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Автор Кинг Лори

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Laurie R. King

The Marriage of Mary Russell

A book in the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series, 2016

Marriage is a contract, a formal acknowledgement that two individuals-and their families-are legally bound together. Yes, for some (particularly the young and impressionable) marriage is also the end point of wild infatuation, romantic fantasies, and physical urges, but when the two people in question are undeniably mature and constitutionally level-headed, they keep matters rational.

At least, they try to.

***

It was February 1921 [1]. I had known Sherlock Holmes for the best part of six years, during which time he had gone from unexpected neighbour to demanding tutor to surprisingly co-operative partner-in-detecting. I had recently turned twenty-one and stepped into the responsibilities of my inheritance, but even before that, I found myself deliberating the benefits, and disadvantages, of the married state in general and to one specific male person in particular.

This was, remember, a time when the Great War still loomed. A quarter of my generation was dead. Those who remained were often physical and emotional shadows of the men they had once been. Being unsuited to nursing, and unwilling to lower my demands, I was left looking at the man I had met during the War, the Baker Street detective-turned-Sussex-Downs beekeeper, who had taken me on as his apprentice, his equal, and finally, his partner.

On the one hand, the very idea was absurd. Marriage, to Sherlock Holmes? He was the least marriageable man I knew. On the other hand, we were already partners. And having that piece of paper-that otherwise meaningless piece of paper-would undoubtedly ease such matters as border crossings, hotel rooms, and claiming one another’s body in the event of a fatal mishap. Marriage would also keep me from the temptations of pure academia, a world that, especially for a woman, could become terribly enclosed.

Marriage-this marriage-would ensure that I was never bored.

So, it was a rational decision, a sensible choice for two intelligent and level-headed people, the obvious next step in our partnership.

Ironic, really, that it would be Holmes who complicated matters with the emotional. And I am fairly certain that the mild concussion I was suffering at the time of the proposal had little to do with it.

One might imagine that, given his devoutly Bohemian nature and my own youthful disdain for societal mores-and considering how little family either of us had-marriage might not have been high on our list of necessities. This was, after all, the modern age, when the exhilaration of those who had survived the War looked to be ushering in an era of high spirits: even at its early stages, the Twenties showed little interest in Victorian, or even Edwardian, niceties.

As for the concerns of The Book of Common Prayer (our society’s guide to the rituals of life): neither of us had any intention that the procreation of children enter into matters. Nor did we anticipate being tempted by the sin of fornication-that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled-since defilement seemed a Medieval sort of concern, easily dealt with by a solemn vow not to pull the other aside into a nearby fornix for the purpose of gratification. If anything, the Prayer Book’s third concern came closest to defining our choice: for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.

Experience had already proved that adversity was inevitable. And as the Anglican rites agree, there’s nothing like a signed contract to make one stick to one’s commitments.

Still, we would have been just as happy to spend the rest of our lives in a state of amiable sin, regardless of the ease with which we might be abandoned and the risk to our immortal souls-except that we each had one person whose disapproval filled us with dread. In Holmes’ case, this was Dr John Watson. The two men had met in 1881, going from flat-sharing to friendship over the years, until Watson became as much a brother as Holmes’ actual blood relation. (As for Mycroft Holmes himself, Holmes’ older brother did not factor into our debate: it went without saying that Mycroft’s concerns would be less the state of our souls than how my presence might affect his brother’s continued availability.) And although Holmes appeared to have spent much of the last forty years actively thwarting Watson’s expectations, in fact, he was always aware of his friend’s opinions on matters. The thought of that sadly reproving gaze would have been trying even for Holmes.

As for me, I had neither judgemental friend nor family pressures. What I did have was a housekeeper.

A housekeeper may not be a young woman’s usual conscience, but I had been orphaned at fourteen. From that time, my life was far too complicated for the easy intimacies of close friendship. As for extended family, my American grandparents lived on the other side of an ocean-literally as well as figuratively-while my English mother’s relations were either dead or estranged from me. I had come into the Holmes household as a fifteen-year-old girl, overtly proud and internally empty. Mrs Hudson had instantly sensed the aching void and stepped in, offering her ears, her arms, and all the forms of nourishment an orphan could need.

If I had any family, it was she.

***

The actual marriage proposal had come when my head was spinning (I having been knocked unconscious, deliberately-by Holmes) and his head was dripping wet, grease-clotted, and thoroughly scorched from the fiery, mid-Thames boat wreck that claimed the life of our most recent villainous opponent. Miraculous survival, one’s own and of one’s most significant attachment, has a way of adding its own spin to the head. Or perhaps it was just, as I mentioned, the concussion. In any case, when Holmes emerged from the filthy surface of the Thames, there followed an astonishing, unexpected, and remarkably…stimulating physical encounter, right there on the docks. Namely, we kissed.

I believe this reminder of the physical surprised Holmes as much it did me. Certainly, both of us took care, over the next days, to maintain a cool and distinctly Victorian degree of propriety, even-particularly-when we were alone. Although we had addressed the primary negotiations of the marriage contract then and there (Holmes: I promise not to knock you unconscious again, unless it’s absolutely necessary. Me: I promise to obey you, if it’s something I’d planned on doing anyway.), the next stages were somewhat less straightforward.

Fortunately, we had other matters into which we could retreat, saving ourselves from awkward silences and intense contemplations of the view out of the window. We returned to Sussex a few days after the Margery Childe case finished, spending the first half of the trip wrestling with the compartment’s heater and the case’s more difficult conundra, then the next twenty miles reaching the delicate decision that perhaps we would not tell anyone quite yet about our change of status. I then made some passing and humorous remark about the ceremony itself. A moment of silence descended, before his cautious question:

“You wish an actual…wedding?”

He’d have sounded less dubious had I suggested matching tattoos. My first impulse was to laugh it off, but I controlled myself long enough to think it over. “I don’t know that I particularly want one, but marriage is said to be a community event. And there are people to take into account.”

“You want my brother to walk you down the aisle?”

“Of course not. Nor do I have any great wish to see Watson standing beside you with a boutonnière.”

“You prefer a Jewish ceremony, then.”

I had not even considered the possibility until that moment, and allowed myself a moment to dwell on Holmes, kippah on head, standing beside me beneath the chuppah, signing the ketubah, and stomping on the glass, then me lifted high in a chair-

“I think not.”

“Broomsticks? Hand-fasting? The anvil at Gretna Green? An arch of sabres?”

“I suppose a registry office would do. Unless you happen to have a family chapel?” I added, as a joke.

“Ah,” he said. “Well, as a matter of fact…”

My gaze snapped away from the passing countryside. “You don’t! Do you?” He had a house in Sussex and half a dozen secret boltholes scattered across London, but…could the man actually own a chapel?

“Strictly speaking, it belongs to Mycroft.” Well, I thought, this sounds unusually promising. “If it’s still standing.” Maybe not so promising. “And if we could get at it.” I eyed him warily. “Although it would have to be a night-time affair. And Mycroft may insist that we transport our witnesses either with masks, or behind blacked-out windows.” I opened my mouth to say that, really, a registry office would do. “Plus, there’s the shot-guns to consider.”

I closed my mouth.

If ever I’d imagined that Sherlock Holmes did not know precisely how to snag my interest in a matter, that delusion ended ...