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A voice from the armchair containing Trenters stated quietly,
“The hand was not taken by any of the Buggring-on-the-Marsh residents. It was taken by a chap who wants to protect his dearest friend in the world. It was taken by me.”
Well, needless to say, we were absolutely aghast at this confession. Rafe ‘Trenters’ Trent-Fillet was the son of a gentleman. His family was the Middlesex Trent-Fillets and there had never been a breath of scandal wafting from their direction.
“Trenters – you? You stole the hand? But why?” gasped Barkers.
Trenters carefully extracted a piece of paper from his pocket. He placed it on his knee and gently unfolded then smoothed it out.
“Because of a dreadful family secret that must never be spoken of again after tonight. Do I have your word as gentlemen and friends?”
We all gave our solemn word never to utter a syllable. Trenters sat for a moment then said,
“My great grandfather was a captain at the Battle of Kamajunka. He managed to secrete this letter,” he pointed to the paper, “about his person. It was found by the family physician when his body was transported back to England for burial. Mater gave me the letter during the summer hols and I have agonised over my decision ever since.”
At this point, Trenters nearly broke down. We poured more brandy into his schooner and after toasting the King – by Gad Trenters knew his duty, he swallowed the brandy and continued,
“This missive clarifies what has baffled historians for the past eighty years. I’ll read it out and you’ll understand why. Erm, any more brandy?”
I decided we could all probably use some fortification and obliged. We stood, said,
“The King!” and sat down again.
Trenters began to read,
“It’s all up for us. The Colonel has ordered us to retreat into the most defensible room, but our ammunition is spent and all we have left are our bayonets. The Colonel bought vital time for us by jamming his fingers up the brothel guard’s nose but lost that hand to a swipe from the second guard’s scimitar. The trouble began when the brothel madam expected us to pay for our pleasure. By Jove, the Colonel was furious, it wasn’t as if they were even British prostitutes. There are ten of us left, I don’t expect to live beyond this day. God save the Queen.”
Trenters stopped and drank more brandy. It was as quiet as a crypt. We all sat drinking brandy and trying to make sense of what we had just heard. Those men had died in a common brawl in a common brothel – egad it was horrifying. Worse still, those defiant fingers had ended their existence up some demned native’s nostrils. But I was still puzzled,
“If nobody else knows about this, Trenters old bean, then why take the hand?”
“Because our physician made a copy of the letter. This is the copy, the original was inserted into one of the Colonel’s fingers when the doctor visited the school on Open Day. He hoped to blackmail our family but died in a freak accident involving a container of leeches and two male nurses.”
“So why hasn’t a member of your family tried to retrieve the letter?” Porkers wanted to know.
“Nobody knew where it was. Then mater read a short story by that Poe chappie, something to do with a letter. Well, that gave her the idea, the best place to conceal something is where nobody would think of looking for it, right under their noses. Knowing what she did about the last action of the Colonel’s fingers, she surmised that was where the physician had concealed the letter.”
“Dash it all, that’s demned clever.” I declared. Trenters smiled and added,
“So I took the hand, found the letter, but couldn’t return the hand in time.”
It was a case of all ending well. Trenters hadn’t wanted Barkers or any of his predecessors to be ridiculed so he set out to destroy the evidence. After all the hand was supposed to have represented an Englishman's courage in the face of adversity. I mean to say, any true Englishman and Smithersthwaitian would have done the same thing.
Trenters’ admission that his family had books in their house written by foreigners, especially those demned colonials made us a bit uncomfortable. Under the circumstances however, we decided a slight eccentricity could be forgiven.
In five hundred years time, most of us will be forgotten dust. But Hitler will still be remembered, God loves irony.