Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Carstairs and Topper: The Case of the Purloined Pornography Part 2

Part One can be found here. And now the conclusion...

The door opened as Carstairs and Lady Glenshire approached the Belgrave Square address. "Milady, sir," said the tall, liveried man inside.

"And this is?" said Carstairs, indicating the servant with Topper.

"Jackson, the footman," said Lady Glenshire.

"The footman. I see."

"Can I take your hat, sir?" said Jackson.

"No... hmm? Actually could you get someone to give him a brush? Just to get the worst of the dust off. Please be careful with the nap, eh?"

Carstairs watched as Jackson carried Topper away towards the kitchen. "Lady Glenshire, let us not delay. Can you show me where the papers disappeared from?"

They entered a small library, one that had obviously seen a lot of use. A short, middle-aged man working at a desk, jumped up at their entrance.

"Carstairs, this is Humperdinck, my husband's private secretary."

"Secretary, eh?" said Carstairs.

"Indeed Mr Carstairs. Is there anything I can assist with?"

"I think we can manage, Humperdinck," said Lady Glenshire, "Would you mind giving us some privacy?"

Looking along the shelves, Carstairs spotted a set of folios. "I presume the sketches came from here, perhaps under 'B' for Bonaparte, where everything has been taken out and replaced recently."

"Quite" said Lady Glenshire.

"I see someone has checked under 'N' for Napoleon."

"I doubt any Englishman would index documents to do with the Corsican Tyrant in that way, but it was better to be sure that Humperdinck had not made that error."

A young man entered, with Topper. "Here you are sir - good as new!"

"Thank you Mitchel," said Lady Glenshire. In answer to Carstair's raised eyebrow she expanded "The bootboy".

"Are there any other servants who might have access to the library?" asked Carstairs.

"Only I, my husband and Humperdinck have keys. The butler did, but we dismissed him last month. Due to Lord Glenshire's position in the government, his belongings were searched before being returned to him, so he can't have stolen them."

"If it were last month, I would expect that he would have sold them already if his motive was profit. Such a sale in London would almost certainly have come to the attention of the gossips in the Rascal's Club. So they must be abroad, as he hasn't tried to blackmail you."

"Oh!" said Lady Glenshire, raising one elegantly gloved hand to her mouth. "He had written in oblique terms about a better reference... I must find the letter." She left the room at a great rate of knots.

When she returned, Carstairs was standing next to the "K" folios. Lady Glenshire seemed a little flustered, but her search had brought colour to her cheeks and a steely glint to her eye. "I am afraid that, following my husband's instructions, the letter has been used for hygienic purposes. I suppose we shall have to track him down to his seedy lair in the foul depths of London's underbelly."

"No need Lady Glenshire." said Carstairs.

"Ah?" she said, with perhaps the faintest hint of disappointment.

Carstairs picked up Topper to reveal a loose collection of papers. "I would hypothesise that your butler, anticipating his dismissal, hid the sketches in this folio, intending to claim he had stolen them. If you attempted to go to the police, there would be no evidence. The perfect crime. You had best examine them to ensure they are all there."

"How on earth did you find them?"

"Topper gave me the clue. One of the folios, under J, had been recently repaired. Checking it, I realised that this was the work of your husband, Lord Glenshire. However they were of two different styles."

"But how did you know that these were the Bonaparte sketches?"

"Bonaparte was trained as a draughtsman and his drawings are accurate renderings of the female form. Your husband is clearly an amateur and exaggerates certain features of his model."


"Of course, Lord Glenshire signed his, while Bonaparte used his monogrammatic N."

"I see. Well thank you Mr Carstairs. It seems we owe you our thanks."

"You owe me nothing; it was my pleasure Lady Glenshire. Topper and I will put the word out so that your former butler will find England very uncomfortable."

"Please Mr Carstairs. After all this I must at the very least insist that you call be by my given name."

"Well if you insist, then I shall Lady Jane."

The End.

If you're not interested in where I think I found the bits that inspired this story then this is the end. If you want to go a little deeper into my brain read on.

Lady Jane's entry into the steamroom, and the varying formality of the name bit at the end are taken from this scene from the entertaining but incoherent 1998 film The Avengers.

"The butler did it" - The Butler is always a suspect. I'm pretty sure that at an early age I was reading some Agatha Christie and was told that the butler always did it. This is not true. So does the butler always do it or do Carstairs and Topper just blame him? Are they brilliant or full of class prejudice? Or both?

In the past, and sometimes even now, I would answer the door to people who were expected, even invited and put on a show of surprise as well as an upper class accent. "Carstairs! And Lady Jane! But what are you doing in Helsinki?" It amuses me to add this in-joke to the story of a suave gentleman about town and his partner, a rather spiffing top hat who together fight crime.

I pass over the question of Topper.

Finally, this story would clearly never have existed without Edgar Allen Poe, C. Auguste Dupin and The Purloined Letter.
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