The house had an aura of uneasiness about it when Luke and I stepped into the parlour. Fred was still there, her wrists bound in handcuffs, her face one of complete exhaustion. Professor Ursler was there, still without his glasses, and still without a shave. Frank was seated next to Mills, looking ill and worn thin, and I wondered about the photographs I had stolen and tucked into my purse should the situation have called for me to show them to Mills.
Was Frank really this Harold? Or was there simply an uncanny resemblance?
I looked over at Kate and Ralph, who were sitting together holding hands. Kate looked worried and very much like she had been crying.
Mills stood when Luke and I were seated.
'I have gathered everyone here after Miss Fred Butler confessed to the murder of Calvin Butler. Some of you may be wondering why I have done so, instead of taking Fred off to be hanged. There are two reasons. One, is that there is still the matter of the death of the Gypsy woman, Rashmi. Two, is that I believe Fred to be innocent.'
'She wouldn't confess if she was innocent,' Frank said.
'You see, I thought that at first,' Mills said. 'But Fred has family. She has siblings, though adopted, who she loves very much.'
I looked over at Fred to see a tear roll down her face.
'So,' Mills continued, 'I figured that perhaps she, having a clear motive, decided to turn herself in to end this all, rather than see one of her siblings hang for the crime.'
Eddie, seated next to Fred, spoke. 'So you're saying she's willing to die for us?'
'You could say that.' Mills looked at Fred, who now had her hands covering her face. 'She did have a clear motive. She could not receive any money from her father unless he was dead, and she needed the money badly. The problem is that the murder is too theatrical. It is too much for someone like Fred to carry out. Also, someone strong overpowered Calvin; there were bruises on his neck from where someone grabbed his throat. Fred's small hands did not match the size of the bruises.'
He looked about the room. 'Almost everyone here had a motive. No one loved Calvin, everyone hated him, and someone hated him enough to kill him. You, Cecily, were trapped in a marriage with him that you couldn't escape unless he was dead.'
Cecily looked away.
'You, Roland,' said Mills, speaking to my father, 'were envious of Calvin Butler, for stealing the fame of saving his battalion from the Turks, when it was really your doing that ensured their survival, while Calvin Butler cowered from the fight.'
I looked at Dad, but he was leaning forward, his elbows on his knees. So it was Dad who saved Roland's men? I supposed it was one reason he never spoke of the war.
'Professor Ursler himself had a motive, I believe,' Mills said. I saw the professor look up, his eyes trying to spot Mills. 'It was over an archaeological dig, wasn't it? He stole your findings, and the credit went to him, therefore robbing you of the chance to move forward in your field. You were always second because of him.'
All heads turned towards my employer, and he slouched in his seat, unable to look back at them. But Mills was already moving on.
'Kate confessed to me of your secret that could have been a motive,' Mills said.
I watched Luke turn to Kate, who had her hands over her mouth. 'Forgive me, Luke,' she said, 'but I had to tell him. It would do no good to hide it.'
Luke was white, and I wondered if Mills was about to announce the secret Kate had given to me.
'Your father knew your deepest secret,' Mills went on. 'He removed you from the will because of it. Financially, you would not benefit from the death of your father, but perhaps you would benefit from his permanent silence about your secret.'
Luke folded his hands, but I could see the discomfort in his eyes. There were only three people in the room aside from the Butler family, who all knew Luke's secret. Dad, Ralph, and the professor were the only ones in the dark.
'Calvin's knowledge of your homosexuality was enough to drive you to kill,' Mills said. 'You confessed to your mother, Olivia, trusting that she would keep it a secret as well, but so mortified was she to learn about her son that she told her husband.'
I watched Ralph turn his head to look at Luke, and I could see Dad sitting back, his brows drawn together as he glanced at Luke. The professor stared ahead, his face betraying no emotion.
'I did not kill Calvin,' Luke said.
'Of course you didn't,' said Mills. 'None of the Butler family members are guilty of the crime of killing Calvin.'
'I suppose, then, that there is a reason you brought me here,' Frank said. I looked over at him; he was fidgeting, appearing very uneasy.
'I think you know why, Reverend Stone,' Mills said. 'Though I believe I should use your real name, Harold Hogarth.'
Frank paled visibly, gripping the side of the seat. 'I don't know what sort of game you're playing, inspector,' he said.
'I'm not playing a game,' Mills said. He reached into his coat and pulled out a paper; as he unfolded it, I saw that it was a small poster, like the kind someone would put in a shop window. It showed a colourised photograph of a grinning man in a turban holding a pendulum. The man was very obviously Frank, though the man in the poster had an Oriental kind of beard.
COME SEE HAROLD THE HYPNOTIST IN ACTION! WATCH AS HE ROBS MEMORIES, MAKES ONE DO THINGS THEY WOULD NEVER DO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND, ABSOLUTELY STUNS THE CROWD!
'I thought I had recognised you in the church when we found Calvin's body,' Mills said, folding the paper back up. 'Your mother was an actress, I believe, and taught you the ways of changing your appearance?'
Frank was still white.
'It was very clever of you to pretend to be a young vicar, while you yourself are actually nearly forty. Who would suspect a young man of God to be guilty of the crime of killing Calvin Butler?'
'I didn't kill him,' Frank said. 'I'm innocent.'
'Oh, I know you didn't kill Calvin. You helped him kill himself.'
The room fell silent again, all eyes turned to Frank, who was poised as if he was going to leap from the chair and run.
'And now, as requested by Calvin—your father—you are carrying on his work to drive the family he so hated mad, and continue his work on ruining their lives.'
'You're mad. I have nothing to do with Calvin.' Frank pointed a trembling finger at Mills.
'I wish I could say so myself, Harold.'
'Stop calling me that.' Frank rose to his feet, and I saw Dad and Luke getting ready to rise of the situation called for it.
Mills reached into his coat pocket once again and pulled out a smaller piece of paper, unfolding it. 'I found this in Calvin's study upon my investigation of it.' He cleared his throat and began to read.
This will be our last communication as father and son before I see you in person. I hope that we can see each other in private one last time before you carry it all out.
My guise as the vicar is working out exactly as I planned. Rashmi herself is ready for the act. She is so convincing that even I am somewhat fooled.
The house will have its Butler back—and it will be free from the stain of the people who call you family. We will see them locked up in institutions or, even better, dead. Then the Butlers may call the House on Top Hill home again.
The house calls, Father. I am coming.
'Calvin did not die from the consumption of bleach,' Mills said. 'He was dying of a brain tumour that was found during his autopsy, and he ended it himself with a lethal dose of strychnine. Then, as planned, you and Rashmi—your sister—went about making it seem as if it was the most bizarre death you could imagine. But when Rashmi began to discourage you from putting the blame of the murder on innocent people, primarily Professor Ursler, you decided that she had to stay silent some way, and you killed her, disguised as a policeman to drag her onto the roof. You attempted to use Professor Ursler as your scapegoat, trying to place the blame on him, and kill him in what looked to be an accident to keep him silent.'
Frank was silent, white, and trembling with rage. He lunged for the door, pushing me aside, but Ralph and Luke grabbed his arms, holding him back as he fought against them. He finally stopped fighting, taking a deep breath before he spoke.
'The house calls all Butlers,' he said. 'It doesn't want those who it doesn't call. Rashmi was Calvin's daughter as well, but she was unclean. The house was calling for someone. I gave it Rashmi.' He looked around at the Butlers. 'You don't belong in this house. It will not let you stay for much longer.'
Two policemen came through the parlour door, seizing Frank. Mills removed the cuffs from Fred's wrists and placed them on Frank.
Frank turned to me, his hateful expression sending a chill through me. 'You could have been the perfect tool,' he said. 'Stupid and gullible, looking like Olivia—you could have helped me.'
I stared back at Frank, not saying anything.
'Harold Hogarth, I am placing you under arrest for the murder of Rashmi, and the attempted murder of Stefan Ursler.'
Frank spat at Mills before the police led him away.
'I don't understand, inspector,' the professor said, standing. 'I would have remembered him trying to kill me.'
Mills pointed to the poster, which he had set on the back of the sofa. 'He's a hypnotist,' Mills said. 'He hypnotised you into thinking you yourself got in the accident.'
I thought of how Frank had claimed I gave him the photograph. Had he hypnotised me, and attempted to make me think I was going mad, all to get revenge on those he claimed didn't belong in the house?
I wondered if he had hypnotised me into thinking I had been groped by Calvin, and had seen him. Part of me wondered if it really was Calvin, or something else.
Olivia's body was found in the wine cellar of the old house and returned to her tomb, along with Calvin, who was to be permanently laid to rest. Frank had stolen the body in order to try and make the mystery more horrifying. He had been a man of the theatre, and he wanted it theatrical.
I reminisced all this as I looked around the front lawn of the house. It had been mowed, pavilions set up and chairs set out for my brother's wedding. The real Frank Stone, an older vicar, had agreed to say the wedding on short notice.
I watched as Ralph took Kate in his arms and kissed her, and I clapped along with the congregation gathered. I glanced up at Dad to see him wiping at his eyes, and I smiled, thinking of how happy he was for his son. I looked back at Ralph and Kate, now finally husband and wife, and for a moment felt a pang of longing. But Kate turned to the congregation and tossed the bouquet; in a sort of daze, I reached out and caught it, hugging it to my breast as the pain in my chest increased.
'Oh, Roland, it's beautiful,' Kate said with a laugh as she unwrapped the gift Dad had brought for her. It was a little music box, and as Kate opened it up, it showed a tiny couple—a man and his bride—dancing around the box to the tune of the Sleeping Beauty waltz.
She threw her arms around Dad and kissed his cheek, then hurried off to show the music box to Fred and Cecily.
Dad turned his attention back to the table, and I looked across the ballroom, where I could see Luke dancing with a young woman, and Eddie dancing with his mother. Ralph was somewhere near the windows in a circle of his fellow airmen.
I touched the pearls around my neck—I had decided to wear them, so as not to insult Dad.
'I'm glad this is all over,' I said.
'Mm.' Dad turned with a plate of hor d'oeuvres in his hand. 'I was beginning to be worried that the wedding would never happen.'
I thought of mentioning the argument between him and Ralph, but thought best not to bring it up.
'I saw you caught the bouquet quite eagerly,' Dad said. 'Do you have someone in mind?'
I laughed. 'I wish I could say yes,' I said.
'You were showing quite a bit of interest in that Harold.'
My smile faded.
'Sorry,' Dad said. 'I didn't mean to hurt you.'
I remained silent, staring across the ballroom. I did have hope in Frank, at least a little. He was handsome, he had appeared quite young—but it could not be.
Dad went over to speak to someone, and I saw Luke coming my way.
'Would you like to dance?' he asked.
I shook my head. 'I can't dance, and dancing swing is out of the question.'
He shrugged. 'Very well.'
He looked out over the ballroom, and I dared to ask him the question that was on my mind.
'So was Calvin your blood father?'
'I suppose,' Luke replied. 'And Harold being my brother…came as somewhat of a shock. I believe I'll find Mother, who might still be in Manchester.'
'And then what?'
'Well,' Luke said, snatching a glass of champagne from the passing maid, 'Cecily signed over possession of the diamond business to me, as she and Eddie are going to return to Haiti. I think I'll take it the business to London. I can't stay in this house anymore.'
'You agree that there is something about it, then?'
Luke nodded, sipping at his glass. 'Something evil. Whatever it was—the force that threw chairs and slammed doors—drove her mad enough to take her own life. The house has even driven people to say and do things they never could—like your father and brother arguing, and the professor's words in the garden. I hope the house rots.'
(Which is what happened to the old place. With nobody tending it, nature took it over. As far as the thirty years that have passed between then and now, where I sit at my writing desk, I believe that the house crumbled in on itself. I myself will never truly know if it was evil or not.)
A silence fell between us. Luke finished his glass and set it down. 'Fred's agreed to come to London with me. Would you like to come?'
I blinked. 'Me?'
'Yes. To be a secretary, perhaps?'
'I already am a secretary.' I looked around the room. Professor Ursler hadn't made it to the wedding, being too busy buying train tickets back to Edgely and gathering his remaining belongings.
'I just thought you'd like a breath of fresh air from…from that work.'
'I like working for Professor Ursler,' I said.
Luke nodded, seeming somewhat disappointed. 'I suppose,' he said.
A man in an army uniform came into the ballroom through the wide doors, pulling off his cap. He looked like an officer, older, and the expression on his face was tense. I watched him go up onto the stage and speak to the members of the band. The music faded, and he spoke into the microphone.
'I am Captain Gerald Gordon,' he said. 'I apologise for this rude interruption of such a merry event. German troops have invaded Poland. Minister Chamberlain is calling for all troops to report to their stations. It looks like England is going to be at war with Germany as well.'
A feeling of dull shock went through me; the conversation picked up again, and I watched Ralph plant a kiss on Kate's lips before he hurried after his friends through the door of the ballroom.
Professor Ursler set the newspaper down on my desk in front of me before sinking into the chair at his own desk. I picked up the newspaper and read the headline.
September 3, 1939
ENGLAND DECLARES WAR ON GERMANY
I didn't know if I felt shocked or not. I looked up at the professor, noting that he was very far from being content. He looked defeated.
'This spells bad news for me, and those of my people here in England,' he said.
I didn't have any words to say to comfort him. It spelled bad news for my family. Ralph would be going to war, and Kate, who was now living with Dad, might find herself a widow.
I tried not to make conclusions too soon. The war might not have lasted long. Everything could have been over in a matter of a few months.
I was lying to myself. I did not personally believe that it would be over shortly.
'Sir,' I said.
He looked at me, and I found myself glad that he looked his usual self, his beard gone, and a new pair of glasses back on his face. 'Yes, Miss McAuliffe?'
'If anything does happen, I'll be right here as long as I am able to.'
He smiled at me, but his smile was tired. 'As long as I am signing your paycheque, at least.'
'No, sir,' I said. 'I'm here to help you.'
'Are you implying that you and I are friends?'
'Maybe…maybe we are, sir,' I said.
He pushed his chair in and leaned forward on his desk, looking me in the eye. The cat painting behind him framed his head like some sort of odd parody of a halo. 'Would you think of me as a friend, Miss McAuliffe?'
I looked down at the paper. England was at war with Germany, and that meant we were at war with Austria as well. Professor Ursler's country was an enemy of my country; would that affect our relationship as employer and employee?
'I believe I can, sir.'
He nodded and opened the lid on his typewriter before setting to work. I watched him, remembering that odd feeling that had come over me when I left the hospital, how I could not define it. It came over me again when I watched him typing out the essay he was to deliver to his students. I could not define it, and something stirred in the back of my brain, telling me the definition.
I tried to ignore it. I didn't want the definition.
I set to work.