Diary of Doctor J. Watson
As the carriage reached the end of the street, we were hindered by crowds of onlookers, some of them jumping up, trying to see our faces. Just as the vehicle lurched forwards again, the door flew open and Lestrade clambered inside.
From his face, I could tell things were not good. After a pause to get his breath back, he gave us a short account of his partially-successful mission.
‘At least the place weren’t chocka wiv coppers,’ he said. ‘I reckon the blokes what ate the soup will be goners for sure, and the powers that be will ‘ave ter think about finding a new HQ.’ He paused. ‘That’s supposin there are any powers that be after all this palaver.’
We continued our westward journey in silence for a while. With Holmes up top acting as driver, I had no clue as to his plan. Or if he even had one.
After about half an hour, the carriage pulled to one side, and we all climbed out. The night had a cold nip to the air and the lack of streetlamps made it difficult to gauge our location.
‘Watson,’ called Holmes, still sitting up top. ‘Climb up here.’
I did so, and as I moved into position next to him, he pointed across the darkened fields to a shadowy shape silhouetted against the sky. As I watched, the moon slid out from behind a cloud, illuminating the vast mansion.
‘How are we to do this?’ I said, gazing at our objective.
‘If I remember rightly, there’s a long driveway leading up to the house. We’ll be shaded by trees until the last hundred yards or so.’
‘Then we leave the carriage out of sight and approach on foot, eh?’
‘That’s the game.’ He rubbed his chin. ‘My only concern is our lack of weapons.’
Holmes had stopped rubbing his chin, so I rubbed mine. But it didn’t help. ‘Blackwood’s family have lived there for years, haven’t they?’
‘I believe so,’ said Holmes turning his beady eyes on me.
‘Huntin, shootin and fishin, etc?’
‘Then there must be a gun cabinet.’
Holmes blinked, then clapping a hand on my shoulder, muttered, ‘Watson, I think you’ve got it.’ He rubbed his chin again. ‘Trouble is, it’ll waste valuable time looking for it.’
‘I’d rather waste time than try to arrest Blackwood with only our fingers.’
Holmes laughed, despite himself. ‘You’re right, of course. In which case, I suggest we approach via the front—he won’t expect that. Blackwood’s a stickler for doing things properly so the gun cabinet will be somewhere away from general view, perhaps near the servants’ quarters, which I suspect will be on the left of the entrance hall.’
‘What are you two gassing about?’ said Mary.
Holmes explained the plan to her and Lestrade, then we resumed our journey. Ten minutes later, we pulled up again a short distance beyond what I supposed must be the gardener’s residence.
Walking through the main gates, we could now see the house in all its glory—an impressive neo-classical mansion probably dating from Tudor times. Boasting four storeys, I couldn’t help admiring the five ornate columns supporting the elaborate front portico.
As we hurried up the steps between the columns, I saw the actual entrance to the house had been set further back. If anyone occupied the rooms on either side, they’d spot us for sure.
Now in semi-darkness again, we came to a halt at the huge double doors. Holmes tried the handle.
Lestrade pushed him out of the way. ‘Let me ‘ave a go.’ Producing a crowbar, he set about forcing the lock.
‘Always carry burglar tools, do you, Lestrade?’ said Holmes, with a smile.
‘Course not, but I ‘appened to pick this up off a pal of mine on the way back to you lot.’
With a sharp crack, the wood splintered, and the door opened.
Lestrade slid the jemmy down his trousers and waved us inside.
There were doors to our left and right—the one on the left, if Holmes proved correct, would lead to the servants’ quarters. Ahead of us, a set of double doors almost certainly went through to the courtyard and then to the great hall.
Holmes signalled that we should go left.
Thankfully, this door did not require Lestrade’s expertise, but opened easily. Inside, a short hallway led to two more doors. A quick peek inside one revealed a passageway with rows of pegs for outdoor clothing, most of which were of poor quality and therefore clearly belonged to staff. Backtracking, we entered the second room and found two cabinets, each bolted to the wall and fastened with solid padlocks.
Holmes nodded to Lestrade and the inspector made short work of the padlocks, flipping them open as easily as oyster shells.
The first cabinet contained an array of bottles and potions, many filthy with age and built-up grime—no doubt Blackwood’s personal collection of ‘magical’ mixtures. I noticed three empty spaces and dusty marks, suggesting bottles had been removed—bottles Blackwood might be using at this very moment.
The second cabinet revealed what we were looking for. Several rifles, pistols and other armaments were held in elaborately carved racks. On quick inspection, we found all the guns were loaded, as if their owner had prepared for trouble. Noticing the pepper-box revolver I had lately encountered, I resisted the urge to take it and instead grabbed a Colt Peacemaker, its long barrel giving the weapon a satisfyingly weighty feel.
‘Arm yourselves, comrades,’ whispered Holmes, helping himself to a Howdah pistol. Mary opted for a Derringer while Lestrade chose an army revolver. Thus, suitably equipped, we set off back to the entrance.
The door to the courtyard filled me with trepidation— according to Holmes, the courtyard would be overlooked by all the rooms on either side and above it, as well as the windows in the great hall, which we guessed would be straight ahead. Taking hold of the brass handle, I gave it a twist. The door opened and a moment later all four of us were standing in the courtyard. The layout appeared to be exactly as Holmes had said, with windows on three sides, though most lay in darkness. However, we did have one thing in our favour—the great hall had been lit with hundreds of candles and even from this distance, we could make out dozens of dark figures moving around.
Holmes motioned for us to approach the doors by keeping to the left-hand side. As we reached the first of the hall’s windows, I sneaked a look inside. There were, indeed, several dozen individuals dressed up in hooded garments, moving around in a circular fashion and intoning the words of some no-doubt demonic chant.
But it wasn’t the hooded people, or even the red-cloaked figure of Blackwood himself that made me gasp. In the centre of the circle stood an altar, very much like the one I’d seen at Roderick Usher’s house only a few weeks earlier. Stretched across it, stark naked and bound with a series of straps, lay Professor Helga Klopp.