Mr. Pierce Richam had been sitting for several minutes now, waiting. It had been a busy day with much running about town. His patience was already growing thin as his appetite increased. He had shouted for Mrs. Dribblewitz several times, with no audible response. Getting up to investigate the matter was not an option. Of all the things he had learned as the master of his home, it was this; if you wanted any respect from servants you could not be a man adept to change.
The grandfather clock against the wall to his left ticked away the seconds. The table was small, decorated simply, but with taste. A small vase with freshly-cut flowers acted as a centerpiece. Candles were lit, and the light through the windows faded hesitantly, drawing attention to the vase and to shadows cast about the room. It was a reverse prism, the shadows forming shapes like constellations, having any meaning that was put to them.
Dinner was five minutes late; then ten. Mr. Richam was just about to give in when Mrs. Judy Dribblewitz entered from the kitchen, pushing through the swinging door. The man scarcely knew what to think. Due to the poor design of the house, any rubbish to be disposed of would have to be taken through the dining room out to the back door. Most of the time, the hired help would do this either before or after meals, knowing not to interrupt. But rubbish was not the subject of the matter now.
When Mrs. Judy Dribblewitz came in, she was in obvious distress. Shocked at the sight, he asked her what she held in her hand. Mr. Richam knew what it was, but he needed to hear her say it, as though to confirm what he saw. Flustered, she responded.
“It’s a knife!”
“But what has it been used for?”
“To heavens if I know! What would a bloodied knife be doing in MY kitchen?” That, madam, Mr. Richam thought to himself, is the question. He tried to broach the matter in a different way.
“Do you mean to tell me you have absolutely no idea what it was doing there?” The red in her face spread to her neck.
“Of course I don’t!” (Mrs. Dribblewitz was no woman to be questioned if you expected silence or submission in return.) “What would I be doing with such a thing?” Mr. Richam knew exactly what someone with a bloodied knife could have done.
Mr. Welter was unhappy. A disorderly house was no house to be in. As he had been known by Mr. Richam’s family for many years, he naturally kept his position as head butler of the house when Pierce’s parents passed away. Pierce fondly referred to Mr. Welter, his trusted servant, as “Alfred”. But his name was Horace.
Horace ignored this continuality and persevered in his duties, making sure that the house was in good order. When all the displays were spotless, all the books in order, and the various other servants busy about the work to be done, Mr. Welter was a happy man.
Mr. Horace Welter was a faithful servant of the Richam family for years. The man often towered over the family at dinner, at the master’s beck and call. Due to a long series of deaths and accidents, however, the family line was reduced to this closely-knit group of the senior Mr. and Mrs. Richam and Pierce, their only son and heir. Horace had been there at both of the parents’ deaths, assuring the mother, the second to pass, that he would take care of their son and heir.
Order. The universe certainly didn’t provide enough of it, so Mr. Welter had to work harder. But it was just as well, being a sentinel of the house. All was well until disorder crept onto his territory. After years of experience, Horace had found never to say “unless”. It was rampant; when you were finally rid of disorder, it crept in by other means. In any form it was always an attack, an affront on what was right and good in an well-ordered house. Disorder was not to be tolerated in any sense of the word.
“Of all the indignities, being questioned as a common criminal-” The maid stopped short at the sudden appearance of Mr. Welter as he stepped into the room. The man’s large frame filled the doorway. All action halted. Mr. Richam and Mrs. Dribblewitz stared at him. He cleared his throat.
“Is there a problem, sir?” Suddenly Pierce was nervous. Confused, his eyes went to the woman in front of him before returning to the towering butler.
“No, Alfred, there is nothing wrong.” The butler stood almost hesitantly, but apparently he was determined to do something.
“Is the knife troubling you?” His voice was calm and firm, as always. But there seemed to be something else in an undertone of his voice, something beneath the surface. Mr. Richam shook his head, suddenly feeling like a soldier surrounded by enemies.
“No, but thank you Alfred. I was just waiting for dinner to be served.” Mr. Richam lowered himself into his seat with dignity, remaining in charge of the situation. “Now Mrs. Dribblewitz, tell me exactly what happened before you… found the knife.” She stood stiffly, glancing occasionally at Mr. Richam. But her attention was directed at Mr. Welter.
It was plain to Mr. Welter that Mr. Richam was obviously upset about something. The knife in Mrs. Dribblewitz’s hand was of interest. Horace pitied the woman, both for her situation and her name. The fact that the blade was tainted a deep red had not escaped his attention; it simply was not a priority. Restoring peace was always a priority.
Seeing that whatever argument happening at the moment would not lead anywhere productive, Mr. Richam nodded at the knife in Judy’s possession, begging an explanation. Mr. Welter, unexpectedly, made a slight movement toward the woman.
“Mrs. Dribblewitz, I would suggest you continue with your duties.” Glancing between the two men, the cook-maid began to retreat from the room, muttering to herself.
“Wait a minute!” Mr. Richam was on his feet. “Whatever happened to explaining what the thing is about?” he said, gesturing at the woman holding the knife. “We can’t let the matter alone; we don’t know how it came to be this way.” He motioned to a chair. “Have a seat, if you please.”
It would be a terrible waste of words and space to say that the tension could be cut with a knife. Mrs. Dribblewitz shifted uncomfortably, apparently unsure whether to keep her eye on her employer or the butler.
“Sir, I honestly don’t see what this has to do with anything!” Horace’s voice rose in pitch and volume. Both Pierce and the maid were taken aback by this. “Finding out how she found the knife will not help with restoring order to this place. Now Mrs. Dribblewitz, just run along and take care of things! Mr. Richam still has not had his supper yet, as you well know!” Both turned to stare at the butler’s outburst.
“What do you mean Alfred?” The butler regained his nerve and continued.
“I simply mean, sir, that I know you’ve had a long day. I didn’t want any more trouble for you.” After this inexcusable outburst, Mr. Richam watched the man retreat back into a sense of calm. “There should have been nothing to trouble you tonight. Now, m’am if you will please see to dinner, and be sure that the knife is taken care of.” Pierce looked at the man carefully.
“Why does it matter to you so much what is done with the thing? If it is of no consequence, then why do you insist that is should be disposed of?” Mr. Richam’s eyes shifted back to the maid. “Unless he knows that you have murdered someone.” Now all of his attention was on Mrs. Dribblewitz. The woman’s eyes began darting back and forth ever more quickly now.
“Well, who would I murder? And why?”
“Yes, what motive would she have to commit such a crime? And who would it be against?” The butler’s questioning caught Mr. Richam by surprise. What startled him more were his thoughts; the idea of being surrounded by those who were out to harm him. It was ridiculous, he knew, but he could not control the rampaging emotions and thoughts in his head.
“Enough!” Pierce wasn’t sure whether he was talking to his thoughts or to the butler. “I will hear all that she has to say about the matter. Let nothing further interrupt her.”
“But she has nothing to say!”
“She does!” Mr. Richam turned suddenly to the maid. “Let us hear it, ma’m; your account of this evening’s activities, from the start.”
She sighed (whether out of exhaust or defeat, it could not be told) and put her head in her hand for a moment, before beginning.
“I went as I always do to prepare dinner. I had finished a salad, and was preparing to take care of the Foie Gras, when I discovered the knife lying on the counter.”
“Did you find anything lying on the counter near it?” She shook her head.
“No, the knife was the only thing out of place.”
“Do you have any thoughts as to where it came from?” The questions came quickly, as a reflex.
“If you’re asking whether it came from here, it’s quite possible. I use only the best knives in the business. This one is just the same quality as…” She stopped, before she could continue digging her own grave. Mr. Richam studied her, judging what she had said. She was eyeing him now, as a trapped hare might eye the hounds that have cornered him.
“…the same as any of the knives in this house.” Pale and suddenly trembling, the maid nodded at his response.
“Mrs. Dribblewitz, I’m afraid I don’t know what to say. I’ve trusted you all of these years- to go and do something like this is unthinkable. Who was the victim?” The woman let out what may have been either a squeal or a small shriek.
“What? You can’t still possibly think that I- that I killed someone?” It seemed the idea had never occurred to her.
“But what else can I assume? Unless, of course, you have evidence to the contrary?” Mr. Richam’s face showed no signs of jesting. A movement to his right stopped any further conversation. Another servant stood in the doorway. The servants here were trained to have poise and elegance. This was the closest thing to awkwardness Mr. Richam had ever seen in one of them before.
“Well? What is it?” His sharp tone caught the man off guard. There was a flash, the slightest hint of a flinch that could be read on his face.
“A guest, sir.”
“Well, what are you standing around here for, then? Bring him in!” Turning away, the man bowed silently. He returned in a moment, letting pass-
“Why Archibald!” Mr. Dribblewitz was greeted by his wife with both joy and uncertainty. “What on earth are you doing here?” The plump man shrugged.
“Is there a reason not to be here?”
“But I’m working! I’ve told you about this several times now-”
“Oh dear, don’t make a fuss about it!” She continued blathering about how this was not acceptable, and how he would have to leave, but Pierce had another idea. He offered the man a seat, and the man obliged, his girth adding to his presence.
“Mr. Dribblewitz, do you have any idea what your wife would be doing with a large knife, roaming about my house?” The woman looked shocked at the audacity to ask such a direct question. She sat across the table from her husband, staring, silently pleading. Mr. Dribblewitz turned to his wife.
“Dear, don’t’ you remember? You asked me to get that favorite knife of yours back from Bromley, the butcher.”
Pierce blinked, as the unexpected idea hit his mind.
“You mean to say you took this knife directly from the butcher’s shop?”
“Well, not exactly. He called up, asking whether it would be all right to borrow it. He has a new young man working for him, you know. He says that the lad is supposed to bring his knife with him or leave it at the shop. Unfortunately he didn’t do either, and Bromley called up asking if he might borrow a butcher’s knife from my wife. I pitied him, as they were expecting a rush, and I agreed and sent it to him. When he was finished, he must have sent it here, knowing as you work here. So you see, I was not the one to drop the knife off here. It was probably the butcher’s apprentice.”
“But how would it get here without my noticing, unless…” Pierce then remembered the busy day that he had been through and getting back for dinner less than an hour ago. With that question out of the way, there was just one left. “Mr. Dribblewitz, do you have any idea why, exactly, your wife would roam about the house with a butcher knife in the first place?”
“Well,” he said, “no, I don’t. I do know, though, that she has a habit of roaming about, especially when thinking hard or when upset over something.” Judy nodded as did Pierce, seeing that it was a fair assessment.
“The question, then, is why would she be roaming about with this knife rather than working?” There was surprise on the man’s face at Mr. Richam’s lack of consideration of the matter.
“Well, what would you do? Decide that you were some sort of detective and track down the murderer that weren’t there?” The stupidity of Mr. Richam’s question was suddenly a slap in his own face. Apparently no one else could argue with that, either, as there was silence for half a minute. Suddenly he broke it all off with a “thank you, that will be all” and sat down to wait for his dinner. Nobody needed to be told to leave.
“That was close.” Mrs. Dribblewitz now sat in her own quarters. The room was tidy, though had a feeling of being unlived in. There was dust here and there, attesting to little time to herself. Mr. Welter sat in a chair beside her. Both chairs faced a small fireplace, their backs to the bed and bureau. Horace’s head was in his hand, and he sighed again, as it had been for the last several minutes.
“How could you let that happen?” Looking up, his face glowered with resentment. Her defenses went up.
“How was I to know it would happen?”
“But walking about the house with a knife?” He threw his hands up in frustration. Here and now all sense of professionalism was lost. “And a bloodied one, at that.”
“In any case, there’s no way he could know.” There was a lull in the conversation. Apparently, though, Horace’s troubles couldn’t help but be voiced.
“But after something like this, don’t you think that it would occur to him?”
“He thinks it was an honest mistake, which it was. Besides, he wouldn’t even think about the inheritance.”
“Well, it shouldn’t occur to him to tell himself the obvious, having no heirs. He could change his will, though, and then where would we be?” She crossed to him, and put her hand on his shoulder reassuringly.
“Well, I suppose that we will have to move quickly then.” She stood behind him as he sat and they both remained, staring into the candlelight. They were not preparing, as much as waiting for what was to come. The inevitable would hopefully be in their favor the next time.