R is for Richard Crabtree. Thirty years ago, Richard Crabtree’s father, the then-Lord Cadblister, died in mysterious circumstances. Richard inherited the title for ten days, and then attempted to flee the country when the police were about to arrest him for his father’s murder. Unfortunately, he fled the country on the doomed vessel the H.M.S. Miseryguts, which sank while in mid-ocean. Richard Crabtree is, therefore, dead. Or is he?
READER, BY THE END OF THIS POST, YOU SHALL KNOW!
Lady Cadblister looked out of the window of her boudoir. This window commanded an excellent view of the main drive of Cadblister Hall. It was through this window, therefore, that she saw the policemen coming up the drive. She rang her bell. Sneakfork manifested himself.
“Ah, Sneakfork,” said Lady Cadblister. “Go and telephone to the Yeoman’s Arms. Extend an invitation to Mr. Herman T. Ermyntrude. An immediate invitation. You may go.” Sneakfork shimmered and disappeared. Lady Cadblister turned back to the window and to the policemen, smiling slightly, as if at some dark and inward joke.
“Are you planning to take Lady Cadblister away in handcuffs, sir?” Asked Sergeant Mug, puffing loyally at his superior’s side.
“I am planning to get answers from that lady, at any rate,” said Crowner. His face, usually a whimsical mask, was now set in grim lines.
“Ah. Seeing as she had motives for both of these wicked old murders,” said Mug, nodding. “And when you look at it, it starts to seem as if she’s the only one as had.”
“Well, it’s true, isn’t it? Look at it. Lots of people wanted Lord Cadblister dead. That’s clear enough. But who else besides Her Ladyship wanted Mad Grudge dead, especially? No-one that we know of. And really – who benefits from Lord Cadblister’s death? The Viscount inherits a title and an estate- but Lord Cadblister couldn’t have willed that away even if he had signed that second will, which leaves ‘all of my personal fortune’ to Randall Grudge. And His Lordship’s personal fortune doesn’t exist. So the Viscount wouldn’t have been the loser, and Grudge wouldn’t have been the winner, even if that will had been signed. And as for the idea that the village would be saved by the death of Lord Cadblister- well, that’s just nonsense. Of course, someone might not have known it was nonsense- but I’m inclined to think that we’ll find our murderer at the Hall. I wash the village right out.”
“Oh, certainly,” said Crowner, rather abstractedly. “Certainly. The village is right out of it, as you say.”
“So we’re left looking squarely at Her Ladyship. She had what you might call an abundance of motives for wanting Lord Cadblister dead. One of them, of course, is going to be a bit tricky, as Colonel Crabbit is Chief Constable here. In love with Lady Cadblister, I understand. One of those faithful types, at least after the death of Mrs. Crabbit. And if the lady made any comparison between the Colonel and His Lordship-”
“Look here, upon this picture, and on this,” Crowner murmured.
Mug eyed his chief suspiciously. “Would that be by way of a quotation, sir?” He asked.
Crowner smiled a sudden and sunny smile. “Hamlet, Sergeant, Hamlet! ” And he knocked vigorously upon the great front door of Cadblister Hall.
“The police, Your Ladyship,” Sneakfork intoned. Lady Cadblister looked up, apparently, from the perusal of an ancient family Bible.
“Ah, gentlemen,” said Lady Cadblister, in a voice of lead. “I presume you have come to inform me that you have released my unfortunate nephew. And quite time, too. Give your report, and do be as brief as possible.”
“Bad shot, your Ladyship. In fact, not even on the board. Your nephew is arrested, and he’ll stay arrested- for forgery. I am here,” said Crowner, “to talk about murder.”
“Then you do not, at any rate, believe that Percival murdered my husband? Well, that is an encouraging sign, at least. I had begun to think that Colonel Crabbit had summoned, not men from Scotland Yard, but escaped lunatics to investigate my husband’s death.”
“Well, you see,” Crowner flopped uninvited into an armchair, in which he sprawled with exaggerated gracelessness, “your nephew was in the lock-up when Mad Grudge was killed.” He studied Lady Cadblister’s face. “You know about that, then?”
“But of course, Inspector.” The eyebrows went up behind the veil. “At least three persons have called here today to tell me about it. One of them was Colonel Crabbit. A very dear friend of mine. Her house caught fire, did it not? But I don’t quite see why you call that murder. I’d be more inclined to attribute the fire to some act of sluttish carelessness on Miss Grudge’s part.”
“Oh, would you, my Lady? Mug! Sit down and write down Lady Cadblister’s exact words in your notebook. “Sluttish carelessness” was the phrase. Record it!”
Mug sat and recorded as bidden.
“Really, Inspector!” Said Lady Cadblister. “This savours almost of police brutality. I do not think the Colonel would approve of the tone you have chosen to adopt in this interview.”
“Tone? Tone? What tone?” Crowner looked warily around the room, as if he thought that a tone might be some wild and dangerous animal about to pounce. Then his face cleared. “Oh, I see! You mean the way I am speaking. I do beg your pardon, I’m sure. But I’m no courtier, only a policeman, which is a lower-class sort of profession. You can’t expect a policeman to know how to behave.” He dismissed this with a wave. “Where were you last night, from half past ten on?”
Crowner repeated himself with stolid patience.
“What on earth has that got to do with you?” Asked the Countess.
“Do you,” said Crowner, slowly, as if speaking to one of low intelligence, “have an alibi for the time between half past ten and midnight last night?”
“An alibi? I was asleep.”
“No alibi,” Mug said, as he made a note.
“And where was your Ladyship from about 11 o’clock to half past twelve on the night your husband died?”
“In bed. Asleep.”
“No alibi,” Mug said, as he made a note.
“Then I am afraid-” said Crowner.
“Mr. Herman T. Ermyntrude,” said Sneakfork. He spoke as if it gave him a pain to have to announce the man. A second later, Sneakfork was gone, and Herman T. Ermyntrude came in, beaming.
“Your Ladyship has done me the great kindness-” said Mr. Ermyntrude. Then he caught sight of the two men in the room. “Oh, hi! Herman T. Ermyntrude’s the name. You’d be the men from Scotland Yard, I reckon. Seen you at the Inn.” And he extended a beefy hand towards the Inspector.
“Inspector Crowner, may I present Richard Crabtree?” Said Lady Cadblister.
Herman T. Ermyntrude froze. “What was that last crack?” He said. His voice trembled.
“Oh, come now, Mr. Crabtree,” Lady Cadblister cooed, “don’t hide your light under a bushel. You are Richard Crabtree, my late husband’s brother, and you have allowed us to think you dead for the last thirty years. Quite natural, of course, since you are a murderer. In fact, I rather suspect that, on Christmas Eve, you bagged your second Lord Cadblister. I wonder if you killed Miss Grudge as well, or whether that was, perhaps, the accident that it appears to be? Well, well! No matter. I’m sure the Inspector is capable at least of sorting that little matter out.”
“Why did you call me Richard Crabtree?” Mr. Ermyntrude spoke as if stunned. He seemed unable to take in more than one fact at once.
“Because that is your name, my dear sir. I would find it slightly farcical to call you Lord Cadblister.”
“Your Ladyship is confused.”
“Oh no, Mr. Crabtree. I knew you at once. You came to tea at the Colonel’s house, and I recognized you. My husband kept several photographs of you, you know.”
“I am a distant relation of the Crabtrees- a family resemblance-”
“Rubbish,” said Lady Cadblister, calmly.
“Chief,” said Mug, quietly. “There was that dime. On the scene of the crime. American money, that is.”
“Yes, yes, yes! I know that, Mug. Hush and let the gentry talk.”
“Inspector,” said the Countess, her eyes of ice surveying Mr. Ermyntrude impassively, “there is a way to settle this question at once. Richard Crabtree had a terribly twisted spine. One of his shoulders was therefore higher than the other. Quite noticeably higher. Make him take his jacket off.”
Mug rose and took a step towards the man. “Sir, if you would-”
And Herman T. Ermyntrude sank into an armchair and put his face in his hands. “That won’t be necessary, Sergeant,” he said. “I’m Richard Crabtree, all right. But I’m no killer.”
“Nevertheless, sir, it is my duty to warn you-” said Crowner, in an official drone. He signaled to Mug, who took up a position next to Richard Crabtree.
“Stop!” Cried a voice from the doorway. Everyone looked round. In the door stood Doctor Brandwood. “I must ask that you put off your arrest, Inspector. At any rate, I insist that you first hear what my patient has to say.”
“Your patient?” Queried Lady Cadblister. “You mean-”
“Yes,” said the Doctor. “Miss Theodolinda has regained consciousness. And she immediately asked to speak to the man from Scotland Yard, concerning the murder of Lord Cadblister.”