Being faced with the realisation that somebody has, without your permission, been where you are sleeping is possibly one of the most unsettling sensations one might encounter. There is no telling what might have taken place while you were not there, and neither do you truly know what the intention was. Did the person breaking in intend to harm you, or merely threaten you? Did they indeed mean to visit while you were away to get a chance to go through your belongings, or had they hoped for something more?
Seeing the state of my room I yelled for my aunt.
‘Phyllida, come quickly! Phyllida!’
She ran up the stairs, though very silently I must say. At arriving she first shushed me.
‘Darling niece, whatever is the matter? Please, be reasonable or you shall wake the entire house. Then who will make the breakfast in the morning if the cook is too tired to get out of bed? One needs one’s priorities straight, my girl oh goodness me! What on earth has happened?’
‘Well, Phyllida, it seems someone has tried to find something of mine, though I have no idea what.’ I took a bit of pride in sounding so calm, as if this did not affect me in the slightest.
‘I say! In my house!’
My aunt really was quite upset though we both realised it was too late to do much about it that evening. She asked if I wanted to stay in another room for the night but I said no and together we cleaned up the worst of the mess quickly, so I could sleep more or less peacefully in the bed which, thankfully, had remained untouched. If some stranger had moved the sheets around I could never sleep in it unless all of them were changed – at least.
‘There, darling Matilda, will you be alright now? I will ask the maid to help you clean the rest up tomorrow. Do make certain to be here while she does, so that you can spot at once if something is missing. I will speak to Fernandez as well about the security of this place, and how the culprit got inside. This simply does not do!’
Sigurd, who had curled up on his blankets, cracked an eyelid open at her words. I realised the little fellow might have been upstairs, in this room even, when the villain entered, and shuddered at the thought. It seemed my aunt had read my thoughts because she shuddered a slight second after and put a hand on my arm. Her eyes were burning with something I had not seen earlier and I became aware that she was furious. The colour was high in her cheeks, or at least on her prominent cheek-bones though her lips were all but white.
‘I will catch them, whoever they are, Matilda.’ It was a rare thing for her to not put an endearment in front of my name. She must be cross indeed. ‘If I have to sit here with a rifle myself the next time they enter, then I will do so, and believe me, I won’t hesitate to shoot.’
‘No. I might be an eccentric, peaceful most of the time, but when someone threatens those I care about, under my protection, then things change.’
Looking at her face, I was reminded of a warrior and I did not doubt a single one of her words. Oddly enough, I had rarely felt more protected. She was not a large woman, not a soldier, but right then she looked ruthless and I knew that she would rather die than let anybody get to me. My heart swelled at once at this and before I knew it I felt my lips draw back a little and I stared into her eyes, mine burning with an equal fire.
‘Phyllida, I will join you in the hunt.’
It is said that men fight all the time and women do not. This is true, but it is often forgotten that on certain occasions women may also set aside their peace and that is if something dear to them is threatened. I think it is so that men fight to fight, though when women fight they fight to kill. This is what my aunt, and also, I realised, what I intended. I went to bed after that realisation and despite my room having been broken into I fell asleep almost instantly. It is true I discovered in the weeks following that I am much braver than I had thought previously, but that did not mean I had not been affected by all the goings-on of the day. After all, it had been my first day in this town.
The following morning I slept rather late and even though my aunt is an early-bird on normal occasions she had also slept an hour or so longer than usual. This was lucky, since it meant there was still breakfast on the table when Sigurd and I came downstairs. Before I sat down I had to, of course, take the little darling out in the garden and he happily relieved himself. When I had found him he had spent the day resting and eating but now he seemed fully recovered and after having conducted his business, he wanted to play. Since I had not yet eaten I was not likewise enthusiastic, but I promised him that after our morning meal we would go out in the garden again and play like he wanted. He did not reply to this, for which I was rather grateful. I am not certain what I would do if my dog suddenly started to utter human words.
I came back inside and sat down at table. Like the previous day it was loaded with all manner of things for breakfast; eggs, bread slices ready to toast, several kinds of marmalade and cheese and sweet cakes for a kind of breakfast dessert which my aunt seemed most fond of. Of course there was also a large pot of tea beneath a cover to keep it warm for longer. I poured myself a large cup and finished it off with a splash of milk before I put a couple of slices of toast in the toaster. Thank goodness the bread was turned automatically these days, though I felt there was a lot of room for improvement on the market still.
When the toast was ready I buttered it generously and made sure to spread the jam evenly. I also added a bit of cheese on top. It was funny really. In the states I had been very careful with what I ate and I had watched my figure a lot but since arriving at Phyllida’s house I had not bothered in the slightest. I wondered if that was to be the norm for the continuance of my stay here, and supposed it was a bit early to establish after a mere two days spent on the isles. As I put the cheese on the toast there was suddenly a ‘Mrf!’ from the chair opposite and I startled. Then I saw that it was Patrick who had uttered the very demanding noise and now he was staring intently at the cheese.
‘Patrick, what manners!’ Phyllida exclaimed and gave the dog a stern look. He did not seem affected at all but merely kept on staring at the cheese. My aunt sighed. ‘Alright, alright. Here, have a slice.’
She cut a piece and gave it to Patrick who gobbled it down. A couple of days ago I am certain this would have made me quite outraged but now I only shrugged and returned to my own meal. Honestly, it did not really alter the course of the world should my aunt’s dog be fed cheese at the table. I think a frightful lot more is required in order to accomplish that.
‘We should visit Delia today,’ my aunt said after having reassured herself I was peacefully eating my breakfast.
‘Aren’t we waiting for Darby to, well, come to his senses?’
‘Pfft!’ she snorted. ’We have no time for that. Maybe if your room hadn’t been searched we would, but what if the crimes are somehow connected? You never know with these things and I’d rather be a step ahead of the person responsible.’
I stared at her. ‘Why do you suppose they are connected?’
‘Well, they might not be, but it’s a rather large coincidence, isn’t it?’
‘But why would anybody think I had something to do with it, or something to use against someone committing it? I suppose those are our only two routes as to the reason.’
‘Indeed.’ My aunt looked impressed at the display of my skills in applying reason. ‘Who knows? People are far from reasonable most of the time. Perhaps they imagine you do have some shred of evidence, such as the weapon used for the stabbing, or even a photograph, or that you spotted someone who left the scene mere seconds before you arrived! In these circumstances it is always hard to tell and I want to find out as soon as possible.’
I nodded, thinking fast. ‘In that case I’ll get ready as soon as possible and we can visit this Delia and see how she fares. It is important to have a look through my belongings of course, but this seems to me to be more urgent. I mean to say, after all, it is only proper seeing as we saw the body of her husband-to-be yesterday, to ask how she is doing. If we find things out about the crime itself in the meantime, that will simply be a happy coincidence. Not even Darby can have something to say against that!’
‘My darling niece, why, you begin to think like a professional sleuth already! I knew it was the right choice to ask you to become my assistant!’
I blushed a little at her praise but was certainly pleased. The temptation of some day-dreaming was simply too great and I saw before my inner eye how I would return to New York an accomplished detective and Nestor Bloxam would be shocked to the very core of his being. So would my mother be, I imagined, as would my best friend. Previously it had been most important for me to fit in the social norm but now I quite enjoyed envisioning how I went outside the same.
When breakfast was done I hurried upstairs and got ready for the day, wearing a dress in a lovely shade of blue. It was only the beginning of April but it was an unusually warm season so it already felt as if it was summer. Sigurd looked at me tragically and I remembered my promise to him, realising it would not come true today. That was not such a great start really, breaking the promise to a dog you had barely had for a day, even. So I decided he should come with us while we conducted our enquiries to soften the blow a little.
‘Who knows,’ I told him, ‘it might even help poor Delia if you were to come along. I have heard it said that animals can help in ways which are rather surprising indeed.’
At the sound of my voice the little fellow began wagging his tail with vigour and I was suddenly grateful to myself for this idea. It meant he would be tired come evening, as I had just begun to understand how much energy a puppy, in truth, had.
When we once again came downstairs, me first and then Sigurd following suit, my aunt was already ready and waiting for us in the hallway. She looked like she was born well-dressed and I wondered, not for the last time, how she managed to carry out such a feat so quickly. Fernandez was waiting, hovering close-by with a lovely summer jacket at hand.
‘Splendid, darling Matilda. You’re all set to go.’ Then she spotted Sigurd plastered to my legs. ‘And I see the little one is coming with us.’
It was not really a question but I nodded anyway.
‘Quite alright, Patrick is coming with us too.’
As she said this I spotted Patrick calmly sitting by the door. When he felt my eyes upon him he chirruped at me. As usual I was shocked, it simply was not the way a dog should sound! Though the shock was not quite genuine, I found. It seemed my young dog wanted to make absolutely certain he was not to be left behind like yesterday evening, because not even the presence of Patrick could lure him off. I had no doubts the maid had looked after him splendidly, but I think he had begun associating me with, well, his carer and he was determined to remain in my close vicinity henceforth. I briefly touched the thought of what I should do once it was time to again cross the Atlantic since I was not at all sure Sigurd would like New York, but any such ponderings were too painful to delve further into. How could I be so very fond of him already?
With time I would come to understand that it is something with puppies which makes you give away your heart without a further thought, but back then I was still a bit too young to understand. Perhaps it is their utter helplessness but also their great promise that any love you give them will be given back in even greater quantities. There is nothing which can beat the utter ferocity with which a dog can love.
I picked Sigurd up and carried him to the car which my aunt drove out to the road beside the house. He snuggled close to me and was content to simply come with me, without any need to do much more. I imagine other dogs might need to be entertained constantly at such an outing, especially as puppies, but not Sigurd. It was obvious to me that he was a very special creature, certainly more intelligent than other dogs.
‘Phyllida,’ I said as we drove down the road. ‘Is there a pet store on the way? I should like to buy a collar and a leash for Sigurd, to keep him in before he is fully trained.’
I could already see before me how glorious he would look when he did no longer need a leash to be restrained, but would walk beside me of his own accord.
‘Why yes, we’ll stop on our way over to Delia’s. It’s just around the next corner.’
To my surprise I was very excited to be on my way to my first inquiry and I could barely sit still in the car, but made an effort. I was soon to find it was not as easy as I had thought, though no less interesting.