Maisie Hitchins watched, open-mouthed, as the famous detective Gilbert Carrington came rushing down the front steps of his lodging house, hauling on his coat as he ran. His faithful assistant, Major Edward Lamb, galloped after him, clutching both their hats, and they sprang into a cab and rattled away.
and#160;and#160;and#160;Maisie stared after the hansom cab and sighed heavily. Where could they be going? It was bound to be somewhere exciting. Chasing jewel thieves, perhaps? Only yesterday, Granandrsquo;s paper had said that they were on the trail of the Larradine Rubies at last. The newspaper article confidently expected the hunt to take them to India, possibly by way of Paris, or even Madrid. It had sounded wonderful. Just imagine, Maisie thought, following footprints, spotting clues, trailing culprits .and#160;.and#160;.
and#160;and#160;and#160;The dust cast up by the cab horseandrsquo;s hooves settled slowly back onto the road, and Maisie set off again. Gran would be waiting for the fish she needed to cook for the lodgersandrsquo; supper. Maisieandrsquo;s grandmother ran a boarding house, and she spent all her time running around after the fussy lodgers. Maisie scuffed her boots along the pavement sadly. The fish smelled, and it was oozing out of its soggy paper parcel. She was almost certain that Gilbert Carrington never ate fish. He probably instructed his landlady never even to serve it. Certainly not in a parsley sauce, which Maisie really hated. Just because Madame Lorimer, who lived on the second floor of the boarding house, happened to have a fancy for fish, now Maisie would have to have it for her supper as well.
and#160;and#160;and#160;Still. If she hadnandrsquo;t had to run out and fetch the fish, sheandrsquo;d never have seen Gilbert Carrington, Maisie admitted to herself, cheering up a little. Perhaps heandrsquo;d been on his way to Scotland Yard? Perhaps heandrsquo;d solved the mystery of the rubies already?
and#160;and#160;and#160;Maisie dawdled along, swinging the basket and daydreaming. If she walked along Laurence Road where Gilbert Carrington lived whenever she was sent out on errands, surely sooner or later sheandrsquo;d meet someone on their way to consult the great detective? It was lucky that he lived so close to her grandmotherandrsquo;s lodging house, on Albion Street. If only she could manage to run into one of his clients first, and deduce something amazing. Then she might be able to help him solve a mystery.
and#160;and#160;and#160;Maisie smiled to herself as she imagined the great man pacing up and down his rooms. He probably had all sorts of peculiar things on the walls, things that heandrsquo;d picked up on his adventures. Strange African spears, sets of handcuffs, amazing jewels that people had given him after heandrsquo;d rescued them .and#160;.and#160;. treasure maps .and#160;.and#160;. Carrington would be smoking his pipeandmdash;he was quite often drawn with it in the newspaper cartoons, so Maisie knew he had one. She had borrowed a pipe once, from the young man who had the third-floor back bedroom, but trying to smoke it had made her sick. And the young man hadnandrsquo;t paid his rent, so she hadnandrsquo;t had a chance to try again. She wasnandrsquo;t sure it was strictly necessary to smoke a pipe to be a great detective, anyway, though it would have helped her look the part.
and#160;and#160;and#160;andldquo;Edward,andrdquo; he would groan. andldquo;I just donandrsquo;t see it. Somethingandrsquo;s missing. Some vital clueand#160;.and#160;.and#160;.andrdquo; And Maisie would step in, just then, and tell him what it was.
and#160;and#160;and#160;Because Carrington could always be having an off day, Maisie reasoned. It would only take him having a cold, after all. With a blocked-up nose, the great detective wouldnandrsquo;t be able to smell a thing, and smells could be vital.
and#160;and#160;and#160;If she had a cold right now, she wouldnandrsquo;t be able to smell this disgusting fish.
and#160;and#160;and#160;Maisie drew aside politely for an elderly lady in a smart black silk dress and an enormous bonnet to walk past. She tried to look at her as Gilbert Carrington wouldandmdash;every bit of her.
and#160;and#160;and#160;The old lady looked exactly as she ought to, unfortunately. No odd color in her cheeks. No strange jewelry. But Maisie could pretend, just for practice.
and#160;and#160;and#160;Another whiff of fish from the basket reminded her of smells. She ought to check for that. Perhaps the old lady smelled of .and#160;.and#160;. Maisie frowned to herself, as she tried to think what it could be. It would have to be something unusual, and noticeable .and#160;.and#160;.
and#160;and#160;and#160;She sniffed thoughtfully. There was actually an odd smell. She just couldnandrsquo;t quite work out what it was.
and#160;and#160;and#160;Aniseed! Maisie glanced over her shoulder in surprise. Of course, the old lady had probably just been eating aniseed balls, but she didnandrsquo;t look like an aniseed ball eater. They were a childandrsquo;s sort of sweet. Surely such a proper-looking person should smell of the usual old lady things. Like violet bonbons, and lavendery lace.
and#160;and#160;and#160;Maisie gave a blissful little shiver. Perhaps the old lady was really a murderess, and sheandrsquo;d used essence of aniseed to confuse a watchdog at her victimandrsquo;s house. Everyone knew that dogs loved aniseed.
and#160;and#160;and#160;Maisie took a few quick steps back down the road after the old lady, who glided on, her black silk dress whispering over the paving slabs. She didnandrsquo;t look like a murderess, but one never knew, after all. Maisie caught her breath, wondering if there was a weapon in the delicate little black reticule she was carrying. She felt in her pocket for her notebook, and the stub of a pencil. She might need to write down her observations .and#160;.and#160;.
and#160;and#160;and#160;The old lady seemed to sense that she was being followed, and she turned back to glare at Maisie through a pair of gold-rimmed pince-nez spectacles that she had drawn out of her little black bag. It was a particularly freezing glare, and Maisie wilted. She was almost certain that there wasnandrsquo;t room for a dagger or a pistol in the black bag, though. She scuttled away around the corner of the street, cursing herself for being careless and being seen. This detective thing was difficult. Gilbert Carrington would never have let himself be spotted.
and#160;and#160;and#160;Maisie was feeling so ashamed of herself and her dreadful attempts at detection that she almost missed the sack. She had noticed it, of course, as she went past the alley. She was a noticing sort of person. That was what had made her so sure she would make a good detective, if only she was given the chance. At home, all she ever got to do was find Madame Lorimerandrsquo;s knitting, and it was almost always underneath the cushions on the sofa. It was simply a case of following the trail of cake crumbs to work out where the old lady had been sitting last.
and#160;and#160;and#160;There was much more opportunity for detecting out on the streets. But Maisie had been glared at so thoroughly that all she wanted to do was hurry back home and give Gran the basket of fish.
and#160;and#160;and#160;Youandrsquo;re a coward, Maisie Hitchins, she told herself. What if she really was a murderess? One cross look and you run off like a startled hen.
and#160;and#160;and#160;Oh well .and#160;.and#160;. If she was lucky, Gran would be in a good mood (if all the lodgers had paid their rent on time, and no one had complained about a dusty room, or the maid, Sarah-Ann, banging the fire irons). Maisie might even get away with being just a little late. She couldnandrsquo;t really have watched for that long on Laurence Road, could she? But the afternoon sunlight was definitely fading. She hurried past the pile of rubbish in the mouth of the little alleyway leading down to the muddy edge of the canal, and saw the low sun glittering on the water.
and#160;and#160;and#160;Something made her stop and turn back. Why was there a sack on the pile of rubbish? It was a perfectly good sack, no rips or holes. It was tied up with a bit of old string, and that was odd, too. Who would bother tying up the top of a sack, just to throw it away? And the sack was dripping wet. That was what had made her turn back, Maisie decided, feeling rather pleased with herself. She must have noticed it without realizing.
and#160;and#160;and#160;Either the sack had been in the canal, or there was something wet inside the sack that was leaking. Or possibly both.
and#160;and#160;and#160;Maisie had been really hoping there was a bloodstained dagger in that old ladyandrsquo;s little black reticule, so it was odd that she found herself unwilling to undo the sack and discover what was dripping out of it. A real detective wouldnandrsquo;t hesitate, she told herself crossly, stopping at the mouth of the alley. But what if it was a dagger? Or even worse, whatever the dagger had been used on? One did hear awful stories sometimes, about bits of people left lying around. Gilbert Carrington had managed to solve a murder once just from an ear sent by the penny post in a small brown paper parcel. She shuddered.
and#160;and#160;and#160;It was then that the sack wriggled and let out a despairing whimper.
and#160;and#160;and#160;Maisie gasped, dropped the fish basket, and began to struggle with the damp string at once. There was an animal in thereandmdash;a dog, she guessed. andldquo;Did someone drop you in the canal?andrdquo; she whispered, her red curls getting in her eyes as she tore at the knots. andldquo;I hope you donandrsquo;t bite, although I wouldnandrsquo;t blame you if you did. How long have you been in here?andrdquo; She dragged the string away at last, and gently folded back the top of the sack.
and#160;and#160;and#160;Looking out at her was a small, grubby, grayish-white face, with brown ears and dark, dark brown eyes. A puppy! Both of the ears were laid anxiously flat against his head, and he stared at Maisie as though he thought she was going to shout at him.
and#160;and#160;and#160;andldquo;Are you hurt?andrdquo; Maisie asked worriedly, wondering why he didnandrsquo;t jump out of the sack and run away. Sheandrsquo;d expected him to disappear as soon as sheandrsquo;d set him free. andldquo;Maybe youandrsquo;re just too scared to go past meand#160;.and#160;.and#160;.andrdquo; she murmured, stepping back a little.
and#160;and#160;and#160;The puppy twitched his shoulders and shook himself free, stepping carefully out of the folds of sacking. Then he hurried over to Maisie and sat down next to her boots.
and#160;and#160;and#160;andldquo;Go home!andrdquo; Maisie told him. Then she sighed, shaking her head. andldquo;Of course, you canandrsquo;tandmdash;that was stupid. You probably donandrsquo;t have one. But you canandrsquo;t come home with me, you know. Gran wonandrsquo;t have a dog in the house. Theyandrsquo;re too dirty and muddy. She wouldnandrsquo;t even have a catandmdash;she says animals make dust.andrdquo;
and#160;and#160;and#160;The dog simply stared up at her and didnandrsquo;t move. Maisie knew that she ought to shoo him away, but she couldnandrsquo;t. He seemed to have decided that he was hers now, and someone had clearly already tried to drown the poor little creature. If she didnandrsquo;t take him home with her, she couldnandrsquo;t see such a small, bedraggled dog lasting more than a day or so on the London streets. Someone would turn him into sausages if he walked down the wrong alleyway.
and#160;and#160;and#160;andldquo;Gran isnandrsquo;t going to be happy if I bring you home,andrdquo; she muttered. andldquo;Youandrsquo;ll have to hide.andrdquo;
and#160;and#160;and#160;The dog shook his ears, as if he was trying to get the last of the water out.
and#160;and#160;and#160;andldquo;Yes, and I hate to say it, but you do smell rather. You might have to have a bath.andrdquo; Maisie sighed. andldquo;Under the scullery pump, maybe. I canandrsquo;t see me smuggling you into the lodgersandrsquo; bathroom. Someone would see us, for sure.andrdquo; She crouched down and reached out a hand to rub the little dogandrsquo;s ears. He closed his eyes so blissfully when Maisie scratched them that she realized he probably had fleas.
and#160;and#160;and#160;Just how did you get out of the canal? Maisie wondered as she scooped up the fish basket and set off down the road again, the dog trotting next to her, so close that his thin little tail slapped against her boots. andldquo;I suppose it was quite a big sack. You must have scrabbled about inside it enough to stay afloat, and then got yourself washed up. If thatandrsquo;s what happened, you were very lucky.andrdquo;
and#160;and#160;and#160;The dog glanced up at her brightly, as though to say that he made his own luck, and Maisie laughed. Now that he was drying out a bit, she noticed one of his ears was at a very funny angle, set a little sideways, like a daring, rakish sort of hat. He was very sweet, even if he was dirty. How could someone have tried to drown him?
and#160;and#160;and#160;andldquo;I suppose,andrdquo; Maisie said thoughtfully, andldquo;that all great detectives have a faithful companion, like Gilbert Carrington has Major Edward Lamb. Heandrsquo;s supposed to be awfully good in a fight. He has a swordstick, according to the Morning Post, and heandrsquo;s saved Gilbert Carringtonandrsquo;s life at least twice. Although of course Mr. Carrington has saved him hundreds of times.andrdquo; She looked down at the dog, who was sniffing at something disgusting in the gutter. andldquo;Perhaps youandrsquo;ll save me one day,andrdquo; she said. andldquo;You could be my companion. I think Iandrsquo;ll call you Eddieand#160;.and#160;.and#160;.andrdquo;