It felt good to laugh out some of the worries that had been preoccupying them even if it was over a very small thing. The butler’s speech had boosted their morals for the time being. But now they had to organise the few bits of evidence they had collected.
“So for the day of the knife,” Ivy said, “He was with our parents shopping from nine to 11.30 and then he cleaned the cutlery from that time.”
“Why did it take him so long?” wondered Edward, “We know they take time to clean but probably not for three hours!”
“He might have stopped for lunch and cleaned other things.”
The debate continued but their conclusion was clear. They could not rule him out yet.
“Who should we interview next?” asked Laura after their thoughts had been scribbled into a notebook.
“Maybe the maids? We can ask if they saw anything. I don’t think Blake would have because he was away or in the dining room.”
“Good idea,” agreed Laura, “We also need to know whether they have a good pay so that we know which one has a motive.”
“The motive could be different. Maybe they want something else too and Aunt Brunhilde has been receiving many phone calls?”
“Possible but not probable,” Kate told Ivy, “I don’t think there’s much chance to find out as we can’t tell our aunt.”
The next few minutes were used to imagine ways of finding out that information but they were, unfortunately, all declared unsuccessful by the five children even before testing them out. Suddenly, Ivy sprang up.
“Oh my goodness! I forgot I told my friends that I’d call them now!”
She rushed out and reappeared with their mother’s laptop. She sat back down and turned it on. While doing this, she asked:
“Can I tell them about the blackmail?”
“No,” responded Laura and Edward almost at once.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea. Just in case they tell someone,” added Kate.
Nodding her head, she entered the call.
“Sorry I’m late,” she exclaimed, “I forgot the time.”
“Really! I couldn’t have forgotten it. It’s what I’ve been waiting for all day. It’s so boring here in London!” replied Sophia.
“Same with me,” affirmed Mirabel, “What have you been doing?”
“Um, I’ve been playing with my siblings.”
“Where are they?”
Ivy tilted her screen so that her waving brothers and sisters appeared into the camera view.
“What is that pinboard behind you?” demanded Sophia, spelling out some of the words, “Blackmail… Aunt Brunhilde… Suspects…”
Ivy snapped her screen back to its original position, her cheeks burning with guilt as she mumbled,
“We were trying to… write a story and um… we were trying to plan it out.”
Her friends, unaware of her lie and knowing her dream to become an author, greeted this with their natural enthusiasm, making her promise to let them read her work. Ivy suddenly changed the subject to what they were doing in London to avoid any more lies. Her friends were not sorry to tell her how boring it was to be locked in their houses but they did it with such eagerness and excitement that it was hard to believe them.
“You’re so lucky to be in the countryside!” complained Mirabel, “You have so much space!”
“I nearly forgot there was a lockdown,” declared Ivy a little sheepishly, “There is so much to do!”
This conversation pursued for a dozen minutes before it gradually drifted to a stop. Mirabel said:
“I have to go now. Are you looking forward to something?”
“Not really,” started Ivy but added when Edward coughed and grinned at her, “Actually, yes. Edward’s birthday is in a week and a half.”
“Great! I have nothing to look forward to. I have things not to look forward to though. Did you know that we are going to get school work next week!” exclaimed Sophia.
“What!” Mirabel blurted out, “That’s a disaster! My mum’s calling me now. I’m really sorry.”
Waving good-bye to each other, they left the call. Ivy immediately apologised for showing them the board but her siblings dismissed it saying that she had successfully managed to distract her friends and diverted them from the truth.
They were about to go interview Helen and Adelheit when their mother called out from the garden:
“It’s dinner time, children! Where are you hiding?”
“Quick! Let’s go out before she finds us here!”
They sprang out of the den and ran to their mother. For once, going in without moaning when she asked them to help lay the table. Although surprised, their mother was very happy with this change in heart.
Laying the table meant, for the Llandy children, that they would get to interview Maid Helen, who left very soon after dinner to get back home. She lived in the village, the children didn’t know where but sometimes let it slip that she was meeting someone - a certain Sam/Samuel.
Helen who was looking very flustered after her morning. She had spilt a pot of coffee on the sofa and left a stain. Unable to scrub it off, she had hurriedly covered it up as well as she could with a few cushions. To the children, this was suspicious behaviour as they didn’t know what she was uneasy about.
Kate decided it would be best if she threw casual questions in the middle of the speech and examined her reaction.
“So, have you been doing anything today?” asked Kate, glancing up at Maid Helen.
Helen jumped slightly and replied hesitantly, “Well, I was cleaning the house all morning.”
She decidedly flustered, thought Kate, as though something was troubling her.
Laura followed the lead, “How about anything special?”
Maid Helen, blushed, “Why no!”
What were these children on about? Had they found something out? She was getting hotter and hotter as the Llandys fired questions her way. Repeatedly she told them she’d been cleaning the room but would not tell them anything else. No matter what they tried, they couldn’t get her to tell them where she’d been during the afternoon. Edward decided they would have to ask her directly.
“How about after lunch?”
“I was doing the dishes.”
“Doesn’t Maid Adelheit do them then?” questioned Laura, whose eyes did not miss much.
Helen was becoming more and more jumpy and uncomfortable.
“She… she was feeling unwell. Just after lunch. Not very long. I asked her if she wanted me to do them.”
Her wobbling tone did not help to convince the children.
“And after?” added Ivy though they did not quite believe her.
“Why do you want to know?!” demanded Helen, indignantly. There were some things she was not going to let them know, “Why are you nosing around in people’s lives?”
After this, the children thought it was better to stop and Michael, who - as the smallest - had hid under the table to take notes, slipped out from under, unnoticed. The maid was now very twitchy and dropped a glass in shock when Brunhilde appeared in the doorway to call her for some help in the pens where the chickens were on the loose. She scrambled out of the room and followed their aunt. As Ivy went to fetch the broom to collect the shattered fragments of glass, Michael showed them what he had written, which all seemed to be rather suspicious. Helen was hiding something. What it was, they had no idea.