MRS HUDSON'S TALE
My name is Martha Hudson, and Mr Holmes and Dr Watson are my - what? - my lodgers, my clients, my burden. Mr Holmes in particular was my burden: he was often peremptory, imperious, short-tempered. He had a great belief in detail, in observing the slimy traces left by the snail as it edged its way along some domestic precipice, or noting the way one hand would always be grubbier than its partner. I used to say to myself that it was a pity his zeal for detail did not extend to the trails he left himself. The solitary boot, the half-used night-clothes, the bursten buttonholes of his dress-shirt. The grounds in his coffee-cups could speak volumes, but he thought he was the only one who could read signs. He was not, however.
I was well paid, of course, rather over the odds if the truth be told, but I felt I needed a little extra to compensate for the way they ignored my status. For I was a gentlewoman, the respectable widow of Dr Horatio Hudson, late of Morningside in Edinburgh. After my husband’s early death, I gave up the house there and took a lease in Baker Street in London. To be sure, the household servants I employed were rough and occasionally disobliging: but I could manage them.
As soon as I came to terms with Mr Holmes and Dr Watson, I realised I could only accommodate them, as there was so much to take care of and to watch. They had such interesting callers, and Mr Holmes’ fame was growing. I gradually came to realise that he was not a well man. Not at all. He had distinct oddities of behaviour, which he tried to pass off as idiosyncrasies: the tight buttoning of the cap-ribbon under the chin, the requisite number of pleats in the cape, the exact type of Meerschaum. If the smallest detail were wrong, he was vexed beyond reason. And the music! Often he seemed to be in pain everywhere, and only that wretched violin would assuage it. He used to say “Mrs Hudson, each of these arpeggios is better than a draught of tonic!” Something seemed to be awry with his hearing, as he played sharp all the time. He had black moods which came from nowhere, like thunder from a clear sky, and then he would get out that syringe and long needle and plunge it into his arm, again and again. Besides blood from the needle, there was often pus on his underwear. It took some scrubbing.
Dr Watson was in awe of him and was blinded by his acuity. But I was not, and I had listened to everything my husband had said about illness, its causes and its courses. I put all the symptoms together, and placed them, as it were, on my husband’s desk: and it went through me with the speed of an arrow that Mr Holmes was mortally ill. He must have syphilis, a disease which takes many years to unfold and takes many forms. He seemed to be in the second stage. Suddenly everything fell into place: his moods, his boils, his oddities, his attitude to the fair sex. He hated us all, except, perhaps, for Irene Adler. Perhaps she had loved him to death? Certainly he could never bear to touch any of us.
My husband had sworn by mercury, not as a cure for syphilis, but as an ameliorating treatment. Accordingly I procured some, made it into a salve, and bided my time. Mr Holmes came to me with a suppurating rash on his hands. I gave him the salve (making sure not to touch the oozing flesh). Within a week the rash was clear. I thought to myself, Mr Holmes is not the only one who can solve a mystery. Every time I effect a minor cure in the long march of this illness, I’ll give my little triumph a name. This one will be called The Speckled Hand.