Sylvia Warner’s London Residence
Saturday, March 11th, 1893—midnight.
After dinner Sylvia was told not to wait up by her husband. The good doctor had been called away by a male patient who had requested him alone—likely an embarrassing personal matter, so she had taken to bed early (well, not too early as she had been working on her newest book). Sylvia would needle the details out of her husband later if the inclination struck her and the fog of sleep did not wipe it from her mind.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Sylvia groggily awoke to a tapping from the foyer, she rolled to her side to see that her husband wasn’t beside her. She closed her eyes for a moment, figuring that her husband was letting himself in and being noisy about it.
“Had he forgotten his keys?”
Perhaps he had. The knocking on the door became insistent.
“He has forgotten his keys.”
Sylvia took a moment again, blinked, and then opened her eyelids.
“I was just dreaming about used umbrellas, raindrops beading and falling from its spokes… used umbrellas…”
She was awake now. She flung back the bed covers, and she scrabbled on the side-table for matches to light her candle. Sleepy, half imagining that she was fourteen years old, she found her robe and slippers, and she shuffled off towards her apartment door.KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!
A tiny voice called from the other side of the heavy oak door.
“Hello? I have an urgent message for a Dr. Warner.”
Sylvia placed her candle down upon the bureau in the hallway, deliberately choosing a spot several feet from the door so that her body wasn’t illuminated. Stood behind the door she stroked the bald head of an almost forgotten knobkerrie, which was hidden beneath a macintosh on the hat-stand. She unlatched the door, opening it a crack, and peered through into the building’s foyer.
Behind the door Sylvia could vaguely make out a small figure—a girl of seven or eight—holding a paper in her hands.
“I’m sorry to bother you, mum, this is the Warner house isn’t it?”
“Yes— What on earth are you doing out so late?” Sylvia checked the foyer for anyone else before opening the door a little wider—wearing only her nightgown and robe she felt self-conscious. “Is that paper for me?”
“Messages have to go through, mum.” The little girl seemed relieved that she had the right address. “I don’t think this is for you, it’s for a Dr. Warner… unless—are you a doctor?”
“Yes, I suppose they must. I’m not the doctor; Dr. Warner is my husband. He’s—um—he’s asleep, and I shan’t wake him up. I’m his secretary, so to speak. Will you let me read the paper you’re holding?”
“Sure thing, mum. A wife is as good as the real thing! Just be sure to pass the message along as soon as you can, it sounded pretty important.” The little girl passed the paper through the door. “If that’ll do, I’ll be off then.”
The note was written in a hasty scrawl and appeared to be from a friend of the Warners’.
Am at 5 Durward St., Whitechapel. Please, come quickly and bring medical supplies.
Prof. Julius Smith
Sylvia placed the paper from Professor Smith on the bureau so that Henry was bound to notice it when he returned from his calls. She made her way back to her bedroom. They had had dinner with the Professor only last week—some function or other doing good works. She remembered a conversation regarding the Professor’s old governess and her daughter, apparently the poor woman had already miscarried once and this confinement was overdue by a week. She lived in Whitechapel. Sylvia put two and two together, made five, and—“She’s now overdue by two weeks!”
She looked out of the bedroom window, it was very dark out—the gas lamps had been switched off for the night. How long before Henry returned?
“Really?” she said aloud to herself in an incredulous tone.
Sylvia pulled on ancient jodhpurs and shouldered her husband’s tweed smoking jacket, and found a disused doctor’s bag underneath odd shoes. She scribbled a hasty note of her whereabouts underneath the Professor’s words, and then ran out the door grabbing the macintosh on her way.
Note in place, medical supplies at the ready, and less than fitting clothes donned, Sylvia pushed out into the night looking for a cab. It took her three blocks of walking before she came across a cab driver leaning against a small fence, taking a break with a cigarette. The man seemed quite surprised that she was out so late and insisted almost as much as Sylvia did that she take his cab. The cab procured, Sylvia was quickly on her way to Whitechapel.
Sylvia studied the buttons which dimpled the cab’s upholstery, reflecting on her decision to go out into the night. Her immediate wish to help—“I know I can be of use to the mother and child”—was tempered by the awkward realisation that… “Oh, no use second-guessing,” thought she.