The Adventure of the Haunted Oast House at Harrow Weald
Chapter One
by
Kent Ross

    
       July, August and even September had reminded me of my days in Afghanistan. Fortunately those days had enabled me to stand the heat better than could many, but even for me it had been a very trying period. Holmes was edgy throughout those months, despondent because he had nothing of any significance, there being only two of three matters of minor import.

     
But the weather had made a remarkable change, and with it a change in our attitudes and frames of mind. Blowing in from the far west was a dramatic change and from barely tolerable days of heat and humidity, a storm had descended up on us with ferocity. It broke the heat but so suddenly that the building walls that had seem hot to the touch, were now cool enough that Mrs. Hudson asked if we wanted a fire made up. Unthinkable a day ago.

     
The wind came at us in great gusts and the rain that pelted the window panes seemed so ferocious that it was a wonder the panes themselves didn't shatter. The heat wave that had lain like a tent over London was gone, but what replaced it was so fierce we did not even consider venturing outside.      The papers, even with this inclement weather, were still being printed and Holmes had had them sent up. We were taking our leisure with pipe and papers, remarking on the weather's change and glad we had nothing that called us to exit our quarters. Mrs. Hudson had just removed our tea when she re-appeared and at her side was Lestrade, from Scotland Yard.

      Holmes sat up sharply and indicated the sofa to him. I said, "It must be something of importance to have taken you out in this weather."

      "Yes," he replied, "but I'm uncertain as to what I am hoping you can do."

      "Come, come," Holmes remonstrated. "Coming all the way over in this weather risking ague, and not wanting to explain yourself seems unconsciousable."

      "Pray tell," I enjoined, "What it is that brings you out. A case, no doubt?"

      "Well, yes," he went on, "But it is a matter that is difficult to explain."       

      "Please try," said Holmes. "Begin with a clear statement of the facts of the case."

       Lestrade hesitated and then began, "You know Lord Dunbury, near Harrow Weald? It concerns him. Well, not exactly him, but he is the reason I desired your insights into the matter."

       "And the matter might be," Holmes encouraged.

       "It is a matter of death, a series of deaths actually, which may or may not be murder."

       "Good heavens," I said, "Surely that can be established, can't it?"

       "That's just the issue. You would certainly think so, and yet the doctors have not been able to establish the cause of the deaths."

       "You mentioned deaths, How many? I have not seen a report in the papers of such a case from Harrow Weald."

       "No, no you wouldn't. That's just it. Is it a case or a series of deaths from natural causes, though strangely related."

       "Gad, Lestrade. Whatever can you mean," I said.

       "Perhaps, Lestrade, you would be so good as to slowly, clearly and completely describe, if not the case, the situation," said Holmes with slight asperity.

       "Yes, yes. I have not been clear, have I. Let me explain," he went on. "The events center in what locals refer to as the haunted oast house on Lord Dunbury's estate."

       "Haunted," said Holmes. "Surely you would do better consulting a minister or someone who is more likely to be helpful in that realm."

       "No, Holmes. You're the man for there have been three deaths that have occurred within the last year. All three have occurred in the same oast house."

       "Yes, unusual, but why inquire of me?" Holmes added.

       Lestrade went on, "The oast house is one of the old circular types. It has not been used to dry hops for some years now, and was simple unused except to store some incidental farming implements. It was in this oast house three of Lord Dunbury's farm labors have been found dead, but we cannot seem to ascertain the cause of their deaths. They have no apparent wounds, but they are surely dead."

       "Well, of course," said Holmes, But what is the question?"

       "They were found, all three, about two months apart on the upper levels of the oast house, and they had no known reason to have been up there, and further there was no ladder or apparent way for them to get there. I wondered if you might step around for a bit of a look."

       "Watson, since we have no pressing matters at the moment, perhaps we could come down next week, don't you think?"

       As I was preparing to acquiesce, a knock at the door brought a message for Lestrade.

       He said, "Pardon me," as he took the note, briefly looked at it, then turned to us and said, "Perhaps you could come tomorrow. Lord Dunbury has just communicated that another person has died, not a farm worker, but one of his housemaids. She was found on the third level of the same oast house under the same circumstances. Will you come?"

       "Yes, without question. Watson, which early morning train will get us there soonest?"