Chapter Eight – Where Lady Matilda Meets the Insufferable Superintendent Thorburn Darby

Dear Maman,

So much has already happened in this country. I do not know why you thought this would be a restorative visit for me, because as of yet it has proven… much more challenging than such a visit has the right to be. I do not have a lot of time to write, but suffice to say that only two days have passed and I already find myself being the owner of a beautiful little puppy named Sigurd, as well as the-almost-witness to a grisly murder…

Before the evening of Clarissa Murdoch’s party I had never before seen a murdered body. There is a difference between someone simply dying and someone being murdered. Perhaps now you say that of course there is, it is obvious, but before that moment I had never thought about it. Not thinking about it might be a sign of sanity more than anything else, and I briefly wondered how mystery writers such as Sir Doyle managed to carry it all out on the pages. Had he indeed seen murdered people for it to be so… alive on the page? Or did he simply have a ghastly imagination? In any case my reaction was naturally to hurry over to the parlour, but the feeling in there was not one of peace or even absence like I have known death to be on previous occasions. Rather, it felt violent and somehow unfinished.

There was not as much blood as I had always imagined when I thought of such things, which was seldom (I hardly spend my time imagining people being murdered left, right and centre), and the body had been artfully placed in a chair. It looked quite relaxed to be honest, which was very disturbing, though it was quite clear indeed that the man in question had been stabbed to death. His shirt was soaked through with blood, but it had not poured onto the floor. All this I noticed as I squeezed past Fernandez, who stoically tried to prevent me from witnessing such gruesome sights, into the parlour. I was one of the first there, only Clarissa Murdoch had beaten me. She was staring at the corpse, who had been a handsome man in life, and her face had lost any trace of colour. It looked like porcelain. She was also shaking with emotion even if she kept her face under control, and wrung her hands before her.

‘Kenneth, my darling,’ she whispered, ‘what have I done…’

That was when she spotted me and she straightened her spine at once. Her eyes were wide with fear as she realised I must have heard what she was mumbling. My own heart had grown cold at her words. What did they mean? I understood this was the man that she did not want Delia to marry, the one she herself obviously had feelings for even though she had denied any such existence earlier that evening. Now it looked as if she was giving in to remorse.

Just then a man bustled into the room. He was one of the guests, I had seen him in the ballroom earlier. His hair was such a pale blond it was impossible not to notice him in a crowd. Now he had shed his evening jacket and introduced himself as constable Norren.

‘Good thing I was here, then, wasn’t it?’ he pointed out though I was uncertain if it was such a good thing. He seemed quite shaken, indeed, and I wondered what sort of help he was expecting he would be. ‘I have already phoned the station for back-up. We will have this solved in no time, ladies and gents.’

A mumble from the hallway, where I realised everyone was now crowding, was heard at his words. Some people were nodding their heads in approval.

‘Now, miss,’ he said to me, ‘I must ask you to remove yourself from the scene of the crime.’ He had already convinced Clarissa to go and lie down and she had gratefully gone from the room without a glance in my direction. Someone I had assumed to be her mother, given how much they resembled each other, had supported her.

‘Lady,’ Fernandez said pointedly at constable Norren’s words.

‘Pardon me?’ The constable looked confused.

‘You are speaking to a lady, not a miss. This is lady Arkwright.’

‘Oh, I apologise, miss. Lady. Though I must insist you leave the scene at once. This is no place for civilians,’ he puffed his chest out at the word, ‘and certainly not for a lady!’

I looked down my nose at him, he was not a large man, while some commotion took place in the hallway and pondered what I could say to make him give up his hope for my swift departure. At this point I thought I could almost see the hint of a smile on Fernandez’ lips. I soon understood why.

‘Coming through, please, ladies, gents, let me pass. After all,’ the voice said while coming closer, ‘do you honestly trust the police to solve this for you on its own? No no, believe me, they need some proper assistance, yes, for certain.’

Into the parlour flounced the form of my dearest aunt Phyllida, accompanied by Patrick, the dog. He sniffed the air inquiringly, no doubt because he could sense the scent of the blood.

‘Oh, darling niece! Quite a party, I hear.’

‘Quite!’ I said.

‘Mrf!’ said Patrick in greeting. I nodded down at him and wondered how much further I needed to go before I could be said to have lost my mind. What sane person nodded a ‘how do you do?’ to a dog? Then again, I had never really felt saner in all my life, bloody murders notwithstanding. It was as if my life prior to arriving in England had been carried out half-asleep and now my eyes were wide open. A state which was, regardless of the current scenery, much preferable to walking through life as if being un-dead. I enjoyed the feeling and suddenly, in the middle of a room with a dead body, a confused constable, my notorious aunt and her too-human dog, I was left wondering how I would feel the day it was time to go back across the Atlantic. Resolutely, if surprised, I pushed any such thoughts from my mind.

‘Now, Matilda,’ the same aunt interrupted my reverie. ‘Do tell me what has happened. One really can’t even be gone one day without the whole place falling to pieces, can one?’

‘It does seem like it, aunt. Well, I’m not certain how much help I can be. I didn’t witness the murder myself, thankfully. Only a few minutes ago a woman killed the entire ball by announcing the death of this man, not that I say it was bad that she did, of course.’

‘Of course.’

‘I just mean one could have been more tactful about it.’ Phyllida nodded her sympathy. ‘In any case, that is all I know, really.’

‘Not at all, dear girl. Why, you also see clearly that the woman interrupting the party was right when she said this man has been stabbed, and I am certain you will have noticed many additional things. Now, if everybody could leave the room, please, we can begin the initial investigations. No, not you constable. Though I don’t personally approve of the methods of the police, I do believe you ought to stay.’ People began to disperse and soon the hallway was empty even if I could hear the chatter of the guests from a distance. Phyllida went to close the door.

‘So,’ she turned to the constable, ‘mister Norren, what do you believe took place?’

‘Obviously we have some sort of crime of passion, or revenge.’ His voice did not sound as secure as he wanted it to, I think.

‘Obvious is it,’ my aunt replied dryly. ‘Though, I wonder why it took place here. Seeing the recent scandals surrounding miss Keighley it seems strange that mister Plaskett should be present. As far as I know miss Murdoch isn’t fond of Delia in the slightest?’ She looked to me for confirmation and I nodded. ‘So why was her man invited to her ball? And if he wasn’t invited, then why was he here?’

Her eyes bore into the constable and I almost felt sorry for him. He cleared his throat and looked nervous but did not reply. Maybe he did not know, or maybe he was prohibited from relating any findings to my aunt. Though had she not said she was a real detective? They should want her help, I thought. On the other hand, I pondered as I looked her over, I might also be a bit hesitant to convey sensitive information to a woman dressed in some sort of workman’s boots and a raincoat, though she had, if I understood correctly, been forced to visit a boathouse. In that instance her choice of clothes was most sensible, indeed. It seemed constable Norren reached the same conclusion because after a moment more of my aunt’s piercing gaze he relented.

‘We’re not entirely certain, it does seem odd he was present here.’ My aunt nodded just as the door opened and one of the most dashing men I had ever seen sauntered inside. He introduced himself as superintendent Thorburn Darby.

‘Ah, Phyllida, I thought I might see you here.’

Her eyes glittered at his words, like she was a mischievous child up to no-good and to my utmost horror I felt a stab of jealousy. How well did she know this man, were they…? Then I stopped my thoughts. Superintendent Darby was probably ten years her junior and I doubted she wanted a man that age; I had always imagined her to be fonder of more mature males. If she wanted men. Who really knew?

‘Superintendent Darby, what a pleasure. I believe it is the first time we accompany each other at a ball?’ If I was not mistaken I did hear a slight hint of sarcasm in my aunt’s voice at Thorburn Darby’s title.

‘I believe so. Now, who is this enchanting lady?’

With a jolt I realised his ice-blue gaze was focused on me and I ceased my speculations about my aunt’s preferences regarding relations of the flesh.

‘This is my niece, lady Matilda Arkwright.’

‘Dear lady,’ he said while tossing back his black hair before kissing my hand, ‘I am truly enchanted.’

I blushed, and then blushed at my own blushing. I was no longer a young girl and had no reason to blush, yet there it was. It was embarrassing, is what it was. With a deep breath I found my voice and managed a smile, though I could see he was delighted at the fact I was so very effected by his presence. Compared to him my old fiancee was nothing.

‘Superintendent Darby, what a pleasure to meet you.’

‘I understand you were one of the first at the scene? One of the guests phoned me with constable Norren’s instructions.’

‘I was, yes, together with Phyllida’s butler, Fernandez.’

He raised an eyebrow at the fact a butler had obviously accompanied me to the ball in question, but said nothing about it. If I was to take a bet I would think he was used to my aunt’s antics by now and unsurprised should I be in possession of the same. Or maybe he had noticed Fernandez’ delightfully exotic complexion and deemed it worthy enough.

‘Interesting. Well, if I am not much mistaken, I think our prime suspect needs to be Delia Keighley.’

Phyllida’s eyes grew wide. ‘Superintendent, have you utterly lost your marbles?’

‘Not at all, she has motive if I have understood the scandals correctly. And you should be pleased I share that information with you at all. I only do it because of your status as fellow detective, mind you. Now, I suspect we shall be here most of the night, though you ladies can retire, I should say. If we need help in any way from you we will be certain to let you know.’

I stared at him and how easily he decided to dismiss us and my regard for him diminished rapidly. My aunt, however, did not seem flustered at all. She merely smiled at him.

‘Of course, superintendent. My niece and I will go home and have a nice cup of tea. We need it after so much excitement!’ When I did not chime in at once she elbowed me in the ribs while superintendent Darby was looking the other way.

‘Ow… oh yes, quite! A cup of tea is just what we need.’

With that my aunt nearly pushed me out of the room and we hurried outside to the car, which Fernandez had already prepared.

‘How did you get here, Phyllida?’

‘Oh I left the other car at home and took a cab, dear girl. One is rather modern, unlike that superintendent.’

‘I’m surprised you let him off so easily,’ I said as I sat down in the backseat. Fernandez sat next to the driver.

‘He’s a thick-headed fool, that man. There’s no point arguing right now, he’s too filled up with his own importance. In a couple of days he will realise his mistake. And can you believe,’ she looked at me, ‘that each investigation starts off exactly the same. Just like that. Then he always realises my value in the end.’

I shook my head at the folly of some men.

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