Read The Sherlock Holmes Megapack: 25 Modern Tales by Masters: 25 Modern Tales by Masters Online

Authors: Michael Kurland,Mike Resnick

Tags: #Mystery, #sleuth, #detective, #sherlock holmes, #murder, #crime, #private investigator

The Sherlock Holmes Megapack: 25 Modern Tales by Masters: 25 Modern Tales by Masters (9 page)

BOOK: The Sherlock Holmes Megapack: 25 Modern Tales by Masters: 25 Modern Tales by Masters
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“How rude!” John started toward the door.

I put a hand on his arm, “We can hardly expect to be treated like invited guests, dear. Help me with my coat.” The fire had begun to warm the room. “Well, Phillip certainly seems to be in control around here.”

“Indeed,” John muttered. “I feel sorry for poor Edward. And I must say that I have nothing but feelings of foreboding regarding this séance business. Holmes takes the view that these so-called mediums can be used for sinister purposes.”

“Such as producing a ‘spirit’ that will miraculously point out the whereabouts of false will naming someone other than the eldest son as heir to the estate,” I stated.

“Precisely. And since Charles is the one supporting the efforts to dredge up the spirit of his father, it would logically dictate that he is the one mixed up in all of this, perhaps even his father’s death. What I don’t understand is why he is bothering to go through all this spiritualism balderdash? If the objective is to plant a false will only to subsequently discover it, why not simply do so without all the theatrics?”

“Perhaps the objective is to convince someone of something.”

“You mean, someone like Edward?”

“I don’t know, but perhaps we should attend tonight’s séance and find out.”

After standing in front of the fireplace until adequately thawed, we made our way down to the kitchen (stopping to ask directions from the ubiquitous Jenkins), only to find a rather meagre spread of bread, cold beef, cheese and mustard, prepared by a handsome, buxom woman of forty or so years, whom we had heard referred to only as “Cook.” Her Christian name, we learned, was Gwyneth.

“No one bothered to tell me visitors were coming,” she grumbled, “but then, they wouldn’t, would they?”

“I’m afraid we were a surprise to everyone except young Edward,” I acknowledged, nibbling a bit of cheese.

Immediately she seemed to soften. “Oh, if Master Edward invited you, I suppose it’s all right,” she replied, going about her business, which included wiping recently-washed plates and putting them away, and emptying a vase containing faded, but still fragrant, lilies-of-the-valley.

“He’s a good ’un,” she emphasized, as though to imply that the twins were not. “He looks like his father the most, too. Poor Master Rupert.”

“Have you participated in any of these séances?” I asked, casually.

“Oh, those!” she spat. “Mister Charles makes me sit through of those midnight things, to complete the circle, he says, and I can’t say no. But I don’t like them, or that woman. I should’ve quit this house after the master died, but the twins keep preventing me. Without me, they’d probably starve.”

As she retreated into her dishes, John and I quickly finished our meal in silence and then left the kitchen.

John and I made our way to the staircase, at which point we stopped, startled by the figure that was now descending the steps. She was a lithe creature dressed in a black satin robe, over which her long, dark hair fell like a velvet cascade. Her face was youthful, almost girlish, and in one hand she held a lit black candle, even though there was plenty of illumination from the house’s lamps. Floating down the steps, she stopped and cast a luminescent gaze at us.

“I was told there were strangers in the house,” she said.

“Madame Ouida, I presume?” I ventured.

The woman nodded.

“We have heard of you as well,” I said. “Will you be performing again this evening?”

“Midnight is the hour for spirits.”

“And may we attend the performance?”

“I cannot prevent you,” she said, then glided away wordlessly towards the dining room.

“What a singular creature,” John uttered after she had gone.

“Yes, and a complete fraud,” I replied.

“All mediums are frauds, my dear.”

“That may be, but Madame Ouida is a fraud among shams. Twice I used the word ‘perform’ when referring to her séance. I did so deliberately, knowing that for someone who is either delusional enough to actually believe they can communicate with the dead, or to an experienced charlatan wishing to keep up appearances, the suggestion that they are merely performing would have been a grave insult. An experienced medium would have responded with great indignation. Yet Madame Ouida calmly let it pass. Unless I am mistaken, she is very new to her role.”

John was about to comment when a shout of “Master Phillip!” coming from upstairs interrupted him. He raced up the stairs (and I followed as quickly as my skirts would allow) to find Jenkins staggering in terror out of a bedroom.

I said, removing my coat, since the fire had begun to warm the room Charles quickly appeared from behind us and rushed into Phillip’s room while the din rousted Edward from his room across the hall. “What is going on?” the latter asked.

“I came up to take away his drink tray, as usual, and found him on the floor!” Jenkins cried.

“Let me examine him,” John said, rushing past a grave-looking Charles, who was now emerging from Phillip’s bedroom.

“What has happened?” Edward asked. “Has something happened to Phillip? I must see him!”

“No, Eddie, do not go in,” Charles said, closing the bedroom door behind him. “It would only upset you further.”

After a minute, John emerged from the room. “I’m afraid he’s dead,” he intoned. “Is there a telephone here? We must notify the authorities.”

“Father never had a telephone put in,” Charles said.

“Phillip is dead?” Eddie cried. “How?”

John turned to him and gravely said, “It appears he was poisoned.”

The clock in the hall struck the first bell of eleven.

“Just like father,” Edward said. “The police must be summoned. I will go for them myself.”

Charles turned to his brother and gripped him by the shoulders. “No, listen to me, Eddie,” he entreated, “you cannot go. Not yet. You cannot be there and back within the hour, and we need you tonight at the séance.”

“Oh, good heavens, don’t tell me you are going ahead with it after the death of your brother!” I scolded.

“Please believe me, Mrs Watson, when I say that we must,” Charles replied. “We must all be together, for father’s sake.”

“I won’t,” Edward said.

“Eddie, please, do this for me,” Charles entreated. “If not for me, for father. There is nothing we can do for Phillip. But there might be something we can do—”

“For the heir!” Edward snapped. “Fine. I will stay. But as soon as it is over, I am going to for the police!”

“Until the police do arrive,” John said, “I must insist that no one goes into Phillip’s room. Evidence might be disturbed.”

“I for one would like to go to my own room,” I said. “I am feeling rather tired, I think I would like to lie down until the séance commences. Would you come with me, John?”

“Yes, of course,” he responded, accompanying me to our room.

Once the door was shut behind us, I said: “You know, darling, if I were a bad dramatist writing this for the stage, I would say that Charles killed his own father, destroyed the original will, created a false one naming himself heir, perhaps sole heir, engaged a medium to have it produced by the ‘ghost’ of Rupert Mandeville, and then killed Phillip when his ruse was discovered.”

“That is bad drama at its finest, my dear,” John chuckled. “But what about Edward?”

“What about him?”

“He is the one who forged his father’s handwriting convincingly enough that his own brother did not recognize the deception upon reading it. Could not someone with that singular talent also forge a will?”

I had to admit that I had not considered that. Could Charles and Edward have been in it together against Phillip?

“Darling,” I said, “I have no idea what that truth might be, but I am almost too exhausted to worry about it.” As I reclined on the bed, I closed my eyes and watched the faces of the three young men swirling about in my mind. Only one thing seemed certain: something of import would be revealed at the séance at midnight.

The next thing I recalled was John gently shaking me awake. At five minutes to midnight, we made our way down to the darkened dining room. Madame Ouida was at the head of the table, her delicate features eerily under-lit by the black candle before her.

Charles, Edward, Jenkins and Gwyneth sat around the table, which left three empty seats. John and I took two, and the other, obviously, was the place set for Phillip.

“Thank you all for coming,” Madam Ouida said, rather pointedly in Edward’s direction, who was squirming uncomfortably. “Tragedy has struck the house of Mandeville yet again, but tonight we must put the death of our departed brother Phillip out of our minds and once more attempt to contact the spirit of Rupert Mandeville. I ask that everyone here join hands.”

John reached over and squeezed my left hand, while Gwyneth the cook took my right in a cold, clammy fist. Charles had to reach across the empty place to take Madame Ouida’s.

“We are seeking the astral presence of Rupert Mandeville,” the medium called in a melodic voice. “Return to us, Rupert Mandeville, your business on earth is not finished.” She repeated this entreaty several times, then added: “Come back to us and identify the person who unjustly sent you to your grave!”

“Now, just a moment, Madame Ouida,” Charles said, but before he could protest further, the medium began to moan in a low, mannish voice, that succeeded in raising gooseflesh on my arm.

“He is approaching,” she declared.

At that point the black candle appeared to extinguish itself, throwing the room into near total darkness. The cook’s hand tightly clutched mine, and she hissed: “I don’t like this. I don’t want to be here.”

I had been able to contain myself well enough up to this point in the séance, but when the doors to the medium’s cabinet flew open a second later, I have to admit that I gasped aloud. Standing there, illuminated by a ghostly green light, was Phillip Mandeville!

My first thought was that it was a trick, that Charles had slipped away in the darkness and posed as Phillip, which would have been easy, given their resemblance. But I could now clearly see the younger twin in the eerie reflection of the ghost light!

“Speak to us, Rupert Mandeville,” Madam Ouida moaned in the deep voice.

“I am not Rupert Mandeville,” the apparition intoned, “I am Phillip Mandeville!”

That pronouncement caused Madame Ouida to suddenly open her eyes, turn to the cabinet, and scream.

“Good lord, Charles,” she shrieked, “we’ve actually brought someone back! I’ve had enough of this!” With that, she leapt up from her chair and ran out of the room.

Edward tried to rise from his chair as well, but Charles dashed around to prevent him. Calling to the spectre, Charles asked, “Why have you returned to us, brother?”

“To avenge my murder,” the ghost replied.

“John, this cannot be real!” I whispered, and he responded by squeezing my hand tightly.

“My killer is in this room,” the spectre continued, turning its pale, ghostly gaze to each one of us before settling on one person in particular. “It was you who murdered me!” the apparition shouted, pointing at Gwyneth the cook! “You poisoned me, just as you poisoned my father!”

“No!” Gwyneth shouted, leaping up, thankfully dropping my hand. “I did nothing to you, Mister Phillip!”

“You murdered Rupert Mandeville!”

“I—I,” she stammered.

“Just as you murdered me!” the ghost howled.

“Noooo!” Gwyneth wailed, leaping up and retreating from the spectre. “It’s true I killed the master, but I swear before God I never harmed you!”

Upon this pronouncement, my mouth dropped open, and I noticed a similar reaction coming from young Edward.

Charles, meanwhile, sighed as though a great weight had been lifted from him and let loose of his younger brother’s shoulders. However, the most startling response came from the ghost of Phillip Mandeville, who uttered, “Thank heavens,” before commanding that the lights in the room be switched on.

When Charles did, the “ghost,” his face daubed a pale yellow, stepped out of the cabinet, very much alive.

“John, I don’t understand,” I uttered. “Phillip was dead. You declared him so yourself!”

“So I did,” he replied. At that moment a police officer rushed into the room.

“Were you able to hear it, Constable Macaulay?” Phillip asked, and the policeman confirmed that he had.

Charles knelt down to the seated figure of Edward Mandeville. “I’m sorry to have put you through this, Eddie, but we need every witness we can get for the inquest”

Looking quite sick, Edward turned to the miserable cook, who had collapsed into sobbing convulsions. “Why did you do it?” he asked. “What did father do to you?”

Recovering from her fit, she looked up, enraged. “He said he wouldn’t marry me!” she shouted. “I even went to his bed because he promised me!”

“I want to hear no more!” Edward moaned.

Softly, Charles said: “I am sorry, dear brother, but we have to.” Then turning to the cook, he added, “It’s all over for you, now, you murderess, so you might as well tell everything.”

“Don’t you take that tone with me, you whelp, I could’ve been your stepmother!” Gwyneth said. “Oh, Lord, how many times did I go to his bed, all the whiles assuming I would soon be mistress of the house, and not just a servant! Then came the terrible day when I learnt he was only using me. I nearly died, I wanted to die. Then I thought, ‘Why should I be the one to die?’ Right then and there, I decided to avenge myself. I started to poison him, slowly at first”

“We knew you were poisoning him, but how did you do it?” Phillip demanded, wiping off the yellowish face paint that had given him his ghostly pallor. “We examined his food and found no trace of poison.”

“I’m not so stupid as to put it in his food,” Gwyneth sneered. “It was in his nightly whisky and water. I made sure the water came from the kitchen, where I kept—”

“Lilies-of-the-valley!” I blurted out, unable to stop myself. “Even the water in which lilies-of-the-valley have set is poisonous. Oh, why didn’t I realize that before?”

Charles regarded me with a pained expression. “Indeed, Mrs Watson, if only you had, we might not have been forced to enact this charade and upset Eddie so.”

BOOK: The Sherlock Holmes Megapack: 25 Modern Tales by Masters: 25 Modern Tales by Masters
6.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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