Red Sands

Country Rituals (31st October 1888)

31st October 1888

As they sat at breakfast Henry suddenly started, and waved about the copy of the Tavistock Gazette he had been reading. “Listen to this” he spluttered.

LUNATIC ESCAPES LOCAL ASYLUM

Kills Local Resident: Manhunt on the Moors.

Local Police are hunting for a madman who has escaped a local asylum, according to Sergeant Barnes of the Okehampton District Constabulary Office.

The madman, Willy McTavish, also known as the Strathclyde Strangler, was serving a life sentence for the murder of three Scottish prostitutes. Although a death sentence was considered, the judge, Lord Justice Reginald Montague – Fawkes, agreed to a proposal that McTavish should receive care at the asylum on Dartmoor run by renowned German psychiatrist Doctor Karl Muellhoffer.

Although Doctor Muellhoffer was unavailable for comment, his aide Gunther Schenker told our reporter that the asylum was working closely with Police to recapture McTavish. He further said that McTavish was responding to a revolutionary new treatment and was no longer a danger to the public.

McTavish is 5’ 11" tall and weighs 160 lbs, has cropped brown hair and green eyes. Sergeant Barnes has warned that he should not be approached. Any sighting of him should be reported to the local police."

“Well, well” said Sebastian. “German Doctor, missing Madmen, Military Inventor with open safe. I think a visit is probably in order chaps.”

“I want to check those tracks first said Henry. I may as well do it now.” He got up and left, returning some twenty minutes later.

“Hmm. I tracked Bigfoot to a sort of gate in the wall. Know it Jacobs?” asked Henry.

“Yes Sir. The Moor Gate Sir.” the old servant responded.

“Well the gate had been forced. And- and this is the tricky bit I don’t understand – Little Foot came into the grounds on his own, But Big Foot left the grounds on his own. Make of it what you will.”

“Do you know this German Doctor Jacobs?” asked Sebastian, “Did this Doctor Muelhoff ever visit?” Jacobs hesitated.

“No Sir. That was not the name of the German gentleman who visited last week Sir.” he replied. There was a short silence.

“D’you mean to say ANOTHER German gentleman visited here last week?” asked Sebastian. Jacob nodded.

“Yes Sir. A Herr Oberst von Steinhagen, a military gentleman visited Lord Cotterill last week, several days before his death. Excuse me Sir, I never thought that it was important Sir.” stammered Jacobs.

“That’s all Right Jacobs” sighed Sebastian. “But you must tell us all now. Understand?”

“Yes, sir” said Jacobs. " About a week ago the Master was visited by a foreign gentleman, this Herr Oberst Ludwig von Steinhagen. He was not expected, but was insistent his lordship see him. I took his card to Lord Cotterill, who reluctantly agreed to see him. I escorted the gentleman through to the study and then retired to the dining room to prepare dinner. Next I knew of the matter was the front door slamming and his lordship ringing for me. When I arrived in the study he was fuming. He told me to take his evening meal to the study and not to disturb him again that night.”

“Thank you Jacobs. That will be all for now.” said Sebastian.

“Herr Oberst von Steinhagen” said Lady Glossop, “is the German military attache’ to Her Majesty’s Government. He is based in the German Embassy.” The others all stared at Lady Glossop’s revelation of this tidbit of information.

“How about this?” suggested Bertie. “German bigwig approaches Boffin for secret inventions, and gets told to jump in the jolly old lake. Said bigwig uses violent nutcase borrowed from his Doctor German pal to murder Boffin, but because he’s two humbugs short of a quarter nutcase slips his lease and rampages off to terrify local yokels. Meanwhile one of his smarter chummies sneaks in and steals the magic papers. What d’you think?”

Lady Glossop beamed a brilliant smile at Bertie. “I believe you and that squirrely mind of yours just may have cracked this hard nut of a case!”

“I say!” said Bertie.

“Hum” scowled Henry, "We still have a number of things we need to check before we drive out to this asylum. We need to visit the Doctor in Okehampton: we should check at the station too for our deliveries while we’re at it.

Taking the Trap it was a half hours drive into Okehampton, and at the edge of the town the neat station was the first point of call. Their parcels from London had indeed arrived, and while Sebastian signed off for them and arranged for their delivery to the Hollies, Lady Glossop went and stood out on the empty platform for a pleasant view of the surrounding countryside. With his back to her, Mr. Cribbins the station master was repainting a section of a white wooden fence along the edge of the platform. The man was muttering to himself. She smiled faintly and pretended to ignore it, until she caught the words ‘Bloomin’ Foriegners". She frowned and turned, letting him grumble on for a few more moments before giving a polite cough.

“Arrr..Ohhhh…” said Mr. Cribbins, standing up with a paintbrush still in his hand.

“Oi beg your paardon young Miss.” he said politely, “If oi’d known you were there oi’d ‘ave ceased moi grumblin’. Oi’ didn’t mean any offence oi’m jist a bit purturbed and owt of sorts you moight say, Miss.”

“Think nothing of it my good sir. We all have our moments when we think we are alone I’m quite sure.”

“That’s very koind of you to say so Miss,” said Mr. Cribbins, “And oi apologoise onest agin.”

“It is quite alright” Smiled Lady Glossop, “But did I hear you say something about Foreigners? Is there some danger a Lady should be aware of?”

“Bless you ma’am I didn’t mean to scare you!” said Mr. Cribbins, “It just be with the escaped Lunatic out on the Moors, and all them Germans about it seems this here community ‘as been turned upside down. A murder too the papers say, but they don’t say where.” Lady Glossop’s eyes lit up.

“Germans? There have been Germans hereabouts?” asked Lady Glossop.

“Yes Miss. There a German Gent. in a uniform-looked like some sort of sojer to me. Very smart and military like. ‘E came orf the train askin’ for The Hollie-a big house up on the moor -oh over a week ago it was. The 22nd it was-I remember because it was my sister’s kids birthday.”

“A few days later, three other men -Germans too I reckon. One of them had a kind of bag like a doctors, and they all had overnight bags. They left the next evening. Damn rude lot, all curt and snappy.” he continued.

“When was this? Can you remember?” asked Lady Glossop eagerly.

“They arrived on the 25th and left on the 9 o’clock evenin’ train on the 26th” he responded. It certainly looked suspicious-the 26th was the date on which Lord Cotterill had been murdered, and it seemed to back up Bertie’s theory. As they left the station she informed the others.

Their next port of call was Doctor Locock: his picture postcard cottage was situated down a quiet lane close to the station. It was a modest two stored stone building, with a front garden which probably would have looked stunning in high summer, though even in the autumn it retained a variety of shades and colours. A brass plaque on both gatepost and door proclaimed the Doctor’s residence.

The door was opened by a maid; Sebastian presented his card and they were soon ushered into a morning room where the Doctor was still busy at his breakfast. Sebastian briefly explained the reason behind their visit.

“Hmm yes, bad business. And most disturbing, in the light of this morning’s papers.” he munched, offering them some tea.

“The cause of death?” asked Henry.

“Massive trauma and blood loss from the initial stab wounds thrusting upwards into the chest. Probably died almost instantly.” said the Doctor.

“Initial stab wounds?” asked Bertie.

“Let me show you” said the Doctor, wiping his hands. “This way please.”

He led them out of a side door and into a large and equally profuse rear garden. Down one side of this was a converted agricultural building.

“I use this to conduct post mortems, and as a temporary morgue” explained the doctor. As they entered, they noticed that the temperature was noticeably cooler. He led them to a body wrapped in a winding sheet, and unveiled the mortal remains of Lord Arthur Cotterill.

The body had multiple stab and slash wounds to the stomach and chest, as well as sets of three parallel slash marks on his forearms.The Doctor pointed out that the initial stab wounds were inflicted on a man standing upright, whereas the slash marks indicated a prone target.

“But these are almost like claw marks!” exclaimed Henry.

“Indeed” agreed the Doctor, “But there are no beasts in this country that could inflict such a wound of course- unless you believe the local superstitions of devilish hounds on Dartmoor” . He smirked briefly.

“No. With this news of the escaped lunatic I think it is far more probable that the marks were inflicted deliberately as a result of some acute form of monomania. The Scotsman is deemed to be insane after all- and the human brain is a complex organ.” he concluded.

“Thank you Doctor” said Sebastian, “I think we’ve seen enough.”

A visit to see Sergeant Barnes at the local police station only served to confirm that Lady Amelia’s assessment of him had been correct. As they wandered back to their trap Bertie looked around curiously.

“I say. Have you noticed that in a lot of these windows the yokels are putting turnip thingies in? Carved like heads with funny faces, What?” he pointed. Indeed his observation seemed to be correct. Some of the houses also had bundles of ash twigs tied to the door knocker or some other convenient projection, and Henry espied another householder doing the same.

“What’s going on?” asked Bertie, “Are these people Druids or something?”

“Hmm let me see” said Sebastian. “You fellow. There.” He tapped nearby workman on the shoulder with his stick, and the man looked back at him insolently.

“These turnips and all this mumbo jumbo. What’s it all about eh?” demanded Sebastian. The fellow slowly looked him up and down, spat on the floor, and strutted away.

“Why that insolent…..”began Sebastian.

“I say, I say calm down old fellow” said Bertie. “Lack the common touch a bit, what? No point in a brawl in the middle of the street, what? I bet Sergeant Barnes would love to put one of us in the cells for a night.” There seemed to be sense in Bertie’s words.

Henry produced a shilling and walked over to a window cleaner, who was whistling to himself as he just climbed safely down form his ladder.

“Good morning my man”, he smiled, “This shilling is your if you can tell us what all these turnips and bundles of twigs are about. I have a friendly wager on with my friend over here.” The man smiled, and pocketed the shilling.

“Thaat’s no secret Zur. ’Tis dukapple noight”

“Ah yes quite " smiled Henry, somewhat confused. “Can you repeat that again?”

“Arrpp. ‘Tis dukapple noight. Mischef noight as’twere.”repleid the man, obviously pleased at his further clarification. Clearly, only an idiot now would have failed to comprehend his meaning. Off he walked, leaving Henry mollified and slightly amused: also short of a shilling.

Cutting their losses on the local folklore front, with it now approaching noon they decided that they had best drive out to the asylum out on Dartmoor. The drive was a long one, and they really wanted to be home before dark.

The asylum lay some dozen miles from The Hollies by road , though a mere five miles cross country. In the trap the logner route was the more practical, and well muffled against the thin, chill mist and light drizzle, they settled back for their first foray across the wild moorlands of Dartmoor.

Eventually below them they saw a stark, grey, imposing two-storey structure, which spoke of untold misery within its walls and little hope of release for those lost souls sent there as
inmates.

On arriving and ringing the bell for attention outside the gate, they were met by a burly guard. He asked, in a german accent Sebastian noted, the nature of their business, and nodding he opened the iron gates and let them into the grounds. A short drive across fairly bare grounds led them to the front of the house, where they were met by another guard. In fact all of the guards appeared to be german. They presented their cards, and were shown into a foyer, and then off to their right into an office. In front of them was a neatly dressed man with a short trimmed beard and moustache. A monocle was worn in his right eye.

“Good afternoon Captain Shaw. I am Doctor Muelhoffer, director of this establishment” he said. Introductions were made, and he bowed and kissed Lady Glossop’s hand. Refreshments were called for and shortly arrived.

“I must now ask the nature of your business here. We do not get many visitors.” pronounced the Doctor.

“We represent a group of concerned local landowners. We really need to ask you about this McTavish fellow.” said Sebastian. While she had been introduced Lady Glossop had noticed tht Doctor Muelhoffer’s diary was open on his desk, and she now stood to one side waiting for an opportunity to take a look at it.

“McTavish, Ja .A most disturbing case indeed, but he was making good progress until he absconded.” replied the Doctor.

“But how did the fellow escape?” asked Bertie.

“Ach, a most unfortunate accident." continued Herr Muelhoffer. " An orderly administered the wrong drug. Willy was not as sedate as he should have been. He overpowered the orderly and escaped by hiding inside the laundry baskets, which he knew were due to be collected soon. He may be insane, but he is not stupid.”

“But why did you ask him to be admitted here in the first place?” asked Sebastian. “Surely a man that dangerous poses a threat to us all here?”

“You must understand that my research is cutting edge." explained the Doctor-not without a hint of frustration Lady Glossop thought. "Vile Freud goes on about patient’s mothers, finding something wrong in every person’s childhood, I prefer to put my faith in therapeutic drugs. Willy sounded like the ideal case for my research.”

“And what do these drugs do?” asked Sebastian.

“I will put this in layman’s terms for you." explained the Doctor patiently. "Through the use of my patented sedatives I take the patient to a peaceful level,where he feels relaxed und safe. These sedatives do not make him merely drowsy, but also completely calm. Even a raving lunatic would be among the most sane of people, without risk of harming anyone. Then I tell the patient that he is cured over und over until he believes it for himself. Simple, yet very effective.”

“I say, like bally hypnosis ,what?”suggested Bertie.

“You mean like a stage-magician? Certainly not!” repleid Herr Muelhoffer. " I do not make patients cluck like chickens. I cure those others called incurable through the power of my will!”

“But the papers say Willy was cured?” persisted Sebastian.

“Almost. Whatever Darwin thinks, humans are not animals. We are not designed to live in cages. My aim is to cure madness, all madness, so humans can enjoy a full and healthy life.”

“Hmm, most enlightening Herr Doctor” said Sebastian. “And have any of your countrymen visited you recently? I don’t really understand why your research is being conducted over here, rather than in Germany”

“In my own country funding is difficult, where the foolish theories of Freud begin to hold sway. Your own countrymen take a more enlightened approach, and I was able to procure this post on condition that I be able to conduct research into my own therapeutic treatments. And yes, I was visited by a fellow countryman- a Herr Oberst von Steinhagen, a government official, just over a week ago. I do not know him personally, but as a fellow countryman he felt compelled to visit. Whatever the world thinks of us, we Prussians are a well-mannered people.”

As he spoke Lady glossop had managed to edge closer to the desk and look at the diary. The sole page entry was for November 2nd and read "Lady Henrietta, London, 7:30 p.m.” .

Doctor Muelhoffer noticed the movement, and leaned over and snapped the diary shut.

“If that will be all, I have many duties to attend to.” he said firmly.

“Perhaps we could be allowed to see McTavish’s cell?” enquired Henry. “To put our minds at rest regarding your security”

“Given the sensitivity of my patients, That will not be possible. I will not have then unduly excited or disturbed” said the Doctor apologetically. Two of the guards were summoned, and the group were escorted back to their trap. As they drove back across the moor they discussed their experiences.

“That fellow was hiding something for sure” said Bertie. “And what’s more did you see the lab coat hung up on the door with the lock behind him. There was a safe too.”

“I think”, said Lady Glossop, "That we should try another visit later on. The windows to his office were not barred from the outside, unlike many of the others.

Comments

Lady Glossop beams a smile at Mr. Bertram.
“I believe you and that squirrely mind of yours just may have cracked this hard nut of a case!”

 
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