AU ~ Conan-Doyle
By Sammy Girl
PERSONAL DIARY - CHRISTOPHER LARABEE
February 24th - 25th 1896
If I don't write this down I will never get it all straight in my head, as I sit here, for the very first time in my life I found my hand shaking as I picked up my pen. Even now I can't fully come to terms with what has happened. I must set it down, plot it out logically - for if I do not have my logic, I have nothing. It has been logic that has preserved my sanity. By embracing logic over emotion, I have survived the unsurvivable. Yet even now it deserts me.
Ezra set out just after six, he rode the bay. We - myself, Buck and Sanchez, followed on foot at a safe distance, since it was more than possible Stubbs was watching out for his victim. I was confident while he was on hors
back he was safe. Josiah insisted on coming with us, I was opposed. Buck and I know our job; we were both in the military once. But Sanchez insisted.
"Henry," that was the first time he had said 'Henry' without the 'sir', "was my particular friend, and I will have a hand in the downfall of his murderer and keep my promise to him to watch out for his heir."
He is a big man, a country doctor who does a good deal of walking and riding, and thus is fairly fit. Moreover he is not a man who it is easy to say no to. When he wants to be, the good doctor can be most imposing. Buck and I were armed with our service revolvers, the doctor with his shotgun. I was about to ask if there was a revolver in the house Ezra could carry, when from nowhere he had a tiny twin barrel pistol in his hand.
"A Derringer sir," he explained, " not very accurate but powerful enough." The tiny gun was attached to a spring-loaded device that strapped to the underside of his right arm under his jacket. By flexing his arm muscles he can deliver the weapon into his hand, very useful!
If the night had been as it was last night everything would have gone to plan, but Dartmoor is the devil's playground alright, for he sent a fog to confound us. When Ezra left it was clear and bright, the near full moon illuminating the moor. If it had not been, I would not have let him start out. By the time the three of us left, fog was already forming in the hollows. We walked in near silence, each of us glancing around at the ever thickening fog and straining to hear the slightest noise. At one point we thought the hound was following us, but it turned out to be a lone pony. Buck scared him away with a few well aimed pebbles - it was for his own good. The fog thickened, and it got colder, the damp seeping into our clothing and numbing the senses. Once we neared the house we circled away from the path to try to see into the windows of the principal rooms. One was well illuminated but although the curtains were drawn back the glass was misted up and we could see only shadowy figures moving in the room. Time passed slowly, we huddled in the cold outside, miserable and damp, but we would not have exchanged places with Ezra, his lot was far more uncomfortable. Seven o'clock came and went, then eight.
"Courage Sir Ezra," I heard Sanchez whisper, willing the young baronet to venture forth upon his perilous journey home.
As if in answer to his plea, the door opened, light spilled out onto the cobbles in front of the house. As we watched Stubbs fetched the horse, which was clearly lame. There was conversation and the horse was led back into the stables. Ezra shook hands with his host and then stepped through the gate and onto the moor. I clearly saw him take a calming breath before stepping out. That was our cue. Buck turned and left. He was to walk ahead of Ezra, close enough to hear trouble but far enough ahead that if Stubbs was watching he wouldn't be seen. In this, the fog was our ally for it meant Buck could be much closer than we had anticipated. Dr Sanchez and I followed, but we had to fan out and keep back from the path where Stubbs could not see us. In the fog, over the rough ground with no lamp we were hard pressed to keep up with Ezra, who was walking quickly - and who could blame him. Nevertheless we had our guns ready and could hear his footfall and tuneless whistling.
The creature came out of nowhere. It cut across in front of me so fast I almost didn't register what it was. I had an impression only of a huge dark mass streaking in front of me. There was the sound of its breathing and a strong 'hound' odour, its huge paws making dull thumps on damp turf as is sped past. And then before I could shout a warning, I heard Ezra cry out, there was the report of what must have been his Derringer, because it didn't sound like Buck's revolver. There was a canine yelp but the snarling and cries of pain did not stop. I was running now, shouting to everyone. I could hear the others approaching but Ezra was suddenly silent. When I arrived on the scene Buck was already there, his revolver trained on the dog.
"Shoot it!" I bellowed.
"I can't get a shot, I'll hit Ezra," he shouted back.
"Oh hell," I said - well I think I said it, I certainly thought it. Then I ran forward and grabbed the beast's tail and pulled. I shouted at it, I even kicked it to get its attention. The hound swung its huge head around and snapped at me as I let go of its tail and jumped back. In that second I heard Buck's gun, the dog yelped, and turned to Buck, but it didn't go down. It was preparing to charge Buck when Josiah's shot gun exploded. The creature was literally lifted up off the ground by the force of the blast, landing in a tangled bloody mass across Ezra's legs. It twitched, and I shot it myself, after that it lay still. As I recall it now, it was a large dog, the size of a Great Dane, its coat - what there was left and not covered in blood, was mostly black with some tan, it's ears were cropped into points and strangely its hackles seemed to grow backwards.
Buck was pulling the body off Ezra as Josiah just stared at it, the shotgun still in his hands.
"Help," Buck called, "I need help here."
We were both galvanised into action. I took over pulling the carcass away, while the two doctors tended to Ezra. It was only after I had briefly examined the dog's body, that I realised Ezra wasn't moving.
"Is he ?" I asked.
"He's alive, " Buck confirmed. "Looks like he hit his head on a boulder in the struggle, he's got some bites on his shoulder, but this heavy coat took a lot of damage - probably saved his life."
I told the two doctors to get him back to the Hall, while I went in search of Stubbs. Buck protested that it was too dangerous to go alone, Josiah that he wanted to be there when Stubbs was brought down. But Ezra needed to be got back to the Hall as fast as possible and while they are both strong men, over rough ground, at night in the fog, it was going to take the both of them - and they knew it. The Hippocratic oath won out and they concentrated on getting Standish ready to be moved, while I headed back to High Tor House. Stubbs had undoubtedly heard the shots, so I knew he would be ready for me.
The house was in darkness as I approached; even the lamp that had hung in the stable was out. With my gun at the ready I crept into the stable. The bay mare watched me from a stall, another horse, a blaze faced black, tried to bite me as I passed. There was no one and no sign of a kennel. It was then that I realised what a fool I had been. The hound didn't come from the house. It cut across my path, so he must have been keeping it some place on the tor. No doubt there are caves up there, and when there is time I shall seek out the place he used to house the poor creature. It was very thin, the dog, thin and no doubt much abused to make it so vicious. Stubbs I realised must have left the house almost as soon as Ezra to release the hound. On hearing the shots he must have headed in that direction to see what had happened. What a fool I was.
I ran back toward the bloody scene I had just left. Slowing as I approached I saw a figure prodding the dogs corpse with his boot, he had a gun.
"It's over Stubbs or is it Standish? John Standish?" I called, "You can't win, you'll never get the money, even if he dies, you won't get a penny."
He ducked down, gun at the ready.
"Maybe so, but I will have the title and I shall have my revenge on the family that drove my grandfather into poverty and exile just because they didn't like his choice of bride." His voice sounded unnatural, too fast, -madness?
"Sir Ezra didn't do that, nor did Sir Henry, they are innocent." As I spoke I edged around the small cluster of boulders I was hiding behind to get a better view of him without exposing myself.
"They're all guilty, all of them, with their money and their so called high morals."
If I needed more proof he was mad I had it now. I almost had the drop on him, when a sudden patch of particularly thick fog rolled in; I couldn't see so much as the hand in front of my face. All I could do was wait and listen and hope it would clear. When it did he was gone; I could hear his footfalls moving away from me. As I set out to follow I became aware that it was increasingly wet under foot. Mrs Jackson's warnings about the mires came back to me, and just as they did Stubbs voice drifted to me through the fog.
"This is Hound mire, I've seen ponies drown in here, oh they struggle, sometimes for hours, but it sucks them down eventually. I know the safe path, I can do it blind folded, but you? Oh no you are doomed to fail, farewell Mr Larabee." His parting gift was a shot, he was shooting blind but I heard it pass me.
Slower now I pressed on, feeling my way with my toes, looking for heather, rather than cotton grass. It was slow going in the pale, fog-filtered moonlight, ahead of me I occasionally heard a wet footfall. Then there was an anguished cry of total horror.
It took time to find him; I was in no hurry to drown in a Devon bog! I could hear him ahead of me, calling for help, and the squelching sucking sound. For all his boasting it was he who had fallen into the mire. It is one thing to claim you can do something blindfold, and another to actually do it. When I finally reached him he was up to his chest in the clawing black soup, every time he tried to reach the relative stability of a mound of heather he sank a fraction of an inch further down.
"Get me out!" he shrieked hysterically. My first instinct was to reach for him; I was half way there, holding out my hand to him when I stopped. "I can't reach, you have to get closer," he urged, but I stood up. "What are you doing?" he asked, making a feeble attempt to get to me and only sinking himself deeper.
"Why should I save you?" I asked.
"You have to - please, you have to, in the name of God, please." he pleaded.
"In the name of God?" I stormed. "How dare you call upon the name of God? After the evil you have perpetrated, you expect me to save you in God's name - God will not have you, he will turn you away," I taunted.
And all the time I asked myself why should I save him? So he can hang? But would he? The evidence was thin, mostly circumstantial, nothing rock solid; the dog wasn't even living at his property. Is death by dog counted as murder, after all Sir Henry died of heart failure? I could not let this man go on hurting people. When Buck suggested I become a detective I had thought he meant join the police, I should have known he knew me better than that. I could never be a policeman, that means enforcing the law - and that is not what I want. I want justice - justice and the law are not the same thing at all. If I ever find out who murdered my family, I do not want the vagaries of the law to deal with them - I will deal with them, and no one else!
My thoughts were broken into by another plea from Stubbs as he sank lower. "Please, I beg you man, please, not like this."
"No," I said, "I will not save you. You turned nature against your fellow man, now it will have you. You think just because your grandfather was disinherited you have the right to exact revenge on his heirs?" I thought of Buck, of the taunts he endured at school, of the giggles and whispers behind his back, the real curtsies that he finds embarrassing and the mock curtsies he endures in silence. And Ezra, for all his airs and graces he is not a man used to high living, I get the feeling life has been fairly tough on young Ezra, his father was also disinherited after all. That damn family has no luck at all! Maybe it is cursed, but the devil's hound is in the heart of his men folk, not out here on the moor. For all their hardships, their social unacceptance, Buck and Ezra are good men; they do not seek revenge on innocent people for long past wrongs. The law may not call Sir Henry's death murder or the attacks on Sir Ezra and young Tanner attempted murder, but I do, and the penalty for murder is death.
"Well to hell with you!" He yelled and suddenly I was facing the gun I had forgotten he had. I had no time to bring my own weapon to bear as he fired. I ducked down, expecting to feel the bullet tear into me, but nothing happened, as I looked on in horror I realised his gun's barrel had become clogged with the bog peat and had backfired into his face. He screeched and reeled back clutching his face, now a bloody mess, the sudden movement caused him to be sucked down faster and he began to sink. Too injured to do anything but clutch his face he did nothing to stop his descent, his last sound before he disappeared below the muck was half-strangled moan.
I had no time to ponder how prophetic this was, the moor he had made his ally in his private creation of hell, had claimed him in the most hellish way. But as I say I could not ponder that at the time as the ground I stood on pitched forward suddenly. I believe now that it was an overhanging turf, undermined by the mire, my weight and sudden movements had weakened it and it gave way, pitching me into the deep clawing bog. For a few seconds I struggled, until I remembered the warnings I had been given, that movement only hastens death. All I could do was stay still and pray someone came to search for me. I called for help, my voice carrying over the still moor.
"Keep calling, I'm coming," the voice was Buck's and from the sound of him he must have been close - too close as it turns out.
I called, Buck answered and eventually he found me.
"What took you so long?" I asked.
Buck just smiled. "Had to make sure we could get out of here, just like Hansel and Gretel don't you know."
He can be annoyingly cryptic at times, but then I am no one to talk on that matter. He removed his belt and kneeling on safe ground threw it to me. Eventually he managed to pull me to safety, no mean feat with the bog trying to suck me back in all the time. We both lay on the close cropped turf and heather, panting and coughing.
"Hell," I panted, "that was too close."
"Stubbs?" he asked.
"Dead," I confirmed.
"Good," was his only response.
Eventually we pulled each other up - I should have known then, how did I not know? Buck, I found, had used his clasp knife to cut his handkerchief into strips, which he had tied to the heather as he passed so we could negotiate our way out of the bog. So centred on that were we, that I didn't notice him limping until we were well on our way back. At first it was just a limp, he dismissed it, but it quickly got worse and he was dragging his left leg. If it had not been for the fog, we could have seen the house when he stumbled and fell. He just lay there, making no attempt to move, breathing in short gasps through clenched teeth. I dropped to my knees beside him. I was about to ask what was wrong, when I realised he was clutching his thigh. My own hand went instantly to the same point, and as soon as it did I felt the unmistakable, warm stickiness of fresh blood.
"What the hell?" I breathed. I was going to ask him what had happened when I realised he was now unconscious, the hands clutching the bloody leg went slack.
But I am not ashamed of the wall of sheer fear and total uncontrollable panic that came over me, I can carry Buck, but not far and not very fast, and I had no real idea what was wrong. After begging him not to leave me, I pulled my gun and fired three evenly spaced shots into the air and prayed someone at the Hall heard and understood. Than I set about trying to see where all the blood was coming from.
By the time JD rode up on the pony, I had found a hole in Buck's thigh large enough to get my finger into and fashioned a bandage from my shirtsleeves. At the time I shouted at the poor boy for bringing the pony not a horse. Now I know why, at night, in the fog, a horse could easily put a foot in a rabbit hole, the native ponies are naturally sure footed, with an instinctive feel for the moor, he was right and I was wrong, I will apologise to him.
JD explained that Doctor Sanchez had used the billiard table, with its powerful overhead lamps, as an operating table, just as Buck had. So that is where we carried him, shouting as we came. There was no need, Nathan and Josiah were there waiting. I was carrying Buck's shoulders, JD his legs. Nathan stepped up.
"Let me have him sir," he said. I refused.
I didn't want to be separated from Buck. I wanted to touch him, to maintain contact. Until I saw him, lying unmoving on the turf I had not ever considered that Buck would be taken from me, that I could lose him like I lost Sarah. I was afraid I was about to lose something I didn't even realise I had, I could still lose it, I'm still terrified.
"Sir, you're filthy, you can't come in like that," Nathan explained. I didn't register what he was saying, I had forgotten I was covered in the mud and filth from my dunking in the mire. I remember protesting that I had to stay with him, and refusing to let go. Than huge hands were on me, strength in the grip I have never experienced before, they physically pulled me from Buck.
"Let go," Sanchez commanded, "go to the scullery, wash, put some clean clothes on, come back in your shirt sleeves."
There was something about his tone, something that demanded attention. Finally I tore my eyes away from the seemingly lifeless form in my arms, and looked at him, I don't know for how long I stared at him before I nodded at him and let Jackson take him.
I have never washed or change so fast in all my life. But I was thorough, I do not want to hurt him further by giving him some kind of infection, I scrubbed my fingernails with a small coarse brush I found until the tips of my fingers bled - I hardly noticed. I never in all that time so much as gave a thought as too how Ezra was. I didn't even tell Sanchez that Stubbs was dead. I had but one thought. When I returned Buck had been stripped of his clothing, and lay on his back on the billiard table - it will need new baize that is for sure. He was covered with a sheet, but for his left leg. A folded towel had replaced my crude dressing and the strong arm of Nathan Jackson - now wearing a starched white apron and rolled sleeves. Sanchez was laying out instruments on the edge of the table. As I watched the thick towel Nathan held was already half saturated in blood.
"Can I help?" I asked, my voice so low and hoarse I hardly recognised it.
"Can you do as I tell you?" the doctor asked. I said I could. "Can you do it without question, no matter what?" I said yes and prayed it was no lie. "Then be ready to take over from Nathan."
I looked at him and nodded. Then I walked around Jackson to be ready. Buck lay there, deathly pale, his lips almost blue.
"Chris." The voice was but a breath, not even a whisper, but I heard him, how could I not recognise that voice? Instantly I dropped down to be able to hear him.
"No morphine, you promised " he took a shuddering breath and with that his eyes fluttered and closed.
I looked up in desperation at the doctor, he placed his fingers on Buck's pale neck, and I saw reassurance in those kind, pale blue eyes.
"What did he say?" Nathan asked.
"He reminded me not to give him morphine."
Sanchez asked why and I quickly explained how he had broken an arm in India, and took a small measure of the drug - it almost killed him. He told me he couldn't breathe and his heart began to beat erratically, as he explained it, he was out in the countryside, doctoring to the villagers when it happened. He was treated by a local 'doctor' come medicine man. He doesn't know what the man gave him, but it saved his life. Since then he has avoided morphine as all costs. And he has been very lucky; I can't ever remember him being seriously injured or ill since he came back from India.
"I daren't use ether, his breathing is too shallow already, so, weak as he is, be ready to hold him down," the good doctor warned.
I have seen field surgery performed. I saw a man once, trapped by a boiler explosion, have both legs amputated - he was conscious the whole time, but it is not the same. I held the towel down, so Nathan could get ready, then we went to work. He did feel it. His head rolled, he groaned, pain etched in his face, though his eyes never opened. I wanted to say stop, but I didn't. I only realised when Buck tried to roll away from the pain that it was Jackson and not Josiah who was actually working on the wound and probing for the bullet. Josiah had admitted he was no surgeon, any protest I was about to make however was silenced by the sound of metal hitting china as Nathan dropped the blood covered misshapen hunk of lead into a bowl beside him.
"Got it," he breathed, with grim satisfaction.
That one shot Stub's fired at me through the fog, the shot I heard pass me, must have hit Buck. It would have been at almost terminal velocity, for it didn't pass through and it made a large wound so it had little spin left. Oh God how cruel is fate. One shot. Just one, and it had to hit Buck - who, being the man he is - said nothing as he pulled my sorry carcass to safety. Damn him! How dare he? He isn't a god, he knows better than most the danger he was in, why didn't he say something, why didn't he stop and put on bandage or a tourniquet sooner? Blood, there was so much blood.
I heard Nathan mutter something about a 'nicked artery' and 'bone chip' then both men were working on the wound. Buck was spent. He no longer moved or made a sound so I let go of his shoulders and held his hand, whispered in his ear, words of courage, words of strength and friendship.
I have no idea of how long I stood there with his pale hand in mine and whispering in his ear, but suddenly Josiah's hand was on my shoulder.
"Son, we're done for now." I nodded, suddenly I remembered why all this started.
"I'm sorry Josiah, I should have said - Stubbs "
"Yes?" he asked quickly.
" he's dead."
There was a moment of silence, than he asked. "Did he die easy?"
I remembered the panicked and desperate calls for help, the cries of agony as he clutched his face and sank below the surface. I shook my head. "No." I confirmed.
He didn't say anything, but I saw in his eyes he was satisfied, he would have liked to have been there but this was good enough. He went on to say that Ezra had a bad concussion and he still hadn't woken, but his bites were not too deep. I had yet to ask about Buck - I admit I was scared to know the truth. Eventually Jackson stepped back from the table, wiping his hands on the already bloody apron.
"Mr Larabee," he began, I looked up, forcing myself to look away from Buck, "that bullet, it clipped a main artery in his leg, that's why he lost so much blood, it also took off a chip from the bone before it stopped."
"The trouble is," Sanchez continued, "wound's like his, bits of cloth, clothing, is forced into the wound as well. We have done what we can to clean it out, but there is a high risk of infection " He left the statement hanging and I could feel this was not the end of the news and the worst was to come.
"Go on," I encouraged.
"He has lost too much blood, right now his heart is going so fast I can't count it, it's trying to keep what blood he has left going around his body, and it can't keep doing that for very long, he's already weak."
"So?" I asked Sanchez, a feeling a dread seeping into me.
"As things stand he will die, but " I saw him glance at Nathan, "there is something we can try. I've sent JD to my house for some equipment. We can try to replace some of the blood he's lost with saline, that's salt water," I was about to snap that I knew what 'saline' meant but stopped, he was trying to give me hope, any hope, something to hold onto. "It will dilute his blood a little, but that is better than not enough. If it works it will give his heart a rest and give his body time to replace the lost blood."
It seemed to take forever for JD to return, I know he took Chaucer, I know he rode as fast as he dare in the fog, but it still took forever. Nathan had gone to the kitchen to get the saline ready, Josiah went upstairs to check on Ezra. I just stood there and stared at him, pale, that was an understatement, he was white, all the more clear against his near black hair and moustache. I was leaning on the table, resting my head on my arms, talking to him when Josiah came in. Moving around to stand at the head of the table, my hands resting on his shoulders I watched the doctor. His hands trembled as he strapped Buck's left forearm to a splint.
"Are you alright?" I asked.
"I've only done this once, normally it would only be done in a hospital, but we are so isolated here I went to the Royal in Exeter to learn how to do it, I saw it done once, I did it once, and I've never done it since." He was almost talking to himself, it wasn't ideal, but he had made it clear he it was Buck's only chance.
"You will do fine," I assured, "I have faith in you."
Once Nathan was there, they inserted a huge needle into Buck's arm and connected it via a length of rubber tubing to a bottle with a bung in the neck and glass tube protruding from it. This bottle had an opening - secured with a second bung at the other end, as well as a handle enabling it to be hung up. Nathan set the library steps beside the table and hung the bottle from it. Now I understood, gravity would drain the fluid from the bottle into his vein.
It's dawn now; he's on the third bottle. We moved him to our room, and propped him up a little; Josiah is worried about his lungs. He's still pale, he hasn't moved or opened his eyes yet, but Sanchez says his heart rate has slowed. I pray - me praying, now there is a first, but like Ezra says, you never know - I pray he will wake soon, that this will work, and that he doesn't take a fever. He's so weak it's as if he isn't here. That is not Buck, Buck is strong, he is loud, he loves life - all life, he is brave and a tower of strength, both physical and moral. This is but a shadow of Buck, a pale reflection of the man. Where are the eyes that sparkle? Where is the ready smile? Where is the laugh that makes you smile no matter what you're feeling? I need Buck back more than I can say.
Much as I want and need to be with him, for all our sakes I must rest and then prepare to face the local constabulary - at all costs I must keep the investigation small and brief.
PERSONAL JOURNAL - JOSIAH SANCHEZ
February 25th 1896
He's dead, Stubbs, dead and in a mire - where he belongs. No nice Christian burial for him, no nice sanitised end, no marker, no mourners, nothing but a bog on a windswept moor, where no one will find him and no one will care. Larabee told me he died hard, I hope he suffered as Henry suffered, I hope he was terrified, I hope he knew he was going to die, I hope he was in agony.
I have never seen anything like that dog, it was huge. I fancy he bred it especially, I noticed it had the distinctive, back growing hackles of the African Hunting Dogs I encountered in Rhodesia, but it was bigger than any one of them, much bigger. It came out of nowhere, charging past me and into the fog. By the time I found it, it had hold of Ezra, Buck couldn't get a shot at it and so Larabee Christ I can't believe he did that! Larabee grabbed it by the tail! The man is certifiable! It did the job though, Buck got a shot off, which didn't kill it, actually I think it just made it mad! The damn thing turned on him then and I got a clear line of sight and let it have both barrels. The feeling of satisfaction as I not just despatched it but obliterated it was overwhelming at the time, now I just feel sorry for the poor creature, it was but a pawn in a much larger game. But, there is no more Hound of the Standishs.
Ezra's bites are not that bad, but the head wound worried me. He was unresponsive for hours, though his vital signs remain steady. I had to leave him however, when we heard the shots from the moor. At first we thought we heard a single shot but it was hard to tell, then some time later a second shot, equally far off, then finally a long time later, three shots, clearly a signal. JD set off instantly and returned with Larabee and Wilmington. Buck had been shot and was clearly bleeding out. I have done a lot of doctoring, but I'm a physician not a surgeon, though I have performed surgery in the past, but Nathan is remarkably skilled at this kind of injury, so I told him to lead.
There was no hope for him, unless we could replace some of the lost blood in some way, I tried saline infusion. I learn how to do it for just such an occasion but was so scared as I performed the procedure. It does seem to be working, he's still tachycardic but at least the rhythm has evened out somewhat. His temperature is up a little but the wound is only slightly inflamed, we shall see. Wilmington is going to need every last scrap of the stubbornness he has shown not to mention strength if he is to pull through this.
I left him with Larabee and returned to Sir Ezra. He still had not woken, and was restless, his brow furrows with lines of fear or pain or both, muttering occasionally, but he wouldn't open his eyes and that worried me. I was sitting beside him, trying to talk to him, to reach him, where ever it is his brain had taken him to hide, when I realised I was not the only one in the room. There in the doorway was Tanner. His bare legs sticking out from under JD's too short nightshirt, bruises and stitches evident for all to see. He was leaning on the doorframe; his less injured right arm cradling the far worse left, which he kept close to his chest. He looked white as a sheet and was trembling slightly.
"Wha's up with 'im?" he asked, and I told him. He listened but said nothing until I had finished. "''S he gonna die?" he enquired. I said if he woke up he would most likely be all right, but he didn't seem to want to come back to us.
Tanner began to move, his steps small, no more than a shuffle really, I thought to stop him, but the look of grim determination on his face told me, 'you can stand beside that young man, you can stand behind him, but don't ever stand in front of him.' Eventually he made it to the bed and I helped him to sit down. For a long time he just sat and stared at the young baronet.
Finally Tanner said "Hey Standish, time t' wake up."
To my amazment, I heard Ezra moan, and as Tanner and I watched, those long eyelashes fluttered up and revealed tired, red rimmed, jade green eyes. He frowned even more, as he tried to make sense of where he was, who was there. Finally he breathed.
"You? You're up ?""
"Ay," Tanner confirmed as he just sat there watching him.
"Why?" Ezra asked, sounding genuinely confused.
Tanner just smiled shyly. "Seem the right thing t' do, considering."
Just then I noticed young Tanner shivering.
"Come on, back to bed with you," I encouraged.
To his credit he went to stand, when Ezra reached out a shaky hand and placed it on his arm.
"Thank you," he managed to whisper before his eye closed again.
"There you go Henry," I said out loud, "he is safe and maybe, just maybe he can be happy. Though Lord you don't make it easy do you?" I added, before I helped Vin back to his own room.
PERSONAL DIARY -CHRISTOPHER LARABEE
February 25th 1896
Leaving him this morning was the worst thing I have ever done - I swear it. But for all of us it has to be done. I returned to the High Tor House, where I quickly removed any evidence that there had been more than one person there last night. I let the horse, which this time tried to kick me, into the enclosed area around the house. I threw Stub's shotgun into Hound Mire.
Most police officers in my experience are just dull and lacking even a modicum of imagination, some are plain stupid and some reasonably intelligent. If the right evidence is left - not too much mind, just enough, they will come to the conclusion you want them to come to, especially if it is neat and leaves no loose ends. The police like neatness, they like things to have a definite end, preferably one that involves little paper work.
A quick examination of the creatures corpse confirmed what I suspected, any evidence of the wounds inflicted by pistol shot were obliterated by Josiah's shotgun blast. I checked the bay mare; she was missing a shoe but was otherwise uninjured and so I rode her back to the Hall. Once there I handed the reins over to JD and raced up to see Buck - there was no change.
PERSONAL DIARY - CHRISTOPHER LARABEE
February 26th 1896
His fever has gone up, he is restless and in pain and there is nothing I can do to help him, I talk to him, I hold his hand, but there is nothing I can do to make it easier.
PERSONAL JOURNAL - JOSIAH SANCHEZ
February 26th 1896
Wilmington has an infection in his leg, his lungs remain clear, and the infusions are helping him tremendously. Nathan has made up poultices and I hope, even believe, they will keep the infection from spreading. All that can be done is being done; it is up to him and God now.
Ezra and Vin continue to make progress.
ARTICLE FROM THE DEVON TIMES
February 27th 1896
GRISLY DISCOVERY ON DARTMOOR
The mutilated corpse of a huge dog was
discovered on Dartmoor yesterday. Mr Lyons,
of Leigh-on-the-Moor, was out riding when
he made the discovery. The creature is said
to be as large as a small pony. Police stated that
it had been shot with a shotgun, but they did not
know by whom.
There is a legend on Dartmoor of a giant
Hound linked to the Standish family. Recently
there have been a large number of sightings of
the 'hound'. It seems likely that this dog was
mistaken for this so called demonic creature. A
local veterinary surgeon who examined the dog,
stated that it had died between two to three
days ago. Where the dog came from and
why it was loose on the moor remains a mystery.
PERSONAL DIARY - CHRISTOPHER LARABEE
February 28th 1896
His fever has dropped; I have hope.
PERSONAL JOURNAL - JOSIAH SANCHEZ
February 28th 1896
Wilmington has turned a corner, the fever has reduced, yesterday it was steady at 103' today it was 101'. Nathan managed to get him to swallow some beef broth, and he is more responsive. The good Lord has smiled on us and on one Buck Wilmington in particular.
Today the police had called at the Hall to ask if Sir Ezra would stable Stub's horse. Nathan told them he was indisposed but he would ask. Apparently Ezra was hesitant, but as Vin pointed out the poor animal is innocent, so he said yes.
JOURNAL - EZRA P STANDISH
February 28TH 1896
I cannot write much, for my arm aches and my head pounds. Vincent has come to me, and restored my senses, he is my saviour. I have had the chance to speak to him since. He may not say much but when he does speak his innate intelligence is all too obvious. I wonder how it is that an intelligent and no doubt diligent boy like Vin failed to learn how to read, for he tells me he did attend school until he was nearly eleven. I can only imagine the hardships he, his stepmother and young JD had to go through. Poor Mrs Dunne, widowed twice before she was 30! I have learned that they had a large garden behind their small cottage and grew a lot of food, as well as keeping chickens and a pig. Vin admitted poaching on Exmoor, mostly rabbits and pheasants, but also the odd deer. A large red deer would feed them for days, the excess meat being bartered with a local butcher. I have yet to discover who he was accused of killing, he does not volunteer information, but I am determined to discover the truth, there must be some kind of public record of the trial - surely?
ARTICLE FROM THE DEVON TIMES
February 29th 1896
SECOND MYSTERY ON DARTMOOR
Two days ago we reported that the corpse of an unusually
large dog had been found on Dartmoor. Yesterday the
disappearance of Mr John Stubbs, a well known local
naturalist, was announced. Police said that a local shepherd
had gone to investigate when he saw Mr Stubbs' horse
wandering around his isolated house on the moor.
Mr Stubbs was considered somewhat of a recluse, he lived
alone with no staff whatsoever.
Inspector Bradock of the Tavistock police stated that "Mr
Stub's house was found to be abandoned, the remains
of his evening meal still on the table, the state of the food
indicated it had been on the table for some days. However
a shotgun he was known to have was missing, and we
found a case for a pistol and some ammunition, but no gun."
It is speculated that as a man of science, Mr Stubbs,
on hearing the baying of the hound, set out, well armed to
find it and prove it was no spectral beast but flesh and
Mr Lyons who found the hound and who dined with Stubbs
at Standish Hall recently, testified that at dinner Stubbs had
stated that he believed the numerous recent sightings
and reports of the so called 'Hound of the Standish's were
Sir Ezra Standish, newly arrived from America was
indisposed and unavailable to comment.
Mr Stubbs is believed to have no family.
PERSONAL DIARY - CHRISTOPHER LARABEE
March 1st 1896
I loathed every moment I was away from Buck, however brief, I believe he needs me if he is to beat this. But to help him I must stay clear headed, so after a quick call of nature I took a turn around the garden to clear my head and my lungs, I can't afford to get sick now. I was turning for the house when I heard Nathan calling me from the bedroom window. I set out at a run and when I arrived Nathan was sitting on the edge of the bed; he smiled at me and beckoned me to come quickly.
"He's been calling for you sir," he said, the relief and excitement all too evident in his voice - and reflected in my heart.
Nathan ceded his place to me. "Buck?" I called softly. "Come on old friend open your eyes for me." I could tell he could hear me. As I watched, his head moved to the sound of my voice. "That's it, I'm here," I encouraged.
His eyelids fluttered once, twice and then opened. I could tell he wasn't able to focus on anything so I continued to speak. Nathan handed me a cup and I held it to his parched lips. Instantly - no doubt on reflex - he swallowed greedily.
"Gently, just a little," I chided. When he had finished drinking he seemed to relax a little. "Welcome back," I said softly, but he frowned and I could tell he didn't know where he was, or remember what had happened. "You were shot and lost a lot of blood," I explained, "the hound is dead, it and Stubbs."
"Dead?" he whispered.
"Yes, it's dead, but you're not."
"Ez?" he asked.
"Recovering, he'll be just fine, don't go fretting about him, you just relax and concentrate on getting well."
"Is it over?" he asked. I assured him it was, everything and everyone taken care of. Trust Buck to be worrying like that about everyone else. After that he drifted back to sleep
I don't remember taking off my jacket and tie, undoing my top button, kicking of my boots and lying down beside him, but I must have, for that is how I found myself the next day. As I woke I became aware that Buck looked different, he was shaved, his moustache freshly clipped, his hair slightly damp and neatly combed - well as neat as it ever gets that is - he was even wearing a night shirt. He looked to be asleep but as I shifted to sit up his eyes opened.
"Hello," he said, his voice stronger than before, "welcome back."
I asked how long I was asleep for and he said about 15 hours. I haven't slept for 15 straight hours since - well I don' t think I ever have. I hadn't realised how tired I was, or how long I had gone without sleep
"You look better," I commented.
"Nathan took good care of me while you slept, he wanted to wake you up to put clean sheets on the bed but I said no " He stopped suddenly, pain creased his face. I sat up and took his hand squeezing it gently.
"Alright now?" I asked as he seemed to relax.
He nodded. "Damn but a bit of morphine would be nice right now," he admitted. It hadn't occurred to me that of course he hadn't had anything for the pain in his leg.
"I'll bet," I sympathised. The grip on my hand lessened and he was asleep again.
I have never had his capacity to empathise with others and I doubt had our circumstances been reversed I could have been the friend to him he was and is to me. Stubbs and I, we were not unalike, he was driven by revenge and there was a time when that was all I ever thought of. Revenge is an evil mistress, she takes your soul and twists it and if you let her she will break it, so the devil can pluck it out one piece at a time until you are but an empty shell. I could have been like him, it could have been me so easily, but I'm not, and why? Because Buck Wilmington stood beside me and never left me. God knows I gave him every reason to. But he wouldn't give up, not when I slipped and went back on the bottle, not when I hit him and cursed his name, not even when I called him a 'fatherless bastard' - damn that was unforgivable. Buck is not unlike a hound, he is loyal no matter what, and like Stubbs I treated him badly, yet he remains loyal. I am resolved to change, to treat him, as a true friend should be treated, no longer to lie to him, use him and take him for granted. I thought, not for the first time, how blessed I was, I was given two people with huge hearts, Sarah and Buck, to take care of me. I lost one; I cannot lose the other, for I know now that would be the end of me.
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