CARTRIDGE PAPER NIBS

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Summary

The setting is Edwardian England. The story orbits the middle-class Portwood family and the bizarre death of their solicitor. The protagonist is headstrong, idealistic Ellen Portwood, but as the mystery unravels, love, loss, and transformation are in store for the entire cast — any one of whom might be the villain. Sound like another snoozy whodunit? Think again. Cartridge Paper Nibs is a story told in over two dozen voices through a curated collection of letters, telegrams, postcards, print news, police reports, propaganda, and parlour games. It’s something like an interactive Downton Abbey scrapbook adventure — or what might happen if Austen, Woolf, Forster, Dickens, Christie, and Twain were penpals.

Genre:
Mystery / Drama
Author:
hendersonmcilrath
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
20
Rating:
5.0 1 review
Age Rating:
13+

INTRODUCTION

I remember that day. So warm and sunny. Streams of diamonds flickering and vanishing and reappearing. Bea and I chased them laughing and screaming until we were soaked. We laid on the grass and her cool wet skin touched mine and I shivered. I was scared of something. I don’t know what. The sun dried us and we slept until we were hot and sweaty. I had a fever. I was sick. I kept reading the words over and over and over and over again. They melted off the page and oozed into a puddle on the floor and then rose up into a blue-black swirling monster getting bigger and bigger filling the room — there was no space for anything else — the chairs, the beds, the toys. Baby! I was disappearing — he needed everything — there was no space left for me — I yelled and cried out — Mama kept telling me everything’s fine — he’s behind her looming — swelling — I tried to tell her — she wouldn’t hear me. Something blocked my throat — he’d put it there — I couldn’t talk — I couldn’t swallow — I coughed — I retched — I scraped it out with my finger. The letters clunked to the floor — spinning — making me dizzy — I couldn’t look away. I killed Edward Price.


INTRODUCTION

1907


ILLUSTRATION NOT AVAILABLE IN THIS FORMAT. Broadside printed by Peterborough Pressworks, 8 June 1907; transcription follows.

The Full Particulars of a Fearless Nursemaid
Foiling a Sinister plot to Kidnap; and
Stabbing the Vile Intruder through the Heart with his own Knife!

Aged Maggie Randall, loyal and devoted nurse to the Portwoods of Old Vine in Ailesworth for two generations, known to them fondly as Eggie, was last night ripped from her sleep at Old Vine by the childish midnight protests of one of her young charges. In her night clothes and barefooted, taking not even the time to drape a shawl about her shoulders, Maggie galloped from her bed and into the nursery only to burst upon the most fiendish of scenes: a strange man clad in black with a most devilish appearance attempting to smother the cries of the smallest of the children with a gloved hand. Upon sighting the nurse in the moonlight, he hastily cast aside the quaking youngster, and charged upon her, eyes reddened with dastardly intent; he drew from his belt a flashing hunting knife! The noble nurse, having no children of her own and for so many long years having invested her maternal instinct in the loving care of the Portwood offspring, when upon finding them endangered, was unable to repress the wave of fealty that overtook her. She found herself emboldened with the strength of ten men, and without fear charged back upon the intruder. The unfairly matched foes clashed together, a silent wrestle ensued. Miraculously and against all odds, the enfeebled woman wrested the blade from the villain’s malicious grip! Fate then directed the tip of the blade to its true mark: the cold, dishonourable heart of the would-be kidnapper; he gasped his last oath ‘I am dead and at the hand of a d--- woman!’ and fell backward stone dead upon the floor, a river of blood flowing bright from his mouth and chest and forming a shining pool upon the nursery floor. Exhausted from her righteous effort, and crimson with the dead man’s blood, Maggie Randall roused the household. The police were summoned straightway.

The foul corpse of the aggressor is even now with the coroner, soon to be identified and autopsied. Nothing much is known at present, but it was observed by many that, though draped, the body was that of a man, tall and broad, and spotted with red in several places. It is speculated by many that he is of the Romany company seen often of late hereabouts and so prone to profiteering in illicit and despicable manners. It is well known in the region that wealthy heiress, Lady Minnie Ingram of the Surrey Ingrams, daughter-in-law to the Portwoods and recently arrived back from Hong Kong with a tiny addition in tow, tarried with her married family, but the dead man’s dreams of a fortune made from ransom came to naught, thanks to an unlikely heroine. An inquest is to be held on the Tenth of June starting at 8 o’clock at the Magistrate’s Court and will be open to the public.


‘Nurse Eggy’

Popularized circa 1907, Author Unknown

Sung to the tune of ‘Glory, Hallelujah.’

Here is Eggy Randall,

Sweet defender of th’child.

She looks well a feeble granny

But in truth be not so mild.

O take heed ye nasty villains,

For yer heads’ll soon be biled.

Nurse Eggy’ll do you in!

When a baddy stormed th’nursery

She came thund’rin’ thr’u’ the door,

Seized th’baby from ’is clutches,

Took ’is knife up from th’floor,

Plung’d it quick into ’is pumper,

Knock’d ’im stiff down in ’is gore.

Ol’ Eggy done him in!

Now ye mothers an’ ye fathers

Listen well to what I say

Get yer kids a nurse like Eggy

An’ ye’ll well be on yer way.

Love ‘er true an’ treat ’er rightly

Give ’er more than honest pay

Or Eggy’ll do you in!


ILLUSTRATION NOT AVAILABLE IN THIS FORMAT. Coroner’s Inquest of Edward Price; transcription follows

An Inquisition, Indented, taken for our Sovereign Lord the King, at the Coroner’s Court, Town Hall, Bridge Street, Town of Peterborough, in the county of Northamptonshire on the tenth day of June, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and seven, before Wm Kendall Jasper, Coroner of our said Lord the King, for the said Town on view of the body of Edward Price (positively identified as such by wife, Chrysanthemum Price), a male person, aged thirty-seven, and a Solicitor now here lying dead, upon the oaths of the said undersigned Jurors, good and lawful men of the said Town, duly chosen, sworn, and charged to inquire, for our said Lord the King, when, where, and in what manner the said Edward Price came to his death, say upon their oaths that on the seventh day of June in the year aforesaid, at Old Vine, house & property of Charles & Laurentia Portwood, Village of Ailesworth in the said County, the said Edward Price was stabbed thrice with a knife, twice superficially (in the right kidney and right thigh), and once mortally (in the heart) by Margaret Randall (Called ‘Eggy’ by family), aged sixty-two, a domestic under the employ of Harry & Mariah Portwood and they are of the opinion that she, having acted in Self Defence, pursuant to the directions of ‘Amendment C, Article 2, 1756,’ must be released from the custody of the magistrate.

In testimony whereof, the said Coroner and Jurors have hereunto set their hands and seals, the day, year, and place above written.

Wm Kendall Jasper Coroner

Sir Neville Montesquieu

Randall Robeson

O Glossip

Harold Blair

Ian MacMillan

Manfred Thatcher

Lord Winston Holtby

HB Smith

Lawrence Mansfield Porter

Somerset de la Mare

Burton Holly

Baronet Leonides Brimsley-Jones


Law Office of Pryor, Simmons, and Finley

112 Queen’s Gate Northampton, Northants

Dear Mrs Price, 12 June 1907

On behalf of myself and our entire office of law, I offer our deepest condolences on the tragic accident that has befallen yourself and your family, tearing your good husband from this life under as shocking and unjust of circumstances as can be conceived of. It cannot be comprehended; we can only trust in the mysterious workings of the Lord and seize the opportunity, as is our only wont, to remember that we are each and all in His hands. We here shall feel your late husband’s loss most keenly. His contributions to our success were great indeed; his considerable knowledge of the law and deft fluency therein rewarded him the implicit trust of colleagues and clients alike, yet far more significantly, we each considered him a personal friend, a comrade, a brother traversing the road of life shoulder to shoulder.

I cannot convey without deep emotion the full measure of my personal anguish as I myself intended to make the call to your uncle Mr Charles Portwood’s home, but your late husband insisted on going himself, happy as ever for the opportunity to visit his wife’s family, and little realizing the fate awaiting him. All over a piece of legal minutiae wholly unworthy of the cost of its delivery! Would that I had gone in his stead for I am an old bachelor and should I be removed from this sphere, there would be none to mourn me. Your late husband leaves not only a precious and much beloved wife and daughter, but parents, sisters, a thriving professional career, and many, many friends. But I will trouble you no more with such vain and wistful speeches. What is done is done. God forgive the magistrate for allowing that lunatic to walk free.

We sincerely wish that it was within our power to shield you from the storm of morbidity that surrounds such events. The public makes such an obscene fuss over and circulate the most vile of rumours; it is the last thing to be desired when such is our genuine grief. I have heard sightseers have destroyed the gardens of Old Vine with their constant trampings by. We have had crowds even here at the law office congesting the street to see ‘that dead fellow Price’s place of work.’ We were forced to dismiss one of our young clerks for taking admission to show Mr Price’s private office to a stream of eager patrons. We have locked and barred the room for the time being and have posted signs about the premises to the effect that loiterers will be punished by law and fined. Hopefully this will resolve the matter. Please write to me or call if you have any trouble of this kind at Ashton Place. I have great influence with the local police force and will do what I can for you.

Lastly, I write to assure you that Mr Price kept his personal estate in immaculate keep and your annuity of four hundred pounds per anum is guaranteed, installments of which will be available to you at a rate of one hundred pounds per quarter, beginning immediately. It is no compensation for the loss of your husband and life’s companion, but it is one thing at least you need not worry over. We pray the Lord’s spirit will be with you at this time and always.

Our fondest and deepest sympathies,

William Pryor, esq.

ILLUSTRATION NOT AVAILABLE IN THIS FORMAT. Billet from the stage production of A Murder at Old Vine! which ran at The Queen’s Key Theatre in Peterborough from August 1907 to May 1908.


From Miss Olive Law

Templeton Lodge

To Miss Clara Barnes Stilton

7 Page Street

Market Deeping

Dearest Clara, 25 August 1907

I went Friday evening to see our play! The minute I arrived with Gid we was surrounded by folks carrying on like I was queen! We was ushered straight to the top box by an usher done up like a ham bone. Never felt so fine. Gid said I looked like Daisy Dormer. I had my rat worn like hers but had a time of it getting it covered for Dora borrowed it me and her hairs near black. She borrowed me some shoes too and they were an inch too big so we stuffed cotton at the toe. The production was ever so exciting! I could hardly be still and near squeezed Gid’s fingers off.

Thomasina Phillips is the name of the girl what played me. She was shorter than me and nothing to look at close on, but looked pretty enough from the box I suppose. Gid said she was nothing to me. She had four speeches delivered very well and screamed fit to shatter a snifter when she come upon the body in the nursery! Of course I never saw the body in real life, not until the funeral procession same as everybody and their aunt, but Mr Victor said it was more exciting that way. He said not to worry myself about little details done different for he knows theatre and put everything just so for the stage. They changed nearly everybodys name. Mrs Portwood they called Lucille instead of Laurentia and Mr Portwood was called Charleston and Miss Ellen became Miss Nell and I can’t remember the rest. They didn’t change Lady Minnie’s name. Mrs Price was played by that Julia Hayword what played Catherine Bell in Deadwood. She wore white and had her long yellow hair down and looked ever so lovely. The whole theatre were in tears when she throwed herself down upon the body of her husband and wept most sorrowful. She took her final bow with her white frock covered in his blood and looked most dramatic. Little Ben told me they get the blood from Hess’s Butchery down the way. I don’t know how they get that frock to come white every time. They must have a girl scrubbing through the night. The thought alone makes my tummy turn. If I ever am made to scrub up another drop of blood in my life I’m sure that’ll be the end of me.

They didn’t do the children right at all! Only had little Morgan and little Beatrice and did away with Baby and the Price’s Jane altogether. They were called ‘The Children’ and didn’t have no names at all, only Lady Minnie’s girl who they called Gwendolyn instead of Inez and said she was five which ain’t near right for she’s only a tot! They were acted by dwarfs I think for they didn’t look like no natural children I ever saw.

The most thrilling bit was the murder scene when crazy old Eggy sneaks into the nursery to steal away little Gwendolyn because shes been sacked and always wanted a child to love of her own and not all the time loving other peopleses and whats more seeking her vengeance on the family for sending her packing. She laughed a horrid loud laugh that filled the whole theatre and chilled my blood through and brought Mr Price rushing to the nursery to save the day so he thinks. I forgot to tell that Mr Victor made it so as Lady Minnie and Mr Price were engaged to be married before the plays opening but when Mr Price first saw Mrs Price he fell full in love with her and threw over Lady Minnie for her even though Mrs Price had no title nor very great fortune. When the play begins Lady Minnie is still in love with him and he still cares for her and feels right sorry for breaking her heart and he won’t stand by when he sees her child being nabbed because of valour and wanting to make it up to her. The stage was in near darkness but for some blue light shining like moonlight but then at the very moment Eggy knifes him the lights turned blood red and the violins in the pit were racing like anything! It was so very haunting I’ll be sure to be having nightmares of it for years to come! None of that happened in real life of course. Maybe old Eggy was barmy and maybe she weren’t, but I know what I know about what really happened. It was Mr Harry Portwood what killed Mr Price. Mr Victor said he thought me dead right no matter what the police had to say about it, but said it made for better theatre this way and I liked it very well anyway. He told me the play wouldn’t never have come to be without my advisory and I was thanked especially in the billet as a valued contributor! It was very exciting to see my name in print. Gid said he never saw his and I told him we ought to be married so as to see our two names side by side in the paper!

Mr Price was played by Mr Trevor Lavender. He was ever so handsome and looked the picture of the real Mr Price even up close, I know for I was introduced to all the players afterward. Thought I was seeing his ghost, honest I did, and it made me sad to think of the real Mr Price dead in his grave. He was so particularly fond of me and tipped me sixpence for buffing up his shoes the very day before he died. There now I’ve gone to crying again. Those horrid Portwoods! They’ve all got his blood on their hands so far as I’m concerned each one of them! No one will convince me different! Deranged murderers one and all. I never felt safe working at Old Vine. Never! I

Any how I’m far better off without Portwoods. Mrs Templeton pays me once and fourth what I made at Old Vine and without no reference from Mrs P. neither. Mrs T. is right proud to have me as it gives her a shine among her fancy friends on account of my history. I’m famous! Miss Olive Law as mentioned of late in the papers and portrayed on the stage! I’m going to Murder at Old Vine again next Saturday. You must try and get a half day so that you may join me though I shan’t have free tickets this time. Tell Mrs Larson that I invited you in particular. I’ll pay half your train fair if you can come! Write me soon!

Your devoted friend,

Olive


ILLUSTRATION NOT AVAILABLE IN THIS FORMAT. Purchased at auction from Twitchell’s Macabre Memorabilia & Antiquities for £16, ‘Lot 42: A Fragment of the Nightgown Worn by Margaret Randall, Killer of Edward Price, and Stained with his Blood’


Mrs Roger Price

Inglenook

Colchester

Mrs John Notley

Rose Hill

Reading

My darling sister, 3 September 1907

You are so good to come to us. I’m sure you will be a great comfort to me. Roger says take the 4.20 not the 3.18 as that one has a change and you know he is always right about these things. I was moved he could think of your travels so consumed with grief as he is. I’ve never had a head for details like Roger does, even before all this. I am trying not to worry myself over nothing but he is spending all day in his study writing letters to newspapers and to magistrates and anyone else he can think of. We are most displeased with the outcome of the inquest, and that woman not even locked away. He wants justice for our poor Edward, and so do I, but what if Roger works himself into his grave? He is not eating or sleeping. His habit is so much worse than ever it has been. Last week, I dared bring him a cup of tea but he threw it at my head. I picked up the broken pieces but couldn’t see for crying and cut my thumb. I remembered the faerie shrine the girls made of my broken crockery in the wood. Little Edward took my hand and led me to it and we danced in a circle and called the faerie blessing down upon us. We didn’t know how happy we were.

We shall never be happy again. I feel nothing but the fresh sharp cut of his loss. The knife that took my son plunged into my heart that day and it stopped like a clock with its weights removed. Often, I sob until I frighten myself and everything begins to recede smaller and smaller until the light is a pinpoint, then is snuffed out completely, and all is darkness. When I return to myself sometimes full hours have passed. Fortunately, no one seems to have noticed my spells. I would hate to be a bother.

Most days I spend my time rolling out pie crust and kneading dough until my arms are stiff and aching. The work and the smells soothe me. I’ve filled up the larder with all of Edward’s favourites, but I know Cook is stealing from me. I’ve kept count for all she thinks I’m a flighty mistress. Then she had the nerve to slice up his spiced citron birthday cake and pass out great wedges into the grubby hands of labourers as they passed the kitchen window. I had to turn her out. I can’t have dishonesty and greed in my house. There’s nothing so comforting as a kitchen full of good things to eat. Better a little mould than a bare shelf. And the stuff’s not going off, I ought to know. However, I must take on another cat, for Booties has grown lazy. We’ve never had so many little visitors.

When Edward was just a tiny fellow I was forever finding bits of food he had snuck from his supper and hidden about the house. Nanny was very harsh with him over it and he would run to me weeping. Those big shiny tears clinging to his eyelashes as though even they could not bear to part with such beautiful blue eyes, they always had the power to melt my heart. His inclination to hide treasures -- his or his sisters’ -- was one that stayed with him. He was always such a little man, full of tricks and knowing looks. He loved jokes and fun. Once he hid one from every pair of my shoes and would not say a word to me about it. We searched the house top to bottom before we found them under his bed. Oh how he laughed and laughed.

Well, do as Roger says about the train. We will send Martin to meet you. Do remember the camphor I gave you to ward off the germs that are everywhere these days. I’m sure there was never such a thing when I was a girl, but the world is a frightening place now, not like when we were children. I do worry for my little granddaughter, my fatherless namesake. We have not seen little Jane nor Chrysanthemum since the funeral. They are staying with her parents in Bury St. Edmunds and I do not like to disrupt the visit. Roger does not approve of Chrissy’s father the Revd Batten-Cheswick because he is Mrs Portwood’s step brother. He is right not to trust Chrissy’s family. They murdered my son. I can’t understand why or what sort of demons would conspire to slaughter an innocent man, but I know with every bone in my body that they did. Roger knows it to. And that woman, that so called Eggy, is taking the blame of it for them. That is what Roger says. He says Chrissy is no longer welcome in our home as a member of the family, but only as our granddaughter’s stewardess.

Sister, if Edward is with the fairies maybe he is watching over me. I’m sure I saw his reflection in the hall mirror. I turned quick as anything to catch him, but he is too fast. Still, every time I climb the stairs I turn and have a look. One day, I’ll see him there and he’ll not vanish and I’ll know he’s come to take me with him. Until that day I’ll not know happiness.

Your loving sister,

Jane Price

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