Try as I might, Usher refused to allow me to examine his sister. With a face as pale as the moon, she lay there staring at the ceiling, unblinking green eyes wide and apparently lifeless. Holding onto the idea I’d seen her gliding up the stairs only moments earlier, I could not correlate that vision with the woman who now lay here before me.
“Perhaps I might…?” I murmured, holding out a small reflecting mirror I keep for such purposes.
Usher let out a mournful sigh but took the mirror and held it close to his sister’s lips.
Still entertaining a smidgen of doubt, I stepped forward, but could discern not the slightest mark upon the glass.
“My deepest sympathies,” I said, resting a hand on his shoulder.
He turned and looked up at me, his dark sunken eyes filled with tears. “Thank you, Doctor. Now, please leave me to grieve.”
Making my way back downstairs, I passed on the news to Holmes.
Rubbing his chin thoughtfully, he said, “And you’re sure she is actually dead?”
I frowned. “You think he’s lying?”
Holmes smiled. “Roderick’s an odd cove. While I shouldn’t wish to imply he may be mistaken in his testimony, I’d be surprised if the dismal atmosphere in this house has not affected his judgment.”
Standing, he crossed the room and peered up the stairs, then came back into the room and closed the door. “I suppose you must do your duty?”
“Confirm her death, you mean?”
“Legally, yes. Though as it seems pretty obvious she’s dead, I hardly think I can insist.”
“No, of course not.” He brightened and patted my arm. “Still, there are ways and means, Watson.”
I sensed from his sly grin, that some scheme was in his mind, but as he would say nothing more on the matter, I picked up two candlesticks, blew out the remaining lamps and followed him upstairs. Moonlight from the high windows cast ghostly shadows across the floor, and the flickering light from the candles did little to assuage the feeling of unease in my stomach.
Located along the corridor in the opposite direction to where Madelaine’s body lay, and a few doors along from my companion’s billet, the ornamentation of my own room duplicated the outdated style I’d observed throughout the house. A fourposter bed took up much of the space with a few items of well-worn, dilapidated furniture filling the darkened corners. The fire in the grate had died to little more than an orangey afterglow and I stood for a few minutes warming my hands.
Though fatigued, I did not feel ready to retire, so, placing the candle on the mantelshelf, I settled down to update my diary. The occasional groan of floorboards or the creak of a distant door opening somewhere within the house, bothered me a little, but I soon resolved to my task and began scribbling away happily. Having passed almost half an hour in this manner, a gentle tap came at my door, causing me to sit up sharply. Crossing the room, I gave the doorknob a quick yank.
“Holmes,” I muttered. “Made me jump.”
The Great Detective stood there in his favourite pink striped pyjamas, his Meerschaum pipe clamped firmly between his teeth. Curling a finger at me, he whispered, “Quickly, Watson. No time to lose.”
“Where’re we going?”
Holding up a finger to silence me, he crept along the corridor towards the room where the dead woman lay.
Standing outside the door, we listened. No sound came from within and the various groans and creaks I’d heard earlier seemed to have ceased.
Holmes turned the handle and pushed open the door.
As before, the room lay in semi-darkness, with a single candle burning on the bedside cabinet.
But the bed was empty. The lady Madelaine had gone.