Miss Travers’ Story (Doctor Watson Investigates part 3)

(Click the tag to see parts one and two of Watson’s tale. A revised ebook of this story is now available – on Amazon (US), Amazon (UK) and Smashwords.)

I shall relate the story Miss Travers told me in, as far as I can, her own words.

“I do not know where to begin when recounting my tale, or what details may be important to a more analytical mind than mine, so I shall attempt to give all the facts in my possession, and you may inform Mister Holmes of those which you find pertinent, though I do hope you shall show all due discretion otherwise.”

“I was born in Hernshire, twenty-five years ago. My father, Earl Hernshire, spent much of his time in London attending Parliament – he was Her Majesty’s Minister for War in the last Government. My mother was also of noble birth, though of the distaff line of one of our great families. She was, however, much wealthier than my father, having inherited on her own father’s death an estate which, through prudent management, brought her an income of some two thousand pounds a year.”

“My mother was not, of course, originally the heir to her father’s fortune, but her brother, Gerald Hemingford, had left to seek his fortune in Africa some years earlier, and shortly thereafter had been reported dead, though his body was never recovered. My grandfather, grief-stricken, had died soon after, and his estate had become my mother’s dowry.”

“My mother and father had a happy marriage, despite my father’s long absences, and I was born not a year after they wed. But two years after I was born, their marriage having produced no other issue, the most remarkable occurence of my whole life took place. For on my second birthday, my sister Rose arrived.”

“I do not remember that day myself, of course, but the story has been told me many times in the intervening years. At six in the morning, one of the maids was disturbed by a noise from outside. Going to the door, she found a crib containing a baby girl, barely a week old, clad only in a crude wrapping, made of a neckerchief such as a vagabond might wear, bright scarlet with golden spots.”

“My father, alert as always to possible dangers to our reputation, was wary, but my mother, who was the most loving soul God ever put on this earth, insisted that should a search for the baby’s parents prove futile, she should be adopted as a sister for me, and my father eventually relented, his good nature overcoming his sense of propriety.”

“From that moment on, Rose was my sister, and no distinction was made between us in our parents’ favours. She was loved by them as a daughter, and by me as a sister, and so great was our love for her that she grew up looking like she was born into the family. Were it not for the flaming red hair for which she was named, one could almost have thought her my twin.”

“As we grew up together, our childhood was idyllic. We wanted for nothing, having loving parents, a nursemaid who doted on us, and a life of pleasure. One might imagine we would become spoiled, but Rose had such a sweet nature that she could never behave improperly, and she set such an example of grace and kindliness that I could never bring myself to hurt her by doing less myself.”

“The only sadness to enter our lives was when my mother died, some five years ago, of consumption. My poor father, previously as outgoing a man as you could hope to meet, became increasingly melancholy and withdrawn after that, and gave up much of his public life, though he still doted on both of us as much as before, if not more.”

“A year ago, then, my sister met Roger Courtenay, a young man, a year or two older than her, and became besotted with him. He is, indeed, a most admirable man – charming, handsome, and of a good family. The two became betrothed this spring, and were to have married yesterday.”

“But my sister’s happiness was to be short-lived. The day the notice of her engagement was posted in the Times, we received this through the post.”

She handed me a postcard, addressed to Rose Travers, and bearing the inscription “I SHALL HAVE WHAT IS MINE.”

“We did not know, at first, what to make of this, but every day since then we received more cards. None were postmarked, but nor did we ever see the blackguard deliver them himself. At first, the cards said simply, as that one does, ‘I shall have what is mine’, but later…”

She pulled another card out of her bag. This one read, in the same hand “YOU SHALL RUE THE DAY YOU CROSSED ME. GIVE ME WHAT IS MINE.”

“And then finally, a week ago, we started getting these.”

She pulled out another card, reading “YOU SHALL NOT LIVE TO SEE YOUR WEDDING, IF I AM NOT SATISFIED.”

“We told the police, of course, but they said it was almost certainly a prank one of the villagers was playing. They posted a guard outside the house, but nothing untoward was seen.”

“And then, two nights ago, my sister retired early for the night, giddy with excitement, despite the strain that had been placed on her by these devillish postcards, because the next day was to be her wedding. But when I awoke the next morning and went to her room, to call on her to make herself ready, she was not there.”

“A search of the house and grounds revealed nothing. None of her clothes were missing, save the nightgown she had been wearing the previous night. None of the windows were open or broken, and none of the servants had heard anything, even though many of them had been awake all night preparing for the wedding.”

“The police searched the area, and we all helped, but by six o’clock in the evening it became clear that we were not going to find my poor sister, and so my father and I returned home, in the hope that maybe she would contact us there. When we got in, I found the most horrifying sight in all this ghastly business.”

She handed me a card, addressed this time to Cynthia Travers, and reading “I SHALL HAVE WHAT IS MINE.”

“That card was waiting for us at the house, along with this.” She pulled out a piece of red cloth. “It’s the neckerchief my poor sister was found in, all those years ago. She kept it with her always.”

She handed the cloth to me. It was caked in blood.

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