I cannot say that the trappings of wealth ever impressed me – no, it is the living article that engages my curiosity: bone, flesh, blood. However, with one hand caressing the silky fingers of Doctor Watson’s dear wifelet, I allowed my interest in the house and its dreary furnishings to be piqued. As we entered what that bamboozler Lambton laughingly refers to as ‘the Morning Room’, I felt Mary’s grip loosen.
Naturally, I had already suspected something of this sort (the dead heads and antler-ish decorations in the foyer had forewarned me). Taking in the essence of the paintings in an instant, I saw too, how Holmes and Watson allowed their floppy jaws to drop open. While my companions studied the artwork, I focused my attention on the reaction of the female member of our happy band.
“My God,” she muttered, her eyes wide. “They’re naked.”
I was pleased to note her feeble attempt to appear shocked, but the tell-tale glint in her wonky eyes spoke volumes more. This was a woman who relished the debauched and the depraved, the pleasures of the body with all the trimmings, albeit within the quiet confines of the Good Doctor’s modest little house.
Dragging my eyes away from her face, I affected interest in the paintings and their somewhat salacious subject matter. “Not modelled from life, I think.” I glanced at Lambton and took delight in seeing his stupid face fall.
“Of course it’s from life,” he exclaimed, with some annoyance.
I shook my head. “No, even Doctor Watson here, with his tiny brain and petty prejudices, would imagine that the cut of your trousers could in a year of Sundays conceal a monster like that.”
“Tshaw!” he said, puffing out his chest. “I’ll have you know I’ve got a good twelve inches down there.”
But his protestations made no difference. My cohorts, the big-nosed detective and his dull-witted sidekick, were already nodding.
“And that bevy of beauties masquerading as servant girls…” I chuckled. “Reminiscent of Titian, wouldn’t you agree, Holmes?”
“Absolutely,” said Holmes, gazing up at the mass orgy displayed before us. “Though, as you say, with some exaggeration of the genitalia.”
Lambton continued to pout. “I thought the point of bringing you in here was for you chaps to observe the deceased?”
I nodded, turning my attention to the corpse-shaped tarpaulin in the middle of the room. “Exactly, which is why you intended distracting us with these scenes of sexual fantasy in the hope of throwing us off the scent.”
“Rubbish,” said Lambton. “This is what Mr Holmes here would call a ‘murder scene’, so naturally the body has not been moved. Neither has anything else in the room.”
“I beg to differ,” said Holmes, glancing at me. “Anyone can see that the largest of the paintings, the one depicting yourself and a bunch of wanton wenches, does not normally reside in its present position. Give me a hand, Watson.”
The two men stepped forward and grasped the painting’s decorative frame. Then, lifting it upwards, unhooked it from the wall and lowered it to the ground.
“You were saying..?” I looked at Lambton, then back at the wall. Underneath the space the painting had occupied we observed a clearly defined outline of another, smaller frame. “You swapped this for a less incriminating one, didn’t you?”
Lambton let out a long sigh and gave a curt nod.
Watson looked at me. “Sorry, what?”
I rolled my eyes. “Explain, Holmes.”
“The other painting,” said the big-nosed detective, “that is, the one not currently displayed here, depicts a scene, or more likely, a person, Lord Lambton would prefer us not to see.” He swivelled his piggy little eyes to the older man. “Am I right?”
“Yes, very well. The other one, like these, is a nude, and shows my brother Reginald’s wife in a rather compromising position with a number of…ahm…farm animals.”
“But,” said Holmes, “it is not the subject matter you did not wish us to see, is it? What you had hoped to conceal were the markings on Pricilla’s wrists and ankles. Markings, which I suspect, are clearly visibly in the other painting.”
Lambton made a face, but said nothing.
“Which suggests,” I said, addressing Watson, “that the Lambton clan had, at least on one occasion, tied the victim to some object in order that she might tempt the legendary beast known as the Lambton Worm.”
Doctor Watson laughed. “Oh, come on! You surely don’t believe that load of shite?”
“Not shite, in fact, but fact, in fact.” I walked over to the tarpaulin and pulled it back, revealing the body of Pricilla Lambton, dressed in a silken gown, and made up as if attending some regal event.
“Note,” I said, pointing to the woman’s bare wrists and ankles. “No markings.”
The fool Watson shook his head. “No, still don’t get it.”
Mary gave him a sharp dig in the ribs. “For fuck’s sake, Johnny, it’s obvious – Mr Lambton didn’t want us to see evidence of whatever terrible ordeal poor Pricilla had been forced to endure.”
I turned to Lord Lambton. “Perhaps you’d like to tell us exactly what it was you subjected your sister-in-law to?”
Lambton walked over to the window. “Very well, I’ll tell you. It all started one dark and stormy night…”