“Look here!” said Wilfred, brandishing a letter that had only moments before arrived with the post. “It’s from Cornwall.”
“Cornwall, you say?” said Barnabas, looking up from the fire (into which he had been staring for the past half hour, trying and failing to sort out the details of a particularly complicated case which he had been hired to solve quite some time ago; the client in question was more than a little disgruntled at the delay in discovering the truth and was indeed threatening to cease payment if Barnabas could not come up with an answer to his problem at once).
“Cornwall?” Barnabas repeated anxiously. He was glad of the distraction from his worries, but the arrival of the post always made him nervous. One never knew whether it were to be good tidings or bad one would find inside any given envelope. “Is it from Mrs. Helen Hopwood?”
He squinted at Wilfred as though he might be able to read the writing upon the letter from his chair before the hearth to his assistant’s position at the desk, ten feet away.
“Indeed it is from Mrs. Hopwood,” said Wilfred, looking about the desk for a letter opener.
“Well, what does it say?” asked Barnabas impatiently. “Has she written to thank us for solving her case? Has the constable arrested the butler, as I suggested?”
Wilfred, having successfully located the letter opener, extracted the letter and began to read. His mouth opened, then closed, then opened once more, but no sound came out.
“Come on then,” urged Barnabas. “Whatever is the matter with you? You look a bit upset, like a fish without water.” He paused, considering. “Is something amiss? Did the butler escape? Oh, do say that ne’er-do-well didn’t get away?”
“Oh dear,” said Wilfred carefully. He disliked upsetting his employer, and the news contained in the letter was of the most distressing sort indeed. “That is not exactly what is the matter.”
“What is it then?” demanded Barnabas. “Mrs. Hopwood is quite well, I hope? Oh, please tell me that she is well! Or is she perhaps in need of our further assistance?”
Barnabas stared at his assistant with hopeful eyes, and Wilfred sighed as he realized there was nothing for it but to tell his employer the terrible developments that were detailed in the letter. “It’s just, well, it seems that Mrs. Hopwood is quite dead,” he said at last.
“Dead, you say?” Shocked, Barnabas’s face reddened, and he blinked rapidly. “Dead?” he repeated.
Wilfred nodded, and Barnabas shook his head sadly. “Such awful news! Poor Mrs. Hopwood. She is, uh, well, she was, an amiable lady. This is a heartbreaking development, I must say.” Barnabas slumped in his chair and stared morosely at the floor.
“She was most kind,” agreed Wilfred.
“How did she, ah, perish?” asked Barnabas.
“It was murder,” replied Wilfred. “Just as she feared when she hired us.”
“So the butler got to her after all, even after we exposed his foul plans! But they caught him, I hope?” said Barnabas, looking up. “He musn't get away with it.”
“Ah, yes, well…” began Wilfred.
“Ah yes well, what?” said Barnabas. “They did catch him?”
“Er, no,” said Wilfred. “That is, they did catch the murderer. Only it was not the butler who was the perpetrator.”
“Not the butler!” sputtered Barnabas. “But all of the evidence pointed straight to him!”
“Most definitely,” agreed Wilfred. “Still, poor Mrs. Hopwood was killed by her cousin. He was caught in the act, it seems.”
“So it was the cousin all along?” asked Barnabas, his voice quiet with shame. “Not the butler, as I thought?”
“So it would seem,” said Wilfred. “But truly, the butler really did seem guilty. Anyone would have thought so. No one would have suspected the cousin, I’m sure.”
“Oh,” said Barnabas, looking chagrined. “Oh dear. Oh dear indeed.”