Wednesday, February 7, 2024

"Signing Your Will Was Like Signing Your Death Warrant"

"A Literary Detective."
By Richard Ashe-King (1839-1932; Oxford Reference HERE; Dictionary of Irish Biography HERE; HERE).
First appearance: T.P.'s Weekly, November 6, 1903.
Short short short story (4 pages).
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).

   "I'm morally certain it was murder, but how it was managed I can't for the life of me make out."

What could possibly connect an unjustly accused young lady, an extremely overwrought widow, a distraught vicar, a recently dismissed stable groom, a suspicious coroner, and a sensationalist story writer who's exhibiting an uncommon interest in footprints? A double murder, of course, but not just any double murder. This one seems beyond any rational explanation, an impossible crime irrupting right there in rural Edwardian England . . .

Main characters:
~ Mr. Metcalf:
  ". . . had now no doubt at all that her real reason for sending for him was to throw him off the scent of this murder mystery."
~ Harry Metcalf:
  "He was a journalist generally, and specially a writer of short stories, chiefly sensational . . ."
~ Mary Horsham:
  "Harry, I cannot understand father's making this will, even to please her."
~ Dr. de Lisle:
  ". . . an utterly odious man, a Dr. de Lisle, always in the house on one pretext or another."
~ The vicar:
  "No, no. Not killed. There was no foul play. It—it might have been an accident."
~ Isabel Horsham:
  "She had all the men at her feet, from the vicar down."
~ Baines:
  ". . . the groom comes in after all as the favoured lover!"

References and resource:
- "strapped pick-a-back":
  "Piggyback is a corruption of pickaback, which is likely to be a folk etymology alteration of pick pack (1560s), which perhaps is from pick, a dialectal variant of the verb pitch." (Wikipedia HERE.)
- "a scorn of Dogberry":
  "Dogberry is a character created by William Shakespeare for his play Much Ado About Nothing. The Nuttall Encyclopædia describes him as a 'self-satisfied night constable' with an inflated view of his own importance as the leader of a group of comically bumbling watchmen." (Wikipedia HERE; see especially "Elizabethan law enforcement.")
Michael Keaton as Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing (1993)
- "you're a born Fouché!":
  "Joseph Fouché, 1st Duc d'Otrante, 1st Comte Fouché (1759 – 1820) was a French statesman, revolutionary, and Minister of Police under First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte, who later became a subordinate of Emperor Napoleon. He was particularly known for the ferocity with which he suppressed the Lyon insurrection during the Revolution in 1793 and for being minister of police under the Directory, the Consulate, and the Empire." (Wikipedia HERE.)
Not a nice man
- Harry's forensic skills with footprints prefigure what came later; see Wikipedia (HERE).

Unless otherwise noted, all bibliographical data are derived from The FictionMags Index created by William G. Contento & edited by Phil Stephensen-Payne.

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