"What will your parents say? Whatever could have possessed you act in such a manner? Not only did you follow a strange man around town, when you're found out, you accuse him of being a murderer! I've never heard of such a thing! These are the actions of a child, not a young lady of fourteen!"
Looking out the window at the passing scenery, I couldn't help but be amused. She did have a point: accusing Mr. John Simmons of being a murderer without having definite proof was not the smartest thing I had ever done. In my defense, I had not expected him to have seen me and reported me to Miss Reynolds.
"Serena Mary Norton! Are you even listening to me?"
"Of course I am, Mrs. Leigh," I responded turning fro the window with a smile. "You have said 'what will your parents say?' five times in the past hour alone now. And you have been repeating yourself the whole way. I have tried to be penitent, but I must know. Will I ever be forgiven?"
Mrs. Leigh scowled at me. "You have been sent home from school mid-term, young miss," she scolded sternly. She took her fan out and waved it rapidly. "What would you have done if the mistress hadn't told me to keep track of anything from the school?" She paused, a look of horror on her face.
I laughed out loud. "Exactly so," I responded, and I'm sure my brown eyes were sparkling with mischief. "I would have found a way to come home on my own."
You are out of line, Miss!" Mrs. Leigh protested. "Even in America, such conduct would have been frowned upon! Your mother and father expect you to behave as a lady should! You are not a child anymore, to be humored and amused by. This independent spirit you show is most unbecoming."
I shook her head, smiling fondly. "I don't quite agree with you," I answered, looking out the window once more. "My parents have always encouraged me to use my mind."
"Well, even they would not condone the actions that led to you being sent home," Mrs. Leigh told her sharply. "And you can be sure I will be showing them all of the headmistress' letters when they return."
In an instant, I was serious. "So there has been no word from them?"
Mrs. Leigh sighed and, out of the corner of my eye I saw her brush at some unseen dirt on her black dress. She closed her fan with a snap. "No," she answered. "I have kept the house in readiness just in case they should make a sudden return, as they have done in the past."
"Two months is a very long time!" I objected passionately, clenching my hands into fists on my lap. "There has been no letters or messages! I know something must have happened to them!"
"Oh, don't fret, Miss Serena," Mrs. Leigh advised, her tone softening. "I'm sure they are both preoccupied with your mother's tour."
"I highly doubt a person as practical and cautious as my father would forget his only child," I responded softly. I shook her head as the train began to slow. "Now that I am home, I will find the list of homes Mother was going to and write them all to see what I can find."
Mrs. Leigh's eyes narrowed. "Am I to understand that you purposely got yourself sent home?" she demanded, leaning forward.
"Of course not!" I exclaimed. I paused to consider the suggestion and then shook my head. "No, it would have been too involved. I saw that man hanging around the school and decided to follow him to verify my theory. I know he is a murderer, Mrs. Leigh! However, I never found the proof or who he killed. It will weigh on my mind now."
Getting to her feet, Mrs. Leigh shook her head. "You are impossible. And it comes from reading the stories in that magazine," she chided. She reached up and began to bring the luggage down. "At least now that you're home, I can keep my eye on you."
Laughing, I rose and helped with the luggage. I followed Mrs. Leigh off the train and into the small, village train station. "Now, I sent word that we would be arriving at this time," the older woman said, glancing around. "Martin should be here. The train was not running late."
"Then, we will simply have to hire a hack and continue on to Lynbrook Manor," I told her practically. "It can't be very difficult."
"Patience, Miss Serena. I'm sure he'll come," Mrs. Leigh advised. After a moment, she heaved a weary sigh. "It has been a long journey, though, and I am ready for my own domain. Stay here with the luggage and I will see if there is something that can be arranged."
Obediently, I set my own bags next to Mrs. Leigh's and stood beside to them. As I watched my family's housekeeper hurry away, I was struck by how grey her brown hair was getting. She had been with my mother for over twenty years now, which is why she scolded me so.
Shaking my head, I turned my attention to the train platform. Only a handful of people had got off at this stop, and most had already left the train station. There were, however, two men leaning against the train station wall. Both seemed extremely well dressed for the area. The one's hair was black and his eyes were an ice blue. The other was tall and going bald.
Both seemed to be watching me. I lifted her chin, instantly suspicious of them. Smiling in amusement, the tall man moved towards me. "Come, Miss Serena," Mrs. Leigh called out. In public ear, she was always took care to address me properly.
Swiftly, I bent to grab all the bags. "Here, Miss," the man said, approaching quickly. He bent next to me. "Allow me."
"No, I'll help the young miss," the short man objected, hurrying over.
It seemed like the two were about to exchange blows. "No, it's not necessary for either of you to help me," I answered. With two handles in each hand, I jerked away from them. Up close, they both had a certain kind of slyness that unsettled me and I decided I really didn't trust them. "I have it."
A smirk on his face, the tall man stepped back and made a half bow. The other man scowled at me. Spinning on my heel, I walked very quickly to the edge of the platform where Mrs. Leigh waited. "Who was that man?" the woman asked, reaching for her bags. "You should have let him carry the bags. You always seem to forget your position."
"No, it's fine," I responded, glancing back. Neither of the two were not in sight. "I did not like the looks of them."
At that moment, the newly hired hack came to a stop in front of us. It was little more than a farm wagon with a very old nag in the harness. A young boy of maybe sixteen, who was evidently our driver for the trip, came forward to load our bags and help us up.
Mrs. Leigh started to turn around. Dropping my bag, I quickly caught the woman's arm. "Oh, no, Mrs. Leigh!" I admonished, my tone firm. "We aren't turning back now. It's only a few miles to the manor and you are anxious to get back to your kitchen, remember?"
"In that death trap, we will never make it!" Mrs. Leigh prophesied, reluctantly allowing the boy to take her bags. "And we'll in the cold the whole way! If we don't get killed in that thing, we'll be sure to catch our death from pneumonia."
"Nonsense!" I declared merrily.
Though it was moving very slowly, the wagon managed to bounce and jostle us all the way to Lynbrook Manor. "See, Mrs. Leigh?" I called out, hanging onto the side. "This 'death trap' has brought us nearly there. Just around this curve and we will see it."
"And I will never walk straight again," Mrs. Leigh fired back, quite annoyed.
Slowly, the wagon creaked around the curve and Lynbrook Manor was in view. It was a stately home, not very large but not small either. I on seeing it, but then noticed something very strange. "The windows have been broken out!" I exclaimed in horror.
"Good heavens!" Mrs. Leigh gasped.
As soon as the hack came to a stop, I jumped to the ground. Mrs. Leigh also climbed down without waiting for assistance. Staring up at the building in shock, I picked up my skirts and hurried for the door.
"Serena!" Mrs. Leigh called out, apprehensively. "You don't know if the fiends are still here!"
"Leigh!" I shouted, ignoring her. "Leigh?"
The front door opened and a familiar figure appeared. Relieved, I launched myself at the gray haired man who stepped out. "Miss Serena!" he said, showing some surprise as I wrapped my arms around his neck. He stiffly returned the embrace as his wife approached. "If I had known you were returning, I would have come to fetch you."
"I sent a telegram," Mrs. Leigh said in protest. She latched onto the same bit of information that I did. "And what do you mean you would have come to get us? Where is Martin?"
Leigh's face grew even more rigid as I stepped back. "Gone, Mrs. Leigh," the butler said gravely. "And if he is caught, he will be arrested for the vandalism of the manor."
"Martin, our groom, did this?" I asked, gesturing at the broken windows. "Why?"
Our driver cleared his throat behind us. "I will explain inside," Leigh said. He went to pay the boy and collect the bags.
"Well, let's see what the damage is, Mrs. Leigh," I said, turning my attention to the front door. Taking a deep breath, I went up the steps. Even though Lynbrook Manor has been my home for only a year now, the destruction that had been exacted on it shocked and upset me. "Why would someone do this?"
From where I stood, the destruction was massive. Chairs and tables overturned. Papers strewn about. The beautiful tapestries that hung on the wall slashed. It was apparent Leigh had already attempted to clean up the mess, but not much had been done.
"When did this happen?" I demanded, spinning around to face the butler. "Where is everyone else?"
"Gone, Miss," Leigh responded, setting the bags down. "For the past three nights, someone has broken in and caused more damage. Martin had left the day before, and the maids and grooms all gave leave yesterday. I have not yet been able to engage replacements."
Disbelieving, I shook her head. "How come you didn't wake and catch the fiends?" Mrs. Leigh demanded.
"And you have been trying to clean up alone?" I added, raising my eyebrows at him. "Really, Leigh. You should have gotten some help first."
"I've done as I saw fit, Miss Serena," Leigh responded stiffly.
"Yes, yes, of course you have," I said, turning around in the room. "Well, it's a good thing Mrs. Leigh and I are here now. Mrs. Leigh, if you will be good enough to help your husband with the cleaning up, I'll see if any of my mother's jewels or my father's papers have been taken."
Mrs. Leigh nodded vigorously. "That I will, Miss Serena," she replied. "We'll have things put right before nightfall."
Fondly, I nodded and started for the staircase. Behind me, Mrs. Leigh began issuing sharp demands to her husband. I smiled in amusement as I made her way to my father's library. I was dismayed to find books torn and ripped, with paper all over the floor.
"This is going to take a while," I said out loud. Kneeling, I began to sort through the mess.