From the Diary of Doctor J. Watson
My companion’s failure to materialise at the farm has begun to vex me somewhat. I have been here two days now and though I’m making progress in my investigations, the list of suspects grows almost by the minute. My pigeon-post communication to Holmes went off last evening and I’d hoped to receive confirmation that he was at least still interested in the case, but there has been no word.
However, I am not one to harp on about petty irritations, so I shall continue to chart my movements at Cold Comfort Farm:
Having examined the body of Aunt Ada Doom, I determined that she could not have inflicted the wound upon herself (even allowing for my early theory of some knife-throwing trick gone wrong). It’s true the knife had pierced her heart, but it had done so from behind – that is, it had been thrust with some considerable force through her back, leaving a good three inches of the blade (garden variety kitchen, I suspect) protruding out of her chest. On turning the corpse over, I saw that the handle had been removed. Whether this was by chance or design was impossible to tell, but it meant Ms Doom was able to lay face up without the discomfort of the handle sticking out of her back. (Of course, being dead, she would not in fact have experienced any discomfort at all, apart from the pain of having a sharp implement driven though her torso).
Rather more curious was the small plate on the bedside cabinet bearing a quantity of cottage cheese. I sniffed at the substance and determined that even more curiously (given the amount of time that had elapsed since the murder), it had not gone off but was in fact quite fresh, as if it had only recently been placed there.
I turned back to the victim and removed the knife, then straightened up from my examination and glanced at Flora. Her face had drained of colour. “I say, are you alright, m’dear?” I touched a hand to her forehead.
She waved me away. “Fine, thanks. It was just the horrid squelching noise the knife made when you pulled it out.” She swallowed hard.
I held up the remains of the murder weapon and examined it closely. There were strange markings along the surface of the blade. I pulled out my handkerchief and wiped it down. “What d’you make of these, Flora?”
The young woman leaned forward. “Cletterin stick.”
She pointed to the markings. “Adam uses a cletterin stick to wash all our dishes. We get these scratch marks on everything.”
So, the knife definitely belonged to the farm. I had hoped the killer might be some crazed lunatic, but it seemed more likely our victim had met her end at the hands of someone known to her. I rubbed my chin thoughtfully. “Earlier – what you said about the woodshed. What did you mean, exactly?”
She shrugged. “Nobody knows. Aunt Ada always said there was something nasty in the woodshed.”
“But you don’t know what?”
I rubbed my chin thoughtfully again. “So there might not, in fact, be anything in the woodshed at all?”
Flora’s mouth dropped open. “What, you saying she imagined it?”
“Well, she was a bit mad, wasn’t she?”
Flora seemed to take umbrage at this and her voice hardened. “Just because she was an old woman, why would you think she was mad?”
I pointed at her deceased relative. “Because the words ‘I’m a Mad Bitch’ are tattooed on her forehead…?”
“Oh. Well, that was just a joke.” She sniffed. “Anyway, what’s that got to do with her murder?”
I sighed. “I don’t know.” I wrapped the knife in my handkerchief and slid it into a pocket in the side of my rucksack. “I need to call the police. Where’s the nearest telegraph office?”
Flora stepped towards me. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
I narrowed my eyes, making myself look serious. “Why on earth not?”
“The last policeman who came up here…” She hesitated. “Well, let’s just say he was never seen again.” She grasped my arm. “Please Doctor, don’t get them involved. You have to solve this yourself.”
I stared into her dark blue-green eyes. “I can’t do this myself, Flora. I need my companion, but since Holmes isn’t here…” I shrugged.
“Isn’t there anyone else you can ask for help?”
I considered this for a moment. “What I need is someone who’s an expert on kitchen knives, has knowledge of woman’s complaints and is a keen observer of agricultural policies. And cheese-making techniques.”
Flora’s eyes sparkled. “You mean…”
“Yes,” I said. “I’m going to send for my wife.”