Having now spent two nights in what I can only describe as the dullest residence I’ve ever had the misfortune to inhabit, my desire to escape grows by the hour. Though Aunt Bob complains bitterly about her aches and pains, her general health has clearly improved, and I now suspect she summoned me here simply to have someone to run around after her. Only this morning, she demanded I read aloud from a book on herbal remedies of the East Indies.
“It is quite unbearable, my dear Mary,” she muttered, as I began the third chapter of the aforementioned tedious tome, “that I should spend my dotage unaccompanied.”
“Well,” I said, “if you hadn’t thrown Uncle Jeremy out of the house, you wouldn’t be unaccompanied.”
She slapped a hand on the side of the chair. “He was rogering that tart from the butcher’s on an almost daily basis.”
“No, Aunt,” I repeated for the umpteenth time, “the lady from the butcher’s is even older than you and has a wooden leg and a hair lip. I doubt she’s capable of any kind of…intimate…activity. And I’m certain Uncle Jeremy wouldn’t be unfaithful.”
“He might have been…” She pursed her lips and adopted the pained expression I’ve come to look upon as her ‘normal’ face.
I leaned forwards and patted her knee. “Why don’t I pop along to the hotel where he’s staying and tell him you’d like him to come back?”
She sniffed derisively, but I could tell she was coming around to the idea.
At that point, the maid appeared—a dull-witted girl with a penchant for snivelling.
“Beg pardon, ma’am,” she said, “but a gen’leman’s at the door an’ wantin’ to see you.”
“Oh, I can’t be bothered with visitors,” moaned Aunt Bob.
“Oh, sorry, ma’am, I was meanin’ Missus Watson, ‘ere.”
“Me?” said I, perking up. “Who is it?”
The girl handed me a white card. One glance at it brought a smile to my lips. This might be the excuse I’d been looking for.
“Send him in, Florence.”
A moment later, a ferret-faced little man in a raincoat popped his head around the door.
“Mornin’ Mrs Watson,” he said tipping his hat.
“Inspector Lestrade,” I murmured shaking his hand. “How lovely to see you.”
The policeman reddened at this unexpected compliment and seated himself on a pouffe in the corner. He glanced at Aunt Bob.
“Ahm, this is my Aunt Roberta,” I said.
“A police inspector, eh?” said the old woman. “What trouble has that fool of a husband got you into now, dear?”
“For your information, Aunt, my husband is not a fool and he does not get me into trouble.” I grinned at Lestrade and added, “though we’ve had some rare adventures together.”
Aunt Bob prattled on for a few minutes more, then excused herself and stomped off upstairs.
“Is there trouble?” I said, when she’d gone.
“Well, it’s ‘ard ter say, really,” he began. “It might be nuffin, but I thought I’d better check it out wiv you anyway.”
He sat there for a moment, turning his hat over and over in his hands, until eventually he seemed to come to a decision. “Fing is, I knew that ‘olmes and your ‘usband had gorn over ter that place near Carlisle.”
“Clovenhoof? Yes, that’s right. To see that Mr Usher and his poorly sister.”
“That’s the one. Well, it’s a few years back now, but when Mr ‘olmes told me this feller’s name, it sort of rang a bell, l but I didn’t recall why until this mornin’.”
“You’ve had dealings with Mr Usher before, then?”
“Not exactly, no.” He chewed his lip, then said, “It were all to do wiv a black cat that this bloke owned. I don’t remember all the details, but it ended up with ‘im tryin’ to kill the cat wiv an axe, but accidentally killin’ his wife instead.”
“Oh, I say. That sounds a bit grim. And you think this chap and Mr Usher might be the same person?”
Lestrade shook his head. “All I know is that this bloke wiv the cat and this Usher feller was in business together.”
I thought about this for a moment. “It’s entirely possible, then, that Usher knows nothing about this alleged murder.”
He sniffed and wiped a sleeve across his face. “Like I say, it’s probably nuffin ter worry about, and I woudn’t ‘ave bovvered you wiv it, if it weren’t for what ‘appened yesterday.”
“I sent a telegram to your ‘usband and Mr ‘olmes, just to warn ‘em, like. But an hour later, I got a message back to say no messages of any kind can be delivered to the Usher ‘ouse.”
“How strange. Why not?”
“Seems that no-one in the area will go near the place. They say it’s ‘aunted and spooky fings ‘appen there.”
“What sort of spooky things?”
He shrugged. “Ghosts.”
“Can’t you go there yourself?”
“Well, I would, Mary, but my boss is sendin’ me to Blackpool to ‘elp out on the Bodies in the Baths mystery, so I can’t get away. Came up ‘ere on me day off in the ‘ope of persuadin’ you to go instead.”
“I see.” Sitting back, I couldn’t resist smiling to myself. Though Holmes would in all likelihood feel a bit put out at my turning up out of the blue, if there were a sinister side to this Usher fellow, I’d rather be with my husband.
“Have yer got the address?” said Lestrade.
“Yes, Johnny gave me it—I think he hoped I’d be able to find an excuse to join him at some point. Now, it seems I can.”
After Lestrade had gone, I went upstairs to give my aunt the good news. She wouldn’t be happy about me leaving, but I could already smell an adventure and I wasn’t going to miss it for the world.
Clovenhoof here I come.