The Affair of the Ghastly HorrorRelated with abject apologies to the shade of Sir Arthur Conant Doyle,
and all lovers of good literature.
This tale was perpetrated by Fred Cartan. The listener will be surprised to learn that all characters, or, well, most of them are dogs. This is an eccentricity of the author, likely due to insufficient cerebral blood circulation or some such cause. However, we're stuck with them. We hope the listener understands.
You probably have read my literary descriptions of the great works of Rudyard Shepherd, the world's greatest private investigator. This judgement is not mine, but his, and cannot be in question, since he is known to be an utterly truthful dog.
I'll tell you of Rudyard Shepherd's investigations in the affair at Ghastly House, of which there have been many rumors of late, but little truth. It began, September 12th last, when Rudyard burst into my sitting room just as I was about to bite into a large grilled sausage.
"Drop that revolting banger," he said. "Your waistline is already somewhat too ample. Besides, I have a new investigation that may interest your readers." He removed two books and the stein of dark ale that were on the seat of my best chair. He dumped the books on the floor and set himself in the chair and the ale on the table within a comfortable reach.
"Two days ago," he started, "I received a visit from Scotland Yard's finest, Detective Inspector Hamish MacTerrier. MacTerrier suggested that I might be interested in an unusual occurance at Ghastly Hall, about 30 miles outside London.
"'Never,' I told him. 'I abhor boring routine criminal activity.'
"'Well,' said MacTerrier, 'Criminal it may be, but routine or boring it is not. Three dogs are dead, with horrible wounds, Sir Quodmond Ghastly and two of his workerdogs. The odd thing is that the crime was impossible. I can find no way the crime could have been committed.'
"'MacTerrier,' I said, 'you know my weakness. I'll do what I can. Give me the details.'
MacTerrier began. 'Sir Quodmond was a known eccentric. You know, seeking youth potions, growing giant flowers and that sort of thing. There were even tales that, when younger, he had experimented with the growth of giant hens and other beasts. Obviously the sort of local twaddle one would expect.
'His staff said the he had begun trading in exotic herbs and biologicals as a hobby and a source for other like-minded experimentalists. He and his two helpers were unloading some bales of dried herbs in his storehouse.
'The storehouse was a former stable. There was a loft inside where hay had been stored. It was now used to store his stock. The walls were of stone at least twenty to thirty feet high and quite solid. The roof was copper and was undamaged. There were two doors, a large one, that was the principal entrance and a small side door. The only other opening was a high window hinged at the top, at least twenty feet from the floor.
'It was Friday evening, when Sir Quodmond customarily paid his staff. He had a desk in one corner of the building where he kept his records and we found some coin and his account book open on it.
'A late delivery of the dried herbs arrived and Sir Quodmond asked two of his staff to help him unload them and put them away. The driver left when the bales were removed from his wagon but he did not see them put away. He saw nothing out of order.
'At eight o'clock the staff brought his dinner. It was dark. They knocked on the small door but got no answer. He was customarily prompt in answering the knock so the staff became alarmed. The door was barred and the other, larger door was also barred. After a few minutes with no answer, the staff brought axes and lanterns and cut open the small door. The bar was still in place but they managed to enter and remove it.
'When they entered, they found Sir Quodmond and the two workerdogs on the floor of the building, dead from broken necks and horrible slashes on their bodies. They guarded the area and sent one of their number for the constable. He notified us by telegraph. The other door was still barred and the high window appeared to be closed. There were no ladders or other means by which even an agile dog could climb to the window.
'When we searched the victims, we found a tapered length of horny material caught in the belt buckle of one of the victims. What it is, or what it means I cannot tell you.
'We can find no motive for the horrible crime. The coin, including some gold sovereigns was untouched. Sir Quodmond, in spite of his eccentricities, was well-liked. We could discover no one with a motive for this butchery.'
"'Excellent work, MacTerrier,' I told him. 'However I would like to see the scene of the crimes for myself.'
"So three hours later, we were at Ghastly House. It was as my files had described. The Hall itself was of stone with a metallic roof, typical of English Great Halls in this area. The building in which the crime was committed, once a stable, was attached to the main hall.
"The grounds however, were not typical. There were some limited areas of fields and grazing land but the greater part was impenetrable brush and forest. Several small streams fed into the river near the Hall, forming a large swampy area.
"The area could have hidden all sorts of things; indeed, the local farmers believed that area concealed a beast, known as the 'Horror', that was supposed to have carried off and devoured sheep and cattle from neighboring farms. When I mentioned this belief to MacTerrrier, he snorted, 'Hah, every farmer blames his losses to mythic beasts. Each county has several. When we check, all we find are hungry crofters or thieving butchers.'
"I then checked the crime scene. It was as MacTerrier had described. There was a stack of coin on the desk. There were a number of other papers including the invoice for the bales of dried herbs that had been delivered. According to the invoice the herbs were Ilex Paraguariensis, Mentha, Nepentha Cataria, and Thea Sinensis. I looked at the bales stored in the loft. All were there, but one of the bales had been ripped open and its contents scattered about. The others were untouched.
"There was a rope hanging near the desk. I noted that it appeared to be a bell rope. I pulled it, but heard nothing. But a few moments later, one of the servants from the house appeared, asking 'What is wanted?' He explained that the bell sounded in the servants quarters and that Sir Quodmond had expected prompt response when it rang.
"There were signs that the building had been used for temporary confinement of some sheep. The Ghastly Hall staff confirmed that a sick ewe had been kept in the building overnight to facilitate treatment. They confirmed, however, that it had been removed the day of the crime.
"I inspected the doors closely and the grounds around the building. Next I obtained a ladder and inspected the high window. I noted some odd scratches on the window sill. The window was hinged at the top and swung outwards. It could be held open with a chain and ring that was operated from the wall beneath the window. I tested its operation and found that a sharp blow on the window would cause the ring to slip from its restraining peg, allowing the window to close.
"'What was the weather the night of the crime?' I asked MacTerrier. 'Warm,' he replied, 'and humid.'
"'Ah', I told him, 'The final piece of the puzzle. I know how the crime was committed and the identity of the fiendish murderer.'
"'But who is it?', he asked. I told him, 'Later, it will all become clear. But first we must trap the killer and end his crimes. I have some instructions for you that should finish our task.'
"'Quite odd,' he said. 'I don't understand these at all but as you have proven to be right so often, they will be carried out to the last detail.'
"'Now,' I told him, 'I must return to London to fetch my friend, Forebassett, and we will return this evening and conclude this affair.'
"Those were the details of my visit. Now, old hound, we must return to Ghastly Hall and finish our work. In a way, it will be in your line. Bring a coat, your dark lantern, and your fine elephant gun with a handful of cartridges."
We were soon on our way. Rudyard was, as usual, uncommunicative about his plans, but knowing his ways, I confined myself to a single question. "Who is the killer?" I asked him.
"The crime was unnatural," he said, "and so is the killer. Do not be impatient, old friend, all will soon be clear. All you need do is follow my instructions."
It was becoming dark when we arrived at Ghastly Hall. MacTerrier was waiting for us. "All is ready," he told us. Ghastly Hall house staff then provided us with sandwiches and tea which we promptly downed.
"It is time for us to take our place," Rudyard said. We went into the old building where the murders had taken place. I lit the dark lantern and took my place in the chair at the desk. Rudyard loaded cartridges into both chambers of the elephant gun and leaned against the wall beside me.
"We must be quiet," he said. "It may be a while, but the killer will come. When I nudge you with my foot, open the lantern door."
It was quiet and dark. The room was filled with the smell of burning wax from the lantern and the musty fragrances of the stored herbs. For almost an hour there was no sound. Then I heard some soft noise that seemed to be coming from the open high window.
I felt Rudyard nudge me and I threw open the dark lantern. In the light from the lantern we could see a dark form and two widely spaced blazing eyes. There were two flashes and deafening reports as Rudyard fired both barrels of the Belchly 600 Express.
There was a crash and, in the light from the lantern, we could see a huge black beast on the floor. It thrashed about in its death agonies and finally was still. We drew close. It was at least twelve feet long with a great tail, at least half again as long. It's fur was coal black. By the broad nose, slitted pupils, short ears and obvious predatory nature it appeared to be of the genus Felis, though one of monstrous size, even for the larger members of that genus.
There was a loud call at the door and it was flung open. MacTerrier burst into the room with drawn pistol followed by half a dozen stout lawdogs carrying torches. "By the great Fido," he said, "What is this?"
"The Ghastly Horror," Rudyard said. "And also the murderer of Sir Quodmond and his workerdogs."
"Amazing," MacTerrier said, "But how do you know it killed them?"
"Simple logic," Rudyard said. "First, this could be no simple robbery and murder. You remember that there was a stack of gold sovereigns on the work table, in plain view when the servants finally were able to break in. No thieves would have missed them.
"Second, you were right in your belief that no one could have easily left the room, since both doors were closed on the inside with heavy beams. The only other access was by the high window, fully twenty feet from the floor. A ladder could have been used to enter and leave, but it would have taken time for a killer or killers to enter. No ladder was found when the servants entered some few minutes later.
"Thirdly, there was no evidence of the use of firearms. The workdogs were a stout lot, and you remember that there were weapons, such as axes and pitchforks that they could have used to defend themselves. Remember too, that the alarm bell rope was still in place and operating. They could easily have summoned assistance but no alarm was given. No dog or group of criminal dogs could have done it.
"Obviously then, the attack came through the high window. It would have been open in the warm night as we had left it tonight. The attack must have been sudden and overwhelming. Only something strong enough to jump through the window and fast enough to kill them before an alarm was raised or before they could defend themselves could commit such a crime. Only something that strong could leap up and leave through the window. Obviously, it brushed against the window as it left causing the window to swing closed."
"Amazing work," I said. "But Rudyard, how did you know it would be a huge cat?"
"Again, by the simple operation of logic. Only a huge cat or some related species would have the strength and agility needed and the claws and evil nature needed to kill three adult dogs. And of course, the wounds and broken necks of the victims are typical of a large cat.
"Further, you remember that Sir Quodmond was rumored to have experimented with abhorrent methods of increasing the size of animals and plants. This beast, I suspect, was the result of one of his experiments and the cause of his death. A beast this size would need much food, which may account for the missing sheep and cattle. The smell of the sheep kept until recently in this building would have attracted it here. It was undoubtedly nocturnal, but it's occasional sighting would account for the rumors of the Ghastly Horror.
"But there were other clues. Remember the odd piece of horn found stuck in the belt buckle of one of the unlucky workdogs. It was, without doubt, broken from one of the cat's claws when he attacked the workerdog.
"And finally, a most conclusive bit of evidence. Remember that one and only one of the bales of dried herbs was ripped open and scattered about. Do you know which it was? MacTerrier, examine the label on the wrapping and tell us what it says!"
MacTerrier retrieved the wrapping from the ripped bale and brought it to the light. "It reads 'Nepenta Cateria'," he replied. "But what does it mean?"
Rudyard smiled. "It is catnip, Detective Inspector, common catnip."
"But Rudyard," I asked. "How did you know the Horror would return tonight?"
"It was the good work of MacTerrier," he said. "You notice that there is the hide of a freshly butchered lamb in the corner. The smell of the blood and the odor of catnip would surely draw a cat."
MacTerrier said, "All well and good, but I would be happier if there were physical evidence to prove it attacked the victims."
"Easily done," Rudyard said. "Your evidence will be on its hind claws." He pointed to the block and tackle used to hoist goods into the loft of the building. "The rear claws are now under the body. Have your lawdogs lash the hook to the end of its tail and hoist it to the ceiling so we can examine the beast's rear claws. As I'm sure you know, a cat uses its rear claws to slash its victims."
This was swiftly done and Rudyard examined the rear claws, now possible because the body was lifted by its tail. "See here," he said, "a broken claw. I'm sure you'll find that it matches the fragment of claw you found in the workers belt buckle."
"One final item," he added. "Come with me!"
He climbed the ladder to the loft of the building and we followed. He walked over to where the hook of the block and tackle was lashed about the caudal appendage of the beast. He pointed to it with a gloved hand.
"Without doubt," he said, "This is the end of a tall tale."