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For Denise,
My mother-in-law,
An excellent cook,
Who never rests
From helping others

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In the Rose
Garden

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Chapter 1
In the Rose Garden

Portia was, in all respects, above


most things in the world, most fond
of her rose garden. It was the
greatest of her earthly possessions.
Each morning, no matter the
weather, rain or shine, she would be
found there, just in front of White
Cottage in the Cotswolds of
England, tending her roses. Every
sort of rose grew there. Reds and
oranges. Pinks and mauves. Some
oranges with red hearts. Some

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yellows with orange centers. And
some of them white, which almost
glowed in the twilight.
She could often be seen working
amongst the soil and the prickly
vines, with a cup of hot blackberry
tea set on the porch step. And her
hands would be deep in the cotton-
lined pockets of her gardener’s
gloves. She took the greatest of
care, always. At no time did she
rush through pruning or watering
or planting or removing the little
unwanted bugs from the leaves…
No, in all of these processes, Portia
took her time. And, as a result, her
rose garden was the most splendid
and beautiful rose garden in the
entire county of Summerset.
White Cottage faced the
southwest corner, toward hill
country, at the very edge of the
village. As a result of this promising
position, Portia was able to easily
observe the passerby, the
townsfolk, the occasional
newcomer… And in turn, the

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townsfolk and occasional newcomer
were able to observe her at work in
her garden and comment amongst
themselves, just what a lovely
garden it was.
And just down the stone cobbles,
amongst a variety of other cottages
and residences, were a few
principal buildings.
The small village store. The
bakery. The villagers could often
smell warm chocolate souffés and
crispy doughnuts in the early
morning hours, if the wind was
right.
The little bank, if it could be
called a bank. It was so very small
and kept only one banker, Mr.
Truffes, and one vault keeper, Mr.
Pound. And it was a very small
vault at that.
The post was run by Mrs. Ivory.
But Portia seldom went to the post.
For there was never anything there
for her to pick up.
The church was at the very end
of the cobbles. And there was a

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small inn about halfway down the
street between White Cottage and
the church. The Church of St.
Dominic, to be exact. Episcopalian
of course. Most everyone in the
village was Episcopalian. And if
they weren’t truly Episcopalian,
they at least practiced being so in
public.
And the village happened to be
rather overrun with cats. But no
one seemed to mind that very
much, because the cats were, in
general, very tamed and mild
mannered. And those who weren’t,
were often sent to the outlying
farms within the mile or two.
But Portia’s cat was not one of
these poorly behaved cats. Her
name was Matilda, and like White
Cottage, she was also white. And
she was a very good sort of cat and
seemed very happy with life just to
sit in the garden and to watch the
passerby over several naps a day,
and the occasional saucer of cream.
Portia had no family. The very

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last known relative of whom she
had ever heard, was a distant aunt
living somewhere in Spain. But they
had never bothered to look each
other up, due either to the
inconvenience of locating an
address, which seemed practically
an impossible feat in a day of very
little information, or to the matter
that Portia was very happy to stay
in her little corner of the world
without bothering to leave it unless
for some very necessary reason.
Portia worked at the bakery on a
regular basis, preparing the
pastries for the morning rush of
town wives preparing to entertain
guests at dinner, and for the
various collection of gentlemen who
held jobs in the village and could
not afford to eat their wives’
cooking for one reason, or another.
She worked with the head baker,
Mr. Fritter and his wife, Mrs.
Fritter. And when the pastries had
all been fnished and laid out
prettily on their trays under the

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glass case, Portia walked the half-
mile home to her rose garden and to
Matilda, waiting on the warm
stones of the porch of White
Cottage.
On Saturday evenings, in the
summers, Portia would sit in her
rose garden with another cup of tea
and watch the blinking lights of the
little frefies whisk around her
fragrant roses until the twinkling of
the white stars above glazed the
heavens in their marvelous ether,
and then they would retire for the
night.
And on Sundays, when the shops
were closed and the streets were
quiet, Portia would open her
clothespress and lift out one of her
two best dresses for Sunday
morning services. The wine-colored
dress was for the autumn and
winter months. But in the spring
and the summer, she would put on
her dress the color of goldenrod.
And her wheat-colored gloves and
her little dark brown hat. And then

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she would walk to church, unless
there was a very heavy rain, in
which case most of the village
would arrive late, and Reverend
Hollycross would begin services at a
later time than usual.
And when the autumn months
came, and the winter months, and
often in early spring, when Portia’s
roses were not yet blooming -- then
she would read. Everything that
she could fnd, she would read --
classics, histories, dissertations…
But more than anything, she loved
a good mystery book.
Many winter nights Portia would
lose herself in a mystery novel,
wrapped up in a quilt by the fre,
with Matilda curled up on the
warmth of the rug. And for hours
they would stay in that corner of
the cottage as Portia became a part
of a world far away. Sometimes in
the far away steamy Mediterranean
nights or the hot sands of Egypt or
the Far East…
And that was the way Portia’s

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week went from one season to the
next. It was quiet and it was nice.
The same events and conversations
from one day to the next.
And Portia liked it that way. But
sometimes she started to think that
maybe it would be nice to have
something just a little different
happen. Just a little out of the
ordinary…

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Chapter 2
The Dinner Party

It happened that on one day


early in June, Portia was out in her
rose garden. The air was sweet with
her roses in the warm winds of a
later afternoon. And Portia was
very busy pruning an exceptionally
lovely Blush Noisette.
Matilda had just fnished her
daily saucer of cream and was
quietly washing her paws.
When Mrs. Fritter happened to
walk past on her way to one of the

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nearby farms where she purchased
eggs once a week.
“Oh, Portia, dear,” she said,
bustling on her way. “I forgot to
mention to you this morning. How
could I have forgotten? It’s been
just all over the village since last
evening. But did you know that I
heard it just from Mrs. Ivory at the
post only when the news frst
arrived… The manor house that no
one ever seems to know anything
about, up on the hill, that no one
seems to have ever seen... Well, the
gentleman’s name there is Lord
Coldstone, apparently, and he's just
coming back from abroad and has
decided to host his very frst dinner
party. And I must say that the guest
list is a trife short, perhaps. Seven
guests. A very odd sort of
number…”
Portia listened carefully to Mrs.
Fritter, having laid aside the little
pruning shears. It was not an
uncommon thing for Mrs. Fritter to
have heard some interesting news

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from Mrs. Ivory at the post. And
whenever this sort of news came to
the ears of Mrs. Fritter, the whole
town was certain to know of it
within several hours. So it was an
unusual thing that Portia had not
heard this news from Mrs. Fritter
herself until so late in the day.
“And who do you think is one of
the invitations sent out to?...” Mrs.
Fritter was still going on. “Our very
own Reverend Hollycross!”
Reverend Hollycross was a quiet
sort of man. Kind. Gentle. One of the
older gentlemen in the village. And
it seemed a very odd sort of thing
that he might be called up to a fancy
dinner party by a lord whom no one
knew. It all seemed to be a very
unusual thing. And no one knew
this better than Mrs. Fritter
herself, who had spent the entirety
of her day away from the bakery,
busy spreading the news to anyone
who might listen. And everyone
would listen.
“Can you believe it, my dear?”

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“No, Mrs. Friter. It does sound
quiet amazing.”
“Amazing is the word for it. More
like unexplainable, I should say.
Who could be so wealthy and so
mysterious and yet invite dear old
Reverend Hollycross as part of his
dinner party? My dear, you should
see the guest list.”
“Oh, Mrs. Fritter, it is really none
of my business…”
“Nonsense. Of course it’s not. But
it doesn’t much matter when he
sends his correspondence through
the royal post now, does it?”
“Mrs. Fritter…”
“Tut tut, dear. I shall have to fll
you in on the rest at a later date.
Perhaps tomorrow. I must be off
and see Mrs. Brown about the
eggs…”
And she continued talking as she
walked away down the path.
Portia smiled, shaking her head,
and went back to her pruning.

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P
Portia completed her gardening
for the day just as the supper hour
approached. It was usually the case
that her gardening conveniently
ended at about the time that dinner
needed to be prepared.
“Come, Matilda,” she said,
coaxing in the sleepy white cat. “Sit
by the window.”
And Matilda trotted in obediently
to her usual place at the window
seat, laid with a quilt the color of
indigo and rose and cream.
It was a small sitting room with
the little fre built out of the rocks
from the seashore, in an earlier day
when her great-grandfather had
built the cottage.
There were braided rugs on the
old worn wood foor, the color of
chocolate. And there were cuttings
of roses set around the furniture,
all just as old as the cottage itself.
And when twilight came, Portia

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would light the lamps and the room
would look very much like a little
frefy, glowing out at the end of the
village.
“Are you hungry, Matilda?”
Portia asked as she usually would.
And Matilda would reply by
curling up cozily on the window
seat to wait for her supper.
Portia set about preparing the
little stove for her supper of gravy
and triangle toast. Life as a young
baker did not afford much money
for the care of roses, cottage, cat,
and sustenance. But Portia never
complained.
“Mrs. Fritter did seem terribly
excited this afternoon,” Portia said
aloud to Matilda. “She has scarcely
ever been so full of… alacrity.
Perhaps there is more to this
dinner party business than meets
the eye…”
Matilda closed her dark blue eyes
and began her seventh nap of the
day while Portia continued piecing
together her little meal.

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Mrs. Fritter, as much of a gossip
as she was, somehow did generally
seem to be correct. Her information
was almost always right. And as
much as she might be tempted to
embellish her knowledge by adding
a series of ‘what if’s, ‘do you think’s,
and ‘quite possibly’s, she was not a
malicious sort of older lady. And
her heart was good.
Certainly, if anyone wanted to
know anything at all about
anything, they had only to ask Mrs.
Telulah Fritter, and she would tell
them in the most matter-of-fact
way, and with all the advice and
know-how she could possibly
muster.
Lord Edmund Coldstone… That
was a name. Uncommon. No one
knew where he came from, not
when he had moved back sometime
around the previous summer. Some
said he came from the East Indies
after fghting it out with the natives
over some folly or other. And that
he returned with a wounded arm

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and a dozen trunks of spices and
jewels and a trail other exotic
entanglements.
Some said that he grew up in the
Highlands and had come home, well
not quite so far as to home. But as
far as England. After a tragedy of
great proportions whilst sailing
round the world. Some said he
made it even as far as the Cape of
Good Hope. And some said even
further… to the Antarctic…
But whatever the real story,
Portia had come to conclude that he
was a mysterious sort of person.
Perhaps most particularly because
none of the villagers had ever even
seen him. No one knew quite for
certain that he actually had ever
taken up residence there, except for
the fact that smoke rose from two of
the very many chimneys. And there
seemed to be occasional activity on
the lawn when the maids would
come out to beat the rugs, or the
livery was being cleaned. And yet
no one knew even what he looked

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like.
It was intriguing, of course, but
no one had ever found anything out.
So Lord Coldstone and his grand,
albeit dark, hall was eventually
forgotten in the last year. That is,
until Mrs. Fritter unearthed the
matter of the dinner party. And
Portia was sure to hear more of it
the following morning at the
bakery…

Mrs. Fritter, was, indeed, in the


most exceptional of moods the
following morning. She bustled in at
her usual hour, just as Portia was
up to her elbows in four.
“Well, what do you think, my
dear about this strange business? I
spoke with Mrs. Brown, you know,
and she has heard, in addition, that

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this dinner party is to have an ice
sculpture as its centerpiece for the
table. Can you imagine? An ice
sculpture! Of what, who can say…”
Portia had never heard of
anything so fancy as an ice
sculpture. But she had read of the
fancy sorts of things that wealthy
people did for entertainment in her
mystery novels. And an ice
sculpture seemed to match this sort
of setting.
“And I never was able to mention
to you, did I now? The invitations.
Who they were sent out to. Of
course I didn’t. I was on my way to
purchase eggs from Mrs. Brown.
Well I shall tell you now.”
Portia continued to mix the
beginnings of her pastry dough.
Already she had a batch of them out
in the glass case. But customers
were hungry, and gossip or no, she
had to continue mixing up fresh
pastries.
“Well, yes, I did tell you one of
them, did I not? Our very own

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Reverend Hollycros!. Of all the
peoples of the village to attend the
table of Lord Coldstone! But the
other names are almost all mystery,
and seem to have no connection
whatsoever.”
Portia knew this would take
some time, and lifted the cask of
butter onto the baking table.
“The frst one of them I can
hardly say my way around it. Such
a strange name. It started with a
sort of foreign title. A sheik, I think
it was. Sheik. Whoever heard of
such a title? But it was the name
after that which mixes me up and I
don't think I could possibly repeat
it. Mrs. Ivory wrote it down for me,
but I seem to have left the paper at
home. Well, never mind it. I’ll bring
it tomorrow. But can you imagine it,
my dear? A sheik! A sheik from
who knows where on God’s good
green earth. And coming here to
our little village to visit for dinner!
Our little village!”
Portia tried to think carefully on

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what a sheik might look like, as she
punched through the risen dough in
a ceramic bowl. He might come
riding in on an Arabian horse, in
long white robes sweeping the
ground as he walked, still flled with
desert sand. A headdress encrusted
with precious stones, a silver saber
at his side, sharp enough to slice
through a piece of silk tossed into
the air as if it were butter… she had
read about that trick somewhere in
a novel regarding the adventures of
a band of sheiks in Morocco.
“Do you know where he comes
from, Mrs. Fritter?” Portia asked
aloud. “The sheik.”
“Oh, who could say. Who could
say. Somewhere out there past any
decent sort of civilization. Where
the Crusades happened and all of
those terrible bloody battles and
things of that nature… The address
was perfectly unreadable. How the
royal post is to manage sending it, I
could not know.”
It sounded so exotic and

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mysterious… more so than even
Lord Coldstone… But Portia shook
herself away and continued with
the pastry dough. It wasn’t the time
to be thinking about her mysterious
novels. Paring novels with real life
could often result in strange
happenings. And she didn’t have
time to consider such things while
she was working.
“Shall I tell you who comes
next?” Mrs. Fritter continued.
Portia knew that she would not
need to reply in the affrmative or
the negative. Because Mrs. Fritter
would tell her despite anything
Portia would say.
“Now I must say that the next of
these names I truly know nothing
about in the slightest. It would
appear that two of them are at least
sisters, for the invitation is
addressed to two women of the
same name and same status: a Miss
Inga and Ellen Oslo. The address
appears to be someplace in Norway.
But that is all that we know on their

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situation. And there are four more
guests. A Mr. Israel Seabead, a Mr.
Joseph Whitefsh, a Mr. Mikkel
Lafayette, and a Miss Bríghid
O’Callaghan. Ireland address of
course. Who ever heard of such
strange goings-on. Who would ever
come so far for only a dinner
party?”
“Perhaps, Mrs. Fritter, it is for a
longer stay than a dinner party…”
Portia managed to slip in.
“Maybe, dear, but Mrs. Ivory had
it on the best of authority by the
boy who brought in the post that it
was to be a dinner party. Heard it
from Reverend Hollycross himself,
who I’ve yet to speak with on the
matter, as he seems most busy at
present. And I did not wish to
disturb him. Of course the rascal
boy might have not known a thing
of what he was talking about…
Who’s to say he actually spoke with
the reverend about it. But be
assured, it is a dinner party.”
Portia prepared the individual

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pastries for the oven as Mrs. Fritter
continued, occasionally pausing for
the customer who came through
the door to aid them in their
selection of pastries, and to count
out their change, all the while
gossiping further about any new
information the customer might
have to offer, or that she could
share in exchange.
“Oh, yes, my dear, where was I...”
she continued some time later, “Yes,
yes, the Mr. Seabead, it would seem,
is some sort of traveler, for his
address is labeled as a hotel in some
address in South America. Don’t
ask me the country; I couldn’t tell
you. The Mr. Whitefsh is from some
place in the States. I believe it St.
Louis. And Mr. Lafayette -- his
invitation is to somewhere in
Greece. So you see, my dear,
something strange is afoot for
having called up a collection of
people from as far as the Americas!
And I aim to get at the bottom of it!”
And Portia had few doubts that

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she would, as she pulled a set of
steaming golden pastries from the
brick oven.

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Chapter 3
The Guests Arrive

The arrival of the guests two


weeks later was a most
magnanimous occasion. And yet a
most mysterious event, at that. The
entire village was practically on
pins and needles on the day of
arrival, anxiously awaiting their
approach. And no one was entirely
certain at what hour, and in what
mode of transportation, they would
arrive.
And as to the matter of anyone
learning anything of signifcance

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through the Reverend Hollycross --
no one had found out anything at
all. For Reverend Hollycross had
been called away for all of those two
weeks on an urgent set of business
with a fellow clergyman in a
neighboring town. Although Portia
wasn’t entirely certain that it
wasn’t because he wished to avoid
the busy questions of his
parishioners.
Portia was, on that particular
afternoon of anticipation -- as every
afternoon was an afternoon of
anticipation -- working calmly in
her rose garden, as usual, when
Mrs. Fritter bustled over to her.
“What do you think, my dear?”
she said in a most frazzled manner.
“The frst to arrive must be here on
the coach. It is almost certain.
Within these very next minutes, I’ll
warrant. Don’t stand here long in
your garden. You’ll be sure to want
a glimpse of them when they come.”
“To be sure, Mrs. Fritter,” Portia
said with a little laugh, “I much

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prefer digging in my rose beds.
Although I thank you for the
invitation.”
“Nonsense! You must come. For I
hear upon the best of authorities
that it will be quite a spectacle,
indeed. And you should be present
for it.”
“But Mrs. Fritter…”
“Really, now, dear. I came all the
way down here to have you come
back with me. And you must
comply. Now run along inside and
wash your hands. Oh, yes, your
face, dear, as well. It appears as
though the dirt… And fx back your
hair. There now, hurry. I can’t wait
for long!”
Portia reluctantly obeyed, and
did all of the suggested preening of
herself within the next several
minutes.
“Ah, dear, very lovely. Very
lovely,” said Mrs. Fritter, already
walking off. “Come with me now. I
think I hear distant coach wheels!”
For a woman of Mrs. Fritter’s

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stature, Portia was having to nearly
run to keep up with her. And yet
thirty years of baking pastries did
little to slow her down in the crowd.
So when the coach did, indeed,
thunder into the village within the
next several minutes, Mrs. Fritter
had already placed herself and
Portia at the front line to see who
might come out frst.
All the village seemed to have
simultaneously come out. And it
was a most large collection of
people who stood together waiting
for the click of the door handle…

It had all taken place so very


fast, that as the dust of the coach
cleared away, Portia was still
standing at Mrs. Fritter’s side,
wondering what it had all been

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about.
There had been altogether four
passengers in the coach. And Mrs.
Fritter eagerly gave a running
dialog whispered between herself
and Mrs. Ivory, as each of them
stepped into the warm summer air.
Two young girls frst emerged,
helped down the one step to the
ground by the footman.
“Certainly the Miss Oslos,” Mrs.
Fritter said excitedly. “And so
young! I think, Mrs. Ivory, that
they must be twins. Yes, indeed,
they are. For one looks just as the
other, except for the dark hair on
the one and the lighter on the other.
I’ll warrant that Inga has the dark
and Ellen has the light. For I’ve
never heard of an Ellen with dark
hair… And so young! Why, they
must not be over eighteen. And no
chaperone? Or do they keep
governesses in Norway? I wonder.”
Next stepped out a tall
gentleman, seemingly athletic, and
dignifed. A very noble way about it.

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“I must take a guess that this is
Mr. Mikkel,” Mrs. Fritter continued.
“He has the sort of European look
about him, has he not, Mrs. Ivory.
Although not Greek, I wouldn’t
think.”
And the last person in the coach
could be none other than…
“Oh, Miss O’Callaghan,” of course.
“What a little Irish beauty! And also
very young, although I can’t think
as young as the Miss Oslos. Perhaps
there was no need of a traveling
companion…”
But after this last notice, Mrs.
Fritter’s conversation was
immediately cut short by the
arrival of a new coach.
The guests hadn’t two moments
altogether to even address their
small welcoming party. And then
the coach had arrived, driven by a
young coachman and four well-
groomed black horses.
The guests were immediately
escorted inside it, and that seemed
to be the end of it.

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“Well, what a grand
disappointment!” Mrs. Fritter
exclaimed, as the coach thundered
away. “And we might have gotten a
little information out of them too!
Well, I suppose that we must just
wait until the next coach comes in.”
But Portia was almost glad that
she had come. To see such, what
appeared to be almost, royalty, was
something new and exciting for
their little village. Even if they were
never to meet Lord Coldstone
himself, at least they had caught
glimpse of a few of his illustrious
guests.

The villagers hadn’t long to be


graced yet again by such an
apparent spectacle, however. It was
just that same evening that the

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second coach arrived, bringing the
last of the dinner party guests.
“So soon!” Mrs. Fritter cried, as
this time Portia joined the rest of
the village in the town square of her
own accord. “How very exciting.
Perhaps this time we shall know
something concrete!”
The rumble of hoofbeats came
ripping into the village just at dusk,
and though the lamps were lit,
Porta could barely make out the
faces of the remaining guests. One
after another. The Sheik, or so it
would appear by his dress, Mr.
Seabead, and Mr. Whitefsh.
And once again, without a word,
the next coach arrived and sped
them off to the manor house,
without a single piece of
information being exchanged
between themselves and the
villagers.
“Imagine that!” Mrs. Fritter
declared after the dust had, once
again, settled. “That puts an answer
to it. The only information we shall

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have at all is from our Reverend
Hollycross. I will put out to ask him
tomorrow before he takes leave for
the dinner party.”
And that was all that was
mentioned on the subject for the
rest of the evening.

It wasn’t until the following


afternoon, when the town was
buzzing with all sorts of
conversations about the mysterious
guests, that Mrs. Fritter fnally
made some headway in the matter.
She marched straight to Portia at
her rose garden without any
pretense.
“My dear, it all appears to be
coming together quite nicely. And so
much faster than I had anticipated.
I just spoke with Reverend

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Hollycross, direct before he left for
the very place itself -- Lord
Coldstone’s estate! As you know the
reverend is only just back this
morning. And I must tell you that I
have also found out the name of it:
Blackwood Manor. And although
our dear reverend seems to not
know quite as much of the matter
as I had so hoped, he does know
more than I had feared.”
Portia’s hands were deep in the
black soil, and she knew that it was
not entirely necessary to even look
up occasionally to nod at Mrs.
Fritter to let her know that she was
still listening. For Mrs. Fritter
would continue at any rate.
“Our reverend says that he
knows Lord Coldstone to be the
descendant of a long-time friend of
the reverend’s grandfather. And
although little was mentioned of the
connection in the dinner invitation
-- Lord Coldstone apparently
subscribed an addendum to the
invitation -- the reverend says that

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Lord Coldstone addressed the
reverend’s grandfather as being a
good man, and often mentioned by
Lord Coldstone’s great-grandfather,
the distant relation, as I told you.”
Portia continued at the digging,
processing this seemingly intricate
connection in her mind.
“And that is the most of it.
However, as to why Lord Coldstone
has invited all of these other guests
to the dinner party, which
Reverend Hollycross has confrmed
for me as being tomorrow eve, the
reverend does not know. Although
he could tell me that he expected
the dinner engagement to be an
extended invitation, and has made
preparations for the young mite
fresh from the seminary to preach
for him should he be gone through
Sunday. Can you imagine!”
“I cannot, Mrs. Fritter.”
“And he is only leaving just now!
Who knows when he shall return? I
am near green from curiosity of it
all, my dear. And when shall we

41
know what is afoot, I ask you? See
you in the morning, dear. I must be
off to share the news with Mrs.
Brown!”
And off she toddled, leaving
Portia still rooting amongst the rose
bushes and wondering what she
ought to put together for tea.

42
Chapter 4
Murder!

It was the evening of the dinner


party. The whole town seemed to be
waiting to see what might take
place there, as if Lord Coldstone
could have only possibly gathered
together all of these unusual guests
for some mysterious purpose. And
for no other purpose.
“I think I should take out Mr.
Fritter’s spyglass and see if I might
detect anything unusual on the
grounds there,” Mrs. Fritter was

43
saying at the bakery that morning,
to one of her apparent cohorts. “For
I can just see the ends of the
grounds from our house, you know.
Nothing to speak of. It would hardly
be the same as seeing past the
windows into the dining hall. But I
must content myself with the
grounds I suppose.”
Portia rather wondered to
herself how Mrs. Fritter could not
be somewhat embarrassed for
parading around such intentions to
the townspeople. But on the other
hand, most of the women of the
town seemed very much as eager as
Mrs. Fritter to understand what
was going to take place at
Blackwood Manor that very night.
Everyone, of course, except for
Portia. In her mind, as she
explained to Matilda that night, it
seemed more proftable to unravel
the inner workings of an actual
mystery novel than to scheme and
suppose upon the importance of a
simple dinner party being given at a

44
manor house across several green
hills.
Portia had, instead, plans to
work around a special new bed of
blooms that evening, several
brilliant white rose bushes that she
had just set in last autumn. And
then there would be tea and bread
and butter, and some of the new
piece of bacon she had brought back
from the butcher’s on Tuesday, and
a novel newly borrowed from Mrs.
Fritter, who had purchased the
book, thinking she might read it --
as the cover engraving had looked
somewhat intriguing -- and then
had not read it after all. Mrs.
Fritter was not prone to reading
much of anything, as she preferred
a good gossip circle to anything
else, and so passed on any
unwanted material to Portia, who
always eagerly accepted anything
offered, which were mostly novels.
So several hours later, while the
town still waited upon pins and
needles, and Mrs. Fritter was

45
hurriedly trying to locate her
spyglass -- as the last occasion upon
which it was needed took place the
previous autumn when an
unexpected niece of someone or
other’s came to town and was said
to have been seen riding about the
countryside with Mrs. Fritter’s
nephew -- Portia walked quietly
through her little rose garden
around to the east side of the
cottage.
She had already enjoyed her
dinner and was on her frst cup of
after-dinner tea. Matilda was
purring contentedly, mincing down
the little stone path covered in little
green mosses and gray lichen. The
stars were just surfacing at the
haze of the night horizon. When…
and that’s when Portia saw it…
Something somewhat unusual for
an evening in the summer at such
an hour.
It was just a shadow at frst. A
shadow hurrying out of the woods
and across the feld. But the last bit

46
of sunlight refected on the sheen of
a silk dress, which the shadow was
wearing. The woman was too far
away for Portia to make out her
face.
She noted the hour, as the small
chime of the wall clock rang
through the open window.
One, two, three…
Seven chimes of its little bell.
Seven ’clock in the evening, and
who would be wandering about in
the far felds, just at the edge of the
woods like that?
Portia shaded her eyes against
the last folds of sunlight winking
into the corner of her eye. The
fgure was almost at a run now,
back up the slope of the hill. The
color of her dress now an
unmistakable silver print against
the English green of the hill.
Toward the general direction of the
manor house.
“What do you think about that,
Matilda?” Portia asked then, just as
the fgure disappeared above the

47
top of the hill. “A bit unusual
perhaps.”
Portia hesitated. It was more in
her nature to avidly follow the
mystery of a book than the mystery
of a real life situation. However, the
call of investigation was a bit too
strong.
She set her tea cup on the little
stone wall of her garden.
“Come on, Matilda,” she said.
Matilda obediently followed her
out of the gate and across the feld,
picking up her dainty white paws
carefully over the fading grass.
It was a bit of a distance to the
edge of the wood. Portia wasn’t
certain for just what she would be
looking. Footprints in the grass,
perhaps. Just to confrm that she
had, actually seen the woman, and
that it was not a trick of the passing
sunlight.
The crunch of grass broke the
quiet of the evening, as they walked
toward the woods. Only the small
whispers of summer winds and the

48
occasional buzz of winged bugs
through the feld…
Then they were there. Just at the
edge of the wood, where the
shadows suddenly turned black and
the trees reached into the night air,
silent, unmoving.
Then something caught Portia’s
eye. There, just fxed to the pine --
snagged by a climbing thorn -- a
piece of cloth. Portia lifted it
carefully from the thorn that had
torn it. Silver, a distinct pattern of
stars upon it. Just like the dress of
the woman climbing the hill. Portia
turned toward it. The woman was
still gone. Strange… Portia hadn’t
even noticed the woman stop to
examine her dress where it must
have torn. No doubt she was in a
serious rush to leave the wood and
arrive at wherever it was that she
was going.
Portia slipped the piece of cloth
into the pocket of her sweater.
“Maybe we should go fnd her,”
she said to Matilda, cuddling the

49
white cat against her.
But the night was getting dark,
and Portia did not fancy taking
another walk into it and into
unknown territory. For she had
never been over that hill, as
alluring as it was. She had been
almost to its very top. But everyone
knew that the property beyond it
was privately owned by the manor
house, and she did not want to be
accused of trespassing.
So she and Matilda returned to
the cottage for another cup of tea
and a good book before the night
owls cried and the evening had
come to an end, and Portia had
entirely forgotten about the dinner
party.

50
The next morning, the town
could not have been more at a buzz
of astonishment and horror. Never
before in its small history, had the
town heard of such grisly
happenings. And no one was eager
to hide the news.
Portia knew there was trouble
when she saw Mrs. Fritter bustling
toward her early that morning
before Portia had even fnished
breakfast.
“Oh, my dear! You’ll never
believe the terrible thing I have
heard! I could not have wanted to
believe it for anything! What
horrible deeds! Who could have
done such a dreadful thing!
Murder! Yes, murder this very last
evening while we were all about
talking over the mystery of this
fateful dinner party. Who could
have done it? The whole town is in
uproar! I cannot believe that you
have heard nothing of it. One of the
rascals carted in from the coach, no
doubt. One of his own dinner

51
guests! Or there is the possibility of
one of the servants. Oh, the
tragedy! And we none of us have
ever yet met him. Oh the shame of
it!”
During this lengthy
announcement, Portia nearly forgot
the eggs on the fre for her
breakfast, for it was at that moment
that she immediately remembered
the scrap of cloth in her pocket.
Why she would think of it at the
announcement of murder, she did
not know. But the event was
mysterious enough to warrant the
idea that perhaps the two events
were connected.
“What a terrible thing, indeed,
Mrs. Fritter,” said Portia solemnly.
“And they have no idea of the
identity of the murderer?”
“No, my dear. None at all! The
whole thing is a mystery, and until
Scotland Yard arrives, we will likely
know nothing. And to think in the
meantime we might be murdered
ourselves! We know nothing, not

52
even how he was murdered. It only
came to us via word from our dear
reverend himself, who had word
sent to the town that we might send
for help…”
But as Mrs. Fritter continued on,
Portia hardly heard a word of it, for
none of the information was new or
particularly helpful, only repetition
of the one fact that Lord Coldstone
had been murdered, and some
unknown person was to blame for
it.
When Mrs. Fritter fnally left to
go off to see Mrs. Brown about the
continuation of the terrible story,
Portia prepared to leave for the
bakery, all the while wondering
about the mysterious woman she
had seen climbing up the hill.
Likely, she told herself, the two
were unconnected. Perhaps the
lady had only taken a walk before
dinner… But, no, the dinner party
was to have begun at eight, and
surely the woman would not have
wanted to be late to such an

53
engagement. Of course, she might
well have been lost, roaming about
the manor grounds, and when she
became aware of the lateness of the
hour, she hurried to return. And
yet… she was already dressed for
dinner. That had been clear from
the quality of her gown. And no
woman of any sort of dignifed state
would have been roaming the
grounds already dressed for
dinner…
Portia began mixing her pastries,
saddened at such a terrible
announcement, and puzzled by
these strange facts.

54
Chapter 5
Scotland Yard Arrives

Portia was sorry to hear of the


murder. She was certainly not
unsympathetic toward the calamity
and those involved. But she couldn’t
help but be very distracted by the
remembrance of the strange fgure
the previous evening. And she
began to wonder if, perhaps, she
ought to turn over the piece of cloth
to the police when they arrived. It
was a long shot to be sure. And the
more she thought about it, the less

55
she liked the idea.
“They would just laugh at me,
Matilda,” she said to the little white
cat.
Matilda sat contentedly on the
warmed stones of the garden path
while Portia worked on a bed of
beautifully blooming dark orange
roses.
“Maybe I shouldn’t say anything
at frst. I imagine they’re bound to
solve the murder without any of my
help.”
And she made her decision to
keep the piece of cloth pressed
between the pages of her copy of
Journey to the Center of the Earth
in her small library until she might
further reconsider the matter.
In the meanwhile, Mrs. Fritter
had insisted that Portia come early
to work the following morning. For
with the arrival of Scotland Yard,
there was promise of more
business.
“I want as many pastries as you
can make in three hours’ time,” she

56
instructed. “An exceptional amount
of the blueberry, I should think.
And even more of the chocolate. Let
me know how you make out with
the eggs. I owe Mrs. Brown another
visit as it stands and could easily
bring back another few dozen for
the morning.”
But Portia assured her that there
were eggs enough for the promising
onslaught of detectives desiring
piping hot pastries.

The next morning, Portia found


Mrs. Fritter to be entirely correct
about the added business to the
little bakery. Portia found that she
could not rest a moment between
preparing batches of sweet goods.
For there was constantly a stream
of customers. Most of them for the

57
pastries. And even more to share in
the latest gossip. Portia only
managed to hear snatches of it from
various customers, between coming
back and forth with fresh pastries
from the kitchen to the glass case.
And she could not help but think
that they were more than
somewhat insensitive to the
situation at hand:

“Can you believe all this noise


about murder? I think it couldn’t be
so bad as they say. To send out
Scotland Yard with no less than a
dozen police and investigators!
Seems a waste of time and
money…”

“They say they never found a


body. But it’s sure murder, for they
found the blood stains rubbed right
into the carpet. And the murder
weapon… though they won’t say
what…”

58
“I say who ever did it tossed the
body into the lake. I’ve always said
that lake ought to be drained. It sits
too near the manor house. A
terrible liability…”

“They’re holding everyone at the


house. Not one of the guests or
servants is allowed away until the
case is solved. Not even our poor
reverend! Imagine considering him
a suspect!...”

And on it went in such a manner


for all the hours of the morning and
into the early afternoon, when Mrs.
Fritter fnally agreed to close the
shop, for the pastries had all been
sold out.
“My dear, you have done
wonderfully this morning,” she said
cheerfully. “I’ll see that your pay is
better this week as a result. Now off
with you and see if you can’t learn a
little more of the news about town.”
Portia would have explained that
she planned to, instead, return

59
home to her roses. But she could
not say a word about it, as Mrs.
Ivory just then came through the
door.
“I’m all in a tizzy, Mrs. Fritter!”
she exclaimed, breathing very
hard. “I’ve just come all this way
from the post to say to you that I
overheard two of the offcers
talking -- they were unaware that I
was behind the window where they
were conversing just outside the
post -- when I heard them say that
they are, all of Scotland Yard, to
retire to Blackwood Manor in a
matter of hours.”
“Is this true, Mrs. Ivory? So
soon! I had hoped we would hear
more before they truly begin the
investigation.”
“Yes, my dear Mrs. Fritter. And
they will be stationed there until
this whole matter of murder is
cleared up. But they mentioned the
matter of provisions. Mrs. Fritter,
you must keep Portia here late, for I
am certain that they will be here

60
shortly to order breads and baked
goods for the next several days. For
I hear it said they are not allowing
the servants to cook or bake a
thing, for fear of poisoning! They
are setting their trust at no one!”
“Mrs. Ivory, your thoughts are
inspired. We might even gladly
convince them to allow myself the
convenience of bringing up the
order myself on a daily basis.
Portia, dear, might you stay another
several hours and prepare a few
loaves of bread and perhaps
muffns? A cake or two…”
Portia carefully unpinned the hat
from her head with a smile. There
was no refusing Mrs. Fritter in such
matters.
“Of course, Mrs. Fritter.”
“What an excellent girl you are.
Yes, begin now, so that when they
arrive, we might be ready to offer
them whatever they would need.”
It was not a full half-hour later
that Mrs. Ivory was proven correct.
The chief investigator had sent over

61
one of the offcers to see into a full
order of breads and baked goods,
enough to last through dinner and
the following breakfast.
Portia subsequently did not leave
the bakery until nearing four
o’clock, hands sore from kneading,
somewhat covered in four, and
quite ready to attend to her rose
garden.
“My dear, how quite marvelous of
you to have worked so hard today,”
said Mrs. Fritter to her. “I have
requested, as my special treat, that
you accompany me this evening to
deliver the baked goods to the
manor house. You well deserve the
trip. And I daresay I could use your
help in bringing everything up. Mr.
Fritter is, as you know, quite
indisposed at the moment with his
usual summer hay fever. And so,
my dear,” she said, her countenance
quite beaming, “I shall see you here
at half-past six o’clock. Goodbye,
my dear!”
And she bustled off down the

62
road, leaving a somewhat
bewildered Portia, dusted in four,
and wondering what, exactly, about
an evening delivery of baked goods
to a murder investigation was
considered a ‘treat’.
But she said nothing on the
subject and returned to her
beautiful rose garden to have a cup
of tea and work around a bed of
yellow blooms for the duration of
the afternoon.

At six-thirty, sharp, Portia


returned to the bakery. She didn’t
know what, exactly, to wear to a
manor house for delivering sweet
baked goods. She had nothing
elegant to put on, but she did not
think this quite necessary, and
slipped on her gardening sweater

63
over her every-day dress.
However, before leaving the
cottage, she considered bringing the
piece of cloth with her. She stared
at Journey to the Center of the
Earth sitting on the shelf for a few
moments. It couldn’t hurt to bring
with her a possible piece of
evidence. And so carefully, she
pulled out the delicate piece of silk
and put it back into her pocket.
In the late sun of the early
evening, Portia could still make out
from a distance that Mrs. Fritter
was handsomely overdressed. This
was apparent by the rather
ostentatious ostrich feather
sticking out of her hat, mixed with
other garnishes of fne silk fowers
and berries.
“It wouldn’t do to not be looking
our best, dear,” Mrs. Fritter
explained, fuffng the feather with
her hand.
As though the enormous feather
needed further fuffng.
“Come along now, then. The sun

64
won’t wait. And I am quite certain
that they will be expecting our
arrival before the dinner hour,
which I think must be eight o’clock,
or perhaps seven-thirty. One can
never tell with Scotland Yard
running everything at the moment.
I can’t say I ever completely trusted
their ability to get to the bottom of
anything in a timely fashion…”
Mrs. Fritter continued her
speculations regarding the law and
the police and other things of a
‘questionable nature’, the entire
drive to the manor house. Mrs.
Fritter was a fne horsewoman
herself and knew how to handle the
cart well enough, but the road was
new and the bumps along the way
were many, allowing for the trip to
take, perhaps, twice as long as
might be ordinarily expected. So
the length of her narrative was
doubled.
But the weather was fne. The
pale twinkle of stars would emerge
soon beyond the froth of purple sky

65
in their wake. And the night birds’
song whispered in the winds across
the felds.
Portia pulled her sweater a little
closer around her in the cool of the
early summer evening and half-
listened to Mrs. Fritter’s speech, all
the while wondering to herself what
had happened to poor Lord
Coldstone, and of the cloth in her
pocket.

66
Chapter 6
Mr. Lafayette

When Portia frst saw the house,


she was surprised. She had not
been expecting such an estate. No
one from the village had ever really
seen it before, at least from
circulated reports. And when they
did come upon the dark stone
house, lit with many yellow lights
from the windows, refected in the
black pond set just in front of it…
Portia couldn’t speak.
“So grand!” Mrs. Fritter

67
exclaimed, hardly at a loss for
words. “So massive and so
beautifully situated. I should think
they must be locating Lord
Coldstone’s heir at once. For
certainly such a property as this
cannot go to dust and ruin. It is too
ornate!”
Portia couldn’t help but think
that this sounded somewhat
unsympathetic toward the
disastrous plight of Lord Coldstone.
But by this time they had arrived
just around the courtyard where,
Mrs. Fritter had been told, the
deliveries ought to be made.
“To think! I have lived here all of
my life and never set eyes on this
exquisite place!” Mrs. Fritter
declared. “Now, my dear. Here
comes the detective. Gather what
you can from the cart and we will
follow him indoors.”
Portia did as instructed. She
hardly noted what she took from
the back of the cart, so mesmerized
was she by the exterior of this

68
manor, grand enough to be a castle.
With a basket on one arm and a
cake balanced in her other hand,
she followed the poor footman, who
had, it seemed, four cakes and two
baskets of baked goods. And all the
while she was wondering absently
to herself, just how many cakes a
party of a dozen or so people might
actually eat, when all were murder
suspects and likely wouldn’t have
much of an appetite anyway. And
then she remembered that Scotland
Yard likely did still have their
appetites. And by the time she had
fnished thinking about these
things, she had entered the door to
the kitchen.
“Just set these here, Madam,”
said the footman, trying to be
pleasant.
Portia looked carefully at the
footman. He looked apprehensive,
and she couldn’t blame him.
“Are you a suspect?” she asked
him, suddenly.
The footman looked up in

69
surprise.
“Why, I suppose that I am,
Madam. Although I was not even in
the manor at the time of the
incident.”
“You weren’t?”
Portia surprised herself by
continuing the conversation.
“No, Madam,” the footman looked
around nervously, as he saw Mrs.
Fritter still toddling up the path to
the kitchen door. “I was with most
of the servant staff in the kitchen.”
“My dear, take this cake, would
you, please?” Mrs. Fritter
exclaimed, just having come
through the door. “It is quite
making my arm go senseless, it is so
heavy. Whatever do you put in
these cakes, my dear?”
And she set it heavily on the
table before Portia could reach her.
“Well, my dear, I suppose that I
must speak with someone about
these things. No, the footman will
not do. I must speak with someone
who knows about baked goods so

70
that they serve them properly and
at the correct time. Lead me to the
cook, my boy.”
And the footman hastily led her
from the kitchen.
Portia was all alone. Everything
was silent in the cold stone kitchen.
No signs of any dinner being
prepared. And she wondered who
was going to make it. Mrs. Fritter,
she was certain, would take a
considerable amount of time before
she returned with a passel of gossip
to share with the village.
She took a seat near the door
that led up to the dining hall. And
her fngers absently went to the
scrap of cloth in her pocket. She
wondered if the girl was there even
now, numbered amongst the
suspects. Perhaps she hadn’t been
one of the guests at all. There were
only three women invited: the Miss
Oslo, and Miss O’Callaghan. She
tried to retrace the image in her
mind. Had the fgure been tall or
short? But then again, from what

71
she had remembered, the three
female guests did not seem to differ
in height from each other, at least
not greatly enough to make a
visible difference from far off… The
easiest thing would be for her to
hand over the scrap of cloth and
have the police inspect as to which
guest owned the silver dress…
Unless she had thrown away the
dress when she saw that it was
torn… Women of such wealth could
likely do such things...
“Oh! Hello.”
Portia was startled as a young
man entered the room. The man she
knew, according to Mrs. Fritter, to
be Mr. Mikkel Lafayette.
“I am sorry. Am I interrupting
something? I thought the kitchen
was empty.”
Portia swallowed quickly, the
alarm beginning to leave.
“I was just here to deliver the
baked goods. I am waiting for my
employer to return. I won’t be here
long.”

72
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” he
replied with an extraordinarily
white smile. “You seem a pleasant
sort of girl. I came here to see about
dinner.”
He began to look about the
kitchen.
“Ah, I see that we have, at least, a
good number of cakes. Let me assist
you in moving them to the larder.
For I fear a girl of your small
stature could not possibly begin to
carry such heavy things.”
“Thank you, sir,” Portia managed
to respond. “That is very courteous
of you.”
“Why not at all, madam,” he said,
taking one of the cakes from the
table. “I don’t suppose you know
how to cook?”
Portia could feel her face growing
warm. She hadn’t expected to be
speaking with one of the suspects,
particularly not a charming sort of
athletic suspect.
“I cook, of course,” she replied,
watching him as he opened the

73
pantry.
“Good then. Might I entice you to
prepare something while you are
here? Nothing fancy, of course. A
soup or a chicken or something…
You see, the cook and all the other
servants are under suspicion as
well… You must know the story of
the murder and all of it. So if you
wouldn’t mind giving me a hand.
I’m afraid I know nothing of kitchen
work.”
Portia still hesitated in replying,
somewhat shocked at the request.
“Don’t worry. Scotland Yard has
given full permission for me to
inspect the pantry. I am sure they
could not consider you as a suspect
for any reason. You are from the
village, are you not?”
Portia nodded, watching the row
of cakes grow on the pantry shelf.
She happened to notice that there
was an extra cake, one she had not
baked herself there. The frosting
was likely strawberry...
“Good then,” Mr. Lafayette

74
replied, interrupting her thought.
“Let us see what we can fnd.”
The whole encounter was so
surprising, that Portia wasn’t
entirely sure where to begin. But
before she could think very hard
about the matter, Mr. Lafayette had
managed to talk her into making a
hot bubbling stew to go with the
bread, and several game hens were
roasting over the fre. And
throughout the entire ordeal, he
helped with the chopping of
vegetables and the mixing of
things… And he seemed to have a
knack of talking endlessly in a
charming sort of manner, and
managed to hear Portia’s entire life
story in the course of one hour or
so.
When the clock struck eight,
Portia looked up in a bit of an
alarm. The dinner was prepared,
and Mrs. Fritter had still not
returned.
“Well, you have managed quite a
splendid feast, Miss Portia,” said

75
Mr. Lafayette quite pleasantly.
“Might I entice you to come with me
as the food is served so that I may
present our cook for the evening?”
Portia blushed, somewhat
embarrassed.
“I’m not sure that is entirely
necessary, sir. I am no cook by
profession.”
“Nonsense. I insist. I will just call
the footman. I hear he is less a
suspect than most here. And
Scotland Yard seems to put a little
more trust to him that he wouldn’t
think to poison the food and knock
us all off,” he said with a wink.
And so Portia obliged, despite the
nagging sort of feeling that Mrs.
Fritter would not be happy with
this presentation.
Soon, the footman had returned
with Mr. Lafayette, and the three of
them began to carry the dishes up
to the dining room.
“Highly unconventional, I must
say,” Mr. Lafayette said quite loudly
as they walked the stairs. “But one

76
has to eat, don’t you agree?”
And just through the doors to the
dining hall where several dozen
faces stared from around the table
and behind it, where all the
servants waited for further
instruction.
The whole sight was so
overwhelming for Portia, that she
immediately handed the bread to
the nearest servant, and would
have left to join the astonished Mrs.
Fritter in the corner, who was still
conversing with the head cook, had
not Mr. Lafayette detained her and
escorted her to the head of the
room.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” said Mr.
Lafayette, “I present to you our chef
of the night -- Miss Portia…”
And Portia heard nothing else for
the rest of his brief speech, because
of her embarrassment, which only
increased when, upon the house
guests beginning to eat the meal put
before them, there were even
further acclamations.

77
It seemed as though everyone
had quite forgotten that poor Lord
Coldstone was murdered and
missing, with, most likely, the
murderer amongst them, and were
more interested in dinner than
anything else.
And before she had time to escape
and wait for Mrs. Fritter in the
kitchen below, there was a general
consensus that Portia be made the
designated cook of the manor until
the murderer had been weeded out
and the cooking staff returned to
the kitchen.
“Surely you must agree, my dear,”
Mrs. Fritter had whispered
somewhat loudly to her. “Think of
all the news you will unearth about
the case as it comes along. I will be
certain that your duties at the
bakery do not interfere.”
And so Portia was obliged to take
on the position, after having been
assured that she would be allowed
to return to Matilda and her rose
garden by seven o’clock every

78
evening, if the house guests would
not mind dining an hour early
every night.
“Happy to have you aboard, Miss
Portia,” said Mr. Lafayette with a
slight bow and a smile.

79
80
Chapter 7
The Miss Oslos

The next morning, Portia woke


up wondering if the whole thing
hadn’t been some sort of strange
dream.
She vaguely remembered the
individual faces of the house guests,
and some of the serving staff. But
she had spoken to no one except for
the footman, Mr. Lafayette, and
Mrs. Fritter, naturally.
And as she prepared to leave for
the bakery, for she would not be

81
needed at the manor house until
later in the afternoon, she talked to
Matilda about her impressions of
the whole matter.
“I’m not sure what I think about
any of them, really. Mr. Lafayette
was very nice. And the footman
seemed very innocent. But who can
say for certain? There are so many
of them! The wait staff is about a
dozen, and the house guests… and
Scotland Yard… I don’t know how
I’ll manage dinner for them every
night. They all look like they could
be so guilty! And yet I’ll warrant a
few of them appear more innocent
than the others. But it’s the
innocent ones that are often
guilty… from what I’ve read… And
poor Lord Coldstone! They cannot
even fnd the body! There, I’m
sounding like Mrs. Fritter. This
won’t do, Matilda.”
Portia looked out the window to
her neglected roses. She promised
Matilda that she would be back late
in the morning to see to her lunch

82
and to the roses, and then she
would be off to the manor house.
And as it stood, the morning
passed very quickly, due to Mrs.
Fritter’s chatter about the previous
evening. She continued where she
had left off.
“But I didn’t tell you the truly
interesting bit of news, my dear!
They say that it wasn’t only a
murder. There was something else
afoot. I hear that some object of
great value was taken from the
scene of the crime. A relic or vase
or statuette or something to that
effect. Which gives quite a decent
amount of motive, wouldn’t you
say?”
And thus went the narrative on
and on for a considerable time on
the same sort of things, over and
over again, offering little else that
was new.

P
83
By the time that Portia had
completed making her pastries for
the day, and had rummaged
through the rose bed, pruning, and
working the soil… she saw that it
was three o’clock, and time to take
the cart to the manor house. Mrs.
Fritter had offered it to her.
“Now be sure to tell me
everything, my dear,” she had said.
“Don’t leave out a single detail. I
shall discuss everything with you in
the morning.”
And off she went.
Portia, the longer she considered
the matter, wondered at the
discretion of her new position.
Albeit a paid position, for Scotland
Yard had assured her that the
estate would pay her for her
troubles, she could not help but
consider the fact that she had likely
already met the murderer. And the
chills that went up her spine as the
cart wended down the path, were
cold. But not entirely unpleasant.
There was an additional sort of

84
mystery that accompanied the
chills, and was almost welcome. All
of the plots and characters of her
novels were suddenly coming to life
in a strange sort of way, right before
her eyes.
The kitchen, this time, was more
of a cheerful setting. A fre had been
just set by the footman, and the
larder was unlocked and ready for
using.
Portia immediately got to work.
The pheasants looked well. She
wondered how long they had been
there. Perhaps Scotland Yard had
been out to hunt on the grounds.
Who was to stop them, now that
Lord Coldstone was dead?
About the time that Portia was
preparing the glaze for the
pheasants, the door opened, and in
walked two young women.
They were the Miss Oslos, and
both were lavishly dressed, though
not yet even in their dinner gowns.
Both had hair so blonde, it was
practically white, and shining blue

85
eyes.
“Oh!” said the one, “We thought
you might not be here yet. Miss
Portia?”
Portia nodded.
“I am Miss Ellen Oslo. And this is
my sister, Inga. We were just
coming down to see if there would
be something cold to drink.”
Her accent was subtle.
“I think there might be a pitcher
of lemonade in the chill box,” said
Portia, nodding toward it. “I’d get it
for you, but…”
She looked down at her hands
mixing the herbs into the glaze.
“Oh, never mind about that,” said
Miss Ellen. “You’re not even a
servant! I wouldn’t ask you to get
anything. We’d help, you know,
but…”
“Scotland Yard.”
“Right.”
Ellen went to the chill box.
“You know,” said Inga, “I hope
they do not keep us here through
the end of two weeks. Mama is

86
expecting us to prepare the duke’s
ball.”
Portia began to baste the
pheasants.
“Do you think it will take that
long to solve the murder?” she
asked, wondering if perhaps she
was out of bounds.
“Who could say,” Inga replied. “If
only they would believe us. How
many times have we already told
them what we saw?”
“Yes,” said Ellen, bringing over
the lemonade. “We were all in the
drawing room, waiting for the
announcement of dinner. Well, at
least some of us. The two of us, Miss
O'Callaghan, and Mr. Seabead. We
had not even yet met Lord
Coldstone. And that’s when we
heard the scream. One of the
servant’s had found it.”
“It?” Portia asked, trying not to
be so curious.
“The blood,” said Ellen grimly. “In
the library. On the foor. But no trail
of it. It was as if Lord Coldstone had

87
been murdered and then someone
must have carted him off.”
“And the detectives don’t believe
you?” Portia asked.
“Who could say,” replied Inga.
“Miss O'Callaghan and Mr.
Seabead… they can confrm it. But
since no one has confessed to the
murder, the police can’t believe any
of us.”
Portia shivered a little, in spite of
herself.
“Well, it won’t do us any good to
keep repeating our story,” said
Ellen, offering her sister a
lemonade. “I can’t think of another
detail. We have told them
everything. Who can think straight
to remember all of it when there
has just been a murder? Lemonade,
Miss Portia?”
“Oh,” Portia realized she had
stopped basting the pheasants. “No.
Thank you. I really must fnish
dinner.”
“Well, we shall leave you to it,
then,” Ellen replied. “Come, Inga. I

88
hear that Mr. Lafayette is set on
playing us at billiards. Again…”
And the door closed softly behind
them. Portia returned to the
pheasants around the crackling
fre.
A gruesome tale, all of it. Who
could have done such a thing?
Portia was lost to her thoughts for
the next quarter of an hour, as she
continued preparing the hens to
roast over the fre. And then she got
around to preparing the vegetables.
“Hallo,” said a voice.
Portia had not heard the door
open.
“I do seem determined to startle
you every time we meet,” said Mr.
Lafayette with his same white
smile, just coming into the kitchen.
“I heard there was lemonade here,
from the Miss Oslos. Might I help
myself?”
Portia nodded.
“You don’t like me, I think, Miss
Portia,” he went on, walking to the
ice box. “And I cannot think why.

89
Would you care to join me at some
cards for the evening?”
Portia’s eyes widened at the
invitation.
“Oh, after supper of course. I
would not think to take you away
from your delicious preparation.”
Portia bent her head back to her
work.
“I thank you for the offer, Mr.
Lafayette. But it would not be
appropriate.”
“Nonsense. I insist. You must
come.”
“But, sir…”
“What possible objections might
you have?”
“I must really get home to my
cat…”
He laughed.
“I should think your cat could do
without you. And a humbug on all
social protocol. I say it should be
fne that a sweet young girl from
the nearby village should join a
passel of random dinner guests for
a game or two of cards.”

90
Portia could think of no other
objections, except for the matter of
not having ever played a game of
cards. And she somehow ended up
agreeing.
“You are a persistent man, Mr.
Lafayette,” she said fnally.
He smiled brightly.
“There are some advantages to
being persistent, I think you will
come to agree, Miss Portia. I will
see you at nine.”
So Portia completed the dinner,
somewhat bewildered, and
prepared to remain at the manor
for several hours longer than she
had originally expected. Perhaps
she could ask about the missing
object of value. For she had
completely forgotten it till that
moment.

91
92
Chapter 8
Mr. Whitefsh

Portia fnished supervising the


serving of dinner with just enough
time to wash up and escort the
scullery maids back into the
kitchen to begin scrubbing down
the pots.
“What will Matilda think?” she
thought to herself.
Matilda had never been away
from her so long. But she didn’t
have long to think about this
dilemma. Because almost as soon as
she had brushed back her hair and
pressed a little rose water on her

93
wrists, loaned to her by Miss Ellen,
she was announced in the drawing
room by the butler.
She blinked to take in the scene
in full.
Everyone was there from the
company: the gentlemen and the
ladies. All were composed and
dressed somewhat elegantly, sitting
about the card table and the harp
and the sofas with books and
newspapers.
“Ah, Miss Portia,” said Mr.
Lafayette, “welcome to our party.
Will you have a seat?”
He fourished a hand at the seat
of a sofa which appeared to be
upholstered in blue silk, as lavish as
any other piece of furniture or
hanging in the room.
“Well, now that we are complete
in our gathering,” Mr. Lafayette
continued, “allow me to introduce
you to our other companions, Miss
Portia.”
Portia looked somewhat shyly
around at the other sets of eyes

94
staring, most of them, rather
curiously at her.
“Ah, the Reverend, of course. You
must be at least acquainted with
him.”
The Reverend looked kindly
upon her with his blue eyes, the
skin crinkling around them behind
his eye glasses.
“It is good to see you here, my
dear,” he said. “You prepared a
wonderful dinner for us. May I
thank you for it.”
Portia nodded at him, smiling.
She had always thought Reverend
Hollycross to be the most kind of
elderly men. And she thought it so
horrible, the more she thought of it,
that he should be detained as a
murder suspect. It was purely
abominable.
“The Miss Oslos, whom I have
heard that you have met,” Mr.
Lafayette continued. “Mr. Seabead.
A traveler, just come from South
America. Never can trust those
sorts.”

95
He laughed and slapped a hand
on his back, as Mr. Seabead
returned the laugh and rose to bow
slightly toward Portia.
“Then comes Miss O’Callaghan,
our little Irish guest. And I see that
the last of our company has already
taken off to his room for the night.
Shady fellow, our grand sheik. As I
have said all along, it could very
well be he that we must thank for
this madness.”
“Mr. Lafayette!” Miss
O’Callaghan cried at him. “What a
perfectly awful thing to say!”
“I only jest, dear Miss
O’Callaghan,” he continued,
grinning. “Oh, and I have nearly
forgot Mr. Whitefsh.”
He nodded toward the corner
where a man with dark hair sat
behind his newspaper. He lowered
the paper upon hearing his name,
and observed Portia for a moment.
“Welcome to our detainment,
madam. I trust you are enjoying it
thus far.”

96
Portia was unsure how to
respond at frst.
“Oh, he’s the moody sort,” Mr.
Lafayette whispered to her. “Those
artists. Nothing but paint fumes all
day long to bother their thoughts.”
And then he winked.
“Come, let us begin our cards.
Who will join Miss Portia and
myself for a game?”
Miss Ellen and Mr. Seabead
immediately obliged, and all set
about to instructing Portia on the
rules of the game.
But it was Mr. Whitefsh that
caught Portia’s attention more than
anything else during the next two
hours of playing at cards.
He sat and hardly moved for
those several hours, turning one
page after another in his paper,
slowly, methodically, one by one.
“He is an interesting specimen,
the old boy,” said Mr. Lafayette,
catching Portia's eye. “Hardly ever
says a word. We fnd it laughable
enough that Lord Coldstone would

97
have invited all of us here in the
frst place. For did I tell you, Miss
Portia, we, none of us, have ever
met before in our lives? But Mr.
Whitefsh seems to have not uttered
more than two dozen words
altogether since he arrived. Such an
unusual character!”
“Don't be too hard on the poor
fellow,” said Miss Ellen.
“Yes, after all it was he we can
credit for noticing the missing
vase,” said Mr. Seabead, setting his
next card on the table.
“Yes, if it wasn't he who took it in
the frst place and then called
attention to it to make him look
innocent,” Mr. Lafayette retorted in
a whisper.
“That is unkind,” said Miss Ellen.
“You see, Miss Portia, Mr. Whitefsh
had already begun a painting in the
library when the murder happened.
And it was after the murder had
taken place that the vase -- of what
signifcance it possesses we know
not -- quite disappeared.

98
“And that is why he is suspect,”
said Mr. Lafayette. “As are we all.
Although I can't think why he
would be invited. He cannot last
long in this young crowd.”
He looked mysteriously around
the room and laughed.
Portia looked over at Mr.
Whitefsh. Mr. Lafayette
exaggerated his condition. He
wasn’t old at all. His late thirties,
perhaps. Dark hair, a little gray,
perhaps, dark brown eyes… but
there was something very
mysterious about his appearance.
As if he might have traveled the
world picking up ancient secrets,
and never mention a word of them
to a single soul.
Portia also rose from her seat at
the table and thanked the crowd
still gathered for their company.
“You must join us again, Miss
Portia,” said Miss Ellen pleasantly.
And then Mr. Lafayette escorted
her to Scotland Yard and to the
waiting cart outside the kitchen.

99
“I will expect you again
tomorrow, Miss Portia,” he said, as
the cart began to troddle down the
stone cobbles.

When Portia returned to the


cottage under cool moonlight, there
was Matilda, sitting in the window,
waiting for her.
“I’m sorry, Matilda,” Portia said,
cuddling her next to her face. “I
would much have rather spent the
evening with you.”
She went about preparing
Matilda a late night morsel while
she thought more to herself about
the passage of the evening.
So there was something of value
that had been taken after all. Some
provided motive for the murder of
Lord Coldstone. But why not just

100
have taken the vase and avoided
such a terrible thing as murder?
How valuable was this vase after
all?
Portia shook her head and went
to the small larder. Matilda minced
in behind her to see what Portia
might fnd for her to eat.
“I am sorry, Matilda. But there
seems to be only milk sop for your
dinner tonight.”
But Matilda did not mind, and
eagerly began to eat while Portia
prepared for the night.
It was then, however, just as she
prepared to draw the curtains, that
she saw it.
The glimmering light in the
wood.
Portia froze.
A small light, moving through
the wood.
She was so very glad at that
moment that she had not lit the
light in the room. The moon was
out, and she could see easily by it.
Just a little light, and coming

101
nearer and nearer, almost in the
same place that she had seen the
woman in the silver gown before.
But she could not have told who it
was, wandering there in the woods.
And then, almost as soon as she
thought it might have been drawing
even closer than before, the light
went out. And she did not see it
again.

102
Chapter 9
Mr. Seabead

The following morning, as Portia


went about her usual business, she
could not forget the light that she
had seen in the wood. The
temptation was too strong to walk
down and see what was happening
there. Was there something this
same person was looking at? Was
there something hidden there?
But Portia did not have time that
morning. It was off to the bakery for
further gossip from Mrs. Fritter,

103
who was just as interested as she
had ever been. For she had one
piece of unheard news.
“Would you believe it, my dear? I
hear only just this very morning…
that all of our dinner guests had not
even met Lord Coldstone before his
ghastly murder? I could not quite
believe it myself. The host not
making an appearance before he
was quite killed! Who ever heard of
such a thing! So even if his body
were to be found, no one would be
able to identify him. For even the
servants had not yet met him! How
very peculiar, I think. They had
better hope that they fnd only one
body and not more than that, or
they might not be able to tell which
one was Lord Coldstone!”
Portia listened to the end of this
grisly business, while completing a
set of caramel rolls for the glass
case. She did not ask where Mrs.
Fritter had obtained this
information, but she would confrm
that evening at the manor.

104
And only several hours later, she
was off again, having said farewell
to Matilda, and having picked up
several baskets of fresh vegetables
from Mrs. Brown, who had sent
them from her garden for the
evening’s dinner.
The wind was cool that evening,
and Portia was glad to get inside the
warm kitchen, where everything,
once again, was prepared for
making dinner.
Portia was absolutely
uninterrupted during the next two
hours, except for the young
footman who came in from time to
time to be certain that she didn’t
need anything else that he could
fetch from some other part of the
manor. This included carrying up
the dessert.
“Mr. Lafayette particularly
desires the chocolate cake,” said the
footman to Portia, quite out of
breath from his many errands.
“And for me to bring it directly.”
Portia opened the pantry to

105
examine the cakes. They had
polished off the caramel cake the
night before. And there were
several others remaining, including
the strawberry iced cake, which
was in the way of the chocolate.
Portia heaved it to the side. Mrs.
Fritter was right. The cakes were
heavier than she thought possible.
And by the time dinner was
served, Portia had been, once again,
invited to stay for the evening’s
gathering. And this time, she didn’t
hesitate. She accepted. Something
of curiosity had gotten a hold of her.
And if Scotland Yard didn’t seem to
be making any headway in solving
the case, maybe she could.

“It is good to have you with us


again, Miss Portia.”

106
Portia looked up to see Mr.
Seabead standing just next to the
sofa.
It had already been twenty
minutes into the evening, and with
cards and newspapers, and glasses
of port for the gentlemen, little
conversation had yet been
exchanged.
Portia had only been carefully
observing the guests within the
room. All were once again present,
but this time, with the addition of
the sheik. Although they had not
been properly introduced to Portia,
as it would appear that everyone
forgot they had not yet met.
The sheik was deep into the
contents of a newspaper, sitting
across from Mr. Whitefsh, with his
own newspaper, once again.
The sheik was dressed as the
other gentlemen. No exotic garb as
he had been wearing upon his
arrival into the village. And he sat
there with his paper, just as grave
and unresponsive as Mr. Whitefsh.

107
Miss Heather, who was sitting on
the opposite side of the room with a
book, appeared to be just a simple
sort of girl. Young, nicely dressed.
Likely from a good family.
None of these guests appeared to
have any sort of thing in common.
And while Mr. Mikkel kept up a
rousing game of whist with the Oslo
sisters and the reverend, who had
graciously obliged them by
becoming the fourth player, it was
Mr. Seabead who had removed
himself from the isolation of his
corner by the fre, to speak with
Portia.
“Thank you, Mr. Seabead,” Portia
replied. “I am happy to be here.”
Mr. Seabead took a seat on the
sofa next to her, setting his glass of
port on the table next to him.
“I am afraid we all must appear
rude, after having requested your
presence here as a guest… But you
see, we are all becoming quite dull, I
think, trapped here throughout the
day. We are really not even allowed

108
to wander the grounds. I think the
old boys must expect us to run
away and avoid further exile.”
He laughed a little.
“But tell me, Miss Portia, have
you any thoughts to this whole
business? You know, I am sure, that
we do not even know the identity of
our host. Wherever his body is, we
would not know it if we saw it.”
So Mrs. Fritter had been right.
“I am sorry to hear it,” Portia
replied, uncomfortably aware that
the rest of the room could hear
everything that she was saying. “I
am certain that Lord Coldstone was
a very good gentleman. And I fnd it
a sad thing that no one has yet to
mourn him.”
She felt her face turn warm at
her own response. She knew her
response had been somewhat
accusatory.
“You are quite compassionate,
Miss Portia. You are right, of
course. Although I must admit that
it is a diffcult thing to mourn

109
someone whom you have never
seen. If only I, or any of us, had
been in just the next room to
prevent the tragedy from
occurring. We were just here in the
drawing room, and then the maid
saw the horrifc blood stains, there
just in the library. They were fresh,
sadly.”
While he spoke, Portia kept half
an eye on Mr. Whitefsh. So very
quiet and unassuming...
“And yet you have no real idea if
it was actually Lord Coldstone who
was murdered?”
“What else were we to think? No
host. None of the staff missing. Nor
the guests. Who else could it be?... I
beg your pardon, Miss Portia. But it
would seem as though you are
somewhat distracted this evening.
Am I boring you?”
“Oh,” Portia quickly replied,
taking her eyes off the silent Mr.
Whitefsh. “I am sorry. I was only
thinking.”
“Of what? Could it be you might

110
have some idea as to who our killer
is, after having spent a few
evenings amongst us?”
“I cannot say that I have any
idea. But I wish that I could help.”
“You are a kind soul, Miss Portia.
It seems that the rest of us are
mostly anxious to have the whole
thing over with, so that we might
return home. Except for your
reverend, of course. He has been
nothing but sympathy for the
staff…”
Portia didn’t know how to reply.
“I think that maybe you would
stand a better chance of fnding out
our killer than anyone else here,”
Mr. Seabead continued. “You are
honest. I like that. It is hard saying
who one can trust these days.”
On the ride back home that
evening, Portia thought about what
Mr. Seabead had said. It was true,
she was an outside source and
perhaps, unsuspecting. Perhaps she
could learn more about what had
happened that terrible night at the

111
manor house, through observation.
And the frst thing on hand, was
to fnd out what, exactly, was the
signifcance of this missing vase.

112
Chapter 10
Miss O’Callaghan

It was the next evening that


Portia returned to the manor
house, ready for further
observation, once dinner had been
completed and Mr. Lafayette had
visited the kitchen once again to
examine the selection of cakes.
“I cannot believe one could be so
talented in the art of making cakes.
You are a marvel of the kitchen,
Miss Portia,” he said, picking up the
cake frosted in mint.

113
Later, in the drawing room...
“Can you believe that Scotland
Yard has made, still, no progress in
the case?” Miss Ellen was saying to
her in the kitchen.
Miss Ellen and Miss Inga had
come down to visit her and discuss
the matter of the delay in fnding
the killer.
“And I do not think they have any
plans to fnd out soon,” added Miss
Inga. “In fact, it seems as though,
perhaps, they are purposefully not
solving.”
“I think that Lord Coldstone
should have been with all of us
earlier, or this would have never
happened,” Miss Ellen replied. “If
only he had made his appearance a
little earlier. Perhaps one of us
could have stopped the murder
from taking place.”
“Well, it isn’t as though he
wouldn’t have been killed later, I
suppose,” Inga said. “Whoever
wanted him dead would have done
it sooner or later…”

114
The girls were busy discussing
this possibility while Portia mulled
over the details in her head. It was
diffcult to know where to begin.
The blood stains, the woman in
the silver dress, the lamp in the
woods, the mysterious Mr.
Whitefsh and the painting, the
missing vase…
Then the door opened.
“Miss O’Callaghan!” Miss Ellen
greeted her.
“Miss Oslo,” she nodded. “Miss
Inga. Miss Portia.”
She nodded and slipped across
the room for a glass of cold water.
“Miss O’Callaghan might as well
have left last week,” said Miss Inga.
“She is as innocent as us. I would
say she has never said an unkind
thing in her life.”
Miss O’Callaghan smiled.
“Thank you, Miss Inga. Although
I am quite certain that Scotland
Yard could not so freely agree with
you.”
“It would seem as though they

115
should have cleared at least several
of us by now,” Ellen said with a little
irritation. “It isn’t as though we
don’t have alibis. Most of us…”
“Except for Mr. Whitefsh…” said
Miss Inga quietly.
Portia’s eyebrows rose at this
statement.
“You see, Portia,” Inga continued,
“Most of us were in the drawing
room, as I said before. Except Mr.
Lafayette, who was with the
reverend in the library. But Mr.
Whitefsh...”
“And why haven’t they cleared
your names?” Portia asked.
Miss Ellen shrugged. “Who can
say?”
“What is more interesting,” Miss
Inga continued, “is why we were
invited here in the frst place. A
lord from a place we had never
heard of before, inviting us all here
together. And we, none of us, know
one another from before. It makes
no sense at all.”
This seemed to be a popular topic

116
amongst the group. And why not,
Portia thought to herself. Wouldn’t
they all just rather go back to their
homes instead of waiting here for,
perhaps, weeks to come… except for
the fact of the strange curiosity
they all seemed to possess
surrounding their original
summons from the late Lord
Coldstone. This was a matter worth
further investigation.

Following dinner, Portia sat on


the sofa, watching the card game
between Mr. Lafayette, the Miss
Oslos, and Mr. Seabead. Every
evening it was the same. The others
spoke amongst themselves and
chatted about the lack of variety of
the day, Scotland Yard, not even so
much the event of the murder

117
itself… Except for Mr. Whitefsh…
There he was, still sitting on the
same chair near the window, paper
in hand.
“Do you enjoy your evenings
here, Miss Portia?”
Portia pulled her gaze away from
Mr. Whitefsh.
“Oh, Miss O’Callaghan.”
Miss O’Callaghan took a seat next
to her on the sofa and smiled,
smoothing the folds of her rose-
colored dress
“It seems as though you would
fnd us all very uninteresting, as we
have little to do but speak of the
same things over and over again
from one evening till the next.”
“I don’t mind it,” Portia replied.
“And it seems as though I am one
extra hand to play at cards if the
need should arise….”
Miss O’Callaghan laughed a little.
“Yes, our Mr. Lafayette seems quite
intent in his games here. I wonder
that he is not a gambler himself, as
he claims.”

118
“And what of Mr. Whitefsh?”
Portia asked, her voice low. “Does
he never speak?”
Miss Brighid shook her head.
“Little, if anything at all. Not even
at dinner. We know nothing of him.
Only what Scotland Yard knows,
and that he collects antiques and
relics from abroad…”
“And what are you two ladies
trifing about?” Mikkel asked
suddenly. “I fnd my game of cards
to be a bore compared to what
whisperings I fnd here by the fre.”
Portia could see Miss Brighid
blush at this announcement, as the
rest of the room turned their eyes
toward them.
“Mr. Lafayette,” she said. “I had
not thought you would be fnished
for quite some time.”
“Oh, I have had enough of cards
for one evening,” he continued,
swirling the wine in his glass. “I had
much rather join the two of you in
some manner of interesting
discussion.”

119
He took his seat between them.
But in doing so, the wine slipped off
the lip of his glass and landed
directly onto the lap of Miss
Brighid’s elegant evening gown.
“Oh!” she cried lightly.
“Miss Brighid, forgive me!” Mr.
Lafayette declared, hurriedly
pulling a handkerchief from his
pocket.
“No trouble, Mr. Lafayette,” Miss
Brighid replied, embarrassed. “I
shall go take care of it
immediately.”
“Ah, you must have another
gown for the evening,” Mr. Lafayette
returned. “I do apologize. I accept
responsibility if the dress is
ruined.”
“That will not be necessary, Mr.
Lafayette,” Miss Brighid assured
him. “I shall return shortly.”
While one of the servants hurried
to attend her to her room, Mr.
Lafayette slipped to the other side
of the couch, setting the half-flled
glass of wine on the table next to

120
him.
“Let us see what elegant gown
Miss Brighid will fnd for the rest of
our short evening,” he said to
Portia, with a twinkle in his eye.
Portia could not help but think
this a rather inappropriate
statement, but was immediately
distracted by the event of Miss Inga
winning at the next round of cards.
It was not ten minutes later that
the door opened, and Miss
O’Callaghan returned. But it was
more to the surprise of one person
there gathered, than to any other.
For when Portia looked up to greet
her once again, she saw with
strange alarm, that the cloth of
Miss O’Callaghan’s gown was none
of other than that of silver roses...

121
122
Chapter 11
The Reverend Hollycross

Portia was clearly shocked. That


was almost too apparent. And Mr.
Lafayette noticed it.
“Whatever is the matter, Miss
Portia? Is something wrong?” he
asked, in a state of concern.
But as Miss Brighid made her
way to the fre, Portia quickly
recovered.
“No, Mr. Lafayette. Nothing is the
matter at all. Thank you.”
But she could tell that Mr.

123
Lafayette was not very convinced.
Fortunately, Miss Brighid did not
seem to notice.
Mr. Lafayette turned his
attentions to Miss Brighid.
“My dear Miss O’Callaghan,” he
said. “You look quite splendid. I only
hope that I have not ruined your
other gown.”
“Fortunately my last evening
gown was ready set for me,” said
Miss Brighid calmly. “And I do not
believe that my other gown was too
terribly soiled, Mr. Lafayette. You
may put your mind at ease.”
“You look better set than I could
be,” Mr. Lafayette replied
admiringly. “Why, I am in my very
same suit as I was the night of the
murder. And I have not even had it
washed.”
As they continued speaking,
Portia could not help but look
carefully for the place where the
gown might have torn. This was,
indeed, the exact same cloth that
had been torn on the thorn bushes

124
at the woods. Identical. There was
no question.
“It is very beautiful, Miss
O’Callaghan,” she found herself
saying. “Would it be rude of me to
ask where you purchased it?”
“I am afraid that it cannot be
bought. It was a gift, custom-made,
for my eighteenth birthday. From
my mother.”
So that certainly settled the
question of whether or not the cloth
could be duplicated. It had been
made only for this dress. And,
unquestionably, the cloth in Portia’s
pocket would match the dress. But
where was the tear? Miss Brighid
was now seated on the opposite
sofa, and there was little way of
telling if the train had been torn,
perhaps, in the back. But who
would wear such a fne article of
clothing into the woods? Surely not
a lady of Miss Brighid’s standing.
But surely nothing was out of the
question for a killer. But could Miss
Brighid truly be a killer? Even if it

125
had been her in the wood, it
certainly was no great piece of
evidence… And she did seem to
have a good alibi. Unless she and
the Oslo twins were in it together…
Something had to be behind it.
Something someone wanted badly
enough to kill. Badly enough to lie
for someone else to give them a
good alibi. The reverend! He could
be trusted. She would have to ask
the reverend.
Maybe he could begin to make
sense of these unusual happenings.
Portia looked over to where he
was sitting, in a corner, there, of the
room where there was a small pile
of books on the table next to him.
Miss Brighid seemed intent on
speaking with Mr. Lafayette at that
moment, so Portia slipped away to
the other part of the room where it
was more cool, away from the fre.
“Good evening, Reverend,” she
said kindly.
He looked up from the book set
carefully in both of his hands.

126
“Miss Portia,” he said, rising,
with a smile. “I see we are fnally
able to speak after these several
days. Please, my dear, take a seat
here.”
“Thank you, Reverend. It is good
to have the opportunity to speak
with a familiar person.”
The Reverend smiled. “I agree,
Miss Portia. I do fnd the company
of the other guests to be most
interesting. But I am all the more
pleased to see you again. It feels as
though it has been a long time.”
“And yet not so very much, I
suppose,” Portia replied, watching
Miss Brighid across the room for a
moment. “It is only just Sunday
today.”
“And for that I am saddened,” the
Reverend replied remorsefully. “To
have missed services, as you know.”
“Yes, Reverend. And that is yet
another reason I wish to know why
you cannot be claimed as ‘innocent’
yet in this terrible matter.”
The Reverend laid aside his

127
books and carefully folded his
hands.
“It is, indeed, a terrible matter,”
he said quietly. “And if only there
were a way to settle it quickly, so
that we may get about to the
necessity of kindly remembering
Lord Coldstone in a memorial
service. His grandfather, you know,
was my good friend, when we were
boys together. But as for the matter
of my innocence, I fnd that I have
only one alibi. Mr. Lafayette. This is
not good enough a thing for the
police, I am afraid.”
“Mr. Lafayette…” Portia
repeated. “They do not trust him
enough then?”
“Oh,” the reverend laughed a
little, “I cannot say as to that.
However, I do fnd it only smally
unusual…”
Portia waited carefully for what
he might say next.
“That evening. It is almost as
though there were a small gap in
my memory it would seem… There I

128
was in the great hall with Mr.
Lafayette. We were speaking
generally as to the importance of
our host. When, I remember that
Mr. Lafayette rose from his seat to
go to the window, saying something
about wishing that he might have a
cake. He was quite hungry and
waiting for dinner. And then… it
was as if it seemed as though a very
long time passed, and he must have,
while I was in reply, left the room to
see after something in the hall. And
the next moment that I remember,
he was running back to the hall to
say about the terrible matter itself.”
This was a most unusual thing.
Portia wondered what the reverend
could mean by it. But there was a
more pressing concern at hand.
“But, Reverend, how could they
not trust you? And if you are,
indeed, Mr. Lafayette’s alibi, why
can they not let him go? For they
must believe you.”
The Reverend smiled a little
sadly. “I am afraid that the police

129
can believe no one these days,” he
said. “Not even a member of the
cloth. Even ministers of the Gospel
go astray.”
This was not a satisfying thing to
Portia. She did not like it that
Scotland Yard would not believe
their dear reverend.
“I am sorry for it,” she said after
a moment of quiet. “And I wish that
there were some thing that I could
do to help you.”
“Well, my dear, I imagine that the
police would not greatly mind you
having a look about. They allow us
passage throughout all of the house.
They keep only the hall itself
quartered off with rope where Lord
Coldstone…”
Portia nodded, understanding.
“I might do that, Reverend,” she
said.
She took another look toward
Miss Brighid. Still talking and
laughing quietly with Mr. Lafayette,
the silver of her dress fashing
against the ficker of the fre.

130
“Good evening, Miss Portia,” the
reverend nodded, rising with her.
Portia, as quickly, and
unnoticeably as possible, slipped
out of the room into the hall. It was
dark and cool, lit only with the
golden glow of a few lamps set on
little tables down its full length,
illuminating the family portraits
hung upon the wall.
Nothing of this was adding up.
Not Miss Brighid’s dress, the alibis,
the secretivity of Mr. Whitefsh, the
seeming innocence of the Oslo girls,
the conglomerate guest list in the
frst place…
For a few moments she wished
she was back in the rose garden
with Matilda. The hallway was too
eerie, just at moonrise through the
panels of glass window at the end of
the hall.
The click of her shoes on the foor
was too loud, but she continued
walking, moving further and
further away from the chatter of
the party behind her.

131
There, just at the end of it, was
the place where it had happened,
generously quartered off with rope.
And there was one of Scotland
Yard’s men, sitting near it, working
at a letter or some other paper at a
small table.
Portia did not want to draw near
enough so that she must speak with
him.
What had the reverend meant? It
was almost as if he had lost a piece
of time, just before the murder.
Portia looked to the set of doors
near the end of the hall.
The library.
Carefully, she crossed the hall
toward the doors and opened them.
She was greeted with a coolness,
even more so than in the hall. And
it was darkened, except for the light
of the moon through the window
glass. The smell of cedar and old
books greeted her as she entered.
But there was something else…
Something faint. A small trace of it.
She couldn’t quite place it.

132
She walked toward the window.
The same window Mr. Lafayette
must have stood at, just before the
murder.
The moon patterned the wood of
the sill in white light.
There it was again… the smallest
of traces.
Portia stood by the window. It
was almost unmistakably stronger
there. She knelt toward the sill.
Even stronger. The wood had the
smell of it. But she was still unsure.
The polished wood of the sill,
perhaps with something of a lemon
wax. But it was mixed with
something else. Portia could not
quite make it out.
“Oh, here you are,” said a voice.

133
134
Chapter 12
A Clue in the Garbage

Portia stopped herself from


jumping. It was only Miss Brighid.
“Miss O’Callaghan,” she nodded,
recomposing herself.
“I thought I saw the door open
from the other end of the hall. I was
just thinking of getting some fresh
night air. Would you care to join
me?”
Portia nodded, momentarily
forgetting the lingering scent of the
wood sill in the library. The

135
moonlight refected the silver of
Miss Brighid’s gown. And it sent a
shiver up Portia’s spine. Could Miss
Brighid really be the killer? Kind,
quiet Miss O’Callaghan?
The two young women left the
library as they found it, Portia
carefully shutting the doors behind
her, as they made their way toward
the back of the manor house where
the gardens were situated. Away
from the place of the killing.
“I am in need of the scent of a
garden, Miss Portia,” said Miss
Brighid. “I envy you. I hear that you
have a beautiful rose garden of your
own.”
“I have. How did you know?”
“Oh, Mr. Lafayette told me. He
seems to know facts on just about
everyone. I love roses as well. There
is no more beautiful fower, I do not
think.”
The two women were out, then,
through the glass doors overlooking
the grounds. Quiet, dark green
lands, stretching far away to the

136
wooded end of the manor’s great
extent of land.
“To think, poor Lord Coldstone
owned all of this,” said Miss Brighid,
“and was so little here to enjoy its
beauty… ”
They were quiet for a moment.
“You know, Miss Portia. I still
cannot think what great reason
would have drawn us all together
here in this place. But I begin to
wonder if, perhaps, he had
something very important to tell to
all of us. And then he was killed.
And now we shall never know…”
It was at that moment that the
footman was walking along the path
toward them carrying what
appeared to be a very large basket.
“Pardon me, madam,” he said,
awkwardly. “I was to take out the
garbage. I didn’t think that I would
be interrupting…”
“Oh, of course not,” said Miss
Brighid to him, stepping aside.
“Carry on.”
As he walked past, Portia

137
stopped suddenly in her thoughts.
“Wait a moment!”
The footman stopped.
“Could I see what that is, just
there?” she asked, pointing to piece
of cloth on the top of the pile. “She
carefully lifted it out and waved it
past her nose.”
That was it. That was the smell.
And still quite strong. Immediately,
she knew what it was.
“Do you know where this came
from?” she asked.
The footman looked somewhat
bewildered.
“I found it just today, ma’am.
Brushed under a chair in the
library. I thought ‘twas an old rag
used by the maid and forgot. I am
sorry…”
“No need to be sorry,” Portia
assured him. “I will take it for you. I
know a better way in which to
dispense of this.”
The footman nodded and hurried
off, obviously embarrassed with the
whole meeting.

138
“Miss O’Callaghan,” said Portia.
“Would you please excuse me? I
shall return momentarily.”
Miss Brighid nodded, curiously.
Portia hurried back indoors
without another look behind her.
There was something she had to
fnd out. There was only one way to
know. And that way would involve
her own bit of detective work.

139
140
Chapter 13
Matilda

Within several minutes more,


everyone was gathered together in
the library. Scotland Yard, all of the
guests, the serving staff, and even
Mrs. Fritter, who had suddenly
found it quite necessary to make a
late-night visit in order to drop off
another dozen muffns for the next
morning's breakfast.
Portia stood before them, her
face hot with the knowledge of so
many pairs of eyes watching her,

141
waiting for her to speak.
“Thank you all for gathering here
at my request,” she started out. “It
is just that... I think that I might
have solved the answer to the
murder.”
Immediately, the room began to
buzz with exclamations. Even the
serving staff could not maintain
protocol.
“Who was it?” many asked at
once.
Portia nodded.
“First,” she said carefully. “Allow
me to retrace several steps. When
frst I heard of the murder, I must
confess that I felt nothing of
curiosity. I felt only remorse, as I
am sure all of you also felt.
However, when I began my nightly
visits here, I started to think about
things. And…” she paused, looking
around the room. “Miss
O’Callaghan.”
Miss Brighid straightened up.
“The night of the murder, I saw
something. Someone, to be specifc.

142
I was in my rose garden, looking out
over the feld, and I saw someone
running out of the wood, up to the
manor. At frst, I thought that
whoever I saw, one of the dinner
guests, I presumed from the look of
the gown, could not have been a
suspect to the murder. How could
someone be a killer when she was
away from the manor house? But
then, I remembered the time. The
clock had just struck seven in the
cottage. But I found out later that
the murder had taken place at
quarter till eight o’clock. This
person, suspiciously running
through the woods an hour before
dinner… could have still easily been
the killer. But this person was
hiding something. And the gown, in
fact, was none other than… Miss
O’Callaghan’s.”
There was a general gasp.
Miss Brighid’s face turned the
brightest red.
“But I was never in the wood!”
she protested.

143
Portia slipped a hand into her
pocket.
“I walked down to the wood after
the person ran up the hill,” she said.
“And I found this…”
She pulled the scrap of silver
cloth from her pocket.
“In a thorn bush.”
Miss Brighid gasped.
“But how?” she asked, her voice
quivering. “I never left the grounds.
How could that be?”
“I know that your dress is an
original, Miss O’Callghan,” Portia
continued. “And therefore, it could
be none other but your own. If you
look underneath your left sleeve, I
think you will fnd the tear.”
“Yes, there it is!” Miss Inga
exclaimed.
“However…” Portia continued. “It
was not Miss O’Callaghan who I saw
that night. No. It was someone else
wearing her dress.”
There was a tenseness in the air
as she continued.
“At frst, I couldn’t think who. I

144
knew that it could not be Miss
O’Callaghan in the wood because
she would not have worn the dress
again had she known it was torn. No
lady would do such a thing. As I was
certain of this, I began to wonder
what this mysterious person could
be doing down in the wood. What
was hidden down there? I saw this
person, presumably the same, the
following night, out with a lantern,
coming the same way through the
wood up the hill to the manor. And
then I began to think, what purpose
anyone could have for wanting to
murder Lord Coldstone. No one
knew why. And then it occurred to
me… If you look about, you will fnd
that the walls and tables of this
manor are quite bare. Look around
you… Very little ornaments that are
often seen in such places. Mr
Whitefsh…”
He looked steadily at her.
“You, as a collector of fne
antiques, sir, I am sure, have
noticed this. You began a painting, I

145
believe, in the library. And that is
where you noticed the vase
missing?”
Everyone turned to look at him.
Slowly, he nodded.
“Every day…” he said. “Every
day, something new was missing.
But it was the vase I frst noticed.”
“Exactly,” Portia replied, looking
around at the different faces before
her. “And I propose that, whoever
was there in the wood that day, was
beginning to collect a stash. A stash
of priceless treasures: jewels, vases,
and other such things of value,
slowly collected from the tables and
walls of this house.”
“But how?” Miss Ellen asked. “We
are none of us allowed to leave.”
“Scotland Yard has only so many
men,” Portia replied. “There are
always ways of escape. The question
is, whoever was stashing these
treasures…. If this person was able
to escape, most likely, every night,
why didn’t this person fee
altogether with what was already

146
stashed? Why risk staying any
longer than was necessary? And
then… I realized that there must
have been something this person
was waiting for. Waiting for just the
right moment… Reverend?”
Reverend Hollycross nodded.
“You told me, sir, that when you
were in the library, just before the
murder, it was as if you had lost
several moments. I think I know
where those several moments went.
If you examine the garbage this
evening, you would have found a
cloth in it. A cloth doused in
camphor, which was found by our
footman here, just under a chair in
the library.”
The reverend raised his
eyebrows in surprise.
“Someone put you out, briefy,
Reverend. Someone who wanted to
do something important. This same
person was the one wearing the
dress. This person knew that the
dress would sooner or later be
found out as Miss O'Callaghan's, and

147
that Miss O'Callaghan would then be
framed for the stolen goods. And
this same person stashed
something of great value. The vase.
And this vase is….”
And Portia pointed an accusing
fnger.
“There.”
Her fnger stopped, just at the
cake set on the table. The
strawberry cake that she had
brought up from the pantry.
“What?” Miss Inga laughed. “Can
you be serious?”
“Turn it over,” said Portia.
For a moment, no one moved.
And then, Mr. Seabead stepped
forward and did so.
“Of all the stars!” Miss Fritter
exclaimed for them all.
“The vase!” Mr. Seabead said
aloud.
“The person who hollowed out
that cake intended to take it away
as the last item to add to the
treasure collection in the wood,”
Portia continued. “A clever thing.

148
Hidden in a cake. An easy way to
take away such a priceless object.
No one would think to look there.
Which brings me back to the
camphor, Reverend. The vase was
once set in the library, behind glass.
In the event of the murder, it was
forgot. But as you noted, Mr.
Whitefsh, you had begun to sketch
it there, and when it disappeared
you did not continue it. For how
could you? And I say that it was
taken just at the time that our dear
Reverend was given the camphor.
Moments before the murder. The
vase was then set inside the cake in
the distraction of the moment, most
conveniently, and…”
Portia’s eyes came to rest on one
person in the room.
“That person failed to remove the
strawberry frosting from the sleeve
of his coat.”
Everyone’s eyes turned in shock
to none other than Mr. Lafayette.
Mr. Lafayette laughed.
“You are quite a silly girl,” he

149
said. “Who is ever going to believe
this nonsense?”
“I work in a bakery, Mr.
Lafayette. When I went to lift the
cake, when it was in the pantry, I
knew it was quite heavy. Too heavy.
And I think you will fnd that the
frosting on your sleeve is several
days old. You yourself said that you
had not had your suit cleaned since
the day of the murder. I only saw it
just this evening. And if it wasn’t
for that happenstance, I do not
think that I would have found you
out. Except that you had also told
Miss O'Callaghan of the beauty of
my rose garden, which you could
not have seen unless you saw it for
yourself when you left the wood.”
“You have no proof,” he said.
But he looked nervous.
No one moved.
“So while I cannot prove that Mr.
Lafayette is a killer --” Portia
continued, “indeed, I hope he is not
-- as you can see, ladies and
gentlemen, there is now confrmed

150
motive for it. Yet, sadly, I have not
entirely solved the terrible tragedy
of Lord Coldstone’s death.”
“You have, madam,” said a voice
from the back of the room.
The sheik rose.
“For I am Lord Coldstone.”

151
152
Chapter 14
The Revelation

No one said a word.


The sheik smiled broadly.
“You fnd it a shock?” he said.
“Forgive me -- it was a terrible ruze
-- but you will see, shortly, that this
has been a… game of the mind… if
you will. And a necessary one.”
“Lord Coldstone!” Mrs. Fritter
exclaimed, fabbergasted. “How can
this be? What have you done?”
“Calm, madam,” he said, laughing
kindly. “Do not be alarmed.

153
Scotland Yard knew it all along.”
And he shook hands with the
chief inspector.
“I don’t understand,” said Ellen.
“There was no murder?”
“Thankfully, no,” the sheik
replied. “It was faked, yes. And I
must ask your forgiveness. But I
had to know how you all might take
it. Before I made my decision.”
“Decision?” the whispers went
around the room.
“As you can see,” said Lord
Coldstone, “this is a fne estate.
Grand. Beautiful. When I inherited
it from my late father, who, as you
might have guessed, was my
adoptive father… I was most
grateful for the gift. However,
business kept me abroad. And for
years. It wasn’t until recently, when
I made plans to remain abroad
permanently…” and he looked
carefully around the room. “…that I
knew I had to fnd someone to
watch over this estate and care for
it…” and then he looked at Mr.

154
Lafayette. “Honestly.”
Mr. Lafayette’s eyes darted to the
door.
“I would not think of escape, sir,”
Lord Coldstone continued. “You will
not get far. Thanks to the
observations of Miss Portia, your
stash of treasure is even now being
confscated. Including the priceless
vase, which is actually a chalice.
Once owned by Queen Cleopatra. As
to the rest of you…” and he looked
on them kindly. “You must think of
me as some sort of monster to have
treated you in such a way. But I had
to be sure of your integrity. You are,
all, relations of my grandfather’s
closest of friends. And I could think
of none other persons to pass off
such a great inheritance. But I
wanted to be absolute certain.
These…. Priceless treasures cannot
be given away lightly. And, though
you all presumed me to be dead,
none of you here, aside from Mr.
Lafayette, touched a single item
here. Not one of you. And because of

155
this, I would like to offer you,
humbly, these things.”
And with a fourish of his hand,
several of the chief inspector’s men
walked into the room, each holding
something in their hands.
“For the reverend,” the sheik
began, “as he is a man of integrity
and uprightness, just as my
grandfather always described him. I
ask you, sir, to accept these
antiquated writings. Said to come
from the great castle in Jerusalem
before the Crusades... For the Oslo
sisters, for their parents’ kindness
toward my family in past years, and
for their goodness of heart, and for
Miss O’Callaghan for her gentle
spirit, please take these jewels,
crown jewels of Persia... For Mr.
Seabead, for his integrity and
willingness of spirit to be of help, I
ask that he would take from me,
these travel journals kept for many
years by my grandfather. One is
from the hand of Marco Polo
himself, never published... For Mr.

156
Whitefsh, for his steadfast loyalty
all of these years to my family,
these fne paintings from my
father’s gallery are for him to take
and protect. You will fnd, sir, that
there are two Rembrandts amongst
them. One from Leonardo Da Vinci.
And a third from Michelangelo...”
It seemed as though almost
everyone was too dumbfounded to
move. No one could say anything
until the reverend managed to
compose himself and say, “Lord
Coldstone, may I say, from us all, an
unending thankfulness and
gratitude. We have not come to
deserve these treasures.”
The sheik shook his head.
“No, my dear reverend. It is I
who must thank you all. For I could
not trust such valuables to a mere
set of strangers. They are, I am
certain, to be kept in your good
hands for the enjoyment of further
generations. But I have not come to
the matter of my estate and
grounds. And that is why I now

157
turn to you... Miss Portia.”
Portia looked up in great
surprise.
“I was continuously amazed by
the compassion you showed for my
presumed disappearance and death
these last days. And for your
willingness to solve the case, for the
beneft of my name. Even though we
had never met. And because of this,
I feel that it would be best for me to
offer you the care of my estate.”
Portia could not reply to this. It
was so unexpected and completely
amazing.
“We will discuss the details at a
later time,” the sheik went on. “I
haven’t much time, ladies and
gentlemen. I leave on my Arctic
expedition soon. Likely never to
return. For after my adventure
there at the bottom of the world, I
intend to try ballooning in Africa…
But enough of my anticipations. Let
us enjoy the rest of our evening
here together where more
questions will be answered. And as

158
for you, Mr. Lafayette, we will talk
at a later date.”
He nodded, and the chief
inspector led a very disgruntled Mr.
Lafayette from the room.
And then the room was a buzz.
The guests, the servants, Mrs.
Fritter, who seemed somewhat
rather shocked at the idea of Portia
having been given the care of such a
wealthy estate. Of any estate… And
the conversations were flled with
laughter and congratulations and
questions to the sheik…
But Portia could say nothing. She
only stared in awe. An estate? All
her own! She had to think on all of
these things for awhile before
making any decisions.

159
160
Chapter 15
In the Rose Garden

It was one week later that Portia


was rooting around the rose beds.
The soil was warm from the
afternoon sun. And Matilda was
sleeping contentedly on the baked
stones of the doorstep to White
Cottage.
Portia glanced up to see Mrs.
Fritter bustling toward them. And
by the way of her walk, Portia could
see that she was in a hurry to talk.
“My dear, my dear,” she said in

161
all a commotion. “Can you guess
what it is? Of course you cannot.
For you have not been to town since
this morning. So I shall tell you.”
And here, she heaved in a great
breath to continue.
“Word has been reported to us
that the Sheik, our grand Lord
Coldstone, has made it all of the
way to Antarctica! And he is quite
alive, so they say! What grandness!
To traipse off on such wild
adventures. I could never imagine
it. It appears, my dear, as though he
may be coming to visit his manor
house sooner than you had thought,
if he does not spend too much of his
next months traveling by balloon
over Africa. What silliness this is!”
“Perhaps so, Mrs. Fritter,” said
Portia, smiling, returning to her
rose beds.
“You don't seem at all put out.
Hadn't you hoped to have been the
caretaker of Blackwood Manor for
the rest of your days? Or by the
way he put it to you, it would seem

162
that you should be so.”
“Mrs. Fritter, as I told Lord
Coldstone before he left for the
Antarctic, I am quite content to stay
in my little cottage with Matilda
and my roses. I am more than
happy to watch over the care of his
manor house. But even if he did
never return, I believe I would be
quite happy here in the peace and
quiet of my own garden.”
“I cannot imagine why, when
such grand wealth is just right at
your fngertips.”
“I will tell you, Mrs. Fritter. In
my opinion, there is no wealth
better than a garden of beautiful
roses, and a cat by which to watch
you work.”
Matilda seemed to purr just then,
in approval.
And Portia returned to her rose
bed with a smile.

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