Day 20 and 20th installment. Short one, but it will hopefully build from there. Later note: it did build from my initial 250 words, although, alas on my smartphone. Will my vision ever return?
It was not until Ernest arrived for the evening meal that William’s absence was noticed. Not that this was unusual, he was a faraway, absent-minded boy. But Ernest could be counted on to be aware of his brother’s most recent activities and location. He had not seen him since shortly after lunch. Elizabeth went down to the kitchen to see when the boy had last come in. His absconding with the necessary vittles for his unknown boarders had become a part of the daily routine. Neither Gerta nor Therese had seen him.
“He has taken nothing today, Miss,” replied Gerta to Elizabeth’s queries. “Perhaps he has moved on in his interests.”
“More likely he has forgotten the time. It is lighter longer now.” Elizabeth did her best to make light of it. Though the mildest panic began to coarse through her veins all the same.
After a quick exploration of the house and surrounding yards by Elizabeth and Agatha, others were brought into the hunt for the youngest Frankenstein. By 8:00 it was decided to broaden the search beyond the property. It was at 9:00 that night that the terrible discovery was made, although not by one of their company. A neighbour had come across the boy and was on his way to inform the family when the searchers met him. He led the party to the body which he had left under the care of one his men. It was a sad procession that returned the boy to his family. His father instructed that the boy’s body be placed in his old room and followed him in. He watched as the body was lain upon its bed to await the arrival of the authorities.
“He has been strangled,” announced the suddenly ancient Mr. Frankenstein upon emerging. “The killer’s prints ring his neck.” Agatha guided him to her own father who had arrived for his friend on this terrible occasion.
“I must see him. I must see the body. Please, I must see him,” Elizabeth begged. And then collapsed when she was finally allowed. It was she who had given him the locket the day before and now it was gone.
“I have killed him! I have killed him!” she cried. Agatha helped her out of the room and sat with her until she could explain. “He has always admired the locket and when he was looking at it yesterday I let him wear it. He was supposed to return it to me later, but when he failed to that night I thought I would let him have it another day. I know it’s valuable, but it never occurred to me that someone would take it. Certainly not kill for it. Not here. If only I had taken it back last night, what grief would have been prevented.” She wept and Agatha held her, assuring her that it was not her fault.
After a few minutes of Agatha’s comforting, Elizabeth collected herself. “Victor. I must write Victor. He must be told.”
Agatha shook her head. “No Elizabeth. That is a father’s letter. He has already started it. Let Victor’s last letter from you be of happier times. Our lovely outing to Plainpalais, not this night’s horrors.”
The authorities arrived later that night and examined the small, battered body. It was agreed that great violence was used, beyond what would be required to take the necklace. A terrible brute must be responsible.
The next morning the men were ordered to go through every inch of the woods to tear down all of William’s houses and scour for suspicious characters. He was known to build his structures everywhere, both on and off the property. Every now and then a small shrine was discovered, filled with strange, unrelated items taken from the house. These were also dismantled, and the pieces placed in a bag and returned to the house for further examination.
Elizabeth and Agatha sat in the morning room and listened to the commotion through the open window, cups of cold tea and a plate of untouched sandwiches on the table in front of them. It seemed they could hear the destruction of each of the dead child’s structures, though many were quite distant. Whether this was a trick of the echoing mountains or their own stricken minds they could not tell.
Two of the men returned to the house and reported to the grieving father. The retrieved objects were laid on a table in the library and Elizabeth was asked to enter and identify their origins if she could. She recognized most of them. Some were hers, some the boys’, some were simply items from the house.
“There can be no doubt, whatever fiend performed this vile act has been in our house,” announced Mr. Frankenstein. “Entered it many times, in fact. Oh, that I had torn down those blasted structures of his sooner. Or paid attention to the loss of these many things. I assumed them to be mislaid only.”
“We do not know these to be related. It could be that William may have also made these shrines, as you call them. It is much in the same vein is it not, to build a house of sticks and to build a small shrine in a tree? Could this not be the case?” Elizabeth looked to the men.
“My son was no thief, Elizabeth!”
“I am not accusing William of thievery. These are all worthless trinkets. And really they are family items. They may reside in our different rooms, but they are not individually owned. He may have looked at them in the same light and therefore as much his as anyone else’s. I cannot believe that a strange brute would have had such access to the many chambers and recesses of our home and go without any notice. A family member would make far more sense.” Elizabeth continued her argument. “You must see also the great difference between these cheap little objects and the locket which is of considerable value.”
“They are all personal items, Elizabeth. It could be that the value of the locket is meaningless, a complete accident. The felon may simply be attracted to things shiny, be they worthless or be they priceless.”
“Well, what of their location? I am told these were discovered nearby. William was found far from the property, slightly beyond the woods I believe. Surely it would have been a stranger who murdered him, while these would have been collected by someone we know.” Elizabeth would not have her adopted brother killed by someone they knew.
This same debate was occurring downstairs amongst the staff. It was Gerta who rang in with what all agreed to be an obvious suggestion.
“Has anyone checked Justine’s room?”
Therese was elected to go with Alfred, the gardener, who was to attend outside the door.
Justine was in her bed, apparently asleep, when Therese entered. She grabbed Justine’s dress off a chair and handed it over for Alfred to search while she returned to the room to check the dresser. There was a cry from Alfred before Therese even opened the first drawer. It seemed at this point as if all the staff appeared at once, jockeying for view in the hallway. Justine was now very much awake and pulled out of her room. She stared in shock and the others gasped as Alfred held up her dress and the missing locket.