Lady Radcliff lived in a castle. Not surprising, considering her status as Upper Nobility and her husband’s wealth, but this castle was rather impressive. The only one I could think of that might compare to it was Buckingham palace. I pulled the automobile up to the gate and watched as the gatekeeper came over to my vehicle.
“I’m here to see lady Radcliff, I have an appointment,” I said, before he could speak, “I’d appreciate it if you could let me on through.”
The gatekeeper was a short and stout man, well dressed, but the clothes were worn ill-worn. A glimpse his mouth revealed poor teeth, missing the right incisor. He was a rough man, his walk a rolling, limping step. He glowered at me, but I stared back imperiously before checking my watch. I’d found that when a giant of a man looks like he’ll walk (or in this case drive) right over you, people tended to let him through.
The gatekeeper grumbled but opened the massive wrought iron gates and I put the car back into gear, before coasting smoothly up to the front door of the mansion. Here, I would have to be polite. The gate keeper was from at best a middle class background, but the butler for a family like the Radcliff’s would have been well trained and as haughty as they would be. Lady Radcliff might need my help, but in the eyes of her family and staff I’d be nothing more than an immigrant with ideas, betrayed by the lightest traces of my accent. Were I professor, I’d be accorded greater respect, but a private detective ranked somewhere below policeman and above chimney sweep. Holmes might have romanticized the profession, but that didn’t mean much in the old circles.
I parked and got out of the automobile, doused the fire with the pull of a lever, and released the excess steam with a hiss. It was important to do that, both because it saved coal and because keeping the pipes under pressure for a long period of time could have bad results, from burst pipes to rust. Once completed I made my way up the steps and knocked on the door.
If the gatekeeper had been in a foul mood, the butler was worse. He was everything you’d think the butler of an old family would be, and then some, right down to tiny mustache and pressed clothing. After giving me a disapproving sniff, my automobile and even bigger one, and my car another to the point where he was practically snorting in his tiny mustache. It did not help that I was a half foot taller than him and he was trying to look down his nose at me at the same time as the sniffing.
I was shown, very reluctantly, to Lady Radcliff’s private parlor and left there. My entire flat could be placed into the room, which held a welter of small figurines, lace, books, and numerous other things. Holmes no doubt could have memorized everything, but I went for generalizations. The figurines, many of which were of dancers, told me that Lady Radcliff held a great interest in that art. A pair of worn, but elegant, ballerina slippers were perched within easy reach of a phonograph and empty area of the floor, but were hidden behind a set of books on embroidery. She danced the, but it was a secret thing to be kept from the other Radcliffs.
Most of the books were about topic suitable for a lady of her station, but I saw a dozen yellow romances stuffed between and under more serious books. Her music collection ran to the classics, but at the bottom of the pile one stuck out that I recognized as belonging to a rather popular band of new musical styling that emphasized a heavier beat and more mechanical sound. So, it seemed there was more to the Lady Radcliff than being a traditional member of the nobility. It seemed she kept up appearances, but did not long for the lifestyle of her husband’s family. She had struck me as young during our meeting, and the papers had listed her age as twenty when she was married. Lord Radcliff was closer to thirty, if my memory served. It was an arranged marriage, common still among the upper class. I would have to research the details when I returned home, since it had something to do with Lady Radcliff’s current situation.
Lady Radcliff entered, her skirts swirling around the door. Her expression was one of grave concern and panic, which relaxed slightly upon seeing me. “Oh thank God,” she said softly, making her way over to me, “Oliver told me you had arrived, but I fear there has been a complication.”
My eyebrow arched slightly. Complications rarely meant a fun time for me, and the more complex a case the more clients tended to meddle. “Tell me, what has happened?” I said.
Lady Radcliff took a deep breath before she started. “My husband, Lord Radcliff, was meant to be out of town for two weeks, but I just received a telegram that he is coming home right away,” she said, wringing her hands. “I fear that the blackmailers have already contacted him.”
I nodded slowly. This was a complication, especially if Lord Radcliff knew about whatever the problem was. I could get caught in the crossfire, and while I knew several people of means, none could equal the power of Lord Radcliff. If he wanted to punish me for his wife’s deception, there wasn’t much I could do about it. Still, I’d taken the job and I couldn’t leave it undone.
I guided Lady Radcliff over to a chair and encouraged her to sit, before taking the chair opposite of hers. “Perhaps it would be best if you told me just what you were being black mailed about. It might help me to find who is behind this,” I said softly.
Lady Radcliff looked reluctant, but nodded. “When I was seventeen, my parents permitted me to study ballet, because I’d loved dancing since I was a child. I loved it, more than anything, and while I was learning I met a young Spaniard named Rodrigo de la Mancha, the son of a lesser noble family,” she said, looking outside dreamily. “He was very exotic and passionate.”
I nodded, folding my hands before my face. She continued, sitting very still as she spoke, her tone far away. “Well, I’m sure you can grasp where this is leading. I gave Rodrigo my virginity, and he gave me a child before he left for Spain, but not a ring. My family was scandalized, and sent me off to the country side to have my child,” she said.
Then, Lady Radcliff looked down and wiped a tear away. “The child was stillborn, dead before I could even hold it. Everyone was sworn to secrecy, I returned home, an no one was the wiser. Two years later, I was engaged and married to Lord Radcliff. He never knew, and since the midwife said I wouldn’t have a problem giving birth I didn’t think it would be an issue in our marriage,” she finished.
I pushed my glasses up with my middle finger and cursed mentally. Not like life could ever be easy. Still, it was a place to start, and a few suspects I could run down. Now I just needed to see the crime scene and the note.