Friday 7 June 2013
The suitcase sat open on the end of the double bed, its contents neatly folded and stacked. The battered case had seen many countries and had been handled, both well and poorly, on a variety of modes of transport. Unlike so many of her peers who preferred to travel by boat, Christine Jefferies loved locomotive travel the most. To her, travelling on board a train held a certain romanticism, with the rhythmic sound of the wheels on the tracks providing an hypnotic soundtrack to her journeys. She rifled through a hidden pocket inside the top of the case looking for her train and ferry tickets.
A knock on the door distracted her from the search. She dropped the top of the case back down, clipped the locks together, and returned the suitcase to the closet before opening the door.
‘Miss Jefferies, so sorry to disturb you but the man from the police wants to see you in the dining room right away.’
‘Anna, isn’t it?’ Christine asked the young maid at her door. The girl quickly nodded.
‘Tell me, Anna, did the police man say why he wanted to speak with me?’
‘No, miss, just that he expected you in the dining room right away.’
‘Please tell the gentleman that I’ll be down presently. I just need to make myself a little more presentable. Thank you, Anna.’
The maid smiled and stopped short of curtseying. Sensing that she had already overstayed her welcome, Anna quickly retreated downstairs as Christine closed the door to her room. Terror overwhelmed Christine and, weak at the knees, she leaned her full weight against the door and sobbed hysterically, sure that the policeman had discovered her secret and was now going to expose her to the Wharburton and Finch families. If that was the case, everything that she’d worked for over the last few months would be in vain.
It was futile to attempt to stop her tears. She knew from bitter experience that the effort it took to hold them back would result in her suffering a most terrible headache that her doctor had described as a migraine. Not entirely knowledgeable on the subject, Christine simply knew that it was not the sort of head pain she could effectively deal with if she was required to speak with the policeman at length. If he inquired, Christine decided that she would tell him that she was still very much upset at the passing of Edward Wharburton. A gentleman, after all, would never press a lady on the subject of her tears.
Patting he eyes dry as she descended the stairs and made her way to the dining room, Christine settled herself for the inevitable onslaught of questions that she would, no doubt, be subjected to. Without knocking, she walked into the dining room and took a seat at the table. The policeman was looking out of the window, towards the tennis court, and didn’t react when she came into the room.
‘You wanted to speak with me? If you don’t mind, I would very much like to get this over and done with as quickly as possible,’ she stated, hoping to assert whatever authority she might have thanks to her higher social standing.
‘Detective Chief Inspector Cyril Cranbourne,’ he replied.
‘I assumed from the tone of your voice that you were under the impression that I was a simple police constable. I am, in fact, a Detective Chief Inspector, Miss Jefferies, and I’d certainly like to oblige you by getting straight into this. However, I must note that I am expecting Mr. Simon Fairweather from the Home Office to join us at some point, sooner rather than later I hope.’ He swivelled around to face the young woman sitting at the table. Her pale face was made paler by her reddening cheeks, which Cranbourne took as being a sign of embarrassment at being chastised for her moment of poor assumption.
‘The Home Office? Why is the Home Office involved in Mr. Wharburton’s death?’ Christine asked. Cranbourne leisurely sat at the head of the table, turned to a new page in his notebook and straightened it in front of himself.
‘Technically speaking, Miss Jefferies, the Home Office wasn’t involved in Mr. Wharburton’s death. That’s to say, not until earlier today when I received some interesting information. Currently, Mr. Fairweather is, I hope, on his way back from London with some vital information that will indeed corroborate the evidence that I’ve already discovered.’ He allowed her some time to process the information, all the while, examining her face closely; watching every twitch, every tiny movement of the muscles in her face to see if they betrayed her.
‘Do you think, Miss Jefferies, you could explain to me what happened the day Mr. Wharburton was killed? Where were you? What were you doing?’ He lowered his eyes to his notebook, and took up the pencil in his right hand, ready to write down everything she said.
‘Do you want me to go over the whole day, or . . . or just the moments before we heard the scream and found him in the ballroom?’ she asked.
‘Whatever you see fit to tell me, Miss Jefferies,’ Cranbourne replied, still without making eye contact with the young woman.
She sat still and silent as she considered Detective Chief Inspector Cranbourne’s words. She wondered what the others had already told him, and who else he’d already spoken to. She opened her mouth to speak but was interrupted by the entrance of an older man arm outstretched, an envelope in his hand.
‘Ah,’ Cranbourne said, ‘Mr. Fairweather, you’re back. My information, I presume?’ He pointed at the envelope in Fairweather’s hand.
‘Certainly is, Cranbourne, and I must say, you were absolutely correct. It’s all there in black and white.’
‘He’s with your chaps, and presently behind bars awaiting your return to London,’ answered Fairweather.
Cranbourne took the envelope and smiled at Christine as he ripped it open and pulled the pages from within it. Her brow furrowed, and her cheeks flushed again as Cranbourne glanced between the paper in his hand and her face.
‘Now, Miss Jefferies, how about you explain everything to me in your own words. And why don’t you start with your relationships to Mr. George Wharburton and Mr. Digby Arden, butler to the deceased?’
She visibly sunk in the chair. The game was up; Cranbourne obviously knew her secret. Resigned to her fate, Christine began slowly. ‘I doubt that I really need to explain my relationship with Mr. Arden, Detective Chief Inspector. I think that information you have in your hands explains it perfectly.’
. . . To be continued . . .