The Addleton Tragedy and the Mystery of the Ancient British Barrow
Chapter Fifteen: Homeward Bound
By ten the next morning, we were ready to leave Addleton. Lestrade was staying out of necessity, much to his alleged chagrin. With so many dead and explanations needed for each of them, it was hardly a task to be left to the local constabulary. The Divisional Chief Inspector was also expected, he informed us with considerable relish. As the only senior man on the scene and having all the answers at his disposal, the credit would go naturally to Lestrade. Not that we begrudged him that; indeed, we were more than happy to be leaving him to his unenviable task.
To the end, our departure was fraught with difficulties. The river had continued to rise in the night and the branch line to Addleton was a foot underwater. We could have waited for it to clear, but we were all adamant on leaving without delay. This had meant a journey to Barbury, made in a rickety, uncovered farm wagon drawn by the slowest Shire horse it has ever been my misfortune to encounter. We arrived at our destination wet and covered in chicken feathers, cheered only the knowledge that every mile from Addleton was a mile closer to home.
By now, we were looking enough like the locals to not warrant passing stares. Mrs Lacey had tried her best, but my clothes still had a coating of grime and that faint whiff of the river coupled with the smell of singeing from being left too close to the fire. My shirt would never be white again and my tie had developed stains that I had not noticed previously. My appearance was going to cause a few raised eyebrows when we alighted in London.
Holmes and I were indeed homeward bound, but the others were destined for other parts. A good night's sleep had restored Mr Simon Bickerstaff to his old self, and he was already expressing a desire to continue his mentor's work. For now, his destination was Oxford. One day, so he told us, he would return to Addleton to see if the barrow had been truly robbed out. He owed it, he said, to Professor Moncrieff. The results, whether disappointing or not, would be published as a fitting memorial to the man.
His intention was a sound one, but he would not be accompanied again by the other members of the excavation party. Mr Peter Travers and Mr Joseph Malpas would be returning to Shrewsbury and Birmingham respectively, where they declared unanimously they would be confining their research to rather less perilous fields. Even though they had spent the majority of their time in the last few days locked in their room, they had heard enough of our adventures to last them a lifetime. Mr Travers went so far as to opine that it had put him off country life for good.
I was sorrier to be saying farewell to Peregrine Holmes, returning to his duties on his aunt's country estate. Looking at him now, sat as he was awkwardly in the corner of the station waiting room, trying to engage his taciturn cousin in conversation without much success, I wondered if the differences between them were not as great as Holmes would have me believe.
He said he lacked courage, yet it had taken no small measure of nerve to remain with us in a flooding crypt. He might not match his cousin in the field of observation and deduction, but one suspected that Peregrine Holmes had equal merits in other areas, whatever Holmes might say. This deriding of each other's abilities seemed to be a family trait, but where Peregrine Holmes somewhat moderated his view of his cousin, the gesture was not reciprocated.
They were never going to be close, but I could have wished for a more cordial parting than the one that took place on that rain-soaked platform.
"Well, it's been an experience, cousin," said Peregrine Holmes, as we stood beneath the station canopy while we waited for his train to arrive.
"It's been perfectly ghastly, Perry, and you know it," said Holmes tersely. "I should avoid decamping to remote parts of the country in the future if I were you. You have always had a propensity for getting yourself into the most appalling scrapes, as this misadventure has proved conclusively."
"That is true enough," he replied. "After these regrettable events, I have resolved to confine my attentions to my immediate locality. Strangely enough, before I left home, there was some talk of an ancient trackway discovered not fifteen miles from the Hall. At the time, Aunt Augusta said it was more in my line of expertise."
"Then it was a pity that you chose not to listen to her."
"Speaking of that dear lady, will you be venturing up to our part of the world this year? It has been too long since you visited, Sherlock, and I know Augusta would be delighted to see you. Oh, and, of course, you too, Dr Watson. You would be very welcome."
"Kind of you, Perry, but I doubt we would be able to take up your offer in any case," Holmes interjected before I had a chance to reply. "Affairs in London occupy most of our time, you understand. Ah, I see your train approaching."
"And so we must part," said his cousin. "Dr Watson, it has been a pleasure to make your acquaintance, sir, albeit under less propitious circumstances than one would have preferred."
"It has indeed," said I, shaking his hand.
"I cannot say how deeply indebted I am to you both for extracting me from the mire of my own folly and the machinations of others. Words cannot express my gratitude."
"Then do not attempt to do so, but confine your sentiments to farewell," said Holmes. "And be quick about it, unless you wish to remain in this charming part of Wiltshire for another night."
The train had rolled in, hissing and steaming, and doors banged open as passengers disembarked. Peregrine Holmes installed himself in a compartment with two elderly clergymen, the whistle blew and the engine let out a mournful sigh as it continued with journey northwards.
As it rolled away, I saw the beginnings of that familiar languor begin to settle about my friend's demeanour that usually accompanied the conclusion of a case. He said nothing, but I sensed that he wished for the company of his own thoughts and obliged him with my silence.
Our own London-bound train pulled in shortly afterwards and we managed to find an empty compartment. I saw the last of Barbury through a rain-splattered window and the few residences that lay on its outskirts passed by without comment from either of us.
Long after Holmes had closed his eyes and his breathing had deepened into the regular rhythm of sleep, I continued to watch the changing patterns of the countryside as one county slipped into another and the landscape changed to undulating hills and forested vales. As we passed Reading, my thoughts turned to home and I tried to put Addleton out of my mind. There would be other cases, perhaps even a client awaiting our return at this present moment. The memory would fade, given time.
As too, I fervently hoped, would the residue of disquiet that had yet to leave me. If it is possible to be touched by the wickedness of others, then I felt most certainly that I had been polluted by the festering decay of Addleton, which had worked its ills upon me until my very nature had been affected.
Reflecting on the past few days, I acknowledged that I had been testy and out of sorts. I had given voice to all manner of rash accusations, things that would have better been left unsaid and could not now be taken back. I could not speak for Holmes, but I knew that I bitterly regretted our altercation on the journey to Addleton.
Malign influence alone could not account for it. Had we resolved our differences sooner, we would not have come to the juncture where we had lost faith in each other, he in my dependability and me in his motives. Given the events that followed, I trusted that the damage was not irreparable. How painful and enduring the memory would prove, however, would depend on how willing we were to forgive the past.
If we had learnt anything from our time in Addleton, however, it was that the past is never as distant as one imagines. Old sins cast long shadows, as the saying has it, and we had seen how its wages had been death, for innocent and guilty alike. Even from beyond the grave, it reached out and tainted us still.
Time would tell whether my ingestion of river water had left any permanent mark on my health. Left to my own devices, I could envisage any number of fearful scourges already besieging my constitution. I could torture myself also with the more tangible evidence of the note left by Lady Maud. I took it out of my pocket to read again the lines that wished such a terrible fate upon my friend.
"Does that note worry you, Watson?"
I glanced up to find that Holmes had awoken. He had pushed the travelling cap that had fallen over his eyes further up his brow and was regarding me with a sleepy, though inquiring gaze.
"It is a vile thing," I answered. "How long have been awake?"
"Long enough to hear you fretting over that worthless piece of paper." He held out his hand and I passed it across to him. "Second-hand curses from the dead worry me less than first-hand threats from the living, and then very little."
"You do not recognise the allusion? Lucius Servianus I believe was the writer's name. Such was his last missive to the Emperor Hadrian, who had ordered his suicide. The parallel is hardly exact." He refolded the note. "Do you require this for future reference?"
I shook my head. At this, he took out a match, struck it and let the flame consume the paper.
"There," said he, extinguishing the blackened remains. "Now you may rest easy at night. You do intend to make notes of this case, I trust?"
"For your records, yes."
"Ah, then you do not propose to write an account of the case?"
"I thought you might prefer it if I did not."
Holmes's gaze turned to the window and the passing procession of hedges and trees.
"Lestrade informed me that the particulars of this tragedy will never likely become public knowledge. Too many people have a vested interest in wishing to avoid a scandal. The dead will be buried and their secrets with them. But…"
Again, he paused and in the time it took him to draw a breath I saw that he had been giving the matter a great deal of consideration.
"If there is shame here, it does not lie with the murdered girl, but with the family who took her life and then sought to conceal all trace of her existence. If we allow the official channels to take the course of action they see fit, will we not be guilty of failing her once again? We could not prevent her death, but it does lie within our powers to ensure that her name and story are never forgotten. A few words in the right ears should send those denizens of the press scurrying down to Addleton to sniff out the facts. Mrs Lacey and the regulars at the Dog and Duck will, I am sure, be glad to furnish them with the details."
"Then they will surely hear of your involvement," said I.
A tight smile passed across his lips. "You may be sure that many a tall story will be spun over the cauliflower wine in the retelling. It is only a pity that I did not add my teeth marks to those of Cromwell's horse on the bar to add further spice to their tales!"
I could not help myself from chuckling. We shared a brief moment of amusement before Holmes sobered.
"For the sake of accuracy, therefore," said he, "one would hope that you might see your way to writing your own account in due course of time. I fear I must suspend my normal diffidence on this occasion in the interests of justice."
It was not the line I had expected Holmes to take. Of late, he was inclined to shy away from the merest hint of acclaim. The fact that he was prepared to countenance public exposure told of deeply he had been touched by the affair. It was a decision with which I concurred.
"Very well, Holmes," said I. "Do you wish me to omit particular names?"
"You mean Perry? No, let it stand. I'm sure it will amuse him greatly to see his name in print. Either write it as it happened or do not write it at all. There are no half measures."
"Everything?" I inquired.
He returned my gaze with raised brows. "You have something specific in mind?"
"Some of our recent conversations have hardly been to our credit. The last time we travelled in each other's company like this, I accused you of certain failings."
"Yes, I remember."
Of course he did. It was not the sort of discussion one forgets in a hurry.
"My words were unwarranted," I said. "I spoke out of misplaced anger and ignorance."
"You must have thought those things at some time, Watson, otherwise it would have never occurred to you to speak as you did."
"I regret it now. In light of what has happened in the past few days, it does not seem so very important."
"Then you do yourself a disservice," said he, adjusting his position to sit a little taller in his seat. "Everything is important and a denial of that fact only serves to trivialise human existence. You were perfectly entitled to speak your mind and I allow that the accusation was in some part valid."
"Let us not split hairs, my dear fellow. You claimed that I have never been entirely honest with you. From my point of view, honesty did not come into it. It was a question of priorities, of what mattered and what did not. One man's omission may be another man's lie, which as I recall was the particular charge you levelled at me."
"Amongst other things."
He gave this due consideration. "If I had known that my return was destined to be such bitter gall to you, then I would have endeavoured to keep the truth of my survival hidden forever."
It saddened me beyond words to hear him express such a sentiment. "Do not say such a thing, even in jest," said I.
"Oh, but I am most serious. A man may work as well in the shadows as in the light of day. Added to which, there are certain advantages to being dead. One is presented with a blank page with which to create new opportunities and experiment with new ideas, freed from the trammels into which one is thrust by society."
"Is that how you viewed your escape from death at the Falls? A chance for freedom?"
"For myself, no," he replied mutedly. "I did not lie three years ago when I told you that I would be a dangerous companion. That state persisted throughout my prolonged absence. It would have been unconscionable for me to continue to expose you to peril when you had a wife waiting for your return. I am glad to say that my decision was vindicated by later events. But for that one mistake by Moran, I might still be floating around Europe and enduring a limbo existence. That was not a life I would have wished on anyone, least of all you."
"I would have liked to have made that choice for myself."
"Undoubtedly. That is the luxury of hindsight. In the heat of the moment, however, one is forced to make decisions that one may come to question in time."
"And did you?"
"Had there been another way, never doubt that I would have seized it with both hands. As it happened, I never imagined that I would be forced to maintain the pretence for so long. The more time passed, the easier it became to live the lie and the harder to end it."
"Because for others, yourself included, life had moved on. Three years is a long time to be away, perhaps, one might argue, too long. As Lady Maud noted, people forget."
"You were never forgotten, Holmes," I reassured him.
He nodded in silent acknowledgement and sighed. "Well, what's done is done and there's no changing it now. We must make the best of the hand we have been dealt and see how the game plays out. I hope your mind has been settled to some extent on this point."
"Good, because given my time over again, I do not think I would have acted differently. I would rather have you estranged and alive in the world than to have your death on my conscience. As for my relations, well, you have met Perry. Would own up to a kinship with such a fellow?"
I laughed. "He was not as bad as all that."
Holmes smiled. "Certainly he is more agreeable than either of his brothers. By the by, is our continued harmony dependent on your meeting them? I refused Perry's invitation, but it still stands, if you so wish."
"Not at all."
"That is as well, for you would not have rubbed along so easily with Endymion."
"He has an aversion to medical men?"
"No, to marriage."
"In what sense?"
"In the sense that he disapproves of it. He read somewhere once that it weakens a man's resolve and spoils a woman's beauty. Or is it the other way around? I can never remember. In any case, it is a theory he sets much store by."
"I am not sure that he would find many to agree with him."
"He can be very persuasive. Indeed, the bishop had to remove him from his parish because he terrified the local people into celibacy. I do believe the birth rate there has yet to recover."
"As good a description as one might apply to any of us. It is just as well that we are not on good terms as a family, for who knows of what we might be capable should we stand together?"
"Then it is as well for the rest of us that you do not."
"There is too much animosity for that, have no fear. As for Perry, I doubt we shall see him again. He has only intruded upon us now because he was in need. Had he never become embroiled in this affair, then you might never have known of his existence. As it is, I do not see that we have gained much by the experience."
"I would not say that, Holmes. A murderer has been exposed."
He gave a considered nod. "Well, perhaps that is something to be said in his favour."
"Which reminds me," said I. "You never did tell me how you knew 'Inspector Rose' was an impostor."
"Ah, that," he said lightly. "Well, then it was because he was too convincing."
"I do not follow."
"Do you remember the first time we saw him? A child could have deduced that he wished to present the appearance of an old soldier. He even had his military medals hanging out of his pocket to complete his disguise. I perceived that he wished us to believe in his charade and so went along with the pretence to see where it led. That tale of his going to visit his mother's grave was nothing more than an invention to place him beyond suspicion, which he took great pains to do. In all probability, he had not strayed far beyond the environs of Addleton House."
"But how did you know it was a pretence?"
"My suspicions were first aroused by the direction from which he had come, the same as where your mystery horseman had vanished. He had been keeping watch on our progress and reverted to his alias as Inspector Rose to find out what we knew. But it was the cigarette that really betrayed him."
I shook my head to indicate that I was still mystified. In answer, Holmes took a cigarette from his case.
"The manner in which a man smokes can be most instructive. One of these days, I shall finish my monograph on the subject. In the case of Inspector Rose, here was a man professing to be a former Lance Corporal, smoking in the manner of an officer and a gentleman, like so."
He held the cigarette twixt his first and middle finger to demonstrate his point.
"However, a true non-commissioned officer, a man who had risen from the ranks of private would smoke thus." Pinching the cigarette between his fingers and thumb as he placed it to his mouth, he smiled from behind his hand as he saw the light of understanding come to my eyes. "I am surprised you have not noticed the distinction before, Watson, given your military service."
"Holmes, that is quite—"
"I was going to say extraordinary."
"I shall have to take your word for that. Given that this man was lying, therefore, and then taking into account Lady Maud's questioning of you about her son, I was alerted to the possibility that Aloysius Stoke was alive and within earshot. I wonder, Watson, who convinced the other of the necessity of eliminating you? I would wager the mother, since the concern was all on her side. It was not for news of her son that she asked, but out of fear that you might remember him. A dangerous family, the Stokes. Addleton, I dare say, will not be sorry to see the last of them."
As it transpired, Holmes's prediction proved accurate. In the next few months, the public thrilled with horror to the tales that abounded from that quiet corner of Wiltshire of the Addleton tragedy and the singular contents of the ancient British barrow.
Addleton House was purchased by Mr Enoch Pearce, who proved to be a more considerate landlord than his predecessors. He saw to it that the river was dammed and the church restored to its former glory. No more would Mrs Hackett go a-wandering on the rising flood waters.
Mr Bickerstaff did return to Addleton to complete the excavation of the barrow and subsequently discovered that the grave robbers of previous generations had not penetrated the heart of the mound. There, he found a Bronze Age warrior, buried with his weapons and the skeleton of a pony. Some say how the disturbance of these ancient bones caused his spirit to haunt Long Meadow, where a spectral rider in furs has been sighted on dark and stormy nights.
Whatever the truth of the identity of this mystery horseman, it is certain that he haunts Addleton alone. No explanation was ever offered for the phenomenon we saw that night on the bridge and to my knowledge it has never been seen again. River mist or the spirit of the murdered girl, Holmes and I will never be in agreement.
I considered myself lucky to have brought home nothing more sinister than the common cold, which, Holmes claims, I promptly passed to him. Given that we had both suffered a thorough soaking that night, I thought the charge somewhat unfair. However, I was beyond arguing with him on such an insignificant point. With the resolution of those matters which lay between us, a shared infection was as nothing.
As for Peregrine Holmes, he did find his way into print again with a revised edition of his masterly monograph on 'The Highways and Byways of the Ancient Britons and the Implications for Early Trade Routes'. Events conspired to make our paths cross again, sooner than any of us expected, and in the most unfortunate circumstances. But that is quite another story.
Well, goodbye Addleton. Possibly goodbye Perry – we might see you again, who knows?
I hope you've all enjoyed it. My thanks to everyone for reading. Huge thanks to everyone who took the time to leave reviews, offer suggestions or PM'ed me.
And if you're dubious about ghostly Bronze Age horsemen, one was sighted on several occasions in Dorset, England, in the 1920s. Who said truth was stranger than fiction?
Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are the creations are Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Characters and incidents mentioned in this work are entirely fictitious. This work of fan fiction has not been created for profit nor authorised by any official body.