From the Diary of Doctor J. Watson
Having made it clear to my dear wife that I would be catching the early train, I should have expected some kerfuffle on my departure. It wasn’t enough that I’d spent most of the night seeing to her ‘womanly needs’, preparing breakfast in bed and then bathing her in that ‘special’ way, no – before I was allowed to leave, I was forced to endure one of her lectures on the perils of consuming unpasteurized milk and mixing with ‘loose-limbed country folk’. I shall have to cancel her subscription to Dairy Farming for the Middle Classes – it’s giving her far too many ideas. Quite what she imagines I’ll be getting up to on a farm is beyond me – although to be fair, I may have trumped on rather a lot about the young and vibrant Flora Poste, so perhaps the fault is my own.
I finally escaped my wife’s clutches in the front hall, and as I opened the door, I heard the familiar call of a certain feathered friend coming in to land.
Like most of Sherlock Holmes’ missives, his ‘French Letter’ had arrived in the nick of time. Fluttering down onto the pavement, Henri, as is his wont, walked the last few yards pigeon-toed up the path, then looked up at me as if to say ‘What’s Up Doc?’ I removed the small canister from the bird’s leg and unrolled the message, sliding the latter (the message) into my top pocket and the former (the bird) into my rucksack, where he proceeded to make himself comfortable.
Later, as the train chugged its weary way southwards, I re-read my companion’s letter over and over, his words echoing in my head like strange echoey things. It had not occurred to me that the death of Ada Doom might be anything other than a freak accident – perchance a slip of the hand while slicing an apple, or a knife-juggling trick gone wrong. Perhaps I was foolish to imagine a simple explanation, but I can see how my initial reaction that – as Holmes himself says – the case might be ‘an interesting distraction’ was completely wrong. I should have concentrated on the rather more obvious clue that Ada Doom’s death was in fact murder, and whoever killed her is more than likely still in the vicinity of Cold Comfort.
It was this very thought that reverberated yet again as I stood on the deserted platform at the curiously-named village of Howling. Gazing up and down, I noted that not only did I appear to be without a lift to the farm, but it was also pissing down with rain.
For some minutes, I was at a loss. Taking a look round, I was not heartened to find that the station itself was about as isolated as it’s possible to get, and the village, if in fact it existed at all, was nowhere to be seen.
As I stood at one end of the platform looking into the distance, I saw movement in the bushes further up the line and after a moment was able to discern a horse’s head, a cart and two figures trundling along at the other side of the hedge.
“Coo-ee!” called a female voice in a not-unpleasant tone. “Doctor Watson? Is that you?”
I collected my bag and hurried to the gate where I awaited their approach. The young woman waving from her perch on the rickety cart, was of course Flora herself – an image of radiant beauty and sparkling eyes (it seems my wife had good reason to be jealous). Beside her sat a man with a face so wrinkled it might have been made out of cheese. Mouldy cheese, with lots of wrinkles in it.
“Clar oop yer, dottor watton,” said the old man, leaning down to help me up.
I clambered onto the seat next to Flora and threw my rucksack in the back, quite forgetting about poor Henri, who let out an indignant squawk.
The old man (who I later learned was named Adam Shitebreath) hummed a strange tune as he hauled the cart around in a circle and set off back the way he’d come.
As the skies cleared and the sun began to break through, I noticed a dead pig in the back of the cart. I glanced down at Flora’s ample cleavage and wondered what I’d let myself in for.
To be continued