09:28 Wednesday 24 October 2012

The Case of the Midway Milkmaid - Part Five

IN PARTS One, Two, Three and Four Sister Modwenna and William Ross investigated the kidnapping of the nun’s niece, Ada Bell. They eventually found her being held captive in the attic of a house in the middle of nowhere, but before they could rescue her, her fiancé Harry Lyman whisked her away again, leaving behind a young French boy.

 

WILLIAM Ross and Sister Modwenna were waiting in the attic bedroom when James Doyle returned, the young boy fast asleep in his arms.

He placed him back on one of the beds, then motioned for the others to step outside with him.

They returned to the kitchen and pulled up chairs around the table.

“What have you learned Mr Doyle?” said Modwenna.

“From my limited French and the boy’s limited vocabulary – he can be no more than three after all – he has lived in this lonesome house all of his short life.

“He has never set eyes on anyone except his mother and the occasional deliveryman, although he recognised the voice of our friend Mr Lyman, having heard him on occasion through the floorboards talking with his mother.

“It seems that Lyman had good reason for his hasty marriage abroad, for he is the boy’s father, and his wife – who we must assume is the poor wretch dragged out of the canal – must have been pregnant when they were wed.

“I cannot imagine what Lyman’s long-term plans were, but for the last three years he has kept his wife and son here, until he met and fell in love with dear Ada, which forced him to act so rashly.”

Ross chipped in: “What does the boy – Jacques – remember of what happened yesterday?”

“Not a great deal, and nothing that’ll help us track them down,” replied Doyle. “He and his mother were playing a game when Lyman burst in with Ada in tow. She and Jacques were told to go to the attic room, where they were locked in, and he heard Lyman and his mother arguing downstairs.

“There was some crashing about, then a big thud, and it all went quiet suddenly. Ada came and cuddled him then – he seems to have taken a bit of a shine to her – and the next thing he remembered was Lyman returning just before we arrived.”

The two gentlemen sat back in their chairs, while Modwenna nodded and leant forward, placing her elbows on the table and resting her chin in her hands. While she was deep in thought, the door burst open and Abraham Bell entered, red in the face with fury and exasperation.

“The devil has given us the slip – he took his horse and cut ours loose so we’ve no way of chasing him now.”

He slumped into a chair and put his head in his heads, although unlike his sister, Bram’s action was one of misery.

“By the time we get back to town, he could be anywhere – I’m never going to see my darling Ada again.”

Modwenna reached across the table and patted her brother’s arm. “There, there Bram,” she soothed, “don’t fret. I am confident that you will be reunited with your daughter before breakfast.”

Bram looked up, puzzled. “B..b..by b..b..breakfast?”

“Well, possibly lunch at the latest, but let’s be hopeful.”

“What are you talking about?” said the farmer, confused, while Ross and Doyle looked equally puzzled.

“First things first. Mr Ross, would you be so kind as to step outside the door and whistle as loud as you can?”

The blacksmith’s expression changed from puzzled to complete bafflement, but he knew better than to question his friend’s requests. He walked to the door, opened it and put two fingers in his mouth before giving a shrill whistle.

To his continuing amazement, Ross heard an answering whistle some distance away, and then the sound of hoofs coming up the road towards the house.

He stepped back inside, and saw that while Doyle and Bram were still struck dumb with bewilderment, Modwenna was calmly writing a note on a piece of paper.

Just as she finished, the horse completed its approach to the house, and Ross saw that it was in fact his own cart, being driven by none other than the urchin with whom he and Modwenna had spoken the previous afternoon.

The young lad dismounted and nodded casually at Ross.

“Alright duck? The missus inside is she?”

Ross was dumbstruck, and just nodded back at the scallywag, who sauntered past him and into the kitchen.

“Ah, George, right on time,” said Modwenna as the boy approached. “How fast can you run back to the town?”

“Quicker’n a cat can chase ‘is tail – ‘xcept in the right direction o’course.”

“Of course. Then hurry this note to the police station and hand it to Sergeant Harris – no-one else mind you.”

“I’ll die afore I let anyone else peek at it,” said George earnestly.

“Well, hopefully it won’t come to that.”

With that, George took the note and ran out of the house, heading straight across the road and into the fields beyond.

The three gentlemen, having watched his entrance and exit silently, turned back to the nun quizzically.

Bram spoke first. “Sister, as much as I admire and trust your intellect, would you mind telling me what is going on?”

“Of course brother, but can I tell you on the way to the Rutland Arms in Leicester?”

“Mystery upon mystery,” exclaimed Bram, growing more exasperated by the second. “Whatever are we going there for?”

“To intercept Mr Lyman of course. I will explain on the way, but we really must be going.”

Bram was about to speak again, but Ross interrupted. “Sir, I find in these situations it’s best to do as your sister says, and then ask questions later.”

The farmer gave up, and allowed himself to be ushered outside. Ross and Doyle followed, but Modwenna stopped the latter.

“Mr Doyle, I think it might be for the best if you stayed with young Jacques. He seems to trust you, and it is better he is kept out of harm’s way.”

Doyle nodded and stepped back inside the house, while the remaining three climbed aboard the cart. Ross took the reins and they set off back towards town, before turning eastwards at a junction, towards Leicester.

Ross left it as long as he could, and then said, “Sister Modwenna, before your brother explodes with frustration, perhaps you should tell us how the deuce you know where to find Lyman?”

“Of course, and I do apologise for keeping you in suspense. You notice that I had retained the services of our young friend George? He had proved most useful in tracking the cart which Mr Lyman used as far as Coalville, but there the trail went cold.

“You remember that I had initially thought that the drowned woman had been held captive in Coalville? It appears I was mistaken in that, and that it was in fact the sack that the poor soul was trussed up in that reeked of hops from that area.

"That told me that Mr Lyman had some connection with a brewery or an inn in that area — it is possible that they supplied him with food to take to his wife and son without asking any awkward questions, as he could not risk going to a normal shop in case word of his unusual purchases got back to his father.

"I also reasoned that Mr Lyman must have had a plan of what he would do with Ada, as he could not have hoped to keep her at that house forever.

"In cases like this, where a villain is forced into a decision at short notice, they usually revert to what they know best, and so my guess is that Mr Lyman would have made for the continent.

"With Ada in tow, he could not have hoped to ride the whole way, so transport was necessary, and so I believe his connection was with a staging house in Coalville.

"I made some enquiries and discovered that there are two major staging houses in that town, which connect to two separate establishments in Leicester, and from there onwards to London.

"The problem was that I did not know to which inn Mr Lyman would flee, but happily that has now become clear."

"How so?" said Ross, rapt with wonder once again at his friend's powers of deduction.

"Did you not notice that Mr Lyman was wearing a new coat when we saw him briefly in the attic just now?"

Ross confessed that he had not, his attention having been otherwise engaged by being punched in the face.

"Ah, well, he had clearly had to leave his own home without being able to pack any clothes, and so at some point yesterday, before he made for the house where Ada was being held, he bought himself a new travelling cloak, more suited to the long journey ahead of him than the tailcoat he was wearing earlier.

"The coat he had chosen was of a distinctive and expensive cut, and there is only one tailors in Coalville that would stock such a coat, and it happened to be directly opposite one of the staging houses.

"Mr Lyman would not have had time to trawl the streets for his purchase, so it is reasonable to assume he went in the first place he saw.

"Therefore, I am confident that he is now on his way to The George Inn, and I instructed the boy of the same name to direct Sergeant Harris there.

"In case the constabulary miss him however, we will proceed directly to the Rutland in Leicester, which is the next stop for the stagecoach."

There was a moment's silence, and then Bram clapped his sister on the back. "My dear Modwenna, that is quite incredible. I already owe you an immeasurable debt of gratitude for finding Ada once — if you can do it again, then I will owe you everything."

Modwenna patted her brother's hand. "Dear Bram, I did this as much for myself as for you, Ada is the closest thing I have to a daughter, and so your thanks, though gratefully received, are unnecessary."

These familial platitudes continued between the siblings until both fell gradually to sleep. Ross, though tired himself, let them slumber, as he knew the mental torment they had both been through over the past 24 hours.

***

A few hours later, they were awake, refreshed and ready to apprehend their tormentor once and for all. Upon their arrival at the Rutland, Bram had immediately spoken to the innkeeper and explained the situation. Having a daughter himself, he quickly acquiesced to their wishes.

Meanwhile, Ross and Modwenna sought out the local police station, and persuaded two of the constables stationed there to accompany them back to the inn.

And so it was a strong party who lay in wait as the stagecoach from Coalville finally rumbled down the street towards the inn.

As soon as it passed under the arch, the innkeeper and Bram closed and barred the gates behind, while the two police officers stepped towards the coach and threw open its door as soon as it came to a halt.

It transpired that Lyman and Ada were the only occupants, and the look of surprise on the former's face upon sighting the policeman was only matched by the delight which shone from the countenance of his reluctant companion.

The villain in question had no time to produce the weapon that he had brandished earlier before one of the constables had hold of him and wrestled him out of the cab.

It was then that he caught sight of Modwenna, Ross and Bram, and his look of dismay turned to one of horror as he realised the game was up.

Ada meanwhile ran forward, quickly hugging her aunt before barrelling into the welcoming arms of her father and burying her face in his neck.

***

The next day, William and Mary Ross were once again seated at their kitchen table, the blacksmith regaling his wife with the extraordinary tale of the previous day and night.

He had just finished telling the story for a third time when there was a knock at the door. It was Sister Modwenna, and Ross quickly waved away her apologies for disturbing them again and told her to come in and sit down.

"I have just finished telling Mary about our adventures, but perhaps you can finish the tale? We do not yet know Mr Lyman's side of the story, and what fate will befall that wretched man."

"I can certainly fill in any gaps. Much of what we suspected was true, that he had married the Frenchwoman — whose name we now know was Marie — as a matter of honour, rather than love, and had never intended to remain with her forever.

"When he fell in love with Ada, he immediately asked Marie for a divorce, which she refused, knowing that she would be destitute if Lyman could no longer provide for her.

"This argument went on for months, until things were brought to a head when Ada was kidnapped. Lyman again demanded a divorce from Marie, offering her money to return to France, but she again declined, saying that she loved him.

"A fight broke out, and Lyman claims that Marie fell and struck her head on the fireplace. It is up to the court as to whether they accept this story, but for my part, I am inclined to believe it.

"Anyway, Lyman thought he had killed his wife, and decided to get rid of the body. It was only when he was alongside the canal that he heard a noise from the back of the cart, and realised Marie was still alive.

"He climbed into the back and tried to free her from the sack, but a sudden jolt led to the sack, with his wife still inside, crashing through the side of the cart and into the canal."

"What an awful tale!" exclaimed Mary, her hand having been clapped to her mouth in horror throughout Modwenna's story.

"Indeed," said the nun, "although while many of Mr Lyman's actions have been despicable in the extreme, I believe that he was to an extent the victim of his circumstance, although a good man would have not acted in the same way from the start."

"What is to become of him?"

"He will be tried for kidnapping and murder, although the latter charge may be lessened if the court believes his story. He is facing a lengthy imprisonment though."

"And what of the child Jacques? Has he been told what happened to his mother yet?"

"I do not believe so. I think Ada and Mr Doyle will wait until he is old enough to understand."

"Ada and Doyle?" questioned Ross.

"Oh yes, I did not tell you the silver lining of this terrible cloud did I? The child had become very attached to my niece during their incarceration, and also to Mr Doyle during their brief time together.

"The feeling was mutual, and so Ada and Mr Doyle have applied to adopt the child together. I fancy that my niece could well have a new — and, it must be said, much better suited — fiance soon."

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