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Authors: Sam Siciliano

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BOOK: The Grimswell Curse
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Three

T
he following Tuesday, shortly before noon, I received a telegram from Holmes asking me to visit him around two in the afternoon. He knew that my practice was somewhat meager and that I encouraged my patients to visit in the morning so that my afternoons were often free.

That day being no exception, I arrived at Baker Street at almost exactly two. The day being a fine one, I had walked there. Everyone on the streets had seemed relieved at this reprieve from the onset of winter. The sellers of baked potatoes or meat pies, the hawkers of newspapers, the strolling men wearing signboards advertising soap or tobacco, all savored the warmth of the sun and the pleasant breeze. The street urchins ran about with renewed vigor, and the open upper deck of the omnibus was the place of preference rather than a soggy exile.

I nodded at Mrs. Hudson, went up the few steps and rapped at Holmes’s door. “Come in,” I heard him say.

Not immune to the superb weather, he had raised a window and pulled an armchair closer to the opening. He sat where the fresh air and the afternoon sun might touch his face, the stem of a favorite pipe held between two of his long, slender fingers. His frock coat lay across the nearby table. He was in his shirtsleeves, the gold chain of his watch hanging between the pockets of his black waistcoat, his long legs in the gray-and-black striped trousers stretched before him, his glossy black boots up on an ottoman.

“Contemplating your South Sea island?” I asked.

“No, indolent reveries are banished. The Grimswell case has provided an interesting problem. There has been a development.”

“Yes?”

He stared out the window, then exhaled a cloud of pipe smoke. “Miss Grimswell has fled.”

“What?—Fled where?”

“To Dartmoor. To Grimswell Hall.”

“And Lord Frederick?”

“What of him?”

“Did he accompany her?”

“No. I have not spoken to Lord Frederick today. He is certain to show up soon and likely to be unpleasant.”

I set my top hat on the table, then pulled a chair about. “How did you discover this if not from Digby?”

“From Lady Jane Rupert. Lord Frederick mentioned me in his letter to her, and the young lady spoke of seeing me at your house on Sunday. Anyway, Lady Rupert’s footman appeared at my door this morning and asked if I would please accompany him to his mistress’s. Lady Rupert was most upset, and even her daughter, who seems cut from a different cloth to her mother, appeared somber. Miss Grimswell was waiting for them this morning when they came down. She was pale, agitated, and very upset. Lady Rupert doubts the girl had slept at all last night. She told them she was leaving for Dartmoor at once, but would give no explanation. They pleaded with her, both of them, in vain. Lady Rupert then attempted to be stern, but that was no more successful. Miss Grimswell said she would take a hansom to the railway station wearing only the clothes on her back if necessary, but she would leave. They tried to convince her to wait a day or two, but she would not hear of that either. When I arrived at Lady Rupert’s at ten in the morning, Miss Grimswell and her pet, a small dog apparently, were gone. She caught the ten-fifteen train. She took little with her. Most of her clothes and belongings are to be sent after her.”

I shook my head. “What can be the matter with her?”

“Lady Rupert says she has always been... reserved, in contrast to her own daughter, but both Ruperts have noticed a change in her in the past two weeks. She seemed preoccupied and fearful, but they could not say why, other than the parchment relating to the curse. They noticed a change for the worse last Friday, the day Lord Frederick came to see us.”

“And they could give you no reason why?”

“None. The only thing of interest they could tell me was that on Friday she asked to sleep in a different room. Her visit with us on Saturday seemed to improve her spirits. She was much better on Sunday and Monday. She even spoke last night of seeing Lord Frederick again, but today she was more desperate than ever before.”

I pounded softly at the table with my fist. “Blast it—what can be the matter? Michelle was perhaps being overly reassuring, but Miss Grimswell really does not seem a likely candidate for insanity. Well, there is little that can be done if she has gone to Dartmoor.”

Holmes gazed at me. “There is little that can be done in London.”

I stared at him. The ends of his mouth curved upward, but the expression could not be called a smile. His black, oily hair was combed almost straight back and glistened under the light from the window. “You are not...” I began. “You are. You are going to Dartmoor.”

“There is currently little of interest in London. I was also not exaggerating when I said Miss Grimswell might be in danger—very grave danger. Besides...” He stood up and leaned upon the window sill with one hand, pipe still in the other, staring down at the street. “Dartmoor is beautiful this time of year. I had an interesting case there once before. Watson has that one mostly right.”

“I wish I could come with you.”

He turned about. “Do so—at least for a few days. Call it a holiday if you will. Surely you could bear to be away from Michelle for a week or two?”

Not wishing to appear unmanly, I nodded and murmured something in affirmation. Especially among the upper classes, men were always going off alone on big-game hunting expeditions to Africa or India, treks in the Alps, long sea voyages to distant islands, their wives and children left behind without a thought. I could not understand this. I had not been apart from Michelle for more than a week since our marriage; in fact, it was my extended absence in Paris with Holmes that precipitated my proposal of marriage. It had made me realize how much she had come to mean to me.

“All the same, I am of two minds about going to Dartmoor. I would prefer to be sent for by the lady. That would signify that she was ready to reveal what has disturbed her. Were we just to appear at her doorstep, we might not be welcome, and her silence might be further reinforced. And then there is the problem of Lord Frederick.”

“What is the problem with Lord Frederick?”

“You will shortly find out, for he is here at last. Lady Rupert also sent for him this morning, but a second footman had no luck rousting him.” He turned away from the window, set down his pipe, slipped into his frock coat, then went to the door and opened it. Both Mrs. Hudson and Lord Frederick gave a start of surprise. “Come in, Lord Frederick.”

Today the young man was wearing a conventional black frock coat and top hat, but his waistcoat and cravat were an ostentatious plum color. His face was very pale, and he appeared rather ghastly. When Mrs. Hudson shut the door, the slight sound made him wince; he stripped off his yellow gloves and put a hand upon his forehead.

“I have been to Lady Rupert’s,” he said, “and she has told me everything. Whatever are we to do?”

Holmes gestured at a chair. “Please, Lord Frederick, sit down. You do not look well.”

“Thank you. I do have something of a beastly headache.”

“How many bottles did you have to drink last night?”

He gazed at Holmes, then broke into a weary grin. “I fear I lost count some time after midnight. How did you know?”

“It required little deduction. The symptoms of a hangover are obvious. No doubt this explains your delay in visiting Lady Rupert.”

“Yes. I believe it was after three when... when I fell asleep. Here now, you two needn’t look at me like that. I don’t make a habit of this sort of thing, after all. I’ve been down in the dumps about Rose, and my friends decided to try to cheer me up. It worked, but I’m not sure it was worth it. Anyway, what does it matter? Rose left before you or I could stop her. The question is what’s to be done now.” He raised his reddish-brown eyebrow in an inquisitive look.

Holmes had his hands behind his back, his right hand grasping the wrist of his left arm. “I have been considering whether to go to Dartmoor. If I do, I would prefer to go alone.” He stared down at Digby, who smiled.

“Sorry, but I really must come along. I’ve done as you said and left Rose alone for a few days, and look what’s happened—she’s run off! Actually, I’d about decided to go to Dartmoor, anyway, and I’d be glad for your company. Maybe we can get to the bottom of this business once and for all.”

He said this earnestly enough, but I could not restrain an angry sigh. “What’s the matter?” he asked innocently.

“Nothing,” I said. “Nothing at all. We may as well all arrive at Miss Grimswell’s doorstep.”

“Oh, you’re coming too? Splendid!” His pleasure was so genuine, it was hard—briefly—to stay annoyed at him. “I’ve been meaning to stop by before, Mr. Holmes. How did the exam business go with Mrs. Doctor Vernier? Did she find out anything?”

Holmes stared down at the street, then walked back to us. “No. Only that she seems an intelligent, compassionate and sensitive young woman. I hope you realize how fortunate you are, Lord Frederick.”

Digby’s eyes widened, his lips parting slightly. I think for a brief instant he thought he was the butt of some joke, but then the utter sincerity in Holmes’s gray eyes must have reached him. “Uh, yes. I do, Mr. Holmes.” He did not sound convinced.

“And of course there is her fortune, as well.”

“And she is a fine-looking woman,” I said. Digby gave me a similar look, his surprise more evident. “She is not conventionally beautiful, but all the same...” Both he and Holmes were staring at me. I thought of those enormous yet graceful hands and that formidable bosom, and then I actually grew embarrassed. “I admire tall women. England has too many tiny, blond, insipid females.”

Holmes was amused, but Digby still appeared confused. “Rather,” he said, putting the accent on the second syllable.

“Tell me, Lord Frederick, do you know the name of Miss Grimswell’s solicitor?” Holmes asked.

“Yes, he is James Rigby of Rigby, Featherstone and Godfrey. Why do you wish to know?”

“I have several questions about her father’s will and the estate. I wish she had not left so suddenly. Mr. Rigby will probably tell me nothing without the lady’s permission.”

“No, he won’t. Rigby’s a very strict, severe man of the old school.”

Holmes seemed lost in thought. “Tell me, Lord Frederick, have you or Miss Grimswell ever felt as if anyone was following you?”

Digby frowned and rubbed at the corner of his neatly trimmed mustache. “No, can’t say that I have, nor Rose neither.”

“You do not recall a tall man with a black mustache, a bowler hat and mackintosh?”

Digby’s frown deepened. “No, but...”

“But?”

Digby sat up and smiled. “Oh, I was recalling some tall surly fellow in the park, but he was only a groom, a filthy sort of fellow, dirty and unshaven. I was speaking—rather intimately—with Rose, and I noticed this fellow briefly leering at us, the most insolent look in his eyes. I had half a mind to go thrash him, but Rose tried to talk me out of it, and when I looked again, he was gone.”

Holmes’s fingers drummed at the table. “I should have followed him—I should have at least tried.”

“Are you speaking of the person you saw at my house on Saturday?”

“Yes, Henry.”

“As I told you, because we are so near Paddington, there are many strangers on the street.”

“I saw him earlier while I was waiting.”

“He might have been having a stroll before catching his train.”

Holmes shrugged. “Perhaps.” He glanced up at Lord Frederick. “I have a few loose ends to wrap up, but I shall be on the ten-fifteen train to Devon tomorrow morning. Be here at eight forty-five sharp should you wish to accompany me.”

Digby rose, a broad smile on his face. “Wonderful, Mr. Holmes! I shall be here—count on it. I had better get home and start packing. If the weather holds, we should have some splendid days. Dartmoor can be spectacular in early November. Nothing like a good hike on the moors. And of course, we’ll get to the bottom of this business in no time! Good afternoon, Mr. Holmes, doctor.” He started eagerly for the door, then winced and put his hand on his forehead. He pulled on his gloves, then took his top hat and stick. “Until tomorrow, then.” He closed the door behind himself.

Holmes looked at me and smiled. “Besides your reluctance to leave Michelle, there is the prospect of days with Lord Frederick. I fear I will be on my own in Dartmoor.”

I shook my head grimly. “No, I shall not abandon you to a train ride alone in his company. I shall come, for a while at least. He does seem such a dolt.”

Holmes went to the window and stared down at the street. “He is not, you know. Much of his behavior is merely a role, another costume he puts on and takes off. He graduated near the top of his class at Balliol.”

I was truly amazed. “Are you serious?”

“Yes. I have been doing some checking on Lord Frederick. Whatever his faults, he was never one of those students who teetered on the brink of failure and disgrace. He did quite well at Oxford. He wrote essays in a student magazine. I have been reading one on the poetry of Swinburne.”

“Swinburne—good Lord!”

“I am certain he could speak quite properly if he wished to.” Holmes took off his frock coat and draped it over the settee. “But you really are going to come? Excellent, Henry! You are good luck for me—two of my most challenging cases could not have been solved without your assistance.”

BOOK: The Grimswell Curse
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