Short Story – 10 – THE LAST TIME I SAW RICHARD

This was my Victorian Gothic Horror attempt

 “The last time I saw Richard, I mean the deceased – Mr. Harker, I was most distressed.  I had seen him barely three weeks before, but I was shocked by the change in his appearance.  He seemed thinner, gaunt, pale and sickly; and strangely disturbed.  He was almost rambling, and appeared distracted, nervous and jumpy, constantly glancing at the window and though it was pitch black outside it was as though he were seeing something in that darkness, or trying I would say, to discern some thing or some person outside.”

“And how long ago, or rather, how near to his death, would this be?”

“About a week.  Yes, it was the Tuesday and he died I believe, or at least his body was found, a week Wednesday after that.”

“And you say you were a great friend of his? How many years had you known him?”

“Oh at least twenty; we were at College together and have kept in touch ever since.”

“Have you anything else you wish to tell the Coroner?”

“Yes.  As I was leaving he pressed into my hand a small leather bound book.  He said he had been keeping some sort of a journal over the last few weeks and he gave it me – for safekeeping.”

“Safekeeping?  Did he indicate that he was in some sort of danger?”

“No, but he insisted that I keep it.  He implored me not to read it unless I heard some bad news concerning himself.”

“And did you indeed succumb to temptation and read this ‘journal’?”

“Not until I read in the papers that he had been discovered dead and naked on that island in the middle of the Thames.”

“Was this ‘journal’, for want of a better term, of any relevance do you think?  Or would you be wasting the court’s time in enlightening us as to its contents?”

“I am not sure sir.  I have it with me if you wish to read it.  It all seems highly improbable to me, almost the ravings of a madman.  Not like the Richard Harker I knew – a most level-headed man I can assure you.”

“I think we would be abusing everyone’s time if you read the whole journal out loud, could you possibly precis the contents, or at least give us some idea of what he had written.”

“Yes.  I have read it a few times and I still find it quite inconsistent with the man I knew so well.”

“Very well then, in your own words please give us a flavour of these ‘ravings’ as you have described them.”

“He talks about having met a stranger in a tavern not far from his home, of accompanying this man to his nearby abode.  He says he was drawn to this man.  He described feeling almost hypnotised by him.  I must beg the courts pardon but he talks of feelings of attraction and strange desires I would rather not describe.  I must insist that I knew Richard Harker very well, and I would not wish his memory to be sullied by any rumours of immoral or undesirable behaviour.  He was married, and although he and his wife have chosen to live apart, I can assure the Court that he was normal in every sense of the word.  But in addition to feeling attracted to this man he was somewhat scared of him, fearful of the power he exerted.  He talks of his life being in some sort of peril if he continued seeing him. The last entries, though his handwriting was erratic by now, refer to a boat and deep dark waters.  The more I think about it these thoughts must have been a symptom of the mental fatigue he was obviously labouring under.  I think that, if anything can be gleaned from this ‘journal’, it is that his mind was indeed deranged shortly before his death.”

“Thankyou.  May we hear from the Doctor?

                                                  *  * *

“You attended Mr. Harker shortly before his death I believe?”

“Yes, I was asked to see him by the previous witness and examined him four days before he died.”

“And what was your opinion of his health, especially his mental well-being, at that time?”

“Physically, I would say he was exhausted and possibly suffering from anaemia. His heart was weak and so was his pulse.  I recommended complete bed-rest for at least a week and prescribed Laudanum.  Mentally he was certainly confused and slightly delirious, but anything more serious it would be hard to say.”

“I believe you also attended the Autopsy of the deceased?”

“Yes.  Professor Bellamy is an old friend of mine and invited me to attend.”

“Have you anything you wish to add to his report?”

“No, not really – except I was surprised at how little blood was in his system, and no obvious wounds.  I agree that his death was due to drowning.”

“Anything else unusual in your experience?”

“No.  Oh, except one small detail which the good Professor hasn’t recorded. There were two small puncture marks on his neck, I suppose he must have cut himself shaving, but they were raised and had some bruising around them.  I had never seen anything quite like them, though the Professor thought they were of little consequence.”

                                                  *  * *

“Thankyou.  Your Honour, I think we can safely conclude that the cause of death was drowning brought about by a deranged mind, possibly the result of some undiagnosed illness.  The deceased was, as we have heard, a respectable gentleman; I am sure we would not wish to record a verdict of suicide in this case – I would suggest death by misadventure.”

“Agreed.  Death by misadventure it is then. 

Now, I think we should adjourn for luncheon.  Would you care to join me?  Butler’s chop house is nearby and they do rather an excellent fore-rib; a good hearty steak and a pint of claret will fairly satisfy me.  For some reason this case has rather whetted my appetite.”