THE UNPLEASANTNESS AT PARKERTON MANOR
First in the Mrs. Hudson of Baker Street Series
Readers of Dr. John Watson’s accounts of detection will be surprised to learn that his only description of the intellectual giant who resided at 221b Baker Street was to speak of “her stately tread.” In the chauvinism that still plagues our society this has been interpreted as a negative reference to the good woman’s weight. In fact, it stands as Watson’s single effort to indicate the authority and respect Mrs. Hudson commanded—at least from him. Indeed, Mrs. Hudson (who incidentally was plump but not overweight) was at pains to remain in the background, recognizing the necessity of her self-inflicted anonymity for the good of the business enterprise she had founded.
Dr. Watson, who was always conflicted about ignoring Mrs. Hudson’s contributions—in spite of it being her express wish that he do so—yielded to temptation only one time. In his reporting of the case of The Empty House, he describes the heroism of Mrs. Hudson as she defies gunfire to adjust the position of a lifelike wax bust of her famous boarder in an effort to capture his would-be murderer. The effort is of course successful, the plan is of course the product of Mrs. Hudson’s thinking, and the credit is of course given to Sherlock Holmes. It is a familiar turn of events. The assignment of credit to Holmes is central to the 60 stories penned by Watson; those stories could successfully publicize Mrs. Hudson’s consulting detective agency only if they made use of a hero acceptable to the Victorian audience. Try as he might, the good doctor could not give himself over entirely to this deception, and he struck the housekeeper’s name from 46 of those stories rather than continue to minimize her extraordinary contribution.
With the Victorian era now well behind us, there is no need to maintain Watson’s convenient fiction. And so, if you would know the truth about the greatest consulting detective agency ever created, you have but to turn this page.
—Barry S. Brown
1. Lady Parkerton’s Dilemma
Finding nothing of compelling interest about the gowns in the dressmaker’s window, the woman transferred her attention to the bootmaker’s wares in the adjoining shop. In her fur-trimmed dark flowing coat and feathered high crowned hat, she appeared no different from any of the other stylish matrons taking advantage of the bright winter’s day to examine the displays of Baker Street’s several artisans. Only her frequent glances to the apartments at 221b across the roadway made it clear to Mrs. Hudson that the woman’s interest lay in something other than fine needlework and well crafted footwear.
The housekeeper was about to desert the vigil she had been maintaining at her parlor window when, with a sudden heave of shoulders, the woman tore herself from the shopkeepers’ displays and darted into the street, causing the driver of a hansom to jerk his startled horse out of her path and a shaken passenger to shout his fright to her back. Even Mrs. Hudson let out a soft cry, rattling her cup to its saucer, and holding her breath until the woman stood safe in front of the brown sandstone building that was her goal.
Staring hard at the lodgings of Sherlock Holmes, she shifted the hat box she carried from one gloved hand to the other, propped up the fur collar of her coat and, with a small shake of her head, pressed forward to complete her journey. Mrs. Hudson patted into place the grey coils that wound above her jowly face, smoothed down her formless black dress and went to admit Mr. Holmes’ latest visitor.
Inside the lodgings’ small foyer, the woman nodded recognition of the housekeeper, addressing her with the polite indifference of someone accustomed to instructing the behavior of servants. “Good morning. I am Lady Parkerton. I don’t have an appointment, but I wish to see Mr. Holmes on a matter of the utmost importance. It concerns the death of my husband, Sir Stanley Parkerton.”
Mrs. Hudson pursed her lips hard together; she understood all too well the pain of losing one’s husband. “I’m sorry to hear of it ma’am. I’m Mrs. ’Udson, Mr.‘Olmes’ housekeeper. If you’ll be so good as to wait in the parlor, I’ll let Mr. ’Olmes know you’re here. I believe ‘is friend, Dr Watson is with the gentleman. May I take your things ma’am?” Over the years at Baker Street, Mrs. Hudson had discarded much of her Cockney background while retaining an unfamiliarity with selected letters of the alphabet. Lady Parkerton waved away the housekeeper’s offer, but unbuttoned the front of her coat in recognition of the fire she could see blazing in the room to which she was directed. Her long dress was as dark as her coat, and Mrs. Hudson noted it was heavily trimmed with crape.
Lady Parkerton gathered the open coat around her and eased herself onto the edge of a cushion at one end of the couch, setting the hat box beside her. She interlaced the fingers of her gloved hands, placed them in her lap and steeled herself to share the most terrible secrets of her life with someone she had never met. Mrs. Hudson smiled her exit to the unseeing woman and mounted the stairs to Holmes’ apartment.
As always, when she approached his door unexpected, she did so with apprehension. While his indulgence in the white powder she detested had slackened considerably, it had been only a few months earlier she’d found her boarder off on a binge and unable to have visitors for days. Fortunately, Dr. Watson was with him today and the doctor was not only as much repulsed by Holmes’ drug use as she was. He was also the one person able to keep Holmes in check. The fact that his behavior could drive away business seemed of no consequence to Holmes. And to Mrs. Hudson, that was nearly as unforgivable as the drug use itself.
She knocked twice and called out, “Mr. ‘Olmes, it’s Mrs. ‘Udson. May I come in sir?” It was their code to alert Holmes he had a visitor.
“Certainly, Mrs. Hudson.” It was Watson who replied. Holmes was standing by the bookcase, lost in fierce concentration of the volume in hand, the high forehead and slim elegant figure reminding her why he had seemed the perfect boarder. Watson was seated in his library chair, a stereoscope in hand, stereograph cards stacked neatly on the small corner desk that had been added to the apartment’s furnishings when the two men moved in. They had also brought with them Holmes’ huge roll-top desk which was now covered with a clutter of papers and surrounded on its two sides by at least a dozen volumes, some open, some closed with strips of paper to mark selected pages, and some which were either yet to be opened, or had already been rejected but not yet returned to their places in the bookcase. It was clear Holmes was well into another of his scientific investigations.
Watson laid the stereoscope beside the cards. “Does this mean there’s a new case for us, Mrs. Hudson?”
She closed the door behind her. “I can’t say as I know for sure Dr. Watson. It just might be, or it might be nothin’ at all. But I expect you’ll be wantin’ to take notes while we get it sorted out.” She paused while Watson extracted several sheets of foolscap from the desk’s middle drawer and found a pen. He dipped it in the desk’s inkpot and nodded his readiness. “First of all,” she asked, “are either of you familiar with the name Parkerton?”
Holmes put the book on the mantle and transferred his attention to his fingernails. Again, it was Watson who responded to Mrs. Hudson. “There’s a Dr. Stanley Parkerton, a physician who developed the binaural stethoscope for use in this country. Refined it actually. Is Dr. Parkerton downstairs?”
“Dr. Parkerton ‘as died. It’s ‘is widow what’s downstairs. You’ll see from the heavy crape she’s wearin’ she’s in first mournin’. I can’t say as I remember readin’ about ‘is death in the papers. Dr. Watson, do you recall seein’ any notice of this Stanley Parkerton’s passin’?
Watson’s genial features clouded over in concentration. “I don’t although it would be odd, a man of his standing should certainly have received at least a mention.”
“And you Mr. ‘Olmes. Can you recall seein’ anythin’ in relation to the gentleman’s passin’?”
Holmes gave his housekeeper a tired smile. “I’m afraid I’ve been terribly busy with my experiments Mrs. Hudson, and haven’t read a newspaper for days. Quite honestly, I think I’m on to something with regard to the classification of teas using only their residues. I believe my next treatise will have a significant bearing on an aspect of crime detection that has received far too little attention.”
“Mr. ‘Olmes, you know I have a great respect for these experiments of yours. Your little papers are a big ‘elp to business, lendin’ us an air of scientific know-how as it were, but it’s the everyday studyin’ and the careful observin’ that keeps us in business and ahead of the trade. And part of our everyday studyin’ is keepin’ on top of the news. It costs us a ‘andsome sum to take the Standard and the Times which is ‘ow we do just exactly that.” Mrs. Hudson drew herself to full height, arching her back to complement the disapproval she had spoken. A foot shorter than the slouching Holmes, she had no illusion about the impression she made.
Holmes’ attention moved from his fingernails to the cuffs of his dressing gown, once more leaving it to Watson to reply. “I’m sorry if we’ve missed the notice Mrs. Hudson, although I believe it rather unlikely there was one if neither you nor I caught it. I do remember Parkerton though. He was some years ahead of me in school, but we had been introduced and saw each other at meetings and such from time to time. I judge he would be in his fifties, or I suppose I should say he would have been. In truth, he’s been pretty much out of circulation for the past ten years, maybe longer. What is it we should we know Mrs. Hudson?”
She glowered at Holmes who now proceeded to remove an imaginary thread from his sleeve. “I think you’ll find that Lady Parkerton suspects there’s somethin’ that’s not exactly right about ‘er ‘usband’s death. She’s come ’ere without tellin’ anybody, leavin’ early this mornin’ to catch the train from ‘er ‘ome in the country which is about two ‘ours away. She’s done some shoppin’ before comin’ to see Mr. ‘Olmes and is plannin’ to return ‘ome before dinner so it will look like she only came to London to buy what she couldn’t get at ‘ome.”
Holmes stared down at Mrs. Hudson, arched eyebrows revealing the disbelief he saw no reason to hide. “And how do you know all this Mrs. Hudson?”
“It’s not that ‘ard Mr. ‘Olmes. You’ll see that her gloves don’t match suggestin’ she had to dress before sun-up to get away before the family was awake. She took a chance comin’ to see us without an appointment, which means she didn’t want to telegraph and run a greater chance ‘er visit to us would not stay secret. She’s got no pockets in ‘er outfit, and you can see the stub of a railroad ticket in ‘er one glove. She’s gone shoppin’, and is still ‘ere before midday which means that she can’t be more than two ‘ours from London. If you look at ‘er shoes, you’ll see there’s not just the grime of London streets, but showing through in spots there’s a lighter color more like the clay you find in the country. But it’s the difficulty she’s ‘ad in ‘er own mind about decidin’ to see us that’s the most concernin’. Even after all ‘er careful figurin’, she still ‘ad to ‘ave a little chat with ‘erself before comin’ to the door. She’s that worried about what she’s got to tell us.”
Holmes was not satisfied. “But how can you conclude she plans to get back tonight with an explanation of shopping?”
“Because she’s carrying a ‘at-box which no doubt she will explain to ‘er children contains a ‘at that she’ll be needin’ for her mournin’ outfit. A proper lady can always say the ‘at she’s got is now gone out of style and needs replacin’. The ‘at gives ‘er an excuse to leave the ‘ouse. It’s not as if she’s payin’ a social call, she’s just takin’ care of ‘er obligations. Won’t that be about right, Doctor?”
“I suppose technically yes, but surely she’s still taking some considerable risk in coming to see us.”
“Exactly my thinkin’ Doctor, and if Lady Parkerton’s takin’ a risk like that it’s got to be because she’s ‘avin’ some terrible thoughts about ‘er ‘usband’s death, meanin’ she’s not only thinkin’ that somethin’ under’anded is been goin’ on, but she’s more than likely worried ‘er own family is mixed up in it.”
Watson paused in his writing. He wondered about Lady Parkerton’s judgment, not Mrs. Hudson’s. “Is there reason to believe such a story? It appears there’s been no involvement by the police. Could this be nothing more than the disturbed thinking of a distraught woman?”
“I don’t think so Doctor. Look ‘ow ‘er mind is workin’. She’s planned ‘er trip to London about as careful as you could ask. She could still ‘ave it wrong, but I’m thinkin’ it won’t be because of ‘er feelings gettin’ in the way. No, this ‘ere’s a careful woman who’s been stewin’ on this for longer than she’d like, and who’s still not sure what to think.”
“By any chance do we happen to know anything about the habits of the men in the house, Mrs. Hudson? Might any one of them use tobacco? Snuff?” Holmes spoke with the precise academic cadence that had impressed so many of the visitors to 221b Baker Street.
“We didn’t quite get that far Mr. ‘Olmes and I’d be obliged to you to wait until we’re a little further into our investigation to ask those questions. For now I think Dr. Watson ‘as got it right. We need to know why Lady Parkerton thinks ‘er ‘usband might ‘ave died of somethin’ besides natchr’l causes, and what she thinks might ‘ave ‘appened? Dr. Watson, do you ‘ave the list of questions to use in this situation?”
Watson opened the bottom drawer of the desk and thumbed through files tabbed by topic. “I assume this would be ‘murder of family member; questions for spouse.’”
“Exactly right, Dr. Watson. Please look them over carefully Mr.‘Olmes and do try to stay with the questions. You remember ’ow much trouble we had when the gentleman you thought was a sergeant major because of what you called ‘is stiff military bearin’, turned out to be a railway clerk with a wooden leg.” Holmes sniffed a dismissal of Mrs. Hudson’s concern.
“I’ll get Lady Parkerton. Dr. Watson if you’ll keep the questions ‘andy so you can get to any that Mr. ‘Olmes misses. And of course you’ll be recordin’ everythin’ Doctor. We’ll do as we always do. Ring me up for tea when your questionin’ is done. Dr. Watson, you’ll do the summin’ up of what’s been learned while I’m pourin’ and puttin’ out the scones. If I need to talk to you Doctor, I’ll ask for you to give me a ‘and on the stairs. And make sure you get information on ‘er solicitor so we can be in touch with ‘er through ‘im.” Mrs. Hudson looked quickly to the settee and was pleased to find it temporarily free of books, clothing, and papers. “I think we’re ready. Do please pay attention to the questions Mr. ‘Olmes. Oh, and do find out if there’s been a notice in the papers, and if there’s not been one, see why not.”
A few minutes later Mrs. Hudson reappeared at the door, once again the dutiful housekeeper smoothing the path for an important visitor. “Mr. ‘Olmes, Dr. Watson, gentlemen, Lady Parkerton. If it’s agreeable to you gentlemen I’ll go and put on a kettle.”
Holmes spoke to the back of the departing housekeeper, “That would be fine Mrs. Hudson. Could you also bring up that delightful strawberry marmalade with some of your scones.” He then detached himself from the mantle to favor his guest with a welcoming smile. “Now then Lady Parkerton, do I understand there’s been a death in the family.”
Mrs. Hudson cast a plaintive look to Watson and closed the door behind her.
As she waited for the kettle to boil, Mrs. Hudson thought back to the time Holmes first became her boarder. She had placed ads in the Standard and Times, advertising “rooms to let, good location, applicant should possess an inquiring mind and a curiosity about human behavior.” She interviewed more than 50 applicants and selected Holmes only after meeting his friend Dr. Watson and being assured he would join the two of them in the partnership she was proposing. It was a partnership formed of necessity. Mrs. Hudson had known she could never be accepted as a consulting detective in her own right. No woman could be. Queen Victoria might be on the throne, but the realm of most other English women rarely exceeded their own kitchens. And Mrs. Hudson had grown tired of kitchens after Tobias died.
While he was alive the two of them spent every evening reviewing the cases reported in the day’s newspaper. He would reveal the intricacies of police work as practiced by an observant and insightful member of the London constabulary. They’d talk about what was being done and then get to the real work of thinking about what could be done, and the why and the how of doing it. She called him her “uncommon common constable” and he wore the title with becoming modesty. Through those nightly sessions Mrs. Hudson learned to tell the difference between bruises from a blunt instrument and bruises from a fall, learned about techniques used in cracking safes, about footprints and the analysis of the mud and dirt that collects on a shoe, and the thousand things an uncommon common constable can learn in “jus’ doin’ ‘is duties” as Mr. Hudson would say.
When her companion in life, and partner in a thousand criminal investigations, died suddenly of what she was told was a blood disorder, she was not surprised to find housekeeping unfulfilling without an evening of crime to look forward to. Initially, she resumed her study of detection at the British Museum Reading Room. Six days a week she climbed the stairs to present herself at the inquiries desk, a woman well past her middle years, dressed in the formless and unvarying severity of widow’s weeds, demanding Faulds’ paper “On the Skin-Furrows of the Hand” or Rokitansky’s “Treatise of Pathological Anatomy.” The research librarians might have questioned her taste in literature except there was something in the way her eyes met theirs suggesting they’d do best to simply locate her materials. It wasn’t for nothing she had been the student of Constable Tobias Hudson.
When she felt ready to start her own detective agency she knew she’d need a man of substance who would lend instant credibility to her enterprise. He would have to appear learned and sophisticated enough to appeal to a carriage-trade clientele, while still being able to take care of himself—and of others—if need be. Holmes had many of the right characteristics. He was more than six feet tall, but was so slender and stood so erect, he appeared even taller. His straight black hair was just beginning to recede giving him a long forehead implying intellect. The implication was further assured by the frequently arched eyebrows and his appearance of staring down his aquiline nose as he addressed Mrs. Hudson. He spoke with the precise diction of a first class education and with a detachment suggesting careful deliberation, which Mrs. Hudson recognized as reflecting nothing more than the pleasure he took in listening to himself speak. He claimed skills in boxing and fencing and, while Mrs. Hudson doubted there would be a role for swordplay, the ability to mix it up with the toughs that could be encountered was a point in his favor. The mottled coloring on his hands indicated he dabbled in chemistry. A scientific curiosity would be a welcome addition although she would have liked some greater evidence of competence with chemicals than the stains on his hands suggested.
It was an advantage as well, that he was attached to no one except Dr. Watson whom Mrs. Hudson took to at once. The doctor was modest in both stature and speech, but he was solidly built and conveyed to Mrs. Hudson a sense of dignified solemnity, a sense of “being in every part the gentleman.” His brown hair was graying at the temples giving further evidence of maturity if any further evidence was needed. He maintained a neatly clipped moustache and his soft, dark eyes seemed to take in everything around him. His only character flaw appeared to be a too easy deference to Holmes. In the end, she took Holmes on in spite of the distinct signs the sleeves of his jacket had been repaired to hide the places where the ashes of a pipe would have fallen. Mrs. Hudson detested untidiness. She knew Watson smoked as well from the small rounded bulge in his jacket, but saw no comparable evidence of negligence. She was more concerned with the slight enlargement of Holmes’ pupils she noted on his second interview. It would have been consistent with the use of cocaine, which was legally available although deplored by Mrs. Hudson.
She detected no white powder however and had no opportunity to search for needle marks. Most importantly, if she didn’t take on Holmes there would no opportunity to recruit Dr. Watson. So a deal was struck. The consulting detective firm would consist of three partners, Mrs. Hudson would direct, Holmes would be the face to the outside world, and Dr. Watson would be his partner and the careful note-taker whose detailed journals would allow her to analyze and resolve the problems brought to them. On balance, Mrs. Hudson was satisfied with the arrangement. It worked well as long as Holmes didn’t get carried away with his role, which was to say it worked well on most, but not all, occasions.
The kettle had come to a boil. Not long after, the bell in her small kitchen rang and it was time to review what her two partners had learned. She carried a tray laden with the Darjeeling tea Dr. Watson favored (all teas tasted alike to Holmes) with accompanying milk, lemon and sugar, as well as scones and strawberry marmalade. She called out “Tea, Mr. ‘Olmes” and entered his apartment. As if performers in a tableau, the three figures remained in the positions in which Mrs. Hudson had left them, Holmes at the fireplace now longingly fingering the briar he had removed from the mantle; Watson at his desk straightening the papers that would become the basis for their later action; and Lady Parkerton as straight and still on the edge of Holmes’ settee as she had been on the couch in Mrs. Hudson’s parlor. Setting the tray down on the round table that stood by Holmes’ easy chair, she moved pot in hand to stand by Lady Parkerton. “Tea ma’am?”
“That would be lovely. Thank you.”
As Lady Parkerton accepted the cup, Watson observed it might be a good time to review the conversation thus far.
Lady Parkerton glanced at Mrs. Hudson, then at the doctor. “Are you sure this is the proper time?”
Watson nodded his understanding. “Oh please don’t give Mrs. Hudson a second thought. She’s very much one of the family and entirely discreet.”
“Rather like a stick of furniture,” Holmes added as he fondled the scone he had taken from the tray.
Lady Parkerton looked into the blank face of her server and shrugged her agreement. “Whatever you both think wise.”
Watson nodded and began a summary of the earlier discussion.
“Dr. Parkerton, Sir Stanley, died thirty-two days ago and was buried five days after his death on his estate just outside Tunbridge Wells, which lies about two hours from London by rail. His son-in-law, himself a physician, pronounced Sir Stanley dead, giving respiratory failure as the cause on the death certificate. The family decided not to place a notice of Sir Stanley’s death in the papers on the strong recommendation of Stanley Junior that it could lead to unwanted contacts from tradesmen and might even stimulate legal action from some of Sir Stanley’s medical colleagues who never reconciled themselves to his discoveries. Sir Stanley had been in ill health for the past several years with a heart condition that appeared to have stabilized over the past year, although the doctor took no risks in terms of his health and spent a good part of each day in bed or resting on the chaise lounge in his room.
On the evening of his death, Sir Stanley became ill in the course of his dinner...”
Holmes interrupted Watson and his own careful addition of a large dollop of strawberry marmalade to his scone, “I believe it was immediately following the sweets Watson.”
“Quite right Holmes, after the sweets. It was Boxing Day and Lady Parkerton and Sir Stanley were celebrating the holidays with their three children and their families. The servants had all been given the day at leisure in accord with family tradition.”
Watson paused to acknowledge Lady Parkerton and was alarmed at what he found. She had the frightened stare of patients he’d seen suffering through the explanation of their disease, wanting only to know how bad it was and whether they would live or die. He fell back to the comfort of his notes, and quickened the pace of his reporting.
“The family took a light lunch, then spent the afternoon in a variety of activities. Everyone got together at four for tea where they were joined by Sir Stanley. They shared sandwiches the cook had prepared before leaving for the day. At seven the family again gathered, this time for pre-dinner drinks, then enjoyed a dinner of leftover dishes from the Christmas feast. There didn’t appear to be anything unusual about dinner apart from its being made up almost entirely of dishes from the previous evening. There was nothing Sir Stanley ate or drank that someone at the table didn’t also eat or drink. Nonetheless, Sir Stanley alone became quite ill—as you say Holmes, during the passing of sweets. Sir Stanley experienced severe stomach pains and nausea, and was helped upstairs to his room by his son, Stanley Junior, and by Dr. Frisman and his wife, Emily, the eldest of the Parkerton children. He had become weak, was breathing hard, and seemed dizzy and confused. Dr. Frisman examined him thoroughly in light of his earlier heart problems, and found nothing alarming at the time although he warned Emily and Stanley that any further excitement could create a great risk to Sir Stanley’s health, and he continued to monitor him at intervals through the night. He gave Sir Stanley a mild purgative and he was able to fall into a deep sleep.
“Her children came downstairs to be with Lady Parkerton and the others after about twenty minutes with Sir Stanley. Lady Parkerton was feeling exhausted from the day’s events and, after first looking in on her husband, she went to her own room which adjoins Sir Stanley’s and fell quickly asleep. Although she has become a light sleeper owing to the need to be alert to any change in her husband’s condition, on this occasion Lady Parkerton slept without interruption until about three-thirty in the morning when she heard someone entering or leaving her husband’s room next door to her own. She was still groggy, but got to the door in time to see a woman she believes may have been her daughter-in-law, Sara, in the corridor. Lady Parkerton was too tired to check further, and didn’t want to call out and wake the house. She fell soundly to sleep again, but was awakened at about five by a door shutting. This time Lady Parkerton didn’t get out of bed although she judged from the sound that it also came from Sir Stanley’s room.
“Two hours later Dr. Frisman entered Sir Stanley’s room to check on his condition and found him to have passed away. The children urged Lady Parkerton to stay out of the room, but she insisted on seeing her husband and found his face contorted in apparent pain with regurgitated material on his pillow. That struck Lady Parkerton as suspicious although she didn’t speak of it to her physician son-in-law, who believed Sir Stanley’s death to be the result of his long-standing heart condition aggravated by the excitement he had experienced at dinner.”
His report concluded, Watson put his papers down and took up the pen he had lain beside them. Lady Parkerton looked from Watson to Holmes to the hands she held clasped tightly on her lap as she struggled to maintain the composure she had been taught from childhood to be the responsibility of her position. But nothing in her past prepared her for the thoughts and feelings she now held. When she spoke, the words gushed past her inadequate controls.
“All of that is true, all that you have reported Dr. Watson. But there’s more. A good deal more. I know I must tell it all if Mr. Holmes is to help me. God forgive me I’m so ashamed for what I’ve thought, for what I’m thinking. These are my children after all.” And then there were no more words and only tears.
Watson bounded to her side, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket as knelt beside her. Mrs. Hudson was close behind.
“Might I get you a glass of water, ma’am? Perhaps more tea?”
Watson made further suggestion. “Or maybe something stronger, Lady Parkerton? Some brandy?”
“Thank you. Thank you both. I’ll be all right. I’m sorry. I’ll try to do better.” She made use of Watson’s handkerchief and returned it with a nod of appreciation as her face again assumed a mask of grim resolve and her voice recaptured a measure of its earlier control.
“It’s a story I’m sure you’ve heard many times. A family bickering over money, children feeling entitlement to their father’s income. I’m afraid it’s a long story in our family, but it had become even more intense in the months before Sir Stanley’s death. I must apologize; I hadn’t realized how difficult this would be.” She paused, inhaled deeply, gave her head the same small shake Mrs. Hudson had witnessed on Baker Street and continued, “I need to tell you first about Sir Stanley’s will.”
Watson returned to the secretary’s desk and Holmes’ features seemed to soften as he spoke with a warmth that surprised both Watson and Mrs. Hudson. “Pray go on Lady Parkerton if you feel up to it. If not, Watson and I will be happy to hear your story at another time.”
“Thank you Mr. Holmes, and my apologies again for the outburst. I do mean to get through this.” She squared her shoulders and grimaced her resolve. She was again Lady Parkerton.
“First, as I say, about Sir Stanley’s will. My husband felt it important to protect the life he had worked so hard to create. To that end, he left the estate under entail to our son, Stanley Junior. Although he must retain the estate whole, Stanley is, of course, directed to care for his sisters in the event of emergency and to provide for me. Sir Stanley also set aside pensions of fifty pounds for our cook and housekeeper to become available to them at a later age or in the event our son chooses to replace them, as well as providing a generous legacy to his medical college. In addition to the inheritance, Sir Stanley had provided for me through a life insurance policy he purchased many years ago. It was done not long after Sir Stanley patented his stethoscope. My husband was concerned the patent might be challenged in the courts and the money he’d received might have to be spent for solicitors, or he might even lose the rights to his discovery. As it turned out there was no such threat to his earnings. Nevertheless, to protect me he took a substantial part of the sum paid to him and put it into a life insurance policy whose proceeds were to come to me. You see, I had no marriage settlement. With three older sisters and some financial reverses, my father wasn’t able to make that kind of provision for me when I married. So Sir Stanley—of course he wasn’t Sir Stanley then—provided for my future with the very first financial benefits he realized. He’d learned of this agency based in York that specialized in insuring members of the medical profession.” For the first time since entering the Baker Street lodgings, Lady Parkerton allowed herself a small smile.
“Anyway, the husbands of both my daughters hoped Sir Stanley might relent and provide each of them a bequest in his will since he had made it clear he would not support their business schemes while he was alive. Even Stanley Junior had sought some advance on his inheritance from his father. I’m afraid sometime about five years ago my son developed a weakness for wagering on sporting events, and between the racing season, and his support for the Tunbridge Wells cricket team he organized, he somehow manages to spend nearly all his income. He receives his allowance the last Thursday of the month and is off to pay his debts the following Monday. It had been a subject of some heated discussions with Sir Stanley who disapproved strongly of his gambling and made clear to our son he would not continue to assist him in meeting his obligations. Indeed, as a general principle, Sir Stanley believed young men should learn to rely on their own resources rather than the resources of others. Of course, my husband would assist in a real crisis, but he felt his own experience illustrated the value of having to make your own way in the world.
“Even so, each of my daughters urged me to intercede on behalf of their husbands which, of course, I absolutely refused in accord with Sir Stanley’s wishes. It may simply be my imagination Mr. Holmes, but I felt the number and the urgency of their requests were increasing over the last half year. I was terribly concerned that they might go to Sir Stanley which could well lead to a fearful row and do still further damage to my husband’s health. I explained to them their father was only doing what he believed to be best for them; and I appealed to them that Sir Stanley was unwell and should not be badgered, but I have reason to believe I was not very successful.
“Late one morning, less than a month before Sir Stanley’s death, I was in my sitting room. I was just back from visiting the wife of one of our tenants who had had a particularly difficult time in childbirth and I was recording the events in my journal, when I heard voices coming from the library. Or more accurately, I heard Sir Stanley raising his voice to someone who was with him in the library. I could hear enough to make out that the argument concerned my husband’s will and you can imagine how surprised I was, and angry as well, to find anyone disturbing him after my pleading with them not to. I couldn’t hear the person he was speaking to, but what my husband said that morning will stay with me always. He sounded perfectly furious and he shouted at whoever it was, ‘There’s nothing you can say or do that will make me change my mind or modify my will. I am leaving my legacy exactly as it is.’ I never learned to whom my husband was speaking or why he was so angry. He wouldn’t tell me, not then or ever. He said it was better that I didn’t know and I knew it would be pointless to pursue the matter further.”
Lady Parkerton stopped, took a sip of the tea Mrs. Hudson had newly poured, and watched as Watson dipped his pen and covered the foolscap with writing. She waited for him to finish before continuing. “There is another part to this. It’s the hardest of all for me to share. I could not be as strong as Sir Stanley. Fearing they would badger him further and knowing the cost to his health, God help me, I promised that when the time came, if they were still in need, I would make effort to help them from the insurance I was to receive. I only did it in the hope they would leave Sir Stanley alone. I said nothing to my husband of course and have felt horrible ever since. I’m certain you can understand my feelings gentlemen. I can’t help thinking I may have inadvertently hastened my husband’s death. I’ve told our solicitor to contact the insurers and tell them I’m not ready to deal with Sir Stanley’s inheritance just yet and to take no action until I am in touch with them, but of course that doesn’t help my nerves.
“I tell you, I get no rest at night or comfort during the day. There is no one I can turn to except you Mr. Holmes to end this nightmare. I must know if my husband truly died of natural causes or ... or if there is something else. I must know if I am being a silly emotional woman or if there is something more to this whole wretched business. I need to know this not just for myself; I owe it to Sir Stanley.” She spoke the last with quiet resolution, anger and sorrow in check, her eyes never releasing their hold on the man she had chosen to be her savior.
Holmes drew himself up to his most imperious height. “I thank you for your confidence Lady Parkerton. I understand completely your dilemma. For the moment I would like to take your case under advisement, but I promise to get back to you very shortly.” Mrs. Hudson gathered up the tray of empty teacups and the few remaining scones, silently thanked whatever gods were responsible for Holmes keeping to script, and exited the room as he asked Lady Parkerton for the name of her solicitor.