Our story begins outside a village church, after Sunday service, as Hector Spector (the Rector) bids farewell to his flock.
chapter 1: it’s from the 3rd psalm
The Rector: I’ve got a toothache.
Lady Scrymshawe: Well, do try to give us something more cheerful next week. Lord Scrymshawe is vexed enough with this wretched depression.
Sir Hamish MacHaggis: Tusk is depressed?
Lady Scrymshawe: The economic depression, Hamish. And I wish you’d stop calling my husband “Tusk.” You know his Christian name is Tolleshunt.
Sir Hamish: He was called Tusk at Eton, though. And once one’s fagged for a chap called Tusk, it’s impossible to think of him as Tolleshunt.
Sir Hamish: The bell-ringer, presumably.
The Rector: But Bat is meant to be pressing my cassocks! I fear something may be amiss. Come quickly!
[The men climb into the bell chamber while Lady Scrymshawe stands at the foot of the ladder.]
Lady Scrymshawe: Tsk! Bat indeed. The man’s name is Bartholomew, which, granted, is two syllables too many for a man of his class.
The Rector: Oh my dear Lord. Bat’s in the belfry!
Lady Scrymshawe [clutching her hat]: Pray, fend them off!
Sir Hamish: Bat the bell-ringer, Prunella. He’s been stabbed to death.
Lady Scrymshawe: Not bats, then. Oh I am relieved.
chapter 2: an inspector calls
[Inspector Underling assembles his suspects: Lord Scrymshawe and his wife; their daughter, Lady Charlotte; Sir Hamish; the Rector; Chuck D. Yanque, a loud-voiced visiting American; and the victim’s wife, Hepzibah “Happy” Camper, who is wearing a Japanese costume. Together with an old lady, Agnes DuProcesse, they gather in the drawing-room at Scrymshawe Hall.]
Inspector Underling: First off, ta to His Lordship for the use of his lounge. Now, we’re here on account of someone murdered Bartholomew “Bat” Camper, and it’s my job to –
Chuck D. Yanque: FINGER THE BAD GUY.
Underling: Identify the miscreant.
Lady Scrymshawe: Has Scotland Yard no one more senior to place on this case? You are a mere inspector, Inspector.
Underling: And the victim was a mere bell-ringer, my lady. Even if he did press cassocks on the side.
Lord Scrymshawe: But surely no one here can be suspected! My wife! My daughter! My God!
Underling: God has been ruled out after some pretty tough questioning. But your wife was seen with the victim a few days ago, my Lord. She was conserving with him in the conference – conferring with him in the conservatory.
Chuck: PIG SHIT, RIGHT? HE SMELLED JUST LIKE MY OLD PA BACK ON THE FARM.
Underling: But the victim grew other important plants. Didn’t he, Sir Hamish?
Sir Hamish: Eh? Sorry, old chap, I wasn’t attending. I say, can –
Underling: –nabis sativa. Smoked as marijuana, to which you’re addicted. And Camper had threatened to raise his price.
Sir Hamish: Can we ring for tea and sandwiches, I was going to say. I’m most frightfully peckish.
chapter 3: post-tea interrogation
[Tea has been served and cleared away. Agnes DuProcesse starts knitting a bonnet for a neighbor’s baby. There’s a joke going begging here about bees in her bonnet, but I’m not going to make it.]
Lord Scrymshawe: You can’t be suggesting that MacHaggis killed this Bite blatter. Bat blighter. Why, he was my fag at Eton!
Underling: I’m not accusing Sir Hamish, my Lord. Or the Rector, even though the victim kept creasing his cassocks.
The Rector: Quite. De mortuis and all that, but Bat was a very poor presser.
Underling: Or that you killed him yourself, Lord Scrymshawe, because the horses he tipped you the wink on always came in last.
Lord Scrymshawe: Or not at all.
Lady Charlotte: Don’t you want to know who killed your husband? Didn’t you care about him at all?
Happy: Not really. He smelled like pig shit.
Underling: But you didn’t mind his odor, did you – Lady Charlotte?
chapter 4: at last we have a clue
Lady Charlotte: How dare you! I barely knew the man!
Underling: Then why did he write your name on a bell? [Consternation.] Camper was stabbed with his own pocket-knife. But before he died, I discovered – [Agnes DuProcesse coughs] – all right, Miss DuProcesse discovered that he’d managed to pull out the knife, climb up to the treble bell, and scratch a name on it.
Agnes: Part of a name, Inspector.
Underling: Yes, all right, part of a name. Your name, Lady Charlotte, which he’d have written out in full if he hadn’t been dying.
Agnes: Would he have, though? I wonder, Inspector. Do you not think the letters are suggestive of another interpretation?
Inspector: H, A, R, L, O, T? They don’t suggest anything else to me.
Happy: Thirty minutes to curtain. I really have to go.
Agnes: What role are you playing, Hepzibah?
Happy: Yum-Yum. Like I said, big part.
Agnes: And Yum-Yum is a soprano, is she not? The highest vocal range. As the treble bell has the highest range.
Inspector Underling: You mean –
Agnes: Not “harlot” as part of “Charlotte.” Just plain “harlot.” He’d found out about your affair with Mr. Yanque, hadn’t he, Hepzibah? And threatened you in the belfry, so you grabbed his knife and stabbed him.
Lady Scrymshawe: There now! I knew the murderer must be from the lower class.
Underling: I don’t see why not. I’ve got my men staked out at the village hall.
[Happy leaves with him, singing, “Three little maids who, all unwary, come from a ladies’ seminary … ”]
Lady Scrymshawe: There’s just time to dress for dinner. You’ll join us, Miss DuProcesse? Hamish? And you, Rector?
The Rector: Thank you, no, Lady Scrymshawe. This wretched toothache.
Lady Scrymshawe: Mr. Yanque?
Chuck: I’M FEELING KINDA SAD ABOUT HAPPY. I THINK I’LL HEAD ON BACK TO THE STATES. [He goes upstairs to pack.]
Lady Scrymshawe: Oh I am relieved.