“I don’t suppose Mister Holmes will play?”
“No, not his thing at all, I am afraid,” I said apologetically.
The whole business wasn’t Holmes’s ‘thing’: being a guest at a weekend party at a stately home in the country. But for once, we hadn’t been called from London to investigate a strange happening or to provide Holmes with a much-needed rest.
It was a church that had piqued Holmes’s interest, a church in a very remote corner of the British Isles. Holmes had wanted to take a room at an inn, but, as they say, there wasn’t one to be had, room or inn, that is. But an old army friend of mine, a Colonel Jackson, had an estate nearby.
And so we found ourselves in Strigine Manor. For one night only, Holmes swore. He would visit the church early in the morning, and we’d be on our way back to civilization before luncheon.
So, no, Holmes wasn’t going to play parlour games, in particular, a kind of hide-and-seek called ‘Smee’ with the eleven other guests, most of them young people.
But I am always a good sport.
We were given our scraps of paper. Mine did not say ‘Smee.’ The lights were turned out, and I waited with the others. Then there was a bell, which indicated the hunt for Smee could begin.
I crept along.
I decided to break away from the pack of hunters, thinking, in fact, that I might make my way back to the adjoining rooms that Holmes and I shared on the east wing of the first floor, but in the spirit of the game, I changed my mind and made for the west wing of the same floor.
There were tall, deep windows at the end of a very dark passage, and I brushed past a pair of bony knees I thought I knew.
Had Holmes decided to play after all?
Well, if Holmes had decided to play, he would have certainly taken the central part on himself.
I slipped behind the curtain and joined the figure on the window seat. Two fingers stole into my palm, and I instinctively closed a warming grip ‘round them.
“My dear!” I ejaculated. Really, how long had he been sitting here waiting for my arrival? “Your hands are like ice!”
Well, I supposed it was part of the rules that once you found Smee, you were supposed to wait in silence until, one by one, the rest of the party found you.
So I waited.
Until finger brushed my free hand. They were also cold, but not as cold as the ones still in my grasp.
“Watson?” said a whispered voice from beyond the curtain.
Fear closed like a glove ‘round my throat.
If Holmes was out there, whose hand was I holding in here?
I turned my head slowly to the right, and saw, floating in the darkness, a crooked row of ghastly glowing teeth, smiling.