The Stately Home Murder

UK title:

The Complete Steel

Catherine Aird

Chronicles of Calleshire 03


Friday evening the genteel inhabitants of Ornum House were all busy. Cousin Gertrude cleaned the chandelier, the great-aunts played ombre, the black sheep of the family arrived in the village, his Lordship’s nephew and his wife came late for dinner, and one of them murdered poor Mr. Meredith.

To find the killer, Detective Inspector Sloan would have to sort through a household of suspects, an armory of weapons, and a muniments room holding a vital clue.

Murder at the Manor

On Sunday the public paid half a crown to view Ornum House’s three hundred rooms, its exceptional display of fine china, its authentic Holbein, its dank dungeon complete with suits of armor..and a dead body. With Burke’s Peerage tucked under one arm and a dictionary under the other, Detective Inspector CD. Sloan tiptoes through the halls of the aristocracy. His impeccable powers of observation might reveal who murdered the family archivist, but the family ghost walks through these same corridors. So someone else is going to die.

For Munroor Ornumwith love

“What may this mean,

That thou, dead corpse, again in complete steel

Revisit’st thus the glimpses of the moon…”

Hamlet to Ghost

The Stately Home Murder


Ornum House was open to the public, which did not help the police one little bit.

On the contrary, in fact…

It was open every Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday from April to October, and to parties at other times by prior arrangement with the Steward and Comptroller.

It was also open—as all the guidebooks said—Bank Hols (Good Friday excepted). Henry Augustus Rudolfo Cremond Cremond, thirteenth Earl Ornum of Ornum in the County of Calleshire, drew the line at opening Ornum House on Good Friday.

“Religious holiday. Not a civil one. No beanfeasts in my house on Good Friday,” he had decreed, adding, as he always added when the subject came up, “Don’t know what m’father would have thought about having people in the house for money.”

There was usually someone on hand to make a sympathetic noise at this point.

“Guests, family, and servants,” his Lordship would go on plaintively. “That was all in his day. Now it’s half Calleshire.”

This understandable repugnance at having his family home tramped over did not, however, prevent him taking a close interest in the daily tally of visitors. At the end of every open day, Charles Purvis, his Steward, was summoned to give an account of the numbers—much as in Scotland on the days succeeding the Glorious Twelfth of August, the gamekeeper presented himself each evening with the game bag totals.

Ornum House, attractive as it undoubtedly was, did not really compete in the Stately Home League Tables—it was too far off the beaten tourist track for that. Nevertheless it did have a respectable number of visitors each year. It was sufficiently near to Berebury to constitute a “must” for people coming to that town, and sufficiently far from the industrial complex of Luston to be an “outing” for people living there.

The outing was usually extended to cover visits to the thirteenth-century church of St. Aidan or the twentieth-century roadhouse The Fiddler’s Delight—but seldom both.

On this particular Sunday in June the little church by the Big House offered its own attractions. It was both quiet and cold and it was possible to sit down in a pew in peace and surreptitiously slip off shoes grown too small on a hot afternoon. It had the edge—temporarily, at least—on The Fiddler’s Delight, which would not be open until six o’clock.

Mrs. Pearl Fisher was a member of the public who had come to see over Ornum House and her feet hurt.

She hadn’t even got as far as the house itself yet and they hurt already. This was partly because they were crammed into her best pair of shoes and partly because she had spent too long standing on them. In the ordinary way she spent her Sunday afternoons having a quiet nap, but this Sunday was different.

Just how different it was going to be had not yet become apparent to Mrs. Fisher when she and the twins and the rest of their party spilled out of the coach just before lunchthne.

The house and grounds were both fuller than usual. It had been wet for three weekends in a row, and now, suddenly, it was flaming June with a vengeance. There had been picknickers all over the Park since noon disporting themselves among the trees in a manner not envisaged by Capability Brown when invited to lay out the great park in the then modern manner. (That had been after one of the Earls of Ornum had clapped a Palladian front on the south side of the medieval house. And that had been after he had got back from his first Grand Tour.)

The public, though, seemed to have got the idea of Capability’s pleasances. They were positively full of people taking conscious pleasure from walking in them, enjoying their alternating sun and shade and the smooth grass underfoot, and, every now and then, exclaiming at an unexected vista carefully planned by that master craftsman for them to exclaim at.

At least two people had entered into the spirit of the Folly, which was set on a little rise some way from the House.

“No,” said Miss Mavis Palmer.

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