Saturday, 3 November 2012

The Case of the Stained Snowflake: Part One

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by Lizzie Howe

In all my year of cases with my companion, Mr Sherlock Holmes, have I ever seen one so full of hatred and revenge, as the case of the stained snowflake?
 It was on a dark winter evening, in one of the nights leading up to Christmas that the Irish man paid us a visit. We were seated around the fire in the parlour, sitting in a comfortable silence, me going over the case notes and Holmes reading the paper avidly. All of a sudden our door was flung open and a tall red haired man strode into the cosy parlour, closely followed by our housekeeper who was looking rather like an angry mother hen.
"Mr Holmes, Dr Watson, I had to let this man in. He insists on..."
"I can speak for myself woman. Now leave! This conversation must be private. Would I have visited in the middle of winter at eleven o' clock of the night if my situation was not of the utmost seriousness?" the man interrupted her, then without another word he turned to us and introduced himself.
"My name is Lord Faranshire, Of Ireland. I have no time to explain the mystery now, but I beseech you to be at London Victoria at five o'clock of the morning to catch the train to Holyhead and then to Ireland," without another word he turned and left, leaving a great mystery on our hands.
The next morning at five o'clock sharp we stood on the platform next to Lord Faranshire, waiting in the pea-soup air for the first train of the day.
"So, Lord Faranshire, what is this mystery you would like me and my companion to unravel?" Holmes asked suddenly, his voice penetrating through the fog.
"Well, it all began three years ago, at Christmas; it has always been a tradition in the Faranshire family that the woman of the house must wear the snowflake ring at Christmas. Many years ago, when I was a lad, we lost it. We gave up on the tradition and until three years ago forgot about it. Anyway, three years ago a maid was dusting in the attic, coincidentally; the maid was my former wife's maid! She found it, tucked away in a box. We brought it out for Christmas and as usual the butler prepared it for the lady of the house, my former wife." At this he stopped. His breath catching somewhat, I tentatively asked,
"When you say former?"
"Ah, that is the very crux of the mystery. She died that day, in the drawing room. Of course it looked natural. Death happens unexpectedly, but there was one thing that never seemed quite right..."
"And what was that?" Holmes enquired, looking deep in thought as the train approached from the distance.
"Earlier in the day we had played a traditional game, where you dip your hand in some flour, which is dyed red, which would explain the dye; well that's what the doctors said." He waited for the train to stop and we began to get on.
"And?" said I, urging the Lord on, sure there was something he was not telling me, he looked thoughtful for a moment.
"But she left the room an hour before she died to go and clean the dye off, and what's more she didn't use that hand to dip into the flour with," he paused for a moment before continuing, "I have a new wife now, and in five days she will be wearing that ring, this is why I had to ask you to come straight away."
"You suspect that someone may try to murder her as well?" Holmes cut in abruptly.
"Yes, she is a pretty young thing, from London I believe. She was the sister of my first wife, I met her at the funeral." Holmes looked up sharply when he said this, I could tell by his eyes that something was going on in his head, something most important.
"What is it, Holmes?" I asked.
"If I am right, even now so early on, I must pretend I am not, for if I am, accusation is no way to go about things." Then he picked up his paper and disappeared behind it, as if he had merely commented on the weather. Lord Faranshire looked most confused but I shook my head slightly at him; however confusing it was for us, it was most simple to him.
We arrived at Holyhead in the late afternoon and made our way wearily to a small inn. Once we were installed there, Faranshire claimed he had a great deal of things to attend to and he would join us at six o'clock for dinner. As he left, Holmes shouted after him,
"Good sir! What is the name of your wife?"
"Marie Keynes-Morgan." Holmes nodded thoughtfully at the sound of this.
"Watson I don't suppose you heard of the scandal of the Keynes-Morgans?"
"No I have not," I responded for surely I had not, "But I have heard the name before, I believe the father is a lawyer of some sort?"
"Very astute, yes he is. The family live in the South of England but they do have roots in London. There are four children, one boy and three girls, well two officially," he paused, letting this piece of information process.         
"Go on," I prompted him, eager to know what this great scandal was.
"Well, you see, there was a quite a scandal over it, rumour had it the youngest child was..." He looked out of the window to find a suitable phrase, "born out of wedlock, shall we say, and there was quite the scandal,"
"What happened?" I queried, my curiosity aroused.
"Rumour has it the child was taken in," he paused, looking thoughtful, "As a maid, in that house."
                        *                      *                      *                      *
 The Ferry across to Ireland was fairly uneventful, and the reason for our visit was mentioned but once; when Lord Faranshire reminded us that when we got to his house we must be most cautious, for once this ferry arrived in Ireland, there would not be another one until two days after Christmas, and there was no other way through.
 After a long bumpy ride in a carriage we came to a tall, imposing manor, dark and hostile on the barren December landscape. A huge door was opened and a petite woman stood, silhouetted as a sudden clap of thunder, accompanied by lightening, sharply outlining her frame. Mr Sherlock Holmes seemed unintimidated by this house of terror; he cheerfully strode to the front door and turned around, waiting for me and Lord Faranshire to follow. Once inside we were shown to the parlour; the maid however did not take her leave but followed us inside, throwing Lord Faranshire a defiant look, he just sighed and entered, shaking his mane of auburn hair.
 In the parlour sat a girl, pale, with long black locks tied up into a simple bun, her face was haggard, a mask of what was unmistakeably fear. She turned and gave us a vapid smile.
"I am so glad you are here Mr Holmes..." she said quietly, her voice was frail and soft, like a sigh of wind, "Hello Charles," she smiled, holding her hand out for him to take, for a moment she was transformed, back into a shadow of her old self.
"Lady Faranshire, there is something I must ask of you; I believe you were Marie Keynes-Morgan before you married Lord Faranshire?" Mr Holmes began his thorough investigation; I sat back and watched, this was a sight to behold!
"I believe there was a great scandal in your house?"
"Yes," Lady Faranshire’s voice became sharper; Holmes was obviously stepping on fragile ground.
"Do you know what happened to the third child?" I gave Holmes a sharp look; he knew what happened to the unfortunate wretch! But then I realised this must be some obscure method of investigation that he had discussed with Mycroft, so I let it be.
"No, she was taken away I believe." She frowned, struggling to remember any bits of detail.
"Rumour has it, that she was taken away to be a maid," Everyone jumped and looked round to see the maid, there were sharp flashes of lightning behind her, making her look anguished and crazed, rather like a demon.
 “May I see the ring?” Holmes stood up and looked about the room.
“It’s been put away before Christmas!” said the maid in a shrill voice, stepping to the door and barring our exit, “It’s tradition!” she added quickly.
“But of course!” smiled Holmes, looking perfectly calm, but I could see his eyes were calculating, he was planning something, I was sure at least of that!
 Later that night I was awoken sharply by a tap on the head. I sat up in some shock, only to find Holmes standing above me, an oil lamp covered by some cloth, so it was dimmed considerably.
“Watson! I must see that ring!” he whispered urgently.
“Mm…can it not wait ‘til morning?” I mumbled.
“The door is locked during the day; this is our only chance to discover who the killer is!”  Holmes shook my shoulders harshly; I sat up and shook myself from sleep.
“Where is the room?” I asked, standing up and pulling my dressing gown on.
“Downstairs, in the room next to the parlour.” Holmes padded along the corridor silently, like a tiger waiting to pounce. Halfway to the stairs we heard a door swing open, we looked about for the source of the noise and Holmes pointed down the stairs; I followed, there at the bottom was the butler, coming out of the ring room! I, very much suspicious, waited until he disappeared and then ran to the room. Holmes was not behind me, but I thought he must be hesitating outside, possibly watching the butler. Inside the room I noticed the ring, nestled in its velvet box.
“Give it here,” Holmes said over my shoulder. I started, and gave him the ring, “Aaah,” he murmured, “Most intriguing. Look at the ring Watson, tell me, what do you see?” Worried that this was a trick question, I surveyed the ring with utmost care.
“Well,” I began slowly, not wanting to make a fool of myself, “the ring is of a snowflake design, diamonds and silver, probably very expensive.”
“Look inside the ring, Watson,” I looked inside and saw a very small band of grated metal, I put my finger on it and drew blood immediately.
“Ouch!” I exclaimed, nursing my injured finger, “Who in the Devil’s name would put a piece of grated metal in a ring!”
“That is precisely the question. Who would want to do that?” Holmes muttered, frowning slightly.
“Well, I believe it was the butler,” I said stoutly.
“We shall see. Now, I have a plan, on Christmas night we shall hide in the cupboard over in the corner, it should fit both of us. What is the date today Watson?” he said as he strode over to the cupboard, opening the doors and peering inside.
“The twenty-third I do believe."
“So tomorrow we shall hide and watch the butler prepare the ring, and when the moment is right we shall strike. Now good-night Watson, I must be off to bed."

Read Part Two of 'The Case of The Stained Snowflake' here.


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