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 Twenty-Three: Wilhelmina
“We did not precisely argue,” said Wilhelmina. “I don’t argue, or not with the Sir Adams of this world. There is very little point, you know, in arguing with stupid men. I always kept my temper, barely, and he was usually rather disgustingly oily. No shouting, none at all. I wouldn’t have stayed to be shouted at, and he knew it.”
“Why did you discuss bones?” Crowner asked this question, taking pleasure as he did so in the fact that he had no idea whatsoever what Wilhelmina’s answer would be.
Wilhelmina sighed. “Bones have often come up in conversation between us,” she said. “Bones, and relics, and grave-goods generally. There is a barrow on his property, you see. It has never been opened, as far as I know, and indeed has been largely forgotten. I used to know this village—never mind when—and I remembered the odd mound up in the forest on the hill when I first assisted at an archeological dig in Devonshire.
“When I became a widow, I thought there would be solace in such a project, as well as perhaps considerable scientific and historical interest. And, though I suppose some would call me an amateur, much of this sort of work is taken on by amateurs now. And so I settled here.
“At first, I tried approaching Sir Adam about it openly, just as a man might. A matter of business. I offered a fee, showed him the papers on the other excavations I had been a part of, explained how it would benefit the area, said I would be willing to endow a small local museum for the finds if they were at all remarkable. But he immediately became sentimental. He suggested that he could think of better ways for me to spend my time than grubbing up a lot of old bones. He then, as if by some natural sequence of thought, said that I was no spring chicken myself, but that I was a dashed good-looking sort, and that he wouldn’t mind…
“I stopped him there. I explained that I would mind. I reminded him he was married. I told him that my bereavement was too recent for me to consider it. I did not tell him that I would never touch him, that he repelled me on every level—I still hoped to obtain his permission to dig. Perhaps I should have been more brutal. Ever since that first conversation, we have been in a kind of war. He seemed to interfere with my every plan, my every little desire. Every time I started off to do something interesting, there would be Sir Adam, smirking coyly, holding an injunction or a writ or an ancient map of property-lines, telling me that I was a ‘bad gel, for wantin’ to get up to these tricks, but of course, he’d let me do as I liked if only…’” She shuddered delicately. “And all the while, I had to be careful with him, to always keep things superficially friendly, because I knew that if ever I really offended him, he’d land on ‘no’ and stay there.”
Xavier towered over her, searching her face with his piercing dark eyes. “That is why bones came up between you? That is all, a little archeology?” He demanded, and the intensity of his demand arrested the attention of everyone present.
Wilhelmina turned her pale and tragic face up to his—and, bewilderingly, smiled. “That is all, sir,” she said quietly. “Just a little archeology. Of course, I have no alibi, for either crime, but—who would kill over, as you put it, a little archeology?”
“You didn’t know anything about the bones hidden here, in this house? Nothing of their tragic history? Those are not the bones you and Sir Adam spoke of?” Xavier continued, staring down at her face with a look almost of fear on his handsome features.
“Bones in this house, sir?” said Crowner. “I think you’d better tell us about them.”
If Wilhelmina would not remain if Sir Adam yelled at her, either Ulric exaggerated his nephew’s voice during the argument he overheard, or the other party to the discussion wasn’t Wilhelina. Either way, she doesn’t seem a likely murderer — at least as she describes her thoughts and feelings here.
I wonder why Xavier would think Wilhelmina would discuss the bones in the attic with Sir Adam. Perhaps Belinda’s mother, Mrs. Henderson, is still at Clutterbuck Court, and Xavier did indeed tell her about the trunk with the bones in it. And maybe he thinks Mrs. Henderson told Wilhelmina.
Now suppose Mrs. Henderson confronted Sir Adam about it, suggesting he might have at least caused Belinda’s death. Maybe that’s the discussion Ulric overheard, and of course Sir Adam would have raised his voice to a servant.
And maybe Mrs. Henderson took her revenge.
I think that, with Xavier’s own preoccupation with bones, he just assumed that the bones in question here would be the same as his. Or something like that.
I mean, maybe Mrs. Henderson took her revenge… but that would be cheating, I think, in mystery-novel terms. I would really have had to include Mrs. Henderson in the text before this, for her to be a legitimate killer. I can’t just have Mrs. Hendersons pop out at people in practically the last chapter, cheerfully admitting to poisoning wicked old Sir Adam. Or anyway, I can, but people would be legitimately annoyed with me for that. In fact, there are more specific guidelines, which I forget the details of and am therefore not sure that I followed, about at what point in a mystery novel your killer really had better have made at least an appearance. Of course, nearly everyone was at least mentioned in the Theme Reveal, so that should be alright.
I did think Wilhelmina was the most likely person to remain inaudible while Adam yelled, but if, indeed, he didn’t yell at her, then, indeed, there must be someone else.
I don’t think Wilhelmina is a plausible murderer unless we’re going to pull a surprise motive out of the hat. I’m rooting for Wilhelmina to be innocent so that she can finally get down to some archaeology when this is all cleared up. I’m a big fan of archaeology, as well as hat-shops and true love. Actually, I don’t really care at all about hats or hat-shops (for motive-pulling purposes or not), but I am all in favor of following one’s artistic dreams, even if hats are involved.
I, too, would like to think of Wilhelmina finally getting to do her archeology. I would like all the nice people in my story to have nice things happen to them. I keep thinking of nice things I can do for the various nice characters, and then either just hinting at them or leaving them out entirely, except in my head, because including all the things would be tiresome. But, for example, in my head, the Vicar and Stella are either very good friends or romantically involved. I like them both, and the Vicar needs looking after. And Stella could probably use the companionship. And, I mean, they live so close. It would be so convenient!
Whey does it always have to be bones.
Is this… snakes? Indiana Jones?
Bones are going to be a big topic in the next two posts as well, as I imagine you can tell.