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Authors: Sam Siciliano

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BOOK: The Grimswell Curse
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“Bed rest
.” She spoke with such scorn that I laughed. “That is the worst thing for a healthy young woman like her. She needs fresh air and exercise to take her mind off this dreary business. I shall handle Constance.”

I laughed again. “Poor woman. Little does she know what fate awaits her. However, you must promise me one thing.” I took her hand, my smile fading. “You must promise to be careful. This is a dark, dark business. Even if there is no ghost or vampire, there is evil—overpowering evil. I can sense it. Whoever is behind this will not hesitate to kill. Sherlock believes Lord Grimswell was murdered.”

“Oh no.”

“He believes he was pushed—the fall was no accident. I half think I should put you back on the train.”

She squared her shoulders and raised her chin. “You must know I would never leave now.”

“I do, and I am selfish enough to want you near me. I feel... only half a man when I am away from you.”

“I can help Rose—I know I can.”

“Yes, you can. But promise me...” I raised her hand and kissed her knuckles. “Promise you will be careful, that you will take no foolish risks.”

“I promise, and you must swear the same.”

I smiled. “You know I am by nature cautious.”

A frown creased her brow. “Yes, but Sherlock makes you behave foolishly. I have never been so frightened in my life as when you told me of your journey with him into the Underton rookery.”

I shook my head. “I don’t like to remember that either. We shall both be careful.” I touched her cheek with the back of my hand. “Because we have so much to lose.”

Holmes’s room was near mine, and we found him sitting before the fireplace with a pipe in hand, one with a long, straight stem. Although he had had only two or three hours’ sleep, he did not appear weary. Michelle’s suggestion of a walk made him nod.

“Yes, that would do us all some good.” He rose and took a heavy pair of boots from the wardrobe, then sat and slipped off his thin leather shoes.

“In all the excitement last night,” I said, “I forgot to ask if you discovered anything when you looked about the hall.”

“I have some idea how Rose was deceived, but let us wait and discuss it with her.”

I shook my head. “Thank God she did not jump. She gave me such a fright.”

Michelle gave my arm a sympathetic squeeze. “Knowing you, merely being up in a tower that high would be frightening. That was very brave of you.”

Holmes finished lacing up his boots, took a last draw on the pipe, then regretfully emptied its contents into the fireplace. He took his hat, gloves and stick.

Rose was also in her room. She looked somewhat pale and tired, but remarkably well, considering. The suggestion of a walk made her smile. “What a splendid idea! I shall just change my clothes and join you.”

“You look more yourself today,” I said. “I take it the feeling of strangeness is gone?”

Her smile wavered. “Yes, for the most part. It really is such a relief. I felt so very odd. And my dreams were unsettled all last night, although I did sleep.” She stared at me, and a faint flush appeared in her cheeks. “I have not thanked you both properly.” Her gaze took in both Holmes and me. “You saved my life. Had you not come, I would have jumped. I would be dead now.” Her face went paler still, and she bit at her lower lip.

Michelle touched her arm, startling her, and she flinched wildly. Michelle drew back. “Oh, pardon me.”

Rose shook her head, her lip still between her teeth. “I’m sorry. I... I... It’s only...” Her mouth contorted, moving as if it had a will of its own. Her breath came out in a shudder, and tears filled her eyes. “Forgive me—I... I don’t know what’s the matter.”

Michelle stepped forward, carefully put her arm around Rose and grasped her shoulder. “Oh hush, my dear—it’s perfectly all right to feel dreadful.”

“Is it?” Rose had begun to cry.

“After all that you have endured—
yes
.” She looked at Holmes and me. “Give us a few minutes, and we shall join you downstairs. I also need to change into something less fashionable and more practical.”

Holmes’s gray eyes showed his concern, and he nodded. Rose turned away from us, letting Michelle shelter her in her arms. Again I reflected how odd it was to see a woman who could make Michelle actually look small. Rose was some three inches taller and even more broad-shouldered. The two were a contrast: Rose with her black dress and black hair, her face so pale, while the light from the big windows made Michelle’s electric-blue dress glow and shone on her light brown hair.

Holmes and I went silently down the hallway to the gallery, and traversed it to the stairs. In the great hall, our footsteps echoed faintly overhead. A shaft of sunlight slanted down from a window, a great yellow diagonal before us, the tiny dust motes dancing like gnats. Even on a sunny day, the black granite of the walls gave the vast chamber a funereal air. Constance stood up from a chair, turned and smiled at us. I suddenly realized that Michelle was the only woman I had ever seen at Grimswell Hall wearing a bit of color—Rose, Constance, Mrs. Fitzwilliams and all the maids were always in black.

“Going for a stroll? The day is very fine. Lord Frederick has already gone out. I shall gladly keep an eye on Rose while you are walking.”

My hand shot out to grasp Holmes’s arm, but I was too late. “She will be joining us shortly,” he said.

Constance’s face somehow expanded from horror. “Not Rose?”

Holmes nodded. “Yes, Rose.”

She turned to me, just as I had feared. “But, doctor—you agreed she needed rest—absolute rest. You cannot—you cannot—oh, she must not go out! With her nerves, the least strain...! Oh, I forbid it!”

I forced a nervous smile. “Please, Constance, the exercise will do her good.”

“When she has been up half the night?—when her nerves are at breaking point?—when she suffers from... brain fever? When she sees phantoms like the ghost of her father? Oh dear God, no!”

“She may be slightly tired, but—”

“Then she must rest, mustn’t she? A nap is the very thing, not trekking about the moors. And what if it should rain? The sun is out now, but for how long? The weather can change in an instant. If she should be soaked to the skin in her frail and weakened condition, what then? Pneumonia or worse!”

“I hardly think—”

“Then you must agree with me! Please, doctor, her very life may be at stake! I have stood by quietly, but I really must insist—I am her guardian, after all. She’s all I have left, the last of our poor family! I cannot...”

Holmes had a look of weary disgust. I tried twice to interrupt her, but she cut me off each time. My head had begun to ache, and I realized exactly how tired I really was.

Constance suddenly paused, raised her eyes and folded her arms resolutely. Coming down the stairs were Michelle and Rose, both wearing sturdy brown woolen jackets and skirts. Michelle had a stern expression, and she had hold of Rose’s arm. The younger woman had washed her face, but her eyes were red—and wary of her aunt.

“What is going on?” Michelle asked. “What is this din?”

“Constance is concerned that walking may not be good for Rose’s health,” I said.

Constance nodded fiercely. “Certainly not! Absolute rest is what the poor girl needs! I will not have it.”

Michelle let go of Rose and stepped forward. She and Constance were almost exactly the same height. “Have you ever studied medicine, Miss Grimswell?”

“No, but—”

“Then I suggest you leave Rose’s treatment to those who have.”

“But her nerves, madam, and she is so frail! Surely—”

Michelle gave a sharp laugh.
“Frail?
Look at her!”

“She is tall, yes, but weak and ill and—”

“Nonsense! She is a strong, healthy young woman who has had more than her share of fears and worries. Fresh air and activity are exactly what she needs.”

“How can you say such a thing? Oh, old Doctor Herbert knew better. And how—how can a woman be a doctor, anyway? I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

Michelle’s jaw stiffened. For a second or two, I wondered if she might actually strike Constance. “By studying for years and working much harder than any man!”

“I may be an ignorant old woman, but I’m her family—her only family—and I only want what’s best for her. I forbid it—I forbid it! Rose, surely you must know that you are not up to this. Don’t you feel weary and agitated, poor lamb? You must go back to your room. Let me tuck you into bed and get—” She tried to touch Rose, but Michelle stepped between them.

“Miss Grimswell, my husband and I are physicians, and it is our professional opinion that the young lady would benefit from a walk.”

Constance stared at me in horror. “Not you, too, Doctor Vernier—not you! I thought we had an agreement, I thought—”

“Miss Grimswell—Miss Grimswell...” Michelle was almost shouting to get a word in. “Please stand aside, and do stop bullying your niece!”

“Bullying her!” Constance’s voice was a wounded bellow.

“Yes!”

Constance’s eyes grew all teary. “Rose,” she said softly. “Dear Rose.”

Rose put her large white hand over her forehead. “Oh, auntie...”

“See—
see!
She is—”

Michelle resolutely grasped Rose’s hand, then led her past her aunt toward the doorway.

“Rose, you cannot be leaving! Rose—”

“Silence, madam
!” Holmes’s voice thundered even as he struck the granite floor with the iron ferrule of his stick. The hall immediately grew silent. Holmes glared, letting it linger a while. “That is quite enough. You have had your say. If you were truly concerned about your niece’s well-being, then you would not so needlessly upset her.”

Constance glared back. Her jaw moved sideways in a characteristic gesture, her teeth grinding slightly. She opened her mouth, then turned and stalked away.

I let out a tremendous sigh. “Oh well done, Sherlock—well done! I thought nothing could ever quieten her.”

We quickly fled the hall and went outside. A path constructed of granite slabs came up to the main entrance of the hall. We paused to savor the sunshine on our faces and the quiet of an autumn day. The wind could be heard in the muted rustling of the yew and oak leaves.

Michelle took a deep breath and smiled. “The air is divine, so different from London. And I, too, thank you, Sherlock. You quite vanquished her.” She turned to Rose. “I hope you understand, my dear, that Henry and I would do nothing to risk your health.”

Rose smiled; she too was clearly relieved. “Oh, I know that. I only wish... It is so hard to disagree with her.”

Michelle laughed. “So I see! Well, where shall we go?”

Holmes raised his stick and set it on his shoulder. “Miss Grimswell, would a walk to the tor—to Demon Tor—be too difficult for you?”

“No, not at all. It is not far, and there are only one or two steep parts. The view is spectacular.”

Holmes nodded. “Very well. You may lead the way.”

We went around the house through the yews, and then some great silent oaks, their gnarled limbs nearly black, their leaves shades of bronze or russet. The half-rotted smell of fallen leaves and crushed acorns was dank and rich. From one of the trees came the hoarse caw of a rook. The trees ended abruptly, and the rising ground of brownish faded heather and green grass led to a jumble of boulders, which the locals called “clitter,” and then the black granite slabs of the tor. A path of sorts, one worn into the reddish earth by centuries of footsteps, led upward.

We all savored the warmth and silence, so welcome after the long, cold night and Constance’s outburst, and before long, we were all breathing too hard to speak much. After rising briefly, the path vanished, but Rose led us up through the boulders. At the top a cold wind from the north cut into our faces.

“Oh, how beautiful!” Michelle gave my hand a squeeze. “I am so happy to be here.”

Rose was smiling, but her gray-blue eyes, so luminous in the light, were troubled. She was staring down at the edge of the massive rock before us. The ragged face of black granite was blotched with lichens of yellow and green, but some twenty feet away must be a precipitous drop. It struck me abruptly—that must be the very place from which Lord Grimswell had fallen to his death. I was standing well back, but it would take only seconds to run forward and hurtle off to my death. I felt cold, sick and very dizzy. I reached out and seized Michelle’s arm.

“Do not go any closer.”

She was smiling, but then saw the expression on my face. “Henry, are you ill?”

“I feel... dizzy.” In truth, black spots had begun to dance about before my eyes.

“Sit down,” she said sharply.

I did so, closing my eyes tightly. A surge of nausea made me gasp, then swallow hard, forcing down a foul burning substance. Michelle had knelt beside me, and I sagged against her, my hand grasping for hers. “It is... too high,” I muttered.

“We should not have brought him up here,” Michelle said. “I should have known.”

“What is it?” Rose asked, obviously worried.

“He suffers from vertigo, and he is probably exhausted as well.”

I took a deep breath and eased open my eyes. We were facing away from the precipice. “I only need a moment’s rest. It was... the surprise. The rise was so gradual, I didn’t realize how high we were climbing.”

Holmes also knelt beside me. The brim of his hat cast a shadow over his eyes. “I too should have known better. I’m sorry, Henry. The site is also an unpleasant one for Miss Grimswell.”

“But why?” Michelle asked. “It is so beautiful.”

“Because of what happened to her father.”

Michelle scowled. “Oh, I am an imbecile. Perhaps we should go back.”

Rose’s sigh was barely audible over the murmur of the wind. “I have not been here since his death, but it was time. This was perhaps his favorite spot in Dartmoor. We came here together many times. He would never want me to consider it out of bounds.”

Holmes sat down beside me on the uneven rock, setting his walking stick alongside us, then removed his hat and raised his face to the sun. “We could all do with a breather.”

Rose and Michelle also sat, so we were all in a row atop that granite, our legs before us where the rock sloped downward slightly. Michelle was to my right, still holding my arm, while Holmes and Rose were to my left. High above a large bird soared silently, probably a lone buzzard seeking prey. Grimswell Hall must have been behind us, but to the southwest and north were two companion tors, and across a long brown patch of moor was a wooded area.

BOOK: The Grimswell Curse
13.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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