“It was kind of you to call on us, Lieutenant Holding.”
“The pleasure is mine, Mrs Caruthers. I had promised your son that I would come to see you while I was here on leave, and your late husband was very kind to me when I first enlisted in the Regiment.”
The lieutenant looked out of the drawing room window as the sound of Hansom cabs passing in the street came through the open window. The early spring of 1901 was warm, and the sunlight was streaming through as Millicent Caruthers poured tea from the silver teapot.
“Tell me, how is my son enjoying his posting?”
“He thrives under the job, Mrs Caruthers. In fact, when I proposed to him that I call on you during my time in London, he specifically asked if I could bring something to give to you as a present from him. I wonder, could you bring me the package that I left on the table in the hallway.”
The maid curtseyed and left the room, just as Elisa Caruthers walked in. She was wearing a light brown jacket and skirt, and had just removed a small hat from her brown hair.
“Mother, I’m sorry I’m late – oh, I did not know you had visitors.”
“Elisa, this is Lieutenant Holding, a colleague of James. Lieutenant, my daughter Elisa.”
Lieutenant Caruthers had stood as soon as Elisa had walked in, and now he took her gloved hand and kissed it lightly.
“The pleasure is once more mine. James often speaks of you in the mess at night.”
The maid returned carrying a small package, wrapped in brown paper and tied with string.
“Thank you, Jane, you may leave it on the table,” Mrs Caruthers said, and the maid exited after giving another small curtsey.
“Tell me, Mrs Caruthers,” the officer said as he started to untie the string, “How are you finding life in Knightsbridge now that you have left the barracks.”
“Not much different from before, Lieutenant. Our old friends still call from time to time, and of course Jane and Mrs Hudson stayed on as our servants, but we both prefer the quiet life now.”
“And you, Miss Caruthers,” he said as he turned to the young woman who had now sat next to her mother, “Do you still make use of the stables?”
“Oh, James told you about that, did he?” Elisa replied. “Yes, I still ride twice a week on Rotten Row. It is not too far for me to walk, and the exercise helps me to stay young.”
The young man finished unwrapping the package, and offered the small wooden box to Millicent.
“James felt that you would appreciate this – he obtained it in a market in Shanghai.”
Millicent opened the box, and drew out a small statue of Buddha, made from a green stone that sparkled in the sunlight.
“It’s beautiful,” Elisa said softly. “What is it?”
“A statue of one of the Chinese deities. I believe it is meant to bring good luck to the household it is placed in.”
As he took a sip of tea, the clock on the large mantelpiece chimed four o’clock.
“Ah,” he said as he placed the cup on the table and stood up, “I fear I have to go now. There are certain duties that I need to perform on behalf of my family, and it would not do to let them down. Mrs Caruthers, Miss Caruthers, I hope I may have the pleasure of seeing you both again.”
Mrs Caruthers stood and pulled on a cord by the fire, and Jane entered the room.
“I hope we will have the pleasure of your company soon. Jane, please show Lieutenant Holding out.”
With a small bow, the officer left the room followed by the maid.
“He’s a very handsome man, mother,” Elisa said as she watched him jumping into a cab in the street outside.
“Yes, I wondered if you would notice that. Perhaps you will see him again when you go riding tomorrow morning?”
“Perhaps,” Elisa said as she turned back to her mother, a slight smile playing on her lips. “It is a beautiful piece of sculpture.”
Millicent nodded as she placed it on an occasional table by the window.
Two men were stood in an alleyway watching where the officer had been.
“Did you see it?”
“Yes – hurry and inform Madame that we have found the statue. She will tell us what to do next.”
The sunlight was shining again through the open window onto the dining room, as Millicent and Elisa sat eating breakfast a few days later. Lieutenant Holding had indeed called again, and gone riding once with Elisa, so her mother was beginning to suspect that there was the start of a relationship blooming between her daughter and the young officer.
As they sat eating, Jane entered the room.
“Miss Elisa, a young page boy came with this note for you.”
Placing her cutlery to the side, she opened and read the note, and a slight frown crossed her face.
“Is something the matter, Elisa?”
“No, mother, it is just that Simon will not be able to go riding with me today.”
“Simon? You mean Lieutenant Holding, surely?”
A blush crept over Elisa’s cheeks.
“So,” Millicent said as she wiped her mouth with her napkin, “will you go to the stables today?”
“I think so, if that is all right with you mother.”
Millicent nodded. “Please, be back by noon, as we have an appointment this afternoon with Colonel and Mrs Haverforth.”
“Of course, mother. If I may be excused?”
Elisa stood up and smoothed her black riding skirt down. Walking round, she kissed her mother on the cheek and went to finish dressing, while Millicent started to open the morning letters.
Twenty minutes later, Elisa closed the door to the house behind her and started to walk down the street towards the stables. She had donned a black riding jacket and hat, and her boots made a clumping sound as she walked down the pavement. Smiling at people as she passed, she heard the sounds of carts and cabs driving to and fro down the road, but didn’t notice the large horse drawn van that was parked on the corner of the street she lived on and Knightsbridge High Street.
As a result, she was taken completely by surprise when two men reached out from the van as she passed and roughly pulled her inside. Her screams were stifled at first by a rough, calloused hand that was placed over her mouth, and then by the blanket that was thrown over her head as the van was driven away.
“What time does Mrs Caruthers want lunch served at, Jane?”
Mrs Hudson was sitting at the table, drinking from a mug of tea. Now in her late fifties, she had spent her working life with the Caruthers, first as a maid and more recently as their private cook. She was dressed in a grey high necked blouse and long skirt, with a white long apron over her clothes.
“At twelve thirty, Mrs Hudson,” Jane replied. “She was most particular about that.”
“Well, that should not be a problem,” the older woman said as she looked up at the clock on the wall. “Hadn’t you better get on with the cleaning, my girl?”
Jane stood up and placed her tea cup on the table. “Right away, Mrs Hudson,” she said as she left the kitchen, with a duster in hand.
“Bright girl, but she still has a lot to learn,” Mrs Hudson said to herself as she returned to the sink to start preparing the lunch. Not more than ten minutes passed, however, before there was a knock on the door that led to the alley.
“Now who could that be,” she muttered to herself as she dried her hands and walked over to stop the now persistent knocking. “All right, all right, what is it you…..”
Two men were in the doorway, dressed in open necked shirts, jackets and trousers, with scarves tied over their mouths and large bludgeons in their hands. They pushed Mrs Hudson back into the kitchen, throwing a blanket over her head as they did so, and silently closed the door behind them.
“Shut up and do as you’re told,” one of them said in a rough accent as the other sat Mrs Hudson down and started to clear the large wooden table.
“You rang, Mrs Caruthers?”
Jane was standing in the drawing room, waiting for Millicent who was sat at a desk writing some letters. She was wearing a white blouse with a brooch at the collar, a long blue skirt and blue slippers.
“Yes, Jane – could you please leave these out for the postman to collect later,” she replied sealing the last envelope and handing a small pile to the maid. “Also, could you ask Mrs Hudson if I could have some tea in here?”
“Of course, Mrs Caruthers,” Jane said as she curtseyed and left the room, making her way back to the kitchen.
“Mrs Hudson,” she said as she opened the door, “Mrs Caruthers was wondering if….. Mrs Hudson?”
The cook was lying face down on the wooden table. Her wrists were by the side, and Jane could see that a long length of rope was tied around both her wrists and passed under the large piece of furniture. More rope was around her back, waist and legs, and a final length was around her booted ankles, which were being kicked up and down in angry frustration. A large cloth rag was tied into and around her mouth, and she was looking at Jane with eyes filled with anger and fear.
The door was closed behind her, and Jane turned to see one of the masked men standing there, the bludgeon being swung up and down into his open hand.
“Now, you’re not going to give us any trouble, are you miss?” He said as Jane was grabbed from behind and her arms pulled behind her back by the second man.
The knock on the door made Millicent look up.
“Yes, Jane, what is it?” she said as the door was opened, but she was not prepared for the sight that greeted her.
Her maid came in first, but Millicent could see that she was not as she had appeared earlier. Jane was in her usual work outfit of a long black dress and white apron, but over the dress and apron rope had been wound around her arms and chest, and her hands were obviously secured behind her back.
“I’m sorry, Mrs Caruthers,” Jane sobbed as the two masked men followed her in. “I couldn’t stop them. Poor Mrs Hudson…..”
“Who are you,” Millicent demanded as she stood up, “and what have you done with Mrs Hudson?”
“Keep your trap shut, lady – you’ll find out soon enough,” the rougher of the two men said as he pushed Millicent back into her seat. “Can you take care of this one?”
The other man nodded as he pulled Jane out of the room, the girl sobbing as they left. Millicent continued to stare at the man who was now standing over her.
“What do you want?” She asked again.
“There’s a lady who wants a word with you,” the man said, “but first I need to make sure that you’re nice and comfortable, and that you won’t get in our way.” As he said this, he opened a valise that he had brought in with him and extracted a length of rough rope.
“I see,” Millicent replied, “so it is your intent to hold me against my will? My daughter will be home soon, and then we will see what happens.”
“Yes, lady, I expect she will be, but that’s not my concern right now – you are. Now, shut up and give me your hands.”
In her bedroom, Jane had been pushed onto her bed. The hem of her dress had been lifted slightly up, and the man had bound her ankles together over the black leather of her boots with rope. He had also wrapped rope around her legs above her knees, and now she lay on her side as he pushed a length of white cloth into her mouth.
“Let’s just make sure that’s secure,” the man said as he wrapped a length of cloth around and in Jane’s mouth, before patting her on her bottom and leaving the room, closing the door behind him. Jane began bucking to and fro, trying to free some of the ropes, but as she kept trying nothing seemed to be giving. The sound of a cart pulling up outside barely registered as she tried to get free.
“So, who is this lady you say that I should meet?” Millicent asked as the man stood back up again. Her hands had been placed together, palm to palm, in front of her and lashed together with the rope, which had then been passed around her legs and finally her ankles. Her skirt was pulled back slightly by the rope going between her legs and below her knees, so that her ankles could be seen with the rope around them.
“All in good time, lady – we have a present for you first,” he said as he looked out of the window at a horse drawn van that had pulled up outside. Two men in brown coats jumped down, and opening the side of the van they carried towards the house a Persian rug that had been rolled up and bound with twine.
Millicent listened as the front door was opened, presumably by the other masked man, and the two workmen carried the rug into the drawing room. Laying it gently on the floor, they cut the twine that was holding the roll together and gently rolled out the rug.
It certainly was a beautiful rug, but Millicent was more worried about the sight that was unrolled with the item. Elisa was in the roll, and the workmen laid her riding hat on the occasional table before leaving.
“Help me lift her onto the recliner,” the mans aid as he laid his bludgeon down, and the two masked men picked up the writhing body of Elisa and laid it on the recliner. She was bound with a single length of rope, that had first been passed around her arms and chest and pulled tight, then down and around her crossed wrists, around her waist to hold the wrists down, her thighs and calves, and finally her booted ankles, so that she looked like a black sausage. Her riding scarf was tied over her mouth, and her cheeks bulged in a way that showed the scarf was doing something more than covering her mouth.
“MTHR!! HLP M!!” she screamed, but Millicent could only look on in horror and concern.
“What have you done to her?” she demanded, but the sound of a cam pulling up outside distracted her, and she turned her head to see who it was through the window.
“As you can see, Mrs Caruthers,” the man said as he went to open the front door following the sound of the bell,” we mean business. Don’t scream or try to attract attention, now, or my friend here will not hesitate to use that on you.”
His partner started to thump his weapon up and down in his hand as the front door was opened, and the sound of footsteps could be heard.
A tall woman, with a faintly oriental look about her face, walked into the room. She was dressed a long green dress, made of fine silk, that fastened down the front and across, with a green fur lined cape over her shoulders, and wore a harlequin-style eye mask over her upper face.
“Good morning, Mrs Caruthers. I apologise for the fact that my men may have treated you and your servants with somewhat less than decency, but it was important that I had free access to your house for a few minutes.”
“Who are you?” Millicent asked.
“I? My name is not important, but some people call me the Dragon Lady. You have many fine things in your house, Mrs Caruthers,” she said as she walked round, “many fine things indeed.”
“I repeat, what do you want that makes you think you can treat my family, my servants in the way that you have done!”
“Now, Mrs Caruthers, please do not get angry. It will do you no good, I assure you – ah, this is what I am looking for.”
The woman bent down and picked the green Buddha up from the side table. Elisa tried to shout “NO!” but only a muffled scream came forth.
“Do tell your daughter to keep quiet, Mrs Caruthers, or my men will be forced to – silence her.”
“Elisa,” Millicent said quietly, “I’ll find a way to get us out of here, so please calm down.”
“Sage advice, Mrs Caruthers. Now, this statue has a little surprise. Shall I show you what it is?”
Turning it upside down, the woman took a small, thin knife from a pocket in her robe and started to hollow out the base. Within a few minutes, she was tipping a number of small green jewels out of the hollow statue.
“Emeralds from the Orient, Mrs Caruthers – funds for me to continue my work and payment fro services rendered. Your son was unfortunate enough to purchase this before I could collect it, and I needed to retrieve it from you. I leave the jade statue for your own enjoyment.”
“Now what happens?” Millicent asked angrily.
“Well, I was very tempted to add both of you to my collection, but I fear that would attract too much attention. Instead, I suggest you take time out in silence to meditate and contemplate.”
“Your collection? Oh my god, are you a white sl….”
“Hush, Mrs Caruthers,” the woman said as one of the men started to wrap a long length of white cloth in and around her mouth, “let us say I am a procurer of rare beauties, and leave it at that. Make sure she is secured to the chair before you leave. Good day, Mrs Caruthers, Miss Caruthers.”
The masked men started to wrap a long length of rope around Millicent, pulling her back into the chair, as the lady left the house and re-entered the Hansom cab that was waiting outside. The sound of horses continued to come in through the open window as the rope was pulled tighter and tighter, until Millicent was secured to the back and seat of the chair she was in.
The two men nodded at the bound women as they left the room, closing the door behind them. Walking through the kitchen, they checked the ropes around Mrs Hudson, who had fallen asleep from the exertion of trying to break free, then left the way they had entered the house.
The Caruthers women looked at each other as the clock on the mantelpiece ticked away. Elisa looked down along her bound body, trying desperately to get her hands free from the ropes around them, but they were so tightly secured along with the rest of her that she had no wriggle room. Beads of perspiration were forming on her forehead, as the warmth of the day was multiplied for her by the riding attire she was wearing.
Millicent looked around her. She knew she was too tightly bound to try to free herself, but if there was some way that she could try and attract attention from outside…..
Looking at the jade statue, she noticed how it seemed to shine in the sunlight, and an idea crossed her mind. Slowly, she began to shuffle her chair along the floor towards the table the statue had been placed on. It took half an hour, but eventually she reached her destination and was able, by a combination of leaning and titling the chair, to grab the statue. Lifting it as much as her bound form allowed her to do, she reflected the sunlight out of the window and hoped it would catch the eye of someone.
She did this for an hour before the helmeted face of a policeman looked in at the window, attracted by the green light, and saw what was happening. Placing his whistle to his lips, he turned and the air was rent with the shrill blast of the sound that would attract both help and release.
The door was burst open, and two policemen entered the room, followed by the worried face of Simon Holding. Rushing over to Elisa, he removed the scarf from around her mouth and pulled out a large rag as the policemen started to release Millicent from the chair.
“Elisa, are you all right? I went to the stables, but they said you never arrived this morning, then I heard the police whistle as I turned the corner.”
“I’m all right, Simon,” the younger Caruthers said as Lieutenant Holding started to unwind the rope from around her.
“Officers, my maid and cook are somewhere else in the building. Please, find them and free them,” Millicent said as she rubbed her wrists to ease the bruising.
“Are you all right, Mrs Caruthers?” Simon said as he helped the older woman to stand.
“Yes, thank you, Lieutenant, and please – call me Millicent.” As she said this, Millicent went over and hugged her daughter. “My poor baby – this must have been terrible for you,” she whispered as the two women held each other, Lieutenant Holding standing at a distance and wondering just what had happened that day.