Volume 2 of a unique series—tea, mysteries and an unravelling of knots
Baroness Orczy will be forever associated with her tales of the Scarlet Pimpernel—that 18th century English, ‘devil may care’ gentleman of the French Revolutionary period whose numerous adventures involved saving innocents from the sinister Citizen Chauvelin’s clutches and the blade of the guillotine. However, in common with many authors of her time Baroness Orczy wrote widely in various genres of fiction, including the excellent volumes of detective stories which have been brought together to create this unique, two volume Leonaur set. The first collection, ‘Lady Molly of Scotland Yard’ contains 12 stories concerning an early female detective, Molly Robertson-Kirk. First published in 1910 the adventures of murders and other dastardly deeds are narrated by Molly’s assistant, Mary Granard. The second collection introduces Orczy’s unique ‘Old Man in the Corner’. The mysterious ‘old man’ is frequently found solving mysteries in conversation with a reporter, Polly Burton, whilst sitting in London’s A.B.C. Tea Rooms. This first collection of the ‘Old Man in the Corner’ mystery series is titled ‘The Case of Miss Elliott’, and can be found in Volume 1 of this set. The second and third collections, ‘The Old Man in the Corner’ and ‘Unravelled Knots’, are included in volume 2.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
“And now,” the Man in the Corner continued after a while, “we come to that 16th of November when the mysterious drama occurred at No. 13, Fulton Gardens. As a general rule, it seems, Mr. Jessup was in his office most evenings until seven o’clock. His clerks and showmen finished at six, but he would, almost invariably, stay on an hour longer to go through his accounts or look over his stock. On this particular evening, just before seven o’clock, he rang for the housekeeper, Mrs. Tufnell, and told her that he would be staying until quite late, and would she send him in a cup of tea and a plate of sandwiches in about an hour’s time.
“Mrs. Tufnell owned to being rather disappointed when she had this order because her son Mark had arranged to take her and Ann to the cinema that evening, and now, of course, they could not leave until after Mr. Jessup had gone, in case he wanted anything, and he might be staying on until all hours. However, Mark stayed to supper, and after supper Mrs. Tufnell got the tea and sandwiches ready and took the tray up to Mr. Jessup herself. Mr. Jessup was then sitting at his desk with two or three big books in front of him, and Mrs. Tufnell noticed that the safe in which the cash was kept that came in after banking hours was wide open.
“Mrs. Tufnell put down the tray and was about to leave the room again when Mr. Jessup spoke to her.
“‘I expect Mr. Leighton back presently. Show him in here when he comes. But I don’t want to see anybody else, not any of you. Understand?’
“It seems that he said this in such a harsh and peremptory manner that Mrs. Tufnell was not only upset but quite frightened. Mr. Jessup had always been very kind and considerate to his servants, and the housekeeper declared that she had never been spoken to like that before. But we all know what those sort of people are: they have no understanding, and unless you are perpetually smiling at them they turn huffy at the slightest word of impatience. Undoubtedly Mr. Jessup was both tired and worried and no great stress was laid by the police subsequently on the fact that he had spoken harshly on this occasion. Even to you at this moment I daresay that this seems a trifling circumstance, but I mention it because to my mind it had a great deal of significance, and I think that the police were very wrong to dismiss it quite so lightly.
“Well, to resume. Mr. Jessup was in his office with his books and with the safe, where he kept all the cash that came in after banking hours, open. Mrs. Tufnell saw and spoke to him at eight o’clock and he was then expecting Arthur Leighton to come to him at nine.
“No one saw him alive after that.
“The next morning Mrs. Tufnell was downstairs as usual at a quarter to seven. After she had lighted the kitchen fire, done her front steps and swept the hall, she went to do the ground-floor rooms. She told the police afterwards that from the moment she got up she felt that there was something wrong in the house. Somehow or other she was frightened; she didn’t know of what, but she was frightened. As soon as she had opened the office door, she gave a terrified scream. Mr. Jessup was sitting at his desk just as Mrs. Tufnell had seen him the night before, with his big books in front of him and the safe door open.
“But his head had fallen forward on the desk and his arms were spread out over his books. Mrs. Tufnell never doubted for a second but that he was dead, even before she saw the stick lying on the floor and that horrible, horrible, dull red stain which spread from the back of the old man’s head, right down to his neck and stained his collar and the top of his coat. Even before she saw all that she knew that Mr. Jessup was dead.
“Terrified, she clung to the open door; she could do nothing but stare and stare, for the room, the furniture, the motionless figure by the desk had started whirling round and round before her eyes, so that she felt that at any moment she might fall down in a dead faint. It seemed ages before she heard Ann’s voice calling to her, asking what was the matter. Ann was lazy and never came downstairs before eight o’clock. She had apparently only just tumbled out of bed when she heard Mrs. Tufnell’s scream. Now she came running downstairs, with her bare feet thrust into her slippers and a dressing-gown wrapped round her.
“‘What is it, auntie?’ she kept on asking as she ran, ‘What has happened?’
“And when she reached the office door, she only gave one look into the room and exclaimed, ‘Oh, my God! He’s killed him!’
“Somehow Ann’s exclamation of horror brought Mrs. Tufnell to her senses. With a great effort she pulled herself together, just in time, too, to grip Ann by the arm, or the girl would have measured her length on the tiled floor behind her. As it was, Mrs. Tufnell gave her a vigorous shake:
“‘What do you mean, Ann Weber?’ she demanded in a hoarse whisper. ‘What do you mean? Who has killed him?’
“But Ann couldn’t or wouldn’t utter another word. She was as white as a sheet and, staggering backwards, she had fallen up against the banisters at the foot of the stairs and was clinging to them, wide-eyed, with twitching mouth and shaking knees.
“‘Pull yourself together, Ann Weber,’ Mrs. Tufnell said peremptorily, ‘and run and fetch the police at once.’
“But Ann looked as if she couldn’t move. She kept reiterating in a dry, meaningless manner, ‘The police! The police!’ until Mrs. Tufnell, who by now had gathered her wits together, gave her a vigorous push and then went upstairs to put on her bonnet. A few minutes later she had gone for the police.