Story Notes: I wrote this for the LJ Watson's Woes community weekend prompt, Holiday in the country. This is my AU take on the events that occurred at the end of The Hound of the Baskervilles. I have been influenced by the 2002 movie as to some of the particulars, but I went back to cannon for the fate of Jack Stapelton, but answered my own questions as to why he who knew the moor would make such a mistake.
I wrote this in the style of the John Watson, Police Surgeon Series style, those who have read the first three of those will recognize some of the Lestrade/Watson banter. I feel that these two would be better suited for a twist than the stalwart Holmes.
If you have not read that series, please go, do, I think you'll enjoy it.
Once again this story and characters belong to Arthur C Doyle, he just failed to write a compelling enough ending for my liking.
A Savage Beauty
The moonlight painted the hills of the peat moor varying shades of silver and gray this far away from the lights of Baskerville Hall and its merry wedding guests, with sparkling standing puddles of water beneath wind stripped trees.
The old Scotland Yarder on Holiday leaned against the ancient stone retaining wall, far from home but not feeling out of place.
"It's still beautiful, utterly savage, but breathtaking indeed," Lestrade said to no one, thinking himself alone.
"You will not hear an argument from me," remarked familiar voice.
Lestrade had to smile. "I am not feeble, Doctor, there is no need to dog my steps."
Doctor Watson strolled up. "Are you entirely sure Dog is a good term to use, this is the Grimpen Mire after all."
Lestrade sighed, content as the cool windblown mist came off the rolling hills. "I am glad you asked me to accompany you, Doctor, it has been ever so long since I left the city."
Watson nodded. "Clea has lamented to me about it. I asked if she wished to come with you, but she said spending time apart has always been a boon to your marriage."
Lestrade chuckled. "I dread the state of my finances upon my return."
Watson slapped him on the back. "Don't fret, retirement suits you, old boy."
Lestrade gave him a look that had, in former times, caused more than one young PC to fear for their career, but the man beside him was immune.
They had changed, Watson and him. Lestrade could count the years in his own face. He never thought himself particularly handsome, announced as "rat or ferret faced" to hundreds of readers in the Strand did nothing to bolster his confidence, but he never felt ugly. His sparse hair was now silver matching his trademark thin moustache, and his thin frame, that refused to gain so much as a stone no matter how frequently he ate, was now a godsend instead of the curse he had formerly always felt it. Watson, however, was still the handsome man he had always been, plus a few pounds and some silver over taking the brown at his temples.
Here they were ten years after their last adventure here, back at the invitation of Lord Henry Baskerville, and his new bride.
They stood silent, listening to the eerie baying of the wind on the moor.
"How did Holmes accept his lack of invitation?" Lestrade inquired in a sly manner. He had resisted asking for the two days he and Watson had travelled, though the question had been ever on his lips.
"Not well." Watson replied.
Lestrade growled. "You know how infuriating it is when you are vague; do you wish to torture me?"
Watson laughed. "The thought had occurred to me, but I shall be kind and elaborate."
"Please do," Lestrade remarked turning away from the view to give his friend full attention.
"Well he started by denigrating the post for misplacing his invitation," Watson began, "then he made disparaging remarks about the weather up in these lands, shortly thereafter, he moped."
Lestrade tried to feel sympathy, but felt he could not. "He does remember that his desire to catch Stapleton in the act nearly got Sir Henry killed? The man had his ear nearly torn from his head!"
Watson sighed. "He just believes that Sir Henry is being a poor sport about it."
They exchanged a look, and then both began laughing. That tapered off when Lestrade's chortle turned into a deep cough, and wheeze. Doctor Watson, long used to his friend's condition reached out and grabbed his arm in support until the dizziness passed, then acted as if nothing was amiss.
Lestrade nodded his gratitude for the aid but neither remarked upon it.
"Do you feel up for a walk?" Watson queried.
"Are you sure it's safe? We don't want to be a bog man in a few hundred years," Lestrade asked with a rasp of returning air.
Watson waved him off. "Sir Henry has the deadlier quick bogs cordoned off, actually. He said he did not mind Stapleton dying in such a manner, but he could not have his houseguests dug up for future museums."
The two men exchanged a wry expression.
The set off away from the bright lights of the ongoing wedding receptions and its merry music and conversation, the moor made its own music, the low and sorrowful keen should have grated on the nerves, but Lestrade found it comforting. Only those with guilt in their conscious had reason to fear the dark, he was not such a man.
They strolled, wary in the dying light.
"I know you wrote most of what occurred into your account, enjoyable read to be sure, but have you ever told the entire story anyone?" Lestrade asked.
"Not to another soul," replied Watson.
"I dream of her sometimes. I see her in that white dress walking upon the mire," Lestrade admitted. To his relief Watson did not glance at him with worried eyes.
"Would it bother you over much to admit that I do as well?" Watson remarked after a pause.
Lestrade stopped Watson with his cane gently across his chest. "Could we have saved her?"
Watson removed his hat his thinning brown hair mussing in the stiff wind. "I wish I could say I know, but I cannot, it haunts me still, the fiction far outstripped the truth in that instance."
He replaced his cap as they continued their walk, both lost in thought. Lestrade knew the image that was in his friends mind, because it was in his as well, Beryl Stapleton in her satin white Christmas dress, her fragile alabaster skin mottled by bruises from her husband's last beating, spinning in gentle circles hanging by her long slender neck from the rafter of the barn, her dainty feet bare to the world.
They both knew the destination where their journey would conclude.
That night...spurred on by their rage, pistols drawn, they hunted a man across the moor. Holmes had called to them that it was far too dangerous to pursue the man across fields, which the blackguard knew far too well, but he did not know Beryl. He did not see her gentle beauty and soft kindness. He did not have the vision of her shy smile burned into his mind. He did not see what that animal, Stapleton, had done to her, and would not have known rage if he had.
There were some realms of emotion that Holmes would never fathom, Lestrade and Watson did, which is why they chased Stapleton trying to watch for reflective patches in the half-light.
They had followed the sound of a man's terrified cry over a ridge, Lestrade nearly sucked down into a bog pool at the bottom, but Watson managed to get him back out before he sunk past his knee.
That is where they spied the old boot. It was lying discarded to the side of the mire, along with claw marks a man's fingers made trying to find purchase in the soft swampy ground that rimmed the tarn.
"Stapleton bragged he could walk this moor at night with impunity, he knew every landmark, why did he lose his head now?" Watson stated disappointment clear in his voice that the man had escaped due judgement.
"Maybe he was being hunted, himself," Lestrade exclaimed with a sharp intake of breath. He pointed to the surface of the mire.
There...in the dim light, were the glimmering paw prints of a gigantic hound crossing the surface of the bog pool without sinking, as it had no weight.
That would have been nightmarish enough, but beside those large paw prints, were the delicate prints of a woman's bare feet along side.
They arrived at the place where Jack Stapleton lost his life, led on by memory of a land that did not alter in centuries, much less a decade. There were ropes around it, as Henry had promised.
They stared at the very ground where he deservedly met his end, hounded by something unfathomable to mortal man.
"Have you ever mentioned it to Holmes?"
"Holmes would never understand that there are realms not empirically known," Watson concluded with a sigh.
"Is she happy, you think?" Lestrade asked, cursing himself for sounding so maudlin.
Watson turned to his companion. "I think Henry and his offspring better travel the pathways of virtue, or they might find out for themselves."
A spine-chilling howl rode the windswept air.
As was their custom, Watson and Lestrade did not let the grim moments linger.
"Shall we return to the party, our friend, Sir Henry will be concerned at our absence, or are you too weary, old man?" Watson remarked, Lestrade could hear the grin and challenge in his voice.
"I can still drink you under the table, my boy," he shot back.
They began the journey back; Watson's steadying hand on his friend's arm, leaving the mire and its guardians behind for the generations to come.
I hope you did not get the creepy crawlies too bad...actually I hope you did. I am bad that way.