The Affair of the Dartymuir Dog. Part Eleven

The adventures of Piglock Homes and his sidekick Doctor Bearson.

The creak of harness heralded the arrival of the strangest conveyance Bearson had seen in a long time. It was a large four-wheeled cart or covered wagon, with high curtained walls behind which there could be discerned the outline of stout bars. There was about it the rich smell of some carnivore and occasionally the barred sides shook. The equipage was pulled by a team of four heavy horses, whose driver was a short massively muscled man with a multiplicity of tattoos. When the walls behind him shook, he spoke comfortingly in a dialect beyond the understanding of even Homes.
The newcomer drew his strange vehicle to a halt at a careful distance from the hobbled donkey, which, even so, flared its nostrils and would have brayed loudly had not Yore leaped from his seat and grabbed it by the muzzle.
“Can you back off a bit, or I’m liable to lose this beast and the cart into yonder bog.”
The tattooed gent carefully backed his vehicle away and Homes left the donkey cart in to converse with the newcomer in a low voice.
“What do you reckon our skinny friend is up to?” Yore breathed.
“Honestly? I have no more idea than you. You know what he is like. Cards clutched to his scrawny chest until the last second.”
Yore grunted. “Well I’m keeping my hand on my revolver just in case.”
Bearson said nothing, merely displaying the grip of his own revolver for Yore to see.
The sun was just lifting over the eastern horizon when Bearson felt, rather than heard, a sound similar to the one Homes had made the previous night. Almost at once the tattooed gentleman’s cart began to rock alarmingly and whatever was inside it started making eerie ululating noises that ripped apart the quiet of the morning air.
Homes showed his teeth. “Yore, Bearson. Hold your fire unless you are in mortal danger.”
“Aye, aye, cap’n.” Yore spoke sarcastically, but Bearson understood that he would obey Homes.
The noises from the covered cart were becoming louder and louder and the rocking seemed almost fierce enough to overturn the equipage. Before the carriage was altogether overset there came a sound as if the paws of some great dog were slapping on the ground and all eyes turned towards the sound.
“What is it, man?” Yore was heard to ejaculate.
“You’ll soon see.”
The creature that broke out of the high bracken was enormous, and tawny striped with black. It was only visible for a very few seconds before the tattooed gentleman opened a door in his wagon and the creature disappeared.
“But. But. But…” Yore spluttered. “That’s not a dog.”
“No. It’s a tiger. An orange, bouncing tiger.”
Yore ground his teeth. “Orange, bouncing ‘dog’ to the old man. I see. But how did it get here?”
“You are about to find out, I think.”
The woman who followed the tiger out of the high bracken was tall and carried a curled stock whip in her right hand.
At first, Bearson thought it was the woman who had driven them across the muir the previous night, but then he realised this woman was older, and harder looking although there was an obvious resemblance.
She glared at the two carriages.
“I’m looking for my pet.” This woman’s voice was harsh and her accent was transatlantic.
Homes bowed. “Your pet, madam?”
“Yes. The pesky critter has a habit of escaping.”
“And frightening people close to death?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“I think you do…”
She laughed, but it was a sound that tore at the throats of those who heard it. “Doesn’t a man who abandons his wife and child deserve a little fright?”
Yore cleared his throat. “The game’s up. Old Sleepytown died last night. So the charge is murder.”
The woman laughed and dropped her whip. Instead of turning back the way she came she ran into the jaws of the bog.
Yore made to go after her, but Bearson restrained him. “Leave her. That’s a mire out there. You don’t want to end your life sinking in stinking mud.”
“But she’s getting away.”
“She won’t get far,” Homes said sadly. “The waymarker poles have been moved so the safe path through the mire no longer exists.”
He stood at the edge of the unnatural greenness as the sun rose and burned away the mists from the muirland.
Yore looked at the tiny figure of the great detective and shook his great head.
“Churches la fem,” he said sadly, “churches la fem”.

Piglock Homes and his sidekick Doctor Bearson may return with a new investigation later in the year…

Jane Jago

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