Collecting a couple of candles from a table in the entrance hall, Holmes stalked off with some urgency. Leaving my bags at the front door, I followed him and Johnny outside and along the path towards the mausoleum. Johnny filled me in on recent events, emphasising the general weirdness of the place.
“And you suspect this Madelaine person may not be dead?” I said, hurrying to keep up.
“Well, she was definitely bereft of life when I examined her last night,” said my husband. Then, leaning towards me so Holmes couldn’t hear, added, “Sherlock thinks she might be a zombie.”
“I heard that, Watson,” barked Holmes, whirling round. “As a matter of fact, I said I hoped she wasn’t a zombie.”
“I’m fairly sure he’s kidding,” muttered Johnny, as the Great Detective strode away. “He’s been reading a lot of gothic horror novels, lately.”
Glancing back, I stared up at the house and wondered if I’d made an error of judgement in coming here. Then again, if there were such creatures as zombies on the loose (whether real or imagined), I didn’t want to miss anything.
At the gable end of the house, I spied what must be the mausoleum ahead of us. Built as if to resemble an enormous skull, I felt grateful we weren’t approaching the place in the middle of the night. Holmes took out a box of Swan Vestas and lit the candles, then pushed through the doorway into a dark passage. I let Johnny go ahead of me and grasped his hand, keen to stay close.
Inside, we crept over the cold ground between the stone benches that lined the walls, displaying the skeletons of (presumably) long-dead members of the Usher clan. I took in the dismal surroundings. The entire place reeked of death (hardly surprising) and I wondered why the family hadn’t simply buried their dead in the ground like normal folk.
In front of us stood a more elaborate stone slab, on top of which lay a body that, thankfully, still retained its flesh. This must be Madelaine, I thought, peeking over Johnny’s shoulder.
Leaning across the body, Johnny did his doctory thing—checking for pulse, signs of breathing and so on. After a few moments, he straightened up.
“She’s dead. No doubt about it.”
Holmes had walked around to the end of the slab. “If that’s true, Watson, how d’you explain this?” Pointing to the soles of the deceased woman’s bare feet, he added, “Mud.”
Johnny and I moved around so we could see. Sure enough, the pale flesh bore traces of brown earth.
Holmes extracted a pocketknife and opened up one of its blades. Scraping it along the sole of one of Madeleine’s extremities, he examined the resulting deposit closely.
“D’you recall soil on her bedroom floor, Watson?” he said, holding out the blade for us to see.
“Of course not,” said Johnny. “The only way she could’ve got that is if someone smeared it onto her feet.”
“Or,” said Holmes, with a frown, “if Madeleine herself rose up from this slab and walked out into the garden.”
“Really, Holmes,” muttered Johnny, “now you’re grasping at straws.”
A movement behind us gave me a start, and I turned to see a shadow blocking the doorway.
“What is the meaning of this?” boomed a deep and echoey voice.
“Ah,” said Holmes, immediately slipping into his ‘bonhomie’ voice. “Just showing Mrs Watson around the place. Hope you don’t mind?”
The man’s eyes swivelled towards me, as if noticing my presence for the first time.
“Oh. Mrs Watson?” Stepping into the room, he extended a hand and taking my fingers in his, kissed them lightly. “My sincerest apologies, my dear. If I had known you were coming…” He smiled. “I’ve heard so much about you.”
I doubted this were true but thanked him anyway.
“So as I was saying,” said Holmes, “this is the mausoleum where the late Miss Usher has been laid to rest.” He gazed upon the corpse, pressed a hand to his heart and let out a muffled sob that I’m sure would have delighted his theatrical friends at the Soho Theatre Club.
“Well,” said Usher, seeming to accept this explanation, “we’d better get back to the house. Cook has prepared an early luncheon.”
And with that he turned and went out.
I was about to say what a jolly good idea this was, when Holmes grabbed Johnny by the arm.
“Cook? What cook?”
Johnny shrugged. “Someone made dinner last night…”
Holmes shook his head. “No, John. Our meal last evening was little more than the creation of a single man with no imagination—the sort of common fare one gets when one is living alone.”
“But he doesn’t live alone,” said Johnny.
Holmes grimaced. “He does now.”
“Well,” said I, “why don’t we go and meet this imaginary cook?”
“Good idea,” said the big-nosed detective “Though unless I happen to be the male relative of a chimpanzee, I suspect the cook and myself have already met.”
Watching Holmes walk off, I tugged Johnny’s sleeve. “What does he mean?”
“Buggered if I know,” he said. And with that, we set off back to the house.