Mary Russell’s War (twenty-one): the cold of Boston
22 December 1914
Boston is cold. I have not seen snow for years, but here it covers the rooftops, muffles the sounds, clots the shoes of the walker. The cold penetrates the houses, so that despite the festivities of the season, regardless of the cooking smells and shiny ornaments and tentative but growing collection of wrapped gifts, my grandparents remain formal, distant
But that is not entirely fair. They too have lost family, and when I stand before them, a troublesome girl who is their son’s only survivor, it must be painful. It is certainly uncomfortable. And so where another would extend arms and embrace me, these two are polite and uncertain.
Not that I wish to be embraced. I am not a child, and giving myself over to a warm hug might melt my resolve: to be away from here by the new year. To be heading across an ocean for home.
The small section of The Valley of Fear contained in the Strand magazine that I waited in San Francisco for was hardly adequate to keep me entertained as I crossed this vast nation. In it, Dr Watson comes across a laughing new widow, then finds Mr Holmes most cheerful and “débonnaire” over breakfast, and submits to a lengthy diatribe concerning the murder case (much of which is, to my mind, rather dubious—although it was good to see that we were in agreement at last, when he says to Watson that, were he, Holmes, ever to marry, he hoped that he would inspire a feeling in his wife that would prevent her from being so easily escorted away from his dead body. I had seen that oddity at my first read of the opening scenes!) But none of these are what truly caught at my imagination. Instead, my eye kept travelling back to the brief line that described the location where this took place: sitting in the ingle-nook of an old village inn.
Such an evocative phrase! Not that I, a minor and a female one at that, would be permitted to settle into such a portion of an inn. (Unless I were dressed as a man, that is. It occurred to me, as I struggled to arrange my hair on top of my head on a shifting train, so as to give myself the greater appearance of maturity and avoid those conversations that start with the question of where my parents were, that if I were to hide the length of it under an oversized cap, few would tell it was there at all. However, I would still look like a boy and not a man, and no innkeeper would serve me in his ingle-nook. However, in a few years, I shall have to try it.)
That ingle-nook calls to me, as I sit here in my frigid Boston bedroom with the snow whispering down my window. It gives me a point to lock on to, pulling me back to my mother’s home. No doubt my father sat in similar ingle-nooks, in one or another Sussex village. Not London: Sussex is my home. Yes.
There was another portion of that Strand episode that made me even more grateful than the ingle-nook’s evocation of home: humour.
I laughed—yes, laughed out loud, in my snug quarters on the rattling train, for the first time since the first week of October—when I read the portion where Holmes returns late at night to the inn’s room he and Watson are sharing, and—no, I shall copy the passage directly, allowing me to chuckle again whenever I come across this:
He stood beside me in silence, his candle in his hand. Then the tall lean figure inclined towards me.
‘I say, Watson,’ he whispered, ‘would you be afraid to sleep in the same room as a lunatic, a man with softening of the brain, an idiot whose mind has lost its grip?’
‘Not in the least,’ I answered in astonishment.
‘Ah, that’s lucky,’ he said, and not another word would he utter that night.
Follow Mary Russell’s War, here.
Read The Valley of Fear, here.