turns, and I was startled to hear the sound of a bird outside.
Mr. Lestrade blinked. "My goodness." He commented, pulling out his watch. "We've been here all night."
I wondered at that; it didn't seem possible that we could have spent the rest of the night talking. It didn't feel as if it had been that long.
But the sun was beginning to rise. It was time to begin another day. "I have to start breakfast." I said. "You're welcome to join us."
"Thank you." He said. "Is there any way I can help?"
We caught Papa up on what he had missed last night over breakfast, forgetting to mention that the two of us had been up talking all night, of course. After the meal was finished, Mr. Lestrade stood to take his leave.
"I need to be getting to work, Miss Lindgren." His voice was flat as he spoke. "Thank you for your help." This was also directed to Papa, who merely nodded in reply.
"It was no trouble at all." I assured him. "Are you certain you're all right to be out on the streets?"
He laughed again. "I'm an Inspector, Miss Lindgren. The streets are never all that safe for me at the best of times."
"Oh." I said, and suddenly I was sorry to see him go. It was unlike me to take to someone so quickly, or so thoroughly. I had known him for hours, but somehow it felt like years. "Well, at least let me call a cab for you."
"No need." He assured me. "I am capable of calling one myself. Thank you again, Miss Lindgren." He fell silent as I escorted him to the door, wondering all the while if I would ever see him again.
He nodded, and wished me a good night, and turned towards the street.
Then he froze.
After a moment, he turned back to me, wonder in his eyes and on his face. "May I speak plainly?" He asked.
I smiled. "Please do."
He frowned for a moment, considering. When he spoke, I was not at all prepared for the words that came out of his mouth.
"Will you marry me?"
I stared. "I think that head wound might be more serious than we thought." I informed him with some concern. "Perhaps I should call a doctor?"
He shook his head impatiently. "My head is fine." He informed me.
"Perhaps something is wrong with mine, then." I mused.
He struggled with his patience. "Nothing is wrong with your head either."
I thought about this for a moment. "Then you really did ask…" I couldn't finish. I just couldn't believe that I had heard him correctly.
He rolled his eyes heavenward, then stepped forward and took my hand. I watched in shock as he went down on one knee.
"Elisabeth Lindgren, would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?" He asked.
And through the shock, I heard myself stammer out one word. "Yes."
Disclaimer: Sherlock Holmes does not belong to me.