A Countesses Conundrum: Chapter 1, Scene 1.
Ignatius St. Eligius made a sour face at the chemicals arranged haphazardly on his workbench. Something was missing. Correction, several things were missing. With care, he picked through the array of bottles, vials and packets. As sure as two twos equaled four, there were missing ingredients. A loud buzz from the call box made him scrunch up his shoulders at the noise.
Ignatius hobbled over to brass box and pressed a button, “What is it?” he said, with perhaps a touch more vehemence than he intended.
“Ms. Boas has arrived and wishes to see you, sir,” answered William.
Unflappable that man, thought Ignatius. In a more civilized tone he replied, “I will be there in a moment. Lay out something appropriate for whatever meal we are nearest. Thank you, Billy.”
Ignatius took off his leather lab apron and donned a dark blue vest over his white shirt. Taking up his cane, he walked over to the north side of the laboratory/workshop and opened a large wooden door. It revealed a long covered walkway that led to the main house. A chilly wind blew through the path between main house and workshop, carrying along with it a promise of snow. It was something about the air decided Ignatius. There was moisture to it that meant rain under normal circumstances, but given the cold temperature the rain droplets would freeze and expand into snowflakes.
It was not unexpected this time of November, but still weeks away from winter proper. Entering the kitchen, a blast of warm air slapped Ignatius in the face. The air held the scent of fresh bread and hearty stew. Kevin moved about the kitchen with a large wooden spoon stirring various pots. Beads of sweat dotted his forehead below the line of reddish-brown hair that stuck out in many directions.
Normally this was the time that Selena or rather Mary Kendall baked the breads for the next couple of days. She was gone, and it was his fault entirely. A deep pang of guilt hit Ignatius in the midsection. Kevin turned at the entrance of his employer and opened his mouth to greet him, but snapped it closed after taking in the expression on Ignatius’s face.
Quietly, Kevin turned back to the food on the stove. It was better to find work to occupy himself with when Ignatius had that expression. It was anger and guilt. Kevin was not sure over what, but knew better than to ask. Ignatius crossed the room without acknowledging Kevin’s presence and went through the door to the main dining room.
Standing in the middle of the room, next to the large table was Angela. She wore a mud-spattered coat and a pair of chaps over her cotton shirt and jeans. Covering her dark hair was her favorite hat, the one with a string of silver medallions going around the crown. Seeing the hat made Ignatius smile.
“I have not seen that hat since the time we were in Mexico,” he said, a fond smile breaking across his face. A moment later, a frown replaced it. “Why are you dressed like that?”
“Well, you remember how Colonel Witmore dismissed me a couple weeks ago, when we were at Fort Couch? Well, I decided to take matters into my own hands and do a little scouting. It was my trade during the war after all. Anyway, I went upriver and pushed into several of the valleys that shoot off the Susquehanna to the north and east. This turned up nothing really.”
“I see. The Colonel did say he was going to look northwest, as there was a gap in his coverage in that direction.”
“Ah, Ok. Anyway, I didn’t find anything that would lead us to Mary. However, I did find something that may cheer you up a bit.” Angela’s brown eyes danced with mirth and the corners of her mouth twitched inexplicably.
“What did you discover?” Ignatius asked. He was eager for news of any kind.
“Now keep in mind that it isn’t related to our search for Mary,” began Angela.
Something under her coat meowed, loudly.
Ignatius looked at Angela’s coat suspiciously, “I could be mistaken, but I think your coat needs a piece of fish, immediately.”
Smiling broadly, Angela reached into her coat and extracted a large, black bundle of fur, which she held up in front of Ignatius. A pair of emerald green eyes peered out at him. Examining the ball of fluff closer, Ignatius discovered that it was in fact and very large and vocal kitten.
“Take him,” urged Angela.
“What do you mean? ‘Take him?’ As in to keep? There is no room here for a cat,” said Ignatius.
“No room? Please, you have plenty of room.”
“What on Earth made you think that I would want a cat?”
“You told me that story, about getting a kitten for Christmas one year.”
“Baron Von Woofy?” said Ignatius. He had not thought of his childhood pet in a number of years. A sizable paw shot out and took a swipe at Ignatius’s nose. Looking closer, Ignatius saw black spots on the cat’s fur, hard to see even with the overhead light.
“What sort of cat is this?” asked Ignatius, starting to take a closer look. Everything about the animal seemed oversized, especially when he examined the teeth.
“I think he’s a mix. Something local and domesticated blended with Jaguar, if I had to guess.”
“That would account for the size and coloration.” Ignatius slowly reached out and gently massaged the cat between its ears. From deep inside the animal, a purr erupted. Angela proffered the cat one more time. Ignatius scooped the purring beast into his own hands and brought it close.
“Truly an amazing creature. Where did you find it?” he asked Angela.
“There was an abandoned farm about a mile above Clark’s Ferry, on the Susquehanna branch. I saw a lot of cages and more than a couple of carcasses. Someone is experimenting with varying breeds of cat. Could it be…?”
“No,” said Ignatius heading Angela’s thought off. “I do not believe S.V. would stoop to crossbreeding different kinds of animals. It does not fit his pattern of behavior.”
“Will you keep the kitten?” Angela asked.
“What?” said Ignatius, the kitten, which clasped his hand between two paws and licked his fingertips, distracted him. Angela smiled to herself. She saw the gleam in Ignatius’s eyes as he played with the baby cat.
“What will you name him?” she asked.
Ignatius turned the cat several ways peering at the cat’s face, “Ralph,” he said.
Angela shook her head and said nothing about it. In her opinion, it was an odd name for a cat. She pushed that notion aside because she had another question “Since we haven’t heard from the Colonel with new orders, I was hoping you’d take on a quick bit of investigation for me, or rather my neighbor.”
“Has she lost some bit of jewelry or misplaced the deed to her house (just before the bank comes a’ callin’?)”
“No it’s rather more up your alley than that. She believes her brother has returned from the grave.”
A pause hung over the room. Absently Ignatius put Ralph down on the floor and turned to look directly at Angela.
“Did you say, her brother has returned from the grave? As in, was once dead but now walks amongst the living?”
“Yes. She claims he committed suicide last week ago. There was some strife over a land deal. Some shocking information became known and in a fit of despair and disgrace, he ended his own life. Over the last few nights, my neighbor claims to have seen her brother roaming the gardens on their property.”
“Come now, you cannot believe this, can you? In the grave is in the grave. There is no reanimation of the deceased, regardless of what any theories might propose.”
“You’re skeptical? You who argues that one must keep an open mind, to all things,” said Angela raising her voice over Ignatius’s protests.
“I am skeptical. I am intrigued by the situation. What more can you tell me?”
“Ah, Senor, the tales I could tell you would make you stop doubting me. However, I think this is something that the eye witness should tell you, that is if you are interested in investigating it?” said Angela.
She knew the supernatural aspect of the case would draw Ignatius in. He would doggedly pursue the case from one end to the other, if only to make sure that he was in fact right.
“I have a buggy at the front gate, if you’d like I will take you to meet my neighbor.”
“I suppose I must. My stature as a thinker demands that I shed light on this hoax and disprove the notion that people can rise from the grave. It simply cannot be. BILLY!” shouted Ignatius, making both Angela and the new cat wince. In a moment, William Ghendurwald entered the dining room.
“You bellowed, sir?” William asked in an unruffled voice.
“I will need my outer coat, a covered carafe of coffee and some bits of whatever lunch is, packed and ready to go in five minutes.”
“Yes sir, very good. Is there anything else, sir?”
“Arrange accommodations for Ralph if you would, thanks Billy.” said Ignatius.
“Ralph?” asked William.
“Yes, handsome, small black fellow. He is around here somewhere,” said Ignatius glancing around.
“Arrgh! Yes, sir. I do believe I have found him for you, sir.” William’s voice strained. Ignatius grinned wildly, “Oh look at that Angela, Ralph’s already getting to know Billy.”
The cat, left to his own devices, decided that the butler’s leg would be a very good object to climb. Multiple needle sharp claws pierced William’s leg. William’s feeble attempts to dislodge the cat only resulted in the cat tightening its grip. Ignatius stooped down and scooped the cat up and off Williams’ appendage.
“What a clever boy you are, climbing that tree,” cooed the inventor to the feline. The cat purred deeply and rubbed its nose across Ignatius’s cheek.
“Be a good lad and fetch him something to eat from the kitchen. I think we have a bit of fish in there. That will sort the pair of you out,” said Ignatius.
He put Ralph back down on the floor, who then followed William straight into the kitchen as if he had lived at Wyndfast all of his life. Ignatius turned back to Angela.
“Can you tell me anything about your neighbor?”
“Of course, I can tell you all about her on the way over.”
“All right then, let us go call on the dear lady and see if we cannot relieve her of this trouble,” Ignatius said. He picked up his cane and made his way out of the dining room and into the grand foyer. William arrived twenty seconds later bearing Ignatius long coat. It was black with a fine velvet collar, along with a wicker hamper and the carafe.
“Here you are, sir. This will keep you nice and warm. Here is your coffee. Will there be anything else?” asked William.
“Yes, have you any idea where my carpetbag is? All of my tools for investigation are in there. Last time I went out, I did not have it.”
“Yes, it is in the solarium. Stay here sir, I won’t be a moment.”
“I’ll go get the coach ready,” said Angela. “I didn’t have time to get a driver before I came here. So I’ll drive.”
“That is fine. As soon as Billy brings my bag to me, I will be out.”
Angela left through the front door and a moment later William returned bearing Ignatius’s ugly, travel worn carpetbag. The bag clanked beautifully to Ignatius’s ear as he hefted it. It contained a multitude of devices, tools, a few books and other assorted bits and doodads that might possibly come in handy.
“No need to keep supper. You and Kevin tuck in and enjoy. I do not know how long I shall be. In the meantime, please fix up a bed in my room for Ralph.”
“I shall do so at once, sir,” said William soberly.
Carrying his bag in his left hand and his cane in his right, Ignatius made his way out the front door and into the waiting coach. He whistled a merry little ditty as they drove off around the driveway, the earlier clouds over his head dissipating as quickly as darker clouds gathered overhead.