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Authors: Sam Siciliano

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BOOK: The Grimswell Curse
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“Whatever are you doing here?” I asked.

“I have come to see Rose.”

“Well, you have not only ignored Sherlock’s prohibition, you have wasted your time. She is not here.”

Digby stared at me. “Come, come, old man—you can do better than that.”

I felt my face grow hot. “Of all the insolent—” I glanced about, then snatched up the telegram Michelle had set down. “Look at this, and then be off with you.”

Digby’s ebullience drained away as he read. “Damn,” he murmured. “I say, I wasn’t really calling you a liar. I only—”

“Please leave now, Lord Frederick.”

Holmes materialized out of the gray rainy afternoon, a tall figure all in black with a pale face, appearing so abruptly that I gave a start. “Henry’s advice is quite sound, Lord Frederick.”

Digby appeared equally surprised. “Mr. Holmes! I only—”

“Lord Frederick, there must be no further misunderstandings.” Beneath the narrow black brim of his top hat his gray eyes were cold, yet intense. “If you wish me to represent you in this case, you must do what we have agreed upon. I cannot have you improvising at your every whim. Do you understand me?”

“But I only—”

“Do you understand me
?” Holmes did not really raise his voice, but something in its tone was suddenly like iron.

Digby’s face reddened. “I do.”

“Then go home. As soon as I have any news, I will contact you.”

Digby opened his mouth, closed it, gave a weak nod, turned and walked away.

I eased out my breath. “Where on earth did you come from? You startled me.”

“I was waiting nearby. I expected Lord Frederick to do something foolish. May I see the telegram?” Holmes raised the sheet of paper. “‘Can do nothing with Rose. She refuses absolutely to see you. She is most obstinate and infuriating. My apologies. Jane Rupert.’ I suspect Miss Grimswell will find it hard to refuse Michelle.”

I set his top hat and stick beside my own. “Harriet has the afternoon off, but perhaps I could stir up some tea. There is a warm fire going.”

“There is a damp chill in the air. A fire will suffice.” We started for the stairs when we heard someone at the front door.

I strode forward. “If that imbecile has returned, I swear...”

The door swung open, and Michelle said, “Come in, my dear. The house is nearly empty, but—” She stopped speaking when she saw me.

Michelle is five feet ten inches tall and of robust build for a woman. She has nothing in common with frail and petite damsels of delicate constitutions, nor is she fat—her figure is very feminine. I had never seen a woman who could actually make her appear small, but Miss Rose Grimswell did the trick. She was probably an inch above six feet, almost my height, with broad shoulders and a formidable bosom—one understood at once what had happened to Lord Frederick’s carnation. She wore a black mourning dress and hat which emphasized the pallor of her face. Her hair was also black, her eyebrows thick, but she had eyes which would appear blue or gray depending on the light. Her nose and jaw were long. Her face might not be conventionally beautiful, but she was quite striking. She stared at me, then at Holmes, a flush appearing at her cheeks.

“That is my husband, Doctor Henry Vernier,” Michelle said. “Pay no attention to him. He is quite harmless.”

Miss Grimswell hesitated, as if contemplating bolting. She reminded me of a large deer caught by surprise. “And that other person?” Her voice sounded slightly husky.

Michelle raised her head and saw Holmes standing by the stairs. “That is Mr. Sherlock Holmes, Henry’s cousin. I am surprised to see him here.” She ended on a disapproving note.

“Michelle,” I began, “he has just chased off—someone you would most definitely not want to meet. We did not know you were returning with Miss Grimswell.”

The girl’s lips parted slightly, her flush deepening. “You are Mr. Sherlock Holmes—truly?”

Holmes’s gray eyes regarded her intently. With a shrug he stepped forward. “Yes. You have heard of me?”

Miss Grimswell gave a nod. “Oh, yes. I have read all of your adventures. Father read them all, too. I... I always thought you would be most interesting to meet, but father said one should avoid meeting famous people or other writers. They always disappoint.”

Holmes gave a sharp laugh. “That was quite perceptive of your father, madam! I hope you are not too disappointed.”

Miss Grimswell shook her head. “Oh, no.” Her blush deepened. “I only mean—you do not look like your pictures, but...”

Michelle put her hand on her arm. “We can talk with the men later. The examination will not take long.”

Miss Grimswell drew in her breath slowly, and again I thought of large deer contemplating flight. “Are you certain it is really necessary?”

“Yes, as I told you, I am certain. You have never had a proper examination, and you may have some questions I can answer.” For some reason Miss Grimswell went even more scarlet. “Please, my dear, trust me—I am not that ancient, after all.”

Miss Grimswell smiled and pulled off her glove. “Very well.” She had one of the largest hands I have ever seen, but the long white fingers were graceful, delicate, despite their great size. I wondered if she played the piano; she would have an incredible reach. She glanced at Holmes, then attempted a smile. “Rickie has been to see you, hasn’t he?—Lord Frederick, I mean.”

Holmes nodded. “He has. But I am only interested in your wellbeing, Miss Grimswell, not your future relations with Lord Frederick.”

She swallowed, her throat rippling, and her eyes glistened from sudden tears gathering. “I could use some help.” She turned away quickly. “But it is impossible.”

“Nonsense,” Michelle said. “It cannot be.” She gently took her by the arm and led her to the door; she turned to me before closing it. “We shan’t be too long.”

I glanced at Holmes. “Lord Frederick hardly prepared us,” I said. “She is quite striking—and so very tall.”

We went upstairs, and Holmes sat in the purple armchair, which was his favorite. I prodded the smoldering coal with a poker. “She seems an unlikely match for Digby. I suppose her height and those bushy black eyebrows scare off the suitors. Imbeciles! Delicate flowers are pretty to look at, but not to hold. One good embrace, and they resemble Lord Frederick’s crushed carnation. A big strong woman can give every bit as good as she gets, and...” I realized where my words were leading. “Pardon my babblings.”

Holmes smiled. “Not at all. I found your reflections most interesting. All the same, four hundred thousand pounds makes any woman attractive. Men will gather like flies about a pot of honey.”

“Your metaphor is apt.” I set down the poker. “Perhaps I shall make some tea. That much I can manage in the kitchen.” I returned a few minutes later with our best china teapot and cups on a tray. Holmes was staring into the fireplace, his mind obviously far away. A gust of wind drove the rain against the two large windows overlooking the street. His gray eyes shifted, then came into focus.

“Thank you, Henry.” He took a sip. “Ah yes, you always could make an excellent cup of tea.”

I sat down. We both sipped our tea quietly. Victoria leaped into my lap and curled about, making herself comfortable. The only sounds were her dull purr, the murmur of the wind, and the tick of our grandfather clock in the corner. At last I said, “I suppose you have made inquiries about the Digbys and Grimswells.”

Holmes nodded. “Yes, although I have discovered little beyond the obvious. The Marquess of Hampsford has fallen on hard times. His younger son has borrowed heavily all about town, but his credit is again quite good. His marriage to Miss Grimswell may save him from some unpleasantness with his debts.”

I frowned, then gave my head a shake. “I suppose green frock coats and top hats do not come cheaply.”

Holmes laughed. “I fear not. Dressing outlandishly can be an expensive proposition.”

We both grew silent again, and I felt the soporific effects of a lazy cloudy Saturday afternoon before a warm fire weigh upon my eyelids. I was half asleep again when I heard the creak of footsteps on the stairs. Michelle and Miss Grimswell soon appeared. At the sight of a stranger, Victoria silently ran out of the room. Holmes and I stood.

“Please sit down. You both looked so comfortable. Miss Grimswell wanted to flee, but I told her Sherlock would never forgive me if I let her escape.” Michelle went to the tea tray.

Miss Grimswell smiled but still appeared uncomfortable. She looked none the worse for her examination, although a strand of black hair had escaped over her white ear. She was so fair that even a slight flush was obvious upon her cheeks.

“Would you care for some tea?” Michelle asked her.

She nodded. “Please.”

“Sugar?”

“One lump. Thank you very much.”

Michelle gestured at the settee, then joined her a minute later. Miss Grimswell gave Holmes a brief, furtive glance, then stared silently at the fire. Her cheeks still had a rosy flush.

Michelle nodded. “Henry, we really should put you in charge of tea. You do a better job than Harriet or I.”

I turned to Miss Grimswell. “I hope the examination was not too unpleasant?”

Her eyes opened wide, white showing about the blue-gray irises. “Oh, no—not at all. I do so dread visiting physicians, but your wife is not like them at all.” She abruptly seemed to realize my profession. “Not that all doctors are that way, but it is only that...” Her face grew redder still.

Michelle laughed. “I know what you are saying, my dear. If most of our male colleagues had to be poked and prodded by female doctors, they might be more understanding and more willing to open up the profession. However, I mustn’t get up on my soap box.” She looked at me. “Miss Grimswell is in good health. Her heart sounds vigorous; her lungs are absolutely clear; her ears, nose and throat show no signs of infection. However, I fear she suffers from a common malady of young ladies.”

Miss Grimswell looked alarmed. “But you said—”

“The malady is ennui.”


Ah
,” Holmes exclaimed.

“It is a bad companion for sadness and grieving. As I said, a vigorous walk in the park every day would do you good. You must also keep your mind occupied.” She set her hand on the girl’s wrist. Michelle’s big hand appeared almost white against the black silk of the dress sleeve. Her hand was large, but Miss Grimswell’s larger still, the fingers much longer, so that their length rather than the thickness was striking. “You will not forget your father, even if you are busy. You will remember him all the time, but it is not good to have nothing to think about, nothing to do.” Michelle’s eyes grew sad, and I knew she was thinking of her own father, who had died a few years ago.

Miss Grimswell gave her an anguished glance. “It is not ennui... not now. Nor sadness exactly. Oh, how I wish...” Her mouth stiffened, and abruptly it became obvious that she was afraid.

Michelle frowned, her hand tightening. “Will you not tell me what troubles you? It is true we hardly know you, but we would like to help you.”

Miss Grimswell’s lips parted, but she would not look away from the fire. “No one can help me. No one. Not now.”

Michelle frowned again. “That cannot be true. I hope it does not have to do with that foolish curse Henry told me about. It is not... madness or...?”

Miss Grimswell drew in her breath and raised her large blue-gray eyes. Her jaw dropped, her mouth twisted. I think if Michelle had not had hold of her, she might truly have fled. Instead she swallowed and stared again at the fire.

“Tainted blood and hereditary doom are overrated, my dear. Much of their power comes about only because we give it them. Families change with each generation. The Grimswells are not the same family they were four hundred years ago. You yourself are only half a Grimswell. Your mother had her own ancestors, and we are all of us new and different. We are all greater than the sum of our inheritance. Besides, I can see that you are quite sane.”

Miss Grimswell stared at her warily. “How can you be so sure?”

Michelle laughed. “Because I have seen the real thing. Madness is not so splendid as in literature and drama. Few resemble Lear in the storm. And people are not such frail creatures in the end. They are not easily driven mad.”

“No?”

“No. They do not suddenly hear voices or see imaginary creatures, not unless there is an organic disorder like a brain tumor. You are far too young to have such a disorder, and it is accompanied by other obvious physical symptoms. No, other than in plays, novels and operas, people do not suddenly go mad.”

Miss Grimswell stared intently at Michelle, her face still very pale. “You say that, but the alternative is hardly...” She glanced at me and Holmes, suddenly becoming aware of our presence. Her smile was forced and hollow. “I shall be fine, doctor. I only... It is late and I must be going.”

“First you must at least drink your tea.”

“Oh. Yes.” She took a sip, glad to have something to do. “It is very good,” she said to me. “All the same, I must leave soon.”

Holmes had been silent, but I knew he had been watching closely, taking in their every word, every gesture. He leaned forward. “Before you go, might I ask you a few questions, Miss Grimswell? I shall try not to detain you too long.”

A certain awe showed in her eyes. It won out over her desire to flee. “Very well, Mr. Holmes.”

“First, you must know that your well-being is my main concern. Lord Frederick’s interests are...” He smiled ironically and flicked his right hand. “They are not necessarily my interests.”

An unexpected smile briefly appeared, transforming her long, sorrowful face. “I understand.”

“Good. Let us begin with a subject which may yet be painful. I would like to ask about the circumstances of your father’s death, Miss Grimswell, but if you would prefer, we could defer this to another time.”

Miss Grimswell drew in her breath slowly. She did have remarkable lung capacity. “No. What do you wish to know?”

“Were you at Grimswell Hall when the accident happened?”

“No, I was with Susan at Lady Rupert’s.”

“It must have been a dreadful shock.”

Her mouth formed a wistful smile. “Yes. I suppose.”

BOOK: The Grimswell Curse
12.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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