BK Book 1 – Chapter 11 – Face to Face with the Villains

It was mid-afternoon before Amelia emerged from her bedroom, not altogether rested from her task of the night before. As she entered her consulting room, she became aware that she was hungry and asked Mary to prepare her something to eat. Mary reported that she had had a visit the afternoon before from Cousin Rupert and this morning while she was asleep from Subaltern Cooper. She realised with a start that she was supposed to get a letter from her lawyers auhorising her to collect her Guardian’s luggage which had been stuck in a London warehouse, since returning from India. It was much too late in the day to visit her lawyers, so her mind turned back to how she was going to arrange a meeting with the ruffians who had so cruelly taken her Guardian’s life. She devised a plan which with Ruddock’s help she could put into operation the following evening, although it would entail a visit to her dress maker, probably in the morning. She hastily dispatched a note to her lawyer, her dress maker and Ruddock, asking the last named to present himself, with a carriage, at 9 pm the next evening. having made all her arrangements for the following day,she spent a quite evening reading the backlog of newspapers which had accumulated and a number of Dr Watson’s short stories of Sherlock Holmes exploits, which continued to excite her in the way they had done when she had first read them as a girl. After leaving school, although she no longer saw Alice daily, they still remained close friends, and Alice continued to inspire her to continue her education. Her Guardian, Cynthia Hawthorn appointed a private tutor to Amelia  and as her education developed, she realised, and grew to dislike the role of women in English society.  She avidly followed the developing Suffragette movement, and found an intellectual challenge in the stories of Sherlock Holmes as reported in the papers and the detailed reports written by Dr John Watson. She also read all the monographs written by Sherlock Holmes himself. She vowed that when she was grown up, she would become a female consulting detective. In addition, as she became more aware of the limitations placed on women by marriage and the second class status that brought, the greater grew her determination not to marry, although Cynthia pointed out to her quite forcefully, the even lower status in Society’s eyes of a woman who remained unmarried.

Following the pre-arranged meeting with her dressmaker for a fitting, Amelia went on to see her lawyers, Salmon, Pollock and Roach, who had dealt with her Guardians’ affairs and their wills. She was seen by Mr Roach, the youngest of the partners, who confirmed that they had drawn up the paperwork which would enable Amelia to take possession of Major Hawthorn’s luggage, which in the first instance had been delayed by problems with the ship bringing it from India, but had then languished in store mainly because, following her bereavement she was in no fit state to consider reclaiming it. Indeed, the omission had not occurred to her until it was brought to her attention by the visit of Subaltern Cooper from the Major’s own regiment. Even then she had neglected to take any action on the matter, until she was reminded by his visit of yesterday, which she had missed. She signed the document of release, which was then countersigned by Mr Roach and she left with the paper tucked securely in her bag.  She returned home in time for lunch and the arrival of her costume from the dressmaker. Shortly afterwards she received a call from Cousin Rupert. He was slightly annoyed that she had been out the previous day, but she soon smoothed him down and offered him a glass of Madeira. She described everything that had been going on in her life in the past few days, especially the birth of Alice’s baby, which Rupert found a bit distasteful. She kept the story about her visit to the tavern looking for the thugs who had attacked her Guardian, but did mention her visit to the lawyers and the fact that she could now legally collect the Major’s luggage from store. At this news Rupert perked up considerably and wanted to know when she would actually arrange the transport of the luggage from the store to Conaught Mews. Noting that she was surprised at his keen interest, he quickly changed the subject to his need for another small loan, which he assured her that he would pay back and departed with 20 sovereigns in his pocket. But he had been right, Amelia had noticed his over-keen interest in the Major’s luggage and she wondered why. She sent a message to Cooper apologizing for having been slow in getting clearance from her lawyer and asking him to accompany her when she when to the store to arrange removal of the luggage.

As evening came, Amelia began to get excited and nervous about what was going to happen. She had arranged for Ruddock to have the coach wait at the entrance to the small park next to the garden. At the appointed time, with help from Mary, she dressed in her male attire for the first time, put on her mask and cape and picked up her walking stick. She went out of the back door of the house, across the garden, through the door in the hedge and across the park and moved quickly into the waiting carriage. She greeted Ruddock and told him to remember, that in her disguise, her name was Lord Fauntelroy and he should address her as my Lord, which in his accent became m’lud. As they trundled through the streets, with Amelia becoming more excited, Ruddock said that he was not sure in which tavern the ruffians were, and it may take some time to track them down. However, he had briefed a friend to help him with the search so had every hope that they would be found. And so it happened that it sometime after 10 pm Ruddock emerged from a tavern and indicated that he had found them. They agreed that Ruddock would make their acquaintance and ply them with drink, then bring them out one by one to be questioned by Amelia. After, what seemed to be a long time to Amelia, Ruddock returned to the coach to say he was ready. Amelia, descended from the coach and took up a position in a dark corner of the alley. Ruddock brought out the first of the suspects. Amelia stepped forward from the shadow and addressed the man in a horse voice “I believe that you are one of the men who attacked a soldier walking along the Euston Road, four months ago. If you answer my questions, you will be well rewarded”. The man was quite drunk and with a little encouragement from Ruddock, very reluctantly agreed to answer her questions. He vehemently denied that he and his accomplice had killed the Major, who, he said, was still alive when then left him on the ground after robbing him. Amelia asked the key question “Did someone engage you to carry out the attack?” and without a pause, he admitted that they had. They had been approached by an unknown man while they were sitting in the tavern. He had offered a large fee and said that, of course they could keep whatever they managed to get off the Major. The unknown man had arranged to meet them in an alley on the agreed day and time. It had all worked as he had forcast, and they had carried out the attack and left the scene. No, they had not seen the man afterwards and they had only learned of the Major’s death the following day. He once again protested that the Major was still alive when they left him. They were very well aware of how seriously murder was taken by Scotland Yard and of course the fact that murder resulted in the ‘rope’, something the villain had no intention of suffering. Amelia handed over a few sovereigns to the man and indicated for Ruddock to take the man back into the tavern. Once he had done that, Amelia said that there was really no need for her to see the second man, and they should return home. “Yes, m’lud” replied Ruddock with a smile, relieved that they had completed a good night’s work. As they were travelling back to Conaught Mews, Amelia was in a state of excitement that her first outing in male attire had been successful especially as she had finally had confirmation of her suspicion that the ruffians had been put up to attack the Major. Then she realised that actually she was no further forward in identifying who the actual perpetrator was, never mind their motive. She looked at Ruddock, “Thank you for what you did tonight. There is just one more action we require with regard to the criminals. I need to find out from them all they know of the person who put them up to the deed, which means I need them sober. Would it be possible for you to pick them up at dusk, before they get too drunk and bring them to the park at the rear of my house so I can interview them again? Tell them they will be well rewarded, even though it grieves me to reward them for such a despicable crime”. Ruddock assented and they arranged that he would do as she asked and let her know when they arrived.

As she walked across the park by the light of the moon and through the gate of her house, Amelia felt a great sense of freedom. Shorn of her bustle and the cloying drapes of petticoats and skirts, she walked with a swagger she had never felt before, the feeling enhanced by the swirl of her cape. What it was to be a man!

The following morning was spent writing up her notes from the night before and re-reading the notes she already had. She decided that she must return to Scotland Yard with her evidence, but of course there would be a problem of concealing the identities of the villains, which she had promised to do. There was also Alice to visit and to go and arrange to pick up her Guardian’s luggage. While she was considering which would be her next step, Mary announced that Subaltern Cooper was at the door. When they had passed the formal greeting and they had sat down, he said “I got your message that you had the paper from your lawyer to collect the Major’s luggage. I would be honoured to accompany you to the store. When do you intend to go? I may be leaving soon. The regiment has received orders to prepare to travel, but as is usual with the Army, it could be South Africa, the Sudan or back to India. We will find out in the fullness of time.”

“Well I must visit my dearest friend Alice very soon, possibly tomorrow, so should we agree to collect the luggage the day after that?” He agreed, and they arranged that he should pick her up at 10am in two day’s time. There then followed some interesting conversation before he left, and as usual, she was unsure from the conversation whether he was courting her or no. It was quite frustrating that protocol forbad her to ask outright, but then she would have had to tell him that his suit was wasted on her, because she had no intention of marrying anyone.

After lunch she returned to her studies. It was a long time since she had considered her idol, the great Mr Sherlock Holmes and now she thought “what would HE have wanted to get out of the two villains? What questions would HE ask them?” She found it difficult to surpress her excitement about the meeting to come, but she made a determined effort to sit quietly in her chair and think about how the conversation with the villains should develop. As she did not play the violin, she took up her needlework instead, and spent the rest of the afternoon in thought, but of course this type of contemplation required practice and as tea time came, she was still not sure what  line of questioning she would follow.

As the evening came on, with a rising feeling of anticipation, Amelia dressed early and sat quietly waiting the call from Ruddock, and she rewarded when she heard a knock at the door and a young boy came with the message she was waiting for. She donned her gloves, cape and mask and carrying her top hat and cane, went through the garden and into the park beyond and stood waiting. Presently Ruddock appeared with the two villains as arranged, both looking quite sober. “This is it!” thought Amelia to herself and stepped forward. “My name is Lord Fauntelroy and I do work for Miss Ecclestone, the lady detective. I have a number of questions to ask you about the man who put you up to attacking Major Hawthorn and if you tell me what I want to know you will be well rewarded”.  She asked how he was dressed and whether he had the upright bearing of a soldier or not, whether he wore gloves and what his shoes looked like. How was his voice and what was his accent. Although they did their best to answer her questions they were unable to be specific. Then she thrust her cane from beneath her cape. “Was his cane like this, round at the top”

“No” one of the men replied “It had a handle with a bit sticking out at the front.” Amelia drew a pencil and a notebook from her pocket and instructed the man to sketch how he thought the cane was designed. There was little else she could think to ask, so she gave each of them a half sovereign and indicated to Ruddock that the interview was at an end. She was sure she had got out of them all they had to offer, although she was sure that Sherlock Holmes would have extracted much more.  She returned home somewhat disappointed and after a supper retired for the night.

After a good night’s sleep she awoke refreshed and after breakfast, settled down to write her notes of the previous evening’s encounter and once again to review her notes of the case so far. It was now pretty clear that the villains had been put up to the attack by an unknown person and also it was still open to doubt whether her Guardian, Cynthia had been suffocated in her bed or not. If they had both been murdered, then there were very few suspects, and she realised with horror, that the only man, except for the servants, who had the opportunity to carry out both was her Council Rupert. She shuddered. If that was the case, was she herself in danger? Whatever had happened, there was still no motive and as things stood they were both meaningless crimes. If her Cynthia had been suffocated, then why? Was it something she knew and could the Major have written to her from India revealing some terrible secret? She decided to go though the correspondence which she knew Cynthia had kept locked in a drawer in her desk, but first she had to visit her friend Alice.

Alice looked pale and tired after her exertions of childbirth, but she smiled happily when Amelia entered the room and was proud to show off her young son, asleep in the cot beside her. “I am pleased that you are looking so well” Amelia began “and that you are beginning to recover from your ordeal. Have you decided what you are going to call him?” “We have not decided yet” was the reply “Mackenzie has not yet got past the stage of handing out cigars to everyone he meets and drinking a toast to the little chap at every opportunity. He had got to the point that he thinks it was he who had a baby and not me! No, I don’t really mind that much. I am just teasing. Now, for the moment, I would like a rest from baby talk. Tell me what you have been up to. Have you solved the mystery yet of the Major’s murder?” Amelia was most reluctant to go into any sort of detail which might upset the fragile state of her friend’s health at this point, and she was saved from having to make a reply by the baby waking up and starting to cry. Unusually for a woman in Society, Alice had decided that she would try and feed the baby herself and Amelia was able to stay silent, except for a few cooing noises as Alice put the child to her breast. Seeing mother and baby so happy together filled Amelia with her own happiness and she to bring herself up short and not give into the maternal instincts that the scene welled up in her own breast. Fiercely she told herself that she would never marry, but just at that moment, her determination was shaken as never before. She waited patiently until the feeding was over and the nurse had taken the baby away to change him. After all there was a limit to what a woman of Society would demean herself to do.

Eventually taking her leave of Alice and agreeing to return in a few days, Amelia left the house and turned her steps towards Scotland Yard. She would have to be careful what she divulged because of the promise she had made to the villains to get them to talk, but she had enough evidence to take the investigation forward and talking to the police would help focus her thoughts. She reported at the desk and asked to see Inspector Knot. WC Wilks arrived and escorted Amelia to an office where Sargent Jones was waiting. As usual, she was informed that the Inspector was busy and Jones asked her business. She began “I have discovered to my satisfaction that the two villains who attacked my Guardian were put up to it by a third person and they are very insistent that when left the Major he was unconscious but still breathing. They were unable to give any description of the third man which would help in his identification, except for the very distinctive cane which he carried” and she showed them the sketch which the villains had produced. “Could a cane like this be responsible for the fatal wound on the Major’s head?” Jones sent off Wilks to get the file and said “This is very unusual Miss Ecclestone. You are skating on thin ice. On the one hand, I could arrest you for withholding evidence from the police and on the other, you could be putting yourself at risk of attack from what are obviously dangerous felons. If you know the identities of the ruffians, you should tell me and if you have come to any decision of the identity of the third man you should tell me at once.”

“I’m sorry, in order to obtain the evidence I wanted, I had to promise on my honour not to reveal their names, and as for a suspect, I have no evidence which would lead me to accuse anyone in particular.” Wilks had returned with the file, Jones skimmed it, looked at the sketch and indicated that such a cane could have caused the injury, provided that it was heavy enough to have driven into the skull. Amelia promised Jones that she would keep him informed, about which Jones expressed his scepticism and wished her good afternoon. As she was leaving with Wilks, she asked the girl about her life as the only woman in the police force. Wilks replied “I love the job, Maam, but I have to put up with continual pinching, smacking and the squeezing of my breasts. It goes on all the time, and the Inspector seems powerless to stop it. I know that if I complain too much I will be dismissed, he has made that clear. I also know I’m becoming a better police woman. I’ve completed a lot of training and I hope one day to become a detective.”

“Are you not afraid of being attacked in the street by a ruffian?”

“No. I have done my truncheon training and the most important lesson I learned was not to seize up with fright but to concentrated on disabling any assailant rather than worrying about what he may do to me.” Amelia agreed that this was a good lesson which perhaps all women should learn, in case they were ever in a compromising position with a man. She took her leave of Wilks and returned home, pleased with the results of her day’s work.

Promptly at 10 am next morning, Samuel Cooper arrived with a coach and  looking very smart in his subalterns uniform to take Amelia to the depot to collect the Major’s luggage. Amelia had put on her royal blue bustle dresses, which made her look very striking and which she thought would do justice to the Major’s memory. The coach trundled down to the docks and pulled up outside the warehouse. Amelia presented the release form, and the agent went off to find the luggage. He returned and invited Amelia and Samuel to follow him along what appeared to be endless passages between piled high luggage and other ‘stuff’. Finally he stopped and showed her a collection of luggage with the name Major Bernard Hawthorne on a sign in  front  of it. There appeared to be one large trunk and a number of tin and wooden boxes. Until that point Amelia had given no thought as to how much luggage there would be or how she would get it home. Samuel who had experience of such things, and told the agent to arrange to have the luggage moved from the store to the waiting coach. He assured Amelia that the coach was large enough to take the luggage and once they had returned to her house, he, with the assistance of Joseph, could easily move it in. Amelia agreed and a little feeling of pleasure passed through her at the kindness and efficiency of Samuel in arranging it all. What she had to decide on the way home was where it should be put. It was important that it should be moved to a suitable location whilst she still had Samuel to assist Joseph, who was getting on in years. She decided that it should be moved into the only spare room on the first floor, as moving it to the second floor would be a chore. It would also be easier for her to go through the stuff and she could inspect it and decide what to do with it at her leisure. It was all duly done and Amelia asked Samuel to stay for some lunch, to which he promptly assented. Over lunch Samuel confided in her that the Major’s luggage contained some items which belonged to him. Because of his rank, Samuel had agreed with the Major that the latter would carry some of the Subaltern’s more precious items. “When we were in action against the tribesmen in the north, from time to time, we came across ancient and precious artifacts of ivory, gond and jewels.” he said “We knew if we left them, they would be taken by the lawless bands which roamed the area and even a Maharaja’s palace was not a safe hiding place once his guard had been disbanded. There was no way the army could man these places on a permanent basis and we never knew when we would be moved to deal with an uprising elsewhere.” Amelia asked him of he could provide a list of what he thought was in the luggage, to which he agreed and he went on to stress that the Regiment would be moving soon and he would like confirmation that his possessions would be safe before he went. Amelia had not expected to start inspecting the luggage immediately, but Samuel was quite insistent, so she reluctantly agreed to start the next day, and being reassured on the point he took his leave. As he walked down the Mews to his carriage, Amelia watching his receding back was puzzled about the haste and wondered aloud to herself just what precious items could be stored in the luggage. Her curiosity would have to wait until the morrow to be satisfied.

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