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From Murder as a Fine Art

In all my adventures with Father, I can now add one more: being arrested. Constable Becker and the ruffian who said his name was Detective-Inspector Ryan insisted that was not the case, but the somberness of their expressions and the haste with which they wanted to place us in a police wagon belied their assurances.

“Go with you to Scotland Yard? Why?” Father demanded as the fog swirled around us.

“We have questions,” the ruffian said.

“About what?”

“The Ratcliffe Highway murders.”

“Everything I have to say about them is in my latest book. Why do you care about something that happened forty-three years ago?”

“Not forty-three years ago,” the ruffian said. I have difficulty referring to him as a detective-inspector.

“Of course it was forty-three years ago,” Father replied. “Do detectives not have schooling? Subtract eighteen hundred and eleven from—”

“Last night,” Ryan said.

“Excuse me?”

“The murders happened last night.”

The statement made the air feel colder. Even in the fog, I could see Father straighten.

“Murders last night?” he whispered.

“Can anyone account for your activities between ten and midnight?” Becker asked. From Ryan, the question would have been challenging, but the constable made it sound respectful.


“Please tell us where you were.” Again, the constable’s tone was assuring.

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?” Ryan interrupted rudely. “Does your laudanum habit weaken your memory?”

“My memory is excellent.”

“Then perhaps you were too affected by the drug to know what you were doing last night.”

“I know what I was doing. I just don’t know where.”

Ryan shook his head. “What opium does to people.”

Constable Becker stepped forward, kindly asking me, “May I have your name, Miss?”

“Emily De Quincey. I’m his daughter.”

“Can you help us understand what your father is trying to say?”

“I meant what I said. It’s perfectly clear,” Father told them. “If you’d asked me what I was doing instead of where I was, I could have told you I was walking.”

“Walking? That late?” Ryan interrupted again as fog swirled around us.

I began to sense a stratagem that they had calculated before we arrived, the ruffian trying to make us feel threatened while the constable was solicitous, in the hopes that the contrast between them would confuse us into making careless statements.

“My father walks a great deal,” I explained. “Especially if he is making an effort to reduce his laudanum intake, he spends much of his time walking.”

“One summer in the Lake District” Father said proudly, “I walked two thousand miles.”

“Two thousand miles?” Ryan looked puzzled.

“It’s cold out here,” Father said. “Instead of pursuing this conversation for the neighbors to hear, may we go inside?”

“Where we need to go is Scotland Yard,” Ryan insisted.

“And is there a necessary on your wagon, or will you stop on the way so that we can use one?” Father added with a turn to me, “Excuse the reference, my dear.”

Now Father was the one employing a stratagem. He has never used a genteel synonym for a privy.

“I forgive you, Father.”

“The necessary in the house is remarkable,” Father told Ryan and Constable Becker. “Our housekeeper tells me it’s modeled after a water device introduced at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park three years ago. ‘A flush with every push,’ I believe the motto is. She says that the inventor charged a penny a flush. Almost six million visitors to the Great Exhibition. Imagine, a penny from each of them.”

Ryan sighed. “Very well. Let’s go into the house.”