Anarchy Upon Archambault Avenue

Chapter 1: Clarks in France

Meredith beamed triumphantly as she bicycled through a sweetly blossoming lavender field.  Since the world’s beginning, France could not have appeared as ravishing as this.  Not that Meredith had lived on the outskirts of Paris for that long.  She and her older sister, Jane Clark, had moved with their father to France in 1886, when Edmund Clark’s accounting job failed.  Edmund and his wife, Kate, determined that work for the wealthy Lord Archambault would pay far better than any clerking job in London.  Therefore, when Meredith was four years old, the Clark family had immigrated to the magnificent land of France.  Meredith’s younger, tiresome brother, Gilbert, had been born in the France, thus explaining his French-sounding name. Snapping out of her memories, Meredith Clark rode down to her little white house which lay on the edge of the lavender field.

It was a snug little cottage; right on the outskirts of the wealthy Lord Archambault’s land. The little home, built upon Archambault Avenue, was simply wonderful, with beautiful lilacs surrounding the property, and Meredith’s ebony-haired, gorgeously stunning sister, Jane, was strolling among the neat rows of delightful blossoms. Silently, the girl, uncommonly absent from the frequent company of her one of her many suitors, strolled with her eyes fixed upon the soft ground and hands folded behind her back, as though deep in thought. When she heard the soft whirr of the bicycle wheels slowly approaching, her thoughts must have been cut off, because a quick smile came across her face. Quickly, Jane walked up to the gate that served as the entrance to their yard. Meredith sped to the gate and slowed down her bike to keep from avoiding her sister, just in time.

“Jane, dear,” murmured Meredith, noting as she dismounted her older sister’s sudden change in attitude, “I am so glad to see you.  You seem to be more excited than usual to see me return from Babineaux’s hotel in town.  You appeared to be within a heavy contemplation.  What’s on your mind?”  

“Gilbert has been absent an awful while.  I was wondering if we should call upon young Andre  and inquire whether our little brother is in good health.”

“Jane, Jane.  You always were one to worry.  Yet that ever suspicious quality which the good Lord endowed within your mind does come in handy sometimes…as in when Gil and Andre are up to no good.”

“Andre is a good boy, however mischievous he may seem,”  Jane smiled softly, gently leading Meredith and her bicycle towards the porch, “Remember when he whittled you that little oaken sparrow?  I reckon he fancies you, Mere.”

“Please stop, Jane.  Andre and I are ever so different in age.”  Meredith sighed as she settled herself onto a delicate chair wrought with fleur-de-lis and spirals.  Would Jane ever stop playfully deriding her? Although Sir Andre was still half a decade younger than her, Jane ever thought that they would be an unrivaled match. Meredith was simply revolted at the concept.

Just then, Gilbert came running frantically up the lavender edged lane. Without a single word, he clumsily rushed past the sisters, into the house, and slammed the door.

“I fancy he found a lovely girl in town and is attempting to make his sorry self appear handsome.” Jane chortled as she settled down into a similar seat. Gilbert was not monstrous, but he could not be considered handsome. He had a rather ordinary countenance that one may run into on any day. Gilbert was the proud heir of his father’s rather flat face, with an obese nose (a bit like a duck, in Jane’s opinion), and a medium size mouth. His eyes were a bit small for his head, and his ears far too large. He was a skinny, tall, gangly thing, rather resembling a flag pole. This skinny stature contrasted sharply with Gilbert’s oversized nose and ears.

“Why Jane Clark!  What kind of girl would admire Gilbert!  Why he’s the most horri-”

It was at this most unfortunate moment that the distraught Gilbert Clark rushed out of the house, pausing only to glare back at Meredith and her unfinished sentence. “I heard that, you know.” He rushed off as he straightened his rather lopsided bow tie in the direction from whence he came.  Meredith’s shocked and embarrassed appearance lasted all the way through dinner until she climbed to her attic bedroom.   

That night, Meredith gazed through the skylight at the starry French sky.  However Meredith denied it, in her heart of hearts she admired the young, brash Andre.  Meredith would have loved to marry into the jolly Archambault family, but that could never happen.  Jules, Xavier, and Pierre, while nearer in age to Meredith, were intent upon following their mother, Colette’s, advice to marry well.  Certainly the daughter of their sickly father’s employee would not be a “good match.”  Both Etienne and Roland were married, Etienne to a charming young girl, Helene, and the rather greedy Roland to a wealthy widow twice his age, by the name of Anne.  Tristan Archambault was…different.  He had vowed for some unspoken reason to never marry, and often would spend days upon end alone in his room, performing haunting music on his flute.  

As the young Meredith Clark had left the village school long ago, she knew very few people in town – only Mrs. Babineaux, owner of the hotel where Meredith cooked; Claudine Delacroix, Meredith’s last friend left over from her school days; and the random assortment of customers at the hotel – and their sort of friendship was only temporary.  Ah, well, Meredith sighed, I shall find some suitor soon enough.  And with that thought, the plain, flaxen haired girl, (who much resembled her brother Gilbert, if only in ordinariness) fell asleep.  

In the next room, Jane lay in her bed staring at her plain walls. Thoughts filled her mind of suitors, unknowingly, her mind ran upon the same track as that of the unknowing Meredith – that well-worn track leading up to Archambault Avenue. She thought upon her many suitors, but there was only one that she truly fancied. Jules. He shall certainly never think of marrying me, she thought in absolute despair. Jules was a sort of friend to her. They often talked as they walked through the lavender fields, and Jules had told her many times that he enjoyed their friendship. However, Jane knew in the back of her mind that Jules would never propose, for his mother would not allow it.  Jane knew that Meredith, however, was beautiful with her straight golden hair and practical, smiling face, although she would never admit it to Jane.  Meredith, although not wealthy, had an excellent chance of marrying an Archambault – one of them, at least. Meredith is lovely! Why doesn’t she realize how large of a chance she truly has at marrying well. She’s such a hard working, wonderful person, and she truly does have an enormous hope.  Jane lay in her plain, poor bed as she cried her own poor unostentatious self to sleep.

Early during the dawn, when the sun had just risen above the lavender fields, Jane slipped out of her bed, pulled on a plain, yet very well becoming, day dress and glided outside. The air felt humid, and the grass was wet from the dew. Jane squinted as she looked at the sun.

“Aaa!!!” A sinister scream pierced the air!  Jane turned her head in the direction of the Archambault Manor. She saw within the shadowy outlines of the manor’s rooms several people running about. “What is going on?” she whispered to herself. She slowly walked closer to the manor and squinted through a clouded window at the many people on the inside.

Suspicious and, as per usual, and worrying over possible unlikely happenings, Jane took a courageous breathe and knocked upon the ancient manor door.  It was a long time before a red-eyed servant answered.  “Mrs. Lamoreaux?  What has happened?  I heard the scream from the upper floor, and I was wondering what occurred.”

“My dear child, I must apologize for my condition,” bawled the normally collected Mathilde Lamoreaux, “but…but…the dear, poor boy!  Oh, Xavier!  I who raised him when he was but a tot!  Why should he be taken from us!!!”

“What happened?” asked the now slightly annoyed, (and completely fearful for the worst) Jane, placing her dainty hand upon the poor servant’s shoulder.  She was listening with an astute ear to the goings on inside the manor hall.

“Why, we don’t rightly know miss. When I went into his bedroom this morning to bring him his breakfast, he was gone.”

Jane gasped frightfully upon hearing this news.  

“He left a note, saying he wouldn’t be back. He… we fear he…” the servant was breathing heavily, with tears running down her face. “ We fear he may have killed himself.”

Jane would have been less surprised if the woman had said they found a cow upon his bookshelf. Other than Jules, Xavier was always the most kind to Jane out of the many Archambault children.  Xavier always had a smile awaiting any soul in the house, even his little, obnoxious and trying 14 year old sister, Charlotte, or the irritating and immature Andre.  However shocked she felt, Jane was aware of a new feeling arising within her soul…She, occasionally called by her sister “Jane the fearful,” wanted to discover the truth of the matter.

“Well, thank you, madam.” Jane said, now trying to keep from bawling herself, “I’m sorry for your loss.  I will stop by later today – but…right now…” With this Jane walked off, back towards her cozy cottage by the lavender fields. As she turned it all over in her mind, she made up her mind that she must tell Meredith all that had happened. They could figure it out together. Together, they had solved small problems, such as petty thieveries about the French countryside. But could they truly solve a death mystery? Jane felt confident that together, she and her best friend and sister could do anything. Quietly, Jane Clark stalked onwards towards their small house.

As she approached, Meredith ran out to greet her.  “I thought I would be up before you!”  she called from a distance, “But for once you’re the early bird!”  

Meredith’s face fell when she noticed that Jane’s face, rather than smiling cheerfully, wore the most depressed look Meredith had ever seen.  “Jane!  What has happened?  Is Jules -”

The elder Clark burst into sobs, fat tears dropping thick as a summer thundershower upon the already drenched spring path.  “Xavier,”  Jane wrenched out between gulps of air, “is dead!”

Chapter 2: Newfound Courage

“What!  No…It cannot be….And I only thought of the Archambault boys last night!”

“I – did – also.”  said the traumatized Jane, tearing up once again.  

“Oh Jane! What happened?” Meredith put her slim arm around her weeping sister’s shoulders.

“Mrs. Lamoreaux went to give Xavier his breakfast and found him gone. She said she found a letter by his bed that said he wouldn’t be back.” Jane shakily sat down upon the front steps of their cottage. However distraught Jane might have felt at the moment, the more practical Meredith’s mind immediately began to think of a solution.  

“Jane, dear.  Normally you have such a very active mind…especially when matchmaking!”

This drew a weak smile from Jane, who began to consider her appearance, a sign that she was beginning to feel better.  She smoothed out the starched folds of her pale lavender dress, while inclining her head towards her sister’s words.

“Therefore,”  continued Meredith, sorrowfully smiling, “We had better head down to the house and try to discover a solution to this awful tragedy without upsetting the family.  Do you think you could do that, or would you rather stay here and wait for sleepy Gilbert to return from town?”  (By now, Meredith was sure that Gilbert had lied about attending the Archambault’s Manor the evening before.)

Her sister’s artful bit of persuasion caused Jane to rise up and march off towards the manor with Meredith at her side.  Upon their knocking, Mrs. Lamoreaux let them in.  Mathilde knew of the simple solving that Jane had done around town and decided that a little sleuthing couldn’t hurt.  After all, Xavier’s body hadn’t been found yet, so he might still be alive.  Plus, there were no police near the manor, so two young aspiring detectives would have to do.  

First, Meredith, thinking of possible suspects, inquired how many servants worked at the house.  “Just Mrs. Lamoreaux worked for the Archambault’s,” was the answer.  

Next, Meredith asked to see Xavier’s room and his note.  The room was perfectly neat, untouched (except by Xavier) for several days.  The bed was unslept in, however, and not a clue was to be found in any nook or cranny.  Unless, Jane considered, the single curly red hair found upon the black-haired Xavier’s floor was a clue.  The note was a different story.  Xavier’s note was written in a calm and slow hand.  The scrawled and ugly handwriting betrayed a hurried and desperate purpose.  In fact, Jane could not even recognize it as Xavier’s own writing.  The note read,

 

“I am going fishing to take an early walk.  Do not expect to hear from me for a while. love, Xavier PS: tell M_r__ Marie I loved her.”

 

The word fishing had been crossed out the unknown word written before “Marie” had been erased, and replaced with aforesaid word Marie.  What could the word have been?  Meredith wondered.

“Well” Jane said confidently, “because he said that he went fishing, I would guess we may find Xavier near a lake or a stream. “There’s a pond a little ways down, behind the stables.”  Mrs. Lamoreaux suggested.  The housemaid had calmed down, but Colette and Philippe were searching all of the inside of the manor for their lost son frantically.  “Say, where’s Gerald, your brother?”  Mrs. Lamoreaux continued, but Jane and Meredith had by now bolted from the manor in the direction of the pond.  

When Meredith reached the shallow pond, she beheld an awful sight: the missing Xavier was floating face-down in the murky waters. Jane quickly caught up with her, and when she beheld the grotesque image, she sighed. “We’re too late.” She shook her head at the ground in defeat. “Well, I suppose we should figure out Xavier’s motives for this suicide. I cannot allow myself to believe this was an accident.  Meredith, please run and get Pierre to take care of…this.” Upon obeying Jane’s command, Pierre, the strongest member of the Archambault family, along with Philippe, Colette, Tristan, Jules, Andre, and Charlotte arrived to take care of the drowned boy’s body.  Etienne and Roland lived with their families a distance away, in Isleton, so they were not yet informed of the sad news.  Slowly, the sisters walked in the direction of the manor, leaving the grieving family alone with their dead.

“…But are you sure it was a suicide?”  Meredith questioned.  For once, it was she who was suspicious, and not Jane.  

“Quite.” Jane answered assuredly. “Why would he go fishing or for a walk in the night? I cannot believe that this was a slip up and he simply fell into the stream.”

“But, Jane, dearest.” continued Meredith, passing the manor’s shed as she attempted to persuade her sister to her side, “I believe this was no less than murder!  You remember the cheerful Xavier.  He had not a worry in the world – no reason to kill himself!  And that note did seem rather false.”  

“You could be right.  Perhaps he was led to the pond. Forced into it. Maybe by a jealous friend or neighbor who simply desired to have the Archambault fortune. But why would they kill the 6th in line? That is what I simply cannot work out.”

“You do recall the red hair in his room? Well, Andre, Jules, Pierre, and Sir Philippe all have red hair! I can’t believe any of them would drive their own family to death, however.”

“I believe we should question the family members and Lord Daniau of the neighboring Grand Fields Manor, as those would be the only possible suspects.  I’d hate to imagine one of Xavier’s own siblings killing him!  I do know, for sure, that Xavier’s parents, Colette and Sir Philippe, are most definitely not his killers.  Their grief, and that of Xavier’s former nurse, Mrs. Lamoreaux, was completely genuine.  Also, the firstborn and second born are married and living in Isleton.  We may question Mr. and Mrs. Archambault more mildly than the other children, and Etienne and Roland we do not have to question at all.  Isleton is very distant from the Archambault Avenue manor.  The sooner we question the suspects, the better.”  Jane, the aspiring sleuth, made quite a long speech.

Meredith nodded. “I agree completely. It is a grave situation that we are getting ourselves involved in. I do hope you won’t take it to heart.” They had arrived back at the manor, and preparing to enter into the house. Unfortunately, their investigations of the household residents were unsuccessful.   Lord Daniau, Mrs. Lamoreaux told Jane, had not lived at Grand Fields Manor for twenty years or more. “That should remove the good Lord Daniau from the suspects list.”  Jane told Meredith, sighing.

Here are Meredith and Jane’s inquiries, as noted by Meredith:

at 5:00, what they were doing before Mrs. Lamoreaux screamed, opinion of Xavier, thoughts on his death:

Sir Philippe: just awakening and pulling on his slippers, the maturest son of mine, he must have been sleepwalking – always had a problem with that sort of thing you know

Colette: applying makeup, the most darling little boy, I reckon he was sleepwalking, after all

Tristan: practicing flute, a good young man, he was a most mentally sound boy, and hasn’t slept-walk since age four, and would never have any suicidal thoughts, so someone must have lured him down to the pond and killed him there

Pierre: eating an apple for breakfast as Tristan opened his flute case, the most athletic person I’ve ever met, couldn’t have drowned so I don’t know how he could have died

Jules: at 5:00 was snoring away, Xavier was a jolly old fellow, must have been hurting inside so killed himself – dear, poor Xavier!

Andre: was combing his hair in his room at five, a generally good chap, although could be rather harsh, guess he just fell in the pond

Charlotte: splashing her face with water in her room, a pretty kind person – for a boy, most likely suicide – why do you two girls care?

Mrs. Lamoreaux: at 5:00 checked his room and discovered Xavier was missing, but probably hadn’t been missing for long,  a most wonderful young man, someone must have forced him to the pond against his will

 

Unfortunately none of the family had given any good information that assisted the investigation. As a matter of fact, the majority of the Clark sisters’ interrogations were just opinions.  Both Meredith and Jane felt defeated. They felt as though there was no way they would be able to solve the mystery.  Most everyone’s evidence seemed to contradict the other’s. By the time they were done with their investigations, it was past lunchtime, so they solemnly strolled back to their small house. The rest of the day they spent in quiet thought. Gilbert still had not returned from his courting the mysterious girl in town.

The next morning, they were awakened by a smart knock at the door. Jane woke up, retrieved her shawl, and went to see who it was. It was Gilbert.

“Gilbert!” Jane scolded. “Where have you been? You have worried us sick!” Jane pulled his arm and he was dragged into the house.

“My apologies.” he mumbled, looking flustered. “For your information, Babineaux gave me a free night in the stable. I was with Charlotte and Andre and we were just having fun around the town. Really none of your business what I do. I don’t see how it matters to you either. You’re not my mother.” Jane glared at him as he walked defiantly to his bedroom. “Also,” he turned around with a pugnacious look upon his duck face, “Jules was shot last night.  He hasn’t woken up.”

Chapter 3: Things Begin to Unfold

Jane simply stared. She didn’t want to believe Gilbert, but she didn’t know why in the world he would lie about such a serious possibility.  And why would Gilbert act so nonchalant about this horrifying reality?  Wait…how could he have been “fooling around” with Andre and Charlotte in town?  Didn’t Charlotte say she had been “splashing her face with water in her room” at the time of the crime?  Surely Gilbert, Andre, and Charlotte hadn’t returned from the town in the middle of the night?  No, Gilbert must have just been lying about the trip to town, Jane decided.  But if so, how could she trust Gilbert?

“Gilbert!” Jane hollered angrily, while praying Gilbert had nothing to do with Jules’ “case.”

There was no answer.  Then, the screech of a window opening upstairs and the “thunk” of Gilbert jumping off the roof.  If Jane couldn’t get Gilbert to come to her aid, Meredith was her next best choice.  “Meredith!”  Jane screamed, inward horror overwhelming her being, “Jules has been shot!”

Her sister hurried from the kitchen  jaw dropping open.  Meredith was on the brink of tears for several minutes before collecting her feelings and stating, gruffly:

“Only yesterday Xavier was the one to fall into an “accidental” death.  This seems very suspicious.  Could we have a serial killer near Archambault Avenue?”

“But what could the motive be?  The only people I would truly suspect would be one of the Archambault’s children.  Mrs. Lamoreaux seems quite a loving woman. And the Archambault parents are the most loving ones I have ever known – even as loving as Father was before Mother died.”  

“I honestly don’t have an inkling of an idea what the motive could be. We need to find Gilbert and question him about this horrible possibility.” The sisters searched throughout the house, and went into the backyard. They found Gilbert, sitting forlornly under their large weeping willow. Quickly, she trotted up to him and began to question him about the situation.

“Gilbert!” Jane cried. “We need to know exactly what happened last night. If we find that you weren’t involved, than we will stop questioning you.” Gilbert sighed and turned around.

“Fine.” he rolled his eyes. “Andre, Charlotte, and I went for a walk around the town. We were just running around, talking, and having a merry old time. We left each other late, and I didn’t want to wake anyone up at home, so I asked your boss to let me have a free night in the stable. Graciously, she allowed me to stay there. Both Andre and Charlotte went home.” He looked away at the tree.

“Is that the entire story?” Meredith asked suspiciously.

“As much as I know, anyway.” Gilbert didn’t look up as he said this. Jane and Meredith both determined from experience that they couldn’t get anything else out of the boy. Therefore, they decided the only other place where proof may be would be at Archambault Manor.

The door was once again opened by Mrs. Lamoreaux.  

“The dear boy was cleaning his gun in the garden this morning…not woken up since.”  The loyal servant wailed.  

After comforting the maid, Jane drew her sister aside.  “Meredith, I would like to tell you my suspicions.”  She whispered once she was inside the manor.  “I think Gil knows something about the murder, but I am no longer sure what.  How can we get the information out of him?”

“Someone else will have to ask…someone like his best friend, the unruly Andre!”

“I’ll suggest the idea to him while you visit Jules.”  Jane didn’t want to view her injured friend. It would be far too painful for her.

“Fine with me.”

Meredith was escorted into Jules’ room.  He was conscious, but barely.  He had obviously been shot in his arm; it was bandaged but blood was leaking through.

“Hello Jules.” Meredith said softly as she sat down beside the bed. He looked at her and painfully smiled.  Meredith leaned close to catch his faint words.

“Char – I always protected you.  Don’t!  Don’t!  Oh, you’re too terr – i – ble…”

Jules’ haggard face sunk back into the pillow.  He sucked in a rasping breath, and wheezed.  “Char, no!”  he cried before his frail body grew still once again.

“Jules!  mère de Dieu!  Don’t leave me!”  Meredith cried.  She felt his pulse.  It was beating, but Jules had fainted.  What could the boy’s words mean?  She called in Mrs. Lamoreaux, explained that Jules had fainted due to a frightful hallucination, and left the room while explaining her short time with Jules to Jane, who had not seen Andre.  On the way out, they passed an irritated looking Andre.  He must be frightened because of the horrid occurrences that have been going on.  Meredith thought.  “Are you worried, Andre?”  she questioned politely.  He only turned the corner of the hallway, where Meredith heard Andre and Gilbert conversing.  

“Gilbert!  Could you come over for a moment?”

Surprisingly, Gilbert came.  

“Whaddya want, Meredith?”  he rumbled gruffly.

“Once again, I would like to ask where you were last night?”  she questioned, “And the night of Xavier’s shooting?  Really, the truth!”

Gilbert glanced nervously at Andre, who stood stolidly behind the hallway’s corner.  A swish of pink gingham, that of Charlotte’s distinctive and famous apron, betrayed Andre’s sister’s presence.  

“Oh, I really was visiting in town late.  But we returned around two in the morning.  Charlotte and Andre went back home, up the back path – you know the one which passes the storage shed?”

Meredith nodded.  Jane, who had been talking to Pierre in the parlor, had crept upstairs and was standing behind the trio of young teenagers. They had them cornered.

“Well,” Gilbert continued, knowing of his oldest sister’s presence, “They went home and went to bed. I slept at the hotel so as to not disturb anyone at home.” Gilbert finished, looking irritated. “Does that satisfy your inquiry?”

“For the moment.” Meredith said “This is a suspicious case, and the fact that all three of you were out in town last night, and were together the night before that. You are certainly not making a good case for yourselves.” They looked at each other worriedly.

Andre began to speak then. “Why would we have a reason to injure my brothers? I would be crazy to even attempt such a thing; there’s no possible way I could succeed.”

“Well, I just think you’re acting suspiciously. Be careful. If it isn’t you, I don’t want any of you to get hurt. Why Andre! What has happened to your leg!”

This sudden exclamation was triggered when Meredith suddenly noticed a large bandage around his lower leg. Blood was leaking through, and there was a large hole in the knee of his trousers.  Why had Andre even brought up the suggestion of him injuring his brothers?  That’s suspicious in itself, as I would never have brought it up on my own.  Meredith was feeling terrible.  If Gilbert, brother to two young sleuths, had a part in this murder…Meredith didn’t want to even think of the possible consequences.  

“Nothing.” he mumbled. “I only tripped over a thorn bush in the gardens near the pond. It’s a  small cut is all.”

“That doesn’t look like a small cut. I think you should get it checked out.” Meredith was uneasy. She and Jane headed down the stairs and out the door of Archambault Manor. Jane had a depressed look in her sparkling eyes, but she looked at Meredith deploringly, as if saying, I don’t want to talk about it.

Chapter 4: Wandering

Before the sun had chance to glaze the lavender fields with its first light, Jane was up and awake.  The sorrowful sleuth found it hard to believe that just two days ago her life had been monotone. Within a period of two days, two of the Archambault children had been wounded or killed!  If another Archambault was wounded today…well, there would be one more body to attend to, the girl thought – that of Jane Clark!  Jane settled herself on the porch and prepared for an unknown Archambault’s scream of agony.  She would wait all day for the foreshadowed moment to arrive if need be!  No one would catch Jane Clark off guard!  After the sun arose, Meredith soon joined Jane in her horror-filled awaiting.  

Meredith, understanding how Jane felt after her beloved Jules had been shot, brought her sister breakfast, (fruit and toast), lunch, (salad and salami); and dinner, (potato casserole and wheat bread).  Jane, sighing upon the porch, took nary an interest in her food.  She was solely devoted to staring upon that horrible, ocher window upstairs, the window of the room of Pierre, “Pierre would be the next victim,” she reasoned, “after Xavier and Jules and…what about Andre?  Shouldn’t our serial killer start with the youngest boy in line rather than the second youngest? I’ve got a bad feeling about him and Gilbert.”  she worried.

“Well,” Meredith said. “Andre did injure his leg. Perhaps our murderer was chasing him and Andre fell over the bush, but the murderer got away.  That would explain Andre’s fear. Besides, I fear that Andre is rather irresponsible, and mayn’t have gotten the bandage changed in a few days. We really don’t know when the injury occurred!”

However, the day passed uneventfully, and Jane’s worried hours seemed to have had no purpose.  There was hardly a movement from the manor except for that of Mrs. Lamoreaux, who came once to tell the girls that Xavier’s funeral was to be held in two days.  The housemaid also informed them that Jules seemed to be resting better.  Other than these facts, (the first reminding Jane of her own mother’s dismal funeral ten years ago, and causing her to tear up), nothing eventful occurred on that miserable, slow, day of waiting. The girls were beginning to feel desperate.

Suddenly, Jane had a revelation. “Wait!” she said, an excited look aspiring on her countenance. “What about Mrs. Lamoreaux?  She was the first to know of Xavier’s absence, gave all the facts, and found the wounded Jules! The pieces seem to all fit together! However, I don’t know if she would gain anything from the Archambaults dying. She has served them for quite a long time. She nursed the boys from their birth!” Meredith gazed thoughtfully into the starry night sky.

“All the Archambaults have an inheritance gained at their father’s death – Philippe is quite sickly, you know.  They also receive a daily allowance.  Dear Tristan – Meredith blushed here – once told me that, on occasion of some of the Archambault’s death, the inheritance formerly to have been given to the child would be handed over to their faithful servant and nursemaid – Mrs. Lamoreaux.  But Mrs. Lamoreaux is like a mother to them!  No mother would murder her own children!”

Jane sighed.  “I long for our monotonous and regular life, when our only worries were over getting a handsome young Archambault suitor.  That was only four days ago.  So many tears have happened since then…Oh!”

And our distraught young heroine burst into tears once again.  

“Jane, it’s near midnight.  You’d best head up to bed.  Alright?”

Jane succumbed to Meredith’s gentle pleas, and went up to her plain room.  Would they ever get to the bottom of this country calamity?  This crazy catastrophe?  Without dying themselves?

***

Early on the morning of the fifth day, God created swimming and flying creatures – no, that’s part of a different, better story.  Anyways, upon the morning of the fifth day since Meredith had bicycled home from her last day of work before her holiday break, a shrill, horrible scream pierced the air.  

“Not again.” groaned our common sense character.

She shuffled out onto the porch. She found Jane sitting there, as she had often done during this calamity. She was sighing heavily. “Here we go again,” she groaned to her sister. They both got up and headed to the Archambaults. This time, it was Charlotte who answered their urgent knock.

“Guess who it is today,” the Archambault girl said wryly, “Pierre.  The room is left as it was.  There’s a note, too, if you care.”  Charlotte sounded like she could care less.  In fact, she sounded as though, like Jane, she’d been expecting another tragic occurrence.  Xavier’s death could have been mistaken for an accident, but after Jules’ shooting?  And now Pierre? No coincidence! Someone was out to murder the whole Archambault family.  Once again, Jane and Meredith waited in the hall.  Jane passed a note to Meredith.  It read:  

Suspects:

  1. Mrs. Mathilde Lamoreaux: possible fortune handed down from murdered to her?
  2. Andre Archambault: acting guilty, strange responses, eavesdropping upon Meredith’s inquiries of Gilbert along with Charlotte
  3. Gilbert Clark: acting guilty and reluctant to speak, absent with Andre and Charlotte
  4. Charlotte Archambault: not upset by deaths, offended, eavesdropped with Andre
  5. Mr. Philippe, Mrs. Colette, Tristan, Roland, or Etienne Archambault? (no motive, all very good people, but all subjects should be considered.)
  6. Jules: could he have murdered Xavier and tried to kill himself of guilt?
  7. Pierre: could he have murdered Xavier and attempted to kill Jules and killed himself of guilt?
  8. Lord Daniau: possible property gain if all heirs die?

The sisters were led upstairs by Charlotte, and they found an horrifying sight. The look upon Pierre’s face was of utter horror. He seemed to have been awakened right before the knife went into his chest and killed him. There seemed to be no clues as to the murderer, except for a note by his bedside. The note was written quickly, in scrawled and obviously-disguised handwriting;

 

If you two want to stay alive, you’ll stay out of domestic business. This is not a prank .

The girl’s gazed at the note in surprise. They knew the note had been for them, who else could it have been for?

“Jane, I have an idea.”  Meredith murmured quietly, “You heard the scream this morning.  We hurried over here as fast as we could.  Therefore, if the murderer is a part of the Archambault household, we might be able to catch him red-handed – you know, in books, when the killer has a knife collection or is cleaning his gun or-”  

Jane was examining the body.  “If someone committed murder, I would not think they would stay in the area long- that would be a huge risk on their part. Meredith, notice anything funny about this knife?”

“It looks as though it’s a kitchen knife! No professional would have used such a juvenile weapon. It also means that they would have already been in the house, instead of climbing in his window or something. I’ve seen the Archambault’s knife set – it looks like one of their own!”

“If it’s a kitchen knife, and the kitchen is downstairs, than this crime must have been pre-planned.  I wonder why our serial killer waited a day though, Jane?  To throw off suspicion?”  Meredith responded, shaking her head as she examined the room for clues.  “Aha!  Look what I found, Jane!”  

Jane looked up from her gory study.  “What?”  she questioned, “Another note?  A list of clues?  The only physical clues we’ve found so far have been a red hair in Xavier’s room.”

“I found,”  Meredith whispered secretively, “Another red hair!” She held it up triumphantly.  

Jane gasped.  “The only souls who have red hair are Andre, Jules, Pierre, and Sir Philippe, and Jules is wounded and Pierre dead!  Perhaps the murderer wanted to throw us off, and thus plants these shocking clues.  Sir Philippe would never kill his own child!  Philippe so kind and loving – the ideal, although delicate in health, father. I bet his weak old heart is just breaking over these terrible tragedies.”

“Not Andre!” Meredith screeched, just as she noticed a single eye watching them through the keyhole.  The eye was a pale blue – the kind which only redheads seem to have.

The girls rushed towards the door and threw it open, but to no avail. The eye that had been watching them was gone.

***

“Drat!” Jane said angrily. “We were so close. This is a very tricky case. Too many suspects, but the suspects are simply dying out!”

Meredith agreed, and, after searching for clues for another hour, the two determined that it would be best to check the garden where Jules had supposedly been shot while cleaning his gun.  It was a wet, warm day, as a matter of fact the whole month had personified this damp weather.  “To think we never thought to check for footprints!”  cried Meredith.  They ran out towards the backyard garden.  A roughly surfaced stone bench rested under an arch of vines and leaves growing over an alcove.  Lush vegetation and long strands of lavender grew in spreading circles about the bench.  Thorn bushes had been artfully carved into fantastic shapes, lining the wall under the windows with thorny magnificence.  Stone jars engraved with strange creatures and crude stone Pegasus’ were placed artfully about every so often.  

“So many places a stray clue may lurk!  I highly doubt that Jules shot himself, even though he truly was cleaning his gun outside.  Tristan told me that he had seen Jules and the gun outside earlier in the morning.” Jane said.  She peered under an urn of gray marble magnitude.  “Nothing here, that I can see.  No bullet shells, footprints, wisps of red hair.  Anything on that scratchy bench over there, Meredith?”

“A few drops of blood, but that’s too obvious that the blood is Jules’ own.  I’ll keep searching.”

Time passed.  Jane peered under a statue of a goddess.  “A bullet casing from a small pistol!  Not that of a large and heavy pistol, such as what Jules was cleaning!  It’s under the statue!”

Meredith came running over, and examined the ground around the stone artwork.  “I found a scrap of pink thread, but that might not be connected to the mystery, as Colette or Charlotte may have just been relaxing in the garden.”

“Also, some drops of blood are under this sculpture.  The would-be murderer must have been standing behind Athena, here, when Jules shot him in self defense.”

“Finally, Jane we have found clues!  We are making headway!  I’m so glad that the statue and the vines above the bench kept the bloodstains on the ground and stone from washing away.”

A sound reached Jane’s ears.  

“A-hem, young lady.  Could you tell me if today is…the day of my brother’s funeral? I fear I may have come a little early, but Helene told me that it would be good to visit my mourning family.”

“The funeral for Xavier is tomorrow.  Actually, it will also be Pierre’s funeral, too.  Etienne!  Is that you!”  

Suddenly, the sorrowful face of the tall man brightened.  He took of his hat, revealing dark hair which seemed to gleam in the sunlight.  “Why Jane! I didn’t recognize you!  And is this little Meredith?  I apologize, you see, but it’s been ten years since my marriage and move to Isleton, and Helene and I only visit the manor every other Christmas.  Sadly, during Christmas you seem to be visiting your father in Paris.”

Jane blushed and little Meredith nodded coolly.  Sure, Jane was thirteen and Meredith eleven when Etienne had seen them last, but they weren’t little anymore!  Why, they were amateur sleuths!

“Anyways,” Etienne Archambault continued, “I’d better go fetch Helene and my son Georges, and Roland and Anne.  Roland and Anne rode right behind our carriage the whole journey here.  They volunteered me to be the ambassador, you know, go around back and make sure it is okay to stay the night here…that is, make sure with someone other than our distracted and  heartbroken parents.  Wait, is Pierre gone now too?”  Etienne’s face had gone from miserable, to jovial (at seeing the girls), to terror stricken.

“Why yes, Jules was shot and Pierre stabbed soon after Xavier drowned.”  Meredith stammered, waiting for Etienne’s reaction.  She didn’t add, “We fear you will be next after Tristan and Roland.”

Etienne nodded gravely. “I feared as much. Helene is simply heartbroken over the whole affair. Are you working on the case?”

“Yes, Etienne. We haven’t had many clues until today. We may be getting somewhere now.” Meredith replied.

“I am thankful that a family friend is working on it- much better than the police or someone like that. Thank you for helping our family.” With these words, Etienne smiled encouragingly at the girls, nodded, and bid them adieu. He walked around the house back the way he had come.

“Poor Etienne.” Jane said softly. “Two of his brothers have died, and one shot. He must be afraid for his own family now..”

 

Chapter 5: The Housemaid’s Help

The disappointed girls marched back across the garden and through the lavender fields to their small house. They decided that the rest of the day, they would avoid Pierre’s body. They didn’t feel as though there was much else they could do. At least until the murderer struck again – as he undoubtedly would.

Suddenly, Meredith spoke. “I think we should question Mrs. Lamoreaux. She certainly seemed to know a lot about the whole crime scene – I think she could help us more than we know.”

“You’re probably right, Meredith.” Jane replied solemnly. “Even if she isn’t the culprit, she may know some valuable information.  However, I think we should leave the Archambault’s alone for the rest of today.  Although they have been most gracious towards our examining their property, we have hardly reached anywhere as far as solving goes, and Sir Philippe and Colette probably would like to greet their family in peace.  Imagine three tragedies in less than one week!”

“True.  You’re right. I am tired of suspicions and interrogations and blood.” Meredith sighed. “Well, I suppose that we’ll become stronger people and sleuths through this. I suppose we should leave the Archambaults alone for today. But Mrs. Lamoreaux isn’t an Archambault. We could interrogate her, right?” Meredith added hopefully.

Jane rolled her eyes. “I suppose so, but we shouldn’t keep her long, she has mourning to do as well.” Meredith went to fetch Mrs. Lamoreaux and brought her back to their delightful little cottage by the lavender fields.

“Before we start this,” the housemaid began worriedly. “You girls should know you’re getting into dangerous business. You could be hurt. I’m going to try my hardest to tell you all I know.”

“Good!” Jane nodded confidently. “We would have forced it from you anyway. Now, what happened on the night of Xavier’s death. We desire a complete answer. Everything you know.”

Mrs. Lamoreaux took a deep breath and began. “Well, you see, it was early morning and I was only attending to my work, when I heard a door close. I looked around and realized that Xavier’s light had been turned on. I figured at the time that it was only one of his brothers talking to him about the events of the day. How wrong I was. Later, when I was carrying laundry, I saw the person walk out of the room – he was dressed in all black, like he didn’t want to be discovered, but of course, at that time, I only thought that he was cold. All I observed was a tall, gangly figure, his face was covered, but I could see a tuft of red hair sticking out of his cap. He saw me, but decided not to approach. He ran down the stairs, and out the front door, I heard it slam. I rushed to a nearby window, suspicious, but he seemed to have sprinted away.  Oh!  I wish I’d told you sooner!  I thought that this evidence seemed unimportant at first.  Then I was worried about the murderer. Oh!  It’s too terrible!”

Mrs. Lamoreaux paused to regain control of her emotions.  

“To this day, I have no clue who it could have been. Obviously at the time, I didn’t think about it much, until of course I went in to find him gone in the morn.  Do you have any suggestions?”

“First, one question.  My sister and I wondered if Lord Daniau of Grand Fields Manor had anything to do with the case.  What color is his hair, first of all, and would he have a motive?”

“Oh, Sir Stephane Daniau?  If I recall, he has walnut-brown hair – though by now it may be edging towards gray.  Much the same color as mine, in fact.”  Mrs. Lamoreaux nudged one of her deep brown, sausage-like curls, which showed a slight tinge of gray. “As for his motive! Ha! He wouldn’t gain anything at all from the Archambaults death. Well, he does have a grudge against the family, but not large enough to murder I wouldn’t think.”

Meredith’s eyes opened wide. “Why does he have a grudge?”

“If I remember correctly, something silly – such as the bees from Sir Philippe’s lavender harassed his staff.  One Agnes was repeatedly stung by a bee while cooking for Daniau.  She claimed it was from Sir Philippe’s lavender.”

“Next, Meredith wants to ask you about Jules’ circumstances.” Jane said.

Meredith glanced at a piece of foolscap with clues found on it.  “What type of gun does Jules possess?  Is he feeling better?”

“A regular sized pistol.  Jane told me a very small pistol bullet shell was discovered in the garden.  Yes, Jules is feeling better.  He can’t remember much though, and he’s having nightmares still. Poor boy. I’m just thankful we didn’t lose him as well! He has got up a few times as well.”

“Please tell us all the guns in the household.”

“Well, Sir Phillipe has a large hunting gun, not used for anything except hunting. I’m not aware of Etienne and Roland, but certainly they could not be suspects, for they were not here in town.” She paused here.

Jane nodded. “Of course. Continue.”

“Well, I don’t believe that Tristan owns one! He rarely comes out of his room, except for meals of course. He’d have no use for a gun. Now Pierre had a small pistol. However, he always kept it in a safe in his room. And I’ve already mentioned Jules. Sir Philippe says that Xavier and Andre are too young to have their own weapons. I quite agree with Sir Philippe on that point.  Although Andre begged and begged his father for a firearm, Sir Philippe claimed his son was as of yet too young and foolish to possess such a deadly weapon.  Xavier, however was strong and responsible.  I’m sure he could have kept the responsibility!”

“Thank you. Now please tell us the circumstances surrounding Jules’ accident.”

“Well, it’s just this. I was planting some more flowers – for the summer you know. I was in the garden, and I saw Jules a little way off. He had his gun, and he was cleaning it with a rag. I would say it was around seven o’clock. He came over and looked at my gardening, then told me he was exhausted following his brother’s death, so he would go to bed.  Dear little Jules then said to me that he would wake up early to finish cleaning his pistol.  Come to think of it, Jules looked rather worried when he said this.  I didn’t see him again after that, and I went back inside. After that, I went up to bed and slept like a baby. Until around five A.M. anyhow. That’s when I heard the cry. I rushed downstairs as fast as me fat legs would carry me, and I found him. In the garden, Jules was slumped against the trellis, and it appeared as though he was asleep. Blood was rushing down his arm, Jules had fainted, and the  murderer was nowhere to be found.”  

Meredith calmly looked at Jane, who appeared as though she might cry. Though being the good sleuth she was, she quickly rushed away from these feelings.

“Thank you, Mrs. Lamoreaux. Now about Pierre…Were you the first to find him?”

“Yes, I was.  I screamed when I went in to blow the coals on the fire.  I saw the note, and ran to tell Sir Philippe.  I also saw a bit of black leather poking out from under the bed, but when I came back it was gone.”

“Hold on.  Do you mean to say?”  Jane stopped to have a hurried conference with Meredith. Mrs. Lamoreaux, Meredith and I both agree on something very important – The murderer could have been hiding under the bed!”  

“To think!  Why, I would never have guessed…”  

Although Meredith and Jane continued their conversation with Mrs. Lamoreaux, the housemaid was not able to give them any more information.  After eating cold bread and cheese for dinner, the two detectives walked back to the Archambault manor to give Charlotte a little evening interrogation.  Finally, they felt as though they were on the right track.

The girls knocked. They were such common visitors, that no one was surprised to see them visiting for the umpteenth time. They began to inquire about where Charlotte’s location. Roland was the one who responded to their questions. “She’s in the study.” he said cruelly, for he was a cruel character.

“Thank you” Jane answered politely, and they headed to the study. Roland’s word had been true, for they found Charlotte Archambault in the study, with a book in her lap, and an empty look on her face.

“Charlotte,” Charlotte jumped up when she heard Meredith’s voice. “We would like to inquire about your brother’s death. First of all, I’d love to know what you see in my brother?” Jane grinned at this statement. Meredith grinned back.

Charlotte looked at them with disbelief. “That’s what you came to ask?” she chuckled. “Well it’s simple. Your brother is a jolly nice boy, and I think he’s wonderful. Is there anything else?”

“Yes indeed, I did only say first!” Jane answered defiantly. “Do you know anything concerning the injury of Jules?”

“No ma’am.  An’ who d’you think ye are?”  Charlotte, ashen with guilty fright, stammered.  To cover her fear, she lapsed into a crude version of Yorkshire English to mock Jane and Meredith.  (The sleuths usually spoke broad Yorkshire when completely afraid, how Charlotte knew this Meredith didn’t know.)  Wait, Meredith thought, Gilbert must have taught her!

“Charlotte, we are amateur English sleuths talking to a stubborn and intelligent young girl.  Please sit down.”  Meredith said, a sudden plan arising in her mind.  She signaled for Jane to leave the room.

Charlotte sank down gratefully into the arms of a swiveling leather chair.  Meredith knelt as though talking to a much younger child.  “Lottie,” Charlotte started at this familiar term, “Tell Meredith why you got mixed up in all this nasty business?”  

Meredith hoped that Charlotte would be shocked enough to confess all that she knew.  In fact, the normally stubborn, tenacious, and pugnacious girl looked up at Meredith with her big blue eyes as though all the years of bad influence from Andres; an influence which Meredith, if Andres was who she suspected he was, could only imagine; had melted away.  

“Meri,” she said softly, “Andres always – always…I didn’t want too!  But – I just can’t. I-”

Suddenly, the spell began to break bit by bit..  “How’d ye do ‘at to me?”  Charlotte murmured, as though stepping out of a dream. Her face had changed from dreamy to dismal to realization. “Meri, I’ve always wanted to tell you something…I’ve always wanted to be..”

“Yes…” Meredith leaned forward.  Internally, something snapped inside Charlotte, as Meredith would later know.  Psychologists may call it “the bridge of sanity.”  Later on, the Clarks would learn something which even Mrs. Lamoreaux didn’t know…the Archambault’s had a tendency to be…insane.

“BAD!”  Charlotte reached out and violently slapped Meredith in the face before wildly fleeing from the room, her crazy pink apron flapping wildly behind her.  The sleuth noticed that the apron was very tattered and frayed for that of a nobleman’s daughter.  Then, Meredith started, recalling once again the image of Charlotte’s apron.  Meredith had seen something strange, which she should have noticed before.  Meredith had seen that Charlotte Archambault’s apron was stained with blood.

“mere de Deiu!” Meredith said, rubbing her cheek. “We know that Andre’s involved, but I can’t think that he would be the murderer.” Suddenly, they heard a shifting noise. Someone had arisen from the chair in the corner. The girls stared at it timidly. The figure, dressed in all black, walked over to them. “Lor’ ha’ mercy!  Great God please!”  Meredith had reverted to Yorkshire.  The horrified sisters backed away until they reached the wall. The figure pulled out a board from behind his back.

The last thing Meredith remembered was falling… then all was black.                                          Chapter 6: The Final Murder

“Meredith! Please wake up! Mere!” The noises were distant, sounding as though they were miles away. Meredith’s eyes slowly opened, blurry at first. She looked up to see her sister’s worried countenance, along with Tristan Archambault’s.

“Jane? Tristan? What-” Meredith slowly sat up. She quickly put her hand up to her head and felt a goose egg quickly forming upon her forehead, right above Charlotte’s slap mark. “Ugh…”

“Don’t touch it.” Tristan said quickly. Meredith was surprised at how deep his voice was. She hadn’t conversed with Tristan for quite some time. “Do you think you can stand?” he asked gently.

“I think so,” was her ragged reply. With much effort, Tristan and Jane both helped her to the chair in which Charlotte had been sitting.  Meredith blinked.  Tristan looked down at her. He was standing somewhat awkwardly, shifting his feet from side to side.  Meredith smiled up at him and he stopped moving back and forth.

“Jane, who hit me?  The height of that figure in black reminded me of Andres.”

“Shhh…he might still be hiding somewhere.  Yes, I think it was Andres.  But I’m sure he’s left the manor for good.”  Jane looked at the direction of Meredith’s gaze.  That’s funny, she thought, Meredith’s never liked somebody before.  

Meredith glanced at Jane’s serious and confused face.  “Tristan?  Could you hurry and fetch Xavier?  No, wait, he’s dead. How about Jules?  No, wait, he’s subconscious.  Could you ask Pierre to go after Andres?  No!  He’s dead! mere de dieu!  Soon, no one…”  Meredith broke down into tears.  “We’ve gotten so far…how could I be so forgetful…something’s wrong in my head.”  

Jane spoke then. “Tristan already had Roland go after him. Are you alright Mere?”

“Oh course.” Meredith answered. “Did he hit you?”

“Only a shove. I knew I couldn’t go after him, so I went and got Tristan. You were already coming to when we got back. Meredith, I was so worried!” Jane looked down gently, her hair awry, and her lips bent into a concerned expression. Tristan’s face looked as though he desired to avenge her goose egg.

“Tristan,” Meredith began, looking up at him. “Do you know anything about this? Any clues, or have you seen anything suspicious?”

Tristan leaned his head back thoughtfully. “Well,” he started slowly. “I saw the first note left in Xavier’s room. I know the the crossed out M and R was part of your name, Meredith.”

The girl gasped.

“Xavier always fancied you, but he didn’t consider himself handsome enough. So he didn’t do anything about it. But, I reckon he knew he was about to die, so he thought, there might as well be no hiding it.”   

Meredith looked toward her lap. Why now? she thought. Will my luck always be rotten? I wanted a suitor and turns out, there was the ideal one right in front of my eyes!

Jane looked upon the tall Tristan. “Is this all you know?” she asked.

“I’m afraid it is.” he said sadly. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be more helpful.” He exited the room with one final angry look at Meredith’s swelling head. “I’m sorry this happened to you; it makes my spirit flame with rage.”

***

The next morning, Meredith decided to take a stroll around the Archambault garden. Another murder had not yet occurred, and she was waiting for the next scream of agony. The girls had solved the mystery, however, they didn’t know how to report it. They needed to catch the murderers in the act, because they had no proof that it was definitely them.

Suddenly, she saw the famous pink apron disappear around the corner of the manor. Forgetting Jane and only knowing this needed to be solved, she ran after the young Charlotte. Careful to stay out of sight, Meredith crept around the house after her.

The girl looked around like a wild cat, and dashed into the large greenhouse, resplendent with verdant shrubbery. She didn’t take care to shut the door completely as she entered. Meredith stood at the door, peering in, slightly fearful, and slightly excited. This may be the end of the case! she thought, as she stooped to look through the door.

“Charlotte! You’re back!” whispered a familiar voice, that of Gilbert, the youngest Clark. “I was so worried!”

Charlotte nodded gravely.  “He’s coming. He murdered Roland, that foolish and greedy old boy!  Why any idiot would think he could catch Andres is beyond me, as Roland never could have known about that secret passageway.  Andres caught him completely off guard!  And he’s completely prepared to kill Tristan. This business is almost complete!” she jovially said. “We’ll inherit the fortune soon enough.”

“This is so exciting!” Gilbert responded in a way that made Meredith’s heart sink.

“He’s planning on killing Tristan tonight. Andres was planning on doing it today, because he knew that I’d said too much when talking to Meredith. He wanted to distract your meddling sisters. I believe he’s going to shoot him in the head, and break his flute just for good measure.” Charlotte chuckled. “He’s planning on entering Tristan’s room at 8 o’clock sharp. Tristan will most likely be sleeping by then. That’s when he’s going to do it.” Meredith nodded in her hiding spot, and slowly backed up. She slowly jogged out the front door.

The pieces all fit together. All Meredith had to do was tell Jane, and warn Tristan. She had a perfect plan.  Meredith jogged out of the greenhouse just in time to hear a wail.  It was undoubtedly that of Mrs. Lamoreaux.  “Sir Philippe!  You, too must die?”

Meredith hurried to the manor’s front door. Jane had rushed from the cottage upon hearing the all too familiar scream to meet them, also.

“Girls,” Mrs. Lamoreaux declaimed, “This is the last straw!  Sir Philippe went to see Jules, and discovered that he had but a faint pulse.  He told Colette that he was going to wait with Jules for a little while.  Colette let him be, as Jules was on the mend, and she was searching for Charlotte and Andres – she thought that they may have gone to your house to visit Gilbert.”

Jane shook her head.  She had not seen Andre, Charlotte, or Gilbert since the horrible board-bashing incident in the study.  She and Meredith had not mentioned the incident to anyone – not even the Archambaults or Mrs. Lamoreaux, except for Tristan of course.

 The housemaid sniffed, and continued, “When I came into Jules’ room, I found Jules asleep, the same as I had left him.  And…and…Sir Philippe, who was leaning over him, had died of grief!  These murders were taking a terrible toll on his health.  Xavier and Pierre’s funeral was only yesterday.  I fear that these tragedies have made me no longer able to mourn upon someone’s passing.”
As Mrs. Lamoreaux talked, she led the girls up a flight of stairs to a room where Sir Philippe lay.  Upon examining the body, Jane pronounced that the old man had died of natural causes.  Meredith than told her of the conversation in the greenhouse.

“Now that Sir Philippe has passed away,” Jane whispered to Meredith, “Etienne would inherit the estate. No, wait.  He told me at the funeral that he already had a grand house, and did not want to be the target of any murderer.  Early this morning, before he left, Etienne changed the will in the presence of all the family so that the manor and fortune would go to the next eldest child upon Sir Philippe’s death.”

“The children Sir Philippe had were Etienne, Roland, Tristan, Pierre, Jules, Xavier, Andres, and Charlotte.  Etienne decided not to inherit, Roland, Pierre, and Xavier are dead, and Jules, Andres and Charlotte are too young.  This leaves Tristan to inherit the estate!  He is in danger, and because of Jules unconscious state, Andre and Charlotte are next in line!  They almost have the manor!  We must stop them.”  Meredith said.

“My plan,” Jane told her, “is to tell Tristan and lay an ambush for the murderers in his room.  Yes we’ll have to arrest our own brother, but his murderous intentions…”

“Let’s do this.”  Meredith said.  

They told Tristan the plot.  The trap was laid.

 

           ***

 

The time read 7:59 P.M. Everything was prepared. A key turned in Tristan’s locked door.  The ambushers, jammed in a secret closet, heard the cold, calculating words of the murderous Andre.  

“Charlotte – that lump in the bed?    I want you to aim the gun just so…  Gil and I will hold ol’ prissy Trissy down if he gets feisty.”

Meredith, squished in the closet with Jane, was shocked that her sister would ever attempt to matchmake her to this malicious monster.  

“Ready, ol’ girl?  Remember – you and Gil will get the estate, I’ll get the grand smackers.”  

“Aye, brither.  I be sure to do ye prude.”  The fearful Charlotte had reverted to her Yorkshire English mockery.  “One, two, three!”

Tristan sprang out from behind a bookshelf and promptly knocked Charlotte and Andre in the head with one blow of an oaken board.  (In case you were wondering, this was the very board with which Andre knocked out Meredith).  Gilbert, shocked, stared at his two unconscious friends.  “Why, you’ll pay for that old boy!  I’ll finish ye off yet – and get away with it, too!”

At this prime moment, as Gilbert swung his fist in the direction of Tristan’s head, Meredith and Jane leaped out of the closet, put their wayward brother into a headlock, allowed Tristan to knock the raving boy out, and sent Mrs. Lamoreaux for the police.  

The police arrived within the hour, and immediately detained Andre, Charlotte, and Gilbert. The Clark sisters were exhausted with the excitement of the evening, and the horror of the fact that their seemingly gentle brother had actually been a horrifying hazard.

 

               ***

 

Later the next day, the sisters discussed the mystery.

“Well, Meredith, it has been a satisfying and at the same time disappointing case.”

Meredith looked thoughtfully at her sister. “What do you mean?”  

“Well, I’m dreadfully sorry for ever mentioning that you and Andre may be a good pair. I see now my mistake in that statement- it was very wrong. I’m very sorry. Can you forgive me.?” Jane flashed dismal eyes at Meredith and Meredith chuckled a bit.

“Of course.” she answered. “I don’t blame you! You had no way of knowing that he was- the way he was. I sort of admired him at the start as well, I will admit – but don’t you be teasing me about it!” The sisters heartily laughed as they had not done in days. Suddenly, the curious Tristan Archambault strolled up to their porch. He looked exhausted and dirty.

He began to speak as he got closer. “I wanted to thank you for saving my life. I don’t think I would have even been able to fight back at all if it weren’t for you!” he said gratefully. The sisters nodded.

“It was no problem. We’re just sorry we couldn’t have caught them earlier! It would have saved many lives. I’m just glad that you and Jules-”

“Oh, Jules passed on last night. He couldn’t breath, but he told me he loved you Jane.” Jane looked up curiously at Tristan.

“Really?” Jane asked softly.

“Yes. I couldn’t have stopped his death. Nor could anyone I expect.” Jane looked at the ground.

“Thank you Tristan.” Jane replied.

Tristan, Jane, and Meredith continued to talk for several hours. There were tears, but also laughter. Eventually they bid one another farewell. The Clark sisters watched the sun set over the lavender fields…it was over.