A spark reflected in the torch and caught the eye of the caver as she squeezed her way into an unexplored chamber. Why on earth had she decided that this was a great holiday, scrambling down dark, damp, cold holes, covered with mud and underground roots, but it had been on her friend’s bucket list before she had died. The challenge of dealing with her passing, was nothing compared to the promise she had made to live out her friend’s bucket list. She had already suffered a bungy jump, a climb up Kilimanjaro, frightening, white water rafting down a swollen river in Wales, a death defying Skydive and potholing was the last on her friend’s list.
Jane’s preferred bucket list, had been sitting in front of a log fire, sipping Bailey’s, chocolate in hand, being hugged by her special girlfriend. But as with all rash promises made to a dying partner, she was determined to finish them all. She hoped that living out her friend’s wishes would take away the deep pain Jane had felt since she had gone.
Jane was drawn closer to the sparkle and dragged her body towards the source, trying to reach the mysterious object. One last heave and she was close enough to see a white diamond, surrounded by a pink flower, glistening in her head light. She grasped the jewel and screamed as she realised it was still on the skeletal remains of a finger. Recovering from her fright she played the torch into the alcove to see a complete skeleton, half submerged in the mud floor. How on earth did that get down here, obviously old, maybe even an ancient burial, or worse a murderer hiding a body. She quickly extracted her phone and took a picture before she backed away, retracing her passage through the cave until she could turn around, still clutching the finger and jewel, as evidence in case she was not believed.
Once on the surface she couldn’t help blurting out about her discovery. “There’s an ancient body down there,” said Jane. “Well a skeleton anyway.”
“Really,” said James. “Where?”
“In that unexplored chamber you told me to try,” said Jane, taking out the finger with the jewel fused to the bone. Now she could see it, there was a central diamond, set in a ruby shaped like a rose with green emeralds, depicting leaves, set around the outside.
“We’ll have to call the police,” said James. “Even if the finger seems to be old.”
“The ring is amazing,” said Fran. “I hope you can keep it.”
“I’ll have to hand it in to the police and inform the local antiquities department,” said Jane. “So, I suppose my chances of keeping my hands on it are probably slim.”
They tidied up all their potholing equipment, whilst waiting for the police to arrive.
“Was there a whole skeleton down there?” asked Fran
“I think so, unfortunately I got a bit of a fright and I don’t think the photo will be that clear.” She showed them the fuzzy picture outlining the skull and ribcage.
“Wow a ‘skeletie’,” said James, trying to make a bit more of a light-hearted comment, to brighten up their mood.
The police finally arrived complete with an expert potholer. Jane showed them the finger with the jewel and the dim photo she had taken. The police agreed that with the level of decomposition and the fact that it was half buried in silt, suggested it was ancient and not some sort of modern murder case.
“Where did you find the body?” asked the potholer.
“I don’t think ‘body’ would describe what I found,” said Jane and showed him on the map where she had made her discovery.
The police asked Jane and the others for statements and contact details before asking them to keep the discovery to themselves until they could determine exactly what had gone on.
Six months later Jane was sitting in the lounge of the Dartmouth Hotel, looking out over the sunlit bay, having enjoyed a long, leisurely walk along the river. She twirled the recently returned ring, having not been claimed by anyone, nor such financially valuable to be classed as treasure, leaving Jane as the rightful owner. She had dedicated it to her lost friend, the hurt of her loss gradually lessening as time moved forward.
“Do you mind if I join you?” said a portly gentleman, sporting a wonderful moustache
“I’m sorry,” said Jane. “There’s lots of other tables.”
“I’ve been admiring the ring your wearing.”
Jane quickly hid the ring in her palm, before realising who was standing there. “Poirot?”
“Actually, David Suchét. We’re doing some filming down on the front and I couldn’t be bothered to change again.”
“Oh yes, well Poirot, sorry David, please sit down.”
“What are you filming?”
“Evil under the Sun.”
“The one with the jewel hidden in the pipe?”
“That’s the one,” said David. “Hence my curiosity with the ring. I assume that’s the one found on the skeleton in the cave.”
“Yes, such an adventure. I had my 15 minutes of fame there didn’t I?”
“Indeed,” said David. “But they never found who the body belonged to, nor the jewel.”
“No, very curious. I’m sure there’s a detective story there somewhere but I wouldn’t know where to begin.”
“May I see the ring?”
“Of course,” said Jane, easing the ring off her finger and passing it over.
“Very distinctive. I’m sure we can find out its origins.”
“We?” she said, reaching out for her ring.
“Sorry, yes we, you and me,” he said, handing back the ring.
“But you’re not a real detective.”
“But I am an actor with a rabid curiosity,” he said. “When are you free and we can start at the local library.”
“I’m down here for a week, so anytime.”
“Let’s say, I meet you here tomorrow at 10 and then we’ll start a voyage of discovery.”
“OK, but only if we do it incognito.”
“If you wish, lovely to meet you. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Well here’s a turn up for the books, getting involved with a star of Agatha’s movies and becoming a detective all in one go. Once her childhood dream had been to work as a detective, investigating crimes that the police couldn’t solve, but as usual, life was never what you planned.
The next morning Jane was sitting in the hotel lounge, dressed in lacy blouse, a mauve cardigan and sporting a crochet hat, as Poirot arrived mincing across the floor.
“Mrs Marple, I presume,” holding out for her hand.
“Poirot, how good to see you.”
“Is that lavender I can smell,” asked David.
The both started giggling, wondering what the other patrons must be thinking.
“I have been told the ring is from the early 19th century,” said Jane. “We can start looking at the archive from that period.”
They walked into the local library building and asked the astonished receptionist where they could research old newspapers and historical archives.
They were soon scouring the papers and articles for any mysteries and disappearances from 1800 forward.
“I’ve found something,” said Jane, triumphantly, after an hour or so. “Look here.”
‘Nothing has been seen of Viscountess Dartmouth for 7 years now. She disappeared on the 5th June 1820 before her impending 2nd marriage to the Duke of Cornwall. Her sons are now seeking to have her death legalised so that they can inherit the estate of approximately 26,000 acres.’
“Now that’s really interesting” said David. “I’ve noticed a few depictions of local heraldry around the walls of the library. I wonder if the Dartmouth coat of arms is around here.
They walked around the building looking at the depictions around the walls.
“Here it is,” said David. “It’s exactly like your ring.”
They stared at the crest, a white shield covered in black symbols with the double pink rose in the middle and a bright white stamen in the centre. Jane held up the ring and they were astounded by the similarities.
“This is definitely her ring,” said Jane. “Now to find out how it got down the cave. We need to investigate this family further.”
David went back to the librarian. “Is there a history of the local family, The Viscounts of Dartmouth.
She went through her rolodex for any mentions. “If we have anything it will be under section F over there.”
Jane and David went over to the local family section and after a few minutes came across a large volume entitled Dartmouth – A Short History. “I’d hate to get the long one,” said Jane, lifting the huge book onto the reading desk.
They slowly thumbed through the book until they reached the relevant era.
“Here we are,” said David reading the chapter title. “Lineage 1820 to 1830.”
‘The line of the Dartmouth family was almost lost when the Viscountess was about to marry a Duke, which would move all the property into his control. However, fate took a dramatic turn when she disappeared one stormy night, whilst taking her hunting dogs out for an evening walk.’
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking,” asked David.
“It sounds a bit suspicious to me,” agreed Jane. “Three lads about to lose their inheritance would certainly be my suspects.”
“But we’d never prove anything after 100 years.”
“No but I might do some digging on my own and see if I can get friendly with some of the descendants.”
“Be very careful,” said David. “I’m sorry not to be much help but filming continues back to Majorca tomorrow. You will keep in touch, won’t you.”
“I will, Poirot.”
“Bye, Mrs Marple.”
That should confuse the locals a bit more, thought Jane, trying to suppress a chuckle. Now for some more serious investigations. Jane realised that this was going to be a long process, starting with local ancestry and old census documents.
Jane, after trying to fit investigations between the need to earn money and make a new life for herself, took many months, but she had finally discovered what had happened to the Dartmouth family. The three sons had been challenged about their desire to have their mother declared dead and the estate passed to an elder daughter. There were suspicions, but no proof that the sons had somehow done away with their mother.
Jane was now about to meet the youngest descendent in the place where it had all started, the small hotel lounge overlooking the river Dart.
A pretty girl was shown to her table, “Hello, you must be Jane, I’m Felicity Dart.”
“Hello Felicity thank you for coming, I have some news and information for you since I sent the letter.”
“Exciting or unhappy news.”
“Exciting I think,” said Jane. “The courts were right not to give the male ancestors the estate. The skeleton’s DNA did match yours and therefore the skeleton is most likely to have been the Viscountess of Dartmouth.”
“Which is exciting but sad that she met such an unfortunate end,” said Felicity. “Do they know how she died?”
“I’m sorry to tell you, but probably strangled.”
“Oh!” sobbed Felicity.
“Come here,” said Jane, giving her a heart-felt hug.
“It was a long time ago, so I shouldn’t be sad.”
“But she has left you her ring,” said Jane, sliding it over her finger, surprised at the tingling sensation she felt in her own hand. “And now I no longer feel like a jewel thief.”
“Thank you, Jane it’s lovely.”
Not long after, Jane and Felicity sat entwined on the sofa, in front of a log fire, sharing chocolates and a glass of Baileys.
“No more bucket lists,” said Felicity.
“No, once was enough.”