Easter 1894 is promising to be a cold but brilliant day. Much, Jane Hudson thinks, as it used to be during her girlhood in Essex. As she pours the boiling water over the tea leaves, she remembers the thrill of new pinafores or hats for Easter, the exuberant joy of her little brothers as they tapped eggs with the neighbours' children. She is not a particularly religious woman, preferring to celebrate the holiday by long walks in the country rather than elaborate services in stuffy churches, but this year Dr Watson has made her promise to go with him.
She carefully positions both the candle and tea cup on her tray and then throws her worn but serviceable shawl around her for warmth as she climbs the stairs to his room.
“Good morning,” she says, setting the tray down on the bedside table with a little “clonk”. It's far too early for daylight to be any help in waking the good doctor and she needs the extra noise. “I brought you your early morning tea, you will need to drink up quickly or we will miss the service.”
Grumbling, Dr Watson emerges from the covers but his face lights up at the sight of the tea cup.
“Mrs Hudson,” he declares, “you're an angel!”
She smiles and withdraws to give him time for his own morning toilet. She has already put on her second best gown and is in the process of pulling on her gloves (leather and old, but well cared for) when he silently makes his way down the stairs.
They slip out of the house and into the biting night air with hardly any noise at all but she is still sure Mr Holmes is awake by now. The man sleeps as lightly and as little as any watch dog she has ever seen.
Dr Watson, always the gallant gentleman, offers her his arm and they walk the third of a mile to St Marylebone Church in silence. Just before they enter the church, Dr Watson turns to her and smiles, saying: “They do a real Easter Vigil here, Mrs Hudson, in the Tractarian tradition. It's marvelous, you will see.”
“I'm sure it is, doctor,” she says, touched by his innocent joy. She has vaguely heard of the Tractarians, her youngest brother is an Oxford man, but all she really knows is that they have revived the old Papist tradition of celebrating the resurrection of the Lord at nighttime, as it used to be done before the Reformation.
The church they enter is almost completely dark, only a candle or two lighting their way in the gloom. The doctor however seems to know his way around – she remembers him going every Sunday for the last three years – and so he leads her to a spot in the pews which affords them a direct view of the altar that is decked out in all its holiday splendor.
There are hushed whispers and the quiet shuffling of feet as more and more people file into the darkened church and find their places. And then, suddenly, the enormous main door opens and she can see the glow of the fire the priest has just lit outside. They are all craning their necks, trying to catch a glimpse of the candle that is being lit from it and then the procession of priests enters the church with the burning candle in front.
“Lumen Christi,” they sing out and “deo gratias,” answer the parishioners.
She doesn't speak any Latin but she does not need it to understand the powerful symbolism of light being carried into darkness. They make their way into the church, lighting a number of the candles along the way and then one of the young man weighed down by the splendor of his holiday vestments steps up in front of them and begins to read from the bible: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth...”
It is a beautiful service but a long one and before too long, she can feel her mind wandering. She is brought sharply back, however, when everyone rises to their feet and the triumphant voice of a young priest lifts in the ancient joyful call:
“Christ is risen! Alleluia!”
The church seems to vibrate with the sound of a hundred voices who take up the call in all its exuberance and life-affirming joy around her. To her astonishment she sees tears spilling down the good doctor's cheeks, as he too, joins in with the others, his eyes closed in intense emotion. It shakes her to the core to see him like this and suddenly she realises why he had asked for her company on this night. They are not disciples and the man they just left in the dark house on Baker Street is in many ways the farthest thing from a saint that she can think of. But they, too, know intimately of the horror and devastation of a great man thought lost forever. Their own night lasted three years instead of three days and she can suddenly feel every single day of them as she watches the good, gracious man next to her fall apart as he gives himself over to the music. And then, on the next “alleluia”, the joy suddenly surges through her, too, and she cannot help but join her own reedy voice to the song because she knows this, too, this incredulous exuberance, this heartbreaking relief of finding the grave empty and the man thought dead whole and alive in front of her.
She is glad, in the end, that she remembered to tuck a handkerchief into her pocket.
When they return to Baker Street they find the house warm and the lamps lighted and, to her never ending astonishment, the smells of a breakfast well cooked are wafting through the air. As soon as she has divested herself of her gloves and cloak, she hurries into the kitchen only to find a sight that surprises her so much she can't help but utter a cry of amazement.
“Mr Holmes,” she exclaims, “well, I never. What on earth are you doing?”
Holmes looks up from the eggs he is expertly frying on her stove and smiles as radiant and innocent as the good sun herself. “Why Mrs Hudson,” he laughs, “surely it is obvious even to the untrained eye? I thought you and Watson deserved a good breakfast after your early morning excursion and the horrifyingly dull affair you just attended.”
“My dear fellow,” the doctor answers from where he has come up behind her, “this smells almost divine enough for me to forgive you that dreadful insult you just leveled at my faith.”
“Ah, no,” Holmes shakes his head, “it wasn't the faith I was insulting, my dear friend, merely the ritual. Far be it from me to begrudge a man the comfort he finds in his faith, even if I do not share it.”
The look that passes between them seems to speak volumes more, Jane thinks, but she has long since resigned herself to the fact that her lodgers only ever utter a third of what they are communicating to each other.
“Well then,” she says, “let's bring this feast upstairs.”
“Indeed,” Holmes says, turning to a well-stocked tray, “and I do hope you will be joining us on a holiday like this.”
She blushes at that. Surely it isn't decent for a widowed woman of her age to share her lodgers' meals like this but Mr Holmes looks at her with quiet insistence and when she nods her head he smiles that smile again, open and boyish, and she know she cannot really deny either of them anything on a day like this.
Breakfast is a joyful affair, conversation flowing fast and easy between them. And then, Holmes throws down his napkin, gets up and calls:
“Keep your seats, both of you, I have a little present here that I brought back especially for you, Mrs Hudson.”
Soon enough, he returns with a little bundle wrapped in brown paper and lays it carefully in her lap.
“Mr Holmes, really,” she begins to protest, but he interrupts her immediately.
“No, no, I will not hear any protest today,” he exclaims, “it used to be the custom to pay the rent on Easter and this, Mrs Hudson, is it.”
“You silly man,” she smiles, “you pay me rent every month.”
“Indeed we do, indeed we do, Mrs Hudson. But the doctor and I are hardly traditional lodgers and I do know that we often try your patience sorely. So, this is a little sign of my appreciation for the wonderful home you make for us here.”
They both look at her expectantly and so she finally gives in and unwraps the bundle. It turns out to contain a wonderful wrap of the Spanish kind, with beautifully embroidered flowers and tassels that look almost frivolous.
“Mr Holmes!” She can't help but exclaim, “Have you taken leave of your senses?” The material is fine and much too costly for such a gift.
“Not at all, Mrs Hudson, not at all.” This time it's the doctor who answers her, evidently a co-conspirator in this. “Take it as a sign of our deep appreciation for your tireless friendship during these years. I believe,” he then adds, his eyes twinkling mischievously, “that it used to be the custom for young men to present their sweethearts with such courtship gifts when you were a girl.”
At that she blushes a deep red. It had indeed been the custom in her youth and to be reminded of it now makes her feel all of 20 again.
“Thank you,” she finally says, noting to her astonishment that her throat feels suddenly tight with emotion.
“Wonderful!” Holmes declares and then jumps up and grabs his violin. “Watson, on your marks.”
The doctor rises and then bows low before her, offering his hand and then pulling her up from her chair as Holmes begins to play a cheerful tune for them.
As they fly around the living room, the tassels of her shawl dancing around her, Mrs Hudson feels as young as she ever has. Life, she thinks, has indeed returned to them and it is as much of a miracle as ever happened in any church.