It was late afternoon and the light was fading as our train pulled into the station at Netherly Stratton. Sliding the window down, I peered out onto the deserted platform.
“Come along, Watson,” said Holmes cheerily, hauling his bag down from the luggage rack.
“Looks pretty grim to me,” I said, gathering my things together. “I only hope this doesn’t turn out to be one of those Ides of March things.”
“Now look here, Watson,” said my companion, pausing at the carriage door. “I shan’t put up with any of your doom-and-gloom pessimism on this trip. It was bad enough having to listen to your whingeing all the way from King’s Cross. In case you’d forgotten, we’re about to meet a family whose lives have been decimated. The last thing they want to see is your miserable visage. If in doubt – smile!”
“I’m not sure decimated is the correct terminology, actually…”
Holmes shot me a hard stare. “I know what this is about, Watson. You’ve been in a foul mood ever since I suggested you leave Mary at home. And quite frankly, I’m growing a little tired of it.”
I glared at him but thought better of saying anything more on the matter, since I knew he’d have plenty to say when he discovered what I’d done.
We collected Doctor Lecter from the luggage compartment, along with our trunks. Lecter stepped out of the cage and stretched himself. I noticed the look of relief on the faces of the three guards who’d been assigned to watch our companion during the trip.
“Thankyou, gentlemen,” said Lecter, bowing to the trio of pale faces. “I hope to have you for lunch again sometime.”
The youngest of the men nodded solemnly. “Th-th-thanks fer not eatin’ us, Mr Lecter, sir.”
“The pleasure, I’m sure, would have been all mine,” said Lecter, licking his lips.
“Come on Hannibal,” said Holmes. “Don’t tease the natives.” He grabbed the end of his travelling trunk and dragged it onto the platform.
Lecter moved to the door. “How lovely,” he said, taking a deep breath. “Fresh northern air, a light drizzle and a modicum of Brylcreem.”
“That’ll be me,” said Holmes, running a hand over his flaxen locks. “I never use anything else.”
“Right,” I said. “Better get my things.”
Lecter turned and looked me up and down, a sly smile creeping over his face. “That’s a rather large package you’ve got there, Doctor.”
“Oh, er yes, I suppose it is,” I mumbled, grasping the end of my strongbox. “Would you mind?”
Lecter bent to pick up the other end and as he did so, sniffed several times. “Interesting aroma.” He glanced up at me. “Eau de Vieille Femme, I think.”
I coughed. “This is the way out.”
As we made our way up the platform, I hoped there wouldn’t be something nasty waiting for me when I unpacked my luggage.
Lambton Hall turned out to be a huge, rambling estate on the edge of the village. The coachman who’d been sent to pick us up, seemed keen to divest himself of his passengers. The minute our luggage was on the ground, he leaped back onto the coach and took off at great speed.
“Late for his dinner, I expect,” quipped Holmes.
It was almost dark as we dragged our bags up to the great front door. The lowly lantern hanging above the doors gave me an awful feeling of trepidation, as if this might be the last vestige of humanity that the four of us, I mean, the three of us, would encounter for some time.
The old man who opened the door was tall and gangly, with a variety of warty legions peppering his skin. His general demeanour reminded me of that tale by Mary Shelley, and not in a good way. The man leaned forward and croaked, “Arr, ye be here, then?”
“Indeed we be,” said Holmes, mimicking the man’s accent. I was beginning to wish he’d revert to his more usual sombre self.
“Good thing ye be here,” the old fart continued. “Been another murder, so there has.”
“Excellent,” said Holmes. “Body’ll still be warm, then?”
As we carried our baggage into the vast entrance hall, the great door slammed shut behind us and I wondered if we’d ever see daylight again.