Sunday, 4 November 2012

The Case of the Stained Snowflake: Part Two



The concluding part of The Case of the Stained Snowflake. Read Part One here.

(image source: basilrathbone.net)
by Lizzie Howe

The next day passed quickly. Holmes did not mention the ambush to me until eight o’clock of the evening, when he came to my room and beckoned me to come downstairs. I followed quickly and silently, careful to shut my door with gentleness so it wouldn’t make a noise. When we got downstairs, we climbed into the cupboard to wait. Within the first few minutes I was hot and rather cramped, while Holmes was the object of stillness, his eyes glittering slightly in the faint light that shone through the cupboard. After an hour or two, the door of the room creaked open and footsteps sounded in the room; it was the butler.

I was all set to jump out of the cupboard and arrest him right there, but Holmes held me back, shaking his head. I sat back reluctantly and continued to listen. Another set of footsteps could be heard in the room now; they were light and free. At first I thought it was Lady Faranshire, but then a voice came:
“Mr Reynolds, you look ever so tired.”
The voice was light and affectionate; it was the maid.

At that moment I knew she was Lady Faranshire’s sister, for their footstep and voice were very similar, now that I thought about it.
“O-oh no…I’m fine my pet,” came the butler's frail voice.
“Oh but you aren’t, please let me do the shining of the ring?”
“I-I mustn’t I am under orders…”
“Let me do it Reynolds, NOW! Move, I am doing it,” her voice became hard and cold.
“B-b-but last time you did it, Lady Faranshire died,” said the butler in a small voice.
“A mistake,” she snapped, “An…unfortunate mistake is all, I regret it terribly,” I noted that she didn’t sound very regretful.
“I-I-if you’re sure…”
“Of course I’m sure, now LEAVE!” she hissed at him. I heard footsteps leaving the room quickly. Surely now was our time to strike? I looked at Holmes for some indication of what to do and he held up his hand, three fingers held up, then two, then one and finally he put all of his fingers down and we rushed out of the cupboard, shouting.

The maid looked up in surprise, her hand halfway to a jar full of a clear paste.
“What are you doing here, Mr Holmes?” she said, as calm as possible, but I could see her eyes darting about the room, looking for escape.
“Miss Keynes-Morgan-“
“THAT IS NOT MY NAME! I DISOWNED THAT NAME LONG AGO! I AM NOT RELATED TO SUCH SCUM THAT THEY TURN AWAY THEIR OWN CHILD!” she screeched, launching herself toward the door. Holmes neatly intercepted her by grabbing her wrist.
“Miss Keynes-Morgan you are arrested on the count of murder and attempted murder,” Mr Holmes said calmly, “You will be brought before a judge of her Majesty the Queen.”
“You can’t prove anything!” she hissed, trying to pull herself away from Holmes. I knew it was futile; Holmes had a grip of iron. All the commotion had awoken the rest of the household. They ran in, looking ruffled and bleary eyed.
“What the devil is going on?” shouted Lord Faranshire.
“I am arresting your maid for murder,” said Mr Holmes, as if announcing the time of day.
“You can’t do that!”
“Oh but I can. She was the one who murdered your former wife.”
“What?” exclaimed Faranshire, shaking his head, bewildered, Lady Faranshire was looking faintly green, staring at the maid with hurt and confusion in her eyes.
“Please, Anna, tell me this isn’t true…” she said in a small voice. Anna looked back at her silently, her chin raised defiantly; at that moment, I saw the nobility in her features, she was no longer a maid, she was no longer small and fading into the background, she was the daughter of a very prestigious woman.
“It was me Marie,” she said loudly, bringing the whole room’s attention to her, “What?” she mocked, “You never though little old me, the harmless maid, would ever do something so devious and well planned!” she laughed harshly, “I suppose I must tell you the whole story now, I’ve nothing left to lose.” Mr Holmes turned to her.
“I’ve a good mind I know how, and why, you did it, but, as you are willing to tell us your insidious plot, do go on!” He settled back in a chair to listen.

“Well, as I am sure you know, Mr Holmes, when I was but a baby, I was cast out, a scandal, to be blotted out of my family’s history. But, that was when they made the first mistake, keeping me as a maid,”
“May I interrupt?” said I, eager to know something, “When did you find out who you really were?”
“When I was but six. I led a happy existence up ‘til then, assuming I was the daughter of one of the maids. One day, I came across my real parents talking in the study, I heard my name being mentioned, and being of the inquisitive disposition, I decided to stay and listen. They talked about how I was Lady Keynes-Morgan’s child, and whether or not I should be told. When I heard them say who I really was, my anger began to build.
On the outside I remained cheery and helpful, pretending I had never heard that conversation, but my anger began to boil,” Anna laughed bitterly, “It kept me strong, knowing that one day I would get my revenge, one day I’d cause them all pain for making me live the life of a servant when I could’ve been a debutante, the most talked of girl in all of London!”
Lady Faranshire was holding a hand to her mouth, she looked physically sick.
“But we were so close Anna! Why did you never tell me?”
“What could you have done? You were a pawn, doing whatever your parents decreed, it was shameful. If I had told you, you would have gone running to them, and I would have been thrown out onto the streets, left to starve. Ten years later, my chance came, I was sent to Ireland with the former Lady Faranshire-“
“Where your evil plot began to unfold,” cut in Holmes, “May I continue for you?” he asked politely, looking at Anna; she nodded and sat down.
“You were cleaning in the attic the day you found the ring, were you not?” she nodded her assent, “You found the ring, ever such a coincidence, but when you realised the importance of it you began to wonder whether this could be to your advantage. That night you came up with the plan, it was brilliant and fiendish; no one would ever know it was you. That night you stuck a band of grated metal on the inside of the ring, but of course a little cut on the finger isn’t enough to kill anyone, you needed something else. Judging by the pot over there,” He said, indicating the clear jar, “There was some poison in it, what kind was it, may I ask?” he asked tilting his head slightly.
“Arsenic, mixed with something else to make it a paste,” she announced proudly.
“Aaah yes, A mixture used to kill rats, smear it on some food and the rats will ingest the poison, you were hoping to do something like that to the former Lady Faranshire. Unfortunately Lady Faranshire was not a rat, and would see any paste smeared on her food. And then the idea came to you, you had originally put the grated metal on the ring to cause your sister pain; but then, in a flash of brilliance, you decided, that, if the arsenic got into the bloodstream then it would surely kill her. Am I right so far?”
“Yes, you are most astute, Mr Holmes, as to the ways of a twisted mind,” she smiled at him.
“So, the night before the ring was due to be put on the lady of the house’s finger, you tricked the butler into letting you do it. He, being a frail elderly gentleman, not quite in his right mind, let you do it. You smeared the arsenic onto the ring around the grated metal, being most careful to do no harm to yourself, and then, soon enough, the first part of your revenge was completed.” He finished dramatically.

Lord Faranshire stood up.
“GET THAT THING OUT!” he bellowed, angry beyond belief; his wife sat on the sofa, keening over the death of her beloved sister.
“Ah, but the story is not yet finished, am I right Anna?” Mr Holmes looked at Anna, and she smiled again.
“No, of course not, there was still the intended death of my other sister.”
“Ah, yes, another stroke of fortune for you. At the funeral, what could be better than Lord Faranshire falling in love with the other sister, it was love at first sight.”
“All like the pieces in a puzzle,” giggled Anna, baring her teeth like a cat,
“A very apt metaphor indeed. A few years later the couple were married, and soon enough your next stage was about to come to fruition. Then disaster struck. Lord Faranshire realised that his former wife was murdered, and came for my, if I may say so myself, expert advice. And then the game was up, I found you and here we are. Now if I may repeat myself, you are under arrest Anna Keynes-Morgan.”

He finished and looked around at the dead silence in the room, looking rather surprised that we had not come to this apparently simple conclusion. Anna backed away slowly, towards the window. I realised what was happening far too late, for below the window there was a cluster of sharp and deadly rocks, looking out over the cold, unforgiving sea. She gave us all a final cat-like smile, before smashing through the window, down into the dark, dark sea.
*                      *                      *                      *         
 Several weeks later, back in London, Holmes turned to me, over our buttered scones, a thoughtful look in his eyes.
“What?” I asked, holding a buttered scone halfway to my mouth.
“I have just had a most disturbing thought,” he paused, and I waited patiently for him to continue. “What if Anna the maid did not die and simply climbed along the wall to safety?”

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