The room was dark, but his face still shone white in the moonlight shining through the window. Sweat glistened on his forehead and his breathing became more labored as the clock on the mantel of their marital bedroom measured out the last few minutes of his life.
“Violet,” he whispered, “come here, please.”
She rose from her chair on the other side of the room and walked a few steps closer to the bed, but no more.
“Please,” he tried again.
“Oh, Adelbert, I would, but the doctor said you are still contagious. I am taking a great chance just by being in the same room with you.”
“I need…I need some water, please.”
“I will call nurse.” But she made no move towards the bell.
“Does it hurt so very much, my love?” she asked him.
He didn’t answer, just stared at her hatefully with those dark eyes she had once found irresistibly beautiful.
“Good.” she said.
Five minutes passed. She returned to her chair, could still feel those eyes on her.
“Would you like some morphine? Doctor said I could give you some for the pain.”
“Don’t…bother,” he hissed.
Of course, she could do it anyway. He was hardly in a state to put up a fight. Morphine. Chloroform. A pillow. She could cut this short any way she wished. Except she did not.
Wish it, that is.
Sherlock Holmes had been right about her, Baroness Violet von Gruner, née de Merville, knew. She was the sort of woman who would martyr herself for the man she loved. Illustrious clients and the newspaper article calling off their engagement notwithstanding, she had eloped with him. He would be her Mr. Rochester, she had imagined, blinded by his misdeeds, but hers to redeem with pure love.
It hadn’t worked out that way. Just because the man couldn’t see didn’t mean he couldn’t do. His cruelty and infidelity became intolerable; yet she wrote letters home claiming such happiness that they fairly glowed through their envelopes, and when her dear father had come to visit them in Switzerland, the year before his death, they had both kept up appearances so well that, for a moment, she thought perhaps everything would be better.
Of course it wasn’t, but she was both too embarrassed and too afraid to leave him. He’d made it very clear what had happened to his first wife, and that he’d no compunction against doing something similar to her. That was after she’d broken one of his stupid Ming saucers to punish him for having an opera singer in their bed. She’d been nothing but demure and accepting and obedient after that. When she’d become pregnant, she thought again that he would begin to see her differently; after all what Baron doesn’t want an heir?
Von Gruner, apparently. She’d imagined he’d made her tisanes out of concern for her morning sickness, until she’d begun bleeding. The doctor who came to tend her through her miscarriage had been solicitous, and his visits continued, long past the time she should have recovered. When she found the pennyroyal oil in the study liquor cabinet, tucked back behind the fine single malts Adelbert favored, she’d called Dr. Cadot at once, and it was he who figured out how she could be free of the evil man who had killed her child–forever.
She’d suggested arsenic. Antimony. Strychnine. By why use a poison, he asked, when natural causes would do just as well? Dr. Cadot tended the complaints of the wealthy so he could spend most of his efforts on the illnesses of the poor, and it was a simple enough thing to introduce typhoid-tainted water into the Count’s gasogene.
“It won’t work, you know,” he hissed at her from the bed.
“I think it already has.”
“Typhoid. I’m not some beggar in the gutter.”
“Everyone is aware of your less-than-savory habits, Adelbert. No one is the least surprised.”
“I’ve told the nurse.”
“I know. Delirious ravings, she said. Make your peace with God, husband.You shall be meeting Him soon.”
“You’re no better than I. Murderess!” He spat the last word.
“I know.” She would be sorry, one day. Perhaps. She’d deal with that when it happened. Now, she clenched her fists, resisting the urge to pick up the pillow and end this dreadful watch. She walked to the window, stared out at the black night until a strangling noise from the bed caught her attention. She didn’t turn. Didn’t look. Eventually, it stopped.
She opened the bedroom windows to clear the smell of the sickroom, to let Death go, and as she did, she heard the village church bells ring out.
It was Christmas Day.
And today’s question?
Why, according to Watson, did working with Sherlock Holmes keep Shinwell Johnson from usual fate of “snitches?”
A year’s subscription to the Baker Street Journal has been a mainstay of this blog since the very first Giveaway. I’m pleased to be able to offer it again. As always, please send your answers for the drawing in via blog comment or the Well Read Sherlockian FB page. And if you ever have a piece published in the BSJ, LET US KNOW!!!!!!!
Congratulations to Lauren Cercone! She knew that Jerome K. Jerome, Conan Doyle’s friend, and also a writer, was born in Walsall.