A sudden shaking of my arm
lifted me from my fog and I stared up at Holmes. His handkerchief
covered his mouth and nose but you could see the ashen blotches
on his face. The smoke was affecting him as it had me; only
his strong will had kept him moving. Holmes pulled me up and
guided me to the hatchway where he pointed to a floor slat.
"Quick, Watson! I felt a loose board here earlier. If we can
pull it out, we might be able to open up the cowl." Holmes and
I clenched the slat and Holmes cried "Now pull Watson, pull!
This could be our only chance." The slat moved slowly, shivered
and then came steadily up from the floor. Holmes grabbed the
slat and moved to push it against the blocked cowl. My breath
held as I watched. A tremor and then the slat broke through.
The cowl was free and air flowed inside. Holmes
and I sat down and took deep even breaths. My head cleared and
I could think again. "My God, Holmes, what is the meaning of
Holmes replied "Murder it has
been and murder they tried, still we are not safe yet. We need
to get to the ground."
We walked to the hatchway and
looked down where the fire looked to be out and the smoke had
almost stopped. Our dilemma was short lived however as we heard
voices from below.
"Mr. Holmes, are you and Dr.
Watson alright?" Holmes and I looked down to see Lord and Lady
Dunbury. Holmes yelled back to say that we were alright but
that the ladder was gone and we couldn't get down. Lady Dunbury
answered the ladder was at the bottom and that she would have
it brought up.
Holmes spent this time
opportunity making a quick inspection of the room we were in.
He pointed out how the edges of the cowl were warped with age
but that the edges of the cloth used to block it were fairly
well preserved. Holmes bent over the hatchway and looked carefully
at the floor below us. "Watson, look at the floor below".
I looked and saw that it was
heavy with dust but curiously, you could see several outlines
where a ladder had lain and footprints. By this time, we could
hear the noise of a ladder coming up from the hatchway and we
could see someone coming upward. The person was the same one
that had picked us up at the station. He stepped onto the floor
below us, pulled up the ladder, and passed it to us above. I
climbed down carefully and Holmes followed me as we climbed
down to the floor below. We then began the arduous task of going
downward through the other floors, our rescuer going first,
me next and Holmes last.
Lord and Lady Dunbury met us
outside the oast house where Lord Dunbury exclaimed "Thank goodness,
you are not hurt. We had come to see if anything was needed
and we saw the smoke."
Lady Dunbury added "Yes, we feared
for your lives. Who could have started the fire and how could
the ladder get down here? Oh, I suppose you did not have time
to look around up there before the fire?"
I looked intently at her face
and didn't see any fear or worry in those green eyes. I noticed
there was a large fresh bruise on her left hand. She saw me
looking and quickly put her hands in her pockets.
Holmes interjected, "Time enough
for everything. There are questions to be asked and answers
to be given but first I think Watson and I need rest. I still
feel quite faint from the smoke." I tried to keep the surprise
from my face. I couldn't remember when I had last heard Holmes
acknowledge such personal weakness. Lord Dunbury motioned us
to follow us to the manor where he instructed the butler to
show us to the game room. The butler left but soon returned
with port and scones. With a slight bow, he closed the door
Holmes and I settled into deep
leather chairs with glasses of port. Lady Dunbury's portrait
again glared as us as if it knew we were unwelcomed home invaders
and enemies to fear. Holmes put his hand in his pocket, pulled
out his handkerchief, and opened it. Inside was some tobacco
ash. Holmes said, "Turkish, I believe and not too old. Perhaps
if we hadn't been concentrating so much on climbing that old
ladder, we might have smelled it. I found it on the floor where
we saw the dust ladder; I was able to do a quick search while
you were climbing down. Yes, Watson, it is indeed a three-pipe
problem. Ah, if only we could only smoke! I think it is time
we call in Lestrade".