I found the three men sitting in a London restaurant, gathered around a table, deeply engrossed in studying a map of England’s West Country.
I was intrigued, so went over to talk to them. Their names were George, Harris and J, and they were planning their next adventure. It turned out that the one thing we all four had in common was that we had all recently read the book, The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. They were planning to visit Dartmoor, the haunt of the hound, on the very next day. Saturday. Would I like to join them? With nothing better to do, and relishing the chance of adventure, I agreed, and joined them the following morning, just as they were loading up their van, a vehicle they named Montmorency.
It took us much of the day to travel all that way to Dartmoor, and by the time we were sure that we had arrived at the moor, we were running low on petrol.
It was Harris who suggested we should call in at the next garage and fill up. And George who added that, as the sky was turning dark, we ought to be looking for somewhere to stay for the night.
J suggested we could ask at the same time as buying the petrol, and added that I should be the one to ask.
The petrol station was set back from the main road, and included the local general store and post office.
The little old lady behind the counter introduced herself as Ethel.
“A storm is brewing,” said Ethel. “You’d better find some shelter for the night.”
“Can you suggest anywhere close by?” I asked her.
“As a matter of fact there is somewhere locally that might be suitable. A place called Gallows Grange.”
“I don’t like the sound of that,” I replied.
“There is nowhere else within a hundred miles,” said the old lady. “I’ll tell you what. I’ll ring ahead and let them know to expect you. You’d like supper as well, I suppose.”
We nodded with enthusiasm.
In the deepening gloom, Gallows Grange appeared sinister, with grey walls and turrets, and a huge front door. With the first flashes of lightning now rending the air, and with thunder echoing from the surrounding moors, we expected to see bats and pterodactyls flying around the battlements. But we were disappointed.
J insisted I should ring the bell.
Which I did.
It sounded like Big Ben.
The door opened with a creaking sound, to reveal a tall cadaverous man.
“I am Cringe, the butler,” he said. “I received the call to say you were on your way. You will be sharing a room at the top of the stairs. The bathroom is along the corridor, and supper will be served in fifteen minutes time.”
“Thank you,” I replied, trying to appear cheerful.
Cringe turned to somebody in the darkness behind him. “Igor. Take the luggage, and show our visitors up to their room.”
Igor bore the shape and appearance of a gorilla, with only his maroon jacket to distinguish him from anything else in the animal kingdom. Or the human race for that matter.
The lighting in the bedroom was dim, though the beds appeared to be comfortable enough.
We arrived at the dining room, ready for supper. The steak was rare, dripping with blood.
“Would you care to take some wine with your meal?” Cringe asked us.
We agreed that it would be a good idea.
“It is a good bottling. Hungarian Bull’s Blood.”
After supper, we relaxed in the lounge, a room well stocked with reading matter and warmed by a large log-fire.
Harris decided to go outside and check on the van. I agreed to go with him. Outside, we heard a low howling sound. Then, silhouetted against the night sky, Harris and I saw the shape of a baying hound.
We hurried back indoors.
“Don’t be alarmed,” said Cringe. “It’s only Spot, out for his nightly howl. There are so few trees on the moors.”
I had hardly settled back into the lounge, when an exceptionally bright flash of lightning lit up the room. The lights went out, and plunged us into deep darkness.
“The generator and fuses are in the basement,” declared Cringe. “I shall not be long, gentlemen, but I would suggest you return to your room, if you can find it again. The Baroness is due back at any moment.”
Back in our bedroom, we waited.
“Whose bright idea was it to set out on this stupid trip?” asked J.
“I think the idea was yours,” returned George.
The eerie sound of a horse and trap interrupted us. There was only the one road in, and we had taken it. How could we escape?
Then it dawned on us. The Baroness had arrived.
A moment later, we heard the front door open, and heavy footfalls on the stairs echoed through the house.
We watched in mounting terror as a lantern illuminated the darkness of the stairs, and a dark shadow fell across the threshold of our room.
At that moment, the lights came back on again, and we could see the Baroness.
“The lady from the petrol station,” declared Harris.
“Ethel,” said George, with relief in his voice.
“Good evening, gentlemen,” said Ethel. “I see you found your accommodation for the night.”
“Yes. Thank you,” I replied.
Ethel was carrying a plastic carrier bag, and from this she took out two four-packs of lager, and placed them on the table. From a drawer, she took out a television remote control, and pressed a button. At the other side of the room, a television screen slowly rose into view.
“Football is on in five minutes,” she told us, as she turned to leave. “Enjoy the rest of your evening. Breakfast is at eight.”
Robert V. Stapleton was born in Leeds, Yorkshire, England, and, after working for many years as an Anglican clergyman he is now retired and lives with his wife on the edge of the North York Moors. He is a member of a local writing group and has had several short stories published in recent years. Several published by Belanger Books and a number of Sherlock Holmes pastiches published in The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories. His particular interests include history, especially between 1880 and 1920, and he enjoys reading and writing historical adventure stories set during that period.
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