Drury Lane investigates a suspicious suicide and a family of mad Hatters
A ramshackle trawler, the Lavinia D rumbles into New York harbor with empty nets. When its crew spies something floating in the water, they drag it in, hoping for a profitable catch. Their prize flops on the deck, limp, cold, and bloody: the corpse of a man. His name was York Hatter, and he had disappeared from his house on the fashionable Washington Square several days before. He hadn’t left a note and he wasn’t carrying any money. The police assume he killed himself—but they are very wrong.
The Hatter family is famously eccentric, and when a murder attempt is made on York’s invalid stepdaughter, any one of them could be the culprit. Solving the case will fall to Drury Lane, the retired Shakespearean actor who has turned his genius to solving crimes. But he may find that these Hatters are so crazy and so deadly, they even put Hamlet to shame.
About the Author
Although eventually famous on television and radio, Queen’s first appearance came in 1928, when the cousins won a mystery-writing contest with the book that was later published as The Roman Hat Mystery. Their character was an amateur detective who uses his spare time to assist his police inspector uncle in solving baffling crimes. Besides writing the Queen novels, Dannay and Lee cofounded Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, one of the most influential crime publications of all time. Although Dannay outlived his cousin by nine years, he retired Queen upon Lee’s death.
Ellery Queen was a pen name created and shared by two cousins, Frederic Dannay (1905–1982) and Manfred B. Lee (1905–1971), as well as the name of their most famous detective. Born in Brooklyn, they spent forty-two years writing, editing, and anthologizing under the name, gaining a reputation as the foremost American authors of the Golden Age “fair play” mystery. Although eventually famous on television and radio, Queen’s first appearance came in 1928, when the cousins won a mystery-writing contest with the book that would eventually be published as The Roman Hat Mystery. Their character was an amateur detective who uses his spare time to assist his police inspector uncle in solving baffling crimes. Besides writing the Queen novels, Dannay and Lee cofounded Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, one of the most influential crime publications of all time. Although Dannay outlived his cousin by nine years, he retired Queen upon Lee’s death.
Read an Excerpt
The Tragedy of Y
A Drury Lane Mystery
By Ellery Queen
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1932 Barnaby Ross
All rights reserved.
"For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak With most miraculous organ."
THE HAMLET, SUNDAY, APRIL 17, 12:30 P.M.
In the beginning, mused Inspector Thumm, God created the heaven and the earth, and a mighty good job He made of it, too, especially when He came to the Hudson River, some miles from the metropolis, in Westchester County.
The good Inspector was scarcely in either a religious or an aesthetic mood, since he was perforce supporting on his broad shoulders a particularly weighty Old Man of official responsibility; but even he, occupied as he was with mundane thoughts, could not long remain insensible to the beauty of his surroundings.
His car was toiling up a narrow winding road, straight up, up to the sky, it seemed, with an intricate faery vision ahead of battlements, ramparts, spires framed in green foliage and topped by blue-and-white clouds; and for contrast, the scintillant trickle of the Hudson, blue wrinkles studded with the white dots of pigmy boats, far below. The air that the Inspector sucked into the bellows of his lungs was sprinkled with wood and pine-needles and flowers and sweet dust, the noon sun was shining powerfully, and an ice-tinged April breeze riffled his gray hair. It made a man glad to be alive, reflected the Inspector sententiously as he wrestled with an unexpected angle in the road, crime or no crime. This was his half-dozenth visit to The Hamlet, incredible residence of Mr. Drury Lane, he thought, and the damned place snuggled under your skin more and more each time.
He snorted to a stop before the familiar little bridge, the outpost of Mr. Drury Lane's estate, and waved rather boyishly at its sentinel, a ruddy little old man wreathed in smiles who pulled at his ancient forelock.
"Hi!" shouted Thumm. "Mr. Lane home this fine Sunday?"
"Yes, sir," piped the bridgemaster. "Yes, sir. Go right on through, Inspector. Mr. Drury says you're always to be admitted. Right this way!" He scampered to the bridge, tugged at a creaky gate, swung it back, and bobbed the Inspector's car across the quaint little wooden trestle.
The Inspector sighed for sheer content and stepped on the accelerator. Damned nice day, by God!
This was familiar terrain — this perfect gravel road, this wild greening copse, and suddenly, with the impact of a fanciful dream, this clearing before the castle. The castle was the pinnacle not only of the steep cliffs that thundered hundreds of feet down to the Hudson, but also of Mr. Drury Lane's aspirations. Its conception had been howled down by critics of the modern age; its architecture had been sniffed at by young men freshly out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, whose drawing-boards supported mile-high steel spires and solid concrete fastnesses; its author had been variously derided as "an old fogy," "an anachronism," "a strutting mummer" — this last from a bitter-keen fellow of the new school of dramatic criticism, to whom any playwright earlier than Eugene O'Neill and any actor antedating Leslie Howard were "punk," "Wienerschnitzel," "archaic," and "bellywash."
Yet — there it was, with its sprawling cultivated gardens, its precise yew trees, its Elizabethan village of gabled cottages, cobbles, side lanes, its moat and draw-bridge, and above all the buttressed stone immensity of the castle itself. It was a suety segment sliced out of the sixteenth century, a chunk of old England, something out of Shakespeare ... the inevitable setting for an old gentleman living quietly among the relics of his fruity past. A past which not even his harshest critics could deny had been generously dedicated to the perpetuation of the immortal dramas, dedicated with something very like genius to a service in the theater which had brought him great fortune, great fame, and privately an immeasurable happiness.
This then was the native habitat of Mr. Drury Lane, retired emperor of thespians. And no matter how those busy fools in the City chose to regard it, Inspector Thumm observed to himself, as another old man swung open the massive iron door in the high stone wall surrounding the estate, this was peace, and it was pretty, and it was a relief from the dizzying atmosphere of New York.
He slammed on his foot-brake suddenly, and his car squealed to a stop. Twenty feet to his left there was an astonishing apparition. A tulip garden in the center of which grinned a stone Ariel spouting water ... but it was the creature whose brown gnarled hand splashed in the fountain basin that fascinated him. The Inspector never overcame, in all the months of his acquaintanceship with Mr. Drury Lane and his establishment, a feeling of quaint unreality when he saw this gnome of an old man. The splasher was tiny, and brown, and wrinkly, and bald, and bewhiskered, and on his elfin back there was a knobby hump — the entire unbelievable creature swathed in a leather apron, like the caricature of a blacksmith. The ancient hunchback looked up, and his small brilliant eyes sparkled. "Hey, there, Quacey!" yelled the Inspector. "What you doing?"
Quacey, who was the chief memento out of Mr. Drury Lane's past — his wig-maker and make-up man for forty years — placed tiny hands on crooked little hips. "I am observing a goldfish," he said gravely, in the clipped and creaking tones of advanced age. "You're a stranger here, Inspector Thumm!"
Thumm heaved himself out of the car and stretched with yawning arms. "Guess I am. How's the old man?"
Quacey's hand darted forth like a snake and came up dripping from the water with a wiggling little thing.
"Pretty colors," he observed, smacking his leathery lips. "You mean Mr. Drury? Well, very well." He started suddenly, and looked aggrieved. "Old man? He's younger than you, Inspector Thumm, and you know it. He's sixty, is Mr. Drury, but he could outrun you like a — like a rabbit, and he swam four solid miles in that — brr! — ice-cold lake back yonder this morning. Could you do that?"
"Well, maybe not," said the Inspector with a grin, carefully skirting the tulip-bed in his path. "Where is he?"
The goldfish lost his courage, and of a sudden his squirmings decreased alarmingly. Almost with regret the hunchback threw him back into the fountain. "Behind the privets. They're clipping 'em. Great one he is for prettiness; Mr. Drury, I mean. These gardeners love — —"
But the Inspector, chuckling, strode past the old man — not without caressing that grotesque hump, however, in passing, for Inspector Thumm was an eminently practical man. Quacey guffawed, and dipped both fists of talons into the water.
Thumm parted a mathematically clipped privet, from behind which came a busy snicking and snipping and the deep pleasant tones of Lane's unusual voice. He stepped through, and grinned at a tall slender man in corduroys surrounded by a bevy of gardeners. "Mr. Drury Lane himself, in person," announced the Inspector, extending an enormous palm. "Well, well! Don't you ever get older?"
"Inspector!" cried Lane in a delighted voice. "A nice surprise. Heavens, I'm glad to see you!" He dropped a heavy shears and gripped Thumm's hand. "How did you find me? People generally wander about The Hamlet for hours before coming upon the lord and master."
"Quacey," said the Inspector, dropping hungrily to the brilliant grass. "Ah-h! This is good! He's back a way there at the fountain."
"Tormenting the goldfish, I'll warrant," chuckled Lane. He doubled up like a lean spring and sat down by the Inspector's side, "Inspector, you're getting heavier," he said critically, eying Thumm's bulging bulk. "You should exercise more. I should say you've put on ten pounds since I last saw you."
"I should say you were damned right," grumbled Thumm. "Sorry I can't return the compliment. You look fit as a fiddle."
He eyed his companion with something suspiciously like affection. Lane was tall and spare and, somehow, vibrant. Except for the mat of pure white hair worn low on the neck, he might have been forty rather than sixty: his severely classical features were utterly unlined and youthful. In his gray-green eyes, so sharp and deep, there was certainly no trace of old age. His throat, revealed by the laid-back collar of his white shirt, was sturdy and muscular and bronzed. His face, so serene and immobile, yet so capable of sudden mobility, was the face of a strong man in his prime. Even his voice, powerful, resonant, and yet a flicking rapier under the necessities of expression — the voice that had rung almost sensually in the ears of multitudes of audiences — belied his lightly carried years. He was in the ensemble altogether an extraordinary figure.
"Something," remarked Mr. Drury Lane with a twinkle, "something not entirely social inspired that long journey from the City, Inspector. An elementary deduction, since you've neglected me all winter — in fact, ever since the culmination of the Longstreet affair. What's buzzing in that busy brain of yours?" His penetrating eyes were fixed on the Inspector's lips. The actor was stone-deaf, a late development which had forced his retirement from the theater. With his uncanny ability to adapt himself to new situations, he had promptly taught himself the art of lip-reading, in which he had become so proficient that most persons with whom he came in contact remained unaware of his affliction.
Thumm looked sheepish. "I wouldn't say that. I wouldn't say that exactly, Mr. Lane. ... But it's a fact that there's a little something going on in New York which has us buffaloed. Thought you might want to try your hand at it, sort of."
"A crime," said the actor thoughtfully. "Not this business of the Hatters?"
The Inspector brightened. "Then you've been reading the papers about it! Yes, it's these nutty Hatters. Attempted poisoning of the old lady's daughter by her first marriage — this Louisa Campion."
"The woman who is deaf, dumb, and blind." Lane looked grave. "She interests me particularly, Inspector. A remarkable example of man's capacity for rising above mere physical handicaps. ... And, of course, you've been unsuccessful."
"Yup," said the Inspector grumpily, wrestling a fistful of grass from the sod. The gentle beauty of his surroundings seemed all at once to have lost its savor for him. "Absolutely stymied. Not a lead to work on."
Lane eyed him keenly. "I've read everything the newspapers reported," he said, "although probably details have been garbled and the entire story has not been told. Nevertheless, I know something about the family, the affair of the poisoned eggnog, the child's nearly tragic greed — all the superficial facts." He sprang to his feet. "Have you had luncheon, Inspector?"
Thumm scratched his blue jaws. "Well ... I'm not very hungry. ..."
"Nonsense!" Lane grasped Thumm's beefy arm and heaved. To his astonishment the Inspector found himself half-lifted from the grass. "Come along and don't be an ass. We'll have a bite of something and discuss your problem over a mug of cold beer. You like beer, of course?"
Thumm scrambled to his feet and looked thirsty. "I wouldn't say I like it, but I wouldn't say I don't. ..."
"I thought so. You're all alike. Cautious but willing. It might also be possible to persuade Falstaff, my little major-domo, to serve a drop or two of, let us say, Three-Star Martel. ..."
"No!" said the Inspector enthusiastically. "Now, by God, you're talking, Mr. Lane!"
Mr. Drury Lane sauntered along the bulb-bordered path and observed with an inward chuckle that his guest's eyes were beginning to pop. They were approaching through the trees the feudal village surrounding the castle. Its low red roofs and cobbled street, its narrow walks, its peaks and gables, were utterly charming. The Inspector blinked rather dazedly. It was only when he saw several men and women dressed in twentieth-century garments that he began to feel easier. Although he had visited The Hamlet a number of times, this was his introduction to the village. They paused outside a low brown structure with mullioned windows and a swinging sign outside. "You've heard of the Mermaid Tavern, that rendezvous of Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Raleigh, Francis Beaumont, and the rest?"
"Seems to me I have," said the Inspector wonderingly. "In London, where the boys used to hang out and throw parties."
"Precisely. In Bread Street, Cheapside — near Friday Street. And there's as quaint a collection of names as you'll find in a world of Sundays. This," continued Mr. Drury Lane, with a polite bow, "is an honest replica of that imperishable tavern, Inspector. Let's go in."
Inspector Thumm grinned. The beam-ceilinged room was filled with smoke, chattering, and smelt of good strong ale. He nodded approvingly. "If this is the sort of thing the boys of three-four hundred years ago went in for, Mr. Lane, me for it. Ummm!"
An astonishingly rubicund and pot-bellied little man, swathed in a spotless white apron tied high around the barrel of his waist, bustled forward to greet them.
"You remember Falstaff, my matchless Falstaff?" asked Lane, patting the little old man's bald pate.
"Indeed I do!"
Falstaff — Falstaff! — bowed and grinned. "The big mug, Mr. Drury?"
"Yes, and another for Inspector Thumm, and a bottle of brandy. And something good to eat. Come along, Inspector." He led the way through the crowded room, nodding and smiling at the noisy diners. They found an unoccupied corner and seated themselves at a long, pewlike settle. Falstaff, more the innkeeper than ever, supervised the preparation of a savory luncheon, and served it himself. The Inspector heaved a huge sigh and buried his ugly nose in a foaming mug.
"Now, Inspector," said the actor, when Thumm had masticated his last mouthful and paid a last visit to the brandy bottle, "tell me something about your problem."
"That's the trouble," complained the Inspector. "There's precious little to tell. If you've read the papers you know darned near as much as I do. You've read about the old lady's husband committing suicide a couple of months ago, too?"
"Yes. The newspapers were naturally full of York Hatter's defection. Tell me what happened when you arrived on the scene."
"Well," said Thumm, slumping against the high walnut back of the settle, "the first thing I did was try to fix the exact time when the strychnine must have been slipped into the eggnog. The cook and housekeeper, Mrs. Arbuckle, had set the glass on the dining-room table at about 2:25, and it was between five and ten minutes later, as near as I can figure it, that Mrs. Hatter came in with the deaf-dumb-and-blind woman to find that little hellion, Jackie, swigging the drink intended for his aunt. Not much there, hey?"
"No," said Lane. "From the surrounding circumstances, as I believe you pointed out to the reporters, any number of people had opportunity to poison the drink. Have you questioned the child to determine exactly when he came into the dining-room?"
"Sure, but you know kids. What could you expect? He said he'd gone in there just before his grandmother and his Aunt Louisa popped in on him. And we haven't been able to establish who might have sneaked into the dining-room before the kid."
"I see. Has the child fully recovered?"
Inspector Thumm snorted. "And how! Take more than a swig of poison to kill him. What a kid! The kind of brat you feel like choking to death. 'Course he didn't want to steal the eggnog — oh no, of course not! He doesn't know why he drank it. Said: 'Gran'ma Em'ly scared me, and I just swallowed it.' Just like that. Too bad he didn't swallow a little more, I say."
"I'll wager you weren't exactly a Little Lord Fauntleroy yourself when you were a child, Inspector," chuckled Lane. "What was the disposition physically of the others during the approximate period when the eggnog must have been poisoned? The papers weren't clear."
"Well, sir, in a mess, as you might expect. This sea-captain, Trivett — he'd been right in the next room, the library, reading a newspaper. But he didn't hear anything, he says. Then Jill Hatter — she was in her bedroom upstairs, half awake, in bed. At half-past two, mind you!"
Excerpted from The Tragedy of Y by Ellery Queen. Copyright © 1932 Barnaby Ross. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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