The Adventure of the Haunted Oast House at Harrow Weald
Chapter Five
by
Patricia K. Blocker

    
      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 this?"
     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 and left.
      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".