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Butler Did It
The Harrisford family thought it would be a good idea to hire a mute butler. I suppose the general idea was that servants should be seen (though rarely) and not heard. A butler who could see and hear, but could not speak, could perform duties efficiently and silently. The Harrisford’s were not cruel individuals, they just weren’t particularly intelligent.
The poor butler. That old saying, “The butler did it!” heard ever so often in old and new mysteries alike, was often repeated around the Harrisford home. Whenever anything went missing, the butler did it. If a task had been done wrong, the butler did it. When anything and everything went awry, the butler had almost certainly done it.
Once the Harrisfords held a fancy dinner party. The theme was autumn, and all the guests arrived in their finest array of gold and crimson gowns, ties and jewels. The table, with silver plates, knives, and forks, tall wine glasses and fine silk napkins, had been set by the maid. The butler served the meal. He began at the head of the table and served to the right. He then dashed back to the kitchen, retrieved the spiced wine and began to meticulously fill each glass. As the butler reached the middle of the table an elderly guest, startled by what her neighbor had just said, drew her hands quickly to her mouth, knocking her wine glass from the table. The butler’s left hand shot out and caught the falling glass. He thanked his lucky stars he had played a great deal of baseball as a child and filled the glass with wine before setting it back on the table. When the last guest had been served everyone reached down for their forks and knives to dig into the carefully prepared feast...but one young lady was missing her fork, and an older gentleman in the corner did not have a knife! The Harrisfords blamed the butler and his pay was docked until the missing silver was replaced. He could say nothing in his own defense.
Another more unfortunate event was the incident with the cat. Poor Mr. Kitten Mittens had lived a long, happy life. We are thankful for this fact, as it would be an even more tragic tale if he were still a kitten. An orange tabby, Mr. Kitten Mittens was a favorite of the Harrisford family members both young and old. It was not the butler’s job to attend to the Harrisford pets. He had other duties to attend. All the same, when someone forgot, or lazily shirked their duties to feed the cat, the butler was blamed. A cat can only live for so long on the cockroaches they find around the house. As the Harrisford home was spotlessly cleaned every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and tidied the other days of the week, few cockroaches were to be found. Mr. Kitten Mittens passed away one warm spring day. As I said, he had thankfully lived a long and joyful life, except for his last few weeks of starvation at the hand of one forgetful or lazy servant. Once again the Harrisfords held the butler accountable for the tragedy, as no one else would step forward and admit their fault and the butler couldn’t say anything to prove his innocence in the matter.
Now, if you think a dead cat is a tragedy, the following event shall be a catastrophe. One rather chilly, but sunny winter day Sir Herbert Harrisford came to stay. He was an enormously rich, pompous gentleman who enjoyed a bit too much wine in the evenings and was generally disliked by both the family and the servants. As most men of his sort, he was unaware of this dislike, as he was very fond of himself. You may very well have guessed by now...Sir Herbert was murdered.
He was found very dead the next morning. He was lying in his bed, the sheets pulled up to his neck so he appeared to be asleep. The maid found him when she attempted to awaken him for the morning meal. He had been rather viciously stabbed. The left side of Sir Herbert’s head was battered. It appeared as though he had been clumsily beaten with the murderer’s weaker or less experienced hand and then immediately stabbed with the offender’s other hand. The three wounds had been made by some sort of sharp, pointy, and narrow blade and were slanted from the mid-chest towards Sir Herbert’s flabby right chest.
The butler was, of course, the first and only suspect. The family believed him responsible for other more petty crimes about the home so he seemed the most logical choice. Yet, as a murdered man is far more serious than missing silver or a starved cat, the Harrisfords wisely chose to consult a professional.
Detective Sturum was an expert. A third generation detective, he was very experienced. He was sipping green tea from an old jam jar and patting himself on the back for the case he had just solved when the phone rang. Mr. Harrisford had called, asking the detective to come to the mansion.
“Yes, he is definitely dead...very dead.” said Sturum.
“We had ascertained that ourselves,” replied Mr. Harrisford, “the blood on the sheets and lack of heart beat were rather self-explanatory.”
“Yes, of course. Who has been in the house?”
“Only our family and the servants, and Herbert of course. He arrived in time for dinner last night. We have ordered the servants to their rooms and locked the doors. We suspect the butler. Look what we found in his room!” Mr. Harrisford displayed a pair of scissors. They were ordinary scissors, except for a thread of engraved roses and vines along the blades, and these same long sharp blades were covered in dried blood.
“Yes, I see...” Sturum slowly remarked, and he sank deep into thought.
Five minutes later Mr. Harrisford grew impatient. “What is there to think about?” he exclaimed, “This seems uncharacteristically simplistic to me!”
“Yes, it would appear that way. Unfortunately, the first and most obvious suspect rarely seems to be guilty.”
Detective Sturum confiscated the murder weapon, for safety reasons. Ordering the servants to be brought downstairs, he gathered both the servants and the family into the main room.
“Yes, everyone must be considered a suspect in this matter,” he began. “Could the butler please bring us some biscuits...and perhaps your maid could bring some tea?”
Mr. Harrisford snapped his fingers and the two servants exited the room. Detective Sturum ordered everyone, family and servants alike, to find a seat in the large living room. Moving a small wooden table to the center of the room he placed the murder weapon upon the table. The gory scissors could be easily viewed by everyone in the room.
The butler returned to the room first, carrying a silver platter of biscuits. He walked around the room in his typical slow, careful manner, handing each person a napkin and biscuit. He took his seat as the maid entered the room. She carried a slightly larger silver tray stacked with tea cups and a large pot of steaming raspberry tea, Mrs. Harrisford’s favorite. She moved about the room in a more hurried manner, she was not the meticulous type. To each person she handed a cup, filling it with steaming tea and a teaspoon of sugar. When she came to Detective Sturum he asked for a second spoonful of sugar. She acquiesced to his request.
“Yes, that’s a beautiful ring,” he remarked, pointing to the maid’s left ring finger. “Did you recently become engaged?”
“Oh no, sir! It’s just a little trinket I found in a shop. This is the only finger that fits it.”
Detective Sturum thanked the maid and butler for serving. Standing in the middle of the room, he picked up the scissors and examined them one last time.
“Yes, I mean no, the butler did not do it,” he calmly declared, “but she did.”
The detective strolled to the middle of the room, stood behind the maid and gently pushed her forward. The Harrisford family gasped.
Upon searching the maid’s room Detective Sturum found some of the missing silver along with various other odds and ends that had disappeared. The maid had been performing petty crimes and generally slacking off, aware that the unfortunate mute butler would be blamed. After murdering Sir Herbert, for unknown personal reasons, she stowed the scissors in the butler’s room as he slept.
How did Detective Sturum realize the appearingly innocent maid was responsible? Simple, she was left-handed. He discovered this simple fact by observing the ring on her left hand, the hand with which she poured the tea and served the sugar. The detective’s first clue was the scissors themselves. Generally men do not own dainty scissors laced with roses. Of course, the butler could have borrowed the scissors, which leads us to the second clue. These scissors were made specifically for a left-handed cutter. The butler was right-handed. The maid was the only lefty in the Harrisford home, and the stab wounds, beginning at Sir Herbert’s mid-chest and slanting outwards towards his right side, were definitely made by a left-hand. Thus, the case was solved.
So, in the end, the butler didn’t do it...but the maid did.