Honeysuckle Weeks as Samantha Stewart SAM's WAR
The d'Arcy Manor Mystery
by Van ©2006


Chapter 1
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This story is dedicated to the late Gillian B, who would have been its co-author, had the fates allowed.


Samantha Stewart was not having a good day.  She'd brought her assigned vehicle, DCS Foyle's Wolseley 6/80 saloon, to the Hastings Mechanized Transport Corps depot for its scheduled oil change, and things had gone downhill from there.

First, she found herself (the car, actually) bumped to the bottom of the queue, behind a collection of staff cars, lorries, and two American jeeps, all needing service immediately.  (Actually, Sam suspected the overweight cow who ran the garage didn't like her, but what could she do?)

Second, the canteen had served cabbage soup for lunch.  At least, that's what was written on the chalk board.  Sam suspected the cook had misspelled "compost".  Weak tea, stale bread, and over-salted, pale green sludge with specks of spam... hardly a meal at all.

Third, she'd called the station to explain the delay, and Sgt. Rivers had told her in no uncertain terms that she (the car, actually) was needed immediately.   Something about VIPs who had arrived on the mid-day train from London and needed assistance.

Oil finally changed and the petrol tank full, Sam had driven back to the Hastings Police Station as quickly as possible.  The sky had been a threatening grey all day, and just as she eased into the Boss' reserved parking space it began to rain.

"You better go right in," Sgt. Rivers said as Sam hung her trench coat on the rack beside the front desk.  He nodded towards DCS Foyle's door.

Sam smiled, nervously.  "Am I in trouble?"

Rivers laughed.  "Up to your pretty neck, I'm sure."

He was joking, of course.  One couldn't find a better boss than DCS Foyle.  He might be demanding, and was never one to suffer fools gladly, but he was always fair, and the delay wasn't her fault.  Sam knocked on the door, then entered the office.

Her boss looked up from behind his desk and gave her a weak, rather harassed smile.  The pair of visitor chairs opposite were occupied by two women.

The first was early middle-age, and quite glamorous, with flaming red hair, fair skin, and stunning green eyes.  She was wearing an expensive coat with a mink collar and an elegant hat with a net veil.  Her stocking-clad legs were crossed, and a very nice pair of high-heeled shoes were on her feet.  Very fashionable, indeed.  She glanced at Sam (and her olive-drab MTC uniform) and her expression became immediately (and aristocratically) dismissive.

The second woman was younger than the first but a little older than Sam, and she was... different.  Her clothes weren't as expensive or as elegant as the snooty red-head's.  They were well made, but the cut was a little unusual, possibly foreign.  Her hair was dark brown, and her face quite attractive (in a tomboyish, hoydenish sort of way).  Her complexion was fair and slightly sunburned, with an abundance of freckles.  Her eyes were pale blue, and she flashed a friendly, welcoming smile.  Sam couldn't help but smile back.

"A bit of a delay at the depot, I understand," Foyle stated.

Sam cleared her voice.  "Afraid so, sir. Unavoidable."

Foyle nodded, then indicated his guests.  First, the redhead.  "This is Lady Jane d'Arcy."

Her Ladyship nodded, ever so slightly.

Sam touched the brim of her cap.  "Ma'am."

"And this is Marion Ravenwood," Foyle continued, indicating the brunette, "from New York."

Marion rose from her chair and offered her hand.  "Pleased," she said, still smiling.

Sam took her hand.  "Samantha Stewart."

Lady d'Arcy cleared her throat, and gave DCS Foyle a significant look.

Foyle hid his annoyance well, but Sam could tell he didn't care for his aristocratic guest's superior manner.  "Sam, I'd like you to drive Lady d'Arcy and Miss Ravenwood to d'Arcy Manor.  Do you know the place?"

Sam shook her head.  "No, sir."

"I'm not surprised," Foyle continued.  "It's off  travelled roads and rather well-hidden.  Sgt. Rivers has written instructions and a map."  He turned to Lady d'Arcy.  "I apologize again for the delay."

Lady d'Arcy rose from her chair.  "Yes, of course," she muttered, and left the office.

Marion Ravenwood was right behind her, but she paused to smile at Foyle and shake his hand.  "Don't worry about the wait," she said, then leaned close and continued in a whisper.  "I hear there's a war on."

Sam suppressed a smile.  If she'd heard the remark, so had Her Ladyship.  Marion winked at Sam as she passed, and Sam couldn't hide her mirth any longer.  Foyle did a better job.  He favoured Sam with a disapproving, warning frown (somewhat softened by the twinkle in his eyes).  Sam coughed (to hide her smile), touched her cap in salute, and hurried after her passengers-to-be.
The d'Arcy Manor Mystery—1
The journey to d'Arcy Manor was plagued by further delay.  Twice, they were forced to pause at major road junctions while seemingly endless military convoys rolled past.  And the rain didn't help.  At several points they had to cross flooded low points in the road, at a crawl, so as not to flood the Wolseley's engine.

Sam was able to follow Sgt. Rivers' instructions without difficulty, although after only a few twists and turns she was in totally unfamiliar territory.  Her passengers were in the back, mostly sitting in silence, but Sam did catch enough conversation to learn that both had recently arrived on a convoy from America, and Lady d'Arcy was returning to her ancestral home after an absence of many years in Canada.

When they finally came to the iron gate barring entrance to the grounds of d'Arcy Manor, it was getting seriously dark and the rain had become a torrent.  Sam had no choice but to leave her dry, warm seat, open the heavy gate, climb back behind the wheel, pull the car through, then get out again and close the gate.  Marion, to her credit, offered to help, but Sam would have none of it.  No sense getting two people wet.  And wet she was, by the time they arrived at the front entrance of the Manor proper.  Sam's trench coat, cap, hair, and collar were drenched, and her feet were squelching in her sopping wet shoes with every step.

d'Arcy Manor, what Sam could see of it in the driving rain, was somewhat palatial.  A three story edifice of red brick with Gothic spires, all covered in ivy, it offered sufficient space to house a small regiment—which made Sam wonder why it hadn't been requisitioned in some capacity for the war effort.  Lady d'Arcy must have powerful connections.

As the car came to a halt, Sam could see that they had a reception committee of three.  Two were maids, dressed in the traditional black and white uniforms (although their skirts were unfashionably short and their necklines almost scandalously low).  The third was a rather tall, dark-haired woman.  She was strikingly beautiful, and dressed completely and expensively in black.  The maids used umbrellas to shield Lady d'Arcy and Marion as they hurried into the Manor's entrance hall.

Sam sighed, left the shelter of the driver's seat, opened the boot, and began wrestling with the luggage.  The maids returned to help, but by the time they had Lady d'Arcy's matching leather suitcase, hatbox, make-up case, and small trunk under shelter, as well as Marion's two much less expensive bags, Sam was even more wet and bedraggled.

Sam looked up, and found Lady d'Arcy and the woman in black regarding her with amused interest from the shelter of the entryway.  She stepped out of the rain, and the woman in black handed her a small towel.

"I am Countess Marelda," she said.  "You are... the driver?"  The Countess really was very beautiful—movie star beautiful—with dark hair and an olive complexion, and she spoke with a trace of a foreign accent.

Lady d'Arcy affected a rather oily smile.  "Oh, please 'M'.  She can't very well tell us she works for MI-5, or MI-6, or one of the upstart acronymic organizations, now can she?"

Sam looked from the Lady Jane to the Countess in confusion, then patted her face with the towel. She had no idea what they were going on about, but apparently they had mistaken her for someone else.   "I—I don't understand," she stammered.  "I'm Samantha Stewart, MTC volunteer, seconded to the Hastings Police."

"Yes, of course you are," Lady d'Arcy snapped, then turned and walked away, deeper into the house.

The Countess laughed.  "Well, Samantha Stewart, MTC volunteer... welcome to d'Arcy Manor."

Sam continued drying her face and hair.  "You're a member of the family?" she inquired.

The Countess' smile faded slightly.  "My, you certainly have the curiosity expected of an Intelligence agent, don't you?  In answer to your rather forward question, I am a guest of the master of the manor, Sir Dystic d'Arcy, currently serving with His Majesty's forces in Egypt.  Actually, Lady Jane is the visitor.   She inherited property in Ireland, I believe."

"I see," Sam said.  "Well, it's been a pleasure to meet you, but I suppose I'd better head back to Hastings."

"Oh no!" the Countess exclaimed.  "I can't allow you to leave, not in this storm."  Sam began to protest, but was ignored.  The Countess turned to one of the maids. "Zaza, get Agent—I mean, Driver Stewart out of that wet uniform and into a bath.  Put her in one of the upper guest rooms."

"I should call the station!" Sam objected, as the Countess turned and walked away, following in Lady d'Arcy's wake.

"The telephone lines are down again, I'm afraid," the Countess called over her shoulder.

"Is true, Miss," the maid said, as she helped Sam out of her trench coat.  She was obviously French, and nearly as exotically attractive as her mistress.  "Zhe rain, zhe wind, zhe falling branches—it happen all zhe time.  Zhees way."

Sam was unconvinced.  "But—"

Zaza hung Sam's coat from a hook beside the door, then took her arm.  "It is dark, raining, you are wet, and es almost time for dinner.  Come."

Sam's stomach grumbled.  Whatever they would be having, it had to be better than the cold spam sandwich she could expect when she got back to Hastings.  Suddenly, the gusting wind caused the nearest windows to rattle.  Incredibly, the storm was actually getting worse.  Several of those low spots they'd encountered on the way here were probably small, impassable lakes at this point.

"Well, there's nothing for it, I suppose," Sam sighed, and allowed herself to be led away.
The d'Arcy Manor Mystery—1
The guest room was twice the size of Sam's flat back in Hastings, and had its own attached bath and WC!  The maid turned the taps to start filling the huge, claw foot tub, and sprinkled in some soap and bath salts from a pair of elegant bottles with labels in French.  She then curtsied and left.

Sam went to the bed, a four-poster with a full canopy, disrobed, and arranged her uniform and underwear on the blanket press at the foot.  Everything was rumpled and damp, with her cap and the collar of her blouse by far the worst.  I suppose I'll have to borrow an iron, she mused, then pattered into the bathroom and slid into the hot, steaming water.

It felt glorious!  Sam drifted, totally submerged but for her head and knees, letting the heat ease her muscles, and enjoying the lavender scent of the white suds.  The salts dissolved in the water made it feel silky against her skin.  Glorious!  She used a washcloth to scrub her face and body, but was careful to keep her hair as dry as possible.

Eventually, Sam realized her fingers were becoming wrinkled.  She pulled the plug, stood in the now tepid, draining water, and used a large, luxuriously soft and fluffy towel to dry herself.   I could get used to this, she thought, then wrapped the towel around her torso and pattered back into the bedroom.

To her surprise, her uniform and all her undergarments were gone, even her shoes!  In their place was a sheer, gauzy negligée of white silk.  It was sleeveless, and had a scandalously low-cut décolletage.  Next to it was an equally sheer, equally low-cut robe.  It had long sleeves, and salmon pink ribbons at the throat and cuffs.  Neither garment was appropriate for a vicar's daughter, that was for sure.

Just then the door opened and Zaza entered, carrying a tray.  "Did mademoiselle enjoy her bath?" she inquired.

"Uh, yes, thank you," Sam answered, embarrassed to be seen in such a state of undress.  It was silly, of course.  Zaza was only doing her job.  Still, it wasn't something Sam was used to.  "Uh, where are my clothes?"

"Zhe laundry," Zaza explained.  "Zhey will be return in zhe morning." She nodded at the tray.  "Ham, green beans, and parsley potatoes," Zaza announced, and removed the silver cover.

Sam's stomach growled in anticipation.  "That sounds delicious, Zaza.  Thank you."

Zaza was busy lighting the fire already laid in the bedroom's small fireplace.  "Mademoiselle is most welcome," she purred, then walked towards the bed.  Before Sam was aware of her intentions, she picked up the negligée, then pulled the towel from Sam's body.

"Zaza!" Sam protested, blushing and covering her breasts and private parts with her left arm and right hand.

"Zhe English," Zaza laughed, rolling her eyes.  She held the negligée for Sam to don.  "Mademoiselle?"

Still blushing, Sam turned her back and raised her arms.  Zaza dropped the flimsy garment over her head and smoothed it down her body.  It came to mid thigh, and did almost nothing to hide Sam's nakedness.  In fact, Sam felt more naked than if she actually was naked!  "Aren't there any knickers?" she muttered.

"Oh?  No culotte?"  Zaza made a show of examining the bed, and Sam's body.  She picked up a long ribbon from the bedspread.  It was the same colour as the ribbon closures on the robe.  "Zhis is for zhe hair."  She pulled the pins from Sam's hair and let it fall from its former regulation bun to a tousled, auburn mass, then used the ribbon to pull it back into a loose ponytail.  "I look for zhe knickers... and bring zhem later, if I find zhem.  Okay?"

Sam hurriedly pulled on the robe, not that it did much good, cover-wise.  "That's all right, Zaza.  Thank you for your help."

"My pleasure, mademoiselle," Zaza answered, then turned down the bed with quick professionalism, curtsied, and left the room.

Sam examined herself in the bedroom's full-length mirror.  As she feared, the so-called robe was no help whatsoever in preserving, or rather, in establishing her modesty.  Her breasts and nipples were clearly visible through the two layers of whisper-thin silk; and down below... the hanging folds hid her private parts a little, but not nearly enough.

Luckily, between the heat provided by the bedroom's radiators and the now roaring fireplace, Sam was quite comfortable... bloody well embarrassed, of course... but comfortable.

"Dinner!" she remembered, and hurried to the small table.  The slice of ham was gigantic, and in addition to the promised green beans and potatoes, there was a garnish of pearl onions, a bottle of wine, a flaky roll on a side plate with a generous pat of soft butter, salt and pepper, and a pot of stone-ground mustard for the ham! There was even a small dish of some sort of baked pudding for dessert.  It was a feast!

I suppose I ought to make a report to the boss about possible black market dealings, Sam mused, then cut a small slice of ham, added a dab of mustard, and popped it in her mouth.  But I wouldn't want to be a rude guest.

It was now full night, and the nearby window was being pelted with rain.  Sam was very thankful not to be out in the storm.  She was also thankful for the warm room, excellent meal, and waiting bed.
The d'Arcy Manor Mystery—1
Sam opened her eyes.  The room was dark, lit only by the glow of coals and a few fitful flames from the fireplace. She didn't know the exact time, but if felt like it was quite late, well after midnight.  The window rattled in a gust of wind. It was still raining.

That wasn't what had woken her up.  Sam had heard something.  She lay in the warm bed for several seconds, listening.  Nothing.

Sam had just about convinced herself she'd been having a dream, when she heard it again—the sound that had disturbed her slumber—a muffled scream!  It was far away, but sound carries in a big house, especially at night.  Growing up in the vicarage, Sam could remember hearing her father puttering around at night, all the way out in the sanctuary.  She'd heard that scream!  She was sure of it!  Someone was in trouble!

Sam slid from under the covers.  Pity there are no slippers, she thought.  Her bare feet were already cold, but there was nothing for it.  She pulled on the nearly useless robe and tied the ribbon closures.  There was an antique pewter candle holder on the bedside cabinet.  It had a handle and a broad, dish-like base.  It was the walking-about type, and just what she needed.  There was also a box of sulphur-tip matches.  She struck a match and lit the candle.

Sam reached back and retied her hair with the pink ribbon, recapturing several errant strands in the process.  "Courage to the sticking place, Sam," she muttered under her breath, and headed for the bedroom door.
The d'Arcy Manor Mystery—1
The hallway was nearly pitch black.   The interior of the manor was panelled in dark oak, the furniture was all equally dark, and most of the drapes and wall hangings were deep red.  Sam's candle shed a weak, somewhat tiny sphere of light, adequate to prevent her from tripping over things, but woefully inadequate to illuminate what might be more than a few feet away.  What she needed was an electric torch... and a revolver, and a squad of stalwart constables with Foyle or Milner in command.  But all she had was her borrowed candle.

She rounded a corner, and beheld a long corridor of windows with white, gauzy curtains, all billowing in the drafts leaking past the rattling windowpanes.  The wind was whistling and moaning, and the rain drumming on the streaming glass.

And here I am wandering the halls in my frilly nightie with my silly little flame, Sam mused.  If this was an Edgar Wallace story, there'd be a deranged maniac stalking me with a dagger or a garrotte right now.  The wind gusted and Sam's candle flickered.  The flame steadied, flicked again, then went out!  Oh wonderful!

Sam had reached the end of the hall and was at the landing above a staircase.  She was about to start trying to find her way back to her room—when she heard the sounds of a struggle of some sort on the floor below.  She eased to the rail and peered down, and beheld a bobbing, wavering glow. It was more candle light, approaching the open area below from a side hall.

The Countess came into view, carrying a candelabra with five candles.  "Keep her quiet!" she ordered in a soft voice, looking back the way she had come.  She was wearing the same black dress as when Sam had arrived.

Next, two of the maids dragged a bound and gagged Marion Ravenwood from the darkness!  The maids were in uniform, and Marion was in a negligée and robe similar to Sam's borrowed nightwear.  The petite brunette's wrists were tied behind her back, and her arms were pinned to her sides by a tight network of rope passing above and below her breasts.  Something substantial was stuffed in her mouth, and a narrowly folded silk scarf was keeping it there.

The captive was not happy, and she was not going quietly into the dark night.  Marion struggled and twisted, fighting the maids' efforts to drag her along, and she was sending a steady tirade of well-muffled curses and protests past her gag.

"I said, keep her quiet!" the Countess hissed.  She held a door open, and the maids dragged Marion across the threshold.  As they passed the candles, Sam could now see that one of the maids was Zaza.

What the hell is going on? Sam wondered.  The door below closed, and she was again in near total darkness.   Three against one, Sam pondered, two, if I count the bound, gagged, and helpless Maid Marion.  The prospect of Sam being able to rescue the reluctant captive on her own seemed quite remote, but perhaps she could find out where the prisoner was being taken, and what was behind her apparent abduction.

Sam slowly, carefully made her way down the stairs, with the candle holder still in one hand.  It wasn't much of a weapon, but it was all she had.  She finally came to the door behind which captive and captors had disappeared.  She listened for several seconds... and heard nothing.  She eased the door open an inch.

The room beyond was dimly lit by a guttering fireplace... and was apparently no longer occupied.  Sam opened the door a little wider, eased inside, and pulled it silently closed behind her.  It was a library, with floor-to-ceiling, built-in shelves lining every wall but one, and that was a bank of tall windows.  Sam looked around for other doors... and frowned.  There were no other doors.

Sam examined the windows.  They weren't designed to allow easy egress, and if they had been used to spirit Marion into the dark, rainy night, the surrounding carpet and drapes would have been wet, if not drenched... and they weren't.

She set the candle holder down on a small table and made a slow, quiet circuit of the room.  Old libraries sometimes had hidden doors covered with the spines of false books, or perhaps there was a small section of panelling, somewhere, that was actually a door.  All the bookcases were genuine and the panelling solid, or so it seemed.  There were thousands of leather-bound books and portfolios—but no doors, other than the one Sam had used to enter the room—and no kidnappers or kidnap victim!

"This is crazy," Sam muttered, taking one last look around the room.  She opened the door to leave—and found herself staring at the business end of a Webley service revolver!  It was in the pale hand of Lady Jane d'Arcy.

Her Ladyship was dressed much like Sam (and the missing Marion), only she had knickers under her negligée and robe.  Her red hair was loose about her shoulders, and her face was flushed with anger.  "I knew you were more than you claimed!" she accused in a hoarse whisper.  "Tell me who you work for, and what you've done with Miss Ravenwood!"

"I-I didn't do anything," Sam stammered.  "It's the Countess."  She turned to gesture into the library, then froze at the sound of the Webley being cocked.

"Don't move!" Lady d'Arcy ordered.  "Hands up!"

Sam swallowed nervously.  "I-I-uh, which do you want?  For me to not move, or to put my hands up?"

"Very funny," Lady Jane snapped, and thrust the pistol forward until it touched the tip of Sam's nose.  "Put your hands up, shut your mouth, and come with me."

Sam raised her hands.  "Where are we going?"

"Some place quiet and out of the way," Lady Jane said.  "Not another word!"  She took a step back, and motioned with the Webley for Sam to step through the door.  "Whatever game it is you think you're playing, I'm taking you off the board.  Now, move!"

Hands still raised, the barrel of the Webley pressed against the small of her back, Sam was led away down the dark hallway.
The d'Arcy Manor Mystery—1

Chapter 2