Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Story Time #4: The Adventure of the Whistling Ghost

Hello and welcome to another my home-grown, completely mine, no-taking-from-these-please-thanks stories. Today's is something you may have read mentioned in other posts before Christmas, my own attempt at writing a faithful Conan Doyle style Sherlock Holmes story with an original plot by me. Here I give you the first 1500 words as (hopefully) a treat. If you have any comments on the story here, please leave them below. Right, now cast your mind back to Christmas, it's a cold winter night, you're sitting in front of a cracking open fire (maybe chestnuts are roasting) and you pick up this story (pretend it's an old leather-bound book rather than on a computer screen) and read...

                                 The Adventure of the Whistling Ghost

Of all the cases that I have chronicled over the years few have been as striking as the strange affair at Vortigern House. A tale of mystery, intrigue and tragedy, I always wished to recount it to my reading public but I solemnly promised I would refrain from doing so to the participants of the case at its culmination. However, this sanction has now been lifted upon the sad death of the head of the family whose daughter has allowed for me to release it now.
It was Christmas 1889, and London was full of festive cheer. Although not a particular advocate of the additional festivities that have adorned the special day of late, I could not help being moved by the rosy glow on all the fair city’s citizens I passed. Everyone seemed to be taking Christmas to heart. I went under this jovial supposition until I reached Baker Street, the abode of my dear friend, Mr Sherlock Holmes.
My wife Mary was away on a visit for the week and so I had decided to stay with Holmes until she returned. When I arrived I found Mrs Hudson had decked my friend’s rooms in colourful paper decorations which made Holmes’s languorous figure, draped over the sofa and attired in his favourite dressing gown, rather incongruous.
‘This Christmas has been frightfully full of tedium, Watson,’ he told me, once I had settled back into my old lodgings. ‘Do you remember that year when we were blessed with that case of the Blue Carbuncle in the goose? Of course you do, you chronicled it in the Strand, I believe. Well, this year has brought no such case. I have had nothing brought to me. No improbable murder, nor seemingly-illogical theft, nor even a simple cipher to crack. I curse the lack of good crime this season brings.’

‘Oh, Holmes,’ I retorted. ‘What about good will to all men?’
‘If good will at this time of year means no crime then I say goodbye to Christmas!’
‘You know, you sound like Dicken’s very own Ebeneezer Scrooge.’
Holmes glanced at me with the smallest fraction of a smile. ‘Bah humbug.’
‘Well, if there’s no case to be had then why not visit your brother? Christmas is meant to be about surrounding oneself with loved ones and you haven’t seen him since that ghastly business with the Angel of Trafalgar Square last June.’
Holmes merely snorted at my suggestion and I was about to further my point when the doorbell peeled, causing my friend to bolt into an alert position like a dog who had just sniffed an interesting scent.

‘Could it be, Watson, that the Ghost of Christmas Present has brought me a gift after all?’

Momentarily, the door to our study opened and a young dark-haired woman dressed in fine clothes entered. Her apparel and overall well-kempt appearance told that she was a woman with wealth in her family.

As I rose to greet her and show her to a chair, I noticed a sly smile crease Holmes’ face. ‘I trust that your problem is important as you have made the journey from Kent and left the arms of your beloved to come here.’

The young girl looked astounded. ‘I don’t understand. Has my mother sent you a telegram?’

‘No, my dear, I merely deduced it. I noticed, as you sat down, the soil on your shoes is both fresh and of unmistakeable Kentish origin – you remember Watson that I once wrote a short monograph on the subject - while your betrothal I assumed from your stature.’

‘My stature, sir?’

‘Yes. Although you recently suffered a period of strife - the slight, probably unconscious hanging of your head tells me that – you still hold yourself with that singular confidence which only those in the first throws of love have.’ I was a little astounded myself at this as Holmes very rarely touched upon the subject of love. It had always occurred to me that such feelings were alien to him but now and again he would mention something that shed a dim light on his soul.

‘Well, Mr Holmes, I see that Dr Watson does not exaggerate your genius in his stories. Maybe you can work out what on Earth is happening to my family.’ The girl paused here, as if she were struggling to speak. ‘Mr Holmes, my house is being haunted by a phantom.’

The girl saw the sceptical – almost mocking look – on my friend’s face. Regular readers of these incoherent memoirs may remember our previous client who claimed to be pursued by the supernatural in the form of a Hound which had of course turned out to be a very mortal mutt. Holmes had not believed in such superstition then and clearly was not about to now.

‘Then if it is not a phantom, how can a man disappear into thin air?’

My friend’s expression changed. ‘Pray tell us what has happened from the start. Leave no detail untold.’

‘Well, my name is Rosemary White and I am from Kent as you correctly guessed. My father, Ignatius White, came into some wealth before my birth and so my childhood was one of privilege and happiness, passing with little strife or turmoil. However, the last few weeks have contained enough for a lifetime.

‘I have lived all nineteen years of my life in a manor house near Rochester, it is known as Vortigern House; an old place with much history. The traditional owners, the Vortigern family ruled over the parish for generations and are still remembered locally for their ruthless, unkind treatment of the townsfolk. Many stories have evolved around the Vortigerns and their house; some say the old Lord Vortigern’s ghost still haunts it. A short while ago I would have laughed at the idea but not now.
‘Sometime during the last month, one night I heard the strangest sound; a long, high whistling. At first I thought it merely the wind blowing throw the trees outside my window, but it was too melodious; a melancholic almost morose tune which left me full of dread. I left my room to alert someone but everyone was already awake having heard the same peculiar noise, like it had echoed through the house. We sent men around the house to find the culprit but they found nothing inside or when they searched the grounds. This certainly unsettled my mother and me but nowhere near as profoundly as my father. He fell into a terrible nervous state of which was most troubling to me for I had not seen my father, who is usually so strong and not in the least superstitious, so terrified.
‘I see,’ interjected Holmes. ‘Ms White, could you repeat this ominous whistling now for me? It would help to imagine the scenario.’
‘Yes, of course,’ the girl answered, before licking her lips and beginning the tune. If the girl’s impersonation was correct, I can understand how a grown man may be quake from it. It was a beautiful melody indeed, but thoroughly haunting.
‘Thank you, Ms White.’ Holmes nodded. ‘Continue.’
‘Well gradually, throughout the week, mother and I restored him to almost full health but exactly seven days after the first, at midnight, we all heard the same morose tune and again found no soul anywhere in the grounds. This, of course, sent my father back to his previous state. The whistling has been heard twice more since, my father now refuses to leave the house. The strain of looking after my father and the fear of what kind of power could transform one usually so stout into a nervous wreck any time he hears it is taking its toll on my mother – we have had to call of our visit to my aunt as she is bedridden with worry.’
The girl hesitated here, for a second or so her youth showed and she looked most vulnerable. ‘It is all a grate strain on my mind; it feels like the world is ceasing to make any sense. Thank God I have Marcus. That is Marcus Adams; my fiancée of three months whom you guessed existed earlier.’ The young woman reddened slightly in the cheeks before climaxing her story. ‘We have called the police but they have found nothing. My father, a proud man, wished not for you, Mr Holmes and Dr Watson, to get involved, but it is on my mother’s insistence that I come to you today as the ghost comes every week on this day. Please, will you help us, Mr Holmes?’
Sherlock Holmes sat still in his chair a few moments before replying; ‘How could I refuse such a most singular case with several interesting features. We will accompany you on the first train back to Kent.’ As I glanced at my friend, I noticed an excited glint in his eye that I was so familiar with when Holmes had a case on his hands. As the man himself would say ‘the game is afoot!’

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