Saturday 7 June 2013
The tension in the room was tangible, and Detective Chief Inspector Cranbourne had no reason for drawing out his explanation of Edward ‘Battersea’ Wharburton’s murder other than he was enjoying keep everyone on their toes. He slowly sipped his tea and took oddly petite nibbles out of the sandwiches that the Wharburton’s cook, Mrs. Tully, had made up and sent through to the ballroom.
‘Come on, man,’ Lord Finch demanded, stomping his foot on the polished wood floor of the ballroom to emphasise the importance of his demand.
‘Leave him, Kenneth,’ said Margaret, Finch’s wife. Their daughter, Olive, sat quietly trying to suppress a girlish giggling reaction to the news that her best friend, Christine Jefferies, was engaged to marry George Wharburton.
Greaves, Admiral Bennett’s driver, caught Cranbourne’s eye and smiled in a way that only someone of the working class could, in understanding of the DCI’s little bit of joy at having the upper class hanging on his every breath. Cranbourne returned the grin, then placed his cup and saucer on the tray that had been brought in by the maids. He wiped his hands on his napkin, carefully folded it, and laid it next to the cup and saucer.
‘It’s rather simple, you see,’ Cranbourne said. ‘I think a good proportion of these events have been influenced by coincidence.’
‘Please, Detective Chief Inspector, don’t prolong this agony. Get it over and done with,’ Christine pleaded, her eyes lowered to the floor.
‘Very well,’ he replied. ‘Mr. Wharburton was killed by Digby Arden, his butler. Arden discovered what Mr. Wharburton had recently found out about Miss Jefferies. He was also aware that Mr. Wharburton had summoned you all here in order to expose her, and Arden understood that would jeopardise the wedding of George and Miss Jefferies.’
‘Why would the butler want to prevent that?’ Olive Finch asked Cranbourne.
‘You’re all friends of Miss Jefferies, one way or another, and what better way to make sure that she didn’t ascend to a position of great wealth and power? Expose her to the people most important to her. You see, Miss Jefferies has been living a lie. She is not a woman of high standing, or wealth. She is a woman of nothing. She was born of nothing, into nothing, has grown up with nothing until she decided to improve her station. She met George Wharburton, not by chance I might add, and set about capturing his heart and establishing herself in society.’
‘Is this true, Christine?’ Olive asked. Christine did not answer.
‘That is what Mr. Wharburton discovered when he, as repulsive an act as it might be, set his friends in high places to work to investigate Miss Christine Jefferies’ background. There were discrepancies here and there in her story, as told to Edward by his son, and Edward couldn’t let them be. Probably more interested in bursting his son’s bubble. Nothing George ever did was good enough for Edward, was it son?’
George shook his head. ‘No, I was always a drain on his finances and time.’
‘Edward did this more to hurt George than to expose Christine,’ Cranbourne said.
Penelope Wharburton wiped her eyes with her handkerchief. She quietly wept at the embarrassment being caused to her family.
‘The indignity of it all,’ she said. ‘He just couldn’t leave things alone. He had to push George’s buttons.’
‘Did you know what he was doing, Mrs. Wharburton?’ Cranbourne asked.
‘Not until the day he was killed. He told me before breakfast. I was disgusted at his actions. For once in his life, George was genuinely happy. Christine made him happy and that was perfectly fine for me, but not for Edward. He wanted to humiliate my son, Detective Chief Inspector.’
Cranbourne continued his explanation.
‘Edward Wharburton discovered that Christine Jefferies was living a lie and he was then intent on destroying the union between she and George before it became a legal union. He found out that her big secret was that she was the daughter of a working class mother and father. The daughter of a cook, Mrs. Tully, and a butler, Digby Arden, and that her parents had never married. Mrs. Tully had been married to a drunkard, Jonathan Tully, who had many other women and refused to give her a divorce, citing his religion as his reason. Catherine Tully met and fell in love with Digby Arden, they had a child but were unable to wed. Christine is illegitimate and Edward Wharburton was not going to have that sort of scandal attached to his family. Through a series of coincidences, Arden and Mrs. Tully ended up in the employment of the Wharburton’s. Her grandmother, Elsa Jefferies, Catherine’s mother, brought up Christine. She took her grandmother’s name, fell in love, and coincidentally, ended up with the son of her parents’ employers. Arden found out what Edward planned to do and, I assume, tried to talk him out of exposing Christine. It obviously didn’t work, so he took a more grave course of action.’
‘So, the butler really did do it,’ the Admiral said.
‘Yes, Bertie, he did,’ Cranbourne replied.
‘But who screamed?’ Simon Fairweather of the Home Office asked the question that everyone wanted an answer for.
‘That was Mrs. Tully. She’d heard the men arguing, slipped into the ballroom via the servants’ entrance, which we all saw the maids come through when they brought us the refreshments. She and Arden returned to the kitchen the same way and by the time Bertie and Greaves made it here, there was no one to be seen other than Edward. The murder weapon was handed over to me by Arden just after he confessed to Mrs. Wharburton, George and I. It’s on its way to London with Arden.’
* * * * *
The guests had finally left Chidlington Hall, leaving Penelope Wharburton and her son, George, alone with Detective Chief Inspector Cranbourne.
‘It’s unavoidable, I’m afraid,’ Cranbourne replied to Penelope’s question. ‘There’s absolutely no way that this can be kept away from the public. The newspapers will have a field day and your family’s name will be dragged through the mud.’
‘Edward’s worst fear was that the Wharburton name be associated with anything negative, and it seems that he has been the one to make that association,’ Penelope said.
‘And what will you do now, George?’
‘Well, Detective Chief Inspector, I’ve got a wedding to plan. But first, Christine and I are off to France for a quiet holiday, after the trial, of course.’
‘You’re supporting Miss Jefferies’ father?’
‘Yes, Cranbourne, I am. If not for the actions of my father, Christine’s father wouldn’t have been put in the position of looking out for the best interests of his daughter. And besides, with the reputations of both our families in the gutter, I’d say that she and I will start out our new life together on equal footing.’
‘And before you ask,’ Penelope interrupted, ‘Mrs. Tully will be staying on at Chidlington Hall, Detective Chief Inspector. She and I have a lot in common now.’
Cyril Cranbourne adjusted his hat, said his goodbyes, and got into the car that Simon Fairweather of the Home Office had left for him. As he sat in the passenger’s seat, he looked at the Home Office driver and snickered.
‘Do you know,’ he said to the uniformed driver, ‘how much rubbish I’m going to get from Scotland Yard for being the copper who tells the Old Bailey that the butler did it?’
. . . The end . . .