Beginning, Section II
Caroline accompanied Colonel Fitzwilliam to Thorpe's room. She was not at ease with the fact that he wanted to search the room. What if Thorpe was a murderer and he found somebody going through his belongings? Would he kill the Colonel? "This is dangerous," she whispered.
"There is no law that forbids it," he reassured her. "Be my lookout."
"What do I do if he comes?" she asked anxiously.
"Delay him so I can jump out of the window."
Caroline shook her head in dismay and quickly inspected how big the drop would be. It would be far too much. "No. You would break your legs."
Colonel Fitzwilliam peered down. "So I should, it seems," he said calmly. "Perhaps I should not do it then." He liked her solicitude.
"Start searching," she urged him, looking out of the room.
Fitzwilliam began to examine the contents of the drawers systematically, taking care not to displace anything, so it would not look suspicious afterwards. He was engrossed in studying a mysterious object when he was alerted by a movement at the door.
"Quick! His servant!" Caroline hissed. "We must hide."
Instead of waiting in the middle of the hallway as he had assumed she would do so she could run away if anyone came, she had been in the room peeking around the corner and they were now both trapped. He would have to teach Caroline a thing or two about this, but first he would have to find a place to hide. "Come," he gestured and dove under the bed.
Caroline closed the door and stepped into the room anxiously, but in the split second that she had turned to close the door, he had disappeared under the bed and she did not see him anymore. "Richard?" she asked fearfully as she looked around the room in panic. "Have you vanished?"
"Under the bed!" it sounded in a muffled voice.
"And what am I supposed to do?"
How horrible! However, she had no choice but to do it and she slid under it inexpertly.
"Pull those skirts in," Fitzwilliam ordered in a whisper. "You do not want them to stick out."
"It smells so musty here," she complained. "And my gown! I am sure we shall be all dusty when we get out." The mattress was only a small distance above her head and she felt locked up.
"Hush!" he nudged her when the door to the room was opened. They could only lie still and hope the servant would not look under the bed. Considering that Thorpe seemed terribly untidy, there was a good chance that they would be hoping in vain, for the Colonel had encountered several items of clothing when he had scurried under the bed. He would not tell Caroline about that -- she would scream, in spite of the servant laying out Thorpe's evening wear. The blanket did not quite reach the ground. They could see the man's feet and if he dropped anything and it rolled under the bed, he would be able to see them too. He saw Caroline was watching the servant's feet as well.
They had been there for a while when the door was opened again. Just when the Colonel breathed a sigh of relief -- the atmosphere under the bed was very oppressing and dusty -- a voice spoke.
"Thank you, Potts," said Thorpe. "I shall take my nap now."
"Yes, sir," Potts said and they heard him leave the room.
Caroline had gripped the Colonel's hand when Thorpe had spoken and he was glad that she had not groaned aloud. Imagine being found under a bed with a woman. He did not know if that was better or worse than being found in a bed, but to Thorpe it would all amount to the same thing, he supposed.
The blanket was lifted and they both froze. Apparently Thorpe had pulled back the covers to get into bed. Suddenly they could see much more him, almost up to his knees now. He sat on the bed, making it sink down heavily, but the creaking obscured Caroline's soft gasp of shock upon nearly being squashed. They watched as he took off his boots and stockings, disposing them carelessly beside the bed. He stood up again and they could see the other items of his clothing fall where he stood, until his feet were hidden by heaps of textile.
There was more creaking when Thorpe got into the bed and they could hear how he pulled the covers over him, an action of which the Colonel was very glad. Fitzwilliam wondered how they were going to get out of there -- perhaps it was possible when Thorpe was asleep. If the man had not covered himself, he would not even be able to take Caroline with him.
They lay in silence, bearing the shifting and creaking of the bottom of the bed as Thorpe tossed and turned before he fell asleep. He was not asleep yet -- every time Fitzwilliam hoped to hear steady breathing, Thorpe would cough or chuckle. The chuckles were definitely mysterious, as Caroline seemed to think too. She gave him an unintelligible nudge at every chuckle. He longed to ask her what she meant, but they would give their position away if he did so.
Perhaps Thorpe would kill them if he discovered them under his bed, Caroline reflected. At any rate he would probably be angry. Or thrilled with this opportunity to blackmail them. If this news spread to London, she might as well exile herself to the Continent. She would be as good as dead. But Richard would protect her from Thorpe, although choosing this dirty hiding place was one of his less laudable actions. Were they going to be stuck under this bed forever? With no opportunity to change before dinner? Thorpe was always notoriously late. How could they run back to their rooms, dusty and all, and change, if Thorpe was always the last to arrive down for dinner? There simply would not be time, Caroline fretted, and she saw visions of her appearing at the dinner table looking flushed and with spider webs in her hair. And then Richard would have that too and it would be as if we have been lying under a bed together was written on their foreheads.
Colonel Fitzwilliam had not looked that far ahead yet. He counted on Thorpe falling asleep, but if the man did not, he realised they were in a nasty corner. However, contrary to Caroline he did not have visions of them hurrying for dinner -- he simply envisioned them missing dinner altogether and having it elsewhere, such as at the inn.
After a very long time, during which Caroline had almost sneezed three times, but which urge she had been able to suppress by pressing her nose into the Colonel's arm -- she hoped her nose had not been snotty, although with all the dust a little snot did not matter much anymore -- Thorpe fell asleep.
"Quick," Caroline whispered and made to leave her hiding place.
"No," the Colonel held her back.
"You might be used to such small living quarters, but I am not!"
"Another minute to see if he is really asleep," he whispered back. After a minute or three, he crawled out from under the bed and cast a look at the bed. He frowned and pulled Caroline out, trying to keep her eyes away from the figure on the bed, whose arms, legs and chest protruded from under the covers. He did not quite succeed and Caroline stared in wonder. "Come," he pulled her towards the door. "I look much better."
"He was not wearing a night gown!" she answered.
"Well observed," muttered the Colonel as he ushered her into the hallway. Fortunately it was empty. "Where do we go?"
"Yes, do let us find another bed to lie under!" Caroline said sarcastically. "Your bed or mine? Where do we go indeed! We go to our rooms to change."
He studied her gown. "Yes, that might well be necessary. You look a little dusty." He attempted to remove one of Thorpe's handkerchiefs from where it was stuck behind a button on Caroline's gown.
"What is that?" she cried.
"A handkerchief," he answered and dropped it into an ornamental vase. "It might look odd if you went around with a handkerchief with the initials JT on it."
"Indeed," she agreed in horror. "I shall throw away this gown."
"Dear Caroline, may I remind you that a colonel does not have the kind of income on which you can afford to buy new gowns every week and that you might want to hold on to this gown?"
She gave him a haughty look. "Tell me why I should be interested in a colonel's income."
"A colonel's house -- which would be paid for out of his income -- would also lack the necessary closet space to hang up your gowns, so perhaps it is only good that you throw one away," he reflected. "Do as you please."
"Tell me why I should be interested in a colonel's closet space."
"It might be useful if you should wish to hide in his closet. It is not as dusty as under a bed, although the last time I was under my bed, it was not dusty at all."
"Why would you be under your bed?" Caroline asked in suspicion.
"To retrieve fallen cufflinks."
"Why would you drop your cufflinks?"
"Sometimes that just happens."
"Really, Caroline. Come and live with me and you will see why." Colonel Fitzwilliam left her in her room and then went to change himself. However, as he changed his trousers, he came across the mysterious object he had found in Thorpe's room. He had accidentally pocketed it when Caroline had signalled that the servant was approaching and he studied it again. It was still mysterious and he still did not know what it was, although he had an inkling that it was a part of something that he would recognise. He did not think it was part of a saw and that was a pity. It was to be hoped that Thorpe would not miss the object.
"Colonel?" it sounded in the hallway a few minutes later. It was Miss Copeland's voice.
"Yes?" he called, realising that he still had to change.
"Are you ready to come down to dinner?"
"In a minute!"
"I shall wait!"
"Oh, drat," he muttered and began to change very quickly, with the result that Miss Copeland clicked her tongue in a very matronly fashion and adjusted his cravat. Caroline happened to come out of her room at that moment and he cringed at the look on her face. She did not like it. But then he remembered that it was not bad if she was jealous, considering that she always claimed not to want him. He stiffened when Miss Copeland's fingers accidentally brushed against his jaw.
"Diana," Caroline said sweetly. "What are you doing?"
"The Colonel's cravat was crooked," Diana explained innocently. "He really could not go downstairs like that."
The Colonel nodded coolly. "I thank you for your kind service, Miss Copeland."
"And pray what do you know of cravats, Diana?"
"Just as much as you do, I expect."
"Which is not a good deal."
"I know enough to adjust one," Miss Copeland protested. "Did I not do it well, Colonel?"
"Exceedingly," he mumbled.
"Miss Elliot?" Miss Copeland called when they arrived downstairs. "Do you not think the Colonel's cravat looks brilliantly done?"
Miss Elliot cast a cool eye at the item in question. "I cannot say that I do."
Miss Copeland looked disappointed and Caroline triumphant. Colonel Fitzwilliam manoeuvred himself next to her. "If she had ever done it before, she would not call so much attention to it," he whispered softly. Caroline's eyes flashed something at him, but he did not know what, because she was whisked off by one of the other young men whose names he did not yet know.
Over dinner, Colonel Fitzwilliam decided to frighten the murderer. "Miss Elliot, where could I get a saw?" he asked, studying the faces around the table unobtrusively.
"A saw?" she asked incredulously.
"I should like to saw off a branch and sculpt it into a work of art." He could not cut wood, but that was beside the point. Again he studied the faces, for a look of relief this time. He could not be certain, but he thought Caroline had seen something. She was focusing too much on her plate.
"A work of art?" Miss Elliot asked politely, but wrinkling her nose slightly at the idea that art could be made from a mere branch. How decidedly rural.
"Ahh, yes. It is a pastime of mine that I do not frequently indulge in, but which I enjoy tremendously. However, a knife does not suffice to cut through thicker branches. I really need a saw."
"You could ask the gardener," she suggested.
"Thank you," he said, looking at Caroline again. Her eyes seemed to be roving around the table. What had she seen? When could he ask her? He would have to wait until after the inconvenient separation of the sexes that would occur after dinner.
Richard was such a fool, Caroline reflected worriedly after dinner. With that stupid remark he was sure to have fixed the attention of the murderer upon himself. Surely that could not have been his intention? She was concerned about his safety now. The murderer would want to make certain that he stayed silent and there was no other way to shut Richard up than to kill him. Caroline feared that the Colonel had just pronounced his own death sentence.
While she would not like anybody to be killed, the thought of Colonel Fitzwilliam's near demise frightened her a great deal. How could she live excitingly if he was no longer there? Life had been so dull and predictable before he had made her his assistant. She would miss him. She did not want him to die. But she would not tell him of her suspicions. He would laugh at her, perhaps, or bully her into accepting him. Being worried about him was definitely not the same as being desperate to marry him. Certainly not. They could go on as they did, could they not? Meeting here and there and solving mysteries. They needed not live in that hut of his. This arrangement they had now was best. They were only friends.
And being a friend, she would make sure that he did not get killed.
There was no chance to warn him before bedtime, but she had already decided that she would not warn him. She was rather absent-minded during the remainder of the evening as she thought of a way to protect the Colonel during the night. That seemed nearly impossible, as they would each be in their own rooms. Finally she realised how she could do it. She would hide under his bed. Yes, she would do that. She had done it before, now. It would not be so shocking anymore.
Caroline made sure she went upstairs before him, trusting that the murderer would not attempt anything in company, and hoping that the Colonel would not be so stupid as to remain downstairs alone with the murderer. If he had not come up by midnight, she would go and look for him, she decided.
She changed into her night gown and slipped out into the corridor, clutching her hairbrush. A hairbrush made a very decent weapon, for lack of other weapons -- she did not have a razor, of course, and though she had contemplated taking the Colonel's razor, she had decided against it, because she did not know when he shaved himself. Perhaps he would notice if it was missing. Fortunately there was nobody around and she made it to Colonel Fitzwilliam's room unseen. Suppressing the urge to lie in his bed rather than under it -- for Caroline always preferred comfort over discomfort -- she sank to her knees and inspected the space below the bed first. It was empty. She got under and hoped he would not drop any cufflinks, although she suspected that he never did. It was just like him to say that when it was not true.
On second thought, Caroline realised that there was no need to hide under the bed if he was not coming for another hour or so. Why be uncomfortable? She might as well lie behind the bed and crawl under quietly if she heard him turn the doorknob. She lay down behind the bed, gazing up out of the window at the stars.
After a long time, she could hear voices outside of the door, presumably of people saying goodnight to each other, and the door was opened. Caroline had practised getting under the bed without making any noise and she did not make any sound when she hid herself. She could see the light the candle spread and she heard the Colonel humming to himself. Part of her did not want to be eavesdropping, but she had no choice. He would forgive her for it. It was all in his best interest.
Do not check under the bed! Do not drop anything! Caroline prayed, but fortunately the Colonel did not seem to be a clumsy coward. Although this relieved her, she was a little upset at him for being so negligent as not to check his room for intruders, however. I might have been a murderer! And I should have succeeded in murdering him so easily! she thought in dismay.
After what seemed like ages of pacing, undressing and dressing -- Good Lord! How many layers of clothing is he wearing? -- the Colonel got into bed. Caroline approved of his elegance in doing so, for the mattress did not descend on her nearly as wildly as Thorpe's mattress had. It was as if he did that out of consideration because he knew she was there, but he could not know that, of course. He was just very elegant by himself.
Caroline was not afraid that she would fall asleep. The floor was too uncomfortable and she had a mission. She would keep her attention on the job. She had not really thought about what she would do if there was an attempt on the Colonel's life, but she would crawl out from under the bed and she would scream. She could scream piercingly and it would scare the murderer away and it would definitely wake Richard up so he could run after the murderer and apprehend him. Perhaps she could give the mattress a push before she crawled out, so as to wake him faster. She tentatively held her hand against it. Maybe he would not feel it.
He was asleep now -- she could hear it and she prepared herself for a long wait. Had her instincts been wrong? Would the murderer not have understood? Would he not have thought that Richard knew who he was? Richard had no idea, of course, or perhaps he only said that he had no idea, but the murderer would not know that. He would be too afraid of being discovered.
Just when she was dozing off, her senses sharpened into attention once more, for there had been a soft sound in the corridor. It had been far away, but it had been a sound. Perhaps it had been a door closing, although she could not imagine that somebody would slam with doors as if to announce that he was going to murder somebody. She listened carefully and her heart beat in her throat when there was a soft noise at the door. The door was being opened -- from the outside.
Contrary to her intentions, Caroline could not scream when she heard soft footsteps approach the bed. It was as if her voice would not work. Eventually she could push herself out from under the bed. With admirable presence of mind she tore open the curtains so she would have a little light and then she shrieked at the intruder -- a shriek that was thin and high, due to her constricted throat.
The intruder had frozen when he had heard a movement behind the bed. When the sudden moonlight flooded the room and he heard a shriek, he dropped what he was holding and fled from this white-clad ghost. He exited the room with a dash.
Caroline had not seen much of him -- he seemed to be wearing something over his head -- and consequently she did not know what it was. He dropped a pillow on his way out, but she paid no attention to that. She ran to the door and was just in time to see a black shadow turn the corner at the end, by the light of the all-night candle that burnt in the corridor, its light still flickering from the gust of wind that the fleeing intruder had brought with him.
She was not so stupid as to chase a villain through a dark house with nothing to defend herself and she breathed heavily from the shock as she leant against the door post. Richard could not have missed this -- he could not -- she had even shrieked -- but why had he not jumped up? She closed the door and saw that he had not.
The Colonel lit a candle. He sat up in bed as if nothing had happened and looked at Caroline, although the adoring look in his eyes was lost in the darkness. He thought she was amazing, but apparently she did not return the sentiment. She picked up the pillow and hit him with it. "Fool!" she snapped.
"Fool?" he repeated in a puzzled voice.
"But why?" He thought she was here because she cared for him, not because she thought him foolish. Although perhaps it was foolish to care for her. No, it is not. She is wonderful.
"Because!" Caroline sat on the bed and breathed in deeply. "You almost got yourself murdered there because of your stupid baiting! And you had not even locked the door!" That had suddenly struck her as remarkably idiotic.
He heard that her voice was slightly panicky. "I know," he said as calmly as possible to reassure her.
"Oh, do not be so cool!" she exclaimed.
"Why are you not cool? It was my life that was in danger and not yours and you do not care about my life, do you?"
"No, I do not! Certainly not anymore now. I shall return to my own room and leave you to your murderer. Get murdered then, if that is what you want!"
The Colonel gripped her wrist. "It is not what I want and you know it. I shall not let you go to your room. It is likely that we are both in danger now. The intruder saw you and he does not know if he saw him. I do not know if he recognised you, but how many candidates are there? You, Miss Elliot and Miss Copeland. If he is Thorpe, he will know it was you."
"How does he know it was a woman?" Caroline asked, a little frightened.
"Your outline against the window. You must stay here. Please?"
"What if he comes back?"
"Against the two of us? He meant to smother me in my sleep with that pillow. He cannot do that if we are together."
"But I am not going to sleep under the bed," she protested.
"Dearest Caroline, you do not have to. Come here. Give me your hand."
She gave him her hand and was surprised when he kissed it.
"Thank you for helping to save my life," he said earnestly.
"It was nothing," she said shyly and wished he would not say such things. "You wear a night gown," she remarked illogically.
"Well observed," he answered. His thanks confused her, he noted.
"But how can I see if you look better than Thorpe?" Caroline was shocked by her own audacity. "I-I-I -- what am I saying?" she stammered.
"Do you mean you still do not know that I look better?" he asked a little anxiously. "I thought I did, but if you do not know..."
"I assume that you do," she said crossly. "Do not ask me."
"Well, at any rate you look better than Thorpe, if that is any consolation."
"Oh!" Caroline hit him with the pillow again. "I hate you."
"Sit next to me and we shall discuss the case," he said invitingly. "You are my partner."
"Can we not do that tomorrow? You said he would not return this night. I would much rather sleep," she said hesitantly. "And as your partner, I should advise you to take enough rest so you can think clearly tomorrow."
"I shall always take my partner's advice," he answered and made room for her in the bed. "Can I have a good night kiss?"
"No," she replied with a laugh. "I shall not fall for that trick! You said no more kisses until we are married and you know what I think of that. Do not try to catch me with such surreptitious tricks."
The Colonel shrugged. He was in no hurry, for he quite enjoyed this hunting as well.
In the morning, Colonel Fitzwilliam awoke and saw his partner was still with him. She was growing more and more sensible, he reflected, and she had given up those ridiculous notions about her looks and her gown having to be perfect, because she was awake and she had not run off to change.
"May I go and change?" she asked.
"You may, but please hurry."
"Why? Do I look awful like this?"
"Argh! Go, woman!" he pushed her out of the bed and examined her as she stood looking down at him in confusion. "Do you know, if you were not so terribly picky about houses, I should --"
"Yes," she cut him off. "Enough of that cheek! You would not dare and you know it."
When they arrived below, they discovered that Edgar and Sir Walter were in a frenzy -- Edgar because Sir Walter was blaming him for everything that had gone wrong, and Sir Walter because Thorpe had disappeared with the contents of the chest that contained the prize money -- a sizeable sum that Sir Walter had hoped to keep for himself in case everybody else forgot about it.
Colonel Fitzwilliam felt that familiar feeling of excitement and determination begin to flow through his veins again. He took control of the situation briskly for Sir Walter was obviously incompetent. "Sir Walter -- Miss Bingley and I shall investigate. I am a military investigator."
Sir Walter stopped running to and fro and his hair, which had been waving to and fro along with his body, descended neatly over the balding spot that it was meant to hide. Caroline observed it all with interest, her hands clasped behind her back. Sir Walter was obviously greatly upset by the loss of the money that was not even his, if he could forget about something as vital as his hair and appearance. Why? Had he appropriated the money? Did he murder Lord Bennington in order to appropriate the money? But what of Thorpe? Thorpe had disappeared with the money. How do they know Thorpe has disappeared? How do they know the money has gone?
"And who is Miss Bingley?" Sir Walter asked sharply. He did not think she was a military investigator. He did not think she had any official capacity.
"That is Miss Bingley," the Colonel indicated and Caroline curtseyed in acknowledgement.
"I know that," Sir Walter replied tersely.
"Then why do you ask?" Colonel Fitzwilliam opened the door to the breakfast parlour. "I think I shall hold examinations in here. Edgar? Make sure you admit them one by one and please get me some paper and two pens."
"Yes, Colonel." Edgar was happy to get away from Sir Walter.
"I shall hear you first, Sir Walter. If you do not mind."
"I want my money back -- the money that was entrusted to me," the Baronet corrected himself.
"Until Edgar has procured the stationery, I should like to see the place of the crime."
Sir Walter took Colonel Fitzwilliam and Miss Bingley to his study. A big chest in a corner stood open, its padlocks lying on the ground. "See that it was stolen?"
"I see. However, the chest seems to have been opened with keys."
"Yes, the keys must have been stolen too."
"Ahh. Do not touch this. We shall examine this later on," Fitzwilliam said gravely. He returned to the breakfast parlour and cleared a space for his notes. Caroline did the same. He looked at her jot something down. "Very well. We shall start. Please begin at the beginning, Sir Walter." The man was all too likely to begin at the end.
"I woke up and the first thing I always do is go down and check if the money is still there."
"The beginning, if you please, Sir Walter. The origins of the money?"
"It was the prize money for the race."
"Then it was not really your money at all," Caroline purred.
"It has been put into my care," Sir Walter defended himself.
"Who was to receive the money now that the race has ended in an unexpected way?" Colonel Fitzwilliam asked.
"I do not believe we discussed that yet."
"It seems likely that it would fall to you if you took care to remain silent about it," Caroline pointed out.
The Colonel shot her an interested glance. She had a good point there. It would certainly be in Sir Walter's interest to keep silent about the prize money. He was as poor as a church mouse and he could use the money. But they should not antagonise Sir Walter so early on -- he would obstruct the investigation. "And Thorpe -- what of him? How did you discover that he was gone?"
"He has eaten breakfast and then he left. The servants saw him leave."
"What time was that?"
"It was at five."
"At five in the morning?" Caroline asked incredulously.
"Have you any idea how long it takes to prepare a decent breakfast, Miss Bingley?" Sir Walter asked her contemptuously. "I insist that the silver be polished every morning."
"And a pig must be slaughtered daily to have fresh sausages on the table," the Colonel nodded.
"I do not own so many pigs," said Sir Walter.
"A quick recapitulation," said Caroline. "The money was stolen and Thorpe left. It is tempting to ascribe the theft to him, but do we have any evidence for it, other than that it seems unlikely that somebody would steal the money and go back to bed?"
"The second question that arises after Miss Bingley's conclusion," said Colonel Fitzwilliam. "Is everybody in bed?"
"I had the rooms checked, Colonel," said Sir Walter, with a suspicious look at Caroline. "And everyone was in his or her bed, except for Mr Thorpe, Mr Howe, Miss Bingley and Miss Elliot."
For two people who had expected him to say except for Mr Thorpe and Miss Bingley, the Colonel and Caroline were very surprised to hear this long list of errant sleepwalkers. "Pray, where are all those people then?" he asked. "Are they missing? Except for Miss Bingley, who is here with us as you see."
"They are not missing, but there seems to have been a slight confusion as to who was sleeping where last night," Sir Walter said tightly, not quite yet over the shock of hearing that his own daughter had been so confused that she had not been able to find the room she had been sleeping in for thirty years. "They were discovered in other beds."
"Were they?" the Colonel raised his eyebrows. "I was under the assumption that you did not have enough rooms to accommodate all your guests and that your staff had therefore taken to lodging guests together. How could it be that there were guests who changed beds if there were not enough rooms to begin with?"
Sir Walter had extreme difficulties comprehending him. "I beg your pardon, Colonel," he said finally. "I do not have the pleasure of understanding you."
Caroline did not think it would be such a pleasure, but she kept silent.
"Excuse me for jumping to conclusions, Sir Walter. I was shown a room and I did not explore it before I went to bed, but when I did, I found I was to share it with Miss Bingley and she was no longer awake so I could not ask her about it. I did not want to make a fuss, being used to the hardships of the Army, and I went to bed assuming that it was an ordinary procedure at Kellynch, like it is in other places I have stayed at."
"I wager that they were on the Continent!" Sir Walter exclaimed in shock. "Really, Colonel! You cannot be serious in having assumed that Kellynch cannot accommodate my guests!"
Colonel Fitzwilliam looked very apologetic and innocent and gave Caroline an obtrusive smile. "I am sorry, Sir Walter. But I own such a small house that I have to share my own bed with any visitor, so you really must forgive me for thinking so unsophisticatedly."
She tried not to smile back and bent her head over her papers. He had a contagious smile. And a dreadfully hideous hut. She frowned. The Colonel noticed this, naturally, and laid his hand on her thigh, making Caroline's face assume a reddish tinge.
"Colonel," said Sir Walter. "I must ask you to refrain from such behaviour at Kellynch."
Fitzwilliam again looked very innocent and also uncomprehending. "What do you -- oh! Submensally, the femur thing, you mean. But Miss Bingley dropped her pencil in her lap, Sir Walter." His hand surfaced above the table with a pencil between the fingers.
Caroline was as astonished as Sir Walter. She had not dropped anything. Where he had got that pencil from was beyond her. "Thank you," she mumbled. The red colour on her cheeks was beginning to fade slowly.
"Do not mention it. I know you cannot write without your pencil. That was all, Sir Walter. I do not think I have any further questions. You are free to go."
Sir Walter was so baffled that he forgot about his breakfast and left.
Colonel Fitzwilliam coolly buttered a roll.
"I have to ask you not to do that again," said Caroline.
His knife paused. "Oh."
"You cannot even butter a roll without getting butter on your fingers," she said. "I do not like butter on my gown."
His knife resumed buttering. "Oh." He weighed her response mentally. Was that the only objection she had to it? If so, it was better than he had expected.
"Please be more eloquent."
"Some variety," Caroline asked in exasperation.
"Do I have to do something?" she exclaimed. "Something you won't like."
"Richard, stop being a nuisance."
The Colonel put down his roll and looked at her coolly. "I should appreciate it if you did not imply to be a smaller nuisance than I am."
"But I am!"
"I do not think so. I believe you are just as irritating. Edgar?" he called.
Edgar appeared instantly. "Yes, Colonel?"
"Would you say that I am more annoying than Miss Bingley?"
Edgar stared from one to the other. He did not want to be the cause of an argument and he tried to find something diplomatic to say. "I could not say, Colonel."
"Do not mind him, Edgar. He is just miffed that I do not respond to his advances in the way that he should want me to respond. Please take a seat. I have some questions that you might be able to answer." Caroline spoke in a friendly tone, with a friendly smile on her face, winning Edgar over completely. "Well," she said when he sat down. "What happened this morning?" She decided to take over the investigation. Richard was being very childish, sitting there morosely and eating his roll.
"I was up early, doing my job, when Sir Walter came down and started a riot."
"That was when he discovered the theft?"
"Yes, Miss. He blamed me for it, but I knew Mr Thorpe had already left, so I convinced him that it might have been Thorpe."
"Aha," Caroline answered thoughtfully. "And who came up with the luminous idea to check all the bedrooms?"
"Sir Walter did. He ordered me and Sally to do that and he followed us, so we could not lie, Miss," Edgar said with a sideways glance at the Colonel, who was staring at his notes with an inscrutable expression. "We first discovered that you were not in your own room and Sir Walter was suspecting you of the crime, so when we found out where you were, we had to say that you were in bed with --"
"Yes," Caroline interrupted hastily. "I remember."
"You don't say," the Colonel said gruffly.
"Where were the others?"
"Ahh, Miss Elliot and Mr Howe?" Edgar shifted on his chair. "Sir Walter forbade me to disclose that about Miss Elliot."
"But he would not want us to suspect Miss Elliot," Caroline cooed. "It is important that we know where she was so we can clear her."
"With Mr Elliot," Edgar said almost inaudibly. "And Mr Howe was with Miss Copeland."
Caroline looked shocked. Diana? "Oh. Ahh. Well..." She racked her brains for something else to say. "I do not suppose any of them were planning to elope with the stolen money?" she asked lamely.
"They did not tell me, Miss," Edgar said politely. "But I don't think so. Mr Howe and Miss Copeland were clearly drunk, and Mr Elliot and Miss Elliot -- uhh, Sir Walter does not know this and Sally did not think it was necessary to tell him -- messed up an elopement once."
"But they hate each other!" Caroline exclaimed in shocked surprise.
"They make a good show of it during the day," Edgar agreed. "But they eloped once and Mr Elliot left Miss Elliot at an inn while he went off with the barmaid. That is Miss Elliot's version. Mr Elliot's version is slightly different. He claims that Miss Elliot mistreated him and that is why he left her. Anyway, they can get very upset if this comes up between them. I have given up betting on the right version. They will never admit the truth."
"Very interesting," said Caroline. She noted it down. It was not very likely that they had been conspiring to steal the money, then. Perhaps one had stolen the money to blame the other. That was more likely in their case. "Who do you think took the money?"
"Mr Thorpe, Miss. He is gone. The money is gone. And he was always very eager to win it."
She knew that. Thorpe had continually pressed to start the race over and when this had not occurred, he had taken off with the prize money. "Was he desperate for money?"
"I do not think he had an income, Miss. You can generally tell, what with the sort of money they give you. He never gave me anything, whereas the others give me money and sometimes old coats and boots and anything they stop liking. Thorpe had no money to give. He needed it all to keep up appearances."
"Very well, Edgar," Caroline said to the footman in an a business-like manner. "Thank you for your co-operation. Would you please show in the next person who wakes?"
"Yes, Miss Bingley."
Caroline thought that it seemed a fairly clear case. It was probably so that nobody could any interesting information to what they already knew, but perhaps Thorpe had let something slip to one of the other gentlemen. She made a list of people.
Colonel Fitzwilliam still ate in silence. Was he now degraded to the position of assistant? Caroline seemed to be taking over the case entirely and what was more stunning, she was doing it well, too. He felt rather unnecessary.
"Pride is a vice, especially when it is wounded," Caroline orated, guessing wildly at the cause of his distemper. There had to be something.
"Would you need me to take notes, Miss Bingley?" he asked in mock deference.
"Well, if you are able to produce legible notes, you may assist me in that department," she graciously assented.
"Was that a yes or a no?" she asked, relishing the power for once.
"A yes, because I fear I shall be pushed aside entirely if I say no. This is the only way that you will allow me to stay involved in the case."
"You have a remarkable insight, Colonel," Caroline praised. "I should be very happy if you would lend its powers to me during the case. I am sure that we should crack it in no time at all."
"Well, however you call it then."
"I feel I lost control."
"Dear Colonel. Do not worry, for I am in perfect control of you," she explained patiently. "I shall take good care of you. There is absolutely no need for you to be in control of the situation. Ha. We all know what happens if you lose control, do we not? Are you not glad that I took over? Really, Colonel! You should think before you acquire a bad reputation."
"I am sorry that Sir Walter happened to see that, but it was a well-meant gesture," he said grumpily.
"And it was well-received, but that is not the point! If you do not stop being so childish, I shall stop liking you!"
He said nothing, but considered if he would take another roll. Perhaps it was best to focus on food and not on women. They were unpredictable and food was not. He would know what a roll would do if he put his hand on it -- it would fly to his mouth and taste well. That would not apply to Caroline. If anything flew to his mouth it would either be a hand to slap him, or her mouth to kiss him, but which one he could expect was never clear. It was best to abandon women altogether.
"What are you thinking?"
"I was comparing you to a roll and I chose the roll," he replied.
Caroline opened her mouth in amazement and shut it again. That really was too ridiculous to comment on. What on earth was one supposed to say to someone who compared one to a common roll of bread? What did they have in common? Not their figure, surely? Nor the colour.
Edgar showed in Mr Garrett and thus put an end to their ruminations.
"Mr Garrett, good morning," Caroline addressed him. "I am investigating the case of the missing prize money." It was best to be brisk and forget about Colonel Fitzwilliam and his ridiculous notions about rolls.
"The case of the missing prize money?" Garrett looked baffled.
"It was stolen this morning."
"Oh, was it still there?"
"Did you not know?"
"I had not thought about it," Garrett said. "But I suppose it makes sense, considering that we did not have the race."
Caroline questioned him further and concluded that he did not seem to know anything. He claimed not to have thought about the money and he said he did not even know how much it was in total. Furthermore, he had gone to bed at the same time as Colonel Fitzwilliam -- who confirmed this and further on stayed silent -- and he had slept all night, only to wake up half an hour ago.
The next to arrive was Miss Elliot. She would be tougher to interrogate and Caroline straightened her back in anticipation. She briefly explained the situation and then asked Miss Elliot if she had been awake during the night.
"Not at all," Miss Elliot replied coldly.
"You did not hear or see anybody else?"
"So you might have stolen the money and gone back to bed," Caroline said shrewdly. "I cannot imagine that you would not need money."
"My finances are none of your business, Miss Bingley."
"But I can see that the Elliots' financial resources are depleted. You cannot fool me. I have been society. Your family could do with a financial boost."
"We should never stoop to thievery."
"An advantageous marriage, then? But Lord Bennington died. If you had been increasing your spending in anticipation of his fortune, then you would have been painfully surprised by his death."
"I never had the intention to marry Lord Bennington."
"That is odd, because I think he did have the intention to marry you."
"I am not aware of such an intention and I believe you are mistaken."
"He kissed you before the race," Caroline remarked. "I saw that."
Miss Elliot coloured slightly and looked angry. "I repeat that I never had the intention to marry him."
"You are a true representative of your sex," Colonel Fitzwilliam interjected sarcastically.
"Only constructive comments please, Colonel," said Caroline, but she knew very well what he was getting at. She could not assume that Miss Elliot had wanted to marry Lord Bennington because they had kissed. It would have too many implications for her own situation and the doom scenario of living in the Colonel's shabby hut loomed up in front of her. "Colonel, would you mind leaving us so I can speak to Miss Elliot about her relationship to Lord Bennington in frank terms? You would only be embarrassed."
"If you wish," he replied and left the room. He hoped they would not start talking about him.
"Now, Miss Elliot...do you mean kisses do not mean anything to you?" Caroline lowered her voice conspiratorially. "I understand, you know."
"You understand?" Miss Elliot frowned.
"I have been kissing a man I do not wish to marry, you see. Well, actually I do, but on my terms and not on his."
"You have been deceiving him?"
"Oh, no! He knows my opinion perfectly well."
"So did Lord Bennington."
"We were only friends."
"Your definition of a friend stretches wider than mine," Caroline shrugged. She would never think of kissing a friend and she quickly abandoned this path of reasoning, because the conclusion she glimpsed at the end was rather disturbing. "And what of Mr Elliot? Do you have plans to marry him? What is in your way? I assume that there is something."
Miss Elliot looked flustered. "Well, try his character for one."
"I am not well-acquainted with him."
"He is unreliable and selfish."
And he would be as selfish as Miss Elliot, Caroline assumed. What a lovely combination. But it was remarkable that Miss Elliot should have noticed. Perhaps there was hope for her yet.
"And he has no money."
That was something Caroline understood and she nodded sympathetically, embarking on a discussion about how horrible it would be to live in a small house with no decent acquaintances.
Colonel Fitzwilliam rejoined Caroline when she had finished talking to Miss Elliot. She barely acknowledged his return, but she studied her notes extensively. He noticed that there were still no crumbs on her plate, which worried him. She should not go without eating. "Miss Bingley, please eat something. I see you have not eaten anything yet."
"Colonel, I just do not leave crumbs."
"Everyone does, even you."
"Oh! Well, then I do! I am thinking."
"Then I shall not disturb you." The Colonel got up and paced the room. "I think I shall return to London. I am not needed here."
Caroline raised her head and stared at him. "Do you feel ignored?" she inquired. "Shall I give you a bigger role?"
"Caroline!" he hissed angrily. "What are you doing?"
"I am trying to solve the case when you are only sulking and pouting!" she said in a mildly accusing tone.
He crossed his arms and stared out of the window crossly. It had been wrong to come here. It had been wrong to ever think that Caroline was interesting. She was not. He was sick of her not yet repenting for looking down on him because he lived in a small house. "I am leaving," he announced. "I shall be at my estate if you need me." He expected her to comment on that and he had said it especially for that purpose, but the reference to his estate went completely past her.
"Suit yourself," she remarked indifferently. "However, I do not think I shall need losers."
The Colonel glared at her and left the room to pack his belongings, muttering some not very nice things to himself.
"Pfff," Caroline sighed. She did not really think he would leave -- after all, had he not repeatedly expressed his desire to marry her? How could he leave the woman he desired? Or was it the dowry he desired? She coloured in anger. Never! She did not mind sharing her money with her husband, but her money should not be the only thing her husband wanted her for. That was why she preferred a rich husband. Yes, that is why. But if her only attraction was her fortune, then he would not feel he had to stay, so perhaps he would leave after all. Back to London. She recalled his words. Wait! That is not what he said! She frowned as she remembered what he had said. His estate? He has the audacity to call that an estate? Hmph! It would be too small to be an estate for mice! She recalled the little mouse she had kept a secret from the maids when she was a child. It had had a name and a hole it lived in, but she was sure that behind the hole -- which was of course the front door -- its house was much bigger than the Colonel's.
Crabbily she buttered a roll and even more crabbily she noted that she left crumbs on her plate, but less crabbily she remembered that he was not here to see it. Even so, she shook all crumbs off the roll and emptied her plate on the plate he had used. "If women are rolls, then what are crumbs?" she wondered out loud. That was a puzzle she could not solve. Perhaps they were children, but that would not work, because it was not the case that you became smaller with every child you had, as happened with crumbling rolls. That settled it. Women were not like rolls. Stupid Colonel, growing more stupid with every remark. Perhaps crumbs were remarks and a roll was a Colonel. She looked at the plate full of the Colonel's remarks and realised that she had just eaten him. "Eeek!"
She had to get out of there before she would go insane and she gathered up her papers. "Miss Bingley?" Edgar asked when she came out of the room. "Are you done questioning?"
"Oh, yes. For the time being, that is. I must think now." She stared at the stairs where a trunk was being thrown down with loud bangs, springing open as it reached the ground and making all its contents spill over the floor, shortly afterwards being followed by a gentleman in a hurry, who jumped over the mess.
"Got my horse, Edgar?" asked the Colonel.
"Yes, sir. Colonel. It is out front."
Colonel Fitzwilliam handed Edgar a generous tip. "Use this to mail me my trunk," he said with a cool look at the lady. "Awfully sorry about the mess. Perhaps Miss Bingley will be so kind as to repack it. She is awfully tidy."
The lady choked in indignation and was unable to speak until he had left the house and swung himself agilely -- he had left the door open so she had a good view of him swinging his legs -- onto the horse. "The nerve!" Edgar pocketed the money and began to gather the clothes that were strewn about at the bottom of the stairs. Caroline watched him. "I cannot believe you are doing that! Why should you clean up his mess?"
"Because he paid me for it," Edgar said with a shrug. "I do not care."
Caroline glanced at the tag on the trunk. To Colonel Fitzwilliam, Essex. "Essex? Why does he have his trunk sent to a Colonel Fitzwilliam in Essex?"
"Well, Miss, I think it must be because he is Colonel Fitzwilliam from Essex. I cannot come up with any other explanation."
"No! He is Colonel Fitzwilliam from London," she protested. "What does he mean, Essex? Is Essex not very big? There must be another colonel living in Essex."
"I do not think there will be any other Colonels called Fitzwilliam, even if Essex is big," Edgar answered.
"But it does not make any sense," Caroline complained.
Edgar thought it made perfect sense, except perhaps the fact that the Colonel had not specified any particular location within Essex. Any post sent to Edgar in Somersetshire would definitely not arrive at Kellynch, he suspected. The Colonel must be very confident of his fame and since Edgar had never been to Essex, he had to trust that Colonel Fitzwilliam was a local celebrity in that county. "Perhaps he is famous for his grand estate."
"Infamous for his shabby hut, rather," Caroline retorted. "But that is in London. Oh well, I can see why he should not want people to know his London address and that must be why he is sending it to Essex. But where in Essex?"
"Well, Miss. If you really want to know, you must travel with the trunk," Edgar said, hoping to be rid of her persistent questions very soon.
Considering that Thorpe had fled and that he seemed to be guilty of Lord Bennington's murder, she might as well focus on this new mystery and travel with the trunk, as ominous and unattractive as the phrase travelling with the trunk sounded. At least there was one bright thing about it: it sounded a lot better than travelling in the trunk.
Caroline, who had money to spare, hired a coachman. "Follow that trunk," she instructed him and then leant back against the uncomfortable upholstery. She had paid him handsomely to follow the trunk, no matter what. Naturally this did not include trips overseas, but in that case she would hire a skipper.
The trunk was loaded and reloaded onto a few different coaches on its way to Essex. Caroline waited for the inevitable moment that the directions on the trunk would throw the postmen for a loop, but it did not come. Even in Essex the Colonel's trunk was handled as if the directions on it were not highly mysterious. She had tried out various thoughts and solutions, but it was not likely that there was an estate called Colonel Fitzwilliam or an estate called Essex.
Grumpy from a lack of sleep -- trunks needed no sleep and they kept travelling -- Caroline peered out of the carriage when it stopped.
"Your destination, Miss," said the coachman.
She paid the coachman and saw the mail coach depart. They were next to a square green hill, which was odd, because hills were generally softer in shape. Weeds and grass sprang up from between the stones and tiles of the drive and it was not as well-tended as it could be, but the green gave it a rustic air. She wondered why there should be a drive ending in front of a hill, but a closer look revealed a dark brown door in the middle of the hill. It was a building overgrown with ivy and other plants. "I was a house once," Caroline remarked. She made out a few windows now too. How curious.
The coachman departed swiftly, having never seen such an edifice and being under the assumption that it was something to do with witches, and Caroline found herself and her baggage in front of the door. There must have been a servant to take care of the Colonel's trunk because it was nowhere in sight, or had the coachman double-crossed her? There was nobody to be seen and that meant that nobody could steal her baggage either, so she pushed against the door. It opened soundlessly and she entered a cold and dark hall. "Hello!" she called, but the only sound that returned was her own echo. Apart from that it stayed deadly silent.
Against the wall stood a low cabinet covered by a red cloth. There was a silver tray with today's post on it. Some of it was addressed to Colonel Fitzwilliam. Caroline felt a little thrill upon seeing a familiar name, but she also frowned. Was he a guest at this establishment? Who were Mrs Robertson, Lady Ffoulkes and Mr Crabb? There were letters for them as well. She dropped the letters back on the tray and caught sight of herself in the mirror over the cabinet. It gave her a shudder. There were blue rings around her eyes and the skylight in the hall gave her features a strange emphasis. It was if the mirror was haunted.
Suddenly a golden-haired young lady in a green gown appeared and paused right in the middle of a ray of sunlight coming in from one of the high windows. "Good day. I see you found our door. How may I help you?"
Her voice sounded very friendly, but Caroline did not know if the young lady approved of her coming in just like that. "I have come for Colonel Fitzwilliam."
Somewhere in the house a piano began to play a sad tune. The young lady inclined her head and listened. "Ahh, Lady Ffoulkes. Oh and the Colonel..." she smiled regretfully. "He is in Somersetshire."
He had not returned yet. Had she overtaken the Colonel on his way? He must have stopped to sleep then. Of course he would have done that. Not everyone was as stupid as she was. She had not stopped anywhere, but she had tried to sleep in the carriage, which had not worked very well. Suddenly she yawned. "May I wait for him?"
"That depends," said the green-gowned young lady, eyeing Caroline curiously. "He might not return today. He might not return tomorrow. Who can say?"
"What is this?" Caroline gestured around herself.
"But what is Ivy Manor?"
"It is a Manor covered in ivy."
Caroline suppressed a sharp remark. She was a guest here and she had to remember that. "Who does it belong to?"
"I have put myself in charge of running it. I am the mistress of Ivy Manor. They call me Lady Ivy," the young lady replied with a curtsey.
Caroline was certain that the girl could not be more than eighteen years old and perhaps not even that, but if she was the mistress of the house, she would have to deal with Lady Ivy. "May I wait here for Colonel Fitzwilliam?"
"Certainly," Lady Ivy answered. "It is what people do here -- waiting. Lady Ffoulkes has been waiting for Sir Edwin for ever so long, but he shall never return."
Caroline gave the girl a strange look and wondered if she could still leave.
"Where are your belongings?"
"They are outside."
"They will be brought to your room," Lady Ivy decided. "I shall first show you where it is." She led Caroline to a blue-coloured room. "If the Colonel does not appear within a week, I fear I must ask you to become a paying guest," Lady Ivy said regretfully. "One of our crops failed terribly last year and we cannot be as hospitable as we should like."
Caroline sat down on her bed when Lady Ivy was gone and asked herself what she was doing there. This was certainly the strangest house she had ever set foot in. It was run by a positively medieval-looking schoolgirl whose favourite colour was obviously green and the whole atmosphere was eerie. A manservant brought her trunk and bags and she was a little surprised to see that he was not dressed in green. And why was this room blue? It was a bit of a dissonant.
She left her room to ask Lady Ivy about the meals and she discovered that most of the doors were locked. She could only move in a limited space -- her bedchamber, the corridor to the stairs, the stairs and the hall below. In the hall below there were three unlocked doors -- a lavatory, a dining room and a parlour. All the rest of the doors were locked. She had not tried the bedchambers, but she assumed that Lady Ivy and Lady Ffoulkes had to be sleeping somewhere as well. Or perhaps Lady Ivy slept in a flowerbed.
Lady Ivy sat in the parlour writing a letter in green ink. She looked up when Caroline entered. "I beg your pardon. I believe I neglected to ask your name."
"I am pleased to meet you, Miss Bingley. I assume you are a Miss, considering that you are waiting for Colonel Fitzwilliam."
"I am. May I ask whom the Colonel is waiting for? You said everybody was waiting for someone."
Lady Ivy wrinkled her nose in amusement and her green eyes laughed. "He is waiting for the day that hot and cold are peacefully united in one body."
"What will happen that day?"
"A woman will propose to him."
Caroline uttered an exclamation. "Why would that be when hot and cold -- what? And whose body?"
"I am only quoting what he wrote to me the last time."
"His body, I daresay. He is coolness itself. He has not got a spark of fire in him," Caroline mocked. The sparks flew from her eyes as if to signify that she was not cool at all.
Lady Ivy laid her pen aside and went to the window. Caroline took the chance to glance at the letter she had been writing. There at the bottom, in a flowing green hand, was written Iphigeneia. Unfortunately it was not followed by a last name. Well...Lady Ivy...little actress... She said nothing. We all have our youthful follies.
Lady Ivy turned energetically. "Tea is in an hour, dinner in four, but tea may be moved ahead if you are particularly starving, except then you will get this morning's scones and the servants will get the scones that are currently being baked for us. They are not going to be upset if tea is moved ahead by an hour. State your preference."
"I should prefer to have tea now. I have not eaten much on my way here." Caroline was starving.
Ivy rang the bell and arranged it. "Where did you travel from?"
"Somersetshire," Caroline replied with a grimace. "Yes, I travelled in pursuit of Colonel Fitzwilliam, but I seem to have overtaken him," she said when Ivy's eyebrows shot up.
"Why were you in pursuit?"
"Because I -- have you any idea how childish men can be?" She would almost become annoyed with him again just thinking about it.
"Oh!" Ivy waved knowingly. "My relatives -- well, I shall not bore you with them." She was supposed to be an independent woman, with no relatives at all. It would detract from her status if she turned out to have relatives -- male relatives especially. But she understood Caroline perfectly. "The Colonel did something that displeased you?"
"It vexed me terribly."
"Tsk tsk. What can we do about it? How can we punish the tedious man?" Lady Ivy cocked her head to one side.
"I thank you for your friendly concern, Your Ladyship," Caroline said after a brief pause. "But I think the Colonel should be all mine when it comes to punishment."
"With all due respect --" You are far to young to understand matters of the heart. She frowned slightly. The heart?
"Is it love?" Ivy smiled. She knew what it was.
"Love! No, it is murder," Caroline said vehemently.
"You wish to murder him?" Ivy's green eyes grew very big.
"No! He abandoned an investigation. A murder investigation. He must be punished for leaving me to deal with it all alone."
"We shall dye his hair green," Ivy promised earnestly. "In his sleep."
"Why this obsession with green?" Caroline wondered. "Are you not exaggerating a very little bit?"
"I love green and you love the Colonel, therefore he will be green, to signify our co-operation." The girl clasped her hands together enthusiastically.
"I did not say I love the Colonel," Caroline protested. She would never put it that way. She would say she loved Richard. One could not love colonels. They were colonels.
"No, but I never said I loved green and you still knew I was obsessed," Ivy said shrewdly. "Ha! I think we may expect the object of your love here some time tomorrow. That does not give me very much time to brew a green dye, but it will do." A servant peered in and she got to her feet. "Tea is ready, Miss Bingley. Allow me to show you the way."
Caroline shook her head in protest upon hearing about the object of her love, but she had a headache and it hurt. Meekly she followed Ivy and had her tea without speaking much, thinking about whether she loved Richard in spite of his colonelness or his coolness. Her head spun. After tea she politely excused herself and went to bed. She was exhausted.
Lady Ivy narrowed her eyes when Caroline had left and smiled at the servant. "Oh, Colonel! You made a conquest!"
"I did?" he replied wryly. "It was not visible. Iphigeneia, my girl, you must have indulged in too much nettle soup or green mint tea."
"Maybe so! But I am right nevertheless! How big an impression did she make upon your heart, Colonel? Miss Bingley's heart is nearly shred to pieces, you rascal!"
"Would you please not stress Colonel so?" he begged. "And it does not become a young lady such as yourself to call an older man a rascal." He had arrived when Caroline had gone up to her room and Ivy had quickly informed him about Caroline's arrival. They had agreed that he would pose as the servant just to see if Caroline would notice him, but poor Caroline had been much too tired to even glance at him. He wondered what they should do now.
"I shall skip into the village and talk to Mr Arthur." Mr Arthur was the local clergyman. He could trick Richard into attending some wedding ceremony, she was sure.
"He shall try to cure you of your witchcraft," replied Colonel Fitzwilliam, feeling rather strangled by the servant's outfit. Servants were obviously not well-exercised people, for he nearly burst out of the suit.
"That is his good right," Ivy answered. "But he must do something for me first."
"Please tend to your household management first, Iphigeneia."
"Does the house not look well?" she asked, sticking out her tongue.
"Well, I have to say that I am not too fond of green and may I remind you that Ivy Manor is after all the house that my father gave to me --"
"-- and that you did not want, you proud idiot," she continued. "It would have become completely overgrown with ivy inside and outside if I had not jumped in to save it."
"Our saviour," he said sarcastically.
"You ungrateful little colonel, you." She shrieked when he went after her. "I revere you, brother! I swear! I am very respectful, oh yes I am! Put me down! You are not ungrateful! You are not little! You are a grateful great colonel! Hail thee, Colonel! Noooooooooo!" Ivy screamed as he dropped her unceremoniously in the green duckweed.
He took one glance at the green crown on her head, bowed and retraced his steps back to the house. Perhaps it was time to send her back home.
Caroline had not woken for dinner and it was not until the following morning that she opened her eyes. She vaguely remembered a dream in which she had hear someone hail the Colonel and subsequently curse him, but it was very vague. It was a stupid dream, for who would hail him? No, who would curse him? Why would she be dreaming about him anyway? He was not here. It was odd that she would think of him. Very disconcerting, really, and she was glad that she did not remember more of it, because she had had a dream once in which he figured most prominently, constantly saying that this was his wife Caroline and while that was not so bad, the horror had been in the fact that they had been wearing rags. Well, really, he looked quite well in rags, she could not complain about that, and later on it turned out that they had been wearing rags to a masked ball so that it was nothing to worry about, but the initial shock had almost woken her up.
Colonel Fitzwilliam had been similarly fatigued, although he did have dinner, but afterwards he went straight to bed. It was best to face the enemy with a rested mind and body.
Ivy had gone to the village to talk to the clergyman, telling him her brother had placed the organisation of his wedding in her hands and that she had come to be informed about the official details. He did not believe for one second that a colonel would place something of such importance in the hands of a girl so young, although he could not believe that the Viscount and the Colonel allowed their youngest sister to run wild either and that had still happened. But Ivy Manor's strawberries were always delicious, he had to admit. The girl had green fingers. She certainly knew how to grow decent strawberries and that he would do anything for a basket of strawberries.
Caroline heard a strange sound when she rose, but it was only Ivy's gown on the washing line, flapping in the wind amidst a man's clothing. Ivy was odd, but she was not that odd. She did not wear breeches and trousers. Caroline ran out into the hallway and then checked herself. How silly of her to think that Colonel Fitzwilliam had arrived. Of course it was nothing but the clothes from his trunk that had been washed. Why was she about to run downstairs in her night gown just to discover that fact? Rather ashamedly she returned to her room and dressed with deliberate, slow movements, her energy lessened for some reason.
When she finally went downstairs, she found that three people had had breakfast. Three! When she had only seen Ivy so far. Vaguely she remembered that the girl had mentioned a Lady Ffoulkes, but that would make two.
Had the Colonel arrived?
After contemplating this thought for a lengthy period during which her heart beat perhaps once -- just enough to keep her alive -- and consequently that one beat was not enough to fuel any movements, Caroline tentatively allowed herself to dare to believe that it was not improbable that there might possibly be a remote chance of his being there.
"Eeeeeeeee hoooooooo," she inhaled and exhaled and sat down on a chair.
After another lengthy period of time during which her heartbeats sped up considerably -- but not enough to kill her -- she concluded that she was affected by the idea.
"Eeeeeeeee hoooooooo," she inhaled and exhaled again and emptied the tea pot into the sugar bowl with great fascination for the result.
This more or less rational experiment served to calm her nerves and to steady her mind. "Oh dear," Caroline remarked. She placed the tea pot warmer over the sugar bowl to hide the fact that the tea and the sugar had both become useless.
Food would not go down well with her now, she realised as she studied what was on display and then glanced at her immaculately clean plate. It would remain immaculately clean. Even if she would eat, yes, she thought proudly, remembering the mess Colonel Fitzwilliam made. Her eyes darted to the other plates and she recognised his soon enough. Two of them did not have enough crumbs. He might have eaten off those if he had only had a baby's serving, but he had a big appetite and unless his stomach had been fluttering as much as hers, which was not reasonable to suspect, because he had left her in Somersetshire to deal with a murder case all alone, he had not been eating off those two plates. The third one, however....
"Eeeeeeeee hoooooooo," Caroline inhaled and exhaled.
How could she not have noticed that?
Had her attention been diverted by the knife and fork that were placed across the plate, possibly to hide the work of art on it?
The absolutely heart-wrenching, soul-torturing, body-agonising, temper-upsetting, coolness-effacing, calm-devastating, paralysis-inducing, nerve-crumbling, finger-tingling, stomach-fluttering, eyebrow-raising, nose-wrinkling, tear-drawing, scream-inviting work of art on the Colonel's plate?
After a lengthy period of time during which Caroline both experienced and gave in to all those sensations, she jumped up, making her chair fall backwards and ran around the table to study the plate and what was on it.
The friendly bread-coloured crumbs.
The deceptively sweet-tasting, but cold and snow-coloured sugar, cutting the friendly heart in two.
The bitter, blood-coloured jam, dripping from the heart.
"Eeeeeeeee hoooooooo," she inhaled and exhaled.
There was an answer to that -- she had killed the sugar already and she was very glad she had done so. It was unbelievable how glad she felt. Arranging the cutlery in the form of an arrow, she made it point at the sugar bowl. Perhaps the jam... Yes, the jam had to be killed as well. Without further ado, she spooned the jam into the messy mix of sugar and tea, stirring it a bit with a knife to really kill it.
Then, feeling oddly invigorated and restless, she skipped out of the room in search of something indefinable.
And then she saw him. Her heart began to act up again. It was very unreliable lately, very odd. Caroline stopped so she would not tax it to much. If only her heart would slow down and lower itself into its normal position, that would be very nice. Then she could call out to him. She thought about what she would call. It had to be just right, after their separation.
Colonel! No, how formal. For two people who had lain under a bed together this would be a much too formal greeting.
Fitzwilliam! No, he was not her little dog and the first part of his last name reminded her of fetching. Fetch, will ya? Fitz, fetch! Fitz, sit! Fitz, kiss! Fitzhevitshitshhhh... No. Definitely too much of a tongue-breaker.
Richard! Ahh, that had a nicely familiar ring to it. And he would not mind, having lain under a bed with her.
"Richard!" she called quaveringly.
"Caroline," he bowed with a little smile.
He did that so elegantly and with such a fetching smile. Down, heart! "I-I-I abandoned the investigation," she said. Argh! Say something more personal!
"I was hoping you had solved it."
"How could I do that without you!" she cried.
"You were well on your way to achieve that," he remarked.
"Are you upset about that?" she asked.
"Not anymore." She had come to look for him and that made him quite happy, for some silly reason. "Please accept my apologies. I think I was a little upset because of the attempt on my life that you so bravely thwarted. If you are not too angry with me, would you do me the honour of partnering me again?"
"In what?" Caroline asked suspiciously. Richard was a sneaky character. Before you knew it, he would pop the question disguised under a lot of smooth words.
"Please be my partner for the rest of the case," he asked earnestly. He knew what she was afraid of. Silly girl. But she had to bend some time or she would drive him crazy. "I know Thorpe fled this way. We shall find him. And the next case, which will be The Case of the Abducted Fiancée."
"How do you know that?" she asked, impressed. "How do you know what the next case will be?"
"I am very intelligent," the Colonel replied.
"I know, but still..."
He was very glad to see her and to tease her. "Will you assist me?"
"Always. What of The Case of the Broken Heart?" she asked.
"Cracked," he answered.
For Erin, who just went to bed, but who asked for another part...
Lady Ivy returned from the village to find Colonel Fitzwilliam sitting rather close to Miss Bingley. She felt she had a right to know just what was going on here. "Colonel! You have found my guest all by yourself. Well done."
Colonel Fitzwilliam was not sure he wanted Caroline to know yet that this was actually his house and that she was his guest and so he merely smiled the silly smile of a man in love. "Thank you for taking care of my partner before I got here, Ivy."
Ivy curtsied. "You can depend on me, Colonel. What was that murder investigation Miss Bingley was telling me about?" Her green eyes looked bright and expectant.
The Colonel wondered if this meant he was to have two partners during his search for the suspected murderer Thorpe. "I cannot tell you. It might be dangerous." She was his youngest sister, after all, and he had to look after her, no matter what she thought herself.
Ivy sat beside him and wrapped her arms around him, not noticing that Caroline did not like this action at all. "Tell me," she coaxed.
Caroline was shocked. He had more or less admitted to loving her and now he allowed this creature to lay her hands on him. She looked the other way.
"I already have a partner," said Colonel Fitzwilliam.
"Feel free to take on more," Caroline snubbed. "Loyalty does not seem to be your strongest point, Colonel Fickleness."
"Iphigeneia, get your hands off me," the Colonel ordered. "You are giving Miss Bingley the wrong idea."
"Oh, Miss Bingley did not think I was a proper young lady in the first place," Ivy said candidly. "It did not stop her from having really warm feelings for you, however. She is a clever lady who looks beyond the immediate family connections of the man she..." Ivy searched for a good word, "...thinks is the tastiest strawberry of the lot."
Both the Colonel and Miss Bingley frowned. "I am not a strawberry," the former protested.
"You are as red as one! Not only your coat, but also your face! And if I had got around to dyeing your hair green like I told Miss Bingley I would, it would even have been more visible!" said Lady Ivy. "But I am sure Miss Bingley knows what I meant!"
"No, I do not! I do not see what you mean by family connections. Are you married?" To the Colonel, Caroline meant.
"Married? My brothers will never let me!" Ivy laughed.
"On the contrary!" said Colonel Fitzwilliam. "I believe they should put you up for auction at the first opportunity! You are causing too much mischief."
"Mr Arthur will come for you first!" Ivy cried.
Caroline did not know that Mr Arthur was the local clergyman and she shook her head because she had not been able to follow the conversation anymore ever since Ivy had appeared. "I think I shall return to Bath. Have a cosy time together." She got up.
Colonel Fitzwilliam grabbed a piece of her gown and pulled her back. "Sit. Ivy is my sister."
"Your sister?" Caroline cried in amazement. She looked from one to the other. That possibility had never occurred to her.
Ivy put an arm around her brother. "Do you not see any resemblance?"
"I hope not," said the Colonel good-humouredly.
Caroline was still amazed. "I never guessed."
"Instead you were becoming jealous for nothing, sister," said Ivy.
"He is my partner," Caroline said with dignity. "That was professional jealousy and I do not know whether you should call me sister, since he and I have an agreement not to get --"
"-- agreement?" Ivy cried. "That sounds exactly like something Colonel Coolness might to, have agreements with women, but I assure you that Colonel Fancymewillya does not go for agreements with --"
"Colonel what?" Colonel Fitzwilliam cried back. His sister was really begging for another dip in the duckweed. She seemed to realise this herself, because she ran away giggling. He stared after her, but let her go. "I am sorry, Caroline. I had no say in whatever my mother brought into this world, sadly enough."
"Does our partnership still stand?" she asked.
"Yes! I need your assistance."
"And you do agree that we had an agreement...?" She was not really sure that he did.
"I would rather not have an agreement, but as long as you do not want me without a house and a large fortune, I shall have to remain your partner in crime detection." Speaking rather sadly, he did not mention that he was sitting behind his house, amidst the best fortune he could imagine, which was the garden that Iphigeneia tended so beautifully for him. But well, if she sat here with him, what more could he wish for that was not ungentlemanlike thinking?
But he had underestimated his partner. "How come your sister has a house and you do not?" Caroline asked. It followed that he must have a house, especially since his sister was not yet of age. "It seems to me that before we go after Thorpe, I have to do a little crime detection of my own. Lying about one's possessions is a crime."
"If it is, then may I suggest that lying about one's feelings is also a crime?"
"I do not have feelings when I am investigating a case," Caroline said haughtily.
If Fitzwilliam had not often said and thought this himself, he would have said something different, but now he merely laughed. "That is what I thought until I found myself in deep trouble. Hush! I believe I see an enemy peeking at us from the shrubbery." He leant towards her, seeing but one solution.
"He must not get the wrong idea," Caroline agreed readily. "What if it is Thorpe who thinks we are joining forces to go after him? No, we must fool him." She leant towards him.
"We are only joining forces to..." the Colonel mumbled as his lips touched hers. He pulled away slightly to finish the sentence, although he did not really know what he was saying anymore. "...to...to...investigate...the..." What on earth were they investigating anyway?
"...kiss..." Caroline said.
Colonel Fitzwilliam did not care whether this was really an order or just a mis-hearing of the word 'case,' but he took it to be an order.
Suddenly there was a shot and a bullet flew right over his head, grazing his hat.
A split second after Colonel Fitzwilliam heard the shot, he dove, despite the fact that he had been kissing. He had received a thorough education at the Military Academy for Reorientation-after-Kissing Strategies, where he had passed the intensive training programme with flying colours. Indeed, as the best student of his year, he knew exactly what to do, even if he had not followed The Master's great advice, which had been to practice the skills on a regular basis. The Colonel could not help it -- it did not happen very often that someone was shooting at him just as he was kissing.
However, The Master was not called The Master for nothing and the Colonel had not been an idle student -- the skills had been transferred perfectly well. He took Caroline with him as he dove and rolled onto the ground in a very gentlemanlike manner. They were now under the bench.
"What is happening?" asked Caroline, who had barely had the time to notice what had gone on. One moment she had been on the bench, the next she was under it.
"Someone is shooting."
At them, Caroline inferred. Why else would they be lying under the bench? Unless Richard liked it, but that would be odd, because he seemed to have hit his head in doing so.
Colonel Fitzwilliam rubbed his head. He had indeed come into contact with the seat of the bench during his roll. The Master had never provided them with live practice material and the dolls they had used had always been a little smaller than Caroline. Or perhaps this bench was really low in comparison.
He cautiously rolled out from under the bench and lay behind it on his stomach. "Stay there," he whispered to Caroline.
"Are you going to leave me here?" she demanded. He always wanted to have fun by himself.
The Master -- excellent charmer that he was -- had never paid any attention to uncooperative females because they did not exist in his world and Fitzwilliam was stumped by the uncooperative one before him. "Someone is shooting," he tried. That would scare her.
Alright, so that did not work. He crawled nearer on his elbows and kissed her. "Stay." That sufficed for the moment, he saw. On his stomach, he crawled towards where the shot had come from. Would the shooter still be in place? He would have seen that they were no longer on the bench. What would the shooter do now?
When he reached the shrubbery, he got to his feet and pressed himself against a tree. There was no sign of anyone. Cautiously he moved forwards. Suddenly he heard a sound and he dropped to the ground. He could see a man a short distance away.
The man was peering out of the shrubbery in the direction of the bench, which was a rather useless thing to do, because he could not expect that someone would take possession of it after just having served as a sitting duck.
The Colonel crept closer and jumped on the man from behind. They struggled, with all the cries and grunts that went with a struggle. If he had thought these exclamations would keep Caroline under the bench, he had been mistaken. She was loath to embrace a villain, but she grabbed him from the other side. This made it easier for the Colonel to knock the man unconscious.
He stood panting, looking down on the immobilised man.
"Thorpe!" Caroline said.
"We are going to tie him up and deliver him to the authorities," Fitzwilliam decided. "He must be put away. Get some ropes."
Caroline ran off to get him some ropes. "Ropes!" she called breathlessly to Ivy when she came into the house. "I need ropes."
"Is my brother alright?" asked Ivy, who thought Caroline looked rather dishevelled.
Ivy got her what she wanted.
"Thank you." Caroline ran outside again, with Ivy following her.
Colonel Fitzwilliam tied Thorpe up.
Ivy looked down on them in wonder. "Are you sure he is not dead?"
"He is unconscious," her brother answered. "Get me a horse, Ivy." He waited until Ivy had returned with a horse and then tied Thorpe across the horse's back. "Would you like to do me a favour? Take him into the village and let the local constabulary lock him up. I shall be down there to make a statement after I have refreshed myself."
Colonel Fitzwilliam and Caroline walked through the village. Apart from a sore spot on his head, he was perfectly alright. The birds were singing, the sun was shining and Thorpe had been locked away after their statements. They stopped to greet the parson, who was trimming his roses.
"Good sir," Caroline interrupted the men's small-talk. "I wish to be wed to this gentleman in a mock service before tea time."
"Before tea time?" the Colonel was as amazed as the parson, but at least he could still speak. What on earth did tea time have to do with it?
"In a mock service, madam?" the parson asked after a minute. That was the strangest request he had ever had.
"I know it cannot be done in a real service at such short notice," Caroline said impatiently. "Aww?" she pleaded.
The parson was only human. "Well..." But he realised that the lady before him was only human as well. "It will be a mock service," he reminded her.
"Colonel?" the parson inquired.
"Mr Arthur, I am completely at her disposal," the Colonel reassured him.
And so it happened that Mr Arthur performed a mock ceremony, for he realised that a mock ceremony would be better than no ceremony at all. Besides, Lady Ivy had already been to him to discuss the real wedding.
Colonel Fitzwilliam and Miss Bingley walked home in perfect happiness. They were not quite married and not quite unmarried, but for the moment it suited them very well and the murders were solved. They would re-evaluate the situation after tea time.
The End but I'm sure there are lots more nasty characters who need investigating in the future ;-)