I say, you’ve jolly well got to drop whatever you are doing (probably something silly, like Higher Math, which is just the sort of thing that would appeal to your frivolous mind) and come here at once! Conjuro Te! If that is Latin, which I doubt. Never was much of a hand at Latin. Or Greek. Or at detecting, which is rather a pity, at the moment.
I appear to be rambling, which just shows you how flustered I am. “Here” is Atherton Manor. You are needed here because we have a corpse, freshly murdered, in our midst. All in a day’s work for you, I suppose, but I am rattled to distraction. The corpse is – or was- Lady Atherton. Someone has put a knife in her, which is beastly, even though she was not at all a nice woman. She scuppered my engagement with Geoffrey, you may recall. I have told the man in charge of the investigation about my broken engagement, trying to make out that I had a motive, but he is a fathead (name of Inspector Moribund- have you run across him before? I know you move in police circles) and had already decided who the murderer was- a woman from the village, Mrs. Bogsby, whose son was killed by Lady Atherton’s daughter Lucy when Lucy was a child. Lucy isn’t right in the head, and Lady Atherton covered the whole thing up.
Mrs. Bogsby was very bitter, but she didn’t do it, I’m sure she didn’t. And now Inspector Moribund has gone and arrested not only Mrs. Bogsby, but also Lucy (though he insists on calling her “Lady Lucy,” which is both technically correct and utterly absurd), on the theory that they were in it together. He is one of those elaborate idiots, if you know what I mean. His thoughts, though absolute rubbish, are complicated rubbish, so he assumes he is a genius. A dangerous idiot, in other words.
One thing that Inspector Moribund does not seem to understand is the total nonsense of this house-party. Lady Atherton did not generally go in for house-parties. Suddenly, she invites a bevy of ill-assorted persons to a weekend gala. Why did she do this? I could tell Inspector Moribund, but he’d just think I was gossiping. I’ll tell you, for you know that my intentions are pure- she did it because she was machinating.
That sounds mad, but consider my own case. Lord Geoffrey decided that this binge would be a good time to bring the new fiancee – Miss Mimsy Moppet, a chorus girl- home to meet the family. On the day the party commenced- which you could either call ‘today’ or ‘yesterday,’ depending on how you feel about 3 O’clock in the A.M.- I got a hurry-call from Lady Atherton’s secretary, Mr. Richard Bysshe, inviting me to come and stay for the weekend. I say ‘inviting,’ but I get the idea that it was more on the order of a royal command.
When I arrived (and it really was mad, to pack up for a weekend-visit at a place practically next door to my own little nest), I found, by careful pumping of Sneakfork (the butler- he’s a lamb), that I was to be room-mates with Miss Mimsy Moppet. Well, you can see the idea, of course. Lord G. was supposed to ‘look on this picture and on that’ or however it goes, see that Miss Moppet was really rather shabby, and sneak out of the engagement. Meanwhile, Miss Moppet was to be made to feel how impossible marriage with Lord G. would be, by rubbing shoulders with a Proper Lady (Me! Flattering, I don’t think!). This was to remind the poor kid of her Place.
I am sure that the whole of the guest list is like that, somehow. Lady A. generally discouraged visitors, probably because Lucy is so odd. To suddenly assemble a house-party after years of practically setting the dogs on all callers, and then to be murdered- well, it seems as if the two events ought to be connected.
By the way, speaking of Lucy, rumour has it that, when Lady Atherton hired Richard Bysshe as her private secretary, what she was really doing was hiring a husband for Lucy. Not that I imagine he knew that at the time, though she probably explained it to him as soon as she’d got some sort of hold over him which meant he couldn’t just leave.
“But Julia, my dear fathead!” I hear you exclaim, “that is blackmail!” Or maybe it would be extortion; I’ve never been clear on the distinction. Anyway, if you were to say this to me, I would say, yes, it jolly well is. Lady Atherton was big on blackmail. Or extortion. Or, probably, both. Anything that allowed Lady A to exercise her power over other people, she was big on.
And I noticed today that R. Bysshe seems to have taken a fancy to Lord Geoffrey’s cousin Ophelia, so… well, R. Bysshe would’ve had quite a good motive to kill Lady Atherton. And so would Lord Geoffrey, and so would Mimsy Moppet, and so would Ophelia, and so would I. And so, I imagine, would every one of the guests on the guest-list.
And Inspector Moribund, magnificently ignoring all of these underlying tensions, has gone and arrested a by-the-day housemaid and a madwoman- neither of whom is in any kind of position to fight back.
So, you see, we do need your help. With Lady Atherton gone, and Lord Atherton a genial non-entity who is currently in a bed of sickness after the shock of his wife’s murder, I suppose that Lord Geoffrey is technically acting as head of the family, not that that would occur to him. Anyway, there is no one here to turn you from the doors of Atherton Manor, since the butler is both a lamb and firmly on the side of Justice. I will simply instruct Geoffrey to welcome you, and all shall be well.
I never did split on you for that glue-in-the-inkpot trick you played on Miss Anstruther at school, even though she had hysterics and subjected all of us to the closest questioning, so I really do feel that you owe me.
Do come, E.
Miss Julia Trueheart
Lady E will, of course, answer Miss Julia Trueheart’s plea, and will shortly arrive at Atherton Manor, where there has already been one murder. There will be at least one more murder before All Is Revealed. Follow along with the exciting drama, Murder At Atherton Manor, which is half-novel, half-play, and all Classic House-Party Murder Mystery, at http://theathertonian.com/atherton-manor/