Diary of Doctor Watson
We arrived at the village inn—The Grumpy Bugger—a few minutes later, where a fat and grisly-faced fellow stared at us from his position leaning over the end of the bar. He greeted us with a surly grunt.
“Good evening,” said Holmes, dropping his bags at the door. “You have rooms for us, I believe?”
“Arr,” said the fat man. “That I have.” He cast an eye over each of us in turn, taking rather longer than necessary to complete his perusal of Mary’s chest. “Mr Hole?”
“Holmes, actually,” said Holmes, with only a smidgen of irritation.
“Arr.” Looking at me, the man nodded. “An Doctor Watnot, ay?”
“Watson.” I stared at him for a moment. “And I suppose you are Mr Fatman, the landlord?”
The man seemed to take the hint and with another grunt, he collected our bags and bade us follow him upstairs.
Our rooms turned out to be rather better than expected, with a carved mahogany four-poster double bed and a tatty but comfortable sofa. The lavatory, of course, was out the back, but we found a matching pair of chamber pots under the bed. Mary made some saucy comment about us ‘weeing together’ during the night, which set my nether regions a-jiggling at the thought of her naked hindquarters and led to us indulging in a little adult fun.
Five minutes later, a knock came at the door.
“Ravensburg’s downstairs,” said Holmes. Then, glancing at each of us, he cocked his head to one side. “At it already? Tch. Can’t take you two anywhere.” He rolled his eyes and walked off.
Mary giggled. “D’you think he heard us?”
“Probably listening at the door,” I muttered.
Mary smiled. “Really?”
“No.” I pointed to our discarded clothes, which we’d thrown aside in haste. “Elementary, my dear.”
She sniffed. “Well, if he wasn’t, I’ll bet he wanted to.”
“Darling, you really must try to bring your urges under control. You’ll be suggesting we have a three-in-a-bed romp, next.”
Mary opened her mouth to say something, but I held up a finger. “Don’t even think about it. Come along, Ravensburg will be waiting.”
We got dressed and trooped downstairs where we found Holmes and our visitor sitting in the lounge bar supping beer. I ordered drinks for Mary and myself then settled down at a table near the window. As I pulled up a chair next to Mary, I noticed an awkward silence had fallen over the room.
“Did we miss something?” I said.
Ravensburg coughed. “I was explaining to your colleague here why I lied about involving Shaggy and his pals.” He coughed again. “I thought that hunting for a lost book wouldn’t be enough to temp you away from Londen, so…” He shrugged.
“And I was saying,” said Holmes, “that it rather depends on the book.” He paused, then, “So. Where shall we start?”
“Hold on,” said Mary, leaning forwards. “What about the haunted barn where Shaggy and his friends supposedly disappeared?”
“Ah,” said Ravensburg. “Well, obviously the bit about them disappearing isn’t true, but it is true that the barn is sited on the very spot where my ancestor had her little cottage and is said to be haunted by her ghost. More interestingly, perhaps you noticed an ancient oak tree nearby?”
None of us had, so he continued.
“In those days people often buried important items near trees, since there’d be a clear marker of where to dig when they wished to recover them.”
“Sorry,” said I, “but why would anyone want to bury anything?”
“I can’t say for certain, of course, but I think it’s likely that when Sarah heard people making accusations of witchcraft against her, she realised the book of herbal remedies could be interpreted as a book of spells.”
“But haven’t you already searched that area for the book?” said Mary.
Ravensburg shrugged. “Yes, many times, but so far I’ve turned up nothing but a few animal bones and tree roots.”
Holmes sipped his beer, wiped his mouth with a spotted handkerchief and sighed. “As I’ve already said Benny, I really don’t think this is a job for Sherlock Holmes. I and my friends are not gardeners and I have no intention of spending any time digging up roots and berries.”
“Ahm,” I said. “I think the er…berries would be on a bush, Holmes, not in the ground.”
“Don’t split hairs, Watson, you know what I mean.”
“I think I should tell you, Mr Holmes,” said Ravensburg, “that a book similar to the one I seek was unearthed in Suffolk a few years ago. It fetched more than twenty thousand pounds at auction.”
Holmes sniffed. “As I said, we’d be delighted to help in any way we can.”
Ravensburg clapped his hands and went off to buy a round of celebratory drinks.
Leaning over the table, I tapped the big-nosed detective on the hand. “Since when has money been of any interest to you, Holmes? What about the thrill of the chase, the scent of the villain the—”
“Yes, yes, alright, Johnny.” Dropping his voice, he murmured, “I still think there’s something about this whole carry on that Benny Boy isn’t telling us, so in the meantime, it’s reasonable that we should give the impression of at least being interested.”
Mary made a huffing noise. “It seems to me that even an expensive book as this one might prove to be, is nothing more than a missing family heirloom. If you ask me, I say we get the next train home and find ourselves a nice grisly murder to solve.”
“Ah,” said Holmes, glancing across at Ravensburg, who was chatting to the landlord. “As it happens, this may be a murder case. Watson, d’you recall a certain Lord Lucan?”
“Old Donkeyface Lucan? Yes, of course,” said I. “Went missing under mysterious circumstances while taking part in a supposed séance with a group of pals.”
“Correct. And would it surprise you to know that our pal Benny was one of those pals?”
“My God. You believe he may have been involved in the disappearance?”
“If he’s not,” said Holmes, “I’m an uncle’s monkey.”
“Shut up, John.”
And so, the very next day, armed with shovels and a pick axe, we set off to explore the area around the oak tree.
Or at least, we would have done, if something else hadn’t occurred first…