Not Decided

(Daphne Valentine: The MC/ enchantress and the distant niece of Sherlock Holmes. She has just returned to her manor after spending the day with her butler investigating Imperial Academy, where girls including her cousin Josephine, have gone missing. Daphne is packing here because she will soon be going undercover as an academy student. Sebastian is Daphne’s suave and tactful butler who is her partner in solving cases.)

“Yes,” murmured Sebastian. “Perhaps, now we can attend to more important business. I’ve called the seamstress who should be arriving any moment now to take your measurements for the Academy uniform that you’ll need for tomorrow.”

I nodded. “Very well. Send her upstairs when she arrives.”

“Certainly.”

I walked up the stairs to my room and glanced around at my belongings. I still needed to pack. I took a suitcase out and began cramming my clothes and a few items Mina had given me as part of her enchantress lessons. As I sorted through which spellbooks to take with me, a loud sound came from downstairs that made me jump. It sounded like the main door being opened. The seamstress, no doubt.

With a sigh, I removed my evening attire until I was left wearing just a cream pink satin corset. Josephine would have loved things like this, getting fitted for uniforms, dresses, and gowns, but I was indifferent towards these sorts of things. I hoped this fitting wouldn’t take long. The sooner I was done with this, the sooner I could return to more important matters.

There was a slight knock on the door.

“Come in,” I said lazily, propping my arms on the bed.

The doorknob turned and my dull expression quickly turned bright pink.

Sebastian was standing in the doorway; His dark eyes widened at my scantily clad shoulders, his gaze traveling across the corset, but then his lips quirked upward.

I jumped back and draped my arms across my bare shoulders.“T-turn…around.”

Sebastian chuckled lowly and placed his gloved hand over his eyes, but his serpentine smile was ever present. “So those were the ‘pretty little things’ Miss Cravandish spoke about earlier.”

“Shut up,” I hissed, throwing on a fleece robe around myself. “What are you even doing here? I thought the seamstress was coming.”

“She will be arriving momentarily,” he drawled, “but in the meantime, I thought you might be interested to know a letter arrived for you…”

“From who?”

“Why don’t you see for yourself?” said Sebastian, a slight curl at his lips.

I gave him a questioning glance as he handed me the envelope. I held up it up to the light and turned it. A typewritten letter. It looked ordinary enough until I realized what so peculiar about it.

“There is no  to address…or who it’s from,” I murmured, flipping it back to its front side. “Just a return address… ‘Twelfth Street, Nottingham’, but that’s all…not even a number on it…”

“Indeed,” smiled Sebastian. “Without a sender address, it is clear this has not arrived from the normal post. It would seem that someone has personally come down to the manor and left the letter on the doorstep…”

I stared at him incredulously.

“Also,” said Sebastian a low murmur, “you’ll find it intriguing to know that there is no ’Twelfth Street’ in Nottingham.”

“What?” I whispered, my brows furrowing. I shifted my gaze from Sebastian to the mysterious address and wasted no time ripping open the envelope. My fingers impatiently pulled out the letter while the torn envelope drifted to the floor cast aside. As I opened the folded note, my squinted eyes widened. I had never seen anything like it.

I stared at the typed letter.
{
“Way nor furnished sir procuring therefore but warmth far manner myself. You are not called. Set her half end girl rich met allowance are departure and curiosity ye. In no talking address excited it conduct trending debating with unintelligent discourses annoyance overcame blessing he it me to on domestic.

Do greatest at in learning steepest. Pumpkin seed eater extremity thin all otherwise suspected. He at no nothing forbade up moments. Wholly on vexed at missed be of pretty whence. Its way sir high ice than law who week omnipotent surrounded prosperous introduced it lace dresses.

Be improved dispatched juggling on the green strictly produced answered elegant ballet wary.
Shewing met parties gravity husband slender pleased. On to gentleman kind or next feel held walk. Last own loud and gay give lucky you’ll sentiments motionless or principles preference excellence am. Literature surrounded insensible at be indulgence or to admiration remarkably. Matter future lovers desire marked boy next.
}
“Look at this,” I rasped. “It’s-it’s utter gibberish.”

Sebastian’s emerald eyes glittered at me. “Are you sure about that, Miss Valentine?”

I flapped the letter in hand through the air. “What sort of meaning could possibly be in this rubbish? It seems to be more of a school boy prank than anything else. Besides, what good would it do to send a message if the receiver cannot decode it?”

“You aren’t an ordinary receiver now, are you Miss Valentine?” smirked Sebastian. “It seems that whoever sent you this knows that you pride yourself on deduction and would be able to understand. She or he wouldn’t have sent it had they not been sure you’d decipher it.”

I frowned and reexamined the letter, then bent down to pick up the discarded envelope off the floor.

“Strange isn’t it?” said Sebastian with a glint in his eyes, “the need to provide a fake address rather than nothing at all.”

“That is true,” I said slowly. “If there was no name, the sender obviously wants to remain anonymous. Why provide an address at all in that case? Or better yet, why not do the whole thing properly and come up with a fake name to match the fake address?”

Sebastian smiled knowingly. “Your fanciful deduction would provide the answers to that.”

I glanced down at the address. The fake address had to mean something.

“Twelfth Street, Nottingham,” I said, thinking aloud to myself. My eyes darted between the envelope in one hand and the nonsensical letter in the other. “Twelfth Street…” My voice trailed off as my fingers tightened around the envelope. I could feel my pupils constrict at the address and stuck out my hand. “Sebastian, a quill, quickly.”

With a glimmer in his eye, Sebastian handed me a feathery quill and watched me mark up the letter. My pulse quickened with each circle I drew. I could hardly contain my anticipation as the message began unraveling itself.

“So that’s it,” I said said in a low whisper, putting the pen down and holding up the letter.  “Every twelfth word forms a hidden message. Sebastian, string them together and read it aloud.”

Sebastian leaned in behind my shoulder and read the words circled in green ink. “‘You are treading on thin ice. Be wary or you’ll be next.’… nice little message to leave.”

“Stop joking. Obviously, someone found out we were investigating and doesn’t want us coming to that Academy,” I said, crumpling up the note and tossing it in the dust bin. “All the more reason to visit…”

Sebastian hummed. “A bit peculiar that the sender choose the number twelve. Would have saved them some trouble and made for a shorter letter had they picked Third, Fourth, or Fifth Nottingham Street…”

I shrugged. “Don’t ask me how some sociopath’s mind work.”

Sebastian parted his lips in a bare whisper. “Well, you would know.”

11 thoughts on “Not Decided

  1. Lady of Lore says:

    Interesting concept. But can a seamstress really get a uniform completed and delivered in less than a day? Is Daphne supposed to be humble? Or unconscious of her talents? Her butler seems to remind her every few sentences who she is and what she is capable of. I see the word “trending” instead of “treading” in the anonymous letter. Also when decoding the letter and counting through, it will read “You are trending on thin ON ice. Be wary or you’ll be next.” I saw a couple other typos or duplicated words. It would seem more likely that she would say, “we are clearly dealing with a sociopath” to which Sebastian could reply, “well, you would know.” Normally, a detective would have a very good idea of a sociopath’s mind, not ignorant of it.

    • Dhara says:

      Thank you for catching that in the decoded letter! It totally slipped my mind. And as you’ve noticed, my MC isn’t very humble. Her personality borders on being arrogant at times, but I definitely don’t want her coming across as unlikable so I’ll have to take another look at that.

  2. Ella says:

    I like mystery, so even the rather clichéd skip-count letter doesn’t bother me. What does is the butler’s manner throughout: the frequent descriptions (‘chuckled lowly’, ‘serpentine smile’, ‘drawled’, ‘slight curl at his lips’, ‘smiled’, ‘low murmur’, ‘eyes glittered’, ‘smirked’, ‘glint in his eyes’, ‘smiled knowingly’, ‘hummed’, ‘parted his lips in a bare whisper’) suggest someone not ‘suave and tactful’, but exceedingly creepy, to the point that I was expecting some kind of sexual assault. All of that really overshadowed the plot here.

    One little thing — do you mean ‘cream and pink satin corset’ or ‘creamy pink satin corset’? For an actual foundation garment, I’d expect coutil.

    • Ella says:

      (That is to say, there are late 19th-cen. corsets covered in satin, but it seems an odd choice for someone ‘indifferent towards these sorts of things’.)

    • Dhara says:

      Thanks a lot for pointing that out. I can definitely see your point where the unnecessary description of the butler takes away from the plot. The butler is actually a half vila-half vampire so he isn’t supposed to be the typical Victorian butler, but I’ll def need to rewrite it in a way that the letter is the main part in the scene, not the butler’s reactions.

  3. Philipp says:

    I fully agree with Ella on the presentation of the butler–he sounds less Jeeves (or the faithful-but-slightly-uninventive sidekick, Dr. Watson) than Christian Grey, as it were. Also, be careful with vocabulary and so on: if Valentine is supposed to be Holmes’ literal niece, then she should talk like a woman of the early twentieth century, which she does not do consistently. The first citation for “sociopath” in the OED is from 1914 (another from 1915), which makes it a possible part of her vocabulary, but the word originally denotes “a person who performs criminal or antisocial acts [in the British sense of antisocial–i.e. destructive to society] as a result of a moderate degree of mental deficiency.” I doubt such a technical term would be appropriate here; something like “madman” is surely better. Also, what is so strange about someone delivering a letter in person to a manor? Surely servants would do such things quite frequently. Just leaving it there is a little odd, maybe, but it should not cause such shock.

    • Dhara says:

      I agree with you. The dialogue needs a bit work and to sound more in that era. Thanks for pointing out the origin of the word-I had no idea! As for the butler, he is not an ordinary butler. He was taken in yrs ago by the MC’s parents, from an orphanage that houses children of ‘peculiar’ backgrounds. The butler is actually half vila-half vampire, I guess I’ll need to tone it down since that’s not the impression I was going for.

  4. Robert Buchko says:

    I like the flow of the writing and I really like the MC’s voice. I personally loved the skip count letter, but I think you could really draw out the mystery a bit. Seems like it was solved really fast. These are teenagers/pre-teens you’re aiming for. They probably won’t be as jaded about such concepts as skip count codes, even if they’re common in mysteries, plus any teen reading mystery novels will most likely love a good puzzle. Let them mull it over a bit while the MC works it out. One other note: not sure of the exact timeframe, but chances are fleece (polar fleece) wasn’t invented yet (think it came out in the late 70’s). In that era, “fleece” would be the unprocessed wool of a sheep, and not something that would be pleasant to wear!

    • Dhara says:

      Thank you for pointing out that anachronism! I suppose something like cashmere could be a better alternative instead. That’s a good idea to draw out the mystery. I personally felt it was solved too quickly as well.

  5. 10penguins says:

    The premise is interesting. I am a big Sherlockian. I read your previous submission and enjoyed it.

    The language seems a bit stilted in this one. I have never tried to set a book in a time other than present day, so I can only imagine the difficulties of trying to convey a different era.

    Maybe it would help to read all of the original Holmes stories anew. I read them ever decade or so. This example from Conan Doyle’s “A Scandal in Bohemia” illustrates word usage of the original stories:

    {Our visitor glanced with some apparent surprise at the languid, lounging figure of a man who had been no doubt depicted to him as the most incisive reasoner and most energetic agent in Europe. Holmes slowly reopened his eyes and looked impatiently at his gigantic client.
    “If your Majesty would condescend to state your case,” he remarked, “I should be better able to advise you.”}

    The words have a crispness to them. I can hear them being spoken and they seem right to me.

    Comment about the butler: He is a creepy. I do not think he would have walked into the room with the chance of her being undressed. If he had, he would have turned around immediately and would never have commented on what she was wearing.

    Keep going! You’ve got something interesting and I would like to see where it goes.

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