In the sunlit morning, over an excellent breakfast, the idea of a restless spirit seemed yet more preposterous than it had the night before. Even so, Holmes asked Mr. O'Neill to describe the thing he had seen.
With a nervous swallow, the young man pushed his plate away and lit a cigarette. He glanced at his sister, who nodded. Whether the gesture constituted permission to smoke at the table or encouragement to speak, I couldn't tell.
"It would be hard to mistake a dullahan, Mr. Holmes," he said, trying and failing to achieve a light tone. "It rides a spectral black horse, and hasn't any head. Or rather, it has one, but carries it in its hand."
Even steady Gregson looked surprised. "You mean its head is cut off?"
"I know how it sounds, Inspector."
"Without a head, how can it see to ride? Does the horse have a head?"
"Yes, the bloody horse has-" Mr. O'Neill snapped. Then as quickly as he had lost control over his emotions, he regained it. "I beg your pardon," he said, with a wry smile. "I don't mean to be rude as well as mad."
"I suspect, sir, that you are neither, under ordinary circumstances," Holmes said, drumming his fingers on the tablecloth. "Where were you when you saw this?"
The answer necessitated a trip to the young man's study, a corner room on the ground floor. Despite the bright daylight, the heavy furniture and laden bookshelves gave the room a somber, almost oppressive air. It did not seem to suit him.
"It was our father's," Miss O'Neill said, as if sensing that an explanation was called for. "He passed away last year."
"He was the MP for our district," Mr. O'Neill added, shuffling a stack of papers on a desk as untidy as Holmes' own. "I inherited the job, so to speak. It's given me a great deal of respect for him. Until I tried it, I had no idea what the poor man was up against."
I began to appreciate the pressure this very young man was under. Perhaps Major Moriarty had a point; it would be no wonder if Mr. O'Neill's eyes occasionally played tricks on him.
"You have no secretary," Holmes said. It was a statement rather than a question.
"In London, when Parliament is in session, my father's former secretary keeps my affairs in some semblance of order. At home, though, Peggy-" He shot a quick smile at his sister. "-does most of that sort of thing."
Major Moriarty returned us to the topic. "You said you were at the window the first time."
"Yes." Mr. O'Neill shook his head, as if dispelling some distraction. "It was quite late, Mr. Holmes, after eleven. I had been working for some hours—since dinner, as I recall. I got up to stretch my legs and have a smoke."
"Where exactly?" Holmes asked.
"Here." The young man went to the window and leaned an elbow on the sill. "I looked out, so. It was there." He pointed to the sheltering tall oaks, which at that spot grew in such a way as to create a small grove some fifty feet from the house. "It saw me; it pointed at me with a finger more like a claw than anything natural."
I could imagine the scene: the horrifying apparition, the man's sudden terror at the sight of such a fey thing... Even in the warm morning sun, I felt a sudden chill.
Holmes observed the now quite mundane little grove. "You must have exceptional eyesight, Mr. O'Neill. That is a fair distance at which to observe in detail, particularly in the dark."
"What did you do when you saw it?" Gregson asked.
"I don't mind telling you, I screamed like a little girl." Mr. O'Neill managed a shaky laugh at his own expense.
Holmes turned to Miss O'Neill. "Where were you at the time?"
"In my bedroom. I ran down when I heard Michael shout."
"And you, Major?"
Major Moriarty and Miss O'Neill exchanged a guilty look. They spoke over each other.
"I had gone to see if-"
"-to say goodnight to me-"
Holmes' expression did not alter. "You were both in Miss O'Neill's bedroom, then? What you were doing there, and why, is not my concern. I merely wish to establish where you were."
My doubts of the previous evening about the propriety of this household returned. It occurred to me that no one in the house was even thirty years old, and that Mr. O'Neill, although the head of the family and the lady's brother, was the youngest, and felt neither able nor willing to chaperone his elder sister.
"We're to be married at Christmas," Miss O'Neill said huffily. It was not easy to cast her in the role of naïve young girl being taken advantage of.
"I congratulate you," Holmes answered. "In the meantime, you say that you ran downstairs after you heard the shout."
She nodded. "Yes."
"And you, Major?"
"I followed as soon as I had lit a lamp."
"Ah." Holmes might have tortured the man a bit longer, by asking why the lamp had been out in the first place, but that information was of no use to him. "Shall we say, then, that both of you were in this room within five minutes?"
"Yes," Miss O'Neill answered for both.
"And what did you do?"
"Michael told us what had happened." She bit her lip. "We didn't believe him."
"And did you go outside?"
"I did," Moriarty said. "No one was there."
"A week later, it was back," Mr. O'Neill said. "It was outside the window, looking in at me again."
"Have you seen it while anywhere other than in this room?"
"No." He shuddered.
"I have," Miss O'Neill said.