From the Diary of Doctor J. Watson
As Mary and I were preparing to retire for the night, a knock came at our door. I slipped into my velveteen dressing gown and slippers and cautiously lifted the latch.
“Holmes, is anything wrong?”
The great detective slipped into the room and shut the door. “To tell you the truth, Watson, I don’t know. But I have several theories and should like to take this opportunity to try one of them out. Are you game?”
“Of course, old bean, but what does it involve?”
While I got dressed again, Holmes outlined his plan. As he did so, Mary sat on the bed, arms folded, an expression of mild irritation fixed upon her face. Eventually she spoke:
“I suppose I’m to stay here, hmm?” She looked hard at my companion. “Twiddling my womanly thumbs?”
Holmes smiled. “On the contrary, Mary, I’d be very pleased if you would join us, or rather, if you would monitor the proceedings from the minstrel’s gallery.”
“The minstrel’s what?” said I.
“Gallery,” said he. “It runs along one side of the Great Hall and is accessible from the main staircase. You didn’t notice it during our tour of the castle? Tsk tsk, Watson, your observation skills must be at a low ebb. Perhaps it’s the mountain air?”
And so the three of us made our way down to the first floor landing above the Great Hall, where we had eaten a late lunch on our arrival. Hesitating, Holmes peered over the balcony and pointed to an alcove near the back of the room. The edge of a door was just visible behind a scarlet curtain. “There, Mary – that is where the man came from, I’m certain of it.”
“You’re certain?” said Mary.
“Certain,” said Holmes.
“By the curtain?”
“Yes, by the curtain. I’m certain.” He gave Mary a sharp look and I caught a hint of mischief in my wife’s face.
“Well, if you’re certain it’s the curtain?”
Holmes grunted. “This is no laughing matter, Mary, no laughing matter at all.”
Mary made a ‘pfft’ noise. “And this from a man who, not two days ago, was convinced the lovely Count Alucard was all above board.”
“I was mistaken, good lady, therefore I should be gratified if you would kindly sweep your indictments under the carpet.”
“Or behind the curtain?” She giggled and I saw the briefest of twinkles in Sherlock’s eye, before he resumed his serious-detective face.
“Now,” said he. “If you’ve had your fun, John and I will go down and summon the servant. Please observe from whence he emerges.”
Mary waited til Holmes had turned to descend the staircase, before giving him a mock salute. I kissed her on the cheek and followed him down.
Holmes settled himself into the carver at the top of the dining table. “Call the fellow, Watson, would you?”
I crossed to the far wall where a dozen or so dark and brooding portraits hung over the huge fireplace. The images of grim faces and glowering eyes did not fill me with hope. Giving the bell rope a sharp tug, I fancied I heard a tinkling in some far-off quarter. The moment I’d let go the rope, a shadowy figure appeared beside me.
“Jesus H Christ!”
“Ah!” said Holmes in a loud voice (presumably to cover my outburst). “There you are, my good man. I wonder if we could trouble you for a late supper? A little bratwurst and cheese, perhaps, a few cracker biscuits and a bottle or two of claret?”
I took a step to one side, the better to gaze upon the newcomer. Scratching my ear so he wouldn’t realise I was staring at him, I discerned he looked a little different to when we’d seen him initially – his hair seemed a tad darker and the lines in his forehead had evened out a little. As the man turned to go, I glanced at Holmes but when I turned back the fellow had gone.
“Bloody Norah! D’you see that, Holmes? The fellow vanished.”
“Indeed, Watson,” said Holmes pushing his chair back. He looked up at Mary and signalled for her to join us. “Any luck?”
Mary hurried down the stairs to where we stood. “What’s happened?”
Holmes frowned. “You saw him, surely?”
My wife’s eyes flickered between the two of us. “Saw who?”
I took Mary’s arm. “The servant – he was here, not five seconds ago.” I indicated the space where the man had appeared.
She shook her head. “I didn’t see anyone. My eyes were on the door by the curtain like you said, but in any case, I could see the whole room – if anyone had come in, I’d have seen them.” She squeezed my hand and I felt a shiver run through her body.
Holmes rubbed his chin thoughtfully, the way I often do myself. “This is worse than I feared,” he said. He strode to the door behind the curtain and pulled the drape aside. Grasping the handle, he gave it a good tug. “Just as I thought – locked.”
All our eyes were on the door when a soft thud prompted the three of us to turn round.
“Ze late zupper, Mister Holmes,” the servant muttered, stepping back from the table. An array of well-stocked plates, dishes and highly-decorated glassware covered the table.
“How the fu – ” I began, but Holmes cleared his throat noisily, giving me an obvious signal to keep quiet. We watched as the man shuffled off towards the door behind the curtain, this time taking all of two full minutes to reach his destination. When he turned the handle, the door opened easily and he disappeared from sight.
“Curiouser and curiouser,” said Holmes, helping himself to a slice of Gorgonzola.
I turned to Mary, but the space where she’d been standing was empty. “Mary? Darling?” I gazed around the room but there was no sign of her. “Holmes..?”
But my companion was already at my side, crouching down and running his fingers across the dark floorboards. He jumped up and checked the door behind the curtain, but once again, it was locked.
“I don’t understand it,” I muttered. “She was just here…”
“Ah,” said Holmes as his gaze moved back to the table. “I think perhaps I do…” He raised a hand and pointed to the plates that still lay where the servant had left them. But the food had undergone some sinister metamorphosis, leaving the fine cheeses, biscuits and fresh bread swathed in a foul green mould, putrid and decaying, rotting away even as we watched…