BH Book 1 – Chapter 8 – The seach

The following morning, Amelia was up bright and early. She was nervous and excited in equal measure that this man Ruddock was coming to see her. If it turned out that he was suitable, then she could get him started on an investigation that she herself would find hard to herself. After breakfast, she checked her notes from the previous days to ensure she had left nothing out (although to tell the truth, there was not much for her so far). She remembered that Subaltern Cooper  had agreed to finds out about the Major’s luggage and not returned and she made a note to follow that up herself although she did not have any idea where to start.  She paced up and down the drawing room waiting for the appointed hour. From time to time she looked out of the window, up and down Knightsbridge Road and observed the passers by, the cabs, carts and cyclists. It crossed her mind that she could perhaps get a better view from her bedroom window and went upstairs. There she was able to observe the passers by more easily, and without the danger of being seen, as she noticed that nobody actually raised their eyes above street level. There and then  she decided that she would move her bedroom to the back of he house, overlooking her garden and over the protecting wall, the small park outside, and would turn this room into a ‘consulting’ room where she could entertain any clients and visitors.  She went back downstairs and was explaining her decision to Joseph, when she heard a knock at the front door.  There was a delay of quite a few minutes, before Mary came in and announced “There is a man asking to see you madam. He did not look like a gentleman, so I sent him round to the side entrance”. Amelia suppressed a smile at Mary’s clear distinction of the class of person she was prepared to allow through the front door. “Please show him in” she said.  The man soon appeared at the door of the drawing room. As Mary had indicated, he was roughly dressed and did look as though he were a member of the criminal classes. He was well built, like a brick shit house, thought Amelia but she was far to polite to allow any phrase of the sort to pass her lips, but it would be reassuring to have him on one’s side in a fight if a situation ever came to that. His hands were calloused and his face marked, as likely from a physical beating as a disfiguring illness. He stood before Amelia obviously very nervous and twisting his cap in his hand.  She indicated for him to come further into the room and addressed him “Are you Mr Ruddock, sent to see me by Dr John Watson?” he nodded assent and she went on “Please sit down” and indicated a chair. He sat down awkwardly on the edge of the chair “Would you like some tea or coffee?”

“No thank you Maam”

“Some cordial then?” to which he nodded. Amelia indicated to Mary to bring her some coffee and Mr Ruddock some cordial. When she had gone on her errand, Amelia said “I presume that Dr Watson told you that he had recommended you to act as an assistant and protector to me in my investigation of the death of my Guardian. Can you please tell me something about yourself so I can decide if you are suitable for the post? Mary returned with the drinks and Amelia waited until Ruddock had taken s large draft of the cordial, then look at him enquiringly expecting him to start. Ruddock was finding the interview was much more difficult than the one he had had with Watson, but she gave him a winning smile, which gave him enough confidence to start. He was surprised at the sound of his own voice in such sumptuous surroundings but kept going. He told Amelia of his criminal past, how he had spent time in prison, how Mr Holmes had spoken up for him which undoubtedly saved him from deportation, how when released he had been labelled a ‘jail bird’ and could not find himself a job. He was very determined to stay on the ‘straight and narrow’ especially as his wife was expecting a baby and had told him in no uncertain terms that he had to provide for his family and stay out of prison. Out of desperation he had gone to see Dr Watson, and here he was. “I hope” he concluded “that you will see your way to giving me a job, although I’m not sure what Dr Watson had in mind when he suggested that I come to you.” Amelia took comfort from Ruddock’s story in that it corresponded almost exactly with what John Watson had told her, and as Ruddock had gained in confidence throughout his speech, she could see that he was sincere (or if not an accomplished liar, which she could not imagine). She felt therefore that she could start on her story and see how he responded.  She described how her Guardian on his way home from serving in India had been attacked and killed in the street; how she had been devastated at the news and had spent 3 months in absolute depression, unable to do even simple things; how she had started to come out of it and had visited the police to find out what they new (which they admitted was very little) and how she been to Dr Watson to ask for his help. During this rather long story, Ruddock tried hard to concentrate and demonstrate that he was concentrating, but he was unsure of how this applied to himself and the post she was (or was not) offering him. When she stopped, he started in surprise, his mind having drifted off to the ale he had promised himself on the way home. “So what I would like you to do in the first instance, is to find the rogues who did this to my Guardian. Are you prepared to take on the commission?” He did not know how to respond without having time to understand what he was being asked, so did not reply. “Will give you 6 shillings a week as a retainer and more as is necessary”. Then there was no hesitation “Yes” he replied.

“Then” she said “there is no time like the present, let us go and look at the site where the terrible deed took place.” Amelia asked Joseph to call a cab and went off to put on her boots, hat and coat, leaving Ruddock alone in the drawing room unable to believe his luck. He was not quite sure what a ‘retainer’ was but he knew for certain what 6 shillings a week meant, and for that figure, Miss Ecclestone would have his undivided attention. She returned and they entered the coach. On the way, Amelia went into greater detail of what she wanted him to do. The police had said that two thugs had been involved in the attack and there was evidence of the Major having been punched and kicked although what had killed him had been severe blows to the head with a ‘blunt instrument’. Amelia wanted Ruddock to track down the thugs so that she could interview them to find out what actually happened. Ruddock said “That might be difficult seeing as how if they are caught they will hang for murder. Do you intend betraying them to the police?”

“No. I only want to interview them to find out what happened. It is possible there was a third party involved and it may have been he who administered the fatal blow. Unfortunately I have no evidence for that theory and I can only find something out by talking to the culprits. I hope you are able to find them.” They arrived in the street concerned. Amelia had not before visited the site of her Guardian’s death and she felt a tinge of sadness pass over her. She had worked out the route from the station to No 1 Conaught Mews and this street was a short side street joining two main roads. “There is every reason to suppose that my Guardian took this route. It is on the most direct route from the station to his house. Also, being a narrow side street off the main thoroughfare, it would have been an ideal place for the assault to take place. The question is whether the villains were lying in wait on the off chance of finding a victim or they had been following him. There is no use speculating until we find the men and talk to them, else the trail will have gone cold and I will never get a satisfactory explanation of what happened.” She walked up and down the street a couple of times looking for ‘clues’. She knew that Sherlock Holmes would have done a very detailed and thorough search, but then the event was getting on for 4 months ago so what would still be here, and anyway she had not brought her magnifying glass and tape measure, items she knew were essential to a proper detective. Having had a final look around her, they re-entered the cab. On the drive back to her house, she took 3 shillings from her purse and handed them to Ruddock. “Take this in advance and come back in three days with a report of what you have found. Don’t worry if you do not find the culprits immediately, but I want to know how you are getting on. Is that clear?” Ruddock nodded and took the money, the most he had had at one time since he came out of prison. “And no drinking yourself into a stupor. Make sure you take the money home to your wife!” “Yes maam” he replied.

When she arrived home there were two messages waiting for her. One from Cousin Rupert, who said he would call again on the following day and the other from Alice, asking that she come for their walk in the late afternoon rather than the evening as she had before. After an early afternoon tea, Amelia donned her special walking out gear and set off for Alice’s house. When she arrived Alice was ready to go and they descended to her carriage. She had begun to find it difficult to mount the steps, and she needed help from the butler, who was to accompany them, but this time he was alone. They drove a short distance to the park, and the two of them walked along the path towards the small pond in the centre. Alice was clearly struggling and leaned heavily on Amelia’s arm. Swathed as they were in huge opera capes, Amelia in navy blue and Alice in bottle green, they must have looked all the world like two witches to any passer by, but being at a later hour in the afternoon, there were not children, who had all gone home for their teas and the only other walkers, were those taking a pleasant walk home from work through the park and the occasional pair of lovers, strolling in quiet contemplation. They stopped at the edge of the pond and Alice said with a break in her voice “I have brought you here because it was one of my favourite haunts as a child. I used to come with my mother or my nurse and occasionally my father, the greatest treat of all. We always brought some stale bread to feed the ducks.” and at this a tear came into her eye ” If all does not go well with the birth, then I want this memory before me as I leave this world.” Amelia was just about to respond when the enormity of the situation struck her. She, truly may lose her friend; there were many deaths in childbirth, mothers as well as babies, but she remonstrated gently “Perhaps, Alice when you are in the greatest pain, you should try to imagine bring your own child here first in a pram, then as a toddler to feed the ducks just in the way you did. I’m sure you will be alright. You have looked after yourself and left off the dreaded corset in good time. I’m sure all will be well.” Alice smiled her thanks and they walked slowly back to the carriage. One their way home Alice made it clear that she would not be walking out again, something Amelia had deduced, but she insisted that Amelia should visit her at every available opportunity.

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