The Problem of the Missing Miss (10 page)

BOOK: The Problem of the Missing Miss
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“If it was an accident,” grumbled Dr. Doyle.

“As far as the Brighton Police can tell, it was an accident. Only someone,” he glared in the direction of Dr. Doyle, “pointed out that the girl fell backwards, not forwards. In this case, the question of intent comes into play. No one is calling it a murder, not yet, but—for my notes, sir, ma'am—where were you at four o'clock yesterday afternoon?”

“I was paying calls,” Lady Pat said. “What does this have to do with …?”

Ned Kinsale had been kneeling beside his sister. Now he stood up and grinned at the Inspector.

“Taking alibis? Well, you'll have to take my word as a gentleman and a Member of Parliament that I was in London all day and all night. Unfortunately, I cannot say precisely where.”

“Cannot or will not?” MacRae snapped out.

Kinsale shrugged expressively. “Either one, as you wish, Inspector. These two gentlemen can tell you that I met them this morning, right here upon these very steps. From teatime on, yesterday, I was in the company of … friends.”

“What friends?” MacRae's eyes glittered behind his spectacles.

Kinsale's grin broadened. “Particular friends. I don't choose to name them, although I suppose if I did they'd vouch for me.”

Lady Pat regarded her brother soulfully. “Oh, Ned, you weren't out gambling again?”

Kinsale's only answer was another grin and a shrug. “Ricky, take my advice. Drop this Bill. Make the announcement to the Press, take the Chiltern Hundreds, and let everyone go home to their families, or shooting in Scotland, or taking the waters in Scarborough or wherever they care to spend their summer holidays. As for the scribblers in the
Pall Mall Gazette,
they can write their dirty little tales for the great unwashed to gloat over. No doubt Alicia will be returned to you by teatime, as soon as the first Sunday editions are on the newsstands.”

Lord Richard's pale blue eyes looked like chips of ice in his white face. “Ned, you go too far! I have committed myself to see this Bill through. My constituents demand it. I should consider myself a coward if I gave in to this … this bludgeoning! As for my handing in my resignation and stepping down, that is for the electorate to decide in November. If I were to withdraw now, I should deserve to be beaten!”

“Bravo!” applauded Dr. Doyle.

Ned Kinsale sneered, “Save it for the hustings, Ricky.”

Lady Pat's soulful look turned to outrage. “Ned! How can you be so … so …”

“Callous? Cruel? Pat, me girl, such are the times we live in.” Ned dropped a kiss on his sister's head and waved at her husband. “If that's all, Inspector, I've spent over much time here. There are a few people I have to see.”

“You'll keep us informed if you decide to leave London.” It was a statement, not a question.

“My movements are no concern of Scotland Yard, Inspector.” Ned Kinsale bowed mockingly and sauntered out. “Don't bother to see me out, Farnham,” he called, as he slammed the door behind him.

Inspector MacRae turned to the distraught parents. “If I'm to consult with the Brighton Constabulary, sir, I will have to take the next train down.”

Upshaw produced a time table from the shelf of books over his desk and consulted his watch. “There are trains from Victoria Station every hour,” he declared. “Lord Richard, with your permission, I would like to accompany Mr. Dodgson and Dr. Doyle, and Inspector MacRae to Brighton. Perhaps I may be of assistance in tracking down the culprits who have stolen Miss Marbury.”

Lord Richard swept his hand through his hair. “No, no, Upshaw. Your sentiments are appreciated, but I need you here. With this Bill coming up, I must have my notes in order.”

Upshaw's long face became even longer with anguish. “If nothing else, I could, perhaps identify the … the deceased.”

Lady Pat sat up and looked at Upshaw. “Mr. Upshaw,” she said severely, “I was not aware that you even knew Mary Ann. The nursery staff do not usually mix with the rest of the servants.”

Upshaw's pale cheeks were slightly stained with red. “I … occasionally met Mary Ann when she went walking with Miss Alicia,” he confessed. “Under the circumstances, I could not pursue the acquaintance, but I always considered her a … an attractive young person.”

“A positive identification would be useful,” MacRae admitted.

Lord Richard swept his hands through his hair again and looked helplessly at the papers on his desk. “But my speech … the Bill …”

Upshaw shuffled papers around on Lord Richard's desk. “These are the cuttings from the
Pall Mall Gazette.
These are the statements of the witnesses in the Magistrate's Court. These are your notes from our discussion last week.”

Lord Richard nodded. “Good, Upshaw. Now, while you are in Brighton, you must look in at the hotels, and find out if any of the members have checked into the Old Ship or the Crown. And if they have, you must speak to them, and get them up here in time for the vote.”

“And if—when—we find Miss Marbury?” Mr. Dodgson asked.

“Keep her safe, that's all that I ask,” Lord Richard said.

“Very well, Lord Richard.” Inspector MacRae touched his hat in salute. Dr. Doyle followed Upshaw into the hall.

Mr. Dodgson remained behind for a moment. “Lord Richard,” he said, his voice trembling in agony, “I cannot help but think that this is all my fault. If I had been more prompt … if I had not misread the letter …”

Lady Pat reached over and patted his hand. He shyly withdrew from her touch.

Lord Richard got up and walked around to pat his old tutor's shoulder. “No one could have foreseen this,” he told him miserably.

“Someone arranged that I should be involved in the business,” Mr. Dodgson said. “Undoubtedly, they thought that I would retreat to Eastbourne when I could not find the child. They were wrong. I promise you, Lord Richard, that I shall do all in my power to see that your daughter is returned to you safely.”

“You must wire me as soon as she is found,” Lord Richard insisted.

“Of course.” Farnham had appeared to escort the three men to the door. Outside, Grosvenor Square had returned to its normal drowsy aspect. The cab that had brought Inspector MacRae to May-fair had long since departed.

“Victoria Station, gentlemen,” Mr. Dodgson said, striding toward the rumble of traffic on Regent Street. “We must find Miss Marbury before it is too late!”

CHAPTER 10

Alicia Marbury had spent a restless and disturbing night. The room, while hot and stuffy during the daylight hours, lost heat with astonishing rapidity once the sun set, and her camisole and drawers were no protection against the chill. She had been fed a platter of bread and cheese and a cup of very milky tea, brought to her by Kitty, while the Madam looked on. There had been no time for more than a quick smile between the girls. “No talking there!” ordered the Madam, and that was that.

Alicia had been left alone, in the dark, in this very strange house, sitting on the bare mattress in her drawers and camisole, listening to the noises outside and in. From the street came a faint rumbling, as if heavy carts were being hauled over the cobblestones. Then there were strains of far-off laughter that seemed to come through the bare floorboards. Alicia struggled against the call of nature, but eventually used the chamberpot provided for her comfort. The result added an overpowering aroma to the stuffy room. She could not sleep but fell into a sort of doze, from which she was jolted into consciousness when she heard a slam, as if a door had been shut.

Morning brought little relief. When she could see clearly again, Alicia decided to examine her prison more carefully, for any means of escape. The bed could be moved, she decided, but not by her; it was far too heavy. The doorjamb was lined with strips of carpeting, a sinister thought: Was it to muffle the screams of terror emanating from this room? The hooks on the wall were even more suggestive. They were just shoulder-high to Alicia; what, or
who,
were they meant to hold?

Alicia shouted: “Hey! Someone come up and take this pot away!”

No one answered. For the first time in her life, no one responded when she called. Even at Waltham someone answered her, although it might well be to tell her to stop bawling.

“I know someone's there!” Alicia shouted again.

From the door came a stifled snort. “I hears you,” whispered the unseen friend behind the door.

“Kitty? Is that you? Where is everyone?” Alicia ran to the door and tried to see through the keyhole.

“I've got to lay the breakfast and scrub up after, then get the pots,” Kitty said.

“What about mine?” Alicia complained. “I had to use it and it smells awful!”

“Dunno,” Kitty whispered. “ 'Ere comes the Madam.”

A heavy tread announced the arrival of Madge Gurney. Alicia heard the sound of a slap, a muffled “Ow!” from Kitty, and a patter of scampering feet.

“You'll stay put!” the Madam grunted. Alicia heard her stamping down the stairs, and a fierce resolve grew within her. Somehow, some way, she was going to get away from here! Her only difficulty seemed to be in finding a workable plan of attack.

Attack! That was what Grandpapa Kinsale had said when he came to visit them in London, to hear Uncle Ned's speech in the House. He had told her all about the Crimea, and how he had led the charge. “Attack! That's what we did at Balaclava. Attack and damn the consequences!”

Uncle Ned had said something about the consequences being a whole regiment destroyed, but Alicia could still see the fierce look on her grandpapa's face and the light of battle in his eyes. Grandpapa Kinsale had attacked! So would she, as soon as they opened the door again.

Downstairs, the table had been set for the six young women (aged eleven to fifteen) residing in Miss Harmon's establishment. One by one they straggled downstairs, weary with their previous night's labors. One by one they took their seats, waited patiently as Miss Harmon took hers, and, at her signal, began to spoon up their porridge.

Miss Harmon glanced at Mrs. Gurney and raised an eyebrow. The older woman jerked her head in silent call for a conference. Miss Harmon set aside her spoon and joined her partner in crime at the door to the pantry.

“She's awake,” the older woman informed her. “Does she get breakfast?”

“We don't want her to think herself ill used,” Miss Harmon murmured. “But just enough to keep her quiet. Porridge, milk.”

“Any word from Mrs. J.?”

“The message should have reached him by now,” Miss Harmon said, a slight smile curling her lips. “We'll know by tonight. According to the Guv'nor, the
Gazette
writes what Marbury tells them. If he sends his resignation letter in by noon, it'll just make the Sunday editions.”

“You think he will?”

Miss Harmon stared over the heads of her charges. “I don't know,” she said slowly. “He loves the girl, no doubt, but he's a man of principle. He won't give up so easily.”

“The Guv'nor thinks he will.”

“The Guv'nor doesn't know him as well …”

“Ahh!” Madge breathed, a sly leer of understanding forming in her eyes. “So '
e's
the one …”

“That's none of your concern,” Miss Harmon snapped out. “If Marbury doesn't comply with our wishes, then …”

“Then—what do we do?”

“There's always Monsieur LeBrun. An English girl, red hair, guaranteed virgin, and a peer's niece? She'll go for five hundred pounds at least.”

Madge sniggered, then a thought overtook her and she looked worried. “What if Marbury calls in the coppers?”

Miss Harmon's smile deepened. “Then he will wish he had not.” She looked at her little charges again. They had finished their porridge and were staring back at their teacher, their mentor, their employer.

“Young ladies,” she said. “Go upstairs and get dressed. We will go walking this morning, on the Esplanade.”

“Now?” whined the tallest, the dark beauty who liked to call herself Victoria, because she said she was the Queen of the House.

“Now,” Miss Harmon ordered. “Gentlemen do not like fat, lazy girls. Besides, you must be seen in the right places. Wear proper shoes. Stockings with no holes. Clean linens. Wash your faces and necks.” Each order brought another groan.

“The gentlemen like me already,” plump Gertie said, shaking her blond ringlets. “Why do I have to go walking out in the hot sun?”

“Because I wish the gentlemen to know we are here,” Miss Harmon said flatly. As the girls grumbled their way upstairs back to their bedrooms, Miss Harmon nodded to her confederate. “What if he does call in the police? This is a modest house; we don't have rough trade, and gentlemen of quality find their little satisfactions here. We have a working relationship with the Council. Mr. Carstairs assured Mrs. J. that he has made arrangements with the local constabulary. No, Madge, I don't think we'll be bothered by the police. Just wait until I've got the rest of the girls out of here. They talk, and I don't want anyone to know about our latest arrival—at least, not yet.”

It took the better part of an hour before the six young women of Miss Harmon's establishment were dressed to their mentor's satisfaction.

“Susanne, you must not permit your underchemise to show. Helen, you have a ladder in your stocking. Gentlemen do not like young ladies who are not properly dressed.”

“Me sister don't spiff up like this,” Helen said sulkily.

“Your sister's on the streets,” Victoria snapped back. “She only gets a shilling a time. I get a pound,” she added with great satisfaction.

“And you will get more, if you do as I tell you,” Miss Harmon said. “I shall give you each half a crown to spend when we get to the Esplanada. Remember, the gentlemen are always watching.”

BOOK: The Problem of the Missing Miss
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