[The entire piece is available at Calameo - RJ]
Some time later, I became aware that Sergeant Bishop had re-entered the sitting room, and took a seat beside me. Captain Armstrong and his men had arrived, and he received a detailed report from the sergeant. His men secured the scene in the library and examined what evidence they could but, as I was to learn later, they found nothing inconsistent with the obvious, that Lord Rolfe shot himself with his own gun, a relic from the Crimean War but lovingly maintained by his lordship himself. Captain Armstrong was unhappy that his sergeant had given Lord Rolfe the opportunity to kill himself, but he admitted he would have done the same. Finally dismissed, she sought me in the sitting room.
“God, what a cock-up I made of this. But I was right, Rhianon! I followed the evidence to Lord Rolfe, confronted him, and…if he wanted to take the honorable way out, I suppose I can’t blame him.”
I grabbed both her hands. “Natalie, I have had time to think through everything we have seen and heard, and I fear there is a different explanation for the facts.”
Her face darkened. “A different explanation? I don’t understand. Surely you’re not saying that Lord Rolfe did not kill himself, out of guilt for his crimes.”
“I do not quarrel with the finding that he died by his own hand, and, while I have no insight into his motives, it may well have been because he felt guilty. But if he is indeed a guilty man, I think it not because of the crime of which he stood accused.”
Natalie Bishop took back her hands and retreated to the other end of the settee. “Go ahead,” she said slowly, “but I sense I won’t like your explanation.”
“Almost certainly not, but hear me out. Lord Rolfe explained why he had no motive to kill either Miss O’Reilly or the infant. That explanation rang true. One person certainly had motive to despise them both – his wife. I cannot say that such hatred was enough to kill, but…”
“That invalid? I don’t see how she could do so, or why you would think so.”
“I concede that I have no proof of what happened. I can only conjecture what might have happened. Consider, though, that we have observed Lady Rolfe’s jealous nature, and her husband as much as admitted his infidelities. He took great pains to keep his relationship with Miss O’Reilly away from his wife, going so far as to rent a room in the seediest section of town. If Lady Rolfe discovered the affair in spite of his efforts, and found that Miss O’Reilly was expecting Lord Rolfe’s child, I could imagine her so enraged as to plot the death of both of them.
“We heard Lord Rolfe mention that his wife used to be a fine chef, so she knows how to use a knife. If she wanted to frame him for the crime, she had access to his cigars, so she could have used them to plant cigar residue on the child and mother, knowing that the cigar would lead directly to her husband. Recall that the child had ash on it – but why would anyone smoke a cigar while committing the crime? The cigar residue in the flat had a natural explanation, if Lord Rolfe was in the habit of smoking when he visited Miss O’Reilly, but it seems to me the frame-up is a better explanation for the residue found with the child.
“All this occurred to me too late to save Lord Rolfe. It bothered me that he had denied his guilt quite steadily, even though he had not denied his involvement with Miss O’Reilly once you said you had evidence linking the two of them, but his demeanor changed immediately after he looked into his humidor. Why? While I was waiting for you, I looked into it, and developed a theory. His wife is jealous and quite mad, but she retains no small measure of cunning. Learning of his affair with Miss O’Reilly, and the child she was expecting, became too much for Lady Rolfe. She concocted a plan to be rid of both mother and child, and cast the blame on her husband. She stole a cigar, knowing it was linked to Lord Rolfe – note that one cigar is missing from the bottom row of the humidor, suggesting someone took a cigar with the intention that its absence not be noticed.”
“Why not simply take the next available cigar?”
“We may never know, but my guess is that Lord Rolfe kept careful track of the number of his special cigars, particularly after Mr. Swettloe told him no more would be immediately forthcoming. Taking one from the bottom row, which is partially obscured by the top shelf, would give Lady Rolfe some time for her plan to work. Ideally, before he noticed the missing cigar, the police would have arrested him for Miss O’Reilly’s murder.”
Natalie nodded. “I see. So Lady Rolfe took the cigar and her kitchen knives to The Manors, killed the woman and child, then lit the cigar to produce enough ash to leave a clue for us.”
“Indeed, I think that explanation likely.”
“But why would we have found the fetus outside, in plain view?”
“Lady Rolfe needed the crime to be discovered quickly, before her manufactured evidence disappeared. She could hardly send a messenger to police headquarters to report the murder, so she left the fetus outside, again with a supply of cigar ash, although this time it was merely sprinkled over the body – a mistake on the part of Lady Rolfe. When we confronted Lord Rolfe with the facts of the case he – knowing his wife better than we – knew what she was capable of, replicated her plan in his head, and confirmed his suspicions when he saw the missing cigar. Although the man was a cad, he retained great loyalty toward his wife, and preferred to take his own life rather than exposing her as a murderer.”
“How did Lady Rolfe get past the nosy neighbors without their notice?”
That stopped me for a moment, before I thought of the likely explanation. “Lady Rolfe is of a similar build to her husband. She needed only disguise herself with his top hat and coat, and sport his walking stick, for Anna Marie Jones to mistake her for Miss O’Reilly’s regular visitor.”
“Your story fits the facts,” Natalie conceded, “but we will never prove it.”
“I fear you are correct. However, Lady Rolfe will no doubt spend the rest of her days in the Tamrannoch Sanitorium, which is perhaps all that would have happened had she been arrested for and convicted of the crime, such is the state of her sanity.”
“True.” She sighed, and looked around the opulent room. “All of this, undone by the secret passions of a man.”
I smiled. “Ah, but executed by the fertile mind of a woman.”