Kate ushered her siblings back to her room in silence trying to not be seen by their parents who believed them to be outside. As soon as the doors were locked and everyone had checked the windows one after the other, Edward whispered:
“Please tell us why. I really need some good news!”
“It is,” promised Kate, “We can rule Adelheit out.”
“Why?” demanded Laura sceptically.
“Her accent! The person sounded like a witch but it was clear that they could speak English fluently!” she responded excitedly.
Michael considered the idea but ended up by shaking his head:
“No, she could have recorded it using a computer.”
There was a brief moment of silence.
“The thing is,” said Kate, “It sounded real apart from the voice disguise; it wasn’t recorded.”
Everyone looked at Edward to see if he’d come to the same conclusion. He shrugged.
“But,” he added, “Even so, she could be faking her normal accent. She could have wanted revenge and came here pretending to be German.”
Laura sighed and added that new theory under Maid Adelheit’s name. Why, oh why was this so difficult!
Kate frowned at their pinboard, still blank:
“It sounds really far-fetched.”
“I know but… it still could have been her. Maybe she paid someone to do it.”
“Ok, fine. She’s not ruled out. But seriously! I really don’t think she did it. So everyone watch her carefully. I don’t believe she did it.”
The meeting was concluded with the plan to interrogate Gardner Finlay. They decided it was best if they went in the garden as they had told their parents they’d be there. Whilst Kate scribbled down the answers to her German questions, the rest of the Llandy children went to fetch their wellies and raincoats as the morning mist had turned into a downpour. They’d be lucky if they found Finlay outside now.
However, despite the rain, the gardener was there, in his never-ending jovial mood. Keeping their hands gripped on their hoods, they ran across the garden. It bordered a small forest of trees and even under the rain, it seemed to have been built in a fairy-tale. There was a rusted old iron gate where climbing roses tinted with raindrops added to the mystical feeling. The flower beds had been weeded carefully, the vegetable patch looked after and all the trees trimmed to perfection. Small shoots of green were timidly poking their heads out of the soil ready to become the blooming tulips they were planted to be. Soon, the entire garden would be flooded with colours. It was a tradition in the Llandy family that everyone had to plant one new plant each year. Therefore, the garden would have been overrun by plants if a gardener had not been working in it.
“Hello young people! Have you finished eating your homework?” asked Finlay to the children’s astonishment, “You told me it was a piece of cake!”
He laughed soundly and smiled broadly at the children:
“You don’t like my jokes do you? Well I guess it’s a good thing I chose to be a gardener instead of a clown!” He chuckled to himself again.
“The garden truly does look wonderful!” said Laura looking around at the young tulips.
“Oh thanks. My father would do a much better job of it though. Not a leaf would be out of place in his sight!”
“Did he work here?”
“Oh yes, he died a few months ago,” the gardener wiped away a few tears and shook his head, “He was a great gardener. I must live up to him.”
“I’m sure you do,” said Laura gently, she felt bad having to interrogate him in these conditions, “You work here all the time. Like Wednesday a week ago, were you here?”
“Ah, yes I was. All day, spreading compost over the flowerbeds. I think that paid off pretty well.”
“Yes it did,” nodded Ivy, “Did you do that all day?”
“Of course not, I did that from 10.30 to 11.10. Then I went to have lunch in the village. I also had a quite nice talk with your mum and dad before they went on a walk about what to plant in the garden and what to take out. Like that tree over there. It’s completely dead and quite unsafe.”
The siblings shared a look. They would have to check if that matched up with what their parents said. Could this new piece of information possibly rule out another suspect? The rain had now started infiltrating their coats and trickling down their faces but the clouds seemed relentless to stop. As the wind blew harder, more dark clouds appeared overhead. It was amazing how much dedication the gardener showed towards his work.
“How do you keep working in this downpour?” asked Laura admiringly.
“Ah, it’s nothing. My father would work even in hail and snow!”
“Was he there during Grandfather’s time?” questioned Edward.
The gardener wiped his hands on his overalls, getting rid of as much mud as he could manage, he smiled:
“Yes, of course! He was here when your dad and aunt were only little children. He was a great friend of your Grandfather’s. He always stood by him. Even when those horrible rumours…”
“Rumours?” asked the children excitedly but Finlay just shook his head:
“Nothing to worry about. Besides, you are getting soaked and I have work to do. Time to squirm, wriggle worm!”
He flashed them another bright smile and walked off, spade in hand, whistling a tune they did not recognise. The children looked at each other intrigued. What were the rumours?
“We should get back in,” decided Kate, whose hood kept flying off and who was struggling to keep the umbrella up.
They shook off their drenched coats and boots in the entrance whilst Euripides and Penthesilia licked them clean. They lingered around, begging for treats or tummy rubs Edward giggled as they rolled on their backs, pawing at the air. His younger sister raised an eyebrow at him:
“I told you they were sweet!”
Edward rolled his eyes.
“Look at Euripides! He’s behaving strangely!” noticed Laura.
Indeed, he was scratching his neck as though something was bothering him. Ivy, the person the dogs seemed to trust the most, knelt down next to him and stroked his coat.
“What’s wrong? Is something wrong with your collar?”
“Try loosening his collar,” suggested Kate, stooping down to inspect the dog from closer.
Ivy did just that and the collar slipped to the floor. A small piece of paper fluttered down after it. Edward picked it up and gasped.
“What is it?” asked Laura.
Edward thrust the note at her.
The siblings scrambled to group around their sister who read the note, for there was something written on it in capital letters, out loud:
“2 more weeks. If you take any longer, it shall be revealed. Remember.”
The children read the note over and over again, left in a dumbfounded silence so thick it could have been cut with a knife.
“The blackmailer is at it again.” whisper Ivy in a way that, if they hadn’t been in such a complicated situation, they would have laughed.
“Why on Euripides?” asked Michael.
“Probably because Aunt Brunhilde usually is the one who takes care of them. And she’s the one who takes their collars off in the evening so that they are comfortable,” reflected Laura, “They must have secured it on during the night and left Aunt Brunhilde to find it.”
Michael took in a sharp breath:
“The person we saw in the shadows when we were woken up by the alarm! It must have been them!”
The others nodded, this made sense. They could not believe somebody would do such a thing. If they hadn’t already been persuaded in finding the blackmailer, this would have motivated them to.
“Well! What do we say to Euripides? Thank you!” said Ivy, rubbing the dog’s belly and feeding him a treat from the box on the window sill. Penthesilia pawed at her leg until she succumbed to her begging and fed her one too.
“Great! Now let’s have a meeting! We’ve got tons of things to discuss!” declared Kate.
Michael asked, “Can we at least have breakfast? I’m so hungry.”
Kate was about to groan and snap at him that this was no time for food when she was cut short by her protesting stomach who seemed to have a mind of itself.
“Ok. Let’s go have breakfast!”