BL Book 1 – Chapter 12 – Danger!

The following morning, Amelia was up early and looking forward opening the Major’s luggage. It wasn’t until she actually started inspecting the boxes and trunks, she realised that she had no keys to open the locks. She asked Mary and Joseph if they knew where the keys were, but they had no knowledge and suggested that Amelia looked through her Guardian’s bureau. She carried out a search but found nothing. Her only recourse was to read the letters Bernard had sent Cynthia whilst he was with the 1st Berkshires in India to see if there was any indication of how the luggage could be opened. It then struck her that the Major may have had the keys with him when he was attacked and killed, but she was sure that the police would have handed them over if they had found them.

She was about halfway through the letters when Cousin Rupert arrived. He greeted her warmly, much more than usual she thought and after the usual exchange of pleasantries he asked whether she had collected the luggage. Amelia told him what had happened and took him into the room to show him what she had collected and admitted that she was unable to open any of the trunks and boxes because she did not have the keys. She asked Rupert if he had any idea where the keys were and he admitted that he did not know where they were kept. Rather than smash them open, Rupert suggested that she got in a locksmith to pick the locks and fashion new keys. It was all very frustrating. Having taken no interest in the Major’s luggage for months she was now very keen to open it up to see what it contained. Samuel had gone to quite extensive lengths to impress on her that there were valuable artifacts somewhere in the luggage and she knew that he was due to leave soon and wanted to know himself what was there. Just at the point she was agreeing with Cousin Rupert’s recommendation to get in a locksmith, there was a knock at the door and Samuel was announced. There was an immediate change in atmosphere in the room. Although Amelia thought she had mentioned the one to the other she was not sure, although she was certain they had not met and she rapidly affected the introductions. She did not attempt to guess what they were thinking about each other. They were behaving like two male animals squaring off over a female and she felt quiet flattered. She explained to Samuel about the keys and at his insistence agreed that she would immediately arrange for the locksmith to visit on the following day. Neither of the two men seemed willing to be the first to leave and Amelia had to tell a lie that she was off in the afternoon to see her friend Alice to encourage them to go and they took the hint and left more or less together. Amelia was at a loss as to the motives of either of them. Neither had actually made clear that they were making court to her and their shared interest was in the major’s luggage rather than her, even though she had had the distinct impression that they were competing over something and if it wasn’t her what was it. As a group she could not understand men, at least as they related to her and she thought enviously about her hero Sherlock Holmes, who Dr Watson claimed, had totally abjured emotion of any kind in order to sharpen his powers of deduction. once it was clear that they had left, Amelia returned to finishing Bernard’s letters, which she had been interrupted from completing by the arrival of her visitors. The letters were full of loving sentiments and sadness about their enforced separation. There were occasional references to her, asking how her education was coming along, was she being a good girl, was she being a good companion to Cynthia. There were also lots of references to life in India, but only passing reference to military matters, which Amelia assumed was a result of discouragement from the authorities who were sensitive to the activities of foreign spies and even more sensitive to interference of newspaper reporters after a story. In total the letters were a wonderful description of life in the Indian military and the problems of separation of man and wife. As she came to the end, she still found no reference to the luggage nor anything else unusual,  except that in the most recent letter Cynthia had received, at the end of the last page, it said “Finally my darling, I must tell you of the most amazing ‘find’ we came across. After a brisk encounter, we had driven a party of brigands from the Maharajah’s palace. The Maharajah and most of his entourage had been cruelly murdered, and while we were inspecting the bodies in the vain hope that any would be still alive, we found clutched in the Maharajah’s arms, hidden by the folds of his coat  – – – ” There the page ended and there were no more pages. It was clear that the story carried on, but the following page or pages were missing. “Damn” said Amelia to herself “I shall never know what the Maharajah had hidden under his coat. The Major’s secret had died with him.unless there is something hidden in the luggage.”  Questions came crowding into her head. Where was the missing page from the letter? Who if anyone had taken it or had it just been misplaced? Were Subaltern Cooper’s valuable artifacts in the luggage as he thought and are they what the Maharajah had had hidden under his coat? And where did Cousin Rupert fit into all this. He was obviously very keen to know what was in the luggage but he had never been to India. was he the one who taken the missing page of the letter, but how did he know anything about it? Amelia could not ‘get her ducks in a row’ as they say and decided that she was hungry and asked Mary to bring her something to eat.

After lunch, having told her two suitors that she would be visiting Alice decided to go, having first visited a local locksmith, explained the problem she had and booking him for the following morning. Doubtless, she thought the two protagonists would be on her doorstep bright and early the next morning to find out just what wonders the luggage contained. Alice was happy but tired. Like most new mothers she had not been told how tiring it was having a baby; people only ever talked about how wonderful it all was. She had never come across the advice for new parents – buy a two year diary and mark in the date 18 months from the birth of the child. That is the first night the parents will get a good night’s sleep. Actually, this did not necessarily apply to parents in Society, as they had servants and nannies to carry the main burden of child rearing. Alice was unusual in that she had decided to breast feed the baby herself and she had discovered the little blighter actually wanted a feed in the night and that of course made her very tired. All the time. After looking at the child, who was in rude health and growing strongly and commiserating with Alice over her tiredness, Amelia gracefully took her leave promising to call again in a couple of days time.  She returned home and after dinner, retired early to bed, once again excited about the prospect of having the Major’s trunks opened on the morrow by the locksmith, who she had arranged to call at 9am.

When she woke it was still dark and light from a street lamp was filtering into the room through the partially opened curtains. She looked at the clock and it was just after 1.30am. She did not usually wake up in the middle of the night and turned over to get back to sleep. Then she heard a scraping sound and she sat upright quite startled. The sound came again and she guessed it was coming from a room not far from her own. She was the only one who slept on the middle floor, the 3 servants sleeping at the top of the house. She heard the sound again, and she slipped out of bed and put on a dressing gown over her night dress. She was intrigued and not a little afraid. She opened the door of her room as quietly as she could and crept out into the corridor. She saw a light coming from under the door where the Major’s luggage was stored. There must be an intruder! She approached the door, her heart beating so loudly she imagined that the intruder would be able to hear it, and slowly pushed it open. She saw a man with his back to her. In the light of the lantern, perched on a box, she could see that he held a bunch of keys in his hand and was trying one of them to open the locks on a trunk. She gasped, and the men swung round. It was Cousin Rupert! Then things happened quickly. He sprang at her and grasped her round the throat. She chocked, but the lesson she had been taught by W.C. Wilks came to her mind. ‘Concentrate on what you can do to your assailant, not what he is doing to you. She started to stamp on his foot, which because she was barefooted was not particularly useful, but she was able to get one hand up to his face and she drove her nails into his cheek. He sprung back and gasping reached down into the fireplace to pick up the poker to defend herself. As she swung round to confront him, he was too quick for her and he gave her a sharp punch on the jaw. She passed out and fell to the floor.

The whole episode had not taken two minutes and Rupert, breathing heavily, waited to find out if the incident had roused any other member of the household. He held his breath but everything stayed quiet so he picked up Amelia in his arms and carried her downstairs. He dumped her body on a chair in the lobby and very quietly drew back the bolts on the front door, and using the key that was on the table in the hall, opened the door. He threw a coat from the rack over her nightdress, carried her out of the house, along the short distance to the entrance to Conaught Mews and into the carriage which he had waiting a short distance along Knightsbridge Road. He ordered the cab driver to head for the river. He had decided that when Amelia’s body was found, it should be some distance from the house and dumping it in the river, clothed only in nightwear, may lead the police to conclude that she had committed suicide, at least in the first instance.  There was a groan from Amelia as the cab started across the bridge over the Thames, he called for it to stop, climbed out and tipped the body over the parapet into the swirling water below. The cab then drove off; Rupert relaxed for the first time. He was sure that before the police reached any conclusion that he was involved in any way, he would be long gone. he relaxed against the cushion of the cab and worked out how he would proceed from here.

Amelia hit the water and her lungs took in a great gulp of the Thames filth. The shock of the cold and the choking brought her to her senses, but it took some time before she realised that she was actually in the river, drifting downstream in the dark. She was a reasonable swimmer and after the first shock she at least was able to prevent herself from going under and swallowing more water. She was moving downstream and a fair speed and it occurred to her, with a shock that she would probably not be able to swim to either side, where she could see the lights twinkling on the embankment. After a making an attempt to swim across the tide she gave up and let the current take her downstream.  She was beginning to feel really cold, but against the lights and a wan moon, she saw a darker shape looming in the form of the next bridge downstream. the bridge was held up with a series of pillars, and as she approached struck out for the nearest one. Fortunately, the pillar had a base which was just above the waterline, and as the current attempted to carry her past, grabbed onto the rough stone and pushing upwards with the feet, was able to scramble to safety on the base. She tried to take stock of her situation and realised that although the river had not claimed her, she was very cold and unshod as she was, her feet were like blocks of ice. She would not be able to survive in the her present state from long before losing her strength and consciousness to the cold and slipping once more into the icy waters. She tried to call out “Please help me” but the words hardly came out of her mouth. She heard a carriage rattle across the bridge, and called again without success. It was beginning to appear that her success at dragging herself out of the river would be for nothing. Then she heard voices. This may be her last chance of rescue before she was lost forever. She called out as loudly as she could “Please help me” and kept on calling. The voices appeared to carry on uninterrupted and her calls unheard; then there was a silence and she summoned her last remaining strength and called again “Please help me”. To her amazement, a voice responded “Where are you? I cannot see where you are”

“I’m holding onto a pillar of the bridge just above the water” she replied

“We can’t see you, but hang on we will try to find a rope to lower down to you.”  There were rapid conversations above Amelia and soon there were sounds of running footsteps in both directions along the bridge. The voice came again

“Are you alright?”

“Yes but I’m very cold and the water seems to be rising.”

“That must be the tide, its starting to come up the river. What is your name and why are you standing on the pillar of the bridge?”

“My name is Amelia Ecclestone and I was pushed into the river by a man called Rupert Lyle. He was trying to murder me.” By now Amelia was starting to shiver violently and her teeth were starting to chatter, and she was starting to become incoherent to the man above her. Then she heard the sound of running footsteps and in the distance a police whistle. Help was on its way but would it arrive soon enough? The voice above her spoke “We have a rope. I’m not exactly sure where you are. I’m going to lower the rope with my cape tied to it. Let us know iF it lands anywhere near you and take my cape to protect you from the cold. Shout when you see it” In the faint light from the lamps on the bridge, Amelia saw the rope with the cape hanging from it appear, but it was too far away to grab. “Move it to the left” she called and the rope swung in her direction. She grabbed the cape, untied it from the rope, wrapped the cape around her dripping body and tugged at the rope. It disappeared above and after some heated discussion from the bridge,  the feet of a man appeared above her head, and she guided him onto the base of the pillar, which hardly had room for the two of them. The man untied himself from the rope, passed it under her arms, tied it into a knot, then called to his colleagues, “Pull away.” and to Amelia “Try to push against the pillar with your feet as you go up, else you will scrape yourself on the stonework.” She muttered her heartfelt thanks, and with a wonderful sense of relief, felt herself being pulled upwards and soon, hands were grasping her and pulling her over the parapet of the bridge. She was safe. Her new friends threw the rope once again over the parapet and pulled up her rescuer. She was offered a coat and she removed the cape to put on the coat then replaced the cape. The clothes were not helping much because what she had on underneath was soaking wet. She was lifted onto the parapet of the bridge and willing hands began to rub her feet in an attempt to revive the circulation. Then a very sceptical policeman arrived and took charge.



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