To say I was a little put out at meeting Doctor Hirsch is perhaps to under-egg the custard. To be blunt, I was positively fuming! But I’m getting ahead of myself:
Having tried on several hats (none of which suited me), I admonished the milliner’s assistant for being a complete twit and stormed out of the changing rooms to find my husband was nowhere to be seen. However, all it took was a glance towards the stairs to see the be-tweeded buffoon hurrying away. Ah-ha, Mister Watson, I thought, what are you up to?
It was not a difficult task pursuing Johnny from Debenhams to the hotel, even though he adopted an annoyingly circuitous route involving two trams, a hackney carriage and three visits to the gents’ toilets (a tactic that temporarily convinced me he’d turned queer and had sneaked off to meet some fancy-man).
Happily, I was wrong on the latter point, but even so felt a flush of jealousy to discover he was actually meeting a woman – and a startlingly beautiful one to boot. Judith Hirsch’s unfeasibly golden hair and bright smiling face triggered within me a feeling of salacious juiciness. However, I sensibly cast such thoughts out of my head and told myself to concentrate on the details of the case, which that same person was about to impart. Once I’d given my husband the requisite vexatious stare (ie my well-known jealous-wifey-on-the-war-path look), he knew to behave himself. But just to make sure, I sat next to him and slipped one hand down the back of his trousers, leaving him in no doubt I knew where to poke him if he tried anything saucy with the gilded-haired temptress.
True, I was still a little miffed to find Big-Nose Holmesy had arrived on the scene at the same time, but when I saw that neither he nor Johnny had realised Hirsch was a woman, I calmed down and determined to contribute something useful to the conversation. Judith had shown us the three horrid gashes down her arm and Sherlock was postulating on the apparent fact of her being a werewolf.
“Sorry, Sherl,” I said, helping myself to a digestive biscuit, “but why would a little scratch make her into a werewolf?”
To his credit, Holmes did not adopt his infamous sardonic smile, and surprised me when he actually answered the question without the merest hint of sarcasm.
“It wouldn’t, Mary. Unlike Count Dracula, werewolves do not exist. As your dear husband has already pointed out, there is a condition known as clinical lycanthropy, which I believe this young woman to be suffering from. It is mere myth that perpetuates a belief in a human’s ability to transform into a werewolf.” He smiled warmly at Doctor Hirsch, then taking out his Meerschaum, began to stuff it with tobacco.
I looked at Judith and noted her bright complexion had not altered. “Your scepticism is admirable, Mister Holmes,” she said, “but on this occasion I fear it is misplaced. I am not pretending to be a vampire.”
Holmes didn’t look up, but finished filling his pipe, lit up a Swan Vesta and took a few puffs before continuing. “That particular creature, as Watson recorded in a case of ours entitled, ‘The Vampire Lestrade’, was very real and very dangerous.” He paused and raised an eyebrow in my direction. “You recall that adventure, Mary?”
“Then you will also recall that the Count comes from a long line of vampires which can be traced back to Vlad the Impaler in the fifteenth century. Werewolves, on the other hand, are based on nothing more sinister than European folklore, and we all know what a load of bollocks that is.” He glanced at Judith. “Like God, werewolves are a myth, a delusion, a means of scaring small children into going to bed early.”
Judith smiled, but this time there was no trace of humour in her features. “Two days from now there will be a full moon. If you truly believe there is nothing to fear, perhaps all three of you would accompany me to Yorkshire?”
My companions were silent, so I leaned forward and asked the obvious question. “And what do you expect to find in Yorkshire?”
She sniffed. “The man who did this to me.” She touched her arm and gave me a sideways glance. The look was so fleeting it may have been my imagination, but I could have sworn I caught a glimpse of a somewhat enlarged and pointy canine tooth. But then she grinned, and the image was gone.
Nevertheless, for the rest of the day I had the distinct impression that something deeply disturbing nestled within the bosom of that gorgeous and beautifully thrilling woman.