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Felony at Farquhar Farms: A Thanksgiving Mystery Short Story

IN THE November 19 ISSUE

FROM THE 2016 Articles,
andMysteryrat's Maze,
andTerrific Tales
SECTIONS

by Andrew MacRae

Here is another Thanksgiving mystery short story. It was previously published by Untreed Reads in The Killer Wore Cranberry: A Second Helping edited by J. Alan Hartman.

The cook’s screams preceded her as she ran from her kitchen toward the front of the old manor house. For the newly arrived guests assembled in the grand foyer, her screams put a definite damper to the start of the Thanksgiving holiday at Farquhar Farms. The mood was further diminished when the elderly cook staggered into the foyer from the back hallway and collapsed in a floury heap on the polished oak floor.

Of those present only Richard Barrington, second son of the fish-oil magnate Angus Barrington, had the presence of mind to see what the trouble was. He helped the cook to a nearby chair and listened as she struggled to explain in a voice too low for the others to hear. He left the room in a hurry, heading in the direction from which the cook had staggered. On his return minutes later he faced the others.

“It seems,” announced Richard, “that Rosemary is in the butter.”

“What an excitable woman,” said one of the guests, a bosomy American woman to whom Richard had been introduced scant minutes before. “Imagine going into hysterics over that. I believe it’s quite the thing these days to put rosemary in the butter.”

“Normally I would agree with you, Mrs. Halifax, but not now, for Rosemary is the name of the housemaid and Mrs. White found her in the pantry face down in a large bowl of fresh butter.”

“Salted or unsalted?”

“I beg you pardon, Mrs. Halifax?”

“Was the butter salted or unsalted?” Mrs. Halifax turned to the other guests. “I only use unsalted myself. It’s much better for you.”

“I don’t think it matters as Rosemary is dead.”

“It was probably salted, then.”

It took Constable Pratt the better part of an hour to bicycle from the village of Wickersham out to Farquhar Farms. During that time Richard Barrington attempted to keep things in order. Recently mustered out of the Air Corp due to war wounds, his military mind caused him to naturally assume authority when such was missing. That their hostess, Phillipa Farquhar-ffolkes was not around did not help. At the time Mrs. White, the cook, was collapsing, Phillipa was off collecting the guests’ luggage from the train station, and she arrived a good thirty minutes after Constable Pratt puffed into view.train

Phillipa and Richard watched with somber reflection as the ambulance carrying the unfortunate Rosemary circled the drive from the back of the house and trundled down the estate’s long gravel driveway.

“Oh, my God, Richard. How horrible. She was so young. And whatever are we to do? Must we cancel the weekend, do you think?” She joined Richard in unpacking the guest’s baggage from the ancient estate car.

Richard and Phillipa had grown quite close in the past six months since he had moved to the district after his discharge from the military hospital. It was a relationship he wished was even closer, and in four months time his wish could come true as seven years would have elapsed since her husband Farley ffolkes’ mysterious disappearance.

“No, my pet,” Richard assured her as they struggled with a small mountain of suitcases. “You have too much riding on this weekend to pack it in now.” A hatbox slipped from his grasp. “Damn this cane!”

Six months in the planning, the weekend, an American Thanksgiving at an old English manor and catering to tourists from the United States, was intended to be the first of similar events and most important, to bring much needed working capital to the estate.

“But what shall we do about help?” Phillipa stopped to tuck an errant strand of hair back under her hat, a hat which Richard found most fetching on her. “I suppose I can find time to make the beds and do the cleaning, but Mrs. White was expecting Rosemary to help in the kitchen for tomorrow’s big dinner.”

“Already taken care of.”
Richard smiled at Philipa’s startled look. “Daphne Tompkins, Constable Pratt’s young lady friend from the village, was more than willing to escape her mother’s watchful eye for the weekend and should do admirably. She’s on her way now.”

“Daphne Tompkins? Isn’t she the shopkeeper’s daughter? Do you think she’ll do?”

“When I spoke with her on the telephone a few minutes ago, she was most eager to give it a try.”

“Thank heaven for small miracles,” said Phillipa. They arrived at the front door with the last of the baggage. “Well, shall we go in?”

Richard gave her a reassuring smile. “Once more unto the breach, dear friend, once more.”

* * * *

Surprisingly, dinner that evening went off without a hitch. It was a simple meal of game hen, red potatoes, peas, and fresh scones with clotted cream for dessert. Mrs. White had managed to pull herself together and the new girl, Daphne, proved to be of great help to her. For Phillipa, it served as a test run for the next day’s meal. Tomorrow was Thanksgiving Day in America and the menu planned for that day’s dinner was meant to be the highlight of the weekend.

After dinner Phillipa, Richard, and the weekend guests retired to the parlor. This was an opportunity for everyone to get to know each other, freed from the confines of the formal dining room. There were six guests in all. There was the afore mentioned Mrs. Halifax and her husband, Horace, Mrs. Hampton and her husband ,Harold, and Mrs. Hastings and her husband, Henry. All three of the women were, like Mrs. Halifax, large bosomed with great manes of sculpted hair and imperious bearing. Richard doubted he would be able to remember which woman belonged to which husband, or even which name by the end of the weekend. All three couples were affluent and retired and from America on holiday, eager to experience a stay in one of England’s stately manors. Americans, Richard observed, may proudly proclaim their independence of the Old World ways, but appeared quite eager to partake in them when given the opportunity.parlor

As there were, with Phillipa and Richard, eight in all it was natural that two tables of bridge soon sprang into being. A Victrola was pressed into service to provide music appropriate to the mood, and the evening passed quickly.

As the evening grew late and 10 p.m. approached, there was a discreet knock at the door and Daphne, in the uniform of a maid, put her head in and announced in a timid voice, “The table is laid, madam. Cook, I mean, Mrs. White, wants to know if you’d like to take a look. You know, make certain everything is laid okay correctly and all that.”

Phillipa put down her cards and got up from the table. Richard, playing at the other table made as to rise as well. “No, please, I shall be right back.”

“Oh, but Mrs. Farquhar-ffolkes,” interjected Mrs. Hampton. “I should love to go with you. I’ve heard so much about the famous Farquhar Flatware.” Her two fellow female guests echoed their interest in seeing the dining table laid out for Thanksgiving Dinner the next day.bridge

Richard quickly ascertained there was no stopping the tide of feminine curiosity. “Oh go ahead and take them, Phillipa. The other gentlemen and I will take a stroll out on the patio and indulge in a smoke while you are gone.” And as easily as that, it was decided. Phillipa led the three women out of the parlor in the direction of the dining room while Richard led their husbands out the large French doors and onto the paved patio immediately outside.

Richard and his companions engaged in the awkward small talk that arises when men are out of their element, with Richard pointing out the ornate Victorian folly a hundred yards away and looking spectacularly spectral in the nighttime mist. The Farquhar Folly was an oversized gazebo of the type often erected by the landed gentry for no discernible reason. Its columns shone a ghostly white, while the interior space was hidden in shadow.

The men were relieved of finding further social small talk when the women returned, but only for a moment.

“Oh, Horace,” gushed Mrs. Halifax. “You have got to see how wonderful the dining room looks. That silverware is the most magnificent, the most elegant I’ve ever seen.” Mrs. Hampton and Mrs. Hastings echoed the sentiment and there was nothing for it but for their obedient husbands to follow their clucking wives back down the hallway and into the dining room. Richard offered Phillipa his arm.

“Shall we join them?”

Phillipa took Richard’s arm and squeezed it. “Duty calls.”

In spite of the low light offered by electric wall sconces, the dining room shone with a silver sheen. The Farquhar Flatware, polished to perfection, adorned the great table; heavy forks for salad, dinner, and dessert, spoons for tea and soup, knives for dinner and butter nestled in their places accompanied by chaffing dishes, gravy boats, butter trays and more. Two enormous silver candelabras topped with beautiful tapered white candles stood at attention above it all. Behind the table stood Mrs. White and young Daphne with pride shining on their faces as bright as the silver itself.table setting

“It is a remarkable collection, isn’t it?” whispered Phillipa to Richard. “I suppose it’s immodest of me to say it, but I don’t believe there’s a finer set in all of England.” Richard’s reply was interrupted before he began.

“What’s a pile of silverware like this worth, Mrs. Farquhar-ffolkes?” asked Mr. Hampton. His wife attempted to shush him.

“Horace, that’s such an impolite thing to ask. What will our hostess think!”

“That’s quite all right, Mrs. Hampton,” Phillipa reassured her guest. “It’s a common question.” She turned to the woman’s husband. “There’s really no way to put a value on the collection, Mr. Hampton. You see, it’s entailed.”

“What’s that mean?” asked Mr. Hastings, adjusted his pinz nez for a closer look.

“It means that it’s part of the Farquhar Farms estate, just as is the manor house and the gardens. None of them may be sold by themselves.”

“And the Farquhar Folly,” added Mrs. Halifax. “Don’t forget your wonderful Folly.”

“Yes, of course, the Folly, too,” Phillipa answered
, then added in a low voice to Richard, “No matter how many times I try to forget that frightful monstrosity.”

After a few more minutes of dutiful admiration of the Farquhar Flatware and speculation towards the dinner planned for the next evening, the guests collectively decided it was time for bed and departed.

“Mrs. White,” said Phillipa, “you and Daphne should get to bed, too. We’ve all got a big day ahead of us tomorrow.”

The two servants curtsied and left by way of the connecting door to the kitchen leaving Richard and Phillipa alone. Richard caught Phillipa gazing at the silver on the table.

“Would you sell it if you could?”

“I honestly don’t know, Richard. There’s a part of me that never wants to see Farquhar Farms sold, any piece of it, even the Folly.” She gave him a rueful smile. “Besides, I’m lucky that it is entailed. If it hadn’t been that spendthrift husband of mine would have sold or pawned it as he did with everything else on which he could get his hands.” She looked toward the grand stairway visible through the wide pocket doors and up which her guests had recently ascended. “And now, because of him, my only hope to keep Farquhar Farms is to ensure our guests have a cracking good time.”

Richard pulled Phillipa toward him.

“Have faith, my pet. Things will work themselves out for the best. I have the utmost confidence in you.” And with those words he reached out with his cane and pushed the button that switched off the pale electric wall sconces and cast the room into a comfortable darkness.

* * * *

November mornings in the country are quiet as a rule. The storied songbirds of English lore are fled to warmer climes and naught but raucous crows remain to greet the weak daylight the rising winter sun brings. But that morning’s calm was shattered by the sound of a woman screaming. Nor was it just any woman, for those screams were achingly familiar to all those who had witnessed yesterday’s unfortunate occurrence.

In his guest room on the second floor, Richard Barrington thrust his feet into slippers and tugged on his robe. He picked up his cane and as fast as he could manage he hurried down the hall, then the stairs, and then went down the back hallway to the kitchen. “I swear,” he muttered under his breath as he stumped along. “If I ever have occasion to hire a cook, she’s going to be a mute.” He burst into the kitchen and stopped short.

It was empty. Richard cocked his head to one side, listening intently. A low crooning sound had replaced the screams, and they were coming from the dining room, through the swinging door from the kitchen. Richard pushed open the door and went in.

Mrs. White was seated in a chair at the dining room table, her head buried in her ample arms. Richard walked over to her.

“Mrs. White, what on earth is the matter?” He looked at the clock on the sideboard. “Do you realize it’s only half past six in the morning?”

Mrs. White raised her tear-streaked face. “They’re gone,” she sobbed. “They’re all gone.”

“What’s gone, Mrs. White?”

“Oh, my God! They’re gone!” Richard turned to see Phillipa. She had just entered from the main hall, clutching a thin and mostly transparent wrap over her pajamas. Richard followed her stricken gaze to the table and only then did he comprehend the problem.

The Farquhar Flatware, worth a fortune and indeed, about the only thing of value left in the Farquhar estate, so lovingly polished and laid out for the day’s dinner, was gone, every last fork, spoon, knife, and accessory. All that remained were the candles from the twin candelabras, cast in a haphazard heap upon the naked table.

* * * *

An hour later Constable Pratt bicycled into view. Richard greeted him at the manor entrance. “Well, Constable, I can’t say that I am pleased to see you.”

The constable removed his helmet.

“No, I am certain you are not, sir. And when you hear what I have to tell you, you’ll be even less so.”

Richard raised an eyebrow at this.

“I had a call from the police surgeon this morning. That’s why I’m later than I ought to be in getting out here.”

“And?”

“Young Rosemary was drugged. That’s why she fell asleep in the butter.”

“Drugged? That’s preposterous!” Richard became aware of someone approaching him from behind and he lowered his voice. “Is he certain?”

“Is who certain about what?” Phillipa asked for it was her footsteps Richard had heard behind him.

“Well,” began the constable, looking at Richard for guidance.

“Go ahead, Constable Pratt. This is Mrs. Farquhar-ffolkes’ home, and she deserves to hear the truth of what’s going on.”

The constable, turning his helmet in his hands, related the gist of his conversation with the police surgeon.

“So, you’re saying she was murdered, that’s the nut of it, isn’t it?” demanded Richard. “Why on earth would anyone want to kill her?”

“Perhaps she saw something she oughtn’t have?” suggested Constable Pratt.

“That’s the stuff of American gangster movies,” retorted Phillipa. “That sort of thing doesn’t happen here in England.” Her face grew pale and she turned to Richard. “But it has, hasn’t it?”

It was decided between the three of them that Constable Pratt would begin his investigation of the missing flatware forthwith, and that there was no need to mention the cause of Rosemary’s death to the guests. A flying squad, so the constable told them with a hint of awe in his voice, was driving down from London to conduct a proper investigation of both incidents, but in the meantime he proposed to poke around the house in hopes of finding a clue or two.

“Do you think it’s proper to let him sniff about,” asked Phillipa of Richard in a low voice as they watched the constable head toward the dining room.

“Not really. But he probably can’t do much harm. We can ask young Daphne to assist him. That way they’ll be too busy with each other to cause any trouble.”

Phillipa stopped short. “That’s what I meant to tell you when I came downstairs. I can’t wake Daphne! She’s sound asleep in her bed, snoring to beat the band.” Phillipa put her hand to her mouth. “Richard! She must have been drugged just as Rosemary was!”

A determined look came over Richard’s face. “My God, Phillipa, if I ever lay my hands on whoever is doing this…” Phillipa put her hand on his arm.

“I’ll call Doctor Carlson from the village. In the meantime perhaps you can keep the guests from guessing there’s been another mishap.” And such was his concern for Phillipa that he took on that onerous task.

* * * *

Shortly after noon Richard found Phillipa standing by herself in the parlor staring out the French windows. He crossed the room to her. She turned to him, and he saw how worried she was.parlor

“Oh, Richard, what am I to do? The weekend has turned into a disaster. I just know the guests will want their money back, and who could blame them?”

“Well, I haven’t anything good to add. The flying squad from Scotland Yard has yet to arrive. Constable Pratt’s been on the telephone a half-dozen times this morning trying to find out what’s keeping them.”

Phillipa sighed. “The only good news is that Doctor Carlson says Daphne should have no ill effects once she wakens, which he says should be late this afternoon.”

Richard took her hands and the two turned to look out the window and across the wide lawn to where the colonnaded folly stood, shrouded in wisps of lingering morning fog.garden

“Look at it, Richard,” demanded Phillipa. “Farqhuar’s Folly! An everlasting emblem of my foolish family. Long after I sell out to the land trust and move away, that wretched, ugly building will stand as a reminder.”

“And here all this time I thought you loved the ridiculous thing,” said Richard.

“Are you daft? Every time there’s a storm I hope the damn thing falls down!”

“Then why did you pay for all the repair work that’s been done on it?”

“That wasn’t my doing! The local history people did all that work, all of it volunteer. The locals love it. Your Constable Pratt himself supervised and spent hours on his own slaving over the wretched thing. I certainly wouldn’t have, even if I could have afforded it.”

Richard stared out across the lawn at the folly. A thought was forming in his mind.

“Phillipa, my pet,” she looked up at him, and was startled by the smile spreading across his face. He lifted her hands and gave a light kiss across her fingers. “I do believe I’ve got it!”

* * * *

Shortly before 4 p.m. the assembled guests, staff, and others waited in eager anticipation for Richard to begin speaking. They were in the parlor, with extra chairs brought in from the dining room to accommodate their number. Richard gave a quick glance toward Phillipa and received a reassuring nod in return.

“If I may have your attention,” he began. The murmur of quiet conversation ceased as all eyes turned toward Richard. He swallowed and continued. “With the permission of Constable Pratt,” he paused and nodded toward where that personage stood by the large French windows. As if he were conducting an orchestra, all eyes followed his to the constable who gave a small wave, while his eyes darted from side to side, and then all attention returned to Richard. “With his permission I propose to answer the questions of who killed Rosemary, what happened to Daphne, and who stole the Farquhar Flatware.”

His statement had the expected effect,
and it took several minutes for order to be brought again, helped by the serving of some of the Farquhar Sherry.

“First, let me explain some faulty thinking that steered me and others in the wrong direction. We’ve been trying to figure out why Farquhar Farms has been plagued with dead and unconscious maids. Why was Rosemary murdered and Daphne drugged? Above all, why would anyone go around knocking off and drugging housemaids, surely the most inoffensive member of a household staff? That question and reasoning took us far afield from the truth.” He paused and looked around the room. “Poor Rosemary wasn’t killed for something she may have overheard or witnessed. She died simply because she was a housemaid.”

Richard held up his hands to fend off the multitude of questions and expressions of amazement and doubt that cascaded over him at those words.

“But what about Daphne?” asked Phillipa. “Why was Daphne drugged?”

“Have no fear for Daphne’s safety.” He stole a look at the clock over the mantelpiece. “Unless I miss my guess the drug she took should be wearing off soon.”

It took a moment for his words to sink in.

“The drug she took? Richard, are you saying Daphne drugged herself?”

“Yes Phillipa, that’s exactly what I’m saying. She did it so as to avoid any suspicion of involvement with the theft of the Farquhar Flatware. Isn’t that right, Constable Pratt?”

Constable Pratt’s face whitened and he made an effort to escape through the French doors. Finding them locked he put his shoulder to the flimsy wood, forced them open and rushed outside.

The others in the room watched in open-mouth amazement as he disappeared into the late afternoon gloom. Then whistles shrilled and voices could be heard shouting. A minute later, Constable Pratt, now in handcuffs, was marched into the room by three men in trench coats and bowler hats. One had custody of the woeful looking Pratt while the other two carried large rucksacks that clanked and clanged when set on the floor.

“Allow me to introduce Detective Sergeant Keyes of Scotland Yard. I called them myself, once I realized Pratt had only faked calling them.” Richard turned to the newcomers. “I hope you didn’t have too chilly a wait, Sergeant.”

The senior of the three doffed his hat. “No trouble at all, sir, and well worth it to put our hands on a rotter like this one!”

“And the Farquhar Flatware?”

Sgt. Keyes gestured to the rucksacks. “Hidden beneath the floorboards of the Folly, just as you suspected.”

“Oh thank heavens!” exclaimed Phillipa. “Let’s get them to the dining room. We’ve just enough time to set them on the table before dinner.” All present, including the American guests pitched in to reset the table.table setting

At last it was time to serve dinner. It began with roasted parsnip and pear soup and lemon-thyme bread on the side. When that course was finished the turkey was brought from the kitchen. It shone with a tangerine glaze and had a sage and sweet sausage stuffing waiting inside. Sweet potatoes, gravy, corn, and watercress made up the side dishes.

As all enjoyed themselves with the sumptuous dinner, Richard explained the mystery and its solution to the guests.

“And so you see,” he concluded, “Pratt had been planning the theft of the Farquhar Flatware for months, hence his devotion to the work on the Folly. All that time he was secretly building a hiding place for it. He figured on leaving it there until it was safe to sell on the black market.”

“And Daphne?” asked Phillipa

“His willing accomplice. She drugged Rosemary when she brought items for the dinner from her mother’s shop. The plan was to simply cause her to miss work so that Daphne could be brought in as a replacement, but the poor girl was dedicated to her work and tried to work the butter late that night as she had promised Mrs. White and fell asleep face down in it. Pratt and Daphne stole the silverware together, then Daphne dosed herself with sleeping powders to avoid suspicion.”

Halfway through the dinner the Reverend Rogers arrived, late as usual but most appreciative of the superlative supper that greeted him. But the good Vicar of Wickersham was most perplexed by the horrified looks that crossed the faces of his dining companions when in all innocence, and with his mouth full of freshly buttered bread, he asked, “Do I detect a hint of rosemary in the butter?”

You can purchase a copy of the anthology this story is from either on Untreed Reads, or use the link below to purchase it from Amazon (if you have ad blocker on you may not see the link to Amazon):

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories (including more Thanksgiving ones) in our mystery section.

Andrew MacRae is a misplaced Midwesterner who rolled downhill to Northern California a quarter century ago where he worked in the fields of artificial intelligence and virtual reality. He writes mystery and historical stories, the occasional poem and his debut novel Murder Misdirected was released earlier this year by Mainly Murder Press.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Earl Staggs November 20, 2016 at 8:05am

Reading this story again, Andrew, reminded me how much I enjoyed it in The Killer Wore Cranberry. Great characters and plot plus a few good laughs along the way.

Reply

2 Nancy Clark November 21, 2016 at 9:16am

Great take on the classic English country house mystery.

Reply

3 Doward Wilson November 21, 2016 at 5:37pm

A wonderful holiday story set in an amazing time & place. Thanks for sharing it.

Reply

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