Lesley is an excessively quiet town on the outskirts of London and is overflowing with willow trees, strikingly clear lakes and numerous untamed meadows. As a result of its exclusion from the rest of London, it is a very close-knit and private community. Not only does everyone know of the other's business, they most likely were involved in some way. Due to this Lesley hardly gets any visitors, Mr. Percy observed as the horse-drawn carriage plummeted and ascended on the rough pavement.
With his older sister's sudden death, he was forced to temporarily retire from his endeavors in London as a full-time lawyer to attend her funeral. Pushing 73, poor Clarissa was undoubtedly aging and with all of her recent falls, it wasn't entirely surprising. She had never been married and had lived her whole life in Lesley, apart from the first 16 years where she had spent her youth in London from 1853 and onwards.
"Mr. Percy would you like to pull up at the cottage or at Ms. Bloomington's residence?" Charles the chauffeur's voice roused him from his scattered thoughts.
"Ms. Bloomington's shall do, Charles. Thank you." He called out and once more turned to stare out of the window.
There was something in the way gray and silver clouds lined the sky that bothered Mr. Percy. He was usually entirely focused on the matter at hand, a vision of fully disclosed attentiveness. In this case, he couldn't focus at all and couldn't help feeling a strange sensation in the pit of his stomach . . .
"Arnold, how good it is to see you. Why, you barely even ring up the house anymore. I perhaps am exaggerating, you do ring up - once every five years that is. At that rate, I probably shan't even speak to you. I'll probably be dead by the time you even call. Just look at our sister, poor Clarissa. God, Arnold! Well, what can one do? Enough with the dreary, Arnold, how've you been?" Dassie Bloomington finished with a rush of emotion. In one breath, she had managed to deliver a 30 second speech. Her 2 butlers grabbed the bags from the carriage and they started walking towards the estate.
As a notion of peace and appeasement, Mr. Percy started with: "Good day, Dassie. I do imagine I visited Lesley not a while back, actually-"
"Oh Arnold, you don't expect me to actually believe that that 3-hour visit was to see your 2 aging sisters was it? No, it indeed wasn't. You had a client who was passing through our beautiful town and who had seen you in the paper. You needn't lie Arnold. But let's forget of it and let's enjoy a cup of tea- well, as much as we can enjoy seeing the current circumstances."
Arnold looked at his older sister appraisingly as she opened the mauve, oak door that led to the front foyer of her home. Widowed at 59, Dassie Bloomington had become the head of the house. Her husband's estate had been exclusively left to Dassie. Now nearing 67, Dassie was enjoying the endless benefits of retirement in her patched-up Victorian manor.
"Uncle Arnold!" A child's voice shouted with increasing volume from the drawing room. Lucy ran up and hugged the coveted uncle of 2 and great-uncle of 3. Clarissa and John Bloomington had 2 children named Sandra and Harold who then married their respective spouses, Phillip and Liliana. Sandra and Phillip Flanders produced their loving Dassie with 3 grand-children whereas Harold and Liliana Bloomington didn't have children at all. They dismissed it by saying that they didn't want children and felt no need seeing as Dassie was ultimately satisfied with 3 grandchildren from Sandra's part of the family.
Sandra ran after Lucy and greeted her uncle with a wave of a floured hand. "Why, Uncle Arnold! We had expected you'd be arriving at a quarter to 3. What a pleasant surprise!" Mr. Percy observed his niece's up do; neat auburn hair woven in a bun with a few graying strands unfastened around her heart-shaped face here and there. She was a spitting image of her mother only 30 years younger. Her meek smile suggested a tired but persevering character.
"Morning, dear Sandra. Why yes, my duties finished early and I decided to come "round a bit prior." Mr. Percy smiled then turned somber, "We must also discuss what remains of Clarissa's estate and what's been included in her will." He watched as Lucy happily darted back into the drawing room.
"Yes, of course," Dassie nodded fervently, "I imagine that after the funeral we're all going to come back here for cold snacks. Sandra, when's your brother coming?"
"Just a bit past 4." she replied. "John's in the garden trimming the hedges." She added in for Mr. Percy's benefit. "He sure does love his plants, much like I love my baking."
Mr. Percy followed the two women into the bustling kitchen filled with female cooking fanatics and eventually escaped the banter to meet up with John.
"Mr. Percy, how've you been?" John Bloomington greeted with a smile whilst finishing up his elaborate trimmings on an immense hedge that lined the perimeter of the garden.
"As well as one can be under the circumstances."
"I understand. Poor Clarissa never even saw it coming. At least it was a peaceful one, I understand." John shook his head, thick with luscious black locks. He turned his blue eyes on the older man and put down the clippers.
"Why yes, I've been told that it did indeed happen overnight."
"So surprising, wasn't it. Never expected a thing, poor Aunt Clarissa. She was truly a happy soul." John murmured as he offered the older man a cigar. Mr. Percy noted the attachment the 30-year old had to his Aunt-in-law.
Mr. Percy lit-up the expensive cigar and took a thoughtful drag, "But dear boy, it was hardly unexpected seeing as she was in poor health these past 3 years."
"Yes, that is supposedly true," John squinted through the sun, "Or perhaps that is just what the murderer wants us to believe."
Mr. Percy stood bewildered, his posture erect as ever. He stared at John Bloomington through wide-open eyes. "M-my boy, what are you saying?"
John's eyes twinkled as he came in closer, "What I am about to utter could possibly startle you. But please, mind you, this is just a guess."
The old man wearily nodded.
"I had been bugging Sandra about the plants and resolutely she suggested I'd call Clarissa to inquire about some rose buds I had planted in our home in London. She knew her aunt loved to garden and thought it reasonable to direct my inquiries there."
"I rung up the cottage and that blasted maid picked up. I still sometimes wonder whether she's ever going to collapse but no, that woman - or Madame Esther as she likes to call herself - is as strong and narrow-minded as a horse. Alright, so I had called and she picked up. I asked to speak to Ms. Percy. Clarissa got on after much huffing and puffing on Esther's - or Mme. Esther's- part."
"And so Clarissa greeted me and we exchanged pleasantries, as one often does. Then, I asked her about the rose buds and she told me of a shop that sold special solutions that dealt with wilting flowers and whatnot. I actually had a really hard time finding the shop - but that's a story for another day," John whimsically continued.
"I remember finishing up all of my inquiries and ending the call. But after I had more time to think about her advice, I felt strange inside. And then it hit me!" John smashed his hands together and rubbed them roughly, his eyes lighting up.
"While we were discussing solar patterns and their effect on the growth of different herbs, in the background, I had heard her talk to old Esther. Esther had croaked about afternoon tea and biscuits and Clarissa had affirmed the suggestion. While talking to me, she was drinking her tea quite quietly that you would have never known. I guess I was going on and on about something so she had spare time between sounds of confirmation to finish her tea. All in all, I remember Esther coming back huffing and puffing again - I do imagine it is those stairs, they really are endless - and she was inquiring about the biscuits once more. Between the small conversation the two had, Clarissa had time to add a small and seemingly irrelevant comment about the tea. She had said it tasted strangely like almonds! And I do believe that was her exact wording, too! And it all came to me a few hours after the call." John finished off, interlocking his tanned arms together. He looked somewhat content, noted Mr. Percy.
"What you're trying to tell me, and I do believe this is it, you're trying to tell me-"
"-that some bloke must have poisoned poor Clarissa!" John had interjected, plainly impatient, "With cyanide!"
"Dear God . . ." A voice came from behind the two men and they both turned around to face Sandra. Her big, brown eyes were opened into two spherical balls and her usually upturned mouth was slightly open. "Y-you d-d-don't think poor aunty was m-murdered, do you?" She stuttered in a barely audible voice.