Song For Someone (#1)
It’s strange how two words can turn your world upside down.
I had no way of knowing that the witness to my wedding to the lawyer Godfrey Norton would come back to haunt me in years to come. My cousin Estelle once told me that the true love of one’s life is the one who catches you unaware and changes you inexplicably.
was in my late twenties when I moved to London in 1887, having spent the past few years performing as a contralto at La Scala in Milan, and then a term as prima donna with the Imperial Opera of Warsaw. And it was in Warsaw where I first met Wilhelm Gottsreich Sigismond von Ormstein, Grand Duke of Cassel-Feldstein, the hereditary king of Bohemia.
I suppose it all sounds rather grand, given his title, but Wilhelm was a kind, fun-loving man, and a huge fan of the opera. A big man, in every sense of the word, he was a tall, imposing figure—well-built with broad shoulders and a muscular frame, black hair, sparkling brown eyes, and a handlebar moustache. He would often make a grand entrance with his entourage, insisting the cast join him for drinks afterwards. They all adored him, of course. He was thoughtful and generous. So I thought little of it when a bouquet of flowers appeared in my dressing room every night.
A few months after meeting Wilhelm, I was invited and accepted into the elitist fold of La Scala’s theatre chorus. My I KD Sherrinford 2 dream had always been to train at the prestigious Opera House. Wilhelm took the news badly. He told me he’d developed feelings for me, and while I had grown very fond of him, I knew I had to follow my dreams. Looking back, enrolling at La Scala was one of the happiest moments of my life. But then I gave it up for the position of prima donna at the Grand Opera House in Warsaw, which was the worst decision of my life.
A few weeks after my arrival in Warsaw, a letter from Wilhelm revealed he had returned to the city upon learning of my new appointment and asked if he could take me to luncheon. I accepted the invitation. In truth I was looking forward to seeing Wilhelm again. I missed his infectious humour and I hoped we could remain friends. We spent a lovely morning together and laughed watching the waiters scurry around, eager to please him. His disposition and exuberant personality were so endearing, always the life and soul of the party. I was always aware he held a torch for me, but I was taken aback when he declared his undying love and his intention to make me his wife. I was speechless, swept away by the excitement of it all until I came to my senses.
“No.” I shook my head. “This can’t be. Your parents would never allow it.”
Wilhelm became animated, insisting he would be king one day and could choose his own bride. Although I was young and naïve, I knew the matter was not that simple. Wilhelm claimed he would speak to his parents, confident they would listen to reason. He pleaded with me to be patient
More than four weeks passed before I received a letter informing me of his failed attempts to win over his parents. His father was so enraged at the absurd prospect that he ordered Wilhelm to propose to Clotide Lothman von Saxe-Meiningen, the second daughter to the king of Scandinavia. There was no apology. Wilhelm even had the audacity to suggest I become his mistress and, to add insult to injury, demanded the return of a photograph he’d had taken of us.
Incensed at the disrespect I’d been shown, I decided to retire from the stage and move to London. They say hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. In an act of foolishness, which I later regretted, I told Wilhelm I intended to send the photograph to Clotide’s family should the engagement be announced. This was admittedly scandalous behaviour, but I was young and I and had never experienced rejection. I still remember the feelings of anger, betrayal, and jealousy, as though I’d felt them only yesterday—they were all-consuming.
Wilhelm’s response was to send his agents after me. Upon my arrival in London, I was searched at Charing Cross station before my house in St John’s Wood was broken into. Wilhelm’s pursuit of the photograph was relentless, although I was always one step ahead of him. Before I left Warsaw, I arranged with a friend to post the photograph, which was addressed to my agent in London, secreted in the sleeve of a book. I kept it in a secure hiding place, one I was certain Wilhelm’s agents would never find.
It was around this time I went to see my old friend, Sarah Burton, who was performing as Desdemona in Shakespeare’s Othello at the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane. After the performance, she invited me to join her and a few friends for dinner at Rules in Covent Garden. And that was where I was introduced to Godfrey Norton. He was a dashing man—tall, dark—and I was instantly taken with him. Godfrey was neither vain nor arrogant, an attentive listener with a talent for putting those around him at ease. I told him about Wilhelm and what had transpired, but that did little to dampen his ardour. On the contrary, Godfrey pursued me relentlessly over the coming weeks. He sent me flowers and frequently escorted me to the theatre and dinner. During the day we enjoyed long leisurely strolls through the park, at which times Godfrey spoke incessantly of his hopes and dreams, his plans for the future—plans which he said included me.
I was, of course, flattered by his attention, but I had no wish to give him any false hopes. I had naively convinced myself I was still in love with Wilhelm, until finally I realised I’d been possessed by a mere girlish infatuation. I didn’t really know love at all. In fact, I doubted if it even existed. But Godfrey didn’t care. He was certain that given enough time I would learn to love him. After my experience with Wilhelm, I felt vulnerable. It was comforting to have someone on my side, so I gladly accepted his proposal.
Godfrey arranged for a special licence so we could be married right away. Having obtained a licence that was only valid for a few days, Godfrey found a clergyman willing to carry out the ceremony at such short notice. This proved to be an extremely stressful period for both of us. Not only were we desperate to be married, but Godfrey was also attempting to obtain fake identities. We intended to flee London shortly after the wedding to be rid of Wilhelm and his agents for good. The thought of being constantly under surveillance was beginning to take its toll. I even considered returning the photo to Wilhelm, but Godfrey insisted we needed it as leverage in case Wilhelm had second thoughts and decided to come after us.
I left Nicco and Mycroft to set up the chessboard and made my way towards the stables, wondering what could have happened. I took a breath before crossing over the threshold. How I had been dreading this day. Over the years, my relationship with Sherlock had been exceptional. He worked hard to present the best version of himself before the children and me, but perhaps now was the time to release him from his obligations. So, with a heavy heart, I slipped into the stable block where I found Sherlock loading hay in one of the mangers. “Which of the horses has gone wrong?” I quizzed, staring at him anxiously. A shadow of a smile passed over Sherlock’s face. “Ah, sorry to have alarmed you, but I needed to draw your attention somehow. I’ve been trying to get you out here all day. Come with me.” He took my hand and led me towards the end stall, which usually stood empty. Sherlock slowly pushed open the door. I was stunned to find a black Friesian yearling, a small white star on his forehead, lying in the straw, gazing back. I was speechless as my husband and I entered the stall, sitting down beside the yearling who pricked up his ears as I stroked his head and thick black mane. “For me?” I murmured. “I thought you’d forgotten my Christmas present. My god, he is magnificent.” “I do pay attention some of the time.” Sherlock chuckled, staring at me keenly. “You have no idea how long I deliberated over him. I almost chose a filly who was a bonny thing, but then decided this little chap had more spirit. His official title is Black Hawk Gallo, but what will you name him?” “Well.” I laughed. “As I failed to notice your plan, I shall call him Shadow. How did you get him here?” “He was delivered yesterday while we were at the Three Tunnes. The children were in on the secret. They’ve been helping me to look after him.” I sighed. “You can be exasperating at times, Mr Holmes. But, even after all these years together, there are moments like this when you do something that reminds me again why I love you. I would never want to be with anyone else.” “Yes,” said Sherlock, as he stared into my eyes. “I have no idea what I did to deserve you either, Nene. Do you think I’m not aware of the sacrifices you’ve made so we can be together? The way you put up with my moods and insensitivities, like the incident earlier. I had no right to say that to you. Forgive me?” When I nodded, he sighed. “Mycroft always brings out the worst in me. How you can excuse my brother’s behaviour after he forced us apart for over four years amazes me. People consider love the most challenging emotion, but they’re wrong. It’s regret, that gnawing feeling eating away at you, reminding you of what you had and lost. Those years we were apart I consider the biggest failure of my life. So if you can find it in your heart to forgive Mycroft, I must find a way to come to terms with your decision.” I nodded. “Your brother was only trying to protect you, and I understand that now. Let’s put it behind us and celebrate what we have. But, you know, I’m glad Mycroft got to see the children. The security he provides to keep them safe is immeasurable.” I paused for a moment, gazing into my husband’s eyes. “I would never want you to stay with me out of a sense of duty. If the drama of family life becomes too much for you, then you need to tell me. I will accept whatever you say, for I know you would never lie to me.” Sherlock smiled, tears running down his cheeks. “You are a remarkable woman, Nene. Every day I remind myself of that fact, and how fortunate I am to be your husband and a father to those two incredible children. Love came to me late and unexpectedly. First you, then Nicco and Charlotte. Unexpected, yes, but never unwanted. And to be allowed to return that love is the most incredible privilege. I know I rarely tell you this, but I love and adore you with my whole heart. I want you to know that.” I put my arms around him and hugged him, tears in my own eyes. And as I did so, I realised how blessed I was to lead such an incredible, sometimes lonely, but often exhilarating life. For Sherlock and me, being together wasn’t always easy. We made a lot of sacrifices along the way to maintain our relationship. A lot of strategic planning was involved, often with the help and support of Mycroft, and all for one purpose—to keep our children safe. But, as far as Sherlock and I were concerned, Nicco and Charlotte always came first. Our time together in Fiesole, and our confrontation with Colonel Moriarty, made me acutely aware of how fragile life was, and the importance of friends and family, even disordered family members. Admittedly, Mycroft might be pompous and cantankerous at times, but like his brother, under that icy exterior was a decent man who I knew would be prepared to do anything for our children, despite the fact he only met them for the first time that day. So I decided I could cope with his sardonic humour and his sanctimonious comments. After all, it wasn’t as though I would be expected to entertain him every day.