Hugh tried to survey the scene before him amid the loud gossiping and rising clamoring for an explanation. Beside him, Elouise remained as smug as ever, and even looked around the table beside her for a bite to eat. Swiping a little roll from the bread basket, she nibbled at it, brushing loose crumbs off the front of her dress.

“Now that Red Hound has robbed even the likes of you, policeman! What hope is there for us common folk then?” a rather angry elderly woman shook her hands at Hugh. He noticed Elouise scoffing behind her mouthful of bun. Common folk? No common folk could have countryside holidays like this old bat, he could almost hear her say.

“With all due respect, madame, I received an incomplete report. There was no mention of accomplices in Red Hound’s attacks,” he smiled tightly. “Even so? You should be well prepared enough!” an elderly gent joined the woman. “You could bring  your maid, but not your colleagues?” a spindly woman spoke out.

Hugh’s eyebrows shot up, and he dared himself to look at Elouise. She stared at the woman, her features pinched in a mixture of confusion and mild annoyance. But she made no other move to respond. The less people knew about her, the better, she once described to him. Perhaps this was one of those moments.

“I beg your pardon, ma’am, but this lady is not my maid, she simply shared a carriage with me,” Hugh tried to explain. “Oh really? You two seem rather close for two people who had just met,” the spindly woman continued.

Elouise wiped away the remaining breadcrumbs from her mouth and swiped her palms together. “Could you blame me for feeling gratitude for this gallant young serviceman who had rescued me from a highwayman?” she smiled sweetly.

Hugh almost forgot not to gape at Elouise’s eloquence. The spindly woman did however, much to their amusement. “I must apologise for my rather… unsightly appearance. My disheveled nature from having such an eventful journey must have put you to mistaking me as a help, madam,” Elouise continued to smile. If one know her better, as Hugh did, one would not mistake the disdain dripping from her lips.

If there was anything less that she liked than women like her, it was putting down the ‘commonfolk’, the people tirelessly waiting on hand and foot for them old bats.

But appearances had to be kept up, and the only way to keep trouble from stirring up among these people was to move among them. Hugh did not doubt that an earful was bound from Elouise later.

The spindly woman simply nodded slightly and tried her awkward best to ignore Elouise after that.

“Now, as everyone who had sent a complaint all the way to the Metropolitan Office is present, may I please clarify the statements sent in by each victim of theft as to formally establish the case of arrest?” Hugh bowed slightly. After much murmuring and shuffling among the guests of the countryside mansion, Hugh managed to tidy up his case file.

The crickets had reached full song before Hugh could put his pen down.

After this morning’s scuffle, hearing every witness detail about that highwayman seemed to only make him more impatient. Out of the 16 guests that had gotten held up and stripped of their valuables, only three had mentioned the inclusion of accomplices. But then again, those three were the only ones who had dared to leave the carriage, putting the other witnesses in a blind spot.

The side of his left eye throbbed painfully. Hugh figured that by now he probably had a bruise the size of an apple sticking out of his face. He gingerly ran his hand up his cheek, flinching at the pain of the slightest contact.

A maid appeared at the doorway with a tray in her hands. “Sir Roxton? I have some remedies for your injuries. Lady Rose sent me,” she curtseyed. Hugh stood up and bowed as she entered the room. “Lady Rose?” he asked. “The lady who shared your carriage, sir?” the maid answered. “Ahh, yes. It’s been a painful day,” Hugh chuckled, pointing to the side of his face as an excuse. Rose was one of Elouise’s many aliases, as Montoya would be a little more memorable in some circles.

“Where is Lady Rose, may I inquire?” Hugh tried not to pull away as the maid lifted a cold spoon to his face. He had tasked her to gather some information from the servants about the highwayman’s sightings, but that was hours ago and she had not yet returned. “Hmm? Last I saw of her, she was headed to the stables. After asking the kitchen for some healing aid for yourself, ” the maid thought.

So she was currently in the stables, Hugh concluded. What was Elouise thinking? He patiently waited for the maid to be done with his face, and politely walked her back to the kitchen, before practically sprinting to the stables. By now he had concocted some idea of what Elouise had in mind, and it wasn’t a great idea.

He found her atop a horse, frustratingly nudging it to leave the stable. He almost laughed aloud as he noticed the horse hadn’t been saddled, and was trying to turn its head around to chew her dress.

“Move, you sodding beast!” she gritted her teeth. It didn’t even have reins on, and Elouise was tapping its neck in an effort to make it look forward.

Despite the huge bruise that had spread from his eye to his jaw, Hugh found himself grinning. “What are you doing?” he walked to the front of the horse and quietened it, stroking its nose.

“Well I can’t possibly search the forest on foot now can I?” she grumbled. “Well, I don’t think you can possibly search the forest at night either,” Hugh helped her off the horse.

She crossed her arms and sulked as Hugh led the horse back into its stall. For its troubles, Hugh brought it some fresh hay, on which it happily munched on. “Care to join me for some supper?” Hugh held out his arm. Elouise slipped her arm to his and quietly stomped out of the barn.

Hugh tried to hid his smugness as Elouise rattled on about the guests of which she had to spend the whole afternoon learning about, none of whom she found to be pleasant company. “And they ponder why people steal from them. Well if they would just stop flaunting their wealth about, perhaps the likes of me wouldn’t feel inclined to relive them of their lavish burdens,” she chewed angrily on her spoon.

“Yer lucky I have bigger concerns than this, or I would’ve stripped them all right where I stood,” her accent becoming stronger with her annoyance.

“Oh, I’ll bet,” Hugh bit his bottom lip, trying not to smile. “Hmmm?,” Elouise glared at him.

“If you would permit me to use my detective skills here, I would reason that the main cause for your discomfort could be traced back to this morning, during which our encounter with the Red Hound and the subsequent… theft of a kiss… might be the fuel for your fury?” Hugh smiled confidently. Elouise’s face darkened.

“And how would you know how angry I am?” she enunciated.

“Because that was how I felt when you kissed me. Infuriating, is it not?” Hugh sipped his wine.

Elouise sunk back into her chair, stunned into silence, her face flushing pink.

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