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From: StoneOx17@aol.com
Date: Wed, 22 May 2002 05:42:50 EDT
Subject: (urth) Peace: Who killed Mr. Tilly?


Did Mrs. Tilly's ghost really poison Mr. TIlly? I haven't seen this question 
discussed in the mailing list, so I'm assuming that most people think the 
ghost did it.  I think it must be somebody else.  I'm not quite sure who, so 
I'm going to list all the suspects I can come up with, and give my thoughts.  
Maybe someone can find more clues and unambiguously identify the real 

Why do I suspect it wasn't the ghost?  What made me suspicious in the first 
place is that in two places, Wolfe has people suspect that it wasn't.
Julius Smart says to Mr. Tilly "Then I told him that when he'd said the ghost 
was putting that stuff in his food I hadn't believed him; I'd heard of them 
playing the piano and unlocking doors and all that--even pulling the covers 
off beds--but never of putting something in someone's food before."
Later, Blaine says to Weer, who's seeing him about Gold's book, "Anyway, I 
never believed in the ghost.  I think that woman was alive ..." and proceeds 
to give an explanation of how somebody trying to peek out unobserved could 
make a window curtain move and have it look like a ghost.

Of course, Blaine is wrong about half the things he says.  But I think Wolfe 
is giving us hints here, and that Julius is right about ghosts not being able 
to poison people.  The one ghost we know best from this book, Weer, certainly 
couldn't.  So here's my list of suspects.  

1. Mrs. Tilly's ghost.
Pro: this is the most straightforward interpretation.  She has a good motive: 
Con: Mrs. Tilly's ghost would have to be a lot more together than Weer's 
ghost for this.  And it seems unlikely that a ghost could poison people if 
it's correct that ghosts are souls in Purgatory waiting for admission to 
Heaven when (or if) they accept Jesus and repent of their sins.  Since I like 
this interpretation, I don't want to believe that it was Mrs. Tilly's ghost, 
even if she was haunting the house.

2. Mrs. Tilly, still alive.
Pro: this is what Blaine believes.  If Mr. Tilly killed their son by 
experimenting on him, she has a motive.
Con: Blaine is wrong half the time.  Furthermore, either Mrs. Tilly would 
have to somehow have survived her immersion in a methanol-filled coffin, or 
(as Blaine has it) there's a methanol-filled coffin lying around for no 
apparent reason which she accidentally tumbles into after Mr. Tilly dies.  I 
don't think there's any chance that this is correct.

3. Mr. Tilly himself, in a Jekyll-and-Hyde act.
Pro: this is indeed a Wolfean thing to happen.
Con: I don't see any clues that this is happening.  Of course, Wolfe's clues 
are notoriously hard to find.

4. One of Mr. Tilly's clients, or somebody else, from a carnival.
Pro: He (she) could have had access to the drug that killed Mr. Tilly, by 
stealing it from Mr. Litho or another client.  He (she) could easily have a 
Con: The drug was administrated over a period of years.  A stranger, 
especially one of Mr. Tilly's carnie clients, would be fairly conspicuous 
hanging around a small town.

5. Mrs. Tilly's relatives.  There are three of them around--two aunts and an 
Pro:  Their motive would be revenge for Mrs. Tilly's death.  If they had 
keys, it's plausible that one of them could hide in the locked bedroom 
containing Mrs. Tilly's coffin, and sneak out at night to put the drug in Mr. 
Tilly's food.  Hearing her (I'm assuming it's an aunt, since Mr. Tilly says 
her footsteps sound like his wife's) Mr. Tilly and Julius think she's Mrs. 
Tilly's ghost.  After Mr. Tilly dies, the key to the locked bedroom is 
missing; if one of Mrs. Tilly's relatives stole it, this explains why it's 
gone.  Also, Mrs. Tilly's relatives take a number of valuables out of the 
house, but don't even ask to look in the locked bedroom containing Mrs. 
Tilly's coffin.  One explanation might be that they already know what's in 
there.  They also let Julius continue running the pharmacy at a very generous 
wage, and let him live rent-free in the house.  Maybe they're trying to bribe 
him just in case he suspects something.
Con: They could be letting him live rent-free because the house has a 
reputation for being haunted, and there's nobody else who'd rent it.  And 
they could have continued letting him work at the pharmacy for the generous 
wages that Mr. Tilly gave him because they don't want the town's only 
pharmacy closed, and they're either too nice to reduce his wages, or don't 
realize how generous they're being.  Also, you'd think it'd be a lot safer to 
sneak into Mr. Tilly's house in daytime when he was at the drugstore, and if 
for some reason the aunt was surprised by Mr. Tilly coming home unexpectedly, 
you'd think she'd hide in the locked bedroom until she could leave the house, 
and not pace up and down the hall like a ghost.  Finally, I've been thinking 
about Blaine's explanation about how somebody could look out a window and not 
be seen by hiding under the window, twitching the curtain, and looking in a 
mirror on the opposite wall.  It'd certainly work on the first floor (where 
Blaine presumably would have used it) but I'm not sure it'd work on the 
second, which is where Julius saw the window curtains twitch.  

6. Julius Smart.
This is the most interesting one.
Pro: He has a motive: money.  Charlie Turner (the dog-boy) shows up to visit 
when Weer was president.  We can assume that he is trying to visit Julius, 
and hadn't heard about his death.  If he was visiting because he needed more 
of the hair medicine, then it would seem that Julius took over Mr. Tilly's 
carnie business.  In this case, you don't need to assume that Mr. Tilly's 
wages were excessively generous to explain how Julius got enough money to buy 
Bledsoe's drugstore--Julius could be lying so as to have an acceptable 
explanation for his money.  And if he killed Mr. Tilly, then he's lying about 
a lot more than that.  In this scenario, how much of Julius's story can we 
trust?  From Charlie Turner's visit, we have independent evidence of Mr. 
Tilly's hair medicine, which I think means we can trust the account of 
Julius's visit to the carnival and of Janet Turner's visit to the drugstore.  
And even if Julius poisoned him, I'd tend to believe that Mr. Tilly was 
petrified by his own medicine.  But I don't know how much of the rest of the 
story to believe in this case.
Was there a ghost?  A locked room?  A methanol-filled zinc coffin?

If Julius did poison Mr. Tilly, you'd expect there to be clues.  I'd expect 
Wolfe to have hidden several inconsistencies in Julius's account, so a reader 
discovering them could deduce that Julius was lying.  And, of course, upon 
looking for them, I picked up a couple of things that look like 
inconsistencies.  It's hard to tell whether they're Julius Smart's mistakes, 
or Gene Wolfe's mistakes, or even whether they're mistakes at all.  Here they 

a) The season.  When Julius Smart goes grocery shopping, he picks up oranges, 
which must be in season since he says they were locally grown and cheap.  My 
grandparents lived in Florida, and had an orange (and lemon) tree in the 
backyard; these gave fruit in the winter.  Looking on the web, I found a page 
saying that domestic oranges were in season (depending on the variety) mainly 
from October through April, and Weer got oranges for Christmas as a special 
treat when he was a kid. The season may be even shorter if you restrict 
yourself to the gulf coast.  However, on the day Julius buys the oranges, 
it's still 90 degrees after midnight, which one would expect only happens 
closer to summer.  If Julius poisoned Mr. Tilly over a course of several 
months or a year, and his story was put together from several incidents over 
this course of time, one might expect this type of inconsistency.  

b) Mr. Tilly is very careful about not putting salt and pepper on his food, 
and on one of the mornings he has only coffee, apparently because he's scared 
to eat anything else.  But you'd think it would be just as easy to put the 
poison in coffee, and that he'd realize this (although if he's as much of a 
caffeine addict as I am, he might drink it anyway).

Con: It's rather disturbing to have doubt cast on the truth of the story of 
Mrs. Tilly's ghost, and Julius's discovery of her body in the coffin.  Also, 
unless I'm missing some, the clues about the inconsistency of Julius's story 
are pretty thin.  

A few final comments.  If Mrs. Tilly's ghost didn't poison Mr. Tilly, this 
gives a nice symmetry to the book, with five mysterious deaths or 
disappearances, one for each of the five sections: Bobby Black, Aunt Vi, Mr. 
Tilly, the librarian, and the coldhouse kid.  Of course, the case could be 
made that this count is somewhat arbitrary, since we're leaving out Doris 
Mason's and Sherry Gold's deaths ... .  I would counter that the most 
mysterious thing about Doris's death is why she is in the book in the first 
place, and that Sherry's death occured long after Weer's.  Secondly, if 
Julius did poison Mr. Tilly, this helps explain Weer's comment that Julius 
Smart is really the central character of this book.

Finally, I just reread Seven American Nights (many thanks to Robert Borski 
for his brilliant deciphering of it).  The never-staling bread in that story, 
and the imitation frozen orange juice factory in Peace, make me wonder what 
Wolfe's feelings towards his former profession really are.  

Many thanks,

Peter (Stone Ox)


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