“I don’t hear it again.” Moira Wycliffe said in a low voice. Her eyes shifted from one side to the other, as if she might catch a brief glimpse of the source of the mysterious sound.
Anthony Hunter turned his head and listened carefully. The sound they all had heard a moment ago – a dull thud as if someone had tried to punch wooden planks – did not return. Instead, the house itself was silent, wrapped in layers of shadowy darkness cut through by light streaming in from the open front door.
“Neither do I,” Hunter admitted quietly, “I do believe it came from further within the house.” The captain looked over to the door where Lydia still peeked around the edge. “When was the last time you spoke with Mrs. Carpenter?”
“Earlier this mornin’,” Lyida said, just as quietly. “She was a bit sore from bein’ attacked an all. I left not long after ta turn in me notice with the factory. Seein’ her bruised an all fully made me mind up for me.”
“Then we split up to look about?” Moira offered with a small shrug. “Whoever finds anything gives a quick yell to the other?”
The captain nodded, “quite.” He stood and stretched carefully. “Standard rules of engagement, Moira. If you come across any sign of Mrs. Carpenter, or what possibly made that sound, call out. Just remember,” he added with a stern look, “if I would think you might be outnumbered, sing out; not when you consider yourself outnumbered.”
The lady blacksmith gave her captain a lopsided grin. “A’course! I never mind sharin’.”
“What of me?” Lydia asked quickly.
“Stay here at the door.” Hunter replied. “If we don’t return in a few minutes, or if you hear any unhealthy noises, send for a constable.”
Captain Hunter stepped around the torn painting of Colonel Carpenter, continuing down the carpeted hall. Moira followed behind until she reached the bottom of the stairs. They creaked gently under her weight as she slowly made her way to the second floor.
Upstairs was thick with a layer of shadows, washed through with a light cloud of dust. All the doors in the upstairs hallway stood open, weak shafts of sunlight reaching through the doorways to push aside the thick blanket of darkness. Two tables stood silent watch in the hall, one with a stately, aged brass candelabra on it, the other with a small Gladstone porcelain vase of flowers.
Moira cautiously approached the first room, the one Lydia was staying in, and looked inside. A small table with a washbowl was against one wall not far from the door. Between the washbowl and the far wall, a dresser sat quietly with its wooden back against the same wall. One or two drawers were slightly ajar, and personal effects lay neatly atop it and before a large, antique mirror. Moira was impressed by a second small, engraved hand mirror. Dominating the room, was a modest-sized bed suitable for one person, possibly even two at most. Everything looked as it should be, even though the door had been left open.
She walked away from Lydia’s room and stopped at the next open door. The washbowl was the same, the dresser and bed similar, but the personal effects and sheets were different. However, like before, nothing seemed obviously out of place, and there was no one hiding in the in the small room that Moira could see, unless they happened to be the size of a mouse.
Meticulously, she searched each room in turn. While all of the doors were standing wide open, curiously none of the items in any of the rooms had been disturbed. Given the destruction in the main hallway, Moira had expected more of the same here on the second floor.
Once certain she was alone, she casually walked the length of the hallway. Moira had stayed in a boarding house a time or two in her life. Leaving one door open was not uncommon. If a resident was in a hurry, that did happen. However, to leave them all standing open? That was very odd.
Moira slowly walked back towards the top of the stairs while her thoughts spun frantically in her mind. The doors were open, but there were no signs that the rooms had been searched. She had originally considered it to have been a thief – or thieves – that had pushed his way in to do mischief to Mrs. Carpenter and steal what he could. But obvious things were left untouched, such as Lydia’s hand mirror. No thief would have avoided that.
“Did ye find anyone?” Lydia hissed out from the top of the stairs.
Wide-eyed, Moira jumped in surprise and spun around, hands balled into fists. When she saw it was Lydia she blew out a long exhale of air, relaxing slightly.
“Ya scared the sheets off my mast! The Cap’n said to stay by the door.” Moira said sternly while she caught her breath.
“Don’t remember him bein’ me captain.” Lydia replied saucily. “‘Sides, I don’t see Vivian anywhere, and I’m worried. I’d rather be tryin’ ta suss out what happened ta Mrs. Carpenter than standin’ about like a lump. It also helps keep me from bein’ scared.”
Moira grinned at the imagined thought of what Captain Hunter might say to such a statement. Then she noticed the edge of a bandage on Lydia’s forearm. She had missed it a few minutes before, as it was nearly covered by the young woman’s blouse. Likewise, Moira distinctly remembered Lydia did not have such a bandage on yesterday.
“What’d ya do to yerself?” Moira asked in concern. “Did them blokes from the factory come back ta bother ya? If they did,” Moira reached out to grab a nearby heavy brass candelabra, “I’ll be sure ta give’em a good lesson they’ll likely not forget anytime soon!”
Lydia left the stairs and joined Moira on the second floor. She nervously pulled her sleeve down over the bandage.
“Its nothin’ of the kind. I got cut up a bit at the factory. Had a blackout and fell on one o’ the machines. Cut me up some. Happens now and again. Though the spells been coming along more frequent this past week.” Lydia explained.
“Ya seen a sawbones about it, though?” Moira asked.
Lydia nodded. “I’ve seen ’em. A Dr. White. Sirrah Monkhouse keeps him paid so’s he’ll look after any of us … I mean them … that work at the factory. Keeps us up and healthy enough, I suppose, so we can keep workin’.” She shudders. “I don’t like havin’ them spells. I hope they stop now that I’m not workin’ at the factory anymore.”
“I hope so, too.” Moira agreed. “If ya faint, there’s no tellin’ who’ll go through yer belongin’s looking for who knows what.”
A thought suddenly occurred to Moira. Perhaps whoever came through was not out to find objects, but was here looking for people or a person? If so, whom? Mrs. Carpenter? She would have opened the door. Moira frowned in concentration while she idly brandished the candelabra. Just where was Mrs. Carpenter, she wondered? In another part of her mind, she hoped Captain Hunter was having better luck than she was.
Meanwhile, on the first floor, Hunter had walked to the back of the house, his long coat billowing out behind him from an unexpected gust of air that blew down the hallway. It ended with a doorway to the right, and a shorter hallway to the left. Anthony eased the door to the right open a few inches. Inside was the kitchen. Gas stove, a clockwork egg-breaker and scrambler that stood on two spindly chicken-shaped legs, a pantry for provisions, a few worn dish towels and a water trough for washing the dishes all sat silently in the room. Nothing was disturbed, cut or tossed about on the floor. He waited a moment, to listen and watch.
With nothing out of place, and nothing making any suspicious movements, Hunter stepped out of the room and carefully guided the door shut. He would give the kitchen a more detailed search later, if need be. He turned away to head the other direction.
The short hallway led off to a small set of rooms. First was a sitting room, complete with chairs, a sofa, and a healthy collection of books. A full shelf, perhaps even two, held the full set of various books ranging from a treatise on naval strategy to the finer points of etiquette, to diagrams and plans on various modifications to servitors. Quite the impressive collection, given the lower income nature of the neighborhood, Hunter thought. He moved on. The next room was a bathroom, with modest furnishings and plumbing that had seen better days.
Hunter brought his attention at last to the room at the end of the hallway. The door stood partially open, an ominous gloom lingering inside. He stepped closer, nudging the door open completely.
Inside, the room was a disaster: sheets torn from the bed, mattress askew on the frame, and a table for the washbowl overturned onto the floor. The washbowl was broken into several pieces, and its water had spread out in all directions to stain the hardwood. Dominating the entire scene was the body that lay motionless on the wooden floorboards, partially covered by the mattress.
Anthony knew that it was not Mrs. Carpenter, as the body’s feet – the only portion Hunter was able to clearly see at the moment – wore a man’s work boots. Quickly, he crossed the room and hauled the mattress away from the body. Hunter nearly dropped the mattress in surprise to see the body of Hiram Jones laying on its side, eyes wide and staring. The man was obviously dead by the vicious stab wounds that perforated Hiram’s ribs and chest. A series of bruises showed along Hiram’s jaw and face, as well.
“Ah … Hiram,” Hunter said mournfully. “What did you get yourself in the middle of?”
After a moment of respectful silence, the captain knelt by the body of his friend, reached out, and closed his eyes. Quietly, Hunter remained in that position a moment longer, and said a silent prayer for his friend before taking a closer look at his body.
The wounds were numerous, but did not appear very deep. They were the kind of cuts that came from a short-bladed knife. Given the amount of muscle on Hiram’s bear-like physique from years of hard labor, it was likely the number of cuts rather than their depth that did him in. Either way, Hunter knew that someone like Hiram would have taken awhile to succumb to the blood loss.
The captain took a long look at the wounds. They were jagged and drawn out, as if the knife – possibly as sharp as a surgeon’s blade – had slashed across the big shipwright’s chest randomly during the fight. However, a skinning knife would be nearly as sharp, not to mention be approximately the right length for the depth of the numerous stab wounds. Hunter frowned at the large set of punctures in the body, then at the heavily blood-stained shirt. As a sudden thought occurred to Hunter, he looked at the floor beneath the body.
The floor in this part of the house was not carpeted as it was elsewhere. It was made of bare wood, so well kept that even in the dim gloom, the polished floor seemed to have a warm look. It was what Hunter did not see that gave him food for thought. He lifted the edge of the discarded mattress and then let it drop back to the floor. Given the number of wounds, neither mattress or floor held much blood.
“Odd,” Hunter muttered to himself. “Either you were killed elsewhere, old friend, or something’s missing.”
On a hunch, Hunter took a closer look at the floor where the body lay. Despite the dim light, the captain swore he saw a faint discoloration to the wood, as if a carpet had been over a section of the floor. A carpet that was now missing. Hunter filed that away in his mind and turned his attention back to the body.
Hiram’s knuckles were bloodied and torn. Hunter could only assume that his friend gave back to the attacker as good as he received, which meant that somewhere in the city of Edinburgh, a very battered person was nursing their wounds right now. Wounds that would not be healed so quickly.
Just then, Hunter noticed something odd about the placement of the body. If one of the many stab wounds had done him in right here in this room, he would have collapsed to the floor. However, he looked rather like he was reaching for the nearby nightstand with his right hand. Dropping flat to the floor next to the body, Anthony peered beneath the furniture in search of anything out of place.
There, under the nightstand, Hunter found it – a bloodied scrap of paper wound hastily around a tarnished brass spyglass. Anthony thought he recognized it. The device was one that Hiram had owned for years. The captain fished the spyglass out from under the table, then separated note and cord from instrument. He turned the cold, metal spyglass over and finally found what he was looking for – the crude scratching of ‘H’ and ‘J’ in small letters at one end that Anthony remembered Hiram had placed there, himself.
“Moira!” Captain Hunter called out while he unrolled the wrinkled paper. “Downstairs! Step lively!”
A moment later, Moira came running into the room, candlestick in hand, followed by Lydia. Lydia gasped in horror, and even Moira took a step back in shock.
“It be Hiram!” Moira exclaimed in dismay. “What’s he be doin’ here?”
Hunter unrolled the note as he replied, “I haven’t the faintest idea. Nor does his note clear any of this up. It reads: ‘Ligan, The Betsy, south docks, dogs watch’.”
“How d’you know it’s from him?” Moira asked, a touch of curiosity surfacing among the deep waves of grief over the loss of her friend.
“What’s a ‘ligan’?” Lydia asked, her face a mask of confusion while she deliberately tried to ignore the horrible sight of the stabbed body.
“A ‘ligan’ is a bouy,” Hunter automatically explained while he held the note up for Moira and Lydia to see. “Also, despite the fact that it’s been penned in blood, this is Hiram’s handwriting.” Hunter turned suddenly, as if seeing Lydia for the first time in the bedroom with Moira and himself.
“Miss Olivander. What are you doing here?” Hunter asked sternly.
“I got worried and came ta look.” Lydia explained with an embarrassed flush in her cheeks. “Then you shouted, and I thought ya might be in over a barrel.”
“Not quite,” Hunter replied. “Although I appreciate the sentiment. The only thing I find confounding me at the moment is just what Hiram was doing here in the first place? And where is Mrs. Carpenter?”
From behind the trio, Detective MacTaggart’s voice echoed in the empty house. “That be somethin’ Ah’d also like ta know, Captain Hunter. That, and why ye find yerself here accompanied by the two ladies.”