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A Death in Tadcaster
About the Author: Tim McDaniel teaches English as a Second Language at Green River College, not far from Seattle. His short stories, mostly comedic, have appeared in a number of SF/F magazines, including F&SF, Analog, and Asimov's. He lives with his wife, dog, and cat, and his collection of plastic dinosaurs is the envy of all who encounter it. His author page at Amazon.com is https://www.amazon.com/author/tim-mcdaniel and many of his stories are available at CuriousFictions.com.


Mr. Swettenham paused at the low gate to admire the roses. So many varieties, so artfully planted, so lovingly cared for. But the garden was now showing signs of neglect—dead flowers which had not been trimmed from the vine, weeds creeping in among the roots. Unthinkable, that she could allow the garden to go unkept. It was in this very garden, Mr. Swettenham recalled, in which Miss Dalyrimple had overheard a murder being plotted. How exciting to think of it! But her detection days were over now. Her long career was finally at a close, her end becoming frightfully near. He sighed, tenderly disengaged a thorn which had caught his coat, then stepped in and closed the gate behind him.

Hat in hand, he knocked gently on the front door of the cottage. There was no answer, or no audible answer. He eased the door open.

“Miss Dalyrimple? Mr. Swettenham here for a visit?”

“Yes? Hello? Who’s there?” called a thin voice from within the darkened home.

Mr. Swettenham came in and softly closed the door behind him. “Mr. Swettenham, Miss Dalyrimple,” he said. “I’ve come to see how you’re getting along.”

“Oh, yes. Of course. Come in, vicar, do come in.”

Mr. Swettenham crossed the parlour to the bedroom. The door was open. The bedroom was dim; thin curtains had been drawn over the window. The window that looked over the garden. But Miss Dalyrimple was visible in the bed, a small outline, nearly hidden under the bedclothes.

“Come. Sit.” A hand made of little more than bone lifted and gestured ineffectually towards a small chair next to the bed. On the other side of the bed was a bedside table, its surface covered by pillboxes, tissues, a pitcher, and an old lamp. “Sit, sit.”

Mr. Swettenham sat in the chair, holding his hat in his lap. “And how are you feeling today, Miss Dalyrimple?”

She shook her head, a minute movement. “Little change, I’m afraid. Except for the worse. I know I have but a short time left, now.” Her thin, white hair lay flat against her head on one side. On the other it was a wispy, disordered mass on the pillow.

“Oh, stuff and nonsense!” Mr. Swettenham said with a false chuckle. “You’ll throw off this minor indisposition and be back on your feet in no time, I’m sure. I imagine the police are already feeling your absence most keenly.”

She raised her head, and the eyes in the withered face sparked. “The police? Are they here? So soon?” 

Mr. Swettenham frowned. “No, no. I just meant they will miss all the assistance you’ve given them over the years.”

“Ah. Yes, of course.” Miss Dalyrimple let her head sink back into the pillow. “Fools, the lot of them, you know.”

“Oh, Miss Dalyrimple, I know you don’t mean that,” Mr. Swettenham said. “I realize that some of them were unable to keep up with you as you worked, but I know you value their abilities, nonetheless. Why, think of Inspector Crump. You’ve aided him in several cases, but I dare say he was of some help to you, too. Why, in the case of my own brother-in-law, for example, he was quite a bit of assistance.”

“Crump is an idiot,” Miss Dalyrimple said. She closed her eyes. The bedclothes hardly stirred with her slight rises of breath. “You came through the garden? How is it? It’s been so long since I could see to it.”

“A bit the worse for wear, I admit,” the vicar said. “But you’ll set it all to rights when you’re feeling more yourself.”

“Foolish optimism. I think those roses are the only things I will miss.”

“I’ll pluck a handful for your bedside table, shall I?

“You’ll do no such thing! The picking of a rose requires patience, insight. My beautiful garden, my refuge, violated so! I will not have it!”

The vicar smiled tightly. He patted the old woman’s hand. “Are you having a bad time of it today, then? I’ll bring some of Mrs. Swettenham’s biscuits when I come by tomorrow.”

Miss Dalyrimple opened her eyes and looked hard at Mr. Swettenham. “I really don’t think I will be here, tomorrow,” she said. “Turn on that little lamp, there. It’s time for more light.”

Mr. Swettenham came around the bed and turned on the bedside lamp. Miss Dalyrimple squinted against the light, her eyes becoming lost in the wrinkles. Then she blinked and opened them wider.

“Better?” Mr. Swettenham asked.



This story appears in our OCT 2018 Issue
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Reader Discussion

3
Oct
Wonderful! A delightful read to warm up this cold and rainy day!
By Bill Pederson

3
Oct
An absolute delight to read. Clever and entertaining from beginning to end. Well done. I wonder now when Jessica Fletcher will confess.
By Earl Staggs

3
Oct
Well written. Fun to read!
By Art Pittman

4
Oct
Really engaging and well written, bravo!
By Sharon Gerger

5
Oct
Clever, and a fun read.
By Robert Petyo

6
Oct
Wonderfully engaging characters from beginning to end in this delightful read.
By Nina Ritter

6
Oct
Loved the ending--savaging the roses. A good read.
By Frances Dunn

7
Oct
Brilliant story. Love the last line.
By Elizabeth Varadan


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