Hello, and welcome to my 2022 A to Z Challenge! For a detailed explanation of my theme this year, see my theme reveal. But basically, I am exploring classic mystery novel murder motives, by making up a victim (Sir Adam Bracegirdle Clutterbuck) and then coming up with 26 characters who wanted to kill him. It is part genre exploration and part world-building exercise.
Today’s suspect is Xavier… though there is a second suspect introduced in this story as well.
Xavier is a distant cousin of the Clutterbucks. Though he spent most of his childhood in Spain (where his branch of the family hails from), he was sent to school in England, and thus spent many school holidays at Clutterbuck Court. He was of an age with young Adam, and they became friends.
Until, that is, the coming of the new cook. She was a Mrs. Henderson, a widow, with a daughter called Belinda. Belinda was just a year younger than Adam and Xavier. She was told by her mother to keep aloof from the lads—that it was not her place to consort with the gentry—but she was a carefree child, and she had no-one else much to play with. The three became fast friends.
This happy state of affairs continued for a time—until both boys fell in love with Belinda.
There was a horrible—a very horrible—summer holiday, full of tension and pain for all three young people. None of the three knew how to deal with what was happening. This was new to all of them.
What did Belinda make of it all? We will never quite know, not for sure. She was, as I have said, a little younger than the boys. Perhaps she just wished that things would go back to how they’d been before. Or perhaps her interest was captured by one or the other of her new suitors—or by both of them. Her mother, having some vague notion of what was happening (though not, I think, really realizing the intensity of the feelings involved—adults generally don’t), pulled her daughter aside and told her that she really mustn’t allow the young gentlemen to take any liberties with her. They were, she reminded the girl, young gentlemen. There was no future for Belinda with either of them.
None of the three children were thinking of the future, however. The present was all they could see or think about.
The tension grew almost unbearable. Jealousies flamed. Quarrels, some of them verging on violence, were frequent. The two boys passed the hot summer days in a series of accusations, declarations, and tantrums. Belinda must have been—though we will never know her side of the matter for sure—quite unhappy. Or is it possible that the spectacle of two young men quarrelling over her did not entirely displease her? Again, these questions are unanswerable now.
For, near the end of that summer, Belinda disappeared.
She was never seen or heard from again.
Everyone thought she’d run away. A boy from the village vanished at about that same time, and that seemed to clinch the matter. They must, people thought, have run off together. Belinda’s mother was, of course, devastated. Everyone was very sympathetic, but everyone was quite sure they knew what had happened. It was sad, and Belinda was searched for, but no trace of the girl was ever found.
And the two boys began to look at each other with new eyes.
The next summer, Adam accused Xavier of murdering Belinda. And Xavier, in denying it, felt also massively relieved of a horrible suspicion that had been consuming him. For you see, Xavier had suspected Adam of the same thing—and if Adam thought Xavier had done it, then Adam could not have done it himself. The boys were reconciled. Their mutual love for the vanished Belinda, which had once driven them apart, now seemed to bind them more closely together.
Xavier became a welcome visitor at Clutterbuck Court.
And lately, Xavier has been dabbling in x-rays. He has a machine—he cobbled it together himself in his abundant leisure time—that he thinks is a bit of an improvement on the state-of-the-art Coolidge X-Ray Tube. He has developed it for use in historical investigations, and it is tailored to allow non-invasive inspection of things like mummy cases.
Xavier brought his device with him to Clutterbuck Court along with the rest of his luggage, in preparation for a long stay. He arrived a few weeks before Sir Adam’s death. He has been X-raying everything he can get his hands on, to test his device. Sir Adam has taken little interest in Xavier’s “toy,” and probably doesn’t really grasp what it can do, and so has not even thought to stop him.
And there is a dusty old trunk in one of the attics of Clutterbuck Court that has long been locked. It has been locked, in fact, ever since the summer that Belinda disappeared. The trunk has the bones of a 15-year-old girl in it. And, if Xavier has used his new machine upon the trunk (as he almost certainly has), he will inevitably come to some new conclusions about Belinda and her disappearance.
Might Xavier have decided to kill Sir Adam in vengeance for a long-ago murder?
And that’s it for Xavier! What do you think of him? Would he make an interesting killer in a book, or is he better as a red herring? Can you work out a reason for him to be the second victim? And what of Mrs. Henderson? She may still be working at Clutterbuck Court. And, if Xavier has told her of his discovery, she, too, would have a strong motive to kill Sir Adam. Tell me what you think of either or both of these characters in the comments below! Or, as always, feel free to just say hi!
Ooooo, much thickening of plot!
That Belinda was murdered seems certain, and that the perpetrator was the village boy who disappeared around the same time seems improbable, seeing as Belinda’s body has been stashed in the attic of Clutterbuck Court. Therefore we suspect Sir Adam, because there is no evil of which he is not capable. Quite possibly it was an accident as Belinda tried to resist his advances and ended up falling and hitting her head on the corner of the fender, but regardless of the facts, Adam hid the body and accused Xavier in an effort to deflect suspicion from himself.
So, Xavier, having now put 2 and 2 together, is indeed a possible suspect for Sir Adam’s murder. However, I tend to think he would be more likely to announce his findings and publicly denounce Sir Adam rather than secretly poison him… UNLESS we go with the theory that Xavier did not wish to bring dishonor on the family, so he confronted Sir Adam in the study and forced him to take the poison as the honorable way out. BUT then tXavier would have brought a single dose handed directly to Adam and there wouldn’t still be additional poison in the decanter.
So then we need to ask where, pray tell, is Belinda’s mother these days? Still at Clutterbuck? What about a possible brother bent on vengeance? Either of those may well vault to the top of our list.
Much also depends on whether Xavier has told anyone about his discovery and its implications, and if so, how early on in the story has he done so?
Exactly, it isn’t absolutely 100% certain that Sir Adam actually killed Belinda, just really likely. And it was probably his fault.
And yes, Xavier would probably be more likely to denounce Sir Adam than to kill him… though I like your idea of him forcing Sir Adam to drink poison, that is dramatically satisfying.
Where indeed is Belinda’s mother? I like the idea that she is still at Clutterbuck Court, and that just maybe she has had her revenge.
I quite like the idea that Mrs. Henderson is still at Clutterbuck Court, the elderly head housekeeper perhaps — a promotion she attained shortly after poor Belinda disappeared — and that she is the only person Xavier has told of his discovery because he feels it is her place and not his to use this information to bring the vile Sir Adam to justice.
After all these years, she determines to take the matter into her own hands rather than bring the evidence to the constabulary. She does in fact poison Sir Adam’s whiskey — after having helped herself to an amount equal to the volume of poison with which she will replace it. She is well aware of his habit of marking the whiskey’s level. But because she knows that once the murder is discovered, Xavier will deduce what she has done, she also poisons his evening cup of tea. After all, he had been part of the activity that misled her sweet Belinda to begin with. Who knows? It might even look like a murder-suicide.
I also like Mrs. Henderson as a suspect. I also like your idea of giving her a promotion to head housekeeper. That is interesting, and might briefly confuse the investigators about who is who.
Wow! Your vision for her vengeance is great! Poisoning Xavier, too, is a fun idea. She does it to keep herself safe from suspicion–but tells herself that she is doing it for vengeance! Interesting indeed.