Scene: The Library at Atherton Manor
Curtain rises on Inspector Moribund and Sergeant Mug. Inspector Moribund is seated at a table; Sergeant Mug stands, though there are chairs available.
Moribund: Well, it seems to be a fairly clear-cut case. And you tell me that Lady Lucy Atherton has… a local reputation.
Mug: A fair terror, she is. Killed the Bogsby boy, that’s known, though it weren’t never made official. She couldn’t have been more’n six years old at the time, and Lady Atherton… well, she saw to it that there weren’t any mention of it at Inquest, but even she couldn’t stop the talk. Mad – er, Lady Lucy were found standing over Bill Bogsby, all over blood, and laughing hysterical-like, and that is what will be talked of, Lady Atherton or no Lady Atherton.
Moribund regards Mug with disapproval; he does not like this chatty tone, it seems insubordinate. Still, he is forced to recognize that Mug’s information is pertinent. He nods, brusquely.
Moribund: Well, it rather looks like she’s done it again. She was, I understand, found standing over the dead body of Lady Atherton, with blood on her hands.
Moribund: And by er, you mean…?
Mug: I mean, yes, sir.
Moribund: Ah. (Pause) Well, let’s have her in.
Moribund: Come, come, Mug, you’re not afraid of a slip of a girl, are you?
Moribund: And by er, you mean…?
Mug: I mean, no, sir.
Moribund: Then go and fetch her.
Moribund (leaning back in his chair, and speaking in a dreamy voice): Inspector Moribund Solves Atherton Murder Case In An Hour; Send For Inspector Moribund!; Inspector Moribund, The Coming Man At The Yard; Assistant Commissioner Moribund: The Story Of My Success… hm… or perhaps, Commissioner Moribund. Yes, that will be altogether more suitable.
ENTER MUG AND LUCY
Moribund: Ah, Lady Lucy, come in.
Lucy: I have. I am in now.
Moribund: Ah. (He regards her with suspicion; is this sass? He does not know) Well, sit down.
Moribund: Because I want to talk to you about the distressing events of this evening.
LUCY SITS DOWN
Lucy (chattily): Oh, you must mean when father fainted. That was very distressing. I was very distressed. But they told me he would recover. (Sudden, sharp fear) Do you mean that he won’t? Oh, tell me, tell me!
Moribund: Your father is fine, as far as I know. I was referring to the death of your mother.
Lucy (dismissively): Oh, that. You said distressing. You confused me.
Moribund: Are you not distressed about your mother’s death?
Lucy (with wide-eyed surprise): Oh, no! That was really rather nice. (chattily) I was looking for Mrs. Bogsby, and she wasn’t anywhere that I looked, so I went into mother’s boudoir to ask mother if she’d seen her. And there was Mrs. Bogsby, staring at mother, and mother was there, and she was dead.
Mug (startled into speech): Mrs. Bogsby? What on earth would Mrs. Bogsby be doing here so late?
Lucy: Oh, mother had told her to stay and look after me. Nurse Grimsby had gone, and the guests were about to arrive, and I really cannot be trusted on my own. (She nods solemnly).
Moribund: Then do you really mean to assert, Lady Lucy, that you found your mother already dead, with Mrs. Bogsby actually standing in the room?
Lucy: Lady Lucy. Oh, you are funny! Lady Lucy, Lady Lucy, how funny that sounds! (Puzzled) What did you ask me?
Moribund: You have just asserted that you found Mrs. Bogsby standing over the body of your mother. Is that correct?
Lucy: Oh, yes. She was there, and mother was dead. Yes. All correct. Is it important? It doesn’t seem important. The thing that I found important was that mother was dead. That was very important, because it was very nice of mother to be dead. It was perhaps the first nice thing mother had ever done, to consent to being dead. I could almost love her, looking at her dead like that.
Mug (who has been thinking over the one point, and is still incredulous): Lady Atherton set Mrs. Bogsby to look after you? Mrs. Bogsby? To look after you?
Lucy (turns, smiling): Oh yes. You see, Nurse Grimsby had gone. (Smiles her frightening smile) Rather suddenly. (MUG REACTS, to the smile and the words, with stark horror) So you see, there wasn’t anyone else, and so mother made Mrs. Bogsby stay with me.
Mug: Where did Nurse Grimsby go?
Moribund (furious): Mug, really! That seems an absolute side-issue. And may I ask who is conducting this investigation? Is it you, Mug? No? Or should I say, er, meaning, in this case, no?
EXIT LUCY – this is not noticed by either man- she just goes as soon as they aren’t looking at her
Mug: Sorry, sir, it’s only…
Moribund: I will hear your excuses later. For now, will you please allow me to get on?
Mug opens his mouth… and closes it again. He takes a deep breath.
Mug: Yes sir.
Moribund: Yes sir is right! Now, Lady Lucy- (He turns to find the chair empty) Why, she’s gone!
Mug: Yes sir.
Moribund (sarcastically): You did not observe her go?
Mug: I did not, and no more did you, I’m thinking.
Moribund: Mug, you are insubordinate!
Moribund: Does that mean… no, no I don’t want to know. Er will do splendidly.
Mug: Shall I go after her, sir?
Moribund: Not at the moment, I think. What she said requires a certain amount of thought.
Mug: Yes sir.
SILENCE; Moribund assumes a thoughtful position; Mug is restless.
Mug (exploding into speech): One thing as requires thought, sir, is this affair of Nurse Grimsby. It makes me uneasy, it does, the way young Lucy said she’d gone. She had the look on her.
Moribund (not very interested): The look?
Mug: The look, sir. The folk round here has a different name for it, some of ‘em, but I don’t hold with superstition, and anyways…
Moribund (keenly interested): I am keenly interested in what you say, Mug. I am what is called a Folklorist. (Doubtfully) I don’t suppose you know what that means.
Mug: Er- yes sir, I do; we’ve had a powerful lot of ‘em in Blatherstone, one way and another; no old person is safe from ‘em. And then they goes away, and we have what you might call a bout of hysteria, with everyone all stirred up and believing the old stories to be true. I don’t hold with it.
Moribund: What you do or do not hold with, Mug, would be, no doubt, of pressing interest to a psycho-analyst, as giving insight into the inhibitions of the folk; for purposes of this discussion, however… (he waves a hand, negligently) what do the local people call Lady Lucy’s look?
Mug: That Fey Smile, sir, is what the ignorant call it
Moribund (making a note): The Fey Smile?
Mug: No, sir. That Fey Smile. They always say ‘that.’
Moribund (keenly): Ah! Now, that is interesting.
Mug: It may be, and I’m not saying it isn’t. What I am saying, sir, is that young Lucy had that smile- That Fey Smile, as it were- on her face when she spoke about Nurse Grimsby going off, and that bodes ill. She only smiles in that way when she’s gone and done sommat wicked.
Moribund: Ah, well, that may be, that may be. Now this Mrs. Bogsby-
Mug: Sir, I’m wondering if maybe there’s another body, lying undiscovered, as you might say.
Moribund: Ah, so you, too, are influenced by rural superstition. Excellent! Excellent! (He makes more notes)
Mug: I’m no more superstitious than you are, Sir. Only sometimes the superstition is based on something solid, and then I pay heed. Like this here That Fey Smile. I’ve known young Lucy since she were a slip of a girl, and I’ve only seen her smile like that when she’s done something really wicked. So, when I hear her speaking about Nurse Grimsby going away, and she smiles that way, I think- well, I think I’d like to look into it. At once, like.
EXIT MUG, abruptly
Moribund: Well, really! (Rings bell) (Muses over notes) But the tiresome fellow did give me food for thought… this That Fey Smile, now… if it was a modern novel, “fey” would mean “cursed, doomed,” but here… it seems to be used in the sense of “Fairy-like,” and it seems to be remembered that fairies are rather unpleasant… hm… interesting survival of the -
Sneakfork: Yes, sir?
Moribund: Ah, Sneakfork! Could you send Mrs. Bogsby in to me, please?
Sneakfork: Mrs. Bogsby isn’t here, sir.
Moribund: Done a bolt, eh?
Moribund: Fled the country. Done a runner. Defeated the aims of justice. “Fly, all is discovered!” Stabbed Lady Atherton and ran off. That sort of thing, what?
Sneakfork: You suspect Mrs. Bogsby of the crime, sir?
Moribund: Why else would she not be here? It seems so obvious now that I think of it. The Bogsby woman- her son was murdered by Lady Lucy, yes?
Sneakfork: Nothing was ever proved, sir.
Moribund: No — because Lady Atherton would not allow it.
Sneakfork: There may be something in what you say, sir.
Moribund: Of course there is! And yet. (Pause) And yet somehow Lady Atherton compels this Bogsby to look after Lady Lucy until she can arrange for a new nurse. By the way, the local man – his name is Mud-
Sneakfork: Mug, sir.
Moribund: Yes, Mug- well, he seems to be displaying an immoderate level of concern about this missing nurse, this Gimlet person-
Sneakfork: Nurse Grimsby, sir.
Moribund: Yes, yes, well, Mug said something about Lady Lucy having That Fey Smile when she talked of the nurse’s disappearance, and then he positively bolted out of the room, to look for the body. (Moribund laughs) Rum, what?
Sneakfork (gravely): Mug said that she looked- like that? He said she had That Fey Smile? Sir?
Moribund: Yes, he did. (Sneakfork is seriously upset; Moribund does not notice) Anyway, to return to the more important matter of Bogsby. Think of it, Sneakfork! Picture this Bogsby creature. She must have hated Lady Atherton.
Sneakfork: Yes sir.
Moribund: Hated her violently and passionately. This high and mighty Lady, with her fine house and her fine clothes and all, has covered up the true facts of the Bogsby boy’s death. Resentment seethes inside of Mrs. Bogsby for years, and for years, she does nothing. She comes in and cleans; she goes away again, flitting like a ghost through the halls of her enemy.
Sneakfork: Mrs. Bogsby is not even remotely ghost-like. Sir.
Moribund: But on the inside, Sneakfork! On the inside! She is a haunted woman. Haunted, and angry. But it might never have come to anything- probably it wouldn’t have come to anything- if Lady Atherton hadn’t made Mrs. Bogsby look after Lady Lucy. The murderess of her son, though only a child at the time. Mrs. Bogsby doesn’t blame the girl, poor mad thing. No; she blames the mother. The mother who allowed the dangerous child to run loose, who kept her at Atherton Manor instead of sending her away to an asylum, who covered up Lady Lucy’s crime, and who (impressively) isn’t even sorry.
Moribund: Imagine Mrs. Bogsby’s feelings when Lady Atherton asked her to look after Lady Lucy. Mrs. Bogsby has probably consoled herself all these years with the thought that Lady Atherton did what she did- in order to protect her child. Mrs. Bogsby must have assumed that there was a kind of bond between them, mother to mother, and that must have made working at Atherton Manor bearable. Lady Atherton was, of course, sorry that Billy Bogsby was killed- Mrs. Bogsby must have believed that, Mug!
Sneakfork: Sneakfork, sir.
Moribund: Sneakfork. She must have believed that Lady Atherton was sorry. And then today. (Impressive pause) Today – Lady Atherton sets Mrs. Bogsby the task of looking after Lady Lucy. Well!
Sneakfork: Well, sir?
Moribund: Mrs. Bogsby’s carefully-constructed illusions of Lady Atherton are shattered. If Lady Atherton is capable of ordering Mrs. Bogsby to look after Lady Lucy, then Lady Atherton does not have any regard for Mrs. Bogsby’s finer feelings. She isn’t thinking about Mrs. Bogsby’s finer feelings. She is, in fact, not sorry. The rage builds in Mrs. Bogsby until she can no longer stand it. The timid peasant is driven by rage into rising up against this unfeeling monster, this Lady Atherton. She stabs Lady Atherton- and runs off into the night. Well, Sneakfork?
Moribund: Does it not seem probable?
Sneakfork: Well, sir (he pauses; he is trying to put his thoughts into words). It does, and then it doesn’t.
Sneakfork: The picture you’ve built up is, if I may say so, utterly convincing. I can see it happening, just as if I was watching it. Very vividly drawn, if you’ll forgive my saying so. Skillful.
Moribund (much pleased): Yes.
Moribund: Well, man? Get on!
Sneakfork: Well, sir. The people in your story are utterly unlike the people whose names you give them. Or, no. Not ‘utterly.’ (Pause) You are right up to a point, which makes things more confusing, if you see what I mean, sir. Lady Atherton has never, it is true, had any regard for anyone’s finer feelings. But she has never pretended to have any regard for them, either. She never bothered to conceal the fact that she was ruthless, heartless, and driven, because the idea that she ought to conceal these traits would never have occurred to her. Similarly, Mrs. Bogsby is indeed an angry woman. But she’s never stopped being angry, or gotten any angrier over time. Her son’s death made her angry, and she’s been angry ever since. She has gone on, living her life, and burning with anger. Anger, and hatred for Lady Atherton. But she’s never consoled herself with any fond illusions about Lady Atherton’s being sorry, because Mrs. Bogsby is not a stupid woman. See sees what you might call ‘Fundamental Realities,’ does Mrs. Bogsby. In fact, she is earthy.
Moribund (coldly): And your point, if any?
Sneakfork: Well, sir. Since Mrs. Bogsby didn’t have any illusions to be shattered, I don’t see why she would have killed Lady Atherton today. There was no inciting incident, as far as I can see. In fact, I frankly don’t believe that she did it.
Moribund: As you’re not likely to sit on the jury, Sneakfork, I don’t see that your belief or otherwise matters, much.
Sneakfork (stiffly): There is also the fact, sir, that many people must have been in and out of that room- Lady Atherton’s boudoir- between six and seven, which is, I take it, the time that the murder must have taken place.
Sneakfork: Lady Atherton instructed me to inform certain of the guests that she wished to speak to them before the cocktail hour. The cocktail hour begins at seven, though people arrived in the drawing-room from 6:45 on.
Moribund: Certain of the guests? Be more specific, Sneezefire!
Sneakfork: Sneakfork, sir.
Sneakfork: Well, sir. She instructed me to inform Lady Grinling, Major Gadfly, and Mr. Dane to stop by her boudoir before the cocktail hour. And. (Sneakfork looks uncomfortable).
Sneakfork: Well, sir. I don’t want you to think that what I am about to say is more suspicious than it is. The fact is, something – odd – happened at just on six O’clock.
Moribund: Well, out with it!
Sneakfork: Yes, sir. I had just shown the three gentlemen – Mr. Penders-Ghastly, Major Gadfly, and Mr. Dane- to their rooms – arrived together, they did, and seemed to dislike one another cordially by the time I opened the door to them- well, I’d just shown Major Gadfly to his room- he was the last of the three, and as I say, I’d just gotten him settled-
Moribund: Stop shilly-shallying, Sneakfork!
Sneakfork: Sir! I am trying to be precise. I am what you might call an avid reader of detective stories, sir. I understand from them that precision is important.
Moribund: Get on with it, then.
Sneakfork: Well, sir. As I was saying, I’d just gotten Major Gadfly settled in his room. He was inclined towards conversation, and he delayed me for some five minutes, with his unfavorable character studies of Mr. Dane and Mr. Penders-Ghastly. I managed, eventually, to indicate to Major Gadfly that I did not view this conversation as a fitting one, between the butler of a great house and a guest within its walls. Mr. Penders-Ghastly is a connection of the family- not a real relative, mind, but a distant connection- and Mr. Dane is, I understand, a friend of Lord Geoffrey’s, from his time at Oxford. I managed to convey to Major Gadfly that I was not a proper recipient of his confidences on these matters.
Moribund: In fact, you snubbed him.
Sneakfork (simply): Yes, sir. Eventually, as I say. Major Gadfly is not an easy man to snub.
Moribund: Yes, yes, yes. Go on.
Sneakfork: I left Major Gadfly’s room and made my way to the stairs.
Moribund: The back stairs?
Sneakfork (coldly): The Grand Stairs, sir. I use the back stairs only when I absolutely must, as I view them as beneath me. (Sneakfork stops, slightly confused) In what you might call a metaphorical sense, sir. (With an air of returning to the primary subject) And as I was going down the stairs, sir, I met Lady Atherton going up. This was at six O’clock, or near enough as makes no difference. She looked – well, sir, it is hard to put it into words. The closest I think I can come to it is, she looked angry, and she looked- exultant. She was burning, and she was cold, if you follow me. And she said, ‘Sneakfork, Mrs. Hampstead and Mr. Sloop are in the drawing room. Pray go to them at once, and tell them that I wish to see them in my boudoir. At once. And Sneakfork,’ she says- and mark this, Inspector Moribund- she says, ‘And Sneakfork, conduct them up to me at once, and do not leave them alone for a single instant until they are in my presence.’ And she continues up the stairs, sir. And I, with heavy heart, continued down the stairs, and found Mrs. Hampstead and Mr. Sloop in the drawing room, and carried out my orders. And they didn’t like it a bit, sir. Mrs. Hampstead turned to Mr. Sloop and said, ‘ready to face the firing squad, my dear?’ or some such remark. And I conducted them upstairs, sir, and showed them in to Lady Atherton’s boudoir. ‘Sneakfork, you may go,’ Lady Atherton said to me. And go I did. (Quietly) And that was the last time I saw Lady Atherton alive.
Moribund (who has been shuffling through papers; he has found the one he wanted now): Mrs. Hampstead is- ah, yes. Yes. She is the wife of Lady Atherton’s brother, and she has been living at Atherton Manor for the past two weeks, recovering from some tropical illness. Yes. Mr. Bysshe has her down on the list he made up for me, of residents and guests. But who is Mr. Sloop? He isn’t down on my list.
Sneakfork: Mr. Sloop is an American gentleman, sir. He was a great friend of Lord Atherton’s, and of Mrs. Hampstead, and of Mr. Hampstead, and of Lady Atherton, when Lord Atherton and Mr. Hampstead were young men up at Oxford together. Mr. Sloop had been sent to Oxford, too, and I believe that Lord Atherton’s circle of friends found him an agreeable and amusing companion. He was a frequent visitor here in Lord Atherton’s father’s time. They’d make a party of it often as not, and they’d all be here for weeks on end together, having a good time. (Sneakfork looks nostalgic) Those were better times, sir. Better times. None of them were married yet, sir, and Lady Atherton – Miss Hampstead as was- was just a willful girl. I was sorry to have to do the dirty on Mr. Sloop, if you’ll forgive me the use of the slang, sir- it does seem apt, as you might say. Yes, I did the dirty on Mr. Sloop, when I followed Lady Atherton’s orders, and no two ways about it. (Sneakfork sinks into a somber silence)
Moribund: Are you suggesting, Sneakfork, that Mrs. Hampstead and Mr. Sloop murdered Lady Atherton?
Sneakfork: I am suggesting, sir, that before you decide on a guilty party, you might wish to ask questions of several persons who may possibly know something of the matter. My own opinion is that Mrs. Hampstead and Mr. Sloop are quite as improbable, considered as murderers, as Mrs. Bogsby, but I am a mere amateur at crime-detection, and I, of course, bow to your superior experience. Sir.
Moribund: Very well, Sneakfork, very well. Is Mrs. Bogsby on the phone?
Sneakfork: Yes sir.
Moribund: Well, you might as well ring and see if she is there, though I still tend towards the view that she has fled the consequences of her crime. Still, it will be just as well to make quite sure. Quite sure. Yes. Yes, yes that seems sensible. As for Mr. Sloop and Mrs. Hampstead- well, I won’t bother them tonight, at any rate. Go and ring up Mrs. Bogsby.
Sneakfork: Yes sir.
END OF CHAPTER NINE