Following Flora’s directions to the telegraph office in the village, I was a little unnerved to push open the door and find the little woman behind the counter grinning at me like the proverbial feline. I doffed my hat and unfolded the note I’d prepared, but before I could proceed further, the Mistress of the Post leaned over the counter and announced:
“Yor be Dotter Watton, eh, boy?” She resumed her Cheshire-like expression.
I coughed, my eyes naturally dropping to the sight of her large bosoms, which jiggled on the countertop like over-ripe, gelatinous melons. “Indeed, madam.” I smiled. “I should like to – ”
“Yon Cherlick Oames not be a-comin up yer, then?”
I forced my gaze upwards and focused on the misshapen arrangement of lines and dents that was her unfortunate face. “Mister Holmes will be joining me at some point, I believe. Now, I wonder if – ”
“So he not be innerested in us untry okels en?”
I coughed again, adding a smidgen of annoyance to my tone, in the hope the old crone might recognize my impatience. But no, she simply smiled away, awaiting my reply. “On the contrary, madam, Mister Holmes is fascinated by all things rural. Now…” I thumped my piece of paper onto the counter, taking care to avoid contact with the woman’s cleavage. “I should like to send this telegraphical message to Londen.”
She straightened up and glared at me. “Sure we be at yor zervice, Dotter Watton.” Studying my note, she totted up the words and declared, “Thrupence ha-penny.”
I handed over the extortionate fee and watched as she fired up the steamographal telecommunicator, typed in my message and dialed the number. There was a moment of silence before the machine shuddered and emitted a loud squawk.
“That be it.”
I nodded my thanks and left the shop, grateful that at least my communication would shortly be with my dear wife.
Gazing up at the darkening sky, I headed back towards the farm. My short journey was uneventful, though I was vaguely aware of being watched as I tramped along the dusty road. As I turned into the track up to Cold Comfort, I glanced over the fence and saw four pairs of eyes staring back at me. I stopped for a moment and stared back at them. These, I supposed, would be the farm’s cows – Arseless, Chuffless, Lackless and Dickless – named (according to Adam Shitebreath), after the ‘Four Horsemen of the Abollockips’. I was about to move on when I noticed a fifth animal standing off to one side. And rather curiously, it appeared to be smiling at me.
I blinked and shook my head, but when I looked back, there was a definite hint of merriment about the old cow’s features. Thinking I’d perhaps been working too hard, I was about to take a swift swig from my flask when the cow spoke:
“Never underestimate the social life of our bovine friends, Watson. I’m thinking of publishing a monograph outlining the distinctive hierarchy and societal customs inherent in this particular breed.”
“Holmes!” I cried. “What on earth…?”
“Hush, old friend. You’ll alert the locals.”
I leaned over the fence, peering at my camouflaged companion. “If I’d known you were here, I wouldn’t have bothered sending for my wife.”
“Not at all, Watson, you were quite right to summon her – I fear only a common housewife will be able to aid us in this ghastly affair.”
“But..” I began.
“No, Watson. Continue with your investigation. I shall keep a watchful eye from the barn. I fear there will soon be another murder and I beg you to keep your wits and your trusty weapon about you at all times.”
“Of course, Holmes.”
As I walked up through the farmyard, I pondered on my companion’s actions . Admittedly, he was a master of disguise, though I couldn’t help wonder if he’d considered the implications of milking time. But that thought was cast from my mind as a piercing scream shattered the silence.
Racing up to the back door, I flung it open to find Flora standing on the stairs, staring at the naked body that lay face-up on the kitchen table. It was Adam Shitebreath – and he was dead.