I hope that you’re not quite ready to leave Victorian England yet! Last week, I introduced you to Edward, my 19th century gentleman who, with his friends, had just heard a terrible scream. This week, I’m introducing you to Jeannine. So read on to find out who/what the scream was and who Jeannine is!
No one moved, each of us frozen to the street by the horrible sound. Even Abbott, the consummate adventure-loving outdoorsman, stood stock-still, shock apparent in his face. I felt my own heart pound. Fear made my legs tremble, and my feet desperately wanted to take me running in the opposite direction. Despite my small size, I had always fancied myself a hero, as in the books I read, and had desired an opportunity to demonstrate it. An opportunity was at hand but reality reminded me of my not-so-heroic temperament.
Abbott reacted first and without a word charged down the alley towards the screams. I knew what a hero would do and thus what I should do. Taking a deep breath and mentally forcing my feet in the direction of the alley, I dashed down the dark passageway, slightly behind Abbott, my shoes slipping on the slick cobblestones. The grisly screams continued, and this spurred us onward. I could see Abbott come to a sudden halt, and he stared down into the pool of golden light cast by the gas lamp above him. I caught sight of a group of three men as they dashed off into the darkness, and there was someone small left kneeling on the cobblestones, sobbing and moaning. I slid to a stop by Abbott and looked down. My face assumed the same, horrified look that was on Abbott’s, for before us lay the lifeless body of a man.
Abbott raised his eyes to mine, and said, “He is dead!” We stood, staring at the body, unable to fully comprehend the scene before us.
Suddenly, our attention was diverted to the small figure in the middle of the street as it cried out, “Mon frère! Qu’ont-ils fait pour vous!”
I stepped around the body, and dropped to my knees beside the figure. I realized she was a young lady. Her face was covered with her hands, and her reddish brown hair was in disarray.
“Miss, are you hurt? Who are you?” I asked.
“I am unhurt,” she answered slowly and shakily, in a slightly accented voice. Looking up and meeting my eyes she further responded. “I am the Countess Jeannine Abrielle Cadeau d’Orleans.”
I glanced over at Abbott, wondering if he, too, had heard the girl’s surprising reply. By the amazed look on his face, I assumed he had heard her name and title.
“Lady, are you sure?” I asked stupidly, for I could not recover quickly enough to think of anything else to say.
“I know my name, if that is what you mean!” she protested.
Our companions’ footsteps echoed behind us, and Morrison and Blackwell appeared in the alleyway with us. “What in heaven’s name is going on?” cried Morrison.
Abbott gestured blankly to the body, shaking his head.
Blackwell and Morrison said nothing for a moment, shocked into silence.
Morrison recovered first, and then looked at me and the crying girl. “Who is this?” he asked me, looking from her to me.
“I am Countess Jeannine Abrielle Candeau d’Orleans,” she repeated her name to Morrison. Upon hearing her name, Morrison looked skeptical, and then thoughtful, as if he were trying to place it.
I got to my feet and offered her my hand. She gingerly took it and stood up next to me.
“Do you know this man?” asked Abbott.
The girl wiped her eyes. “Oui. My brother, Pierre. He came with me from France three years ago.”
Blackwell looked around at each of us and then at the body in the street. “We must go to the authorities immediately and report this. Do you know anything else, miss?”
At the word ‘authorities’ the Countess’s eyes lit up fearfully, and she backed away from us, waving her hands back and forth. “No, no, no! Please, don’t. You can’t!” she cried. “You must not, please, please, they will arrest me!”
Blackwell looked at Abbott, then back to me. “Why, miss, don’t tell me that you have some part in this grisly crime?”
“Oui, oui! It is all my fault! If I hadn’t insisted on coming, Pierre would be alive. Oh, mon frère!” she cried.
“Countess d’Orleans?!” cried Morrison suddenly.
She look over at him, startled at his sudden outburst.
“I recognize your name. It was in the newspapers several years ago–” He stopped and stared at her, suddenly realizing who was standing before him.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she denied nervously.
“Men, do you know who this is?” cried Morrison. “Three years ago, a French nobleman was murdered. The police never solved the crime, but she,” Morrison pointed at the Countess, whose green eyes grew wide, “was the prime suspect!”
Thanks for reading!