Finding Madelaine’s room empty, Holmes and I stood for a moment in the semi-darkness, pondering what to do.
“I do hope Roddy isn’t lying in bed with his sister’s body next to him,” said Holmes, rubbing his chin.
Considering this idea, I said, “He’ll be feeling a terrible sense of loss, and people can react unpredictably to the death of a loved one. But in my professional opinion, I’d have to say he’d be off his chump to sleep next to a corpse.”
Glancing back along the passage I thought it unlikely Roderick had walked past our bedrooms, as we could not have failed to hear his distinctive heavy tread. Recalling the distant creaking noises from earlier, I wondered if he’d carried her downstairs.
“Perhaps he carried her downstairs,” I said.
Holmes rubbed his chin again. “That would seem logical. Tell me, Watson, d’you recall our initial approach to the house?”
“Of course,” I said.
“Did you happen to notice a structure to the left of the main building?”
“A sort of bandstand, you mean?”
Holmes gave me a sardonic smile. “I hardly think Roderick Usher would erect a bandstand in his back garden. No, I suspect we shall find it is the family mausoleum. In which case…”
“Of course. He’s going to lay her to rest.”
Hurrying downstairs, I darted into the library, picked up my Gladstone bag and lit one of the candelabras, before joining Holmes and emerging through the great front door into the cool of the night. Blinking in the darkness, I scurried after Holmes as he raced along the gravel path in his velveteen slippers. As we reached the gable end of the main house, I perceived the ghostly structure of the mausoleum ahead of us. In the pale moonlight, it had the appearance of a gigantic skull, with vast granite pillars holding up the roof section like enormous rotting teeth. In the centre, stood a low doorway, bordered by evil-looking ghoulish faces.
“It’s awfully spooky, Holmes,” I muttered, holding the candelabra up to the door.
“Don’t be a girl, Watson,” he chided. “Stay close.”
Moving forwards, we pushed through the doorway into a narrow passage. Inside, the air smelled of damp and decay, with an underlying hint of rancid meat. In front of us another door stood half open and a dim light glowed beyond it.
Holmes charged through the door, pushing it wide, as we entered the main tomb.
Around the walls were several stone benches, each one bearing the decaying bones of some long-dead family member. Directly in front on us knelt the lone figure of Roderick Usher, head bent, his clasped hands resting on the dead breast of his sister.
Holmes coughed. “Now look here, Roddy…” he started.
Usher whirled round and strode towards us, a sight I’ll admit was a little comical, given that he was still on his knees. Mouth wide open and arms held out like a priest giving a sermon, he reminded me of a mad dwarf I’d once encountered in a circus. On that occasion, I’d had the good sense to kick the crazed small person in the head. This, clearly, was a different situation altogether, though the wild look in Usher’s eyes did little to assuage my concerns.
“She’s dead, Holmes!” he wailed. “She’s deeeaaaad…”
“Yes, I know, old bean,” said Holmes patting his friend on the head. “She’s gone to a better place.”
Usher stopped wailing and gazed up at him. “A better place? A better fucking place! Are you out of your mind!?”
Nudging my companion, I nodded to him to hold the candelabra. Then, dipping a hand into my bag, fished out a syringe and a suitably calming solution. I hoped it might grant our distressed host a little much-needed relief.
“Here we are,” I said, taking his arm and pushing up the sleeve. “This should help…”
Usher watched wide-eyed as I slid the needle into him but made no attempt to prevent my ministrations.
After a moment, he sank to the floor and began to weep. I took the opportunity to slip past him and examine the corpse. Checking her pulse, I studied her pale, rather beautiful, face. Her lips still retained a reddish glow, as if she might spring up at any moment and yell, ‘Fooled you’. But of course, she did no such thing. Lifting each of her eyelids in turn, I saw the pupils were fixed and dilated, which strongly suggested she had most definitely passed on. Nevertheless, there was a strange sheen to her skin, as if life did indeed linger in some strange, sheeny skin type way.
Standing, I caught my companion’s eye and gave a quick nod.
Hauling Usher to his feet, Holmes gently intimated we return to the house. Usher allowed us to lead him out of that ghoulish place and back through into the library where we sat with him for an hour or so until he fell into a fitful sleep. Covering him with a blanket, we finally left him to his slumbers and set off to our own rooms.
“Rum do,” muttered Holmes, as we trudged up the stairs.
“Well,” I said, “At least we can be fairly certain she’s definitely dead.”
Holmes grabbed my arm, pulling me to a stop. “What d’you mean, fairly certain?”
I sighed and explained about the strange quality of the dead woman’s skin.
“For a medical man, Watson, sometimes you can be awfully obtuse.”
“I’m only saying what I think.”
Holmes let out a long breath. “Well, all I can say is I hope the silly bitch doesn’t come back to life. The last thing we need is a bloody zombie on our hands.”
He marched off up the stairs, leaving me to wonder why I had the awful feeling he wasn’t joking.