Lady Winterbottom's Pearls
The bright autumnal sunshine was warming the lush and verdant grass lawns at Winterbottom Manor. The manor house stood in its own grounds off the main village road, with the only entrance been the wrought iron gates that stood in the gap of the high wall by the road. Lord Winterbottom was on one of his frequent visits to London, leaving his wife behind to take care of the local affairs that the landed gentry always seem to see as their purview.
On this morning, two women were sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee. Mrs Bridges was the cook for the household – a woman in her early fifties, she wore a white apron over a starched white blouse and dark blue skirt. Her grey hair was done up in a bun, and she actually looked a little older than she really was. Sitting with her was the other resident servant, Felicity the maid. She was dressed in a short sleeved black dress, the skirt of which came down over the knees. Their cleaner was having the day off, so the two women were enjoying a little down time.
“Is her ladyship expecting any guests today?” Mrs Bridges asked Felicity.
“I believe she said that her sister might call round this afternoon, but no-one else as far as I am aware,” Felicity replied “Why do you ask?”
“I want to spend some time in the pantry this morning seeing what I need to order from the suppliers. If it is only Mrs Henderson that is calling, then I don’t need to prepare an elaborate lunch, which gives me a bit more time.”
“That seems reasonable. When I looked in earlier, she was busy taking care of some correspondence, so I imagine she will be busy for most of the morning. Do you have any deliveries to take care of this morning?”
“Actually, yes. The baker called today and asked if it would be possible to make our bread delivery this morning instead of this afternoon. I said of course it was all right, and asked why the change of plan. Apparently the owner has to go to a meeting with one of his suppliers this afternoon.”
“Always the way, isn’t it? Others say jump, and we say when and how high.”
A bell rang on the wall.
“That will be her ladyship,” Felicity said as she stood up. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Felicity walked out of the kitchen and closed the door behind her. Mrs Bridges sat for a few minutes, until she heard the sound of a car coming along the gravel drive. Looking out of her window, she saw the baker’s van approaching the house, and a few minutes later there was a knock on the door that led to the drive.
“Well, let’s get this delivery in.” Mrs Bridges pulled herself to her feet, and moving across the kitchen floor she opened the back door. A look of horror spread across her face as she backed slowly away from the opening.
Felicity walked with measured pace across the oak floor, and knocked on the study door.
“Come in” a voice called from inside.
Felicity opened the door, entered the study and closed it quietly behind her.
“You rang, m’lady?”
Lady Winterbottom was standing looking out of the large bay windows over the grounds. She was in her late thirties, and her brown hair was carefully tied in a ponytail. Her dress was conservative – a cream coloured sweater and matching cardigan, plaid skirt and tan leather court shoes.
“Ah, Felicity. Did I hear a car coming up the driveway?”
“Yes, m’lady. Mrs Bridges told me that the baker was making a delivery this morning instead of this afternoon, so I expect that was the delivery van you heard.”
“Very well then. My sister will be arriving in a little while, and we will be going out to lunch. When she does arrive, show her in here, will you?”
“Yes, m’lady. I will let Mrs Bridges know that lunch will not be required.”
“Now, would you please fetch me some coffee.”
“Yes, m’lady. I will ask Mrs Bridges for a fresh pot.”
Felicity turned and quietly left the room. Lady Winterbottom looked out over the grounds, wishing that something exciting would happen to her. Turning from the window, she went over to a portrait of her and her husband on the wall. Pressing a hidden button on the side, she watched as the portrait swung out to reveal a safe, which she then proceeded to open.
She removed from the safe a velvet case, and opened it reveal a set of natural pearls that had been made into a necklace and set of earrings. They had been an anniversary present from her husband, and she was almost afraid to wear them in case their beauty was spoiled by been against her skin. She sat at the desk and admired their natural lustre and sparkle. Then, with a sudden moment of decision which was unusual for her, she took the necklace and placed it around her neck.
Arriving back at the kitchen, Felicity closed the door behind her.
“Mrs Bridges? Her Ladyship has asked for some coffee. Would you like me to start a new pot off?”
As the door to the rear courtyard was open, Felicity figured that the cook was outside talking to the delivery man, so she filled the percolator with water, replaced the old coffee grounds with new ones, and started to brew a fresh pot. A sound in the pantry made her turn round.
“Mrs Bridges? Are you in there?”
There it was again – a knocking sound in the pantry. Making her way cautiously over, Felicity took hold of the handle to the pantry door and opened it.
She first saw Mrs Bridges stood against the rear wall of the pantry, her hands behind her back and a white napkin stuffed into her mouth. She then saw a grey clad woman standing in the pantry, pointing a gun at Mrs Bridges and with her back to Felicity. Mrs Bridges began making noises and shaking her head, but Felicity could not understand what she was trying to say. That is, until she felt a gun in her back and a gloved hand over her mouth….
Lady Winterbottom was sitting at her desk, reading the paper, when she heard the knock on the door. “Come in, Felicity” she called without looking up, and she heard the door open and close again. A tray was laid down on the table, and the sound of coffee pouring into a cup came over. A few moments later, a cup and saucer was placed in front of Lady Winterbottom.
“Thank you Felicity” her Ladyship said, and then she realised that Felicity had not left the room. She looked up, and then looked with horror at the still open case on her desk.
The horror was justified. Standing in front of Lady Winterbottom was not her maid. It was a woman, dressed in some sort of all over grey bodysuit, with gloved hands and soft shoes. Her head was covered in a close fitting hood, and the woman’s face covered with a white featureless mask. She was pointing a gun at Lady Winterbottom, and had a gloved finger at her lips to indicate that she should remain quiet.
“Who are you? I demand that you leave me and this house immediately!” Even as Lady Winterbottom said this, she realised that this person was not going to listen. Instead, the masked women just cocked her head to one side and looked at her for a few minutes. She then motioned with her hand for her Ladyship to come round to the other side of the table, all the time keeping the gun pointed at her.
Felicity and Mrs Bridges were sat on the pantry floor, back to back. Felicity’s arms had been brought round so that her wrists were together in front of Mrs Bridges, and then tied together with rope in much the same way as Mrs Bridges had hers tied behind her back. Lengths of rope had then been used to secure the two women together at the waist and chest. Mrs Bridges had had her ankles bound together, and her legs above her knees, and one of the two women there in grey was placing a length of silver duct tape over her mouth, which had the napkin still in place.
Felicity watched as the second woman crossed and tied her ankles together. The most terrifying thing was that, identically dressed as these two armed intruders were, they had not said anything at all so that she really could not distinguish between them. The woman tied the last part of the knot on her ankle bindings, then took a length of rope and began to tie her thighs together.
Felicity heard Mrs Bridges try to say something, which sounded like sorry. “It’s all right, Mrs Bridges, I know this wasn’t your fault” she said as her legs were firmly tied together. The other woman in grey stood in front of Felicity, her expressionless mask looking at her, with a napkin in her hand. Knowing it would be useless to fight, Felicity opened her mouth and allowed the rolled up napkin to be pushed into place, and then a length of duct tape was smoothed over her own mouth.
The two women in grey looked at each other, than one left the pantry while the other stayed to guard over the bound and gagged women.
In the study, Lady Winterbottom was wincing as she stood with her back to the intruder. She had placed the gun on the small table, in full view of both of them, then indicated to her Ladyship that she should turn round. Having done so, she watched as the woman produced a very long length of rope from a bag she was carrying, and proceeded to drape the rope over her shoulders.
Within a few moments, the rope had been wound several times around her arms, and Lady Winterbottom felt her arms been pulled behind her back and her wrists been lashed together. As the silent woman continued to wrap the rope around Lady Winterbottom’s chest, the study door opened. Looking over her shoulder, she saw a second woman dressed identically to the one binding her enter the room. The first one tied an intricate knot to finish her binding and secure her Ladyship’s wrists to the ropes, then turned to the new arrival and pointed to the open safe door.
Motioning to her Ladyship to sit down, the silent intruder then helped her to sit in one of the armchairs in the room. Taking another length of rope, she folded it in half and crossed her ankles before starting to tie them together. As this was going on, Lady Winterbottom watched as the other woman silently emptied the safe of jewellery, money and other items, placing them in a black velvet sack. A pull on her legs alerted her to the fact that her legs were now been tied together above her knees.
The second intruder closed the safe door, and came over to join the other two women. Moving behind Lady Winterbottom, she unclasped the set of pearls that were around her neck, and added them to the velvet sack.
In the pantry, the two bound and gagged women were looking to the woman in grey when the sound of someone entering the kitchen was heard. Placing a gloved finger to the mouth of her mask, the armed intruder peeked around the pantry door, and saw an elegantly dressed woman making her way through the kitchen and out of the connecting door to the house. The two women sat there, too scared to make any sort of sound.
In the study, the other two intruders were searching the room when the heard the sound of approaching footsteps. One quickly moved to behind Lady Winterbottom and placed a gloved hand over her mouth, while the other stood behind the study door.
A tall, blonde haired woman entered the study. She was wearing a brown fur coat, and brown leather boots were also visible. Not looking as she came in, she started talking.
“Honoria, darling, I did ring at the front door but your maid did not come, so I came through the kitchen. You cook wasn’t there either, did you give them….. AAIIEEEEE!!!”
Lady Winterbottom could only mumble under the gloved hand, as her visitor screamed at the sight of the bound woman been silenced by the grey clad intruder, and the sight of a second intruder pointing a gun straight at her.
“Wh….Wh….. What are you doing to my sister?”
The gloved hand was removed from her Ladyship’s mouth, and the intruder indicated to the new arrival that she should take her coat off.
“I’m sorry Hortense – they arrived a short while ago, and they’re robbing me. They won’t say a word, I don’t know where Felicity or Mrs Bridges are, and I’m scared.”
Her sister was removing her fur coat as she was saying this, revealing a green blouse and skirt with blue scarf tied like a cravat around her neck. The second intruder took her coat and laid it on a chair. Hortense looked at the two women with a look of recognition and horror.
“I’ve heard about you on the news – you’re the China Doll Gang, are you not?”
The woman behind Honoria simply nodded, and then indicated that Hortense should stand quite still. The second grey woman came up behind her, and gently pulled her hands behind her back.
In the pantry, Mrs Bridges was still looking at the grey clad woman who was guarding them. While they had been sat there, she had removed anything that they could have used to free themselves – knives, tools, she had even moved glass bottles and jars out of reach so that they could not break them very easily. She leaned back against Felicity, who tried to give her a kind of hug to reassure her that she was alright.
“And they never say a word?” Honoria, Lady Winterbottom, asked.
“That is what I’ve heard” Hortense Henderson answered as the Doll finished binding rope around her arms and chest, tying the knots out of reach behind her back. “I have to admit, it is a scary proposition.”
“Yes, scary is one of the words I’d use. Terrifying is another. Where do you think the other one went?”
“She’s probably searching through the rooms upstairs to see what she can find. Honoria?”
“Don’t you find this a little bit exciting as well?”
The Doll stopped for a moment, and looked at the young women she had just secured to the chair. The mask meant the two ladies had no idea how she really looked, but she seemed to be staring at her for a few minutes.
“Hortense, please. This is not some schoolgirl fantasy we’re living out here – whoever these women are, they mean business.”
The Doll went over to Hortense, and knelt down in front of her. Crossing her ankles, she lashed them together with a length of rope, then pulled them against one of the front chair legs and secured them tightly against the chair.
“I know, Honoria, but I can’t help it. This is like something out of a crime novel.”
The Doll finished the task of tying Hortense by lashing her lap to the seat of the chair with rope. As she stood up, the other grey clad intruder returned with a full velvet bag, and a handful of scarves.
“Do you really have to use those to stop us talking?” Lady Winterbottom asked, and the lead Doll nodded. She took a small headscarf, and rolled it into a small ball. Taking a Hermes scarf in the other hand, she approached the bound Lady.
“I guess I’ll talk to you later, Hortense” Honoria said.
“Very funny,” Hortense scowled. Lady Winterbottom opened her mouth and allowed the Doll to push the balled up scarf into her mouth. Rolling the larger Hermes scarf into a band, the Doll tied a knot in the middle and tied it into her mouth to hold the other gag in place. The Hermes scarf was then knotted tightly at the base of her neck. The other Doll then did the same thing to Honoria, so that she too was unable to talk clearly.
The lead Doll then took another scarf and folded it into a thick band. Approaching Honoria, the bound woman said from the chair “B sing u, sistr” as the scarf was used to blindfold her. She sat back, the ropes around her leather booted ankles keeping them in place against the chair leg, and tried to make herself as comfortable as possible with the other restraints.
Lady Winterbottom closed her eyes as a scarf was tied over her eyes as a blindfold. She knew her sister could be an idiot at times, but she didn’t deserve to be treated like this. None of them did – including Mrs Bridges and Felicity. She wondered where they were now. The two women heard the study door open and close, then they sat there in the silence.
Felicity was trying to find a way to loosen the ropes that held her wrists together, but there was no give at all. Mrs Bridges was sitting still, trying to make herself as comfortable as she could as she could see no way out. The woman in grey just sat there watching them, until the door opened and the lead Doll entered the room. The other Doll stood up and left without saying a word, and the pantry door was closed behind them.
As time passed, the two women in the upstairs room tried unsuccessfully to try and get out of their bindings. It was several hours later when Lord Winterbottom, upon returning from London, found the two women bound and gagged in the study and the safe raided. The bedrooms had also been thoroughly searched, and all valuables taken. A search of the kitchen and pantry found the two bound servants, who had fallen asleep while trying to get themselves free. The police were forced to add this to the list of robberies attributed to the China Doll Gang, given the description of the intruders. They had tricked the baker into thinking he had a family emergency to deal with, and stolen one of his vans – it was later found abandoned in town.
Of the gang themselves no trace could be found, save a note discovered by Lady Winterbottom in the open safe.
We thank you for the opportunity to visit your fine house today, and although we did have to leave you a little inconvenienced we do appreciate the fact that we were able to accept some souvenirs from you.
If we may make one suggestion, it is that you consider improving your security. We mean no offence, but this was one of the easier jobs that we have undertaken in our career.
Your pearls in particular, we can assure you, are going to a place where they will be appreciated for the things of beauty that they are. You may grieve their loss, but such fine things need to be with those who can afford to take good care of them.
Please do take the time to learn from this, and consider what actions you should take.
The China Doll Gang.