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


Chapter 2
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Lady Jane led Sam down a set of stairs and into what was obviously the service area of the manor.  All was quiet and still, and their way was lit by a few weakly glowing lamps, apparently left on after-hours as night lights.  They passed kitchen and pantry spaces, a scullery, a glass-walled office, and finally came to a nondescript wooden door at the end of a side hall.

Sam decided to risk some conversation.  "Look, if you're worried about Miss Ravenwood, so am I.  Let me help."

Lady Jane opened the door and motioned with her pistol for Sam to enter.  "I told Sir David I would agree to this 'safe house' nonsense only if he kept his people at a distance..."  She reached inside the room, turned a switch, and a bare bulb dangling from the ceiling clicked on.  "...including any of his stable of rosy-cheeked Mata Hari's."

Sam frowned.  "Sir who?"  She entered the room, and her eyes popped wide in surprise.  Several sets of what were unmistakably convict restraints hung from pegs. All were dark iron, paired manacles and shackles linked by heavy chain.  Some sets included collars, and all looked decidedly old, almost medieval.

"Sir David Petrie, of course," Lady Jane snapped, answering Sam's last question.  "Drat.  All locked."  She rattled the connecting chain of one of the sets.  The various elements were, indeed, locked closed.

Sam stared at a row of iron helmets arrayed on a wooden shelf above the hanging chains.  Some were solid, their grey metal surfaces broken only by narrow eye slits, and some were like head-shaped cages.  Sam realized what they were: branks and scolds bridles!  "Sir David Petrie?"

"Director General of MI-5," Lady Jane answered, "as you well know.  Oh, I doubt if he signs your paybook, but you know your own boss."

Sam turned to face her captor, her arms still raised.  "Look, you really have the wrong idea about me.  I'm an MTC driver, and nothing more."

Lady Jane snorted in derision.  "You must think I'm an idiot.  You must all think I'm an idiot."  She pressed the Webley between Sam's breasts.  "If I knew where Cook hid the keys to all this, I'd lock you in a close set and chain you to a back wall in one of the pantries."  The pistol never wavering, she opened a wooden cabinet with her free hand.  "But this will have to do."

Sam turned her head, gazed into the cabinet, and beheld a great many hanks of rope, all neatly coiled and hanging from pegs.  There was also a shelf, above the rope, and on it were stacks of neatly folded cloth.  Sam made a gesture with her raised hands, encompassing all of the contents of the room.  "What is all this?  What is it for?"

Lady Jane laughed, "Why, for punishing the staff, of course.  Nothing makes a clumsy or gossipy maid more attentive to her duties than a few days of working in chains with her mouth gagged or her head clamped in iron."

"That's insane!"

Lady Jane's lips curled an an evil smile.  "The d'Arcy's have always been... traditionalists.  Now—"  She tossed Sam a folded cloth.  "Crumple that up and stuff it in your mouth."

Sam caught the cloth.  It was cheesecloth, and roughly half the size of a tea towel.  "You want me to gag myself?"
"Would you rather I club you on the back of your pretty little head?" Lady Jane offered.  "That would keep you quiet as well."

Sam stared at the end of the Webley's barrel.  "You're making a serious mistake," she warned, and stuffed the cloth in her mouth.  It barely fit.  Looking around at the hanging chains, neatly coiled rope, and the row of steel branks, it occurred to Sam that this was probably no accident.  The neat stack of cheesecloth squares from which it had come were, no doubt, all intentionally sized to stuff and fill servants' mouths.  Insane!

Lady Jane tossed Sam a second folded cloth.  This one was natural linen, and when Sam let it fall open, she discovered it was long and narrow, like a wide sash.  The inevitable order was next.  "Centre it over your mouth and tie it behind your head, and make it tight."

Sam covered her pursed lips, as ordered, stretched the cloth tight, and tied a reef knot at the nape of her neck.  Two long free ends dangled from the knot, all the way to the small of her back.

Meanwhile, Lady Jane took a hank of rather thin rope from a peg, released the hitch that had been tied around its many loops for storage, and shook it loose.  She then tucked her pistol under her left armpit, seized Sam by the shoulders, and spun her around.  "Put your hands behind your back!"

Sam did so, and loops of rope tightened around her crossed wrists.  It belatedly occurred to the dazed prisoner that this might have been her best opportunity to mount a meaningful resistance—but now it was too late.  Her wrists were already trapped.  Lady Jane seemed to know the business of tying people up.  Sam couldn't follow her actions in detail, but whatever she was doing with the rope, it was complex and tight.

"There," Her Ladyship said, as she tied a final knot.  She reached for a second coil of slightly thicker rope, shook it out, and bound Sam's arms to her sides at the level of her elbows.

Sam squirmed as the bands were pulled around her body.  The ropes were uncomfortable but not painful, at least, not at the moment.

Lady Jane spun Sam back around and stared at her gag with a critical frown.  "That won't do," she said, set her pistol on the shelf of the rope cabinet, and spun Sam around again.

Sam felt the knot in the cloth being untied, then Her Ladyship gripped the edges of the cloth from either side, even with her cheeks, and pulled the strip back with a see-sawing motion.  The upper edge of the cloth snapped behind her teeth, then the lower edge.  The cloth was hitched at the nape of her neck, tight enough to make her grunt in complaint, then the free ends stretched back over her mouth, from the right, and then the left.  Her hair was pulled free of the cloth bands, the cinch tightened again, and a reef knot tied.

"There," Lady Jane said, with a satisfied smile, "that's a proper gag."

The stuffing was pressed deeper into Sam's mouth than before, and the triple bands of cloth first cleaving, then covering her lips were very tight.  Sam watched as her captor selected three more hanks of rope, retrieved her pistol, and closed the cabinet door.

Sam was panting through her flaring nostrils, and her rope-framed bosom was heaving.  It was cold in the storeroom.  Her roped arms and silk-covered shoulders were covered with goose-bumps.

"It is rather chilly in here," Lady Jane purred, with a gloating smile.  She reached forward and tugged on the silk of Sam's robe, sliding it under the ropes and restoring its proper drape.  In the process, her hands and the cold steel of the pistol brushed across Sam's erect nipples.  Sam felt her cheeks, already flushed from the tight gag, burn with embarrassment.  "I could finish tying you here and simply leave you on the cold floor," Lady Jane said, "but there's no need to be that cruel, I suppose."

There's no need to be cruel at all! Sam thought, then squawked through her gag as Lady Jane gripped her by the hair and dragged her from the room, pausing only to turn out the light.  Sam had to scramble to match her captor's rapid pace. Both of their robes flapped like diaphanous banners as Her Ladyship hurried her bound and gagged prisoner along.
The d'Arcy Manor Mystery—2
Sam was dragged back to the library, the very room from which the Countess, the two maids, and the bound and gagged Marion Ravenwood had so mysteriously disappeared.  She was led to the rug in front of the hearth, forced to her knees, and then onto her stomach.  Rope tightened around her ankles... then her knees... and finally, her ankles were linked to her wrists in a loose hog-tie.

Sam shook her tousled locks from her face, and rolled onto her side.  She watched as Lady Jane added several pieces of split wood to the fire from a nearby basket.  The dry wood caught and the fire burned with renewed brightness and welcome warmth.

Meanwhile, standing over her helpless captive, Lady Jane broke the Webley open and checked its load.  The flickering firelight danced across her pale figure, beautiful face, and long, red locks.  The virtually transparent silk of her negligée and robe seemed to drape her in mist, rather than clothe her toned body.  She snapped the Webley closed, and smiled down at Sam's anxious face.

"Now, I'm off to put 'M' in her place," she announced.  "You wait right here, Agent Stewart."

Lady Jane walked to one of the bookcases, placed her free hand on a decorative detail of the woodwork, and pressed.  There was an audible click—and an entire section of shelving, books and all, swung inwards.

A secret door! Sam realized.  Lady Jane stepped into the darkness beyond, and the door swung shut.  Sam had already surmised such a door had to exist.  How else could the Countess and her minions have spirited away their captive?  But she'd been expecting a well-camouflaged, but otherwise conventional door, one her earlier search had simply failed to discover.  The swinging bookcase was a genuine secret door, designed to remain hidden even in the face of a determined search.

Sam squirmed in her bonds.  Secret doors—chains, ropes, and gags to punish the servants—what other secrets does this madhouse conceal?

The fire sputtered and flared as the new wood settled in the coals.  No longer cold, Sam was actually a little too warm.  She rolled onto her other side to place a little distance between herself and the blaze.

For the first time in her life, Sam found herself tied up and helpless.  Reason dictated that she would remain a prisoner of Lady Jane's ropes unless she could somehow free her wrists.  She considered and discarded the possibility of using the flames to free herself.  She was nowhere near desperate enough to attempt burning her wrist bonds, even if she could somehow wiggle close enough without setting her silk costume alight.

And speaking of wiggling...  Sam writhed and rolled on the rug, groping with her hands and searching for a weakness in Lady Jane's handiwork.  She could touch what felt like part of a knot, but her fluttering fingers couldn't gain any real purchase.  Further, the angle of her crossed wrists made it nearly impossible for her hands to work in concert.

Sam rolled on the rug, bucking and twisting.  The rope linking her ankles and wrists complicated her efforts considerably.  Several auburn strands had escaped the pink ribbon still valiantly trying to control her hair, and kept falling across her gagged face.  She tossed her head and looked back over her shoulder.  Her dirty, bound, bare feet just might be within reach of her hands, but she couldn't make sense of the tangle of knots cinching her ankle bonds and enforcing the hog-tie.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, Sam reasoned, and I refuse to spend the night trussed up like a goose!  She arched her back and tucked her bound knees, and managed to clutch the heel of her left foot with her left hand.  Even if she couldn't discern the pattern of the knots binding her ankles, she could still try to untie something.

And try she did... and then she tried some more.  After several minutes of effort, she succeeded in loosening and then teasing apart a knot.  She released her foot, and the hog-tie rope snapped taut... and held.  Damn!  Sam grabbed her foot again and renewed her attack.  After several more minutes of awkward, finger-cramping effort, a second knot surrendered.  This time, when she put pressure on the connecting rope, it slithered from between her ankles and she could straighten her legs!

Sam lay on her side, basking in her small victory and the heat of the fire; but she still had quite a way to go to regain her freedom.  And she'd already convinced herself the knots securing her wrist bonds were unreachable.

Her eyes fell on a set of tools hanging from a rack to the side of the fireplace.  There was a poker—possibly useful as a weapon, after she was free—a small broom, and a shovel.  Nothing sharp... unless...

Sam wiggled and rolled, tucking and stretching her legs and upper body.  She inched her way to the side of the fireplace until she could touch the scoop of the shovel with her fingers.  The bottom edge was worn from years of being scraped across the fire-hardened bricks of the hearth.  It was hardly what one could call a honed edge, but it was all she had.

Her position was awkward, but with effort she managed to lift the shovel from its hook.  It rattled and fell to the side, but Sam rolled after it and managed to grab it again.  Lying on her side, she wedged the grip of the handle against the side of the hearth, braced the shaft between her bound feet, clutched the side of the scoop, and began scrapping the "sharp" edge against her wrist ropes.
The d'Arcy Manor Mystery—2
Braided rope might have been more of a challenge, but the dry, twisted hemp of Sam's wrist bonds parted in only a few minutes.  She pulled her wrists free, rubbing them somewhat raw in the process, then attacked the rest of her bonds.  The knots at her knees and ankles surrendered immediately, but the ropes pinning her arms to her sides proved more of a challenge.  Loops hitched around her elbows prevented her from sliding the ropes around and attacking the key knots in the back.  She was afraid she was going to have to resort to sawing the ropes apart with her friend, the shovel, when she managed to squirm one elbow under the ropes and gain enough slack to finally reach the knots.

The last knots untied, Sam let the loose coils slide to her waist.  When she climbed to her feet, they dropped to the floor, forming a tangle around her bare feet.  Next, she untied her gag, unwrapped its folds from across her mouth, and expelled the cheesecloth stuffing.  Sighing in relief, she licked her lips and worked her jaw; then she extended her arms and arched her back in a glorious, vertebra and joint-popping stretch.

Her borrowed sleep wear was much the worse for wear.  Her struggles had opened the left seam of the robe and negligée and her left shoulder and upper arm were now bare—not that they'd been what Sam would have called covered before.  Also, the whisper-thin silk was stained with soot from the hearth and dirt from the rug.  Sam untied her hair, combed it back with her fingers, and retied the pink ribbon.

She returned the shovel to the rack, unhooked the poker, and tested its balance.  Time to find Lady Jane d'Arcy and teach her some manners, she decided, then headed for the bookcase concealing the secret door.  The carved rosette she'd seen Lady Jane press looked like countless others decorating the wooden shelves and panelling, but when she applied firm pressure, the click sounded and the bookcase swung inwards.
The d'Arcy Manor Mystery—2
The library was somewhat dark, despite the still blazing fire; but the stone-walled corridor beyond the secret door was black as pitch.  A quick glance over her now bare left shoulder confirmed that the pewter candleholder Sam had brought from the guest room was still on a side table across the room, right where she'd left it.  She padded over and retrieved it, took a splint of wood from the mantle and lit the candle at the hearth, then returned to the yawning opening of the secret passage.

Sam leaned forward, across the threshold, and peered inside.  The walls, ceiling, and floor were rough stone, ancient and grey.  Just at the limit of the candle's glow she could see an abrupt turn in the passage, and a set of stairs leading down.  Poker in one hand, candle in the other, Sam started forward.

The stones were rough and cold under her bare feet.  The passage was rather narrow, but the ceiling was very high, nearly lost in the darkness.  She made the turn and started down the stairs.  The treads were wide, shallow, and worn.  She squinted into the darkness—and found she could see a faint, flickering glow, beyond the light of her candle.

Sam listened intently, but there was no sound, other than her own breathing.  She tightened her grip on the poker, and crept forward.

The stairs emptied onto a much wider corridor with a vaulted ceiling.  It stretched in both directions; but to the right, several yards from the stair opening, she found the source of the new light—a candle flickering in a niche in the wall.  The left corridor was in total darkness.

Indistinct footprints disturbed the dust carpeting the stone floor.  A few old sets led to the left, but most led to the right, and some looked quite fresh.  Sam took the right path.  As she passed the niche with the candle, she noted a huge mound of wax drippings, some nearly reaching the floor.  Obviously, candles had been burned there for many years.

Sam continued along the passage.  It curved to the left, and several yards beyond was an archway.  Sam crept closer.  Set in the arch was a solid oak door bound with massive iron straps.  It was standing slightly ajar, and had a small, barred window at head level.  Substantial light was spilling into the passage.  The room beyond was lit by either a host of candles or actual burning torches.

As Sam came closer still, she heard an urgent, echoing, mewling sound coming from the room.  She edged to the door jam.  The first thing she could see was a wooden stool near the threshold, and on it was either Lady Jane's Webley service revolver, or its twin.  Much better than a poker, Sam decided, if I can get my hands on it.  She eased to the side, more of the room came into view—and Sam's eyes popped wide.

Lady Jane d'Arcy was locked in a cage—a very unique cage.  It was made from about a dozen iron bands, joined by rivets and welds, and was like a close-fitting gibbet!  One continuous, vertical band followed every curve of Lady Jane's profile, following the shape of her head, shoulders, sides, waist, thighs, and legs, with less than an inch to spare at any single point.  Horizontal bands followed her shape as well, wrapping around her forehead, throat, above and below her breasts, waist, hips, thighs, knees, calves, and ankles.  Her feet were cradled in what amounted to iron slippers, and a hinged iron panel was padlocked across her mouth.  Lady Jane's hands were behind her back—Sam surmised she was probably tied—and cage and all, she was suspended several inches off the stone floor by a chain attached to the top of the cage.

Sam's heart was hammering.  She'd never seen anyone so totally helpless in her life.  Oh, she'd read about horrific ordeals suffered by the martyred saints, outrages perpetrated by the Holy Inquisition, ghastly ancient and medieval methods of punishment and execution—but this was real, and happening before her very eyes!

Sam didn't care for Lady Jane; specifically, her superior attitude.  She'd been raised to believe that all people deserved polite respect, not just those listed in Burke's Peerage—but no one should be locked in what amounted to a full-body, rigid, iron harness!  Now I have two damsels in distress to rescue, Sam thought.  

Lady Jane wasn't the source of the muffled voice still echoing from the room, and the caged red-head's eyes were focused on something further inside.  From the gap of the open door Sam couldn't see whatever Her Ladyship was watching, so she slowly, silently moved to the barred window in the door itself—and her eyes popped wide again!

The mysterious Countess was gracefully reclined against a pile of plush cushions on a thick Persian carpet, and Marion Ravenwood's head and shoulders were cradled in her lap.  Marion was still bound, gagged, and dressed in the same flimsy negligée and robe Sam had seen her wearing before; however, her feet were now locked in a set of heavy stocks, and her toes were tied with hemp cord, one to each of a neat row of ten nails driven into the stock's top timber.  One of the maids—not Zaza, this one had short, curly, blonde hair—was kneeling before the stocks and was using a goose quill to tickle the soles of the helpless American's feet!

The Countess was combing her fingers through Marion's dark hair.  "Poor, thing," she cooed.  "Are you ready to talk yet?  To tell me what I want to know?"  Marion focused on the Countess' face and scowled, but clearly, most of her attention was on what was happening to her helpless feet.  "Don't make me use even more persuasive methods," the Countess continued, "like el bastinado.  The Abwehr want you delivered in perfect health, but I'm sure they'll overlook a few bruises."  She continued stroking Marion's hair, as if she were cuddling a favourite pet.  "Try the toes again, Marie," she ordered.

"Yes, ma'am," the maid answered, and began using the tip of the quill to stroke the sensitive skin between Marion's bound toes.

Marion bucked and struggled, but was helpless to prevent the maid from teasing and tormenting her pinioned toes.

"You're being very silly," the Countess continued.  "All I want to know is the whereabouts of Doctor Jones and the mysterious artifact he stole from that SS-Ahnenerbe expedition in the Eastern Mediterranean.  Tell me those two things, and I'll let you rest."

Sam frowned.  The Countess was working for the Germans!  Sam's duty was clear.  She set her poker and candleholder on the passage floor.  She realized the door was in the Countess' direct line of sight, so stealth was out of the question.  She thought her moves through, took a deep breath, and acted!

Sam shoved her weight against the door, lunged inside, grabbed the pistol, and levelled it at the Countess.  A quick glance and the position of the switch under her thumb confirmed that the Webley's safety was at off.  "No one move!" she ordered.
The d'Arcy Manor Mystery—2
A flash of surprise crossed the Countess' beautiful face, then her gloating smile returned.  "Driver Stewart, you've decided to join us," she said in a mocking voice.

"Hands up!" Sam ordered.

The Countess and the maid raised their arms.  The maid was still holding the quill.  "Like this?" the Countess inquired, glancing at each of her hands, then smiling at Sam.  "You aren't going to shoot us, are you?"

"I'll do exactly that," Sam warned, "unless you follow my orders."  Actually, Sam wasn't at all sure she could shoot the Countess or her maid, and wouldn't know 'til push came to shove; but she couldn't let them know that.

Sam stepped further into the room, and examined the back of Lady Jane's cage with a sidelong glance.  Every horizontal band was secured with its own padlock.  There were at least ten of them.  "All right," Sam said.  She pointed the pistol at the maid.  "You have the keys?"  The maid nodded.  "I want you to unlock Her Ladyship."  The pistol centred on the Countess.  "And you, Countess, are to remain perfectly still."

The Countess nodded in approval.  "Only one of us in motion at a time.  Very wise."  Her smile turned decidedly evil.  "But no."

"You'll do as I say, or—"

"Or you'll shoot us," the Countess interrupted with a sneer.  "No, you won't."

"I will!" Sam responded.

"No, you won't.  Not with that pistol, anyway."  The Countess crossed her arms across her ample chest.  "Do you really think I would have left Lady Jane's secret pistol in the secret drawer of her bedside cabinet without replacing the bullets with dummies?"

Sam's stomach turned in a knot and her blood ran cold.  It made sense.  She was repeating Lady Jane's mistake—barging in to rescue Marion with a useless weapon—or was the Countess bluffing?  "I don't believe you.  Put your hands back up."

"Enough of this nonsense," the Countess growled.  "Zaza!"

Suddenly, Sam was seized from behind.  The pistol clicked as she jerked the trigger by reflex.  There was no report.  The rounds were dummies.  "Let me go!" Sam shouted, her voice echoing through the vaulted chamber.

Zaza had her in a tight embrace from behind, her arms pinning Sam's arms to her sides, her hands gripping her wrists and holding them together in front.  Her chin was on her shoulder, and the side of her face close against Sam's.

"It ees useless to resist," Zaza said, her lips an inch from Sam's ear.  "Zaza 'ave you now."

Sam continued to struggle.  "Oh—Let me go!" she complained, but the French maid was surprisingly strong.  

"Marie," the Countess ordered, "go help Zaza deal with that brat."

The blonde maid lowered her hands and climbed stiffly to her feet.  "Yes, ma'am," she said, stepped forward, pulled the pistol from Sam's hand, and grinned in her face.  "Yer might as well surrender, Ducky.  We gottcha."

Sam groaned and ceased her pointless squirming.  It was true, they did have her.
The d'Arcy Manor Mystery—2
Sam tugged on her wrist bonds.  For the second time in her life, and in the same evening, she was bound and helpless.  The maids had dragged her to a horizontal iron bar with iron manacles dangling on short chains from either end.  The bar was suspended like a trapeze from a chain that travelled through a pulley in the ceiling and down to a windlass solidly embedded in the stone floor near the far wall.

Overcoming her energetic, but ultimately futile struggles, they locked Sam's wrists in the manacles, and locked her ankles in shackles chained to rings in the floor.  Zaza then strolled to the windlass, smiled sweetly, and began turning the wheel.  The chain rolled onto the drum, the ratchet and pawl clicked, and soon Sam was up on her toes with her arms stretched overhead.  Both ankles and wrists were about two feet apart.  Zaza threw a lever that locked the mechanism, then strolled back towards their new prisoner.  Meanwhile, Marie had stepped behind the still-struggling captive.

"Let me go, you traitors!" Sam growled.  "Ow!"  Zaza had grabbed her hair, given it a twist, and was holding it atop her head.  "Let me—M'mmpfh!"

Marie had reached from behind and stuffed a rag in Sam's mouth, and now was wrapping and tying a narrow, bandage-like gag.  As before, when Lady Jane had been the one doing the honours, she first cleaved, then covered Sam's mouth.

Tasks completed, the maids stepped back, and the Countess stepped forward.  She lifted Sam's chin, and turned the captive's head from side to side, inspecting Marie's handiwork.  "Oh, don't call us traitors, Miss Stewart," she cooed.  "Zaza hates the Boche as much as any daughter of France.  But like Marie, myself, and the others in our little ring, she loves their money even more."

The maids giggled.  "Orders, Madam?" Zaza asked.

The Countess released Sam's chin, then glanced down at the still bound and gagged Marion.  The American stared back, anger in her flushed, tear-stained face, her bound toes feebly wiggling as she fought her bonds.  "I'm afraid we won't get any information out of Miss Ravenwood."  She turned to the blonde maid.  "Marie, make your telephone call to start activating the rest of the sleeper agents."

"Yes, ma'am," Marie responded, curtsied, and left the chamber.

"Zaza," the Countess continued, "help me select a costume for Miss Ravenwood... for her journey."

Zaza rested the palm of her hand on Sam's silk-covered rump, causing the helpless prisoner to flinch and glare.  "An' what of zhe Lady Jane an' Miss Stewart?" she inquired.

The Countess' smile became frighteningly evil.  "Oh... no reason to rush a decision.  We have hours remaining before our departure."  She turned and walked through the door.  "I'll think of something!" her voice echoed back into the chamber.

Zaza made a final check of Sam's bonds, went to Marion and checked her bonds as well, then went to Lady Jane and gave her cage a shake.   Obviously, none of the captives were going anywhere.

"Bonne soirée," Zaza said, stepped across the threshold, and pulled the door shut with a bang.  A bolt was thrown, a lock turned, a cover snapped shut over the door's barred window—and the prisoners were alone.
The d'Arcy Manor Mystery—2

Chapter 1
Chapter 3