Short Story – Farmer’s Almanac Gordon
This week’s short story is a weird one.
A few weeks ago, I wrote this story to be presented as part of a show called The Encyclopedia show. Performers are asked to come up with a presentation on a specific topic and it is always interesting to see the variety of work the topics inspire.
The topic for this show was Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts. I assumed (correctly), that most everyone was going to talk about the Girl Scouts in some way shape or form. So I opted out of that concept.
Instead, I decided to write about her youth, when she was known simply as Juliette Gordon. Further, I decided to write about her youth in post Civil War Georgia as if she was the protagonist in an Encyclopedia Brown story. I can’t ever be certain if anyone in the audience completely understood what I was going for that evening.
Anyway, here is a story about a little girl in post Civil War Georgia who helps her father solve crimes. Or rather…well, you’ll see.
Young Juliette Gordon anxiously waited for her father, chief of the Savannah police department, to finish his dinner. She could tell there was a case giving him some trouble and he never talked about work before dessert.
“Finish your dinner, Juliette,” her mother reminded her “there’s no dessert until you’ve eaten all your vegetables.” Juliette quickly devoured the last of her green beans.
Nobody except Juliette’s parents ever called her by her given name. All of her friends called her Farmer’s Almanac because she knew a little bit about almost everything.
Her father finished his last bite and slowly wiped his mouth with a napkin. He seemed to be drawing out every action on purpose and Farmer’s Almanac was getting impatient.
“Late yesterday evening,” he finally began, “Mister Charles Abney was found murdered in his sitting room. He’d been stabbed numerous times in the chest and neck. The stab wounds were deep, suggesting the attacker was quite strong. His wife, Abigail, returned from the theater at 9:00 PM to discover her husband’s body. There were no defensive wounds on the body, suggesting that Mister Abney knew his attacker. The murder weapon, a knife from the kitchen, was on the floor at the victim’s feet.”
As her father told his story, Juliette sat back in her chair, pressed her fingers together and closed her eyes. She always closed her eyes when she was thinking and this case, she expected, was going to require some serious thinking.
Her father continued, “the coroner determined the time of death to be around 8:00 PM. At that time, there were three people in the house. The first was his daughter, Bernice. The second was Bernice’s suitor, Mister Francis Barclay. The third was their manservant, a negro and former slave named Clay. His other two servants had the night off.
“Clay said he served a bourbon and two thin mints to Mister Abney at approximately 7:30 PM and then retired for the evening. That bourbon was on the table next to the body, untouched. Both mints had been eaten. Approximately five minutes after Clay left the room, Francis entered to ask for the hand of Bernice in marriage. Mister Abney refused and an argument broke out. Hearing the argument, Bernice entered the room and begged her father to reconsider.
“At 7:50, Mister Abney relented and agreed to allow the marriage. The two then left him to read the paper, which he was still holding when he died.
“From that time until Mrs. Abney returned at 9:00, no-one is known to have entered or left the room in which the body was found. Obviously, however, someone must have gone into the room to murder Mister Abney. The question, of course, is who?”
For several minutes, Farmer’s Almanac sat quietly, thinking about her father’s problem. Then she opened her eyes and her parents smiled. When she opened her eyes, it meant she had solved the crime. She always asked one question because that was all she needed to be sure of the answer.
“Tell me, father, was the newspaper still intact?”
“Then I believe you should arrest Francis for murder and Bernice as an accessory,” Farmer’s Almanac declared triumphantly.
“How can you be so sure?” asked her mother.
To find out why Farmer’s Almanac Gordon was so sure, turn to page 72.
Page 72: The Solution to the Case of the Perfect Paper
Farmer’s Almanac explained the solution to her father.
“Why it is clear mother that Mister Abney refused to agree to let his daughter marry Francis and they conspired to kill him as a result. After the initial confrontation with Mister Abney, they took the knife from the kitchen cutlery and returned to kill Mister Abney. Once they had killed him, they planted the newspaper on his body. If he had been reading the paper when they attacked him, they would have stabbed right through the paper especially since you say he didn’t have any defensive wounds. Because they were the last people to see him alive, only they would have been able to make the claim about the fact they saw him reading the paper, although we know he was not doing so when he was killed. That lie is what proves they are guilty of murder.”
Her mother beamed. “Why my little Juliette, what a clever girl you are!”
Her father sat for several moments considering the solution Farmer’s Almanac had presented. Finally, he chuckled and playfully tousled his daughter’s hair..
“I do declare, Juliette, there is nothing more adorable than a young woman believin’ she can do a man’s job!
“What you fail to recognize is the fact the attacker was clearly a strong male and there was only one black man in the house. As soon as I saw the crime scene, I knew that Clay must be guilty of the murder. He stabbed his former master numerous times, and then removed his bloody clothes and hid them in Bernice’s room. I neglected to mention the clothes earlier because I assumed you would be able to solve the crime without that important piece of evidence.”
“Oh my,” Juliette’s mother exclaimed, “were they the negro’s clothes?”
“Not at all! They were Francis’ clothes. Obviously Clay was clever enough to wear another man’s clothes so as to implicate someone else in the crime. It was all too transparent a ploy! I didn’t notice the bit about the newspaper, though. Well done, Juliette!”
“But poppa…” Juliette began to protest.
“Now now, no more out of you baby. I do so love hearing your theories but you are getting old enough that it is time for you to understand women have no business solving’ crimes. Now you run into the kitchen with your mama to bake me some cookies. I’ll be out in the living room smoking a pipe and reading the paper.”
In the kitchen, Juliette complained to her mother.
“I just don’t understand why poppa won’t listen to me. There’s no way that black man is the killer.”
“Don’t you worry, honey,” her mother reassured her, “no doubt he’s guilty of something even if it wasn’t killing Mister Abney.”
“I do believe If I was a boy, you would both be listening to me.”
“That might be true, darling. Don’t you worry, though, this is America. Someday, we women might even have the right to vote!”
“That would be exciting, mama! Maybe a woman could even be President.”
From the living room, their father laughed.
“Oh my daughter, you are so funny! A woman running for President? Why I can’t even imagine what kind of horrible man people would elect rather than voting for a woman! Now you go back to baking your cookies!”