Diary of Doctor Watson
Arriving back at the house, we gathered in the hall and stood for a moment, listening.
Holmes raised a finger. “Hark. I hear the sound of distant spoons.”
He set off towards the kitchen, with Mary and I hurrying along behind.
Pushing through the door at the end of the hall, we passed along a dark passage and thence into the kitchen itself.
The room had a low beamed ceiling with long windows that looked out across the mere at the back of the house (a bleak, stagnant pool surrounded by dead grasses and withered shrubs). Turning my attention back to the room, I observed a tall, messily-dressed wench with unkempt black hair and a sizeable rear end. Standing with her back to us, the woman slopped some sort of greasy stew into bowls. At our entrance, she wheeled round.
“Ooh, Monsieurs and Madame,” she said in a tense, high-pitched voice. “Ze master vill not vant you in ze kitchen. You must away wiz immediate effect, please.”
Holmes took a step forward and grasped the woman’s hair. Giving it a sharp tug, he wrenched it from her head, revealing her to be none other than Roderick Usher.
“Ooh, Monsieur!” he gasped, in the same shrill voice. “How dare you.”
“Stop this, Roddy,” said Holmes. “Stop it now. I don’t know what’s got into you, but I shan’t stand for it, d’you hear?”
“But I’m a lady,” said Usher, in a cracked voice. “A French lady.”
Holmes glances at me and muttered, “Sharp slap to the chops, Watson?”
I nodded and stepped back as Holmes swung his right arm and gave Usher a resounding whack across his left cheek.
“Ow…that hurt.” Usher rubbed his offended face but appeared to have otherwise regained his former composure.
“Take off those clothes,” said Holmes. “We’ll have lunch and then I suggest you go and have a lie down. Watson here will examine you and provide something to calm your nerves.”
I tugged my companion’s sleeve. “I think Mr Usher requires something a little more substantial than a calming tonic, Holmes.”
The Great Detective turned and glared at me. “And I think,” he said through clenched teeth, “a spell in bed will do our host the power of good.”
From his tone I appreciated his suggestion was not up for consideration. “Very well, if that’s what you think.”
Mary rose to the occasion and took over the serving of the meal. Sitting around the kitchen table, we ate the sloppy broth with hunks of dry bread, followed by a pot of tea. Usher said little during the meal, while Holmes chortled away about this and that, presumably with the intention of lightening the sombre mood.
Afterwards, Mary and I took Usher upstairs and put him to bed. Mary sat on a chair at the side, while I checked his temperature and so forth.
“Roderick,” said Mary, stroking his arm, “who did the cooking when your sister was…was here?”
Our patient blinked several times. “Mrs Fournier. A French cook. She er…left…a few weeks ago. Since then, Madeleine and I have taken turns.” He shrugged. “Not terribly successfully, as you’ve seen.”
Mary nodded. “So you were simply trying to recreate the normality of family life as it was when the cook worked here and your sister was alive?”
Usher nodded sadly.
Mary looked at me with a questioning smile.
“Yes,” said I. “Your sister’s death has been a shock, perhaps more than you have realised. I think Sherlock’s suggestion that you stay in bed a while, is sound. Nonetheless, I shan’t give you anything medicinal at the moment—I don’t want you completely out of things, as it were, as that might simply postpone the grieving process.”
Closing the curtains, we sat for a few minutes until he began to doze, then left him in peace and retired to our own room.
“What d’you think happened to the cook?” said Mary, as we lay on our bed, side by side, Mary’s hand massaging my nether regions.
“Usher is a bit of a handful, isn’t he? I can imagine he might’ve proved a little intense for a French cook. She likely got sick of it all and left.”
“You don’t think he killed her, then?”
I stared at her. “Killed? What on earth makes you say that, my dear?”
“He’s wearing her clothes.”
Once again, my darling wife had pointed out a fact that had stared me in my dull-witted face and I’d totally missed it. “Oh. Shit.”
A knock at our door gave me a start. Jumping up, I modified my attire and opened the door.
“Watsons,” said Holmes, striding into the room. “We may have a dead French cook on our hands.”
“Yes,” I said. “Mary came to the same conclusion just now.”
Holmes glanced at my wife and grunted. “Ah. Jolly good.”
“Think we should look for her body?” said Mary, sitting up on the bed.
Holmes nodded, rubbing his chin. “Is Usher asleep?”
“As good as,” I said.
“Then, yes. I shouldn’t wish him to think we’d taken the liberty of poking around the house without his knowledge.”
“You were happy enough poking around downstairs this morning,” I said, adopting one of his own sardonic grins.
“Don’t be a smartarse, Watson, it doesn’t suit you.” He sniffed and went out, then turning at the door, said, “Come on, then.”
Starting with Madelaine’s room, we checked under the bed, in the wardrobe and anywhere else that might conceal a large French woman. Finding nothing, we walked back along the passage, past our own room, Sherlock’s and Usher’s. Three more doors lay on this floor. Pushing open the first, I peeked inside.
“Linen cupboard,” I said, pulling the door shut.
The next door led into a large room the turned out to be some sort of artist’s studio, with floor-to-ceiling windows on the rear wall. A couple of easel’s stood in the centre of the room, with long workbenches on one wall. Various piles of drawing paper had been neatly stacked here and there, with pots of brushes, pencils and other artists materials in pots and glass jars.
“An artist’s studio, d’you think?” said Holmes, examining a pile of pen and ink drawings.
“Some of these are rather good,” said Mary, holding up a drawing of a nude woman. “Madelaine, if I’m not mistaken.”
Holmes and I moved closer to study the image, its detailed illustration of the female genitalia leaving nothing to the imagination.
“Seen enough?” said Mary, giving me a punch in the kidney.
“Yes, yes,” I muttered. “He’s a talented artist.”
Holmes let out a groan. “For fuck’s sake, John, you don’t imagine Roderick Usher drew this, do you?”
“Well, I thought…”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Usher hasn’t an artistic bone in his body. No, this is the work of someone else. Someone who thought very highly of the model.”
“Could’ve been a self-portrait,” suggested Mary.
Holmes shook his head. “No, this is the work of some else. Someone who had a real connection to Madelaine. Someone who loved her.”
“You mean the French cook?” said I.
“I do, Watson, I do.” He gazed around the room, noting the other sketches of Madeleine pinned to the walls, many showing her in all her feminine glory. “Come along, Watsons. There’s a dead woman in this house somewhere and I’d like to find her before she starts to smell.”