I wrote this short story for school, based on the writings of Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock. Leacock wrote a hilarious piece outlining the essential cliches of 19th-20th century serialized detective fiction. It’s available online under the name “The Great Detective.” (An even funnier version of the discourse exists under the name “Frenzied Fiction,” which I found in my grandpa’s well-worn copy of Leacock’s Laugh Parade.) The punchline of my story is that, once again, the butler has “done it.” This time, however, he has done it is to himself.
On the subject of Canada, I’d also like to thank my aunt for bringing three huge jars of Canadian peanut butter when she visited the week I received this assignment, as they served as my inspiration to write this. 😀
The Great Detective and I were sitting down to a hearty breakfast when we heard the frenetic pattering of footsteps in the stairwell.
“A visitor, I presume,” my ingenious flatmate remarked as he spread a generous amount of peanut butter on his crumpet. “It must be – and surely, he must be distressed, for the way he mounts our staircase is uneven and heavy. Either that, or he is a drunken lout who has read too many of your stories, seeking my autograph.”
“Perhaps,” said I, fondly recalling the last case I’d dutifully chronicled for The Brand. (You ought to read it after this one!)
As expected, when the frantic feet skidded to a stop outside our door, our ears were assaulted by a merciless pounding upon the wood. Without waiting for an answer, a young gentleman wearing a worn suit on his body and a hysterical look on his face burst through the door.
He cried out that he must speak with my colleague at once.
“That would be me. Crumpet?” Without rising from his seat, the Detective offered our visitor the half-eaten biscuit from his own plate. “They’re frightfully good with peanut butter.”
The young man’s expression contorted into one of utter revulsion. “I’m fatally allergic to peanut butter, my brother and I both. But that’s not why I’m here today.”
“You’re clearly shaken,” I remarked, hoping to earn the approval of my colleague. “I can tell by the way your hands tremble and your legs look ready to fall beneath you!” I offered the man a glass of brandy, bid him to sit by the fire, and asked him to explain the real reason he was here today.
We were told:
Visitors to Lord Earnest Longbottom’s Westhartfordshire Estate often commented on the man’s cruel treatment of his servants. If Longbottom’s breakfast egg was the slightest bit underdone, he’d march the maid serving him back into the kitchens, and – before the entire serving staff – proceed to hurl the runny egg in the cook’s face!
Thus, when the body of Barnaby, the butler, was found dead inside the larder, surely the most reasonable conclusion is that Longbottom killed the man himself! But there was no proof, no clear signs to incriminate the vile manor owner for this heinous deed.
“Barnaby was my brother,” our visitor interjected. “And the Scotland Yard claims they are baffled.”
“Baffled!” said I, casting a look to my flatmate as the deceased butler’s brother continued his account.
There had been no sign of a struggle, or even a blow to the head. The only evidence was an open jar of peanut butter, spilt on its side. The scullery maid had long since discarded it, for fear of attracting rodents and other vermin into the manor.
To make matters further complicated, the larder door could only be locked from the inside.
Our visitor finished his account, took a deep sip of the proffered brandy, and waited expectantly for my friend’s response.
A long moment passed.
“I see,” the Great Detective murmured from where he reclined in the plush depths of his favorite old recliner chair, idly tuning his Indian sitar.
“You see?” said I.
“I see,” he said again in that awesomely cryptic way.
“Tell us, man! Tell us what you see!” Our visitor exclaimed with brash impatience.
My friend placed his sitar down by the side of his chair, pressed his hands together like a priest in prayer, and spoke again. “It really is quite simple. The butler did it.”
The butler’s brother rose from his seat in indignation. “I beg your pardon! You trifle with my brother’s death like this is merely a children’s game of Cluedo!”
Our would-be client tore out of the room, ranting about how he would seek help from another detective, a certain Herlock Sholmes, whomever that might be.
“It was the peanut butter that killed him,” my wise colleague said coolly when the ranting visitor’s cries of bloody murder (if you’ll excuse the pun) faded down the thoroughfare.
“Peanut butter?” said I.
But the Great Detective did not grace me with his reply as he polished off the last of his crumpet.
I mulled this over to myself. “Peanut butter…. Peanut butter….”