The Adventure of the Haunted Oast House at Harrow Weald
Chapter Seven
by
David Hayes

     
     The ride to the telegraph office went over even roads and was uneventful. That was fortunate, since Watson couldn't possibly handle one more thing. Taking advantage of the smooth trip, he set everything down in his notebook, as is his practice. Holmes always accused him of writing the first draft of his next magazine story, but the truth was it is just his nature. Times, dates, places, and people easily blur together into one big mess. It was a problem in school and in his medical practice. He knew he couldn't take the chance - not on this case - and he would need the facts to be accurate and concise if he expected Inspector Lestrade's help.

     As he wrote, he remembered the original request from Lestrade, to come to Harrow Weald and help him investigate four strange deaths. Now, it appears there was a fifth one, much earlier, the last Lord of the Manor. They are pretty sure that all five died by asphyxiation, that he and Holmes had barely escaped the same fate. He wrote down a question, "What did the people who were murdered have in common?"

     What bothered him most were the people. To Watson, it was always the people. The Lord and Lady of Dunbury didn't measure up. Neither of them acted like they were raised by parents and staff of good quality but it was Lady Dunbury that bothered him most. It isn't that unusual for a man to lack social graces, but he usually married someone well-schooled in them, either by his own choice or that of his parents. She ran the house and issued orders and threats to her husband both by word and by body language. Her explanation of the relationship between Peggy Ashcroft and Lord Beckley Dunbury showed contempt for the working class, also echoed in the way she managed those who farmed the estate. Her presence dominated the estate in the same way her portrait dominated the manor house.

     They arrived at the train station that served as the telegraph office. The station was the center of a cluster of buildings that included a pub. Leaving Jefferson with the carriage, Watson went inside. He wrote out the telegram carefully, bringing Lestrade up to date and asking him whether there was any record of Peggy Ashcroft in London. Hoping to receive a message soon and being very hungry, he walked over to the pub for a supper. He told Jefferson to tie up the horse and join him. He hoped to learn something more from the time together.

      The pub wasn't in much better shape than everything else in the area but it was comfortable and the food smelled good. They settled in to a carvery of meat with potatoes and a mug of ale. After they had eaten well and ordered their beer mugs refilled, Watson asked, "Jefferson, how long have you been at Harrow Weald?"

     "About ten years. I come right after the present Lord and Lady arrived."

      "Were Barrows and the maid, Eleanor, already there?"

     "No, Dr. Watson, they came at about the same time."

     "Let me get this straight. All of the staff were hired after the current Lord arrived? Do you know what happened to the former staff?", asked Watson.

     "No sir, and very few of the residents knew the staff or his Lordship. The only people who spent any time there were March, Lovat, Smyth, and Tilly Raines, and they're all dead. I don't know what to do, sir. I'm afraid."

     Watson tried to assure him that he and Holmes would do everything possible to help him. They finished their beer and went back to the telegraph office. The reply was there. "Lucky that Lestrade had been on the force for so long, and doubly lucky that he always seemed to be at the Yard", thought Watson. He put the telegram in his pocket, gathered Jefferson, and set out in the carriage for the manor.

     His second trip to the manor didn't seem to take as long as the first. He was in a hurry to speak with Holmes, to find out what new things he had found, and to give him the information from Lestrade. They arrived at the manor house and Jefferson went in to tell Holmes they had arrived. Watson lingered at the doorway under the gaslight. He pulled out the telegram from Lestrade and as he read it, a feeling of surprise mixed with fear gripped him. Jefferson reappeared alone.

      "Mister Holmes went to the oast house several hours ago and hasn't returned", exclaimed Jefferson.

     "Come, Jefferson, let's get to the oast house right away."

     They rode there in the carriage. Watson bounded from the carriage and rushed right in. "Holmes", he called but received no answer. He saw the ladder there on the floor and using it, climbed to the upper floor. What he saw horrified him. His friend was stretched out across the body of Tilly Raines, his hand clutching his side. There was enough moonlight that through the cracks in the roof, he could see a small amount of blood on the floor. He knew it was his friend's. He rushed to him, his voice shaking from the emotion of the moment. "Holmes", he said almost in a whisper. "Holmes".

      His friend groaned and moved slightly.Watson checked Holmes' heart rate. It was very faint but he knew from his military experience that he could survive if he could be treated for what appeared to be a bullet wound in his side very soon. He saw the dumb waiter, something he hadn't seen the first time he was there. He placed Holmes in it. The groans his friend made as he was being moved pierced his every being.

     Watson made his way back to the lower floor and, enlisting Jefferson's aid, lowered Holmes down to the lower floor and helped him in the carriage. They made him as comfortable as possible and set off for Dr. Kennelworth's office via the back road so as not to be seen from the manor house. While Jefferson drove as cautiously as he could, Watson sat with his arm around Holmes, trying to make him as comfortable as possible. Holmes was fighting to stay awake but was starting to lose consciousness.

     Before he passed out, Holmes opened his eyes and stared at Watson, saying two words, "Green eyes."