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 Fourteen: “No-One We Know”
“Yes, Inspector,” asked Fred, “how sure are you that the murderer is someone in this room?”
“Well, sir,” said Crowner, “I admit there is a remote possibility that it is someone we haven’t seen yet… but let me emphasize the word ‘remote.’ The killer had to know, in Sir Adam’s case, where his whiskey was kept. In Polly’s case, the timing of the murder might have been luck—or the killer might have known that Polly was usually at home alone between six and seven on committee days, getting the house ready for the meeting. Tidying. Making little sandwiches. Brewing tea. That sort of thing.”
“All of this,” said Stella, looking around the room in a pleased sort of way, “is of course very interesting to me. What do we know, and how do we know it? The fundamental question. Have you eliminated the servants? They would presumably know everything required to poison Sir Adam, and any of them might have known about Miss Polly’s committee meetings.” She chuckled. “In a detective story, you would have said by now that the servants were eliminated. “The servants are, of course, eliminated,” you would have said, and then gone on to explain, in a single sentence, that they were all together at the time of the murder. A local dance, put on for the servants of the district, is a popular option.”
“Thank you for the suggestion,” said Crowner solemnly. “But it isn’t quite as neat as that in this case. The problem is that there are two sets of servants, at Clutterbuck Court, and they for the most part hate each other. Sir Adam’s servants and Ulric’s servants. Hostile armies. Sir Adam’s servants view Ulric’s servants as parasites. Ulric’s servants, on the other hand, think that Sir Adam and the whole of his household are usurpers, and that Ulric is the proper master of Clutterbuck Court.”
“Well, so I am,” barked Ulric. “Damned young puppy! What business had a child like that, inheritin’ a nice big place like this? Nephews,” he said, and spat on the floor. “Pah! It ought to have come to me, the head of the family, after my brother died.”
“As you can see,” said Crowner, “feeling runs deep. Therefore, the two sets of servants weren’t exactly all together. But they were all fighting the fire, in two distinct groups, pausing every now and then to accuse members of the other group of setting it. Right after the roof of the Elizabethan wing collapsed, Kate, the kitchen-maid in the main house, and Gertrude, Ulric’s cook, actually came to blows. The rest of the servants were either engaged in separating the combatants or in trying to create a more general melee. This scene and its ramifications lasted until well past eleven, when Sir Adam poured out the poisoned whiskey and went to his room. So, yes, I think we can say that we have eliminated the servants. And as for Miss Polly’s murder—we have reason to believe that Miss Polly was killed because of her anonymous letter writing, and she’d never send an anonymous letter to a servant. She was a snob, you see.”
“What about strangers? Anyone like that reported in the district? That tramp, you know,” said Stella, “sounds interesting. Not that the tramp is ever the killer in a decent mystery novel, but I suppose real life is different.”
“As for the tramp,” said Crowner, “we think he has left the district, and we don’t see any way to connect him up with the crime. Of course—”
Suddenly, the French window burst open. A scruffy-looking and filthy man, past middle age and dressed in rags, stumbled into the room. He was followed by a shotgun, which was followed by Ollie the gamekeeper, who was followed by his young son Seb, evidently having the best day of his young life.
“I’ve done it, Inspector Crowner! Done your work for you! I’ve caught your killer!” Ollie howled in triumph.