Authors: Carole Elizabeth Buggé
First I would like to thank my editor, Keith Kahla, for making this book possible, and also for his invaluable and perceptive insight during the rewriting process. Thanks to Chris Buggé for acting as my consultant on the proper procedures of British fox hunting, and to Derrick Seymour for his fascinating book on Torre Abbey. Thanks also to my agent Susan Ginsburg, as well as her assistant, Anne Stowell, at Writers House. My gratitude to Anthony Moore for his Internet research into Torre Abbey and letterboxing. And, of course, to Marvin Kaye, both for introducing me to Torquay as well as offering me assistance during the research phase of this book. Finally, thanks to my father and his bedtime ghost stories featuring the unforgettable Uncle Evil Eye, one of the most memorable characters I have encountered. You will be missed.
Though Torre Abbey is of course a real place, and the Cary family did indeed own it for several centuries, I have fictionalized certain aspects of the abbey—and the members of the Cary family in this book are in no way meant to represent the real Cary family.
“Watson, do you believe in ghosts?”
I was used to strange utterances from my friend Sherlock Holmes, but this one caught me off guard. Sitting in front of a blazing fire on a misty October evening in our sitting-room at 221B Baker Street, nothing was farther from my mind than ghosts.
Before answering, I took a sip of the spirits which did occupy me at present, in this case a very good glass of Montrachet ’82. It was a useful tonic against the bitter biting rain which fell outside our window, pelting the cobblestones and stinging the cheeks of the poor souls who had the misfortune to be out on such a dreadful night.
I myself had just come in; after an unusually busy couple of weeks at my practice, I was worn out. An early flu epidemic had forced me to keep long hours for days on end, and now that the outbreak showed signs of being over, I had left the surgery in the hands of my capable assistant, Dr. McKinney, for a few days. A cab had been hard to come by, and I arrived at our rooms in Baker Street soaked to the skin. Now, however, the combination of the fireplace and red wine was reviving me in both body and spirit.
“Why do you ask?” I replied to my friend’s strange question.
Holmes let one hand drop from the sofa, where he lay out-stretched in his mouse-coloured dressing gown. He was in one of those languorous moods which often descended upon him between cases. The sitting-room was in a state of disarray: his makeshift laboratory table sat gathering dust at the far end of the room, and the remains of breakfast or lunch sat uncollected upon the dining table at the other end. Holmes was surrounded by discarded newspapers, strewn about everywhere like fallen leaves. When not at work upon a case, he devoured the papers eagerly in search of “crimes of interest”—anything out of the ordinary which might engage his restless attention.
“Because Lord Charles Cary seems to think that he is being haunted,” he answered. With that he produced a letter from his dressing gown and flung it in my direction.
I leaned over and picked it up. The stationery was a rich, creamy ivory colour, the paper of the highest quality; the watermark clearly showed the imprint of the best stationer in London.
“What do you make of it, Watson?”
The writing was in a clear, firm masculine hand. “A man,” I opined, “of some strength of character—”
“Would you be so kind as to read it aloud?” Holmes interrupted, fishing some tobacco out of the Persian slipper where he kept it. “It will give me a chance to hear anything I may have missed the first time.”
I knew that was hardly likely, but I complied and read the letter aloud to him.
Dear Mr. Holmes
First of all, lest you think I am mad, let me state right away that I am in full possession of my faculties. But that I experienced
the events which I now relate to you, there can be no doubt. On the seventh of October of this year occurred the following series of events at Torre Abbey, which has been in my family now for two centuries
Upon being summoned by an urgent telegram, I hurried from my graduate studies at Oxford to join my mother and younger sister at the abbey. My father having passed away recently, I am now the sole male member of the family and naturally feel a duty to protect the members of the weaker sex
Holmes raised an eyebrow in his half-cynical way.
“Gallantry, Watson—always an attractive quality in a man, though it has been my observation that women are far from being the weaker sex. In fact, did you know that the lion himself is not the king of beasts everyone takes him for? It is the lioness who hunts and kills the prey, while the lion is content to sit idly by, preening his mane or sunning himself,” he remarked, stuffing his pipe.
“Very well, Holmes,” I replied somewhat irritably. “Have it your way: women are the very devil incarnate. Now, may I continue?”
Holmes knit his brows in mock contrition. “Oh, dear, Watson, have I offended the gallant in you? I do apologize. I am sure women are the meek, fragile creatures you suppose them to be.”
I ignored him and continued reading as a tremendous thunder clap sounded outside the window, rattling the window panes.
Upon arriving at Torre Abbey, I found my mother in an excitable state and my sister bordering on nervous collapse
Holmes stuck the pipe in his mouth, crossed his hands behind his head and kicked a newspaper from under his feet. “Here comes the good part, Watson.”
Let me say that if I were you I would hardly have credited what I am about to tell you. And yet I saw it as clearly as you now see the paper you hold in your hands
There are many legends associated with Torre Abbey, some going back centuries. The townsfolk like to talk, of course, but superstitions run rampant as rabbits in the West Country, and I never paid much attention to any of them
Briefly, the story is this: In the late fourteenth century a certain William Norton, who was then the Abbot of Torre, was suspected of committing a foul and cowardly murder. The alleged victim was a monk by the name of Symon Hastynges
“Note the Welsh spelling of the name, Watson,” Holmes said, lazily waving a hand in my direction.
“Yes, quite. May I continue?”
Holmes smiled. “By all means.”
I turned my eye back to the page before me.
To quell the rumours, Abbot Norton produced a man who resembled Symon Hastynges, but even then people claimed the man was an impostor and that the real Symon Hastynges lay buried in the churchyard
minus his head, which the abbot had done the courtesy of removing. The case against the abbot was never proved, but ever since then there have been reports of a headless monk who wanders the halls of Torre Abbey
and some claim they have seen him galloping along the avenue leading to the abbey, riding a blind ghost horse
Holmes chuckled. “It’s all deliciously chilling, is it not, Watson? Ancient abbeys, ghost horses, beheaded monks . . . the stuff of children’s bedtime tales.” He yawned and stretched and flicked another newspaper onto the pile which lay on the floor.
“That well may be,” I replied, “but Lord Cary seems to be rather upset by it.”
“Ah, yes, you’re getting to that part,” he said, putting down the unlit pipe and closing his eyes.
I leaned forward closer to the fire and turned to the second page of Lord Cary’s letter. If his handwriting was any evidence, he was indeed a man of strong character. He crossed his
’s with decisiveness, and the ink was pressed firmly onto the paper with the conviction of a man who knows who he is. He went on to say that, having arrived at Torre Abbey on a Friday night, he listened with a sympathetic but skeptical ear to the tale his sister and mother told. It seems that two nights earlier, his sister, whose name was Elizabeth, heard what she thought to be rats scurrying in the hallway outside her room. Upon rising from her bed, she proceeded into the hall with a lit taper—except that instead of rats, she saw the ghostly form of a headless man dressed in a monk’s habit!
She could not say where he had come from or indeed where he went, because she fainted immediately upon seeing him. The ghostly visitor had vanished by the time she awoke, but she could swear she heard the sound of horses’ hooves on the lane outside. It was a dark night, and by the time she got to the window, there was no sign of either horse or rider. She went straight away to her mother’s room, awakened her and told her what she had seen. Together they agreed to send for her brother Charles—Lord Cary—and had done so by urgent telegram the next day.
I glanced over at Holmes. His lean form was still; one arm was thrown carelessly over his head, his eyes were closed, and he gave every sign of being asleep. However, I knew him well enough to realize that he was listening intently, in spite of all evidence to the contrary.
Upon arriving late Friday night, I comforted my mother and sister and assured them they had nothing to fear. I did not attempt
to explain what my sister had seen, for I was not yet convinced she had seen anything. My sister has a vivid imagination, and is of a high-strung and nervous disposition, unlike myself. For all I knew, it could have been an arrangement of shadows that frightened her. The abbey is old and damp, and there are nooks and crannies in the stones that, under the right lighting conditions, can even seem to move
After a light dinner, I prepared to retire; it had been a long day and I was tired. My bedroom is on the third floor, in the stone tower overlooking a courtyard which was once the back garden of the abbey. As I lay in my bed with a chemistry book
I am reading medicine at Oxford
I thought I heard a sound out in the courtyard below
Another deafening clap of thunder sounded outside, and I practically leaped from my chair, dropping the letter onto the carpet at my feet. A shiver coursed through my body as I bent to pick up the missive, and I glanced over at Holmes to see if he had witnessed my alarm. He lay there peacefully as ever—though I thought I saw one eyelid twitch. I took a sip of my wine, which I had quite forgotten about, then turned back to the letter, eager to read what happened next.
I went to the window and pulled back the curtains. Even now as I write this it seems so preposterous and unlikely that I would laugh at it myself had I not seen it with my own two eyes. There in the courtyard stood a man
or rather, the figure of a man
for he had no head. The night was dark but there was a faint moon, and I could make out that his clothing was that of a medieval monk. He was turned towards me, and stood there as if waiting for something. My first thought
or rather, my second, for I admit that my first was pure terror
was that someone was playing a trick on us. I seized my robe, threw it on, and dashed down the
stairs and out into the courtyard, but by the time I got there, the figure had vanished
As I say, the night was dark, but I went back inside for a torch and poked around the grounds for upwards of half an hour before I gave up and went back to bed. I did not sleep much that night
for, trick or not
it was, as you can imagine, a most unsettling experience
I know you are a busy man, Mr. Holmes, and hope you will forgive me not coming to you in person with my story, but I am certain that, under the circumstances, you can appreciate my desire to stay near my sister and mother. I have cabled Oxford that I may not return to classes for some time, for I am determined to find who is behind this scheme. I do not know what they want or even who they might be, but if a trip to Devon is at all possible, given your busy schedule, I would welcome your help in this matter. Money is no barrier; please feel at liberty to name your price, and please also consider yourself my guest at Torre Abbey for as long as you like
P.S. Doctor Watson is also most welcome, should his schedule permit him to accompany you. I am an avid reader of his adventures and would be honoured to have him stay with us
I put the letter down thoughtfully. Though naturally gratified by the compliment in his last lines, I was most struck by the sincere tone of the letter. I did not think it was a hoax, and believed entirely that the man had indeed seen what he said he had seen. I stared into the fireplace at the orange and blue flames which crackled and leaped before me, and thought about the West Country. Not since our adventure at Baskerville Hall had Holmes and I visited the moors and bogs of Devon, and the mournful cry of the ghostly Hound still rang in my ears.
“Well, Watson, what do you think?”
Startled from my reverie, I turned to look at Holmes, who was sitting up now. He had been silent so long that I had practically forgotten about him. He lit a cigarette, awaiting my answer, his thin brows drawn together in an attitude of concentration.
“Well,” I said, choosing my words carefully, “it is possible that the entire family suffers from hallucinations, but I don’t think so.”
“Oh? Why not?” He sat Indian-fashion on the sofa, his long legs tucked underneath him, a curl of blue smoke twisting from his lips as he exhaled.
I held up the letter. “This, mostly. Lord Cary strikes me as a man of sense and reason, not given to flights of fancy. He was skeptical about what his sister saw, but then was man enough to admit it when he saw a similar apparition.”
“Quite,” said Holmes, with a glance at Nature’s fury raging just outside our window. The slanting rain pelted the panes and the wind howled like a living thing.
“What do you make of it, Holmes?”
“Oh, I quite agree with your conclusions. Lord Cary took special care to mention his sister’s excessive imagination before relating his own encounter.”
“What do you think it could be?”
“I can’t possibly answer that without an examination of the abbey—and the Cary family.”
“What do you propose to do?”
Holmes leaned back on the sofa.
“Do you have any pressing business in the next few days, Watson?”
I explained that as I had left my surgery in Dr. McKinney’s hands for a while, I was quite unencumbered.
“Well, what do you say to a trip to Devon? Could you leave, say, tomorrow?”
“Yes, indeed,” I replied, picking up my empty wine glass and placing it on the sideboard. “But now, how about some dinner? I’m famished.” I was in fact feeling faint from hunger, having had very little time to eat all day long.
Holmes regarded the nest of newspapers scattered about the room. “I suppose I have to eat sooner or later,” he sighed. “I’ll ring Mrs. Hudson and see what she’s up to.”