From the Diary of Doctor J. Watson
It took us another two days to reach the village of Blurghau, by which time the three of us were exhausted. Even Holmes, with his customary lightness of step, was clearly feeling the strain of jigging about on a rib-rattling locomotive. Thankfully, the short trip to the inn was a more comfortable affair and the coachman was kind enough to furnish us with blankets to cover our legs as we rode the half-mile or so from the tiny rail station to our lodgings.
“Ah, good evening,” said Holmes, approaching a wizened crone in the entrance hall. “I believe we are expected?”
The little woman nodded several times and bade my companion sign the register.
“I vonder vich von of you ist ze great detectif?”
“That would be me, madam,” said Holmes, scrawling his signature across the dusty parchment.
An old man with a bushy moustache appeared from the kitchen and bowed to us. He looked at Holmes, at me and at Mary, then he glanced at his wife. Turning back to Holmes, he said, “Ze Eenglish – zey are broadminded, ey?” And he gave a girlish giggle.
“What does he mean?” I muttered.
The great detective cleared his throat. “Ah, well.” He looked at Mary. “As I was not expecting your husband to bring you along, my dear, I’m rather afraid we may have a slight difficulty vis a vis the bedroom arrangements.”
I sighed. “You only booked one room, didn’t you?” I felt Mary’s hand on my arm and for a moment I held my breath, expecting the usual invective. However, when she spoke, her voice was light and cheerful:
“That’s alright, Sherl, Johnnie and I’ll be fine in the bed – you can sleep on the sofa.” She looked at the innkeeper. “You do have a sofa?”
The old man nodded, his facial hair twitching.
“That’s settled, then.” And with that, she took the man’s arm and set off up the stairs. “Don’t forget to bring the bags up, dear.”
When they had disappeared from view, I thumped my companion on the arm. “Dash it all, Holmes, you are the limit.”
He grinned. “Really? How lovely.”
I stared at him for a long moment, waiting for his ridiculously wide smile to diminish, but being the consummate actor, he held onto it with great aplomb.
At some point during the night, I was awoken by a curious sound. At first, I thought it must be Mary snoring, but then I recalled that Holmes was curled up on the sofa in the corner. Sitting up in bed, I peered through the gloom towards where the man himself should have been sleeping, but even in the poor light, I could see the blankets were in a heap on the floor.
Creeping across the room, I made for the French windows that opened onto a small balcony. Sliding through the gap, I stepped across to where Holmes was leaning on the balustrade, humming some sort of a melancholic folk tune to himself.
“Can’t sleep, old boy?” I said.
He shook his head. “Not a wink, which is why I was able to discern a strange noise a few moments age.” He pointed towards the ground. “There, Watson – you see it?”
I stared into the darkness but could make out nothing except the walls of the inn. “What am I looking for?”
Holmes held a finger to his lips then resumed his rendition of the strange melody, moving slowly along the length of the balcony as he did so. Then suddenly, his arm shot out like a bolt of lightning. “There, Watson!”
I leaned over the balcony and caught the merest glimpse of a dark shape scuttling across the wall beneath us. What the fu – ”
But Holmes had already straightened up and lifted his Meerschaum to his lips. “Too late, Watson. It’s gone.” He tightened the cord of his polka dot pyjamas and spent a moment lighting his pipe before speaking again. “That tune, Watson? You recognised it, I take it?”
I shrugged. “Heard it before, somewhere, perhaps…”
“It’s an old Romanian folk song. I play it sometimes on the violin. Traditionally, it’s often used by peasants to ward off evil spirits.”
“I doubt it.” He narrowed his eyes. “I may have been a little hasty earlier, old friend. If what I saw just now was not some trick of the light, I think we may have a problem.”
I felt a tightening in my nether regions. “What sort of problem, Holmes?”
“The sort of problem that requires stakes.” He cast me a sharp look. “You did bring stakes as per my message, didn’t you?”
I nodded. “Of course Holmes – T-bones, rib-eyes and a couple of pork chops.”
“Ah. Then we might have an even bigger problem…”