Hello, and welcome to my 2023 A to Z Blogging Challenge! For a detailed explanation of what I’m up to this year, see my Theme Reveal. But basically, I’m taking all the suspects I made up for my A to Z last year (with help from several commenters!) and putting them all into an actual murder mystery. See the sidebar for links to last year’s posts; if your device doesn’t display sidebars (if, for example, you are visiting on your phone), the links will be under the comment section, right under my A to Z 2023 participation badge.
Chapter Eight: Hattie
Hattie grinned. “Yes, I had a proper set-to with the old beast, that day. I want to start a business—hats, you know. Other accessories, too. But mostly hats. They say I’m hat-minded. Possibly the effect of being called “Hattie” since my early infancy. And when you’ve got a talent, it seems a shame not to do as much as you can with it.
“But I don’t have any capital to speak of, and without an investor or two, there just isn’t a hat shop in my future. Not unless I marry someone awfully rich—but I’ve noticed that most of these very rich men don’t really want their wives operating hat shops. One proposed to me once, and I asked him straight out.
“Anyway, I was trying to get Sir Adam to invest, and he didn’t want to do it. And the funny thing is—or funny in a way—that if I’d wanted the money for a tour of the Continent or something, Sir Adam would have given it to me. He’d have patted my hand, and been horribly paternal, and told me to go and have a nice time. Ingrid, Lady Annabelle—you agree?”
Ingrid nodded. “He could be very there, there, little woman when the mood struck him.”
Lady Annabelle made a face and nodded her agreement.
“Of course, the snag was, I wanted the money to start a business. That didn’t fit in with his ideas at all. And it annoyed him to find out that my plan was sound. I had numbers and statistics to answer every specific objection he made. So he just said he didn’t approve of women runnin’ businesses and that he wouldn’t discuss it further. He did, though,” said Hattie, with a spark of reminiscent fire in her eyes. “Often.”
“And that reminds me of an odd thing,” Hattie continued, looking excited. “There was a pair of lady’s gloves on the desk in his office. Off in a corner, exactly where a visitor would have put them during a call. I’m good on gloves. I’d say these belonged to an older woman, not very careful about her appearance, and not wealthy. In fact, I think they belonged to Miss Polly.”
Crowner raised an eyebrow. “You think Miss Polly called on Sir Adam on the day of his death?”
“Yes, I do. And they weren’t on those terms, not at all. If she’d called on Sir Adam in the normal way, he’d have snubbed her. He must have had something he wanted to say to her. Not that I can prove they were Miss Polly’s gloves. All I can say is, I’d put money on it. And as I make the gloves for the ladies in this house, I can tell you they didn’t belong to anyone here.”
“You make the gloves for the ladies of this house?” Crowner asked.
Hattie grinned. “Started with Lady Annabelle. You may have noticed that she almost always wears gloves. That means she requires lots of different designs and weights and styles. Every time I visit, she gets me to work up a few new notions and do repairs on some of the old things. I don’t mind, I like being useful, and anyway it means that Lady Annabelle was firmly opposed to my being turned out on my ear. Nice to have the lady of the house on side. I like being able to come here when I feel inclined—I live in a tiny flat in London with a friend from school, and it makes a change, comin’ to a place with lots of space and decent vittles. Plus, there was always the chance that I’d wear Sir Adam down in the end. So as I said, I started just making Lady Annabelle’s gloves. But then Ingrid asked me to run up a few pairs for her, and while I was at it, I thought I might as well make some for Meghan, too—so I’m kept pretty busy, really, when I visit. There’s a sewing room here, and I spend a good deal of time in it.”
“Ah, yes. Lady Annabelle’s gloves. Why are you always in gloves, by the way?” asked Crowner.
“Mind your own business,” Lady Annabelle snapped.
“It is my business, though. Or anyway, it may be. There were no fingerprints on the decanter,” said Crowner.
Stella, the famous mystery writer, stirred at this. “None at all,” she said in her fine contralto voice. “Now that is remarkable.”
“I was speaking loosely,” said Crowner. “Sir Adam’s prints were on the decanter, as you would expect. But other than that, there was just a smear. The kind of smear you might get if someone in gloves handled the decanter after Dr. Daniel did. I take it you weren’t in gloves, Doctor?”
“I was not,” said Dr. Daniel.
“So my question is quite legitimate,” said Crowner. “Is there some reason that you are always in gloves?”
Annabelle merely snarled. Crowner turned to Hattie. “Can you explain it?”
Hattie made a face. “Secrets of the confessional, what? But it is really very simple. Annabelle’s hands are aging rather. Face, figure, skin, all splendid—but her hands show her age, and she doesn’t like it.”
“Speaking of my time in the sewing-room,” Hattie continued, “I almost have an alibi for Miss Polly’s death. I was supposed to have one, in fact. Ingrid and I had decided that we’d spend that evening working up a hat for Ingrid’s trousseau. We were deeply into the subject, and it was glorious fun, but then Eli came in saying that Josephine had just sent him a note asking them to call, as she had something important to tell him about Sir Adam’s death. Ingrid and he then went off together, leaving me on my lonesome in the midst of a sea of fabric. As it happens, I used the time to do a few repairs and to experiment a bit with a new way I’ve thought of for folding material—useful for trim—but I suppose I could have popped over to Miss Polly’s cottage and throttled her. My hands, you know, are quite strong.” And she flexed her fingers with an odd pleasure.
This time, people seemed divided. Some looked at Ingrid for further enlightenment, and some looked at Josephine. But it was Ingrid who spoke first. “Yes, well. I suppose we should go into all that—shouldn’t we, Jo?”