Things being somewhat quiet of late, Mary and I planned to take a short holiday to the lake District. An overindulgence in sweetmeats and the like over these last few months has resulted in both of us adding a few inches to our waistlines. To be fair, I suspect it was the increase in my own girth that prompted Mary’s suggestion we ‘get a little exercise’ and try a spot of hillwalking.
However, having set the proverbial wheels in motion, an urgent telegraphical communication from Mary’s Great Aunt Bob (short for Roberta), scuppered our plans, and yesterday afternoon I somewhat huffily waved my wife off on the 2:45 to Skipton.
We did agree to try and meet up in a few days, though if the health of the aforementioned relative does not improve, it seems likely I’ll be left to my own devices.
This morning, after sorting out a few medical affairs and finding myself with no immediate plans, I determined to pop over to Baker Street and call on Holmes, when a message arrived from that very personage:
Come at once, if convenient.
(If not convenient, come all the same).
I told the boy I’d leave immediately, collected my hat and overcoat, summoned a Hackney and set off to see my old friend and colleague. As we trotted along, it occurred to me that I’d not heard from Holmes since his return from Massachusetts, and I was keen to probe him on his adventures.
Mrs Hudson greeted me with a grunt, slamming the door sharply behind me. She proceeded to follow me up the stairs, muttering disgruntled remonstrations concerning the absence of her name from any of my stories in The Strand.
“Well,” I said, as she pressed her bosoms into my chest, “I always make a point of mentioning your lovely muffins…”
“Oh, yes,” she said. “And don’ you make a bloody fing of ‘em as well. You was a decent bloke afore you got all involved wiv ‘is ‘ighness in there. When you first moved in ‘ere, you was all nice and polite an’ that. Now all I get is snidey remarks about my minge and my boobies.”
I coughed and patted her shoulder. “I’m fairly certain I’ve never mentioned your minge, Mrs Hudson, but you’re quite right, and I will from henceforth rather be myself.” Expecting the quote to go over her head, her response surprised me.
“I should fink so, an’all. Always thought your presence was too bold and peremptory.” She gave me a sly smile, then turned and stomped back downstairs, her rear end wobbling from side to side like a sack of overinflated balloons. (Note to self—replace with a more appropriate description.)
“Ah, Watson,” said Holmes, pulling the door wide. “Jolly good to see you old chap. Take a pew.”
I settled into my usual armchair by the fire and waited while Holmes poured tea and offered me one of Mrs Hudson’s delightful muffins.
“Mary get off alright, eh?”
“Mary?” I said.
“Skipton, wasn’t it?” His eyes sparkled, and I could see I wouldn’t get away with ignoring him.
“That’s right, Holmes.” I paused, sighed and, striving to keep the irritation out of my voice, added, “but how could you possibly know?”
“Elementary, my dear Watson.” He leaned back, gazing upwards, as if searching for a tiny crack in the ceiling. “I recall Mary mentioned an ancient aunt in Yorkshire. Great Aunt Roberta, isn’t it?”
I nodded. “But the county covers a large geographical area. Hardly specific.”
He smiled sardonically. “I occasionally take The Yorkshire Post, you know, and last week’s issue reported an outbreak of influenza. In Skipton. And of course,” he added, stuffing his meerschaum with a generous helping of Hard Shag, “the elderly can be prone to such infections.” He struck a Swan Vesta and lit his pipe, puffing away for a moment. “Aside from such details, I did see Mary get on the train as I was booking our tickets yesterday afternoon.”
“You never fail to amaze me,” I said, with only a hint of sarcasm.
Holmes grinned and watched me for a moment. I realised he was waiting for me to ask another question.
“Really, Watson,” he muttered. “Sometimes I wonder about your faculties. I said, Although, to be fair…”
“Oh!” I laughed and slapped my leg as if chastising myself. “Of course. What tickets, Holmes?”
“Monday morning,” he said. “The 11:36 from Kings Cross. We’re off to Clovenhoof Vale.”
“Vale. You won’t have heard of it. The place is a small village a few dozen miles south of Carlisle. An old school pal of mine has written, asking me to visit.”
I nodded. “I see.”
Holmes chewed his lower lip in a manner that suggested there might be something he hadn’t told me.
“And?” I said.
“And I thought you might like to come along, that’s all.” He coughed and looked out of the window.
“Oh, very well.” He coughed again and made humphing noises for a moment. Eventually, he said, “Fact is, this chap’s sister is ill.”
“Ah. Like Mary’s Aunt.”
“Possibly. But…” He sighed. “You know me, Watson. Not at home to sickly folk. I thought…” he looked up, hopefully.
“You thought I might come along and take care of any…medical issues.”
“That’s it entirely.” He resumed puffing his pipe,
I had no reason to refuse his offer, and as Mary would be indisposed for a few days at least, the ministering to a lone patient would hardly tax my skills. “Very well,” I said. “So, this pal of yours—rich, is he?”
“Not short of a few bob,” said Holmes. “Never been to the family seat before, but I believe it’s a fairly impressive residence.”
“Well,” I said. “At least it won’t collapse around our ears.”
We shared a chuckle at this, recalling our adventure on Huge Island.
“By the way,” I said, helping myself to another muffin. “What’s this chap’s name?”
“Usher,” said Holmes. “Roderick Usher.”