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A Man of Yet a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison

Murder In Dorset

The county of Dorset in South West England contains many towns which rejoice in names composed of two words that cause them to sound like characters in a period drama. The story below releases some of these characters from their geographical solitude and brings them together, where they rightly belong, in the library of a country house in the England of the 1930s, awaiting the dénouement of a murder mystery.


Burton Bradstock looked thoughtfully at those assembled in the library of Mandeville Manor.

It was in this very room, just one day previously, that Hardington Mandeville, the fifth Lord Mandeville and owner of the estate, had been found dead.

The body had been discovered by Iwerne Courtney, the maid. Lord Mandeville had been shot in the back through the glass of the library window. The police had immediately assumed suicide, but Bradstock’s years of experience as a private detective told him otherwise.

Bradstock had been a guest at Lord Mandeville’s house party when the death had occurred, and so had immediately begun his own investigation. He had now requested that all guests and staff join him in the library.

Bradstock addressed those present: ‘It is clear to me,’ he said, ‘that Lord Mandeville was murdered.’

Surprised and disbelieving gasps arose from around the room.

‘Furthermore,’ he continued, ‘the murderer is in this room.’

Astonished gasps were repeated.

‘Each of you had a motive for wanting Lord Mandeville dead.’ He looked at Bradford Peverell. ‘For example, Lord Mandeville had planned to reveal Mr Peverell’s affair with the housekeeper, Margaret Marsh, to her husband, Caundle.’

Gasping briefly resumed.

Bradford Peverell appeared shocked. ‘But… but I didn’t kill him.’

Bradstock directed his glance at the estate gamekeeper, West Mudford. ‘Lord Mandeville had discovered that Mr Mudford was poaching game on the estate and then selling it to that well known scoundrel, Sixpenny Handley.’

Further gasps came forth.

‘It’s true ‘e were gonna sack me,’ admitted West. ‘But I never killed ‘im… ‘onest, guv.’

‘Then there’s Blandford Forum,’ continued Bradstock, ignoring West’s protestations.

Everyone held their breath.

‘Surely you can’t think I’m involved in this,’ said Blandford, indignantly. ‘I’d only just arrived here from a late sitting at the House of Lords when this dreadful event took place.’

‘You already knew, however, that Hardington Mandeville was not prepared to loan you the money to cover your gambling debts.’

More breath was rapidly and audibly inhaled, and Miss Minterne Magna fainted - made light-headed by a combination of her tight corset, the constant stream of astonishing revelations, and oxygen starvation due to the unnatural and erratic breathing patterns that everyone seemed to have adopted.

Bradstock looked slowly around the room. ‘But no,’ he continued as Tarrant Rushton wafted smelling salts beneath the nose of his love, Miss Magna, ‘the real murderer was hoping that such a plethora of motives and opportunities would distract attention from that person’s own plan.

‘You were Hardington Mandeville’s solicitor, were you not?’ Bradstock turned to Melcombe Bingham.

‘That’s right,’ Melcombe replied.

‘Lord Mandeville had changed his Will, but not signed it, had he not?’

‘Yes,’ confirmed Melcombe, ‘originally the estate had been left to the local church, to be managed by the vicar, Reverent Winterborne Monkton, and Bishop Milton Abbas. However, when it emerged that young Stoke Wake, the presumed child of Dowlish and Ebbesborne Wake, was actually the love child of Lord Mandeville, he altered his Will to leave the bulk of the estate to Stoke, his sole heir.’

‘You’re not suggesting that Winterborne or I had anything to do with this,’ protested Bishop Abbas.

‘Not directly,’ replied Bradstock, ‘but your Scottish churchwarden, Fifehead Magdalen, overheard you both discussing the need to close the church and sell the land to repay parish debts. There would be no way to appease creditors in the absence of the ailing Lord Mandeville’s future bequest.’

All stared at Fifehead. He became intently aware that he was part of a 1930s, country house, library dénouement, led by a private detective or amateur sleuth. He mentally cursed his lack of foresight – such assemblies invariably ended in a correct analysis of the crime and the unmasking of the murderer. Furthermore, the strict dénouement convention was for the accused to then confess everything to the witnesses present, without any attempt to conceal the truth or seek legal advice.

‘It’s true,’ admitted Fifehead. ‘Ah coods nae bear tae see th' kirk close an' th' lain sauld.’

‘That would also have meant your church accounts being audited,’ Bradstock concluded. ‘And that would have revealed the money you had been salting away all these years.’

The thud of Miss Magna once again hitting the floor preceded further communal gasping.

‘Och aye,’ concluded Fifehead, resignedly, as two figures appeared in the library doorway.

‘You’d better come with us, sir,’ said Inspector Sutton Waldron - arriving with his constable, Melbury Bubb, in a precision of timing worthy of an Agatha Christie conclusion.

There was nothing more to be said as Fifehead was escorted from the room by the officers, followed by Ebbesborne Wake and Tarrant Rushton carrying the poor, unconscious Miss Magna.