AS THE WEEK PROGRESSED, Queenie's thoughts strayed regularly to the adventure she had planned for her friend Lady Dorking. There were so many details to be attended to and she kept thinking of more and more of them. On several evenings, she paid visits to the Mrs Rafferty's brothel to check on different aspects of her plans. Queenie was almost regarded as one of the staff now, she noticed, to her slight alarm.
Saturday arrived at last and Queenie was elated as she pedalled her bicycle to Mrs Rafferty's establishment in the late afternoon. The November night had already closed in and an acrid London fog clawed at Queenie's throat despite the folds of her scarf covering her mouth. It was good weather for a mystery, she considered, but possibly more appropriate to Sherlock Holmes than to a steamy African jungle.
Annie mustered the troops for the planned adventure, Katie and Poppy, both promoted from kitchen duties for the evening, Sophie and Francine, another French girl, as well as Annie herself and of course Queenie. Queenie ran over the plans again, surely unnecessarily, but she felt that she needed to be sure that everyone was absolutely familiar with their roles. The Featherstone cousins would have the opportunity to change into their costumes as intrepid jungle explorers and would be sent to the conservatory, which was already lit with green light bulbs to give an eerie jungle atmosphere. They would be ambushed by 'natives' immediately on entering the conservatory. Lady Dorking would be tied up and left there while her cousin was spirited away. Lady Dorking would be expected to escape her bonds and would then find a note telling her that Margaret Featherstone had been taken as an offering to the jungle goddess. It would also carry a dire warning of what would happen if she attempted to follow. The next clue in the hunt was already hidden amongst the plants in the conservatory. Queenie checked that everyone knew what to do and wished them good luck.
Annie consulted her watch and announced that it was time to get into costume. Queenie knew that Mrs Rafferty's establishment had an extensive collection of costumes, but had not seen the ones selected for that night's activities, although Annie had described them. The basic garment for each costume was a one-piece black body-stocking in some stretchy material like long underwear. Queenie stripped to her cami-knickers and, with Annie's help, started to wriggle into her outfit. The opening was at the crotch and down the inside of each leg. Queenie put it over her head and worked it down over her body. The sleeves had integral gloves attached to them which were a challenge to put on and made all subsequent stages that much more difficult. Once she had the upper part of the costume in place, she was able to put her feet into the costume's feet and then fasten the multitude of buttons which closed the opening. It was only as she did so that she worked out why the costume had its opening in such an extraordinary place. Blushing furiously, Queenie concentrated on the buttons, sure that everyone else must be able to read her mind.
Once Queenie was safely inside her costume, Annie applied a layer of black grease-paint to her face, followed by blood-red lipstick. When the make-up was complete, Queenie pulled up the hood, which was attached to the costume, to cover her hair and neck. A black woolly wig went on over the hood. A scandalously short kilt in imitation leopard fur and a matching bolero finished off the costume. All six girls in the team were now kitted out as outrageous caricatures of female African warriors. Naturally the possible feelings of genuine Africans never entered into consideration in those days when the British Empire was still mighty.
After a few minutes' wait, the Featherstone cousins entered the conservatory. They were both wearing tweed shooting jackets of a rather military cut with matching tweed skirts almost down to their ankles and heavy boots just visible beneath. Pith helmets confirmed the costume as being intended for the jungle rather than a shooting party in Scotland. However, the costumes were probably authentically representative of the unsuitable attire worn by some Englishwomen in the tropics.
With a blood-curdling whoop, Queenie's 'native' horde fell on the intrepid explorers before they had advanced more than two yards into the 'jungle'. Both the Featherstones put up a valiant fight but the numbers were against them and they were progressively overpowered.
Queenie discovered that it was no easy matter to bind Lady Dorking's wrists behind her back while encumbered by the costume's gloves and at the same time battling to prevent her victim's escape and also trying to stop her wig from slipping down over her eyes. Eventually, with persistence, she succeeded in tying a secure knot.
As she paused for breath, Queenie was astonished to find that in the confusion of the mêlée, someone had pulled her own hands around behind her back and was now tying her wrists together. She opened her mouth to protest and a wad of cloth was stuffed into it then tied in place. Queenie craned her neck to see who was trying to tie her up, but everyone looked exactly the same in these costumes. A blindfold quickly put an end to her attempt to penetrate the disguise.
Once Queenie's wrists were secure, she was left alone for a few moments. She quickly discovered that whoever had tied her wrists knew exactly what she was doing. The binding was firm and the knot was well out of reach. The rope was too tight for Queenie to slip her hands out. She also found that her usual method of dealing with a wrist tie would not work; with her wrists covered by her costume, they turned freely within the rope and did not permit her usual strategy of redistributing the slack in the binding.
Queenie found herself being hoisted onto a chair and securely bound to it. From the chill of the metalwork felt through her costume, it was obvious that this was one of the heavy cast-iron chairs that were kept in the conservatory and which had been left in place as they were too heavy to move sensibly. One again, it was obvious that her assailants knew exactly what they were doing. Queenie's ankles were separately tied to the front legs of the chair and all her attempts to kick her attacker expertly deflected. Rope was wound around her arms and body and the through the iron filigree of the chair back, firmly anchoring her in place. Finally a few turns of rope were put across her lap and under the chair seat.
In the stillness that followed, Queenie could hear some struggling going on. Was that just the Featherstones, or had other members of her band of natives come to grief too? Above all, what on earth was going on and why?
After some experimental struggling, Queenie rapidly concluded that she would only be able to escape if she could find some way of cutting herself free. She reached behind her in the hope of finding something to rub her bonds against, but found nothing. The way that Queenie had been tied to the chair, both her feet were on the floor. She pushed them firmly against the floor and, despite the weight of the chair, managed to shuffle herself back an inch or so, with a tortured shriek of iron on the stone floor. There was still nothing within reach behind her, so she repeated the process until eventually her hands brushed against some foliage. They were long, stiff, smooth leaves. Queenie recognised them as the dark green sword-like leaves with serrated edges like hacksaw blades that had snagged her clothes on a previous visit. She shuffled her chair back a little further. Locating a leaf with her outstretched fingers, she manoeuvred herself into a position where she could bring the cord binding her wrists into contact with the edge of the leaf. It proved frustratingly difficult to persuade the leaf not to buckle as soon as she applied any pressure but with gentle persistence, little by little, she sawed through the rope.
Once Queenie's hands were free, it took a few minutes longer to disentangle herself from the rope around her arms and body sufficiently to reach her face. The gag came away smeared with red lipstick and the blindfold with black grease-paint. As she untied the rest of the ropes securing her, Queenie glanced around. There were three other 'native warriors' roped to chairs as she had been, but no sign of either of the Featherstone cousins.
"Annie?" asked Queenie once her voice was working again. One of the bound figures grunted in response and Queenie rushed over to free her first. An inspection of the bonds confirmed that the tying had been carried out very competently. As she untied Annie, Queenie asked what had happened, but Annie was as baffled as she was. They quickly freed the remaining 'natives', who proved to be Sophie and Francine.
A search of the conservatory yielded nothing. Annie led the way through the connecting door and down the short flight of steps to the cellar. Poppy and Katie, the remaining 'Africans', were there, both lying face-down on the floor with their wrists and ankles bound and tied into what Queenie now knew was called a 'hog-tie'. They were gagged and blindfolded as the others had been.
"I don't know what's going on here, but we'd better tell Mrs Rafferty," Annie said to Queenie.
Mrs Rafferty was in her parlour as usual. She listened to Annie's and Queenie's tale with increasing bewilderment and then with fury as it became obvious that someone had staged a real abduction under the cover of the make-believe one. She crossed the room to the speaking tube and summoned Lucy Kennington from the kitchen.
"This is more serious than just a kidnapping," Mrs Rafferty remarked to Queenie as they waited for Lucy to appear.
"Lucy, did you see anything of Lady Dorking and Margaret Featherstone after they went to the conservatory?" Mrs Rafferty asked.
Sergeant Kennington looked from face to face, wondering why everyone was so tense. "Yes, they were taken out through the front door about ten minutes after they arrived here."
"Taken?" echoed Mrs Rafferty.
"Yes. They were all tied up and being escorted by two of the girls dressed up as natives," Lucy assured her.
"You're sure of that?" Annie queried.
"I held the door open for them."
Mrs Rafferty groaned. "It was a real abduction. Someone tied our girls up and snatched Lady Dorking and her cousin."
"Ohmygod," exclaimed Lucy, wide-eyed. "I need to phone the Yard for help." She picked up the telephone without further explanation. "Whitehall one-two one-two quickly please," she asked the operator.
While Lucy Kennington was speaking to her superior officer, Queenie took the opportunity to ask Mrs Rafferty what was going on. Queenie understood that a kidnapping was a very serious situation and possibly life-threatening, but somehow the current situation seemed to have a significance beyond that. Mrs Rafferty quickly explained that Lord Dorking was engaged in some very delicate negotiations with the government of the Irish Free State. With the civil war going on in Ireland, Queenie understood the sensitivity of a situation like that. Mrs Rafferty went on to suggest that possibly Lady Dorking had been kidnapped by or for the IRA as leverage to persuade Lord Dorking to favour the anti-treaty faction in Ireland. Queenie nodded, although she barely understood the political implications of the situation. It was enough to know that her friend was quite possibly in the clutches of some very dangerous people.
Sergeant Kennington's call to Scotland Yard brought almost immediate results. Within fifteen minutes a man arrived at the front door of the brothel and introduced himself as Detective Inspector Merton from Special Branch. He was wearing evening dress, which suggested that he had been extracted from a social engagement. The inspector quickly surveyed the room and greeted the people he knew, beginning with Mrs Rafferty. He hesitated slightly as his eyes reached Queenie, but she was impressed that he remembered her and got her name right having only met her once before, over a year previously and despite her bizarre costume and the lingering residue of blackface make-up. Finally, he addressed Lucy Kennington. "You'd better tell me exactly what's going on here, sergeant."
Sergeant Kennington gave her superior as lucid an explanation as was possible with the barrage of interruptions from the other people in the room. Inspector Merton listened carefully and repeated back a version of events that everyone eventually seemed content to agree on.
Inspector Merton wondered if someone other than the intended band of 'natives' could have taken advantage of the confusion to abduct the Featherstone cousins and tie up the others. He proceeded to check everyone else's whereabouts at the time of the abduction. Queenie and Annie were able to vouch for each other and for Sophie, Francine, Katie and Poppy, who were all in the band of 'native warriors'. Lucy Kennington was able to account for all of the rest of the staff, who were either helping in the kitchen or taking time off there.
Only Mrs Rafferty was left with no witnesses. She gestured towards the pile of papers on her desk explained that she was working alone in her parlour. Inspector Merton considered this statement for a long uncomfortable minute before replying. "Molly, you've no-one to vouch for your story, you're Irish and you've got a lot of unsavoury connections. I'm sorry but I'll have to ask you to come to the Yard and answer some questions."
Mrs Rafferty stood her ground. "Inspector, you have absolutely no grounds for asking that. If it's answers you're wanting, then ask them here," she insisted. "Otherwise, you'll have to go ahead and arrest me."
"It's no good trying to call my bluff, Molly," the inspector replied with a sigh. "Mary-Anne Rafferty, I am arresting you on suspicion of abduction or conspiracy to abduct."
There was a long uncomfortable silence in which no-one moved or spoke.
Inspector Merton broke the silence. "Sergeant Kennington, would you mind restraining the prisoner so we can get her out of here?"
"Yessir!" Lucy Kennington blurted as if suddenly remembering that she was a police officer on duty.
"I'd better get my coat on then," Mrs Rafferty remarked, with an air of resignation. "I seem to remember that a black maria is a draughty form of transport."
While Mars Rafferty put on her top-coat, hat and gloves and wrapped a shawl around her shoulders, Sergeant Kennington walked across to a large mahogany chest of drawers to one side of the fireplace. She opened the bottom drawer, which proved to contain a large quantity of assorted handcuffs and similar equipment, all wrapped in a thick grey blanket, presumably to protect the woodwork. She quickly selected an item and waited for Mrs Rafferty.
Once Mrs Rafferty was ready, Lucy fastened a broad leather body belt around her waist. It had a pair of handcuffs attached to a steel ring riveted to the front of the belt. Mrs Rafferty snapped the cuffs onto her own wrists without being prompted.
"You'd better do my feet too, Lucy," Mrs Rafferty remarked with heavy irony, "just in case I'm tempted to kick yon inspector between the legs." The inspector said nothing but changed his stance fractionally.
Sergeant Kennington took Mrs Rafferty at her word and snapped a pair of leg irons onto her ankles. With as much dignity as was possible under the circumstances, Mrs Rafferty shuffled towards the door with the sergeant steering her by one elbow.
"Do you want me to close down and send the girls home?" Annie asked the inspector.
"No," he replied firmly. "It should be business as usual. Whoever has Lady Dorking will know that something has happened but we don't want anyone else to think there's anything wrong. My men will be combing the area discreetly to see if we can trace where Lady Dorking and her cousin have been taken."
"But you've arrested Mrs R!" Annie exclaimed. "People will know there's something wrong!"
"That's an occupational hazard in her line of work," Inspector Merton replied as he left.
After the police car had departed, Queenie and Annie had a worried conference in Mrs Rafferty's parlour. They decided that Inspector Merton's theory about someone taking advantage of the mêlée was very likely.
Queenie considered this further. "I'm sure that there were at least two people involved in tying me to that chair," she pointed out.
"I think that's right," Annie agreed, "and I was left alone for a minute or so after my hands were tied but before I was tied to the chair."
"Me too," Queenie confirmed.
"Two people also matches what Lucy said about two kidnappers taking Lady Dorking and Margaret Featherstone away," Annie pointed out.
"I think I'd like to get this ridiculous costume off next," Queenie announced. They had both taken their wigs off and thrown the hoods back, but they were still dressed from neck to toe in black stretchy fabric with strategically placed fur accessories. Queenie had wiped most of her make-up off, while Annie's was largely intact except where it had been smeared by her blindfold and gag.
"Good idea," agreed Annie, "especially if I'm going to be the boss for the rest of the evening."
They both made use of Mrs Rafferty's private bathroom to rid themselves of the remaining grease-paint then Annie led the way back to the upstairs room that was used as the costume store. Queenie's and Annie's own clothes were still there and as they changed, a thought occurred to Queenie.
"Do you know how many of those African costumes there should be, Annie?"
"Twelve in total, I think," Annie replied. "There were six of us wearing them, so there should be six left." She quickly counted the unused costumes then counted again more slowly and deliberately. "Only five here."
"So seven were used," Queenie concluded. "Six of us and one more."
"It can't have been Mrs Rafferty," Annie remarked. "Even in one of these outfits, we would all know her."
"Lucy saw two people in costume with Lady Dorking and her cousin," Queenie pointed out. "That means that only one of them was an outsider. The other one must have been one of the six of us."
"I know it wasn't me," Annie replied.
"Or me," Queenie added.
"And," Annie continued, "whoever it was can't have been tied up at the same time as the rest of us if she was leading Lady Dorking out through the door."
"The police seem to think that it was someone with an Irish connection; does that help us at all?" Queenie asked.
"Well Sophie and Francine are French, Poppy and Katie are both English, I'm White Russian and I don't know what you are," Annie replied.
"English too," Queenie assured her. "That doesn't get us very far does it?"
"And it doesn't tell us who the extra 'native' was either," Annie pointed out. "Come on, I need to get this place running for the rest of the evening."
As she followed Annie down to the kitchen, a wave of disappointment swept over Queenie. Her planned adventure for Lady Dorking had turned to disaster. Indirectly it had led to a good friend being kidnapped and now being in who knew what kind of danger. Worse still, the police investigation seemed to have focussed on entirely the wrong person.
The kitchen was a scene of confusion and chaos with all the staff there and at least half a dozen conversations going on at once, some of them quite heated. Annie stood on a chair and clapped her hands to get everyone's attention. As the hubbub subsided, she started to issue instructions to the staff to bring some order out of the chaos.
Almost as soon as Annie had started speaking, she was interrupted by Lucy Kennington returning from the police station. Everyone's attention immediately turned to Lucy as she was mobbed by protests of Mrs Rafferty's innocence.
Queenie agreed with the general sentiment but she couldn't help but be impressed by Sergeant Kennington's competence in handling the situation. She stood her ground and the authoritative edge to her voice commanded immediate quiet. "I know we're all sure that Mrs Rafferty could have nothing to do with this." There was a general murmur of assent. "But we have to act on evidence in the police force. There is no hard evidence yet but the circumstantial evidence points to Mrs Rafferty as the only likely suspect so far." The murmurs became angrier. Sergeant Kennington raised her voice a fraction. "I'm sure that the truth will become clear soon, but in the mean time, the best we can do for Mrs Rafferty is to make sure everything continues smoothly here and to let the police do their job. Thank you."
All the dissenting voices, even if not entirely satisfied, seemed to have been stilled until a single shrill voice piped up, "It was her what done it!"
The room fell silent. Everyone turned to see who had spoken. It was Katie. Then they turned to see who she was pointing at. It was Poppy.
"It must've been her getting back at Mrs R," Katie added.
"I never!" Poppy protested.
The other girls weren't quite convinced by Katie's accusation, but the motive she suggested was verging on plausible.
"It couldn't've been me. I was all tied up!" Poppy continued in her own defence.
"How do we know that?" Katie countered. "I was tied up and had a blindfold on. You could've been anywhere."
"I'm not putting up wif this," Poppy replied. "I'm off home. You lot can just get on wifout me tonight!"
Sergeant Kennington tried to restore some order. "Katie, this is bad enough without wild accusations. Poppy, we need everyone's help tonight and the police have asked us not to go away for the time being. Please stay."
"Make me!" Poppy dared her.
"I'm really sorry, Poppy," Sergeant Kennington said as she produced a pair of handcuffs from her skirt pocket. The other girls prevented Poppy's escape while Lucy Kennington deftly cuffed her wrists behind her back. Someone produced a length of rope and Poppy found herself lashed to a chair once more. Her increasingly voluble protests were stifled with a kitchen towel forced between her teeth and knotted behind her head.
Queenie was unhappy about the accusation against Poppy. If she was the kidnapper, then where were the Featherstone cousins now? If it was her, it would imply that she had spirited them away with someone else and then come back unseen and tied herself up. On the other hand, Queenie pointed out to herself, that would be equally true of anyone other possible suspect. It just didn't make sense. She concluded to herself that the police were probably right to search the area as Lady Dorking and her cousin had last been seen being taken away from the brothel and one of the kidnappers had time to return (and tie herself up?) before Queenie freed herself and raised the alarm.
Queenie was exhausted by the events of the evening. She was desperately worried about Lady Dorking and her cousin. There was little she could do to help the situation but nevertheless, she couldn't bear the thought of not being on hand to hear of any developments. She decided that a walk in the garden might clear her head.
Queenie put her coat on, wrapped her scarf around her face and settled her hat firmly down over her ears before venturing out into the chill of the night. Her bicycle was parked in the usual position in a corner just outside the back door. Queenie was checking that it was securely propped up when someone else emerged from the back door. Out of idle curiosity, Queenie watched to see where the person went. Dimly visible in the dark garden, the figure made its way down the path almost to the gate out into the lane behind the brothel and the neighbouring houses. Abruptly, it turned off and headed towards a large wooden shed built against the brick boundary wall. Queenie had noticed this structure before and assumed it was for storing garden equipment. Why would anyone want to make a journey there at night?
While Queenie continued to wait and watch, there was light briefly visible inside the shed and then the figure emerged again. As the figure made its way back towards the house, she held her breath and kept as still as she could. The mysterious figure passed within a few feet of Queenie, not noticing her as she was almost invisible muffled up in dark clothes and standing in deep shadow. As the back door opened, the figure was briefly illuminated. It was Sophie.
Queenie was immediately suspicious. She could not imagine why Sophie would have any business in a garden shed, let alone at dead of night. Leaving her bicycle, Queenie walked quietly down to the shed. The door was fastened with a wooden peg through an iron hasp but not locked. It was pitch black inside but Queenie had seen light earlier so she felt around for an electric switch. She found one rather higher up than she expected and flipped it down. The blood-red light that flooded the shed startled her. It was immediately obvious that this was no ordinary shed. As she anticipated, it was a wooden lean-to structure built against the brick boundary wall. Instead of the garden tools and furniture Queenie expected to see, the interior looked more like a stable, with two very small carts parked at one end and bundles of very strange looking leather tack hanging from the walls. How could you get a horse through that narrow postern gate from the lane at the back, Queenie wondered.
With a shock, Queenie realised she was not alone in the shed. At the end opposite the carts, there was an arrangement of hitching rails, with two stout square wooden posts stretching from floor to roof. To each of these posts was bound a woman, Their faces were hidden by black cloth hoods, but to Queenie's relief, the robust green tweeds identified them unmistakably as the Featherstone cousins.
The women's captor had taken no chances with their proclivity to escape, Queenie realised. A great deal of rope had been used and ingeniously applied to make sure of that. It was not immediately obvious how their wrists were secured until Queenie realised that there were holes drilled right through each post at intervals all the way from floor to roof. The women's arms were drawn slightly behind hem so that they were against the side faces of the post and the ropes linking their wrists passed through one of the holes, thereby locking their hands in one position and guaranteeing that no knots were within reach. Bands of rope secured the women to their respective posts at their waists, their chests, both above and below the bust and at intervals down their legs, culminating in a secure ankle binding. Each band of rope also passed through one of the holes in the post. Queenie reflected that although they undoubtedly put up a token struggle, the Featherstone cousins probably co-operated with their captors. It was going to be a monumental task to free them.
Queenie started by removing the hood from one of the women. Lady Dorking's head was revealed, her hair in chaos, her face flushed and blinking in the sudden light. Her mouth was stuffed with a wad of cloth held in place by a gag between her teeth and tightly knotted behind her neck. "I've got to get you away from here," Queenie hissed urgently.
The gag proved too tight to pull down so rather than wasting time trying to untie it, Queenie focussed on the immense quantity of rope securing Lady Dorking. As she worked to unpick knots, Queenie sensed Lady Dorking's body becoming tense. Queenie looked up at her face. She was rolling her eyes and mumbling urgently through her gag. Too late, Queenie realised she should be looking behind her, not at Lady Dorking, as a heavy blow to the back of her head tumbled her into pain and darkness.
Queenie came back to her senses with a splitting headache. She groggily took stock of the situation. The ache in her jaw and her general discomfort resolved themselves into a realisation that she was gagged and bound. On reflection, this development did not entirely surprise her. The lights were still on confirming that she was still in the curious shed. Her position lying on the floor gave her a good view of the two wooden posts, which were no longer occupied by Lady Dorking and her cousin. Queenie would have groaned if she had been able to.
There was nothing for it but to ignore the pounding between her ears and to concentrate on trying to escape, Queenie decided. She craned her neck to try to work out how she was bound. Her top-coat had been removed but she was still wearing her sweater and skirt. Looking down, Queenie could see a leather strap across her chest with a metal ring at the front. Squirming to get a better view, she could see a vertical strap from the ring going down to another strap encircling her arms and chest just below her bust. She could also feel at least one more strap further down about waist level. Her arms were behind her and her forearms seemed to have been strapped together across the small of her back, with each wrist close to the opposite elbow. It felt as if there was a complete leather tube strapped around them. The whole construction seemed to be attached to the straps surrounding her body. Queenie twisted her neck around to see if she could see any of the arrangement behind her but discovered that the straps were bracing her body so that it would not bend that way. She could however now see that there was a strap over her shoulder. A quick check confirmed that the arrangement was symmetrical. It seemed that she had been strapped into a complete body harness with some sort of muff at the back to contain her forearms. Her hands were clear of the muff, but other than some leather straps, she could not reach anything with them. There were no buckles visible, so they were presumably all at the back. There seemed to be one strap not attached to anything. Queenie tentatively concluded that it would have been fastened between her legs had she not been wearing a skirt.
A little rolling around brought Queenie's legs into view. A broad leather strap was fastened around them just above her knees. She could see the buckle on this one, but it might as well have been in China for all she was able to reach it. Her ankles were not as tightly clamped together and seemed to have been hobbled rather than strapped together. The small amount of movement that allowed was the only freedom she could find.
Queenie spotted a leather and steel arrangement hanging amongst the other tack on the wall. It was a sort of parody of a horse's bridle with narrow black leather straps and a steel bit. She was fairly sure that she was wearing one of those. The narrow steel bit would not make an effective gag but in Queenie's case the bit merely served to hold a substantial wad of cloth in place.
It was now obvious to Queenie that an unaided escape from her bonds was completely out of the question. She wondered if she could at least escape from the shed. The first thing would be to get herself upright. She wormed her way across the floor, which was at least clean, until she reached a wall. With some effort, Queenie managed to arrange herself so that the back of her head was in contact with the boarding which lined the wooden parts of the shed. She drew her feet back and wriggled herself progressively into a sitting position. The same process and a lot more exertion allowed her to work her way into an upright position with her back against the wall. She paused for a moment, panting hard through her gag.
A little experimentation proved that Queenie could walk, even though she was hobbled, if she took tiny, careful steps of less than an inch. It was a frustratingly slow process to make her way precariously across to the door. The door was fastened, as Queenie rather thought it might be. She knew that it was probably only secured as she had found it, with a wooden peg through an iron hasp, but it would not yield even to a firm push from Queenie's shoulder.
Annoyed and almost too exhausted to think, Queenie looked around for more inspiration. She found it close to where she was standing. There was a telephone attached to the wall next to the door, presumably internal to the brothel. Queenie knew that there was a house phone on Mrs Rafferty's desk (although she seemed to prefer the speaking tube) and hoped that this one would be connected to it. Queenie knocked the handset off its cradle so it hung free from the cord then slid down the wall to get her head close to it. She made as much noise as her gag would permit and hoped that someone would hear her. There was no response so Queenie tried again. Still no response.
Queenie looked up at the telephone in frustration then noticed the small crank handle attached to the instrument. It must be necessary to turn the handle to spin a magneto that would ring the bell at the other end of the circuit. She sighed inwardly.
It took several minutes for the increasingly weary Queenie to get herself upright again. She backed herself up to the telephone and attempted to reach the crank. It was about a foot higher up the wall than her fingers would reach.
Queenie searched the room for any way to get to the telephone. There were two wooden chairs in the shed. She wondered if there was any possible safe way to climb on a chair strapped up like this. She would try anyway. Queenie shuffled her way across to one of the chairs and shuffled back, propelling it with her knees. She manoeuvred it into position just below the telephone and than sat down. Her plan was to draw her feet up and then push herself upright standing on the chair seat. The chair was really too small to perform this feat, but she tried anyway. Half way to vertical, the chair shot out from under her and Queenie performed a ragged somersault to end up in an ignominious heap on the floor. By some miracle of physics, the chair was still standing upright but was now in the middle of the floor.
Maybe two chairs would work, Queenie thought as she carefully worked her way to a standing position again. She repositioned the wayward chair under the telephone and slightly to one side of it then moved its partner so that it stood immediately in front of the first one. Queenie sat down again. Her legs felt like lead but she forced herself to lift her feet onto the seat of the second chair. With her heels on the chair she was sitting on and her toes on the other, she was able to slide her back up the wall. With her knees slightly bent, Queenie could now reach the crank on the telephone.
Queenie span the handle as fast as her bound arms and precarious pose would permit. She kept it up for about half a minute, hoping that would be long enough for someone to hear her. The handset was still dangling near the floor, so Queenie jumped down and sat down hard on the floor next to it.
"Hello?" came Annie's voice from the earpiece.
Queenie bellowed as loudly as she could. "Hnnnnnnnnnng!"
Queenie repeated her muffled yell. "Hnnnnnnnnnnnng!"
"Are you gagged?" Annie asked after a pause.
"Where are you?"
"Sorry, that was stupid. Are you in the cellar?"
Queenie hesitated. She would have called it a shed but it did seem to be a sort of simulated stable. "Hnnnnnnnnng!" she yelled, hoping it sounded positive.
"I'll be right there," Annie assured her. There was a click as Annie hung up.
Queenie relaxed, confident that she would be free in a few minutes and confident that she now knew who had kidnapped Lady Dorking.
Less than two minutes later, the shed door opened and Annie stepped in. Her mouth dropped open in astonishment as she saw Queenie's predicament. She hoisted Queenie onto a chair and set about unfastening the buckles on the bridle strapped around her head.
"Sorry Annie, but this stuff is way beyond anything I can get out of," Queenie remarked apologetically as soon as she could speak.
"I don't see how you managed to use the phone all done up like this," Annie responded admiringly.
While Annie patiently unfastened buckles, Queenie explained how she had followed Sophie and found the Featherstone cousins then what had happened to her and how she had summoned help. Annie confirmed that the police had apparently made no more progress although they were still searching the neighbourhood.
As soon as Queenie was free, she put her coat and scarf back on as the ordeal had left her feeling very cold. The state of her hat suggested that it had done a lot to protect her skull. She and Annie made their way back to the brothel to report her discoveries to Sergeant Kennington. The general hubbub in the kitchen had ended but, Annie explained, the atmosphere was still fairly mutinous. As usual, Lucy Kennington was busy in the kitchen, assisted this time by Katie. Poppy was sitting dejectedly in a corner, still tied to a chair.
Queenie quickly briefed Sergeant Kennington on developments. It was now obvious that Poppy could not be connected with the incident except as another innocent victim, so Lucy instructed Katie to release her, which she did with embarrassed apologies. An immediate search for Sophie was instituted, but it rapidly became clear that she was not anywhere on the premises.
"I know Sophie has a flat just round the corner," Annie commented helpfully. "The address is in Mrs Rafferty's book in the parlour." Lucy left Katie and the still slightly wobbly Poppy in charge of the kitchen, and she and Queenie followed Annie.
Sergeant Kennington lost no time in telephoning Scotland Yard and reporting to Inspector Merton. She read out Sophie's address and agreed to meet the inspector there.
"I'm coming too," Queenie informed her.
Lucy was about to dissuade her when she caught the determined glint in Queenie's eye. "All right then," she conceded, "but this is a police matter and you do as you're told."
Queenie gave her assent and the two women set out together, Lucy still in her kitchen apron.
Sophie's flat was further from the brothel than Annie's description of 'just around the corner' but it was nevertheless less than five minutes' walk. The flat was one of several in a converted former private house in a street of identical terraced houses. Sophie's flat was in the basement with its own entrance via a steep flight of stairs down from the street into the light well between the pavement and the front of the building.
The door was a half-glazed one that had probably been the kitchen door of the former house. Lucy tentatively tried the door-handle. It was locked, so she leaned against it to see if it was also bolted. She concluded that it was secured with a single Yale lock.
"Lend me your scarf, Queenie," Lucy instructed her.
Queenie unwound her scarf from around her neck and lent it to Sergeant Kennington who wrapped it around her right hand. Lucy delivered a carefully-gauged blow to the glass with the side of her fist. The sound was no more than a dull thump, probably barely audible even inside the flat, but the glass now had a crack right across it. More pressure yielded further cracks. Lucy handed Queenie her scarf back. Queenie inspected it for embedded glass and draped it around her neck once more. With her bare hand, Lucy now started to work the individual shards of glass free, holding them carefully with her fingertips and placing them quietly on the ground. Queenie understood that she was making a hole which would eventually be large enough to reach through and open the door. Abruptly, a large fragment of glass fell free of its own accord and smashed noisily on the floor of the hallway. Sergeant Kennington uttered an appropriate but extremely unprofessional comment on the situation then instructed Queenie, "We'll just have to rush them."
Lucy reached through the shattered glass, turned the Yale lock and opened the door. Queenie followed close on her heels. There was light coming under one door while all the other rooms seemed to be in darkness. Lucy drew her truncheon from some recess in her kitchen apron and burst into the room.
Queenie almost collided with Lucy who had stopped stock still in the doorway. They had been expecting to have to engage in a fight to effect the release of Lady Dorking and her cousin, instead they were astonished to find the two women already free and busily engaged in tying Sophie to a chair. It was clear that the Featherstone cousins had lost none of their skill since they had practised on Queenie when she was Lizzie Featherstone's governess before the Great War. Sophie was already gagged and her wrists were bound together behind the chair-back. Margaret Featherstone was holding Sophie down while her cousin arranged rope around their prisoner's arms and body, making sure it went over both her shoulders and was fastened off securely to the woodwork of the chair. Once this had been accomplished, Lady Dorking took over from her cousin in holding Sophie still, while Margaret bound her ankles together and fastened them to the stretcher between the chair legs.
There was another woman in the room, sitting uncomfortably roped to a chair in much the way that Sophie was being tied and also securely gagged. This was the mysterious seventh person at the ambushing of Lady Dorking, Queenie tentatively concluded.
Queenie and Lucy watched with interest as the Featherstones finished subduing Sophie. As soon as they had finished, Lady Dorking turned to Queenie, "That was splendid!" she declared enthusiastically. "Best adventure ever, Queenie. Well done. But what did all this have to do with the jungle?"
Before Queenie could attempt an answer Detective Inspector Merton, Mrs Rafferty, now minus her handcuffs, and a woman police constable arrived.
Lady Dorking's jaw dropped open. "And what do they have to do with all this?" she demanded.
"I rather think that your husband's profession is the key to this, ma'am," Inspector Merton ventured smoothly.
The woman constable removed Sophie's gag and that of the other unidentified woman.
"Dervla Hanlon O'Hare, I believe," the inspector announced, with the air of a conjurer performing a materialisation. "We know about her. She has a brother who was rather high up in the IRA until the Irish Government nabbed him."
"Irish so-called government," the woman growled. "That bloody treaty is an insult to Ireland."
The inspector ignored her and turned to Sophie. "I admit I wasn't expecting to find you mixed up in this," he remarked as if remonstrating with her for a minor misdemeanour.
"Is my sister," Sophie replied. "Like you English say, blood is thicker than water. She need my 'elp. I 'elp 'er."
"Helping her to kidnap the wife of a peer of the realm is a bit beyond the usual range of family loyalty," the inspector pointed out.
Despite still being tied to a chair, Sophie managed to reply with an eloquent Gallic shrug.
Queenie's curiosity got the better of her. "How does a Frenchwoman come to have an Irish sister?"
"Different mother, but she still my sister," Sophie replied fiercely.
While this conversation was going on, the woman police constable was deftly untying ropes and substituting regulation police handcuffs on the two prisoners.
"Thank you constable, you may hand the prisoners over to the officers outside," Inspector Merton instructed. "Sergeant Kennington will help you."
As the two handcuffed women were escorted from the flat, Mrs Rafferty turned to Lady Dorking. "You'll join me for a drink back in my parlour, ladies?" she offered. "I think you'll be needing one after all that. I know I do."
Lady Dorking and her cousin murmured assent.
"You'll join us too, inspector? You can't still be on duty." It was as much an instruction as an invitation. "You too, Queenie."
Back in her own domain, Mrs Rafferty resumed her accustomed role as affable hostess. Bathroom facilities were offered and accepted by the Featherstone cousins. Food and drink was offered and gratefully accepted by all. Eventually, Mrs Rafferty, Annie, Lady Dorking and her cousin, Inspector Merton and Queenie formed an oddly assorted party in the parlour.
Queenie was puzzled at the complete lack of any apparent friction between Mrs Rafferty and Detective Inspector Merton. Annoyingly, the conversation seemed to wander from topic to topic but never to cast any light on the evening's events. She decided to take the initiative with a straightforward question. "Maybe it's just because I've been hit on the head, but I still really don't understand what just happened."
"You have just helped to foil a Fenian plot and your country is grateful to you, Miss Holkham," the inspector replied, casting no light on the matter whatever.
"Yes but what? And how?" Queenie demanded, ungrammatically.
"Let me try," Mrs Rafferty offered. "The inspector is trying to say that he has suspected for some time that Lady Dorking might well become a target for factions opposed to the Anglo-Irish Treaty." She paused and glanced at the inspector, who returned an almost imperceptible nod. "He also knew that she is a regular client here." Lady Dorking's eyebrows shot up but she said nothing. "It wasn't difficult to realise that she might pose a tempting target while undertaking one of her adventures."
The inspector picked up the story. "We knew about Dervla Hanlon O'Hare but not her connection to Sophie and the staff here, and we had no evidence to act upon. We hoped that if we just watched, something would eventually happen and we would be able to break the local IRA cell."
"But when something happened, you lost track of all the important people involved," Queenie pointed out sharply.
An awkward silence followed, broken by Queenie's voice again. "And I still don't know what actually happened."
"I think I can explain it," Annie offered. "Lucy and I worked it out after you rescued Lady Dorking and Miss Featherstone. Sophie borrowed an extra costume for Dervla O'Hare, who we think had been let in through the conservatory and was hiding in the cellar. When we started our ambush on Lady Dorking and her cousin, she joined in but while we were trying to tie up the Featherstones, she and Sophie were targeting us. Everybody looked exactly the same in costume, so we never knew what was happening until it was too late."
"They couldn't have been sure that just two of them could overpower the rest of us," Queenie pointed out.
"It does seem like a risk, " Annie agreed, "but it seems to have worked. Anyway, as soon as they had got the five of us under control, Sophie and Dervla O'Hare, escorted Lady Dorking and Miss Featherstone through the connecting door to the cellar, then up the main cellar stairs and up to the front hall, where they hoped for witnesses. As it happened, Lucy not only saw them but opened the front door for them."
"Wasn't Lucy suspicious at that point?" Queenie asked.
"She thought that must still be part of your adventure," Inspector Merton explained. "It was only later, she realised that she had misinterpreted the abduction we had been anticipating."
Annie resumed her account. "Sophie and Dervla took Lady Dorking and her cousin down the front steps, but instead of going out into the street, they cut round the side of the house and down to the stable at the bottom of the back garden, where they tied them up."
"Why do you have a stable when you couldn't get a horse in there?" Queenie asked, still puzzled.
"I'll tell you later, dear," Mrs Rafferty promised, struggling to keep a straight face.
"After they had secured the women there," Annie continued, "they came back to the conservatory, entering through the back door and Dervla tied Sophie up like the rest of us. We think Dervla went back to the stable to guard the Featherstones."
"They probably planned to hold Lady Dorking and Miss Featherstone there until they were sure that the local house-to-house search had been done," Inspector Merton added.
"So it was Dervla who hit me on the head when I was trying to untie Lizzie Featherstone?" Queenie asked.
"I think she was hiding inside the stable when you went in," Annie explained. "Of course, once you had discovered the Featherstones, they had to move them quickly, so they secured you and took them back to Sophie's flat, hoping that the building had already been searched."
"But why did the inspector arrest Mrs R?" Queenie asked. "There didn't seem to be anything pointing to her as the kidnapper."
"There wasn't," Inspector Merton agreed, "but we hoped that arresting her might make the real kidnapper drop her guard and make a mistake."
"And you didn't mind being arrested and dragged off in handcuffs?" Queenie asked in astonishment.
"It brought back old times," Mrs Rafferty confided. "It used to happen quite regularly when I was new to the game."
"I was sure you couldn't be the kidnapper and so worried about Lizzie, that's what made me go poking around in the... stable." Queenie blushed slightly as she spoke the last word.
"And it's all down to you raising the alarm that we rounded them up, Miss Holkham. You're a real heroine," Inspector Merton concluded.
"Lizzie and Margaret managed to capture them before Lucy and I got there," Queenie pointed out.
"That was easy," Lady Dorking responded. "The Irish girl took us back to that flat. We just had our hands tied behind our backs at that stage, but when we got there, the silly woman tied us back to back then disappeared off to the kitchen or somewhere. It didn't take long to get loose tied up like that and we were ready for her when she got back. We'd just finished with her when Sophie turned up."
"Well, I'm just sorry that the adventure I planned for you didn't work out," Queenie apologised.
"Not at all," Lady Dorking objected. "It was the best fun I've had in years. If you really feel that way about it, you'll just have to think up another one."
Queenie's protest was drowned out by general agreement from Mrs Rafferty, Annie and Margaret Featherstone. Inspector Merton merely grinned.
Queenie shrugged in helpless surrender. It looked very much as though she had been commissioned.
As Queenie pedalled her bicycle home later that night, she thought about her abortive adventure. Possibly a treasure hunt was too rigid as a concept, too fixed by the script, so that the element of surprise was lost.
In the early hours of the following morning, Queenie woke up with an idea fully formed in her head. Perhaps it would be possible to snatch someone off the street. They would of course know that a kidnap was planned but not when, where or how. It would need some sort of pretext to avoid alarming passers by, but it could probably be done. A film crew perhaps? Queenie switched on her bedside light and reached for her notebook and pencil.
© Copyright Gillian B 2006
The Adventures of Queenie Holkham
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