The Adventure of the Haunted Oast House at Harrow Weald
Chapter Eight
by
Carolyn and Joel Senter

(Note: This Round Robin pastiche was originally designed to have nine chapters, but the chapter scheduled to precede this one wasn't forthcoming, hence, we inherited the daunting task of resolving the story without the the segue we had anticipated. We hope you will approve of our efforts.)

     "Painful, and more exsanguination than was comfortable. I am told that no vital organs were damaged, but, as I'm sure you are certainly aware, hospital incarceration does not suit my constitution in the least. I need to be freed from this pest hole!"

     The resurfacing of Sherlock Holmes's constitutional irascibility and impatience was a comforting sign of his returning to normal. "In due time, my friend, in due time. The doctor will release you when your condition permits. Even if your wound wasn't life-threatening, you do need to rest and recuperate. Needless to say, I have been worried to distraction for these last three days, but your doctor is confident that you will recover." I reassured him

      "The time hasn't been a total loss. Since I recovered consciousness I have had visits from Lord and Lady Dunbury, headsman Brown, Jefferson, and a few other assorted local folk whom I have no recollection of having ever met. I have also had the opportunity to review your report concerning your visit with the Doctors Kennelworth and Attenborough and your conversation with Jefferson. All of these have provided ample grist for my mental mill, and, heaven knows, I have had an abundance of time to grind away at it in this accursed hospital bed."

    "So, have you had the inclination and energy to give further consideration to the matter of the oast house murders?"

     "I have indeed," answered Holmes, "fortunately, Dr. Hollins, the doctor which the hospital assigned to my case, is a smoker and permitted me my pipe. It was probably worth being shot to be allowed access to my pipe after the long deprivation at Dunbury Hall. After two pipes and a bit of head-clearing rest, the many errors in judgement, of which I have been inexcusably guilty during our involvement at Harrow Weald, have come clear to me."

     "Errors?," I asked incredulously.

     "My dear Watson, you should have been screaming "Norbury" at the top of your voice since the instant we set foot at Harrow Weald"

     "I'm sorry, Holmes, but I wasn't aware of any errors you might have made, in fact I was not aware of your making any suggestions about the resolution of the case at all, not even erroneous ones."

     "Well," Holmes chuckled, "sometimes I make the additional error of assuming that you are following my line of reasoning and, hence, have entry into my own train of thought. I believe that, with respect to the current case, I have been a victim of my own past successes."

     "How so?" I queried.

     "I have spent my entire life in learning to avail myself of obscure clues which have allowed me to piece together seemingly unrelated fragments of evidence into cohesive, sequential wholes. In doing this, I have been lulled into the fallacy of expecting that there will always be a sequence of cause and effect events which will make themselves apparent with sufficient concentration and study."

     "Is this not true? It seems self evident and, indeed, to have been the core of your success as a detective."

     "Ah, my dear Watson, sometimes things are not what they seem. On rare occasions, this having been one of them, it is necessary for the investigator to disassemble what appears to be an orderly series of events into something of a more useful disorder."

     "Why, Holmes, whatever do you mean?"

     "In the beginning, my dear Watson, it was completely obvious to me, and, I presume, to you, that all the victims had been killed in the same way, for the same reason in the same place, hence, logically, by the same perpetrator. "

     "It never occurred to me to think otherwise."

     "Nor to me. We both forgot one of my basic tenets, 'there is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.' While lying here in the hospital, I did two things which, I believe, have led to the proper conclusions. First, I asked myself a question, a simple question, but one which should be asked during any criminal investigation. Simply, Watson, cui bono and in this case we should add, I think, cui malo - To whose benefit and to whose detriment? First, let us consider to whose benefit would be the deaths of all those farm workers? Can you think of a single individual who would have benefited from all their deaths? We must, I think, discount the existence of some moonstruck maniac who strikes down whatever victim might be available at the proper phase of the moon. Now, give a thought to what possible gain might accrue to either Lord or Lady Dunbury by the deaths of those whom we were told by Lady Dunbury were the most productive workers on the estate. Considering the fact that the estate was on the brink of financial collapse, the loss of the most productive workers could only work to the detriment of the estate, hence, also to her Ladyship. His Lordship, I think can be dismissed as a suspect from the lack of any benefit which would accrue to him, but also by virtue of the fact that he had neither the spunk nor the nerve to do anything without the express approval of her Ladyship. She would certainly not permit her husband to do anything which would work to her detriment since she would not even allow the inconvenience of his smoking in his ancestral estate."

     "Yes, I think that most reasonable." I further affirmed.

     "Of course, anyone who ever reads any future account of this case which you might pen can scarcely miss the connection between the current Lady Dunbury and Nancy Ashcroft; the former being, I think without question, the illegitimate daughter of the latter. Lady Dunbury had achieved the desire of her mother by acquiring the title 'Lady' and joining the nobility. She did so by marrying her own cousin, of course. This would be a union ill advised by modern standards, but such is not unheard-of, especially among the upper classes, and is certainly no crime. But it would be important to her, in her mother's memory, not only to achieve the desired lofty social status, but, also to be successful in that role. Hence, the loss of her best farm workers would have been a serious, if not disastrous, detriment to Her Ladyship."

     "So who would benefit?"

     "Please remember, Watson, that all four of the farm workers killed were in competition for the posh, but at the time nonexistent, living quarters promised by Lady Dunbury. So, any one of the competitive workers would benefit by the death of any other. Since most of the individuals directly involved in the murders are now dead, it will never be possible for me to confirm some of the conclusions I have drawn from my own reasoning, but as the elements of the case have worked themselves out, I can conceive of no other logical alternatives. I believe that James Smyth actually did murder Joseph Lovat by luring him up to the fourth floor of the oast house, possibly with the promise of some sort of mutually beneficial conspiracy to be gained from the Lady Dunbury's promise of reward to the most productive worker. Smyth abandoned Lovat on the top floor that dark and lonely oast house, lit the brazier, and killed him in the manner that almost became our own undoing." "Very well, are you saying that the contenders for the genteel lodgings murdered each other?"

     "Clearly not, Watson, else there would be at least one of them left alive! Would you have it like the Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat who devoured each other until nothing at all was left remaining of either? No, I have, so far, merely drawn what I believe to be the conditions associated with the first murder."      

     "Then who killed James Smyth and the others?"     

     "Circumstances have now erased the data necessary for proof, but I believe that Smyth's death was a matter of happenstance."

     "Happenstance?!"

     "Yes, a casual comment Jefferson made in conversation led me to this conclusion. It seems that some of the farm hands were accustomed to disposing of their personal refuse by incinerating it in the old brazier in the oast house. You know the old saying that a murderer always returns to the scene of their crime? Well, of course, they don't always do that, but a surprising number of them do. I think that Smyth returned to the upper floor of the oast house for whatever reason - perhaps to make sure he has left no evidence behind - and, coincidentally one of the farm workers happened to start a refuse fire in the brazier, thereby igniting some of the residual charcoal and releasing its lethal gases. I believe that this contraband incineration was also the source of our near lethal experience, too. When we climbed to the upper floors of the oast house, Lady Dunbury simply went back home assuming that we would summon her when we were finished with our investigation. Jefferson had followed us up the ladder to see to our safety and had then used the ladder to return to the ground floor, he too assuming that we would signal when we were finished. Whoever ignited the fire did so in perfect innocence unaware of our presence or even that the fire would emit lethal fumes."

      "Well, your summary does appear a bit farfetched, but it seems to account for the events, so far. So you believe that no one was actually trying to kill us."

     "That is what I believe. Who would have made the attempt? Only the Lord and Lady and old Jefferson were present in the oast house. We have dismissed both the Lord and Lady as possibly being the culprits and since your own report indicated that Jefferson was in mortal fear of his own life, he had no reason to want us dead. We offered, in fact, a possible source of comfort for him. If we could catch the murdered, then he would consider himself safe."

     "Well, then, were the deaths of Park and Tilly Raines also accidents?

     "Such a conjecture would stretch farfetched beyond farfetched. No, those deaths were murders."

     "But by whom?"

     The key to the solution of that came to me when I read your report of your visit to the village of Harrow Weald."

     "Oh, I saw nothing of significance in any of my interactions in the village. It all seemed most cordial and inconsequential."

     "It would seem so to the casual observer. I am surprised, though, that you did not perceive something a bit out of the ordinary in your conversations with Dr. Kennelworth."

     "No, our conversations seemed to me to be quite ordinary."

     "Did Dr. Kennelworth's enthusiasm about your writings and our detective work not seem to you to be a little extreme to you?"

     "Well, not really. Over the years I have encountered many avid followers of my accounts of our adventures together."

     "I found Dr. Kennelworth's zeal to surpass the bounds of enthusiasm and extend into the realm of fervor, and, in spite of the old saying that 'money is the root of all evil,' I believe that you have often heard me say that fervor is the root of all evil.

      "I don't recall ever having heard your say that, Holmes," I said, raising a questioning eyebrow.

     "Well, perhaps not, but I should have said it. It may be the ultimate truth. No matter how worthy the cause in which the fervor is invested or how flattering it might be to an author, it is the root of all human evil. When a person is consumed with fervor, nothing else matters - there is no room for reason, for justice, or even for morals or humanity. One's fervor must be served. The devastation of whole societies has been begotten in the service of fervor. Now, Dr. Kennelworth had a fervent passion concerning our adventures. When he first heard of the murders at Dunbury Hall, he waited in hope that the matter would bring us close to his neighborhood. The local constabulary, however, effected the only response. When Smyth was killed - a matter everyone thought to be a murder - he still waited in anticipation. We were not called into the case. I am sure, though, that you have heard me say that 'when a doctor goes bad he is the worst of criminals.' In his passion to meet us and, perhaps, to involve himself in the case, he murdered Manfield Pike hoping that a third mysterious murder would cause us to be summoned."

     "Just how did he do that?"

     "Well, as a doctor yourself, you well know just how many undetectable poisons can be administered to a person in a variety of undetectable ways. He administered poison to Smyth under some medical pretense, transported the body to the upper floor of the oast house, by way of the dumb waiter, in order to create the illusion that the haunted oast house had taken another victim."

     "Yes, many poisons could well go undetected particularly if the doctor performing the autopsy had no reason to suspect poison."

     "Now, the murder of Smyth was, indeed, enough to bring Lestrade to our doorstep, but the doctor didn't know that. He waited a reasonable period of time, then did in Tilly Raines in the same manner. This murder turned out to have been unnecessary for his nefarious purpose, because we were already planning our trip to Harrow Weald when the news of poor Tilly's death reached us. He picked Pike and Tilly Raines because they were the most important workers on the estate remaining alive and he thought that their deaths would attract the most attention."

     "Are you sure, Holmes, of all this?"

     "I admit it was all only logical conjecture on my part until just before you came to visit me today. I had just received word from Lestrade that Dr. Kennelworth, when confronted with my description of his murderous escapades, confessed directly. The neophyte criminal tends to yield confessions quickly when confronted by officials who seem to know all. You will recall a similar incident with a fellow named Ryder . . ."

     "Yes, of course, . . . but who shot you?"

     "That was Kennelworth. When you stopped for your supper, he returned to the scene of his crimes, for what reason I cannot say - perhaps it was that murderer returning to the scene of the crime tendency, or, perhaps he was trying to effect some plan which would insure his being summoned by us to participate in the investigation. Fortunately, his marksmanship was as bad as his criminal plotting. In some corner of his twisted mind he had become very angry with us, and, particularly with me, for our not inviting him into our investigation; he fired on me in a moment's anger born of frustration. He even offered an apology, of a sort, before shooting me . . . he said something like, 'I was hoping it wouldn't come to this. I'm sorry, really I amů' and then fired. He must have realized, after the act, that shooting me was scarcely a proper remedy for his disappointment. Then he must have fled from the Oast House in panic."

     "Since Lestrade has extracted a confession, it would appear that your deductions have been correct, so the only living perpetrator will come to justice. Smyth has already reaped his just desserts through an act of Providence. We shall, also, certainly see to it that the workers at the Dunbury estate are warned about the dangers of using the oast house brazier for rubbish disposal. But what about the tobacco ashes you found?"

     "Merely remnants of one of Lord Dunbury's secret smoking adventures. He claimed that he never went to the oast house, but since he couldn't smoke in his own house, well , what was he to do?"

     "And the green eyes?"

     "Green eyes? I don't know what you mean?"

     "When I found you in the oast house, the last words you muttered before you became unconscious were 'green eyes.' What did you mean by that?"

     "Hummm. I have no recollection of having said that at all nor any notion of what I might have meant. I suppose that the lesson to be learned from this, old friend, is that you should never put much stock in the mutterings of a semiconscious, nearly delirious gunshot victim."