A Victorian Murder Mystery
(OK, so I was bored. And it occurred to me it might be fun to see if I could make a story out of the titles of all the books I’ve reviewed this year… in the order I reviewed them! I really need to get a proper hobby… The eagle-eyed amongst you might spot one film in there – couldn’t resist – it just seemed to fit. 😉 )
Martin Chuzzlewit and the sisters of Versailles rattled through the swirling London fog and snow on their way to the Children’s Home. As they travelled along Coffin Road, their eyes were watching Godfrey, their cabbie, knowing his broken promise to turn up on the dot of seven o’clock had made them late for their appointment.
“Take the A26, Godfrey,” Chuzzlewit called out. Snowblind, Godfrey swerved, nearly knocking down Martin Luther and a clubbable woman who were crossing the road arm in arm. A passing journalist, Winston Churchill at The Telegraph, pushed them to safety just in time, crying “Even the dead would be scared to walk these streets in this damnable weather!”
“Thank you, sir!” said Martin, gratefully. “I am no one important, but Mrs Dalloway here is on a vital mission. She is carrying a potion made from the rare black narcissus, which it is believed may be the cure for the strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.”
Hyperventilating hysterically and gulping down some Vichy water, Mrs Dalloway cried “Blessed are those who thirst! You are beloved, dear sir! I call down all the blessings of heaven on your head! Now we must rush if we are to be in time to prevent the murder at the manor!”
At that moment, they heard the noise of time as Big Ben struck the hour. Turning into Euston Station, they hurried swiftly through the massive building, dark and echoing at this hour, like caves of steel. In a corner, an old flower seller had tried to fend off the cold by setting the heather blazing, but she still had a little left. “Buy some lucky heather, pretty lady,” she crooned as Mrs Dalloway sailed past. Nightblind, Mrs Dalloway heard only the echo of the words, which seemed to her disordered mind like a spectral voice rising from the cold, cold ground.
As they left the station and hurried across the Hyde Park green, Martin Luther’s fearful eyes searched around the green for danger. In the woods, he spied a group of Dubliners, teaching each other the names of the trees. “Well, this is an advancement of learning,” mused Martin, philosophically. “Hey ho! Let the great world spin!”
Finally they arrived at the Theatre Royal where that evening a performance of Henry IV was to be staged. A woman in blue stood by the entrance, with a large dog on a leash by her side. The previous evening’s storm had uprooted an old tree which now lay across the road. In the gaslight, the shadow cast on the ground by its twigs looked so like a mysterious old map that Martin found himself unconsciously looking for the traditional marking: Here Be Dragons. But then, as he looked more closely, he saw to his horror a reflection of the moon in a dead eye!
“Absalom! Absalom!” he cried in great dismay, recognising immediately his old friend and bank manager. The woman in blue, known to her wide acquaintanceship as Mrs Maybrick, cackled haggishly. “There will be a dark redemption for this night’s work, sir!”
Shortly, two Bow Street Runners arrived on the scene, Gandhi and Churchill. Earlier that day, they had been doing crowd control at the Easter Parade, (unusually, being held in November this year) where the ladies of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society had got somewhat out of hand after imbibing rather freely of the punch provided at that event. Gandhi was still trembling nervously, for when ladies get up to horseplay, fear is the rider, he had discovered. “I wish I could go on a little holiday to the High Mountains of Portugal,” he thought, wistfully, “rather than having to deal with the sans pareil mystery that we have here!”
“Close your eyes,” commanded Runner Churchill. “You know you’ll faint if you look at the murdered banker. Especially since he’s been so horrifically mutilated; that snow-covered thing on his left kneecap is a heart so white!”
Mrs Maybrick, (whom, after the sudden death of her landlady six months earlier, some suspected of being the secret poisoner), was in the grip of a ruling passion by now, chuckling and dancing, till she was pulled from her feet by the power of the dog. Normally, she kept Daisy in chains, but that day she had felt in need of protection after having a strange, prophetic vision of a murder during a futuristic journey, in the year 2001: a space odyssey, in fact. It brought back to her all the horrible memories of her typist sister, Elizabeth: the forgotten years and the tragedy that happened during that other terrible journey she always thought of as her “travels with my aunt” – the wicked boy, the exposure and, worst of all, the dead witness. Thank goodness the other typist had been on hand to catch the culprit, and it would be a long time before her arch-nemesis Douglas MacArthur saw the outside of a jail cell again. But I digress!
Runner Churchill gazed at the open wounds on the victim, whose name he had now learned was Absalom Hudson. At that moment, the widow turned up, just as the organ grinder on the corner began to play the Rat Stone Serenade. Mrs Hudson, and the Malabar rose she wore in her lapel (a rare bloom), presented a tragic but charming picture as she begged Runner Churchill for a sight of her husband’s corpse.
“I fear that’s impossible, ma’am. It’s against the rules, and our Sergeant Cluff stands firm on the matter. And he’s American!” “Ah!” interjected Gandhi. “That explains the three-martini lunches, then!” Ignoring him, Churchill continued “No one may see the body till the police artist has drawn the hospital sketches – I wish someone would hurry up and invent photography!”
At the hospital, Mrs Hudson was joined by a friend who was staying with them for a while, the visitor being a French citizen, Kane by name. Bending over the body, Nurse Oliver twisted round to confirm the corpse was dead – though most people felt the missing heart was a good indicator of that status. But it’s always best to have these things confirmed by a professional. “His pulse rate is zero, ‘K? That means he’s dead.” Mrs Dalloway’s eyes skittered around, for one moment making her look truly, madly, guilty. “Eureka!” cried Doctor LaRose. “I’ve always wondered how to tell! It’s always been an enigma to me!” The girls in nurses’ uniforms in the corridor giggled, especially Nurse Jane Steele, who secretly was rather in love with the doctor.
A crusading journalist, always the seeker after truth, arrived fresh from a prayer meeting at Chapel Springs, (survival of which was frankly quite remarkable given the length of the sermon). The magnificent Spilsbury, as he was called, had rushed to the hospital on the 4:50 from Paddington. He was a different class, upper-middle, to be precise, and wondered aloud if the death might have been accidental. Mrs Hudson was outraged. “It’s murder,” she said. “As my husband himself would tell you if only it were possible that he had from the dust returned.” Strangely, a kite suddenly appeared around the corner of the corridor, and a moment later, a small child ran by in the perfect pass, holding the kite. Runner Gandhi boxed his ears and sent him on his way.
All the parties now gathered in a conclave to hear the opinion of Runner Dick Churchill, who was considered something of a rising man. He had studied the methods of Sergeant Cluff, and refined them in his head as he walked his beat along the dirt roads of old London. His greatest success to date had been in the case of the Magpie murders, when he deduced that the perpetrators were the infamous Seagull Gang, led by the notorious Henry Vavasour. As a pupil, during the schooldays, of Jesus College, Cambridge, Churchill had often skipped off out of bounds, down by the Black River Road, where he had made a detailed study of various types of mud, and produced a short monograph that had about it some echoes of Sherlock Holmes.
Churchill was something of a philosopher about death, having spent much time in the thin air of the Cambridgeshire countryside, contemplating, amongst other things, the long, long life of trees. He himself had no fear of the blood, cardinal red though it may be. He thought of death as but a passing, a welcome to the Universe where he believed the immortal soul would spend a blissful eternity, looking back at life simply as being in the past tense. His thoughts were suddenly disturbed…
“Lend me your moby, Dick,” said Mrs Hudson. “I’d like to call my lawyer.”
Suddenly it all fell into place. “Mobile phones haven’t been invented yet!” Churchill cried, cuffing her. He had realised she was none other than the Black Widow, a time traveller from the future who had come back to Victorian London to escape justice for the crimes she would commit in 2001 – three dead husbands and the murder of a lady! Locking her temporarily in the hospital’s Slaughterhouse-Five (a name they were soon to change to Intensive Care Unit), he set off to hail a cab to take them to the police station. And so we leave them, as the cabhorse pulls off onto the road to justice, and the wheel spins. We must pray that time will bring the balm of Gilead to those shattered witnesses of this horrific crime…
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