Estimated reading time: 5 minutes —< Chapter 10: The Church
Chapter 11. The Barn
Piercing shouts echoed through the village, seconded by the loud crowing of ravens. The villagers who lived close by hurried to their windows and the people who were at the Inn gathered in the square.
“What’s happening?” asked Augustus, who always seemed to take charge in these circumstances, but only till when Lord Crewe showed up, of course. He knew his place.
Everyone’s perplexity caused a generalized and incomprehensible immobility. “It’s coming from the farm,” someone said after a few seconds; and only that prompted a number of people to walk up the road.
“Help, please help” – a frantic woman stormed outside.
Augustus and Ernest led a handful of villagers into the barn and what they saw floored them. Some of the women in the group left utterly horrified; the men were as shaken, but tried not to show it.
The woman wept inconsolably, knelling on the floor and murmuring incomprehensible sentences. It was too late to provide any help, unfortunately. She knew it; everyone knew it.
The men brought down the child, a girl. She was hanging from a noose, right under a dauntless owl that stood motionless on a beam. The men carefully laid her on the floor in front of her mother. She straightened the child’s skirt and cape, every crease, every wrinkle, and then sat as motionless as the owl, staring.
“We should call the police. They could be here in an hour,” suggested Lord Crewe who had arrived with Mrs. Thomson. “Ernest, could you do that, please?”
The stationmaster agreed. The village had no police and the closest post was at a nearby village.
“Lord Crewe, perhaps we could take this poor woman and her unfortunate child to the Inn while we wait for the police,” proposed Augustus. “The vicar is out of town and I don’t mind closing the Inn… For privacy…”
Augustus’s generous suggestion was far from innocent; he had exhausted all his resources in what both drink and food were concerned, so no further business was happening in a near future. And Lord Crewe always favored people who showed initiative, plus he never liked the vicar or any church related events.
“Of course, Augustus,” he said, waving farewell. He could now go back to his Manor to attend to the few passengers possibly still remaining there and hope for the return of peace after they were safely packed in the next train and taken as far away as possible to their respective towns, preferably never to come back. He would leave the mundane decisions to Augustus, who dealt with them in a far better manner.
Fred, Millie and Ron, after a long and draining accusatory discussion, decided to go back to the Inn and start asking questions, confident that dropping the discretion strategy would bring them more results.
As they reached the center of the village, they were faced with a crowd, some weeping, others whispering. There was talk of a child’s death and her mother being devastated.
“Where’s Isabella?” whispered Millie in Fred’s ear.
He shrugged, but he had a sinking feeling that this would not make their lives any easier. He was even pondering, secretly, to cancel the whole operation. The village would be crawling with police and it was pretty clear that the darn wooden box was nowhere to be found.
A few months ago, on a regular Saturday night out with Millie, he overheard a man, sitting alone and ingesting generous amounts of alcohol, mumbling something about a treasure.
He sat by this man and found out he was the Lord of the Manor of a village located at the end of the train line. The man’s name was Lord Crewe and he insisted that this treasure was a rare wooden box. Legend said that its contents consisted of gemstones of incalculable value offered by Catherine the Great to one of her maids, who never admitted to having them or to being a gypsy.
The gemstones were discreetly handed down from generation to generation, until a well-traveled gypsy locked them inside a Japanese wooden box with a coat of arms, a rather atypical motif for a Japanese creation, probably a special order. It had a key as well, but it got lost somehow.
A few years later at an antique shop, Lord Crewe came across a key bearing the same motif. For the life of him, he couldn’t figure out how the box he owned would require a key, considering that conventional Japanese boxes of this type didn’t seem to need conventional keys at all, but he bought the key just in case.
The Japanese box had been given to Lord Crewe for safe keeping by a gypsy woman who bore him a son for whom she wanted to secure an affluent future, unaware of the fact that the bachelor Lord Crewe already decided, against tradition and the strong advice of his family, that this son would be the next Lord of the Manor.
Fred and Millie shared all this with Ron, who in his reconnaissance of the village to prepare for the robbery, easily subtracted the valuable key from the Manor, because it was recklessly placed inside an unlocked drawer in Lord Crewe’s bedroom.
During his visit, Ron also heard dark stories of witchcraft and, as a result, he was perfectly and wrongly convinced that the gypsies were involved in hiding the box at the Mill. Nothing could’ve been farther from the truth.
Isabella was invited to join the group as a backup plan. If everything failed, she would use her female charm on the bachelor Lord Crewe.
“It’s her,” Ron whispered.” We are screwed.”
The trio’s agitation didn’t escape the attentive observation of Mrs. Thomson and Mirela, as they went inside the Inn. There they found Augustus baffled by the rather unusual tic of the bereaved woman, constantly looking at her watch. It seemed totally out of context to be worried about the time when her daughter had died.
Another issue that was bothering the innkeeper, which seemed not to have intrigued anyone else, was the fact that not even an adult would be able to hang himself from a beam placed as high as the beam in the barn. There were a few stacks of hay there and crates as well, but a small child could never drag those and pile them up. Even more inexplicable was the fact that they didn’t see any disorder; everything appeared to be neatly stored.
“The police are on their way,” said Ernest, back from the station.
Taking the opportunity of the stationmaster’s arrival, the trio sneaked inside the Inn, bypassing the vigilant guard of a young gypsy man.
Isabella was sitting on a chair in front of the fireplace, clutching at her purse.
“May we?” asked Ron, fraught with a sudden audacity, bordering on sheer imprudence. “We know this woman.”
The three walked towards Isabella.
“What happened? Did anyone attack you two?” started Millie sympathetically. “Did you see who it was?”
Isabella shook her blonde mane slowly. She hadn’t seen anyone; no one had seen her either. No one had seen Kelly run off in a fit of fury, screaming and cussing when she tried to take the box away from her. She explained over and over again that it was not a toy, but her daughter refused to accept that.
No one had put up with the constant tantrums, the kicking and screaming over the five years. No one had seen her patience wearing thin.
No one had seen her go in the barn after her child. No one had seen her take a crate and throw it at Kelly, leaving her drowsy still holding the box. She could’ve taken it from her then, she could’ve, but she was blinded by hatred. No one, not a soul, had seen Kelly wiggle her little legs helplessly, finally dropping the box for her to catch.
“My daughter is a very clever girl, you know?” Isabella smiled. “She found the box we were looking for, Millie, look. She deserves a reward. She will grow to be a fine young woman, don’t you think, Fred? By the way, Ron, do you still have the key?”
Everyone looked at Ron.
Augustus and Ernest were utterly perplexed with the turn of events. After all they thought the Japanese box was safely kept inside the abbot’s tomb and to see it in the hands of this clearly insane woman was no less than a shock.
Ron, Fred and Millie were petrified, frozen in the overheated Inn and surrounded by strangers who knew a lot more now than they did only a few seconds ago.
“Isabella, what are you talking about? What key? There’s no key, dear,” said Ron, trying to repair the massive damage done.
“Do you mean this one?” asked Ernest, holding up the key with Lord Crewe’s coat of arms on it.
An overpowering silence filled the Inn where Mrs. Thomson, Mirela, Augustus and Ernest, each a guardian of the Japanese box in their own very particular way, also became the temporary jailers of four strangers whose plan ended in tragedy.Chapter 12: The Observer >