N is for Nephew. The Hon. Percy Neville Bloater is Lady Cadblister’s nephew- and, it seems, a forger of cheques, as well as a harasser of kitchen maids. In fact, he’s a bad egg all round, and one rather hopes that he is the murderer.
The Inquest was finally over. Lady Cadblister rose from her seat and led the train of her relations out of the Church of St. Wilgefortis, the only building in Cadblister Parva with sufficient seating for such an event, and thus the scene of the Inquest. The Hon. Percy Neville Bloater followed, glancing surreptitiously around to see who had attended and who had not. He hadn’t quite liked to do so earlier- it would have been so very obvious, especially since the Crabtrees had all sat in the Crabtree pew, right at the bally front of the bally Church. But he treated himself to a good eyeful now. The Vicar had not attended, and nor had his daughter- shame, that, Percy thought, as she was a good-looking little baggage, and one with Advanced Ideas. Possibly her Ideas were even sufficiently Advanced to give a man a look-in, as it were, without the formality of marriage. Percy pondered this, sweating slightly, as they stepped out into the glare of the winter sun. Yes, he decided, he’d give that Verity a jolly good run for her money before old Gerald got his greasy hands on her.
If Percy had had a mustache, he would have twirled it. But, despite his very best efforts, no mustache would grow on his pale and oily face. He only got a bit fuzzy after a time, and then things seemed rather to stop there, and he merely looked ill-shaven. So he did not twirl his mustache. Instead, he thought enviously of old Gerald’s fine mustache, and how unfair Life was, to give some men both mustaches and titles, and to leave others bare-faced Honourables without a bally hope of advancement in either direction.
He had just realized what a keen pleasure it would be to get at Verity before Gerald married her, and to know that he’d landed the new Lord Cadblister with Damaged Goods, when the little party arrived at Colonel Crabbit’s for tea. There might, he reflected, even be Something In It For Little Percy, financially speaking. The Colonel had, Percy thought, been at the Inquest- as the Chief Constable, he more or less had to attend- but he’d managed to get to his home before they had, and was sitting at his ease behind a table absolutely stuffed with yum-yums when they arrived.
The Colonel rose, beaming- and then, possibly catching sight of Lady Cadblister’s Widow’s Weeds, moderated the beam to a grimace of welcome.
“Ah, Lady Cadblister!”
“Colonel,” purred the widow. “So very kind of you to arrange this little party for us.”
The Colonel looked embarrassed. “I’m afraid, me dear, that it will be rather a party. Wanted it to be a small affair, you know, but I let it out in the wrong quarter, and now I seem to have included about half of the village. Half of the – er- respectable portion, that is.” He helped Lady Cadblister into a chair- and only then seemed to become cognizant of the rest of the group. “Welcome!” He cried, over-heartily. “Seats! Tea! Windermere, the door!” For the doorbell had just rang.
Percy grabbed the most comfortable chair and started loading up a plate, while Lady Belinda and Viscount Diddums remained on their feet, waiting politely to greet the new guests.
“The Vicar,” announced Windermere, “and a Gentleman.”
The Vicar entered, and was followed by a man Percy had never seen before. At sight of these quite respectable-looking persons, Lady Cadblister gave a little cry.
“Colonel,” said the Vicar, “I fear that Verity could not accept your very kind invitation, as she had already accepted another for the same time. So – I do hope it is not a liberty- I have brought this dear fellow instead. He is a distant cousin of the late lamented Lord Cadblister, and has, I believe, been trying to introduce himself to the family ever since his arrival on these shores. May I present Mr. Herman T. Ermyntrude?” And Herman T. Ermyntrude stepped forward, beaming and chuckling, to shake hands all round.
“Hi!” He cried. “Lady Cadblister, Lady Belinda, Viscount Diddums, I sure am sorry for your loss. I probably shouldn’t be shoving in on you people at this sad time- but I’m going home next week, and I sure did want to meet you.” And he sat down, still beaming, at the table.
“Not at all,” said Lady Cadblister, who had gone rather pale, Percy thought. Hard to be sure, with all that veiling, but he rather thought she had. And she’d been positively exultant only a moment before. Odd.
“Mr. Ermyntrude,” said Lady Belinda, extending a slender hand. He clasped it firmly.
“I’m sure it’s jolly nice to meet you, sir,” said the Viscount. Ermyntrude slapped him heartily on the back.
“You too, my boy, you too.”
Percy got out of back-slapping range and then introduced himself.
“Hi!” Said Mr. Ermyntrude.
“And I am Colonel Crabbit, sir,” said that gentleman, eying his visitor coldly. The Vicar murmured something into Crabbit’s ear. Percy thought it might have been, “I couldn’t shake him,” but he couldn’t be absolutely sure.
“Colonel- nice ta meet ya! Herman T. Ermyntrude, at your service.”
“Mother, Mr. Ermyntrude must come and see the Hall, do you not think? Perhaps after tea?” Said Lady Belinda.
“You may certainly extend such an invitation,” said Lady Cadblister, “but I fear that Gerald and I-” and she shot a Significant Look at her son “-have Business to attend to in the village after this excellent tea.” And Lady Cadblister smiled a secret and malicious smile.
“Mother!” Groaned the Viscount. “Really!”
“Yes, Gerald. We really must.”
“Very well,” said the young man, looking unhappily at his mother. “Very jolly well.”
The doorbell rang.
“Windermere!” Bellowed the Colonel. “The door, man! The door!”
“Miss Bantree and a Young Lady,” Windermere declaimed.
And Windermere ushered in Marge Bantree and a young woman whom Percy had never seen before.
“Me niece,” said Miss Bantree, “Violet Teasdale. Visiting from Great Blister.”
“A pleasure to meet you,” said Lady Cadblister, in a voice of ice.
“Oh! Thank you! Nice to meet you, too, Lady Cadblister,” twittered this young woman, sitting down next to the widow. “Do tell me all about the trying time you must be having. You see, I’m a journalist.” Percy suspected that Miss Bantree at this point delivered a sharp kick to her niece’s shin.
“You’re a what?” Lady Cadblister stared in alarm at the young woman.
“I – read journals, you know. Constantly. So interesting, I always think.”
Percy eyed the newcomer with interest. Not a bad save, he considered, and, if she was indeed a journalist, perhaps she, too, was a woman with Advanced Views. He attempted to catch her eye- but she was lost in admiration, apparently, of Lady Cadblister.
“Oh, you do look so lovely in black!” Cried Violet, unaffectedly. “Most women look such hags. I know I do. But it seems to suit you so.”
Lady Cadblister softened considerably. “My dear child,” she murmured, “when have you had to wear black, in your young life?”
“Oh. My father, and my brother William, you know.”
A perfect eyebrow rose behind the veil. “And you so young,” she said. “Such a lot of tragedy for a mere child.”
“Huntin’ accident,” said Miss Bantree, “and William got smashed up in his Daimler.”
“Of course. How very remiss of me, Miss Bantree. I do remember now, of course.”
After that, the talk limped on along the same lines. Herman T. Ermyntrude surprised the Crabtrees by announcing the secret sorrow in their butler’s life- “poor man, lost his wife and his son, you know. What’s that, Lady Belinda? Well, I reckon Sneakfork isn’t one of the heart-on-the-sleeve brigade. No, I reckon he’s not. Stiff Upper Lip, and a true blue Brit down to his toes, that’s Sneakfork.” The Colonel spoke stiffly of his late wife, the Vicar spoke with vague fondness of his, and Miss Bantree related a tale of How She Lost Her Lover that rather electrified the whole table, and shocked them considerably.
“But of course,” said Violet, with callow ill-tact, “none of these really compare to your loss, Lady Cadblister. I mean, your husband was murdered. It must be almost impossibly painful for you to reflect that, but for the cowardly act of some wicked person, you would have him with you today.”
Lady Cadblister eyed Violet with loathing. She opened her mouth, probably to deliver some final and damning judgment on this young person’s character- when the doorbell rang.
“The door!” The Colonel bellowed. “Windermere! The door!”
Windermere entered the room. “The police,” he announced, with some satisfaction.
Inspector Crowner and Sergeant Mug came in.
“Sorry to interrupt you at tea,” said Inspector Crowner, who was obviously Not Sorry At All, “but we want to ask the Hon. Percy Neville Bloater about this cheque-” and he produced and flourished this object, “that has been discovered among Lord Cadblister’s papers. In fact,” and Crowner’s eyes shone with unholy joy. “We must ask you to come with us to the police station.”
“Do I understand,” said Lady Cadblister, “that my nephew is under arrest?”
“Oh yes,” said Crowner. “He’s under arrest, all right.”
“For murdering my husband?” Lady Cadblister turned her eyes of ice upon her nephew. She sneered. “No, Inspector. He wouldn’t have the nerve.”
“At the moment, my Lady,” said Crowner, “we are arresting him for forging your husband’s name on this cheque for a hundred pounds.”
“Yes,” said Lady Cadblister, slowly. “That does sound more in your league, Percival.”
“But of course,” continued Crowner, “if the late Lord Cadblister was planning to take steps about this cheque- and we have some evidence that he was going to, and that the Hon. Percy Neville Bloater knew that he was going to- well, maybe Percy here did the murder, after all. We’ll have a good, long chin-wag about that, down at the Station.”
The Hon. Percy tried to speak- and found that he only seemed to produce a horrid sort of squeaking sound.
“Bad luck, Percy,” said Lady Belinda, sounding rather bucked by this news.
“But of course,” said Lady Cadblister, ignoring this remark, “we can’t have that sort of scandal, on top of the murder. I won’t press charges. Neither, I imagine, will my son,” and she looked at the Viscount with steely determination in her glance.
“Oh. Oh! No, no. Of course not. Bad form, though, Percy. Dashed bad. But of course- we won’t drag it into the court. Of course.”
The Colonel cleared his throat and looked at Crowner pleadingly. Crowner stared dreamily into the middle distance. He, somehow, indicated that he was utterly unaware of any tacit requests from the Chief Constable to behave in an irregular way.
“I am afraid,” said Crowner, Not Afraid Of A Damn Thing, “that that is out of your hands, Viscount Diddums. We have evidence of a crime, and we act. It is, after all, illegal to forge cheques.” His eyes ceased to commune with the Spirits of the Air, and focused upon Percy. “You’ll certainly stand your trial for forgery, my lad, unless of course you are tried instead for murder.” Percy made a gobbling sound. His eyes were wild and staring, and he gripped the table-cloth with his shaking hands, and thus the whole contents of the table shook too, and were in danger of coming a catastrophic cropper. Mug moved silently to his side, and placed a ham-like hand on Percy’s shoulder.
“You’re nicked,” he confided. “Let go of the tablecloth and come along.”
And, numbly, almost blindly, Percy stumbled to his feet.