The Adventures of Arabella Henderson – Episode 6: Love, Not War
By Kate Wood It was a typical Monday morning at the University of New England.
There was a light chill in the air, and fragments of the fallen leaves crunched under the feet of hippies. Thin sunbeams shone through the cloud cover to glint off their placards. Thick block letters demanded “END CONSCRIPTION” and “MAKE LOVE NOT WAR”. Someone had obviously misunderstood the purpose of the protest and held a sign calling for the legalisation of marijuana in Vietnam.
On the lawns near the library other students sat peacefully playing their guitars and bongos, their braided head bands keeping their long hair in place. There was a vaguely sweet smell in the air, and many of the youths milling on the grass held hand rolled cigarettes that probably didn’t contain tobacco. It was 1967 and baby, it was groovy.
Down the hill at Mary White College, a young man sat in the dining hall, flinching back from the bright light shining into his eyes.
Even with the cut lip and bruises from his interrogation, he was an attractive man. A crowd of the young ladies resident at the college stood in a huddle near the door, watching the scene unfold. Before the lamp had been turned on, they’d seen his piercing blue eyes and as the sleeve of his shirt tore, a collective sigh went up at the sight of his bulging bicep. As if that chiselled jaw and sculpted body were not enough, there was something about his uniform. Even with all the opposition to the war, there was something about a soldier.
As the ladies watched in horror, Senior Security Officer Archibald Carruthers landed another hit across the prisoner’s cheek. ‘Talk, punk!’
‘Never!’ proclaimed the soldier. ‘I’ll never tell!’
‘Please!’ protested one of the women, ‘Please don’t hurt him! He’s so dreamy!’
‘He’s a disgrace!’ bellowed Officer Carruthers. ‘I demand to know which room you visited, soldier!’
The only reply was a gob of saliva projected directly into Carruthers’ face. His prisoner was already prepared for the blow he received as punishment. The watching crowd screamed to see him take another hit. Carruthers was about to strike him again when his attention was redirected, along with that of the prisoner and the rest of the dining hall. Someone was opening the door, yelling as he did so.
‘I say, Arabella! There’s some manner of commotion in here!’
The man opening the door was himself a handsome chap. His top hat and cravat presented a somewhat different image than the soldier, but his arrival led to a division of affections among the crowd. He had eyes as deep and soulful as any they had ever seen before and though he was not as rugged or muscular, he was tall and presented an air of sophistication.
Startled by the crowd staring at him, he took off his hat and bowed gracefully. ‘Good morning to you, Ladies.’
He was holding the door open still, and it soon became apparent why. A woman was wheeling a tandem bicycle into the building. She parked it against the wall by the common room, before entering into the dining hall.
‘What kind of commotion?’ she asked him. ‘Oh…’
‘Another man!’ yelled Officer Carruthers. ‘Get out, Sir! Leave the premises at once! THIS IS A LADIES COLLEGE!’
‘Then why are you here?’ asked the new woman as she entered.
There was a gasp of shock from the crowd. Had this woman really backchatted him? Carruthers was just as surprised, and could make no reply except to splutter at her in fury.
‘Allow me to introduce myself,’ she said. ‘I am Arabella Henderson, UNE Time Detective. My colleague here is The General. And you are?’
Carruthers drew himself to his full height. ‘Why, young Lady, I am Archibald Carruthers, Senior Security Officer and Head of Gender Segregation Enforcement.’
‘Gosh,’ said The General. ‘That’s an ominous greeting. Arabella, he seems to be torturing this fellow.’
‘What fellow?’ asked Arabella. It was then that she noticed the soldier tied to the chair. Being a detective, she was normally particularly observant and she was surprised that she hadn’t noticed him at once. When she took a second look, she was even more surprised. She took in his uniform, his strong masculine jawline and those eyes like shards of shining blue glass. ‘Oh… Gosh… Hi there.’
She patted her hair nervously, a pink blush rising up her neck. The soldier winked at her and that only made her flush redder and higher.
‘I… um… What is this man’s crime, officer?’ she asked.
‘He was in the building last night,’ Carruthers said, as though this were somehow tantamount to murder. ‘He was… fraternising with one of the young ladies!’
There was a loud thump as The General fainted from sheer shock. Several of the women rushed to his aid, fanning him with notebooks, scarves and whatever was available.
‘Do you mind?’ asked Arabella. ‘He has very delicate sensibilities. You can’t just be using words like “fraternising” in front of him!’ She turned now to the women crowding around the stricken form of The General. ‘Just drag him into a corner. He’ll be alright.’
Carruthers had taken the opportunity to turn his attention back to the prisoner. ‘Do you know what the punishment is for fraternising with a student of the opposite gender?’
The soldier held his head high as he replied. ‘Death.’
‘That’s right!’ Carruthers crowed gleefully. ‘Death by firing squad! But, if you tell me the young lady’s name, I might be able to grant you leniency.’
‘A gentleman never tells,’ said the prisoner.
Not even to save his life? thought Arabella, going weak at the knees. Wow. That is Gentlemanly.
‘Alright,’ said Carruthers, untying the ropes that bound his prisoner. ‘Then I sentence you to immediate death. Stand aside, ladies! I must escort him to the firing range.’
‘Wait!’ shouted Arabella. ‘Wait! I’m a detective. I will solve the mystery, if you promise to spare this man’s life.’
‘What about her life?’ asked the soldier. ‘If you expose her, she’ll be given the death penalty too.’
Arabella sighed. ‘Yes, alright. Her too. I’ll solve your gender segregation scandal if you promise to spare both their lives.’
Carruthers sighed. ‘I guess the firing squad are paid per shooting. It would be cheaper to just give them kitchen duty. Proceed.’
Arabella rolled her sleeves. ‘Fetch the pocket magnifying glass out of The General’s Pocket. We’ve got a mystery to solve…’
To be continued . . .