He looked astonished, and took pains to close the door from the library to the ballroom. “What nonsense is this, Miss Jameson? I closed the door because I want no whiff of this conversation going beyond the two of us. You simply cannot make such accusations of a peer, much less of someone from as distinguished a family as Lady Deanna.”
I leaned against an antique desk missing several drawer knobs. “Hear me out, Captain. Consider your own analysis: the theft was aided, if not orchestrated, by someone inside the household. This lets out all of the guests, except perhaps Baron Slater, who has been a frequent visitor to this house. The caterers, too, are from a local firm, but it is unlikely that any of those here tonight have spent much time exploring the house or are familiar with her ladyships’s ways.
“Another indication that the crime was planned from inside was the matching gown: only a person intimate with the household would have known the details of the gown to such a degree as to be able to have it copied so precisely. Of course, the dressmaker would have such knowledge, but the dressmaker would not know about the hidden stairs, and so on.”
He looked unhappy. “You’re just telling me what I already know, lady.”
“Bear with me, Captain. Someone needed to have access to the jewels to copy. Presumably we were meant to think that, had Lady Deanna not discovered the theft as quickly as she did, that the thief would have been able to use the imitation jewelry to conceal the evidence of the crime until the thief was safely away. For this to be credible, the imitations had to be fairly accurate representations of the real jewels. Only someone with access to the real jewels would have had that access. I venture to guess that only Lady Deanna herself had such access. She created this elaborate ruse to divert suspicion from the household and on to this mysterious creature who arrived tonight.” I paused, recalling that I had thought I had seen the Duchess leave the powder room at one point. “I think the plan was for the imposter to make her entrance, then position herself on the balcony near the powder room. Lady Deanna would use the scene the imposter created with the identical dress as an excuse to use the room. When the room was otherwise empty, the imposter would enter, place the imitation jewels down, and take Lady Deanna’s place in front of the mirror. The real Duchess would leave with the real jewels, and she secreted the jewels in the library. When the room was again clear, the two exchanged places again. While the imposter was in the powder room, guests would see the lilac ball gown and the back of a woman with the Duchess’s hairstyle, and would likely not speak unless spoken to because the Duchess was so overtly upset. Almost the entire time there was one woman in the powder room and one in the library or on the balcony.”
Armstrong looked uncomfortable as he processed this information, but I could tell he was intrigued. “Go ahead, then, tell me: why would Lady Deanna steal her own jewels? She is from one of the wealthiest families in the nation, and is marrying into more money.”
“Ah, but is she wealthy? I looked at the missing knobs on this desk, the chipped statuary outside in need of repair, the lack of servants for this large house that has led to a dusty library and the need to hire caterers for tonight’s occasion. If you look for them, I suspect there are other signs the estate is in trouble. She spent lavishly for the ball tonight in a desperate effort to conceal that trouble: she paid for a couture gown, the band, the food and drink for a large guest list, but this might be all she could muster. No doubt Baron Slater expects to combine fortunes, not to marry someone destitute, and Lady Deanna, knowing she needed to conceal her difficulties for a little longer, was willing to take extreme measures to preserve the illusion. She would make everyone believe the jewels were stolen, collect the insurance money, and then sell the real jewels on the black market, keeping her solvent until the marriage.”
“If you are right, the scandal will be devastating to her. The Baron will surely call off the marriage.” Armstrong tugged on his ill-fitting jacket. “At the same time, I can’t ignore the possibility. There’s sense in what you say, Miss Jameson. If you’re right, we shall never see the mystery guest in Caledon again.” He ticked off each finger in turn as he said, “We can check Lady Deanna’s travel schedule to see where she might have gone. I believe she owns property in Winterfell, where there are discreet jewelers who might be willing to make an imitation and keep their mouths shut. We can inquire where she might have had a replica gown made – perhaps in Steeltown. If she really is in dire need of funds, I may be able to pressure her by letting her know that the insurance company will be doing a thorough investigation before they pay a cent, and that we will be watching carefully for the pearl and larger diamonds to be sold.”
I nodded happily. “One other suggestion, sir: you might have your men search the house thoroughly for the jewelry. She likely paid off her accomplice already, in anticipation that the two would never again meet. That means the jewels likely never left the house – would you give a priceless set of jewelry to a woman you had told to disappear forever?”
He agreed to the search. Although we were concerned that she had used some centuries-old, out-of-the-way cubbyhole that a search would not reveal, the jewels turned out to be located in a small in a hidden desk drawer in the library. The Captain later speculated that she had not the time to move the jewels to a more secretive location, given the tight time-frame of the plot, and that such a move would have been forthcoming once the house was empty of guests and the police. The attitude of the lady herself turned from outrage to concern to outright trepidation as the search party closed in on their quarry. Once the jewels were revealed, the game was clearly up, and she confessed the entire plot. The Baron, upon hearing this, stormed out of the mansion past the bewildered guests. Bartholomew, loyal to the end, declared the ball was over and bade the guests a good evening, emptying the house before the police arrested his mistress. (Of course, any scandal was delayed by no more than a few hours.)
I made my farewell to Captain Armstrong, and located Willig and the phaeton for my journey home.
“A successful evening, Miss?” he asked.
I considered my reply. “I would say so, Willig, though others will no doubt disagree. However, if tonight is any indication, I think I shall find Caledonian society to be most entertaining indeed!”