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Title: Unnatural death
Author: Sayers, Dorothy L. (Dorothy Leigh)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Unnatural death" ***

                            Unnatural Death

                           DOROTHY L. SAYERS

                   Harper & Row, Publishers, New York
          Grand Rapids, Philadelphia, St. Louis, San Francisco
               London, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo, Toronto

A hardcover edition of this book was published in 1927 by Harper & Row,
Publishers, Inc. It was published in England under the title _The Dawson
Pedigree_. It is here reprinted by arrangement with the Estate of
Anthony Fleming.

UNNATURAL DEATH. Copyright 1927 by Dorothy Leigh Sayers Fleming.
Copyright renewed 1955 by Dorothy Leigh Sayers Fleming. All rights
reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book
may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written
permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical
articles and reviews. For information address Watkins/Loomis Agency,
Inc., 150 East 35th Street, New York, N.Y. 10016.

First PERENNIAL LIBRARY edition published 1987.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Sayers, Dorothy L. (Dorothy Leigh), 1893-1957.
    Unnatural death.

    Previously published as: The Dawson pedigree.
    I. Title.

  PR6037.A95D39 1987    823′.912    86-45693
  ISBN 0-06-055032-5    87 88 89 90 HC 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
  ISBN 0-06-080840-3 (pbk.)    90 OPM 9 8 7 6 5

  WIMSEY, Peter Death Bredon, D.S.O.; _born_ 1890, _2nd son_ of Mortimer
  Gerald Bredon Wimsey, 15th Duke of Denver, and of Honoria Lucasta,
  _daughter of_ Francis Delagardie of Bellingham Manor, Hants. _Married_
  1935, Harriet Deborah Vane, _daughter of_ Henry Vane, M.D.; one _son_
  (Bredon Delagardie Peter) _born_ 1936.

  _Educated_: Eton College and Balliol College, (1st class honours),
  Sch. of Mod. Hist. 1912; served with H.M. Forces 1914/18 (Major, Rifle
  Brigade). _Author of_: “Notes on the Collecting of Incunabula,” “The
  Murderer’s Vade-Medum,” etc. Recreations: Criminology; bibliophily;
  music; cricket.

  _Clubs_: Marlborough; Egotists’; Bellona. _Residences_: 110A,
  Piccadilly, W.; Bredon Hall, Duke’s Denver, Norfolk.

  _Arms_: Sable, 3 mice courant, argent; crest, a domestic cat crouched
  as to spring, proper; motto: As my Whimsy takes me.

[Illustration: AS MY WHIMSY TAKES ME]

                           BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

                            Communicated by
                         Paul Austin Delagardie

I am asked by Miss Sayers to fill up certain lacunae and correct a few
trifling errors of fact in her account of my nephew Peter’s career. I
shall do so with pleasure. To appear publicly in print is every man’s
ambition, and by acting as a kind of running footman to my nephew’s
triumph I shall only be showing a modesty suitable to my advanced age.

The Wimsey family is an ancient one—too ancient, if you ask me. The only
sensible thing Peter’s father ever did was to ally his exhausted stock
with the vigorous French-English strain of the Delagardies. Even so, my
nephew Gerald (the present Duke of Denver) is nothing but a beef-witted
English squire, and my niece Mary was flighty and foolish enough till
she married a policeman and settled down. Peter, I am glad to say, takes
after his mother and me. True, he is all nerves and nose—but that is
better than being all brawn and no brains like his father and brother,
or a bundle of emotions like Gerald’s boy, Saint-George. He has at least
inherited the Delagardie brains, by way of safeguard to the unfortunate
Wimsey temperament.

Peter was born in 1890. His mother was being very much worried at the
time by her husband’s behaviour (Denver was always tiresome, though the
big scandal did not break out till the Jubilee year), and her anxieties
may have affected the boy. He was a colorless shrimp of a child, very
restless and mischievous, and always much too sharp for his age. He had
nothing of Gerald’s robust beauty, but he developed what I can best call
a kind of bodily cleverness, more skill than strength. He had a quick
eye for a ball and beautiful hands for a horse. He had the devil’s own
pluck, too: the intelligent sort of pluck that sees the risk before it
takes it. He suffered badly from nightmares as a child. To his father’s
consternation he grew up with a passion for books and music.

His early school-days were not happy. He was a fastidious child, and I
suppose it was natural that his school-fellows should call him “Flimsy”
and treat him as a kind of comic turn. And he might, in sheer
self-protection, have accepted the position and degenerated into a mere
licensed buffoon, if some games-master at Eton had not discovered that
he was a brilliant natural cricketer. After that, of course, all his
eccentricities were accepted as wit, and Gerald underwent the salutary
shock of seeing his despised younger brother become a bigger personality
than himself. By the time he reached the Sixth Form, Peter had contrived
to become the fashion—athlete, scholar, _arbiter elegantiarum—nec
pluribus impar_. Cricket had a great deal to do with it—plenty of Eton
men will remember the “Great Flim” and his performance against
Harrow—but I take credit to myself for introducing him to a good tailor,
showing him the way about Town, and teaching him to distinguish good
wine from bad. Denver bothered little about him—he had too many
entanglements of his own and in addition was taken up with Gerald, who
by this time was making a prize fool of himself at Oxford. As a matter
of fact Peter never got on with his father, he was a ruthless young
critic of the paternal misdemeanours, and his sympathy for his mother
had a destructive effect upon his sense of humour.

Denver, needless to say, was the last person to tolerate his own
failings in his offspring. It cost him a good deal of money to extricate
Gerald from the Oxford affair, and he was willing enough to turn his
other son over to me. Indeed, at the age of seventeen, Peter came to me
of his own accord. He was old for his age and exceedingly reasonable,
and I treated him as a man of the world. I established him in
trustworthy hands in Paris, instructing him to keep his affairs upon a
sound business footing and to see that they terminated with goodwill on
both sides and generosity on his. He fully justified my confidence. I
believe that no woman has ever found cause to complain of Peter’s
treatment; and two at least of them have since married royalty (rather
obscure royalties, I admit, but royalty of a sort). Here again, I insist
upon my due share of the credit; however good the material one has to
work upon it is ridiculous to leave any young man’s social education to

The Peter of this period was really charming, very frank, modest and
well-mannered, with a pretty, lively wit. In 1909 he went up with a
scholarship to read History at Balliol, and here, I must confess, he
became rather intolerable. The world was at his feet, and he began to
give himself airs. He acquired affectations, an exaggerated Oxford
manner and a monocle, and aired his opinions a good deal, both in and
out of the Union, though I will do him the justice to say that he never
attempted to patronise his mother or me. He was in his second year when
Denver broke his neck out hunting and Gerald succeeded to the title.
Gerald showed more sense of responsibility than I had expected in
dealing with the estate; his worst mistake was to marry his cousin
Helen, a scrawny, over-bred prude, all country from head to heel. She
and Peter loathed each other cordially; but he could always take refuge
with his mother at the Dower House.

And then, in his last year at Oxford, Peter fell in love with a child of
seventeen and instantly forgot everything he had ever been taught. He
treated that girl as if she was made of gossamer, and me as a hardened
old monster of depravity who had made him unfit to touch her delicate
purity. I won’t deny that they made an exquisite pair—all white and
gold—a prince and princess of moonlight, people said. Moonshine would
have been nearer the mark. What Peter was to do in twenty years’ time
with a wife who had neither brains nor character nobody but his mother
and myself ever troubled to ask, and he, of course, was completely
besotted. Happily, Barbara’s parents decided that she was too young to
marry; so Peter went in for his final Schools in the temper of a Sir
Eglamore achieving his first dragon; laid his First-Class Honours at his
lady’s feet like the dragon’s head, and settled down to a period of
virtuous probation.

Then came the War. Of course the young idiot was mad to get married
before he went. But his own honourable scruples made him mere wax in
other people’s hands. It was pointed out to him that if he came back
mutilated it would be very unfair to the girl. He hadn’t thought of
that, and rushed off in a frenzy of self-abnegation to release her from
the engagement. I had no hand in that; I was glad enough of the result,
but I couldn’t stomach the means.

He did very well in France; he made a good officer and the men liked
him. And then, if you please, he came back on leave with his captaincy
in ’16, to find the girl married—to a hard-bitten rake of a Major
Somebody, whom she had nursed in the V.A.D. hospital, and whose motto
with women was catch ’em quick and treat ’em rough. It was pretty
brutal; for the girl hadn’t had the nerve to tell Peter beforehand. They
got married in a hurry when they heard he was coming home, and all he
got on landing was a letter, announcing the _fait accompli_ and
reminding him that he had set her free himself.

I will say for Peter that he came straight to me and admitted that he
had been a fool. “All right,” said I, “you’ve had your lesson. Don’t go
and make a fool of yourself in the other direction.” So he went back to
his job with (I am sure) the fixed intention of getting killed; but all
he got was his majority and his D.S.O. for some recklessly good
intelligence work behind the German front. In 1918 he was blown up and
buried in a shell-hole near Caudry, and that left him with a bad nervous
breakdown, lasting, on and off, for two years. After that, he set
himself up in a flat in Piccadilly, with the man Bunter (who had been
his sergeant and was, and is, devoted to him), and started out to put
himself together again.

I don’t mind saying that I was prepared for almost anything. He had lost
all his beautiful frankness, he shut everybody out of his confidence,
including his mother and me, adopted an impenetrable frivolity of manner
and a dilettante pose, and became, in fact, the complete comedian. He
was wealthy and could do as he chose, and it gave me a certain amount of
sardonic entertainment to watch the efforts of post-war feminine London
to capture him. “It can’t,” said one solicitous matron, “be good for
poor Peter to live like a hermit.” “Madam,” said I, “if he did, it
wouldn’t be.” No; from that point of view he gave me no anxiety. But I
could not but think it dangerous that a man of his ability should have
no job to occupy his mind, and I told him so.

In 1921 came the business of the Attenbury Emeralds. That affair has
never been written up, but it made a good deal of noise, even at that
noisiest of periods. The trial of the thief was a series of red-hot
sensations, and the biggest sensation of the bunch was when Lord Peter
Wimsey walked into the witness-box as chief witness for the prosecution.

That was notoriety with a vengeance. Actually, to an experienced
intelligence officer, I don’t suppose the investigation had offered any
great difficulties; but a “noble sleuth” was something new in thrills.
Denver was furious; personally, I didn’t mind what Peter did, provided
he did something. I thought he seemed happier for the work, and I liked
the Scotland Yard man he had picked up during the run of the case.
Charles Parker is a quiet, sensible, well-bred fellow, and has been a
good friend and brother-in-law to Peter. He has the valuable quality of
being fond of people without wanting to turn them inside out.

The only trouble about Peter’s new hobby was that it had to be more than
a hobby, if it was to be any hobby for a gentleman. You cannot get
murderers hanged for your private entertainment. Peter’s intellect
pulled him one way and his nerves another, till I began to be afraid
they would pull him to pieces. At the end of every case we had the old
nightmares and shell-shock over again. And then Denver, of all
people—Denver, the crashing great booby, in the middle of his
fulminations against Peter’s degrading and notorious police activities,
must needs get himself indicted on a murder charge and stand his trial
in the House of Lords, amid a blaze of publicity which made all Peter’s
efforts in that direction look like damp squibs.

Peter pulled his brother out of that mess, and, to my relief, was human
enough to get drunk on the strength of it. He now admits that his
“hobby” is his legitimate work for society, and has developed sufficient
interest in public affairs to undertake small diplomatic jobs from time
to time under the Foreign Office. Of late he has become a little more
ready to show his feelings, and a little less terrified of having any to

His latest eccentricity has been to fall in love with that girl whom he
cleared of the charge of poisoning her lover. She refused to marry him,
as any woman of character would. Gratitude and a humiliating inferiority
complex are no foundation for matrimony; the position was false from the
start. Peter had the sense, this time, to take my advice. “My boy,” said
I, “what was wrong for you twenty years back is right now. It’s not the
innocent young things that need gentle handling—it’s the ones that have
been frightened and hurt. Begin again from the beginning—I warn you that
you will need all the self-discipline you have ever learnt.”

Well, he has tried. I don’t think I have ever seen such patience. The
girl has brains and character and honesty; but he has got to teach her
how to take, which is far more difficult than learning to give. I think
they will find one another, if they can keep their passions from running
ahead of their wills. He does realise, I know, that in this case there
can be no consent but free consent.

Peter is forty-five now, it is really time he was settled. As you will
see, I have been one of the important formative influences in his
career, and on the whole, I feel he does me credit. He is a true
Delagardie, with little of the Wimseys about him except (I must be fair)
that underlying sense of social responsibility which prevents the
English landed gentry from being a total loss, spiritually speaking.
Detective or no detective, he is a scholar and a gentleman; it will
amuse me to see what sort of shot he makes at being a husband and
father. I am getting an old man, and have no son of my own (that I know
of); I should be glad to see Peter happy. But as his mother says, “Peter
has always had everything except the things he really wanted,” and I
suppose he is luckier than most.

                                                  Paul Austin Delagardie

                   [Illustration: Wimsey Family Tree]


                                _PART I_
  _Chapter_                                                       _Page_
  I. Overheard                                                         3
  II. Miching Mallecho                                                11
  III. A Use for Spinsters                                            17
  IV. A Bit Mental                                                    27
  V. Gossip                                                           35
  VI. Found Dead                                                      44
  VII. Ham and Brandy                                                 59
  VIII. Concerning Crime                                              68
  IX. The Will                                                        77

                                  _PART II_
  X. The Will Again                                                   85
  XI. Cross-Roads                                                     99
  XII. A Tale of Two Spinsters                                       114
  XIII. Hallelujah                                                   123
  XIV. Sharp Quillets of the Law                                     130
  XV. Temptation of St. Peter                                        141
  XVI. A Cast-Iron Alibi                                             150
  XVII. The Country Lawyer’s Story                                   156
  XVIII. The London Lawyer’s Story                                   165

                                  _PART III_
  XIX. Gone Away                                                     179
  XX. Murder                                                         193
  XXI. By What Means?                                                201
  XXII. A Case of Conscience                                         213
  XXIII. —and Smote Him, Thus                                        227

                                 Part I
                          THE MEDICAL PROBLEM

  “_But how I caught it, found it, came by it,
  What stuff ’tis made of, whereof it is born,
  I am to learn._”
                                               _Merchant of Venice_

                               CHAPTER I

  “_The death was certainly sudden, unexpected, and to me mysterious._”
       _Letter from Dr. Paterson to the Registrar in the case of Reg. v.

“But if he thought the woman was being murdered—”

“My dear Charles,” said the young man with the monocle, “it doesn’t do
for people, especially doctors, to go about ‘thinking’ things. They may
get into frightful trouble. In Pritchard’s case, I consider Dr. Paterson
did all he reasonably could by refusing a certificate for Mrs. Taylor
and sending that uncommonly disquieting letter to the Registrar. He
couldn’t help the man’s being a fool. If there had only been an inquest
on Mrs. Taylor, Pritchard would probably have been frightened off and
left his wife alone. After all, Paterson hadn’t a spark of real
evidence. And suppose he’d been quite wrong—what a dust-up there’d have

“All the same,” urged the nondescript young man, dubiously extracting a
bubbling-hot Helix Pomatia from its shell, and eyeing it nervously
before putting it in his mouth, “surely it’s a clear case of public duty
to voice one’s suspicions.”

“Of _your_ duty—yes,” said the other. “By the way, it’s not a public
duty to eat snails if you don’t like ’em. No, I thought you didn’t. Why
wrestle with a harsh fate any longer? Waiter, take the gentleman’s
snails away and bring oysters instead. .. .. . No—as I was saying, it
may be part of _your_ duty to have suspicions and invite investigation
and generally raise hell for everybody, and if you’re mistaken nobody
says much, beyond that you’re a smart, painstaking officer though a
little over-zealous. But doctors, poor devils! are everlastingly walking
a kind of social tight-rope. People don’t fancy calling in a man who’s
liable to bring out accusations of murder on the smallest provocation.”

“Excuse me.”

The thin-faced young man sitting alone at the next table had turned
round eagerly.

“It’s frightfully rude of me to break in, but every word you say is
absolutely true, and mine is a case in point. A doctor—you can’t have
any idea how dependent he is on the fancies and prejudices of his
patients. They resent the most elementary precautions. If you dare to
suggest a post-mortem, they’re up in arms at the idea of ‘cutting poor
dear So-and-so up,’ and even if you only ask permission to investigate
an obscure disease in the interests of research, they imagine you’re
hinting at something unpleasant. Of course, if you let things go, and it
turns out afterwards there’s been any jiggery-pokery, the coroner jumps
down your throat and the newspapers make a butt of you, and, whichever
way it is, you wish you’d never been born.”

“You speak with personal feeling,” said the man with the monocle, with
an agreeable air of interest.

“I do,” said the thin-faced man, emphatically. “If I had behaved like a
man of the world instead of a zealous citizen, I shouldn’t be hunting
about for a new job today.”

The man with the monocle glanced round the little Soho restaurant with a
faint smile. The fat man on their right was unctuously entertaining two
ladies of the chorus; beyond him, two elderly habitués were showing
their acquaintance with the fare at the “Au Bon Bourgeois” by consuming
a Tripes à la Mode de Caen (which they do very excellently there) and a
bottle of Chablis Moutonne 1916; on the other side of the room a
provincial and his wife were stupidly clamouring for a cut off the joint
with lemonade for the lady and whisky and soda for the gentleman, while
at the adjoining table, the handsome silver-haired proprietor, absorbed
in fatiguing a salad for a family party, had for the moment no thoughts
beyond the nice adjustment of the chopped herbs and garlic. The head
waiter, presenting for inspection a plate of Blue River Trout, helped
the monocled man and his companion and retired, leaving them in the
privacy which unsophisticated people always seek in genteel tea-shops
and never, never find there.

“I feel,” said the monocled man, “exactly like Prince Florizel of
Bohemia. I am confident that you, sir, have an interesting story to
relate, and shall be greatly obliged if you will favour us with the
recital. I perceive that you have finished your dinner, and it will
therefore perhaps not be disagreeable to you to remove to this table and
entertain us with your story while we eat. Pardon my Stevensonian
manner—my sympathy is none the less sincere on that account.”

“Don’t be an ass, Peter,” said the nondescript man. “My friend is a much
more rational person than you might suppose to hear him talk,” he added,
turning to the stranger, “and if there’s anything you’d like to get off
your chest, you may be perfectly certain it won’t go any farther.”

The other smiled a little grimly.

“I’ll tell you about it with pleasure if it won’t bore you. It just
happens to be a case in point, that’s all.”

“On _my_ side of the argument,” said the man called Peter, with triumph.
“Do carry on. Have something to drink. It’s a poor heart that never
rejoices. And begin right at the beginning, if you will, please. I have
a very trivial mind. Detail delights me. Ramifications enchant me.
Distance no object. No reasonable offer refused. Charles here will say
the same.”

“Well,” said the stranger, “to begin from the very beginning, I am a
medical man, particularly interested in the subject of cancer. I had
hoped, as so many people do, to specialise on the subject, but there
wasn’t money enough, when I’d done my exams., to allow me to settle down
to research work. I had to take a country practice, but I kept in touch
with the important men up here, hoping to be able to come back to it
some day. I may say I have quite decent expectations from an uncle, and
in the meanwhile they agreed it would be quite good for me to get some
all-round experience as a GP. Keeps one from getting narrow and all

“Consequently, when I bought a nice little practice at . . .—I’d better
not mention any names, let’s call it X, down Hampshire way, a little
country town of about 5,000 people—I was greatly pleased to find a
cancer case on my list of patients. The old lady—”

“How long ago was this?” interrupted Peter.

“Three years ago. There wasn’t much to be done with the case. The old
lady was seventy-two, and had already had one operation. She was a game
old girl, though, and was making a good fight of it, with a very tough
constitution to back her up. She was not, I should say, and had never
been, a woman of very powerful intellect or strong character as far as
her dealings with other people went, but she was extremely obstinate in
certain ways and was possessed by a positive determination not to die.
At this time she lived alone with her niece, a young woman of
twenty-five or so. Previously to that, she had been living with another
old lady, the girl’s aunt on the other side of the family, who had been
her devoted friend since their school days. When this other old aunt
died, the girl, who was their only living relative, threw up her job as
a nurse at the Royal Free Hospital to look after the survivor—my
patient—and they had come and settled down at X about a year before I
took over the practice. I hope I am making myself clear.”

“Perfectly. Was there another nurse?”

“Not at that time. The patient was able to get about, visit
acquaintances, do light work about the house, flowers and knitting and
reading and so on, and to drive about the place—in fact, most of the
things that old ladies do occupy their time with. Of course, she had her
bad days of pain from time to time, but the niece’s training was quite
sufficient to enable her to do all that was necessary.”

“What was the niece like?”

“Oh, a very nice, well-educated, capable girl, with a great deal more
brain than her aunt. Self-reliant, cool, all that sort of thing. Quite
the modern type. The sort of woman one can trust to keep her head and
not forget things. Of course, after a time, the wretched growth made its
appearance again, as it always does if it isn’t tackled at the very
beginning, and another operation became necessary. That was when I had
been in X about eight months. I took her up to London, to my own old
chief, Sir Warburton Giles, and it was performed very successfully as
far as the operation itself went, though it was then only too evident
that a vital organ was being encroached upon, and that the end could
only be a matter of time. I needn’t go into details. Everything was done
that could be done. I wanted the old lady to stay in town under Sir
Warburton’s eye, but she was vigorously opposed to this. She was
accustomed to a country life and could not be happy except in her own
home. So she went back to X, and I was able to keep her going with
visits for treatment at the nearest large town, where there is an
excellent hospital. She rallied amazingly after the operation and
eventually was able to dismiss her nurse and go on in the old way under
the care of the niece.”

“One moment, doctor,” put in the man called Charles, “you say you took
her to Sir Warburton Giles and so on. I gather she was pretty well off.”

“Oh, yes, she was quite a wealthy woman.”

“Do you happen to know whether she made a will?”

“No. I think I mentioned her extreme aversion to the idea of death. She
had always refused to make any kind of will because it upset her to
think about such things. I did once venture to speak of the subject in
the most casual way I could, shortly before she underwent her operation,
but the effect was to excite her very undesirably. Also she said, which
was quite true, that it was quite unnecessary. ‘You, my dear,’ she said
to the niece, ‘are the only kith and kin I’ve got in the world, and all
I’ve got will be yours some day, whatever happens. I know I can trust
you to remember my servants and my little charities.’ So, of course, I
didn’t insist.

“I remember, by the way—but that was a good deal later on and has
nothing to do with the story—”

“_Please_,” said Peter, “_all_ the details.”

“Well, I remember going there one day and finding my patient not so well
as I could have wished and very much agitated. The niece told me that
the trouble was caused by a visit from her solicitor—a family lawyer
from her home town, not our local man. He had insisted on a private
interview with the old lady, at the close of which she had appeared
terribly excited and angry, declaring that everyone was in a conspiracy
to kill her before her time. The solicitor, before leaving, had given no
explanation to the niece, but had impressed upon her that if at any time
her aunt expressed a wish to see him, she was to send for him at any
hour of the day or night and he would come at once.”

“And was he ever sent for?”

“No. The old lady was deeply offended with him, and almost the last bit
of business she did for herself was to take her affairs out of his hands
and transfer them to the local solicitor. Shortly afterwards, a third
operation became necessary, and after this she gradually became more and
more of an invalid. Her head began to get weak, too, and she grew
incapable of understanding anything complicated, and indeed she was in
too much pain to be bothered about business. The niece had a power of
attorney, and took over the management of her aunt’s money entirely.”

“When was this?”

“In April, 1925. Mind you, though she was getting a bit ‘gaga’—after
all, she was getting on in years—her bodily strength was quite
remarkable. I was investigating a new method of treatment and the
results were extraordinarily interesting. That made it all the more
annoying to me when the surprising thing happened.

“I should mention that by this time we were obliged to have an outside
nurse for her, as the niece could not do both the day and night duty.
The first nurse came in April. She was a most charming and capable young
woman—the ideal nurse. I placed absolute dependence on her. She had been
specially recommended to me by Sir Warburton Giles, and though she was
not then more than twenty-eight, she had the discretion and judgment of
a woman twice her age. I may as well tell you at once that I became
deeply attached to this lady and she to me. We are engaged, and had
hoped to be married this year—if it hadn’t been for my damned
conscientiousness and public spirit.”

The doctor grimaced wryly at Charles, who murmured rather lamely that it
was very bad luck.

“My fiancée, like myself, took a keen interest in the case—partly
because it was my case and partly because she was herself greatly
interested in the disease. She looks forward to being of great
assistance to me in my life work if I ever get the chance to do anything
at it. But that’s by the way.

“Things went on like this till September. Then, for some reason, the
patient began to take one of those unaccountable dislikes that
feeble-minded patients do take sometimes. She got it into her head that
the nurse wanted to kill her—the same idea she’d had about the lawyer,
you see—and earnestly assured her niece that she was being poisoned. No
doubt she attributed her attacks of pain to this cause. Reasoning was
useless—she cried out and refused to let the nurse come near her. When
that happens, naturally, there’s nothing for it but to get rid of the
nurse, as she can do the patient no possible good. I sent my fiancée
back to town and wired to Sir Warburton’s Clinic to send me down another

“The new nurse arrived the next day. Naturally, after the other, she was
a second-best as far as I was concerned, but she seemed quite up to her
work and the patient made no objection. However, now I began to have
trouble with the niece. Poor girl, all this long-drawn-out business was
getting on her nerves, I suppose. She took it into her head that her
aunt was very much worse. I said that of course she must gradually get
worse, but that she was putting up a wonderful fight and there was no
cause for alarm. The girl wasn’t satisfied, however, and on one occasion
early in November sent for me hurriedly in the middle of the night
because her aunt was dying.

“When I arrived, I found the patient in great pain, certainly, but in no
immediate danger. I told the nurse to give her a morphia injection, and
administered a dose of bromide to the girl, telling her to go to bed and
not to do any nursing for the next few days. The following day I
overhauled the patient very carefully and found that she was doing even
better than I supposed. Her heart was exceptionally strong and steady,
she was taking nourishment remarkably well and the progress of the
disease was temporarily arrested.

“The niece apologised for her agitation, and said she really thought her
aunt was going. I said that, on the contrary, I could now affirm
positively that she would live for another five or six months. As you
know, in cases like hers, one can speak with very fair certainty.

“‘In any case,’ I said, ‘I shouldn’t distress yourself too much. Death,
when it does come, will be a release from suffering.’

“‘Yes,’ she said, ‘poor Auntie. I’m afraid I’m selfish, but she’s the
only relative I have left in the world.’

“Three days later, I was just sitting down to dinner when a telephone
message came. Would I go over at once? The patient was dead.”

“Good gracious!” cried Charles, “it’s perfectly obvious—”

“Shut up, Sherlock,” said his friend, “the doctor’s story is not going
to be obvious. Far from it, as the private said when he aimed at the
bull’s-eye and hit the gunnery instructor. But I observe the waiter
hovering uneasily about us while his colleagues pile up chairs and carry
away the cruets. Will you not come and finish the story in my flat? I
can give you a glass of very decent port. You will? Good. Waiter, call a
taxi . . . 110A Piccadilly.”

                               CHAPTER II
                            Miching Mallecho

  “_By the pricking of my thumbs_
  _Something evil this way comes._”

The April night was clear and chilly, and a brisk wood fire burned in a
welcoming manner on the hearth. The bookcases which lined the walls were
filled with rich old calf bindings, mellow and glowing in the
lamp-light. There was a grand piano, open, a huge chesterfield piled
deep with cushions and two arm-chairs of the build that invites one to
wallow. The port was brought in by an impressive man-servant and placed
on a very beautiful little Chippendale table. Some big bowls of scarlet
and yellow parrot tulips beckoned, banner-like, from dark corners.

The doctor had just written his new acquaintance down as an æsthete with
a literary turn, looking for the ingredients of a human drama, when the
man-servant re-entered.

“Inspector Sugg rang up, my lord, and left this message, and said would
you be good enough to give him a call as soon as you came in.”

“Oh, did he?—well, just get him for me, would you? This is the
Worplesham business, Charles. Sugg’s mucked it up as usual. The baker
has an alibi—naturally—he would have. Oh, thanks. . . . Hullo! that you,
Inspector? What did I tell you?—Oh, routine be hanged. Now, look here.
You get hold of that gamekeeper fellow, and find out from him what he
saw in the sand-pit. . . . No, I know, but I fancy if you ask him
impressively enough he will come across with it. No, of course not—if
you ask if he was there, he’ll say no. Say you know he was there and
what did he see—and, look here! if he hums and haws about it, say you’re
sending a gang down to have the stream diverted. . . . All right. Not at
all. Let me know if anything comes of it.”

He put the receiver down.

“Excuse me, doctor. A little matter of business. Now go on with your
story. The old lady was dead, eh? Died in her sleep, I suppose. Passed
away in the most innocent manner possible. Everything all ship-shape and
Bristol-fashion. No struggle, no wounds, hæmorrhages, or obvious
symptoms, naturally, what?”

“Exactly. She had taken some nourishment at 6 o’clock—a little broth and
some milk pudding. At eight, the nurse gave her a morphine injection and
then went straight out to put some bowls of flowers on the little table
on the landing for the night. The maid came to speak to her about some
arrangements for the next day, and while they were talking, Miss . . .
that is, the niece—came up and went into her aunt’s room. She had only
been there a moment or two when she cried out, ‘Nurse! Nurse!’ The nurse
rushed in, and found the patient dead.

“Of course, my first idea was that by some accident a double dose of
morphine had been administered—”

“Surely that wouldn’t have acted so promptly.”

“No—but I thought that a deep coma might have been mistaken for death.
However, the nurse assured me that this was not the case, and, as a
matter of fact, the possibility was completely disproved, as we were
able to count the ampullæ of morphine and found them all satisfactorily
accounted for. There were no signs of the patient having tried to move
or strain herself, or of her having knocked against anything. The little
night-table was pushed aside, but that had been done by the niece when
she came in and was struck by her aunt’s alarmingly lifeless

“How about the broth and the milk pudding?”

“That occurred to me, also—not in any sinister way, but to wonder
whether she’d been having too much—distended stomach—pressure on the
heart, and that sort of thing. However, when I came to look into it, it
seemed very unlikely. The quantity was so small, and on the face of it,
two hours were sufficient for digestion—if it had been that, death would
have taken place earlier. I was completely puzzled, and so was the
nurse. Indeed, she was very much upset.”

“And the niece?”

“The niece could say nothing but ‘I told you so, I told you so—I knew
she was worse than you thought.’ Well, to cut a long story short, I was
so bothered with my pet patient going off like that, that next morning,
after I had thought the matter over, I asked for a post-mortem.”

“Any difficulty?”

“Not the slightest. A little natural distaste, of course, but no sort of
opposition. I explained that I felt sure there must be some obscure
morbid condition which I had failed to diagnose and that I should feel
more satisfied if I might make an investigation. The only thing which
seemed to trouble the niece was the thought of an inquest. I said—rather
unwisely, I suppose, according to general rules—that I didn’t think an
inquest would be necessary.”

“You mean you offered to perform the post-mortem yourself.”

“Yes—I made no doubt that I should find a sufficient cause of death to
enable me to give a certificate. I had one bit of luck, and that was
that the old lady had at some time or the other expressed in a general
way an opinion in favour of cremation, and the niece wished this to be
carried out. This meant getting a man with special qualifications to
sign the certificate with me, so I persuaded this other doctor to come
and help me to do the autopsy.”

“And did you find anything?”

“Not a thing. The other man, of course, said I was a fool to kick up a
fuss. He thought that as the old lady was certainly dying in any case,
it would be quite enough to put in, Cause of death, cancer; immediate
cause, heart failure, and leave it at that. But I was a damned
conscientious ass, and said I wasn’t satisfied. There was absolutely
nothing about the body to explain the death naturally, and I insisted on
an analysis.”

“Did you actually suspect—?”

“Well, no, not exactly. But—well, I wasn’t satisfied. By the way, it was
very clear at the autopsy that the morphine had nothing to do with it.
Death had occurred so soon after the injection that the drug had only
partially dispersed from the arm. Now I think it over, I suppose it must
have been shock, somehow.”

“Was the analysis privately made?”

“Yes; but of course the funeral was held up and things got round. The
coroner heard about it and started to make inquiries, and the nurse, who
got it into her head that I was accusing her of neglect or something,
behaved in a very unprofessional way and created a lot of talk and

“And nothing came of it?”

“Nothing. There was no trace of poison or anything of that sort, and the
analysis left us exactly where we were. Naturally, I began to think I
had made a ghastly exhibition of myself. Rather against my own
professional judgment, I signed the certificate—heart failure following
on shock, and my patient was finally got into her grave after a week of
worry, without an inquest.”


“Oh, yes. That was another scandal. The crematorium authorities, who are
pretty particular, heard about the fuss and refused to act in the
matter, so the body is filed in the church-yard for reference if
necessary. There was a huge attendance at the funeral and a great deal
of sympathy for the niece. The next day I got a note from one of my most
influential patients, saying that my professional services would no
longer be required. The day after that, I was avoided in the street by
the Mayor’s wife. Presently I found my practice dropping away from me,
and discovered I was getting known as ‘the man who practically accused
that charming Miss So-and-so of murder.’ Sometimes it was the niece I
was supposed to be accusing. Sometimes it was ‘that nice Nurse—not the
flighty one who was dismissed, the other one, you know.’ Another version
was, that I had tried to get the nurse into trouble because I resented
the dismissal of my fiancée. Finally, I heard a rumour that the patient
had discovered me ‘canoodling’—that was the beastly word—with my
fiancée, instead of doing my job, and had done away with the old lady
myself out of revenge—though why, in that case, I should have refused a
certificate, my scandal-mongers didn’t trouble to explain.

“I stuck it out for a year, but my position became intolerable. The
practice dwindled to practically nothing, so I sold it, took a holiday
to get the taste out of my mouth—and here I am, looking for another
opening. So that’s that—and the moral is, Don’t be officious about
public duties.”

The doctor gave an irritated laugh, and flung himself back in his chair.

“I don’t care,” he added, combatantly, “the cats! Confusion to ’em!” and
he drained his glass.

“Hear, hear!” agreed his host. He sat for a few moments looking
thoughtfully into the fire.

“Do you know,” he said, suddenly, “I’m feeling rather interested by this
case. I have a sensation of internal gloating which assures me that
there is something to be investigated. That feeling has never failed me
yet—I trust it never will. It warned me the other day to look into my
income-tax assessment, and I discovered that I had been paying about
£900 too much for the last three years. It urged me only last week to
ask a bloke who was preparing to drive me over the Horseshoe Pass
whether he had any petrol in the tank, and he discovered he had just
about a pint—enough to get us nicely half-way round. It’s a very lonely
spot. Of course, I knew the man, so it wasn’t _all_ intuition. Still, I
always make it a rule to investigate anything I feel like investigating.
I believe,” he added, in a reminiscent tone, “I was a terror in my
nursery days. Anyhow, curious cases are rather a hobby of mine. In fact,
I’m not just being the perfect listener. I have deceived you. I have an
ulterior motive, said he, throwing off his side-whiskers and disclosing
the well-known hollow jaws of Mr. Sherlock Holmes.”

“I was beginning to have my suspicions,” said the doctor, after a short
pause. “I think you must be Lord Peter Wimsey. I wondered why your face
was so familiar, but of course it was in all the papers a few years ago
when you disentangled the Riddlesdale Mystery.”

“Quite right. It’s a silly kind of face, of course, but rather
disarming, don’t you think? I don’t know that I’d have chosen it, but I
do my best with it. I do hope it isn’t contracting a sleuth-like
expression, or anything unpleasant. This is the real sleuth—my friend
Detective-Inspector Parker of Scotland Yard. He’s the one who really
does the work. I make imbecile suggestions and he does the work of
elaborately disproving them. Then, by a process of elimination, we find
the right explanation, and the world says, ‘My god, what intuition that
young man has!’ Well, look here—if you don’t mind, I’d like to have a go
at this. If you’ll entrust me with your name and address and the names
of the parties concerned, I’d like very much to have a shot at looking
into it.”

The doctor considered a moment, then shook his head.

“It’s very good of you, but I think I’d rather not. I’ve got into enough
bothers already. Anyway, it isn’t professional to talk, and if I stirred
up any more fuss, I should probably have to chuck this country
altogether and end up as one of those drunken ship’s doctors in the
South Seas or somewhere, who are always telling their life-history to
people and delivering awful warnings. Better to let sleeping dogs lie.
Thanks very much, all the same.”

“As you like,” said Wimsey. “But I’ll think it over, and if any useful
suggestion occurs to me, I’ll let you know.”

“It’s very good of you,” replied the visitor, absently, taking his hat
and stick from the man-servant, who had answered Wimsey’s ring. “Well,
good night, and many thanks for hearing me so patiently. By the way,
though,” he added, turning suddenly at the door, “how do you propose to
let me know when you haven’t got my name and address?”

Lord Peter laughed.

“I’m Hawkshaw, the detective,” he answered, “and you shall hear from me
anyhow before the end of the week.”

                              CHAPTER III
                          A Use for Spinsters

  “_There are two million more females than males in England and Wales!
  And this is an awe-inspiring circumstance._”
                                                         Gilbert Frankau

“What do you really think of that story?” inquired Parker. He had
dropped in to breakfast with Wimsey the next morning, before departing
in the Notting Dale direction, in quest of an elusive anonymous
letter-writer. “I thought it sounded rather as though our friend had
been a bit too cocksure about his grand medical specialising. After all,
the old girl might so easily have had some sort of heart attack. She was
very old and ill.”

“So she might, though I believe as a matter of fact cancer patients very
seldom pop off in that unexpected way. As a rule, they surprise
everybody by the way they cling to life. Still, I wouldn’t think much of
that if it wasn’t for the niece. She prepared the way for the death, you
see, by describing her aunt as so much worse than she was.”

“I thought the same when the doctor was telling his tale. But what did
the niece do? She can’t have poisoned her aunt or even smothered her, I
suppose, or they’d have found signs of it on the body. And the aunt
_did_ die—so perhaps the niece was right and the opinionated young
medico wrong.”

“Just so. And of course, we’ve only got his version of the niece and the
nurse—and he obviously had what the Scotch call ta’en a scunner at the
nurse. We mustn’t lose sight of her, by the way. She was the last person
to be with the old lady before her death, and it was she who
administered that injection.”

“Yes, yes—but the injection had nothing to do with it. If anything’s
clear, that is. I say, do you think the nurse can have said anything
that agitated the old lady and gave her a shock that way. The patient
was a bit gaga, but she may have had sense enough to understand
something really startling. Possibly the nurse just said something
stupid about dying—the old lady appears to have been very sensitive on
the point.”

“Ah!” said Lord Peter, “I was waiting for you to get on to that. Have
you realised that there really is one rather sinister figure in the
story, and that’s the family lawyer.”

“The one who came down to say something about the will, you mean, and
was so abruptly sent packing.”

“Yes. Suppose he’d wanted the patient to make a will in favour of
somebody quite different—somebody outside the story as we know it. And
when he found he couldn’t get any attention paid to him, he sent the new
nurse down as a sort of substitute.”

“It would be rather an elaborate plot,” said Parker, dubiously. “He
couldn’t know that the doctor’s fiancée was going to be sent away.
Unless he was in league with the niece, of course, and induced her to
engineer the change of nurses.”

“That cock won’t fight, Charles. The niece wouldn’t be in league with
the lawyer to get herself disinherited.”

“No, I suppose not. Still, I think there’s something in the idea that
the old girl was either accidentally or deliberately startled to death.”

“Yes—and whichever way it was, it probably wasn’t legal murder in that
case. However, I think it’s worth looking into. That reminds me.” He
rang the bell. “Bunter, just take a note to the post for me, would you?”

“Certainly, my lord.”

Lord Peter drew a writing pad towards him.

“What are you going to write?” asked Parker, looking over his shoulder
with some amusement.

Lord Peter wrote:

“Isn’t civilisation wonderful?”

He signed this simple message and slipped it into an envelope.

“If you want to be immune from silly letters, Charles,” he said, “don’t
carry your monomark in your hat.”

“And what do you propose to do next?” asked Parker. “Not, I hope, to
send me round to Monomark House to get the name of a client. I couldn’t
do that without official authority, and they would probably kick up an
awful shindy.”

“No,” replied his friend, “I don’t propose violating the secrets of the
confessional. Not in that quarter at any rate. I think, if you can spare
a moment from your mysterious correspondent, who probably does not
intend to be found, I will ask you to come and pay a visit to a friend
of mine. It won’t take long. I think you’ll be interested. I—in fact,
you’ll be the first person I’ve ever taken to see her. She will be very
much touched and pleased.”

He laughed a little self-consciously.

“Oh,” said Parker, embarrassed. Although the men were great friends,
Wimsey had always preserved a reticence about his personal affairs—not
so much by concealing as by ignoring them. This revelation seemed to
mark a new stage of intimacy, and Parker was not sure that he liked it.
He conducted his own life with an earnest middle-class morality which he
owed to his birth and up-bringing, and, while theoretically recognising
that Lord Peter’s world acknowledged different standards, he had never
contemplated being personally faced with any result of their application
in practice.

“—rather an experiment,” Wimsey was saying a trifle shyly; “anyway,
she’s quite comfortably fixed in a little flat in Pimlico. You can come,
can’t you, Charles? I really should like you two to meet.”

“Oh, yes, rather,” said Parker, hastily, “I should like to very much.
Er—how long—I mean—”

“Oh, the arrangement’s only been going a few months,” said Wimsey,
leading the way to the lift, “but it really seems to be working out
quite satisfactorily. Of course, it makes things much easier for me.”

“Just so,” said Parker.

“Of course, as you’ll understand—I won’t go into it all till we get
there, and then you’ll see for yourself,” Wimsey chattered on, slamming
the gates of the lift with unnecessary violence—“but, as I was saying,
you’ll observe it’s quite a new departure. I don’t suppose there’s ever
been anything exactly like it before. Of course, there’s nothing new
under the sun, as Solomon said, but after all, I daresay all those wives
and porcupines, as the child said, must have soured his disposition a
little, don’t you know.”

“Quite,” said Parker. “Poor fish,” he added to himself, “they _always_
seem to think it’s different.”

“Outlet,” said Wimsey, energetically, “hi! taxi! . . . outlet—everybody
needs an outlet—97A, St. George’s Square—and after all, one can’t really
blame people if it’s just that they need an outlet. I mean, why be
bitter? They can’t help it. I think it’s much kinder to give them an
outlet than to make fun of them in books—and, after all, it isn’t really
difficult to write books. Especially if you either write a rotten story
in good English or a good story in rotten English, which is as far as
most people seem to get nowadays. Don’t you agree?”

Mr. Parker agreed, and Lord Peter wandered away along the paths of
literature, till the cab stopped before one of those tall, awkward
mansions which, originally designed for a Victorian family with
fatigue-proof servants, have lately been dissected each into half a
dozen inconvenient band-boxes and let off in flats.

Lord Peter rang the top bell, which was marked CLIMPSON, and relaxed
negligently against the porch.

“Six flights of stairs,” he explained; “it takes her some time to answer
the bell, because there’s no lift, you see. She wouldn’t have a more
expensive flat, though. She thought it wouldn’t be suitable.”

Mr. Parker was greatly relieved, if somewhat surprised, by the modesty
of the lady’s demands, and, placing his foot on the door-scraper in an
easy attitude, prepared to wait with patience. Before many minutes,
however, the door was opened by a thin, middle-aged woman, with a sharp,
sallow face and very vivacious manner. She wore a neat, dark coat and
skirt, a high-necked blouse and a long gold neck-chain with a variety of
small ornaments dangling from it at intervals, and her iron-grey hair
was dressed under a net, in the style fashionable in the reign of the
late King Edward.

“Oh, Lord Peter! How very nice to see you. Rather an _early_ visit, but
I’m sure you will excuse the sitting-room being a trifle in disorder.
_Do_ come in. The lists are _quite_ ready for you. I finished them last
night. In fact, I was just about to put on my hat and bring them round
to you. I do _hope_ you don’t think I have taken an _unconscionable_
time, but there was a quite _surprising_ number of entries. It is _too_
good of you to trouble to call.”

“Not at all, Miss Climpson. This is my friend, Detective-Inspector
Parker, whom I have mentioned to you.”

“How do you do, Mr. Parker—or ought I to say Inspector? Excuse me if I
make mistakes—this is really the first time I have been in the hands of
the police. I hope it’s not rude of me to say that. Please come up. A
great many stairs, I am afraid, but I hope you do not mind. I do so like
to be _high up_. The air is so much better, and you know, Mr. Parker,
thanks to Lord Peter’s great kindness, I have such a _beautiful, airy_
view, right over the houses. I think one can work so much _better_ when
one doesn’t feel cribbed, cabined and confined, as Hamlet says. Dear me!
Mrs. Winbottle _will_ leave the pail on the stairs, and always in that
very dark corner. I am _continually_ telling her about it. If you keep
close to the banisters you will avoid it nicely. Only one more flight.
Here we are. Please overlook the untidiness. I always think breakfast
things look so _ugly_ when one has finished with them—almost sordid, to
use a nasty word for a nasty subject. What a pity that some of these
clever people can’t invent _self-cleaning_ and _self-clearing_ plates,
is it not? But please _do_ sit down; I won’t keep you a moment. And I
know, Lord Peter, that you will not hesitate to smoke. I do so enjoy the
smell of your cigarettes—quite delicious—and you are so _very_ good
about extinguishing the ends.”

The little room was, as a matter of fact, most exquisitely neat, in
spite of the crowded array of knick-knacks and photographs that adorned
every available inch of space. The sole evidences of dissipation were an
empty eggshell, a used cup and a crumby plate on a breakfast tray. Miss
Climpson promptly subdued this riot by carrying the tray bodily on to
the landing.

Mr. Parker, a little bewildered, lowered himself cautiously into a small
arm-chair, embellished with a hard, fat little cushion which made it
impossible to lean back. Lord Peter wriggled into the window-seat, lit a
Sobriane and clasped his hands above his knees. Miss Climpson, seated
upright at the table, gazed at him with a gratified air which was
positively touching.

“I have gone _very_ carefully into all these cases,” she began, taking
up a thick wad of type-script. “I’m afraid, indeed, my notes are rather
_copious_, but I trust the typist’s bill will not be considered too
heavy. My handwriting is very clear, so I don’t think there can be any
errors. Dear me! such _sad_ stories some of these poor women had to tell
me! But I have investigated most fully, with the kind assistance of the
clergyman—a very nice man and so helpful—and I feel sure that in the
majority of the cases your assistance will be _well bestowed_. If you
would like to go through—”

“Not at the moment, Miss Climpson,” interrupted Lord Peter, hurriedly.
“It’s all right, Charles—nothing whatever to do with Our Dumb Friends or
supplying Flannel to Unmarried Mothers. I’ll tell you about it later.
Just now, Miss Climpson, we want your help on something quite

Miss Climpson produced a business-like notebook and sat at attention.

“The inquiry divides itself into two parts,” said Lord Peter. “The first
part, I’m afraid, is rather dull. I want you (if you will be so good) to
go down to Somerset House and search, or get them to search, through all
the death-certificates for Hampshire in the month of November, 1925. I
don’t know the town and I don’t know the name of the deceased. What you
are looking for is the death-certificate of an old lady of 73; cause of
death, cancer; immediate cause, heart failure; and the certificate will
have been signed by two doctors, one of whom will be either a Medical
Officer of Health, Police Surgeon, Certifying Surgeon under the Factory
and Workshops Act, Medical Referee under the Workmen’s Compensation Act,
Physician or Surgeon in a big General Hospital, or a man specially
appointed by the Cremation authorities. If you want to give any excuse
for the search, you can say that you are compiling statistics about
cancer; but what you really want is the names of the people concerned
and the name of the town.”

“Suppose there are more than one answering to the requirements?”

“Ah! that’s where the second part comes in, and where your remarkable
tact and shrewdness are going to be so helpful to us. When you have
collected all the ‘possibles,’ I shall ask you to go down to each of the
towns concerned and make very, very skilful inquiries, to find out which
is the case we want to get on to. Of course, you mustn’t appear to be
inquiring. You must find some good gossipy lady living in the
neighbourhood and just get her to talk in a natural way. You must
pretend to be gossipy yourself—it’s not in your nature, I know, but I’m
sure you can make a little pretense about it—and find out all you can. I
fancy you’ll find it pretty easy if you once strike the right town,
because I know for a certainty that there was a terrible lot of
ill-natured talk about this particular death, and it won’t have been
forgotten yet by a long chalk.”

“How shall I know when it’s the right one?”

“Well, if you can spare the time, I want you to listen to a little
story. Mind you, Miss Climpson, when you get to wherever it is, you are
not supposed ever to have heard a word of this tale before. But I
needn’t tell you that. Now, Charles, you’ve got an official kind of way
of puttin’ these things clearly. Will you just weigh in and give Miss
Climpson the gist of that rigmarole our friend served out to us last

Pulling his wits into order, Mr. Parker accordingly obliged with a
digest of the doctor’s story. Miss Climpson listened with great
attention, making notes of the dates and details. Parker observed that
she showed great acumen in seizing on the salient points; she asked a
number of very shrewd questions, and her grey eyes were intelligent.
When he had finished, she repeated the story, and he was able to
congratulate her on a clear head and retentive memory.

“A dear old friend of mine used to say that I should have made a very
good lawyer,” said Miss Climpson, complacently, “but of course, when I
was young, girls didn’t have the education or the _opportunities_ they
get nowadays, Mr. Parker. I should have liked a good education, but my
dear father didn’t believe in it for women. Very old-fashioned, you
young people would think him.”

“Never mind, Miss Climpson,” said Wimsey, “you’ve got just exactly the
qualifications we want, and they’re rather rare, so we’re in luck. Now
we want this matter pushed forward as fast as possible.”

“I’ll go down to Somerset House at once,” replied the lady, with great
energy, “and let you know the minute I’m ready to start for Hampshire.”

“That’s right,” said his lordship, rising. “And now we’ll just make a
noise like a hoop and roll away. Oh! and while I think of it, I’d better
give you something in hand for traveling expenses and so on. I think you
had better be just a retired lady in easy circumstances looking for a
nice little place to settle down in. I don’t think you’d better be
wealthy—wealthy people don’t inspire confidence. Perhaps you would
oblige me by living at the rate of about £800 a year—your own excellent
taste and experience will suggest the correct accessories and so on for
creating that impression. If you will allow me, I will give you a cheque
for £50 now, and when you start on your wanderings you will let me know
what you require.”

“Dear me,” said Miss Climpson, “I don’t—”

“This is a pure matter of business, of course,” said Wimsey, rather
rapidly, “and you will let me have a note of the expenses in your usual
business-like way.”

“Of course.” Miss Climpson was dignified. “And I will give you a proper
receipt immediately.

“Dear, dear,” she added, hunting through her purse, “I do not appear to
have any penny stamps. How extremely remiss of me. It is most _unusual_
for me not to have my little book of stamps—so handy I always think they
are—but only last night Mrs. Williams borrowed my last stamps to send a
very urgent letter to her son in Japan. If you will excuse me a moment—”

“I think I have some,” interposed Parker.

“Oh, thank you very much, Mr. Parker. Here is the twopence. I _never_
allow myself to be without pennies—on account of the bathroom geyser,
you know. Such a very _sensible_ invention, most _convenient_, and
prevents _all_ dispute about hot water among the tenants. Thank you so
much. And now I sign my name _across_ the stamps. That’s right, isn’t
it? My dear father would be surprised to find his daughter so
business-like. He always said a woman should never _need_ to know
anything about money matters, but times have changed so greatly, have
they not?”

Miss Climpson ushered them down all six flights of stairs, volubly
protesting at their protests, and the door closed behind them.

“May I ask—?” began Parker.

“It is not what you think,” said his lordship, earnestly.

“Of course not,” agreed Parker.

“There, I knew you had a nasty mind. Even the closest of one’s friends
turn out to be secret thinkers. They think in private thoughts which
they publicly repudiate.”

“Don’t be a fool. Who _is_ Miss Climpson?”

“Miss Climpson,” said Lord Peter, “is a manifestation of the wasteful
way in which this country is run. Look at electricity. Look at
water-power. Look at the tides. Look at the sun. Millions of power units
being given off into space every minute. Thousands of old maids, simply
bursting with useful energy, forced by our stupid social system into
hydros and hotels and communities and hostels and posts as companions,
where their magnificent gossip-powers and units of inquisitiveness are
allowed to dissipate themselves or even become harmful to the community,
while the ratepayers’ money is spent on getting work for which these
women are providentially fitted, inefficiently carried out by
ill-equipped policemen like you. My god! it’s enough to make a man write
to _John Bull_. And then bright young men write nasty little patronising
books called ‘Elderly Women,’ and ‘On the Edge of the Explosion’—and the
drunkards make songs upon ’em, poor things.”

“Quite, quite,” said Parker. “You mean that Miss Climpson is a kind of
inquiry agent for you.”

“She is my ears and tongue,” said Lord Peter, dramatically, “and
especially my nose. She asks questions which a young man could not put
without a blush. She is the angel that rushes in where fools get a clump
on the head. She can smell a rat in the dark. In fact, she is the cat’s

“That’s not a bad idea,” said Parker.

“Naturally—it is mine, therefore brilliant. Just think. People want
questions asked. Whom do they send? A man with large flat feet and a
notebook—the sort of man whose private life is conducted in a series of
inarticulate grunts. I send a lady with a long, woolly jumper on
knitting-needles and jingly things round her neck. Of course she asks
questions—everyone expects it. Nobody is surprised. Nobody is alarmed.
And so-called superfluity is agreeably and usefully disposed of. One of
these days you will put up a statue to me, with an inscription:

                         “‘To the Man who Made
                     Thousands of Superfluous Women
                    without Injury to their Modesty
                       or Exertion to Himself.’”

“I wish you wouldn’t talk so much,” complained his friend. “And how
about all those type-written reports? Are you turning philanthropist in
your old age?”

“No—no,” said Wimsey, rather hurriedly hailing a taxi. “Tell you about
that later. Little private pogrom of my own—Insurance against the
Socialist Revolution—when it comes. ‘What did you do with your great
wealth, comrade?’ ‘I bought First Editions.’ ‘Aristocrat! à la
lanterne!’ ‘Stay, spare me! I took proceedings against 500 money-lenders
who oppressed the workers.’ ‘Citizen, you have done well. We will spare
your life. You shall be promoted to cleaning out the sewers.’ Voilà! We
must move with the times. Citizen taxi-driver, take me to the British
Museum. Can I drop you anywhere? No? So long. I am going to collate a
12th century manuscript of Tristan, while the old order lasts.”

Mr. Parker thoughtfully boarded a westward-bound ’bus and was rolled
away to do some routine questioning, on his own account, among the
female population of Notting Dale. It did not appear to him to be a
milieu in which the talents of Miss Climpson could be usefully employed.

                               CHAPTER IV
                              A Bit Mental

  “_A babbled of green fields._”
                                                     _King Henry V_

_Letter from Miss Alexandra Katherine Climpson to Lord Peter Wimsey._

                                                C/o Mrs. Hamilton Budge,
                                                Fairview, Nelson Avenue,
                                                      Leahampton, Hants.
                                                       April 29th, 1927.

  My dear Lord Peter,

  You will be happy to hear, after my _two previous_ bad shots (!), that
  I have found the _right_ place at last. The Agatha Dawson certificate
  is the _correct_ one, and the dreadful _scandal_ about Dr. Carr is
  still very much alive, I am sorry to say for the sake of _human
  nature_. I have been fortunate enough to secure rooms in the _very
  next street_ to Wellington Avenue, where Miss Dawson used to live. My
  landlady seems a very nice woman, though a _terrible gossip_!—which is
  _all to the good_!! Her charge for a very pleasant bedroom and
  sitting-room with _full board_ is 3½ guineas weekly. I trust you will
  not think this _too extravagant_, as the situation is _just_ what you
  wished me to look for. I enclose a careful statement of my expenses
  up-to-date. You will _excuse_ the mention of _underwear_, which is, I
  fear, a somewhat large item! but wool is so expensive nowadays, and it
  is necessary that every detail of my equipment should be suitable to
  my (supposed!) position in life. I have been careful to _wash_ the
  garments through, so that they do not look _too new_, as this might
  have a _suspicious_ appearance!!

  But you will be anxious for me to (if I may use a vulgar expression)
  ‘cut the cackle, and come to the horses’ (!!). On the day after my
  arrival, I informed Mrs. Budge that I was a great sufferer from
  _rheumatism_ (which is quite true, as I have a sad legacy of that kind
  left me by, alas! my _port-drinking_ ancestors!)—and inquired what
  _doctors_ there were in the neighbourhood. This at once brought forth
  a _long catalogue_, together with a _grand panegyric_ of the sandy
  soil and healthy situation of the town. I said I should prefer an
  _elderly_ doctor, as the _young men_, in my opinion, were _not to be
  depended on_. Mrs. Budge heartily agreed with me, and a little
  discreet questioning brought out the _whole story_ of Miss Dawson’s
  illness and the ‘carryings-on’ (as she termed them) of Dr. Carr and
  _the nurse_! “I never did trust that first nurse,” said Mrs. Budge,
  “for all she had her training at Guy’s and ought to have been
  trustworthy. A sly, red-headed, _baggage_, and it’s my belief that all
  Dr. Carr’s fussing over Miss Dawson and his visits all day and every
  day were just to get love-making with Nurse Philliter. No wonder poor
  Miss Whittaker couldn’t stand it any longer and gave the girl the
  sack—none too soon, in my opinion. Not quite so attentive after that,
  Dr. Carr wasn’t—why, up to the last minute, he was pretending the old
  lady was quite all right, when Miss Whittaker had only said the day
  before that she felt sure she was going to be taken from us.”

  I asked if Mrs. Budge knew Miss Whittaker personally. Miss Whittaker
  is _the niece_, you know.

  Not personally, she said, though she had met her in a social way at
  the Vicarage working-parties. But she knew all about it, because her
  maid was own sister to the maid at Miss Dawson’s. Now is not that a
  _fortunate_ coincidence, for you know how these girls _talk_!

  I also made careful inquiries about the _Vicar_, Mr. Tredgold, and was
  much gratified to find that he teaches _sound Catholic_ doctrine, so
  that I shall be able to attend the Church (S. Onesimus) without doing
  _violence_ to my religious beliefs—a thing I could _not_ undertake to
  do, _even in your interests_. I am sure you will _understand_ this. As
  it happens, _all is well_, and I have written to my _very good
  friend_, the Vicar of S. Edfrith’s, Holborn, to ask for an
  introduction to Mr. Tredgold. By this means, I feel sure of meeting
  _Miss Whittaker_ before long, as I hear she is quite a “pillar of the
  Church”! I do hope it is not wrong to make use of the Church of God to
  a _worldly_ end; but after all, you are only seeking to establish
  _Truth_ and _Justice_!—and in so good a cause, we may _perhaps_ permit
  ourselves to be a little bit _JESUITICAL_!!!

  This is all I have been able to do as yet, but I shall not be _idle_,
  and will write to you again as soon as I have _anything to report_. By
  the way, the _pillar-box_ is most _conveniently_ placed just at the
  corner of Wellington Avenue, so that I can easily _run out_ and post
  my letters to you _myself_ (away from _prying_ eyes!!)—and just take a
  little peep at Miss _Dawson’s_—now Miss _Whittaker’s_—house, “The
  Grove,” at the same time.

                                 Believe me,
                              Sincerely yours,
                                           Alexandra Katherine Climpson.

The little red-headed nurse gave her visitor a quick, slightly hostile

“It’s quite all right,” he said apologetically, “I haven’t come to sell
you soap or gramophones, or to borrow money or enroll you in the Ancient
Froth-blowers or anything charitable. I really am Lord Peter Wimsey—I
mean, that really is my title, don’t you know, not a Christian name like
Sanger’s Circus or Earl Derr Biggers. I’ve come to ask you some
questions, and I’ve no real excuse, I’m afraid, for butting in on you—do
you ever read the _News of the World_?”

Nurse Philliter decided that she was to be asked to go to a mental case,
and that the patient had come to fetch her in person.

“Sometimes,” she said, guardedly.

“Oh—well, you may have noticed my name croppin’ up in a few murders and
things lately. I sleuth, you know. For a hobby. Harmless outlet for
natural inquisitiveness, don’t you see, which might otherwise strike
inward and produce introspection an’ suicide. Very natural, healthy
pursuit—not too strenuous, not too sedentary; trains and invigorates the

“I know who you are now,” said Nurse Philliter, slowly. “You—you gave
evidence against Sir Julian Freke. In fact, you traced the murder to
him, didn’t you?”

“I did—it was rather unpleasant,” said Lord Peter, simply, “and I’ve got
another little job of the same kind in hand now, and I want your help.”

“Won’t you sit down?” said Nurse Philliter, setting the example. “How am
I concerned in the matter?”

“You know Dr. Edward Carr, I think—late of Leahampton—conscientious but
a little lackin’ in worldly wisdom—not serpentine at all, as the Bible
advises, but far otherwise.”

“What!” she cried, “do _you_ believe it was murder, then?”

Lord Peter looked at her for a few seconds. Her face was eager, her eyes
gleaming curiously under her thick, level brows. She had expressive
hands, rather large and with strong, flat joints. He noticed how they
gripped the arms of her chair.

“Haven’t the faintest,” he replied, nonchalantly, “but I wanted your

“Mine?”—she checked herself. “You know, I am not supposed to give
opinions about my cases.”

“You have given it to me already,” said his lordship, grinning. “Though
possibly I ought to allow for a little prejudice in favour of Dr. Carr’s

“Well, yes—but it’s not merely personal. I mean, my being engaged to Dr.
Carr wouldn’t affect my judgment of a cancer case. I have worked with
him on a great many of them, and I know that his opinion is really
trustworthy—just as I know that, as a motorist, he’s exactly the

“Right. I take it that if he says the death was inexplicable, it really
was so. That’s one point gained. Now about the old lady herself. I
gather she was a little queer towards the end—a bit mental, I think you
people call it?”

“I don’t know that I’d say that either. Of course, when she was under
morphia, she would be unconscious, or only semi-conscious, for hours
together. But up to the time when I left, I should say she was
quite—well, quite all there. She was obstinate, you know, and what they
call a character, at the best of times.”

“But Dr. Carr told me she got odd fancies—about people poisoning her?”

The red-haired nurse rubbed her fingers slowly along the arm of the
chair, and hesitated.

“If it will make you feel any less unprofessional,” said Lord Peter,
guessing what was in her mind, “I may say that my friend
Detective-Inspector Parker is looking into this matter with me, which
gives me a sort of right to ask questions.”

“In that case—yes—in that case I think I can speak freely. I never
understood about that poisoning idea. I never saw anything of it—no
aversion, I mean, or fear of me. As a rule, a patient will show it, if
she’s got any queer ideas about the nurse. Poor Miss Dawson was always
most kind and affectionate. She kissed me when I went away and gave me a
little present, and said she was sorry to lose me.”

“She didn’t show any sort of nervousness about taking food from you?”

“Well, I wasn’t allowed to give her any food that last week. Miss
Whittaker said her aunt had taken this funny notion, and gave her all
her meals herself.”

“Oh! that’s very interestin’. Was it Miss Whittaker, then, who first
mentioned this little eccentricity to you?”

“Yes. And she begged me not to say anything about it to Miss Dawson, for
fear of agitating her.”

“And did you?”

“I did not. I wouldn’t mention it in any case to a patient. It does no

“Did Miss Dawson ever speak about it to anyone else? Dr. Carr, for

“No. According to Miss Whittaker, her aunt was frightened of the doctor
too, because she imagined he was in league with me. Of course, that
story rather lent colour to the unkind things that were said afterwards.
I suppose it’s just possible that she saw us glancing at one another or
speaking aside, and got the idea that we were plotting something.”

“How about the maids?”

“There were new maids about that time. She probably wouldn’t talk about
it to them, and anyhow, I wouldn’t be discussing my patient with her

“Of course not. Why did the other maids leave? How many were there? Did
they all go at once?”

“Two of them went. They were sisters. One was a terrible
crockery-smasher, and Miss Whittaker gave her notice, so the other left
with her.”

“Ah, well! one can have too much of seeing the Crown Derby rollin’ round
the floor. Quite. Then it had nothing to do with—it wasn’t on account of
any little—”

“It wasn’t because they couldn’t get along with the nurse, if you mean
that,” said Nurse Philliter, with a smile. “They were very obliging
girls, but not very bright.”

“Quite. Well, now, is there any little odd, out-of-the-way incident you
can think of that might throw light on the thing. There was a visit from
a lawyer, I believe, that agitated your patient quite a lot. Was that in
your time?”

“No. I only heard about it from Dr. Carr. And he never heard the name of
the lawyer, what he came about, or anything.”

“A pity,” said his lordship. “I have been hoping great things of the
lawyer. There’s such a sinister charm, don’t you think, about lawyers
who appear unexpectedly with little bags, and alarm people with
mysterious conferences, and then go away leaving urgent messages that if
anything happens they are to be sent for. If it hadn’t been for the
lawyer, I probably shouldn’t have treated Dr. Carr’s medical problem
with the respect it deserves. He never came again, or wrote, I suppose?”

“I don’t know. Wait a minute. I do remember one thing. I remember Miss
Dawson having another hysterical attack of the same sort, and saying
just what she said then—‘that they were trying to kill her before her

“When was that?”

“Oh, a couple of weeks before I left. Miss Whittaker had been up to her
with the post, I think, and there were some papers of some kind to sign,
and it seems to have upset her. I came in from my walk and found her in
a dreadful state. The maids could have told you more about it than I
could, really, for they were doing some dusting on the landing at the
time and heard her going on, and they ran down and fetched me up to her.
I didn’t ask them about what happened myself, naturally—it doesn’t do
for nurses to gossip with the maids behind their employers’ backs. Miss
Whittaker said that her aunt had had an annoying communication from a

“Yes, it sounds as though there might be something there. Do you
remember what the maids were called?”

“What was the name now? A funny one, or I shouldn’t remember it—Gotobed,
that was it—Bertha and Evelyn Gotobed. I don’t know where they went, but
I daresay you could find out.”

“Now one last question, and I want you to forget all about Christian
kindliness and the law of slander when you answer it. What is Miss
Whittaker like?”

An indefinable expression crossed the nurse’s face.

“Tall, handsome, very decided in manner,” she said, with an air of doing
strict justice against her will, “an extremely competent nurse—she was
at the Royal Free, you know, till she went to live with her aunt. I
think she would have made a perfectly wonderful theatre nurse. She did
not like me, nor I her, you know, Lord Peter—and it’s better I should be
telling you so at once, that way you can take everything I say about her
with a grain of charity added—but we both knew good hospital work when
we saw it, and respected one another.”

“Why in the world didn’t she like you, Miss Philliter? I really don’t
know when I’ve seen a more likeable kind of person, if you’ll ’scuse my
mentionin’ it.”

“I don’t know.” The nurse seemed a little embarrassed. “The dislike
seemed to grow on her. You—perhaps you heard the kind of things people
said in the town? when I left?—that Dr. Carr and I—Oh! it really was
damnable, and I had the most dreadful interview with Matron when I got
back here. She _must_ have spread those stories. Who else could have
done it?”

“Well—you _did_ become engaged to Dr. Carr, didn’t you?” said his
lordship, gently. “Mind you, I’m not sayin’ it wasn’t a very agreeable
occurrence and all that, but—”

“But she said I neglected the patient. I _never_ did. I wouldn’t think
of such a thing.”

“Of course not. No. But, do you suppose that possibly getting engaged
was an offence in itself? Is Miss Whittaker engaged to anyone, by the

“No. You mean, was she jealous? I’m sure Dr. Carr never gave the
slightest, not the _slightest_—”

“Oh, _please_,” cried Lord Peter, “please don’t be ruffled. Such a nice
word, ruffled—like a kitten, I always think—so furry and nice. But even
without the least what-d’ye-call-it on Dr. Carr’s side, he’s a very
prepossessin’ person and all that. Don’t you think there _might_ be
something in it?”

“I did think so once,” admitted Miss Philliter, “but afterwards, when
she got him into such awful trouble over the post-mortem, I gave up the

“But she didn’t object to the post-mortem?”

“She did not. But there’s such a thing as putting yourself in the right
in the eyes of your neighbours, Lord Peter, and then going off to tell
people all about it at Vicarage tea-parties. I wasn’t there, but you ask
someone who was. I know those tea-parties.”

“Well, it’s not impossible. People can be very spiteful if they think
they’ve been slighted.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” said Nurse Philliter, thoughtfully. “But,” she
added suddenly, “that’s no motive for murdering a perfectly innocent old

“That’s the second time you’ve used that word,” said Wimsey, gravely.
“There’s no proof yet that it was murder.”

“I know that.”

“But you think it was?”

“I do.”

“And you think she did it?”


Lord Peter walked across to the aspidistra in the bow-window and stroked
its leaves thoughtfully. The silence was broken by a buxom nurse who,
entering precipitately first and knocking afterwards, announced with a

“Excuse me, I’m sure, but you’re in request this afternoon, Philliter.
Here’s Dr. Carr come for you.”

Dr. Carr followed hard upon his name. The sight of Wimsey struck him

“I told you I’d be turnin’ up again before long,” said Lord Peter,
cheerfully. “Sherlock is my name and Holmes is my nature. I’m delighted
to see you, Dr. Carr. Your little matter is well in hand, and seein’ I’m
not required any longer I’ll make a noise like a bee and buzz off.”

“How did _he_ get here?” demanded Dr. Carr, not altogether pleased.

“Didn’t you send him? I think he’s very nice,” said Nurse Philliter.

“He’s mad,” said Dr. Carr.

“He’s clever,” said the red-haired nurse.

                               CHAPTER V

  “_With vollies of eternal babble._”
                                                 Butler, _Hudibras_

“So you are thinking of coming to live in Leahampton,” said Miss
Murgatroyd. “How _very nice_. I do hope you will be settling down in the
parish. We are _not_ too well off for week-day congregations—there is so
much indifference and so much _Protestantism_ about. There! I have
dropped a stitch. Provoking! Perhaps it was meant as a little reminder
to me not to think uncharitably about Protestants. All is well—I have
retrieved it. Were you thinking of taking a house, Miss Climpson?”

“I am not quite sure,” replied Miss Climpson. “Rents are so very high
nowadays, and I fear that to buy a house would be almost beyond my
means. I must look round very carefully, and view the question from _all
sides_. I should certainly _prefer_ to be in this parish—and close to
the Church, if possible. Perhaps the Vicar would know whether there is
likely to be anything suitable.”

“Oh, yes, he would doubtless be able to suggest something. It is such a
very nice, residential neighbourhood. I am sure you would like it. Let
me see—you are staying in Nelson Avenue, I think Mrs. Tredgold said?”

“Yes—with Mrs. Budge at Fairview.”

“I am sure she makes you comfortable. Such a nice woman, though I’m
afraid she never stops talking. Hasn’t she got any ideas on the subject?
I’m sure if there’s any news going about, Mrs. Budge never fails to get
hold of it.”

“Well,” said Miss Climpson, seizing the opening with a swiftness which
would have done credit to Napoleon, “she did say something about a house
in Wellington Avenue which she thought might be to let before long.”

“Wellington Avenue? You surprise me! I thought I knew almost everybody
there. Could it be the Parfitts—really moving at last! They have been
talking about it for at least seven years, and I really had begun to
think it was _all talk_. Mrs. Peasgood, do you hear that? Miss Climpson
says the Parfitts are really leaving that house at last!”

“Bless me,” cried Mrs. Peasgood, raising her rather prominent eyes from
a piece of plain needlework and focusing them on Miss Climpson like a
pair of opera-glasses. “Well, that _is_ news. It must be that brother of
hers who was staying with them last week. Possibly he is going to live
with them permanently, and that would clinch the matter, of course, for
they couldn’t get on without another bedroom when the girls come home
from school. A very sensible arrangement, I should think. I believe he
is quite well off, you know, and it will be a very good thing for those
children. I wonder where they will go. I expect it will be one of the
new houses out on the Winchester Road, though of course that would mean
keeping a car. Still, I expect he would want them to do that in any
case. Most likely he will have it himself, and let them have the use of

“I don’t think Parfitt was the name,” broke in Miss Climpson hurriedly,
“I’m sure it wasn’t. It was a Miss somebody—a Miss Whittaker, I think,
Mrs. Budge mentioned.”

“Miss Whittaker?” cried both the ladies in chorus. “Oh, no! _surely_

“I’m sure Miss Whittaker would have told me if she thought of giving up
her house,” pursued Miss Murgatroyd. “We are such great friends. I think
Mrs. Budge must have run away with a wrong idea. People do build up such
amazing stories out of nothing at all.”

“I wouldn’t go so far as that,” put in Mrs. Peasgood, rebukingly. “There
_may_ be something in it. I know dear Miss Whittaker has sometimes
spoken to me about wishing to take up chicken-farming. I daresay she has
not mentioned the matter _generally_, but then she always confides in
_me_. Depend on it, that is what she intends to do.”

“Mrs. Budge didn’t actually say Miss Whittaker was moving,” interposed
Miss Climpson. “She said, I think, that Miss Whittaker had been left
alone by some relation’s death, and she wouldn’t be surprised if she
found the house lonely.”

“Ah! that’s Mrs. Budge all over!” said Mrs. Peasgood, nodding ominously.
“A most excellent woman, but she sometimes gets hold of the wrong end of
the stick. Not but what I’ve often thought the same thing myself. I said
to poor Mary Whittaker only the other day, ‘Don’t you find it very
lonely in that house, my dear, now that your poor dear Aunt is no more?’
I’m sure it would be a very good thing if she did move, or got someone
to live with her. It’s not a natural life for a young woman, all alone
like that, and so I told her. I’m one of those that believe in speaking
their mind, you know, Miss Climpson.”

“Well, now, so am I, Mrs. Peasgood,” rejoined Miss Climpson promptly,
“and that is what I said to Mrs. Budge at the time. I said, ‘Do I
understand that there was anything _odd_ about the old lady’s
death?’—because she had spoken of the _peculiar circumstances_ of the
case, and you know, I should not _at all like_ to live in a house which
could be called in any way _notorious_. I should really feel quite
_uncomfortable_ about it.” In saying which, Miss Climpson no doubt spoke
with perfect sincerity.

“But not at all—not at all,” cried Miss Murgatroyd, so eagerly that Mrs.
Peasgood, who had paused to purse up her face and assume an expression
of portentous secrecy before replying, was completely crowded out and
left at the post. “There never was a more wicked story. The death was
natural—perfectly natural, and a most happy release, poor soul, I’m
sure, for her sufferings at the last were truly terrible. It was all a
scandalous story put about by that young Dr. Carr (whom I’m sure I never
liked) simply to aggrandise himself. As though any doctor would
pronounce so definitely upon what exact date it would please God to call
a poor sufferer to Himself! Human pride and vanity make a most shocking
exhibition, Miss Climpson, when they lead us to cast suspicion on
innocent people, simply because we are wedded to our own presumptuous
opinions. Poor Miss Whittaker! She went through a most terrible time.
But it was proved—absolutely _proved_, that there was nothing in the
story at all, and I hope that young man was properly ashamed of

“There may be two opinions about that, Miss Murgatroyd,” said Mrs.
Peasgood. “I say what I think, Miss Climpson, and in my opinion there
should have been an inquest. I try to be up-to-date, and I believe Dr.
Carr to have been a very able young man, though of course, he was not
the kind of old-fashioned family doctor that appeals to elderly people.
It was a great pity that nice Nurse Philliter was sent away—that woman
Forbes was no more use than a headache—to use my brother’s rather
vigorous expression. I don’t think she knew her job, and that’s a fact.”

“Nurse Forbes was a charming person,” snapped Miss Murgatroyd, pink with
indignation at being called elderly.

“That may be,” retorted Mrs. Peasgood, “but you can’t get over the fact
that she nearly killed herself one day by taking nine grains of calomel
by mistake for three. She told me that herself, and what she did in one
case she might do in another.”

“But Miss Dawson wasn’t given anything,” said Miss Murgatroyd, “and at
any rate, Nurse Forbes’ mind was on her patient, and not on flirting
with the doctor. I’ve always thought that Dr. Carr felt a spite against
her for taking his young woman’s place, and nothing would have pleased
him better than to get her into trouble.”

“You don’t mean,” said Miss Climpson, “that he would refuse a
certificate and cause all that trouble, just to annoy the nurse.
_Surely_ no doctor would dare to do that.”

“Of course not,” said Mrs. Peasgood, “and nobody with a grain of sense
would suppose it for a moment.”

“Thank you very much, Mrs. Peasgood,” cried Miss Murgatroyd, “thank you
very much, I’m sure—”

“I say what I think,” said Mrs. Peasgood.

“Then I’m glad I haven’t such uncharitable thoughts,” said Miss

“I don’t think your own observations are so remarkable for their
charity,” retorted Mrs. Peasgood.

Fortunately, at this moment Miss Murgatroyd, in her agitation, gave a
vicious tweak to the wrong needle and dropped twenty-nine stitches at
once. The Vicar’s wife, scenting battle from afar, hurried over with a
plate of scones, and helped to bring about a diversion. To her, Miss
Climpson, doggedly sticking to her mission in life, broached the subject
of the house in Wellington Avenue.

“Well, I don’t know, I’m sure,” replied Mrs. Tredgold, “but there’s Miss
Whittaker just arrived. Come over to my corner and I’ll introduce her to
you, and you can have a nice chat about it. You will like each other so
much, she is such a keen worker. Oh! and Mrs. Peasgood, my husband is so
anxious to have a word with you about the choirboys’ social. He is
discussing it now with Mrs. Findlater. I wonder if you’d be so very good
as to come and give him your opinion? He values it so much.”

Thus tactfully the good lady parted the disputants and, having deposited
Mrs. Peasgood safely under the clerical wing, towed Miss Climpson away
to an arm-chair near the tea-table.

“Dear Miss Whittaker, I so want you to know Miss Climpson. She is a near
neighbour of yours—in Nelson Avenue, and I hope we shall persuade her to
make her home among us.”

“That will be delightful,” said Miss Whittaker.

The first impression which Miss Climpson got of Mary Whittaker was that
she was totally out of place among the tea-tables of S. Onesimus. With
her handsome, strongly-marked features and quiet air of authority, she
was of the type that “does well” in City offices. She had a pleasant and
self-possessed manner, and was beautifully tailored—not mannishly, and
yet with a severe fineness of outline that negatived the appeal of a
beautiful figure. With her long and melancholy experience of frustrated
womanhood, observed in a dreary succession of cheap boarding-houses,
Miss Climpson was able to dismiss one theory which had vaguely formed
itself in her mind. This was no passionate nature, cramped by
association with an old woman and eager to be free to mate before youth
should depart. _That_ look she knew well—she could diagnose it with
dreadful accuracy at the first glance, in the tone of a voice saying,
“How do you do?” But meeting Mary Whittaker’s clear, light eyes under
their well-shaped brows, she was struck by a sudden sense of
familiarity. She had seen that look before, though the where and the
when escaped her. Chatting volubly about her arrival in Leahampton, her
introduction to the Vicar and her approval of the Hampshire air and
sandy soil, Miss Climpson racked her shrewd brain for a clue. But the
memory remained obstinately somewhere at the back of her head. “It will
come to me in the night,” thought Miss Climpson, confidently, “and
meanwhile I won’t say anything about the house; it would seem so pushing
on a first acquaintance.”

Whereupon, fate instantly intervened to overthrow this prudent resolve,
and very nearly ruined the whole effect of Miss Climpson’s diplomacy at
one fell swoop.

The form which the avenging Erinyes assumed was that of the youngest
Miss Findlater—the gushing one—who came romping over to them, her hands
filled with baby-linen, and plumped down on the end of the sofa beside
Miss Whittaker.

“Mary my _dear_! Why didn’t you tell me? You really are going to start
your chicken-farming scheme at once. I’d no _idea_ you’d got on so far
with your plans. How _could_ you let me hear it first from somebody
else? You promised to tell me before anybody.”

“But I didn’t know it myself,” replied Miss Whittaker, coolly. “Who told
you this wonderful story?”

“Why, Mrs. Peasgood said that she heard it from . . .” Here Miss
Findlater was in a difficulty. She had not yet been introduced to Miss
Climpson and hardly knew how to refer to her before her face. “This
lady” was what a shop-girl would say; “Miss Climpson” would hardly do,
as she had, so to speak, no official cognisance of the name; “Mrs.
Budge’s new lodger” was obviously impossible in the circumstances. She
hesitated—then beamed a bright appeal at Miss Climpson, and said: “Our
new helper—may I introduce myself? I do _so_ detest formality, don’t
you, and to belong to the Vicarage work-party is a sort of introduction
in itself, don’t you think? Miss Climpson, I believe? How do you do? It
is true, isn’t it, Mary?—that you are letting your house to Miss
Climpson, and starting a poultry-farm at Alford.”

“Certainly not that I know of. Miss Climpson and I have only just met
one another.” The tone of Miss Whittaker’s voice suggested that the
first meeting might very willingly be the last so far as she was

“Oh dear!” cried the youngest Miss Findlater, who was fair and bobbed
and rather coltish, “I believe I’ve dropped a brick. I’m _sure_ Mrs.
Peasgood understood that it was all settled.” She appealed to Miss
Climpson again.

“_Quite_ a mistake!” said that lady, energetically, “what _must_ you be
thinking of me, Miss Whittaker? _Of course_, I could not _possibly_ have
said such a thing. I only happened to mention—in the most _casual_ way,
that I was looking—that is, _thinking_ of looking about—for a house in
the neighbourhood of the Church—so convenient, you know, for _Early
Services_ and _Saints’ Days_—and it was suggested—just _suggested_, I
really forget by _whom_, that you _might_, just _possibly_, at _some_
time, consider letting your house. I assure you, that was _all_.” In
saying which, Miss Climpson was not wholly accurate or disingenuous, but
excused herself to her conscience on the rather jesuitical grounds that
where so much responsibility was floating about, it was best to pin it
down in the quarter which made for peace. “Miss Murgatroyd,” she added,
“put me right at once, for she said you were _certainly_ not thinking of
any such thing, or you would have told her before anybody else.”

Miss Whittaker laughed.

“But I shouldn’t,” she said, “I should have told my house-agent. It’s
quite true, I did have it in mind, but I certainly haven’t taken any

“You really are thinking of doing it, then?” cried Miss Findlater. “I do
hope so—because, if you do, I mean to apply for a job on the farm! I’m
simply longing to get away from all these silly tennis-parties and
things, and live close to the Earth and the fundamental crudities. Do
you read Sheila Kaye-Smith?”

Miss Climpson said no, but she was very fond of Thomas Hardy.

“It really is terrible, living in a little town like this,” went on Miss
Findlater, “so full of aspidistras, you know, and small gossip. You’ve
no idea what a dreadfully gossipy place Leahampton is, Miss Climpson.
I’m sure, Mary dear, you must have had more than enough of it, with that
tiresome Dr. Carr and the things people said. I don’t wonder you’re
thinking of getting rid of that house. I shouldn’t think you could ever
feel comfortable in it again.”

“Why on earth not?” said Miss Whittaker, lightly. Too lightly? Miss
Climpson was startled to recognise in eye and voice the curious quick
defensiveness of the neglected spinster who cries out that she has no
use for men.

“Oh well,” said Miss Findlater, “I always think it’s a little sad,
living where people have died, you know. Dear Miss Dawson—though of
course it really was merciful that she should be released—all the same—”

Evidently, thought Miss Climpson, she was turning the matter off. The
atmosphere of suspicion surrounding the death had been in her mind, but
she shied at referring to it.

“There are very few houses in which somebody hasn’t died sometime or
other,” said Miss Whittaker. “I really can’t see why people should worry
about it. I suppose it’s just a question of not realising. We are not
sensitive to the past lives of people we don’t know. Just as we are much
less upset about epidemics and accidents that happen a long way off. Do
you really suppose, by the way, Miss Climpson, that this Chinese
business is coming to anything? Everybody seems to take it very
casually. If all this rioting and Bolshevism was happening in Hyde Park,
there’d be a lot more fuss made about it.”

Miss Climpson made a suitable reply. That night she wrote to Lord Peter:

  Miss Whittaker has asked me to tea. She tells me that, _much as she
  would enjoy_ an active, country life, with something definite to do,
  she has a _deep affection_ for the house in Wellington Avenue, and
  _cannot tear herself away_. She seems _very anxious_ to give this
  impression. Would it be _fair_ for me to say “The lady doth protest
  _too much_, methinks”? The _Prince of Denmark_ might even add: “Let
  the galled jade wince”—if one can use that expression of a _lady_. How
  wonderful Shakespeare is! One can _always_ find a phrase in his works
  for _any_ situation!

                               CHAPTER VI
                               Found Dead

  “_Blood, though it sleep a time, yet never dies._”
                                       Chapman, _The Widow’s Tears_

“You know, Wimsey, I think you’ve found a mare’s nest,” objected Mr.
Parker. “I don’t believe there’s the slightest reason for supposing that
there was anything odd about the Dawson woman’s death. You’ve nothing to
go on but a conceited young doctor’s opinion and a lot of silly gossip.”

“You’ve got an official mind, Charles,” replied his friend. “Your
official passion for evidence is gradually sapping your brilliant
intellect and smothering your instincts. You’re over-civilised, that’s
your trouble. Compared with you, I am a child of nature. I dwell among
the untrodden ways beside the springs of Dove, a maid whom there are (I
am shocked to say) few to praise, likewise very few to love, which is
perhaps just as well. I _know_ there is something wrong about this


“How?—well, just as I know there is something wrong about that case of
reputed Lafite ’76 which that infernal fellow Pettigrew-Robinson had the
nerve to try out on me the other night. It has a nasty flavour.”

“Flavour be damned. There’s no indication of violence or poison. There’s
no motive for doing away with the old girl. And there’s no possibility
of proving anything against anybody.”

Lord Peter selected a Villar y Villar from his case, and lighted it with
artistic care.

“Look here,” he said, “will you take a bet about it? I’ll lay you ten to
one that Agatha Dawson was murdered, twenty to one that Mary Whittaker
did it, and fifty to one that I bring it home to her within the year.
Are you on?”

Parker laughed. “I’m a poor man, your Majesty,” he temporised.

“There you are,” said Lord Peter, triumphantly, “you’re not comfortable
about it yourself. If you were, you’d have said, ‘It’s taking your
money, old chap,’ and closed like a shot, in the happy assurance of a

“I’ve seen enough to know that nothing is a certainty,” retorted the
detective, “but I’ll take you—in—half-crowns,” he added, cautiously.

“Had you said ponies,” replied Lord Peter, “I would have taken your
alleged poverty into consideration and spared you, but
seven-and-sixpence will neither make nor break you. Consequently, I
shall proceed to make my statements good.”

“And what step do you propose taking?” inquired Parker, sarcastically.
“Shall you apply for an exhumation order and search for poison,
regardless of the analyst’s report? Or kidnap Miss Whittaker and apply
the third-degree in the Gallic manner?”

“Not at all. I am more modern. I shall use up-to-date psychological
methods. Like the people in the Psalms, I lay traps; I catch men. I
shall let the alleged criminal convict herself.”

“Go on! You are a one, aren’t you?” said Parker, jeeringly.

“I am indeed. It is a well-established psychological fact that criminals
cannot let well alone. They—”

“Revisit the place of the crime?”

“Don’t interrupt, blast you. They take unnecessary steps to cover the
traces which they haven’t left, and so invite, seriatim, Suspicion,
Inquiry, Proof, Conviction and the Gallows. Eminent legal writers—no,
pax! don’t chuck that S. Augustine about, it’s valuable. Anyhow, not to
cast the jewels of my eloquence into the pig-bucket, I propose to insert
this advertisement in all the morning papers. Miss Whittaker must read
_some_ product of our brilliant journalistic age, I suppose. By this
means, we shall kill two birds with one stone.”

“Start two hares at once, you mean,” grumbled Parker. “Hand it over.”

  “Bertha and Evelyn Gotobed, formerly in the service of Miss Agatha
  Dawson, of ‘The Grove,’ Wellington Avenue, Leahampton, are requested
  to communicate with J. Murbles, solicitor, of Staple Inn, when they

“Rather good, I think, don’t you?” said Wimsey. “Calculated to rouse
suspicion in the most innocent mind. I bet you Mary Whittaker will fall
for that.”

“In what way?”

“I don’t know. That’s what’s so interesting. I hope nothing unpleasant
will happen to dear old Murbles. I should hate to lose him. He’s such a
perfect type of the family solicitor. Still, a man in his profession
must be prepared to take risks.”

“Oh, bosh!” said Parker. “But I agree that it might be as well to get
hold of the girls, if you really want to find out about the Dawson
household. Servants always know everything.”

“It isn’t only that. Don’t you remember that Nurse Philliter said the
girls were sacked shortly before she left herself? Now, passing over the
odd circumstances of the Nurse’s own dismissal—the story about Miss
Dawson’s refusing to take food from her hands, which wasn’t at all borne
out by the old lady’s own attitude to her nurse—isn’t it worth
considerin’ that these girls should have been pushed off on some excuse
just about three weeks after one of those hysterical attacks of Miss
Dawson’s? Doesn’t it rather look as though everybody who was likely to
remember anything about that particular episode had been got out of the

“Well, there was a good reason for getting rid of the girls.”

“Crockery?—well, nowadays it’s not so easy to get good servants.
Mistresses put up with a deal more carelessness than they did in the
dear dead days beyond recall. Then, about that attack. Why did Miss
Whittaker choose just the very moment when the highly-intelligent Nurse
Philliter had gone for her walk, to bother Miss Dawson about signin’
some tiresome old lease or other? If business was liable to upset the
old girl, why not have a capable person at hand to calm her down?”

“Oh, but Miss Whittaker is a trained nurse. She was surely capable
enough to see to her aunt herself.”

“I’m perfectly sure she was a very capable woman indeed,” said Wimsey,
with emphasis.

“Oh, all right. You’re prejudiced. But stick the ad. in by all means. It
can’t do any harm.”

Lord Peter paused, in the very act of ringing the bell. His jaw
slackened, giving his long, narrow face a faintly foolish and hesitant
look, reminiscent of the heroes of Mr. P. G. Wodehouse.

“You don’t think—” he began. “Oh! rats!” He pressed the button. “It
_can’t_ do any harm, as you say. Bunter, see that this advertisement
appears in the personal columns of all this list of papers, every day
until further notice.”

The advertisement made its first appearance on the Tuesday morning.
Nothing of any note happened during the week, except that Miss Climpson
wrote in some distress to say that the youngest Miss Findlater had at
length succeeded in persuading Miss Whittaker to take definite steps
about the poultry farm. They had gone away together to look at a
business which they had seen advertised in the _Poultry News_, and
proposed to be away for some weeks. Miss Climpson feared that under the
circumstances she would not be able to carry on any investigations of
sufficient importance to justify her _far too generous_ salary. She had,
however, become friendly with Miss Findlater, who had promised to tell
her _all about_ their doings. Lord Peter replied in reassuring terms.

On the Tuesday following, Mr. Parker was just wrestling in prayer with
his charlady, who had a tiresome habit of boiling his breakfast kippers
till they resembled heavily pickled loofahs, when the telephone whirred

“Is that you, Charles?” asked Lord Peter’s voice. “I say, Murbles has
had a letter about that girl, Bertha Gotobed. She disappeared from her
lodgings last Thursday, and her landlady, getting anxious, and having
seen the advertisement, is coming to tell us all she knows. Can you come
round to Staple Inn at eleven?”

“Dunno,” said Parker, a little irritably. “I’ve got a job to see to.
Surely you can tackle it by yourself.”

“Oh, yes!” The voice was peevish. “But I thought you’d like to have some
of the fun. What an ungrateful devil you are. You aren’t taking the
faintest interest in this case.”

“Well—I don’t believe in it, you know. All right—don’t use language like
that—you’ll frighten the girl at the Exchange. I’ll see what I can do.
Eleven?—right!—Oh, I say!”

“Cluck!” said the telephone.

“Rung off,” said Parker, bitterly. “Bertha Gotobed. H’m! I could have

He reached across to the breakfast-table for the _Daily Yell_, which was
propped against the marmalade jar, and read with pursed lips a paragraph
whose heavily leaded headlines had caught his eye, just before the
interruption of the kipper episode.

                           “NIPPY” FOUND DEAD
                            IN EPPING FOREST
                          £5 Note in Hand-bag.

He took up the receiver again and asked for Wimsey’s number. The
man-servant answered him.

“His lordship is in his bath, sir. Shall I put you through?”

“Please,” said Parker.

The telephone clucked again. Presently Lord Peter’s voice came faintly,

“Did the landlady mention where Bertha Gotobed was employed?”

“Yes—she was a waitress at the Corner House. Why this interest all of a
sudden? You snub me in my bed, but you woo me in my bath. It sounds like
a music-hall song of the less refined sort. Why, oh why?”

“Haven’t you seen the papers?”

“No. I leave those follies till breakfast-time. What’s up? Are we
ordered to Shanghai? or have they taken sixpence off the income-tax?”

“Shut up, you fool, it’s serious. You’re too late.”

“What for?”

“Bertha Gotobed was found dead in Epping Forest this morning.”

“Good God! Dead? How? What of?”

“No idea. Poison or something. Or heart failure. No violence. No
robbery. No clue. I’m going down to the Yard about it now.”

“God forgive me, Charles. D’you know, I had a sort of awful feeling when
you said that ad. could do no harm. Dead. Poor girl! Charles, I feel
like a murderer. Oh, damn! and I’m all wet. It does make one feel so
helpless. Look here, you spin down to the Yard and tell ’em what you
know and I’ll join you there in half a tick. Anyway, there’s no doubt
about it now.”

“Oh, but, look here. It may be something quite different. Nothing to do
with your ad.”

“Pigs _may_ fly. Use your common sense. Oh! and Charles, does it mention
the sister?”

“Yes. There was a letter from her on the body, by which they identified
it. She got married last month and went to Canada.”

“That’s saved her life. She’ll be in absolutely horrible danger, if she
comes back. We must get hold of her and warn her. And find out what she
knows. Good-bye. I _must_ get some clothes on. Oh, hell!”

Cluck! the line went dead again, and Mr. Parker, abandoning the kippers
without regret, ran feverishly out of the house and down Lamb’s Conduit
Street to catch a diver tram to Westminster.

The Chief of Scotland Yard, Sir Andrew Mackenzie, was a very old friend
of Lord Peter’s. He received that agitated young man kindly and listened
with attention to his slightly involved story of cancer, wills,
mysterious solicitors and advertisements in the agony column.

“It’s a curious coincidence,” he said, indulgently, “and I can
understand your feeling upset about it. But you may set your mind at
rest. I have the police-surgeon’s report, and he is quite convinced that
the death was perfectly natural. No signs whatever of any assault. They
will make an examination, of course, but I don’t think there is the
slightest reason to suspect foul play.”

“But what was she doing in Epping Forest?”

Sir Andrew shrugged gently.

“That must be inquired into, of course. Still—young people _do_ wander
about, you know. There’s a fiancé somewhere. Something to do with the
railway, I believe. Collins has gone down to interview him. Or she may
have been with some other friend.”

“But if the death was natural, no one would leave a sick or dying girl
like that?”

“_You_ wouldn’t. But say there had been some running about—some
horse-play—and the girl fell dead, as these heart cases sometimes do.
The companion may well have taken fright and cleared out. It’s not
unheard of.”

Lord Peter looked unconvinced.

“How long has she been dead?”

“About five or six days, our man thinks. It was quite by accident that
she was found then at all; it’s quite an unfrequented part of the
Forest. A party of young people were exploring with a couple of
terriers, and one of the dogs nosed out the body.”

“Was it out in the open?”

“Not exactly. It lay among some bushes—the sort of place where a
frolicsome young couple might go to play hide-and-seek.”

“Or where a murderer might go to play hide and let the police seek,”
said Wimsey.

“Well, well. Have it your own way,” said Sir Andrew, smiling. “If it was
murder, it must have been a poisoning job, for, as I say, there was not
the slightest sign of a wound or a struggle. I’ll let you have the
report of the autopsy. In the meanwhile, if you’d like to run down there
with Inspector Parker, you can of course have any facilities you want.
And if you discover anything, let me know.”

Wimsey thanked him, and collecting Parker from an adjacent office,
rushed him briskly down the corridor.

“I don’t like it,” he said, “that is, of course, it’s very gratifying to
know that our first steps in psychology have led to action, so to speak,
but I wish to God it hadn’t been quite such decisive action. We’d better
trot down to Epping straight away, and see the landlady later. I’ve got
a new car, by the way, which you’ll like.”

Mr. Parker took one look at the slim black monster, with its long rakish
body and polished-copper twin exhausts, and decided there and then that
the only hope of getting down to Epping without interference was to look
as official as possible and wave his police authority under the eyes of
every man in blue along the route. He shoe-horned himself into his seat
without protest, and was more unnerved than relieved to find himself
shoot suddenly ahead of the traffic—not with the bellowing roar of the
ordinary racing engine, but in a smooth, uncanny silence.

“The new Daimler Twin-Six,” said Lord Peter, skimming dexterously round
a lorry without appearing to look at it. “With a racing body. Specially
built . . . useful . . . gadgets . . . no row—hate row . . . like Edmund
Sparkler . . . very anxious there should be no row . . . Little
Dorrit . . . remember . . . call her Mrs. Merdle . . . for that
reason . . . presently we’ll see what she can do.”

The promise was fulfilled before their arrival at the spot where the
body had been found. Their arrival made a considerable sensation among
the little crowd which business or curiosity had drawn to the spot. Lord
Peter was instantly pounced upon by four reporters and a synod of Press
photographers, whom his presence encouraged in the hope that the mystery
might turn out to be a three-column splash after all. Parker, to his
annoyance, was photographed in the undignified act of extricating
himself from “Mrs. Merdle.” Superintendent Walmisley came politely to
his assistance, rebuked the onlookers, and led him to the scene of

The body had been already removed to the mortuary, but a depression in
the moist ground showed clearly enough where it had lain. Lord Peter
groaned faintly as he saw it.

“Damn this nasty warm spring weather,” he said, with feeling. “April
showers—sun and water—couldn’t be worse. Body much altered,

“Well, yes, rather, my lord, especially in the exposed parts. But
there’s no doubt about the identity.”

“I didn’t suppose there was. How was it lying?”

“On the back, quite quiet and natural-like. No disarrangement of
clothing, or anything. She must just have sat down when she felt herself
bad and fallen back.”

“M’m. The rain has spoilt any footprints or signs on the ground. And
it’s grassy. Beastly stuff, grass, eh, Charles?”

“Yes. These twigs don’t seem to have been broken at all,

“Oh, no,” said the officer, “no signs of a struggle, as I pointed out in
my report.”

“No—but if she’d sat down here and fallen back as you suggest, don’t you
think her weight would have snapped some of these young shoots?”

The Superintendent glanced sharply at the Scotland Yard man.

“You don’t suppose she was brought and put here, do you, sir?”

“I don’t suppose anything,” retorted Parker, “I merely drew attention to
a point which I think you should consider. What are these wheel-marks?”

“That’s our car, sir. We backed it up here and took her up that way.”

“And all this trampling is your men too, I suppose?”

“Partly that, sir, and partly the party as found her.”

“You noticed no other person’s tracks, I suppose?”

“No, sir. But it’s rained considerably this last week. Besides, the
rabbits have been all over the place, as you can see, and other
creatures too, I fancy. Weasels, or something of that sort.”

“Oh! Well, I think you’d better take a look round. There might be traces
of some kind a bit further away. Make a circle, and report anything you
see. And you oughtn’t to have let all that bunch of people get so near.
Put a cordon round and tell ’em to move on. Have you seen all you want,

Wimsey had been poking his stick aimlessly into the bole of an oak-tree
at a few yards’ distance. Now he stooped and lifted out a package which
had been stuffed into a cleft. The two policemen hurried forward with
eager interest, which evaporated somewhat at sight of the find—a ham
sandwich and an empty Bass bottle, roughly wrapped up in a greasy

“Picnickers,” said Walmisley, with a snort. “Nothing to do with the
body, I daresay.”

“I think you’re mistaken,” said Wimsey, placidly. “When did the girl
disappear, exactly?”

“Well, she went off duty at the Corner House at five a week ago
to-morrow, that’s Wednesday, 27th,” said Parker.

“And this is the _Evening Views_ of Wednesday, 27th,” said Wimsey. “Late
Final edition. Now that edition isn’t on the streets till about 6
o’clock. So unless somebody brought it down and had supper here, it was
probably brought by the girl herself or her companion. It’s hardly
likely anyone would come and picnic here afterwards, not with the body
there. Not that bodies need necessarily interfere with one’s enjoyment
of one’s food. À la guerre comme à la guerre. But for the moment there
isn’t a war on.”

“That’s true, sir. But you’re assuming the death took place on the
Wednesday or Thursday. She may have been somewhere else—living with
someone in town or anywhere.”

“Crushed again,” said Wimsey. “Still, it’s a curious coincidence.”

“It is, my lord, and I’m very glad you found the things. Will you take
charge of ’em, Mr. Parker, or shall I?”

“Better take them along and put them with the other things,” said
Parker, extending his hand to take them from Wimsey, whom they seemed to
interest quite disproportionately. “I fancy his lordship’s right and
that the parcel came here along with the girl. And that certainly looks
as if she didn’t come alone. Possibly that young man of hers was with
her. Looks like the old, old story. Take care of that bottle, old man,
it may have finger-prints on it.”

“You can have the bottle,” said Wimsey. “May we ne’er lack a friend or a
bottle to give him, as Dick Swiveller says. But I earnestly beg that
before you caution your respectable young railway clerk that anything he
says may be taken down and used against him, you will cast your eye, and
your nose, upon this ham sandwich.”

“What’s wrong with it?” inquired Parker.

“Nothing. It appears to be in astonishingly good preservation, thanks to
this admirable oak-tree. The stalwart oak—for so many centuries
Britain’s bulwark against the invader! Heart of oak are our ships—not
hearts, by the way, as it is usually misquoted. But I am puzzled by the
incongruity between the sandwich and the rest of the outfit.”

“It’s an ordinary ham sandwich, isn’t it?”

“Oh, gods of the wine-flask and the board, how long? how long?—it is a
ham sandwich, Goth, but not an ordinary one. Never did it see Lyons’
kitchen, or the counter of the multiple store or the delicatessen shop
in the back street. The pig that was sacrificed to make this dainty
titbit fattened in no dull style, never knew the daily ration of
pig-wash or the not unmixed rapture of the domestic garbage-pail.
Observe the hard texture, the deep brownish tint of the lean; the rich
fat, yellow as a Chinaman’s cheek; the dark spot where the black treacle
cure has soaked in, to make a dish fit to lure Zeus from Olympus. And
tell me, man of no discrimination and worthy to be fed on boiled cod all
the year round, tell me how it comes that your little waitress and her
railway clerk come down to Epping Forest to regale themselves on
sandwiches made from coal-black, treacle-cured Bradenham ham, which long
ago ran as a young wild boar about the woodlands, till death translated
it to an incorruptible and more glorious body? I may add that it costs
about 3s. a pound uncooked—an argument which you will allow to be

“That’s odd, certainly,” said Parker. “I imagine that only rich people—”

“Only rich people or people who understand eating as a fine art,” said
Wimsey. “The two classes are by no means identical, though they
occasionally overlap.”

“It may be very important,” said Parker, wrapping the exhibits up
carefully. “We’d better go along now and see the body.”

The examination was not a very pleasant matter, for the weather had been
damp and warm and there had certainly been weasels. In fact, after a
brief glance, Wimsey left the two policemen to carry on alone, and
devoted his attention to the dead girl’s handbag. He glanced through the
letter from Evelyn Gotobed—(now Evelyn Cropper)——and noted down the
Canadian address. He turned the cutting of his own advertisement out of
an inner compartment, and remained for some time in consideration of the
£5 note which lay, folded up, side by side with a 10_s._ Treasury note,
7_s._, 8_d._ in silver and copper, a latch-key and a powder compacte.

“You’re having this note traced, Walmisley, I suppose?”

“Oh, yes, my lord, certainly.”

“And the latch-key, I imagine, belongs to the girl’s lodgings.”

“No doubt it does. We have asked her landlady to come and identify the
body. Not that there’s any doubt about it, but just as a matter of
routine. She may give us some help. Ah!”—the Superintendent peered out
of the mortuary door—“I think this must be the lady.”

The stout and motherly woman who emerged from a taxi in charge of a
youthful policeman identified the body without difficulty, and amid many
sobs, as that of Bertha Gotobed. “Such a nice young lady,” she mourned.
“What a terrible thing, oh, dear! who would go to do a thing like that?
I’ve been in such a state of worriment ever since she didn’t come home
last Wednesday. I’m sure many’s the time I’ve said to myself I wished
I’d had my tongue cut out before I ever showed her that wicked
advertisement. Ah, I see you’ve got it there, sir. A dreadful thing it
is that people should be luring young girls away with stories about
something to their advantage. A sinful old devil—calling himself a
lawyer, too! When she didn’t come back and didn’t come back I wrote to
the wretch, telling him I was on his track and was coming round to have
the law on him as sure as my name’s Dorcas Gulliver. He wouldn’t have
got round me—not that I’d be the bird he was looking for, being
sixty-one come Mid-Summer Day—and so I told him.”

Lord Peter’s gravity was somewhat upset by this diatribe against the
highly respectable Mr. Murbles of Staple Inn, whose own version of Mrs.
Gulliver’s communication had been decently expurgated. “How shocked the
old boy must have been,” he murmured to Parker. “I’m for it next time I
see him.”

Mrs. Gulliver’s voice moaned on and on.

“Such respectable girls, both of them, and Miss Evelyn married to that
nice young man from Canada. Deary me, it will be a terrible upset for
her. And there’s poor John Ironsides, was to have married Miss Bertha,
the poor lamb, this very Whitsuntide as ever is. A very steady,
respectable man—a clurk on the Southern, which he always used to say,
joking like, ‘Slow but safe, like the Southern—that’s me, Mrs. G.’ T’ch,
t’ch—who’d a’ believed it? And it’s not as if she was one of the flighty
sort. I give her a latch-key gladly, for she’d sometimes be on late
duty, but never any staying out after her time. That’s why it worried me
so, her not coming back. There’s many nowadays as would wash one’s hands
and glad to be rid of them, knowing what they might be up to. No. When
the time passed and she didn’t come back, I said, Mark my words, I said,
she’s bin kidnapped, I said, by that Murbles.”

“Had she been long with you, Mrs. Gulliver?” asked Parker.

“Not above a fifteen month or so, she hadn’t, but bless you, I don’t
have to know a young lady fifteen days to know if she’s a good girl or
not. You gets to know by the look of ’em almost, when you’ve ’ad my

“Did she and her sister come to you together?”

“They did. They come to me when they was lookin’ for work in London. And
they could a’ fallen into a deal worse hands I can tell you, two young
things from the country, and them that fresh and pretty looking.”

“They were uncommonly lucky, I’m sure, Mrs. Gulliver,” said Lord Peter,
“and they must have found it a great comfort to be able to confide in
you and get your good advice.”

“Well, I think they did,” said Mrs. Gulliver, “not that young people
nowadays seems to want much guidance from them as is older. Train up a
child and away she go, as the Good Book says. But Miss Evelyn, that’s
now Mrs. Cropper—she’d had this London idea put into her head, and up
they comes with the idea of bein’ made ladies of, havin’ only been in
service before, though what’s the difference between serving in one of
them tea-shops at the beck of all the nasty tagrag and bobtail and
serving in a lady’s home, I _don’t_ see, except that you works harder
and don’t get your meals so comfortable. Still, Miss Evelyn, she was
always the go-ahead one of the two, and she did very well for herself, I
will say, meetin’ Mr. Cropper as used to take his breakfast regular at
the Corner House every morning and took a liking to the girl in the most
honourable way.”

“That was very fortunate. Have you any idea what gave them the notion of
coming to town?”

“Well, now, sir, it’s funny you should ask that, because it was a thing
I never could understand. The lady as they used to be in service with,
down in the country, she put it into Miss Evelyn’s head. Now, sir,
wouldn’t you think that with good service that ’ard to come by, she’d
have done all she could to keep them with her? But no! There was a bit
of trouble one day, it seems, over Bertha—this poor girl here, poor
lamb—it do break one’s ’eart to see her like that, don’t it, sir?—over
Bertha ’avin’ broke an old teapot—a very valuable one by all accounts,
and the lady told ’er she couldn’t put up with ’avin’ her things broke
no more. So she says: ‘You’ll ’ave to go,’ she says, ‘but,’ she says,
‘I’ll give you a very good character and you’ll soon get a good place.
And I expect Evelyn’ll want to go with you,’ she says, ‘so I’ll have to
find someone else to do for me,’ she says. ‘But,’ she says, ‘why not go
to London? You’ll do better there and have a much more interesting life
than what you would at home,’ she says. And the end of it was, she
filled ’em up so with stories of how fine a place London was and how
grand situations was to be had for the asking, that they was mad to go,
and she give them a present of money and behaved very handsome, take it
all round.”

“H’m,” said Wimsey, “she seems to have been very particular about her
teapot. Was Bertha a great crockery-breaker?”

“Well, sir, she never broke nothing of mine. But this Miss
Whittaker—that was the name—she was one of these opinionated ladies, as
will ’ave their own way in everythink. A fine temper she ’ad, or so poor
Bertha said, though Miss Evelyn—her as is now Mrs. Cropper—_she_ always
’ad an idea as there was somethink at the back of it. Miss Evelyn was
always the sharp one, as you might say. But there, sir, we all ’as our
peculiarities, don’t we? It’s my own belief as the lady had somebody of
her own choice as she wanted to put in the place of Bertha—that’s this
one—and Evelyn—as is now Mrs. Cropper, you understand me—and she jest
trampled up an excuse, as they say, to get rid of ’em.”

“Very possibly,” said Wimsey. “I suppose, Inspector, Evelyn Gotobed—”

“Now Mrs. Cropper,” put in Mrs. Gulliver with a sob.

“Mrs. Cropper, I should say—has been communicated with?”

“Oh, yes, my lord. We cabled her at once.”

“Good. I wish you’d let me know when you hear from her.”

“We shall be in touch with Inspector Parker, my lord, of course.”

“Of course. Well, Charles, I’m going to leave you to it. I’ve got a
telegram to send. Or will you come with me?”

“Thanks, no,” said Parker. “To be frank, I don’t like your methods of
driving. Being in the Force, I prefer to keep on the windy side of the

“Windy is the word for you,” said Peter. “I’ll see you in Town, then.”

                              CHAPTER VII
                             Ham and Brandy

  “_Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are._”

“Well,” said Wimsey, as Parker was ushered in that same evening by
Bunter, “have you got anything fresh?”

“Yes, I’ve got a new theory of the crime, which knocks yours into a
cocked hat. I’ve got evidence to support it, too.”

“Which crime, by the way?”

“Oh, the Epping Forest business. I don’t believe the old Dawson person
was murdered at all. That’s just an idea of yours.”

“I see. And you’re now going to tell me that Bertha Gotobed was got hold
of by the White Slave people.”

“How did you know?” asked Parker, a little peevishly.

“Because Scotland Yard have two maggots which crop up whenever anything
happens to a young woman. Either it’s White Slavery or Dope
Dens—sometimes both. You are going to say it’s both.”

“Well, I was, as a matter of fact. It so often is, you know. We’ve
traced the £5 note.”

“That’s important, anyhow.”

“Yes. It seems to me to be the clue to the whole thing. It is one of a
series paid out to a Mrs. Forrest, living in South Audley Street. I’ve
been round to make some inquiries.”

“Did you see the lady?”

“No, she was out. She usually is, I’m told. In fact, her habits seem to
be expensive, irregular and mysterious. She has an elegantly furnished
flat over a flower-shop.”

“A service flat?”

“No. One of the quiet kind, with a lift you work yourself. She only
turns up occasionally, mostly in the evenings, spends a night or two and
departs. Food ordered in from Fortnum and Mason’s. Bills paid promptly
by note or cheque. Cleaning done by an elderly female who comes in about
eleven, by which time Mrs. Forrest has usually gone out.”

“Doesn’t anybody ever see her?”

“Oh dear, yes! The people in the flat below and the girl at the
flower-shop were able to give me quite a good description of her. Tall,
over-dressed, musquash and those abbreviated sort of shoes with jewelled
heels and hardly any uppers—you know the sort of thing. Heavily
peroxided; strong aroma of origan wafted out upon the passer-by; powder
too white for the fashion and mouth heavily obscured with sealing-wax
red; eyebrows painted black to startle, not deceive; finger-nails a
monument to Kraska—the pink variety.”

“I’d no idea you studied the Woman’s Page to such good purpose,

“Drives a Renault Four-seater, dark green with tapestry doings. Garages
just round the corner. I’ve seen the man, and he says the car was out on
the night of the 27th. Went out at 11:30. Returned about 8 the next

“How much petrol had been used?”

“We worked that out. Just about enough for a run to Epping and back.
What’s more, the charwoman says that there had been supper for two in
the flat that night, and three bottles of champagne drunk. Also, there
is a ham in the flat.”

“A Bradenham ham?”

“How do you expect the charwoman to know that? But I think it probably
is, as I find from Fortnum & Mason’s that a Bradenham ham was delivered
to Mrs. Forrest’s address about a fortnight ago.”

“That sounds conclusive. I take it you think Bertha Gotobed was
inveigled there for some undesirable purpose by Mrs. Forrest, and had
supper with her—”

“No; I should think there was a man.”

“Yes, of course. Mrs. F. brings the parties together and leaves them to
it. The poor girl is made thoroughly drunk—and then something untoward

“Yes—shock, perhaps, or a shot of dope.”

“And they bustle her off and get rid of her. It’s quite possible. The
post-mortem may tell us something about it. Yes, Bunter, what is it?”

“The telephone, my lord, for Mr. Parker.”

“Excuse me,” said Parker, “I asked the people at the flower-shop to ring
me up here, if Mrs. Forrest came in. If she’s there, would you like to
come round with me?”

“Very much.”

Parker returned from the telephone with an air of subdued triumph.

“She’s just gone up to her flat. Come along. We’ll take a taxi—not that
death-rattle of yours. Hurry up, I don’t want to miss her.”

The door of the flat in South Audley Street was opened by Mrs. Forrest
in person. Wimsey recognised her instantly from the description. On
seeing Parker’s card, she made no objection whatever to letting them in,
and led the way into a pink and mauve sitting-room, obviously furnished
by contract from a Regent Street establishment.

“Please sit down. Will you smoke? And your friend?”

“My colleague, Mr. Templeton,” said Parker, promptly.

Mrs. Forrest’s rather hard eyes appeared to sum up in a practised manner
the difference between Parker’s seven-guinea “fashionable lounge
suiting, tailored in our own workrooms, fits like a made-to-measure
suit,” and his “colleague’s” Savile Row outlines, but beyond a slight
additional defensiveness of manner she showed no disturbance. Parker
noted the glance. “She’s summing us up professionally,” was his mental
comment, “and she’s not quite sure whether Wimsey’s an outraged brother
or husband or what. Never mind. Let her wonder. We may get her rattled.”

“We are engaged, Madam,” he began, with formal severity, “on an inquiry
relative to certain events connected with the 26th of last month. I
think you were in Town at that time?”

Mrs. Forrest frowned slightly in the effort to recollect. Wimsey made a
mental note that she was not as young as her bouffant apple-green frock
made her appear. She was certainly nearing the thirties, and her eyes
were mature and aware.

“Yes, I think I was. Yes, certainly. I was in Town for several days
about that time. How can I help you?”

“It is a question of a certain bank-note which has been traced to your
possession,” said Parker, “a £5 note numbered x/y58929. It was issued to
you by Lloyds Bank in payment of a cheque on the 19th.”

“Very likely. I can’t say I remember the number, but I think I cashed a
cheque about that time. I can tell in a moment by my cheque-book.”

“I don’t think it’s necessary. But it would help us very much if you can
recollect to whom you paid it.”

“Oh, I see. Well, that’s rather difficult. I paid my dressmaker’s about
that time—no, that was by cheque. I paid cash to the garage, I know, and
I think there was a £5 note in that. Then I dined at Verry’s with a
woman friend—that took the second £5 note, I remember, but there was a
third. I drew out £25—three fives and ten ones. Where did the third note
go? Oh, of course, how stupid of me! I put it on a horse.”

“Through a Commission Agent?”

“No. I had nothing much to do one day, so I went down to Newmarket. I
put the £5 on some creature called Brighteye or Attaboy or some name
like that, at 50 to 1. Of course the wretched animal didn’t win, they
never do. A man in the train gave me the tip and wrote the name down for
me. I handed it to the nearest bookie I saw—a funny little grey-haired
man with a hoarse voice—and that was the last I saw of it.”

“Could you remember which day it was?”

“I think it was Saturday. Yes, I’m sure it was.”

“Thank you very much, Mrs. Forrest. It will be a great help if we can
trace those notes. One of them has turned up since in—other

“May I know what the circumstances are, or is it an official secret?”

Parker hesitated. He rather wished now, that he had demanded point-blank
at the start how Mrs. Forrest’s £5 note had come to be found on the dead
body of the waitress at Epping. Taken by surprise, the woman might have
got flustered. Now, he had let her entrench herself securely behind this
horse story. Impossible to follow up the history of a bank-note handed
to an unknown bookie at a race-meeting. Before he could speak, Wimsey
broke in for the first time, in a high, petulant voice which quite took
his friend aback.

“You’re not getting anywhere with all this,” he complained. “I don’t
care a continental curse about the beastly note, and I’m sure Sylvia

“Who is Sylvia?” demanded Mrs. Forrest with considerable amazement.

“Who is Sylvia? What is she?” gabbled Wimsey, irrepressibly.
“Shakespeare always has the right word, hasn’t he? But, God bless my
soul, it’s no laughing matter. It’s very serious and you’ve no business
to laugh at it. Sylvia is very much upset, and the doctor is afraid it
may have an effect on her heart. You may not know it, Mrs. Forrest, but
Sylvia Lyndhurst is my cousin. And what she wants to know, and what we
all want to know—don’t interrupt me, Inspector, all this
shilly-shallying doesn’t get us anywhere—I want to know, Mrs. Forrest,
who was it dining here with you on the night of April 26th. Who was it?
Who was it? Can you tell me that?”

This time, Mrs. Forrest was visibly taken aback. Even under the thick
coat of powder they could see the red flush up into her cheeks and ebb
away, while her eyes took on an expression of something more than
alarm—a kind of vicious fury, such as one may see in those of a cornered

“On the 26th?” she faltered. “I can’t—”

“I knew it!” cried Wimsey. “And that girl Evelyn was sure of it too. Who
was it, Mrs. Forrest? Answer me that!”

“There—there was no one,” said Mrs. Forrest, with a thick gasp.

“Oh, come, Mrs. Forrest, think again,” said Parker, taking his cue
promptly, “you aren’t going to tell us that you accounted by yourself
for three bottles of Veuve Clicquot and two people’s dinners.”

“Not forgetting the ham,” put in Wimsey, with fussy self-importance,
“the Bradenham ham specially cooked and sent up by Fortnum & Mason. Now,
Mrs. Forrest—”

“Wait a moment. Just a moment. I’ll tell you everything.”

The woman’s hands clutched at the pink silk cushions, making little hot,
tight creases. “I—would you mind getting me something to drink? In the
dining-room, through there—on the sideboard.”

Wimsey got up quickly and disappeared into the next room. He took rather
a long time, Parker thought. Mrs. Forrest was lying back in a collapsed
attitude, but her breathing was more controlled, and she was, he
thought, recovering her wits. “Making up a story,” he muttered savagely
to himself. However, he could not, without brutality, press her at the

Lord Peter, behind the folding doors, was making a good deal of noise,
chinking the glasses and fumbling about. However, before very long, he
was back.

“’Scuse my taking such a time,” he apologised, handing Mrs. Forrest a
glass of brandy and soda. “Couldn’t find the syphon. Always was a bit
wool-gathering, y’know. All my friends say so. Starin’ me in the face
all the time, what? And then I sloshed a lot of soda on the sideboard.
Hand shakin’. Nerves all to pieces and so on. Feelin’ better? That’s
right. Put it down. That’s the stuff to pull you together. How about
another little one, what? Oh, rot, it can’t hurt you. Mind if I have one
myself? I’m feelin’ a bit flustered. Upsettin’, delicate business and
all that. Just another spot. That’s the idea.”

He trotted out again, glass in hand, while Parker fidgeted. The presence
of amateur detectives was sometimes an embarrassment. Wimsey clattered
in again, this time, with more common sense, bringing decanter, syphon
and three glasses, bodily, on a tray.

“Now, now,” said Wimsey, “now we’re feeling better, do you think you can
answer our question, Mrs. Forrest?”

“May I know, first of all, what right you have to ask it?”

Parker shot an exasperated glance at his friend. This came of giving
people time to think.

“Right?” burst in Wimsey. “Right? Of course, we’ve a right. The police
have a right to ask questions when anything’s the matter. Here’s murder
the matter! Right, indeed?”


A curious intent look came into her eyes. Parker could not place it, but
Wimsey recognised it instantly. He had seen it last on the face of a
great financier as he took up his pen to sign a contract. Wimsey had
been called to witness the signature, and had refused. It was a contract
that ruined thousands of people. Incidentally, the financier had been
murdered soon after, and Wimsey had declined to investigate the matter,
with a sentence from Dumas: “Let pass the justice of God.”

“I’m afraid,” Mrs. Forrest was saying, “that in that case I can’t help
you. I _did_ have a friend dining with me on the 26th, but he has not,
so far as I know, been murdered, nor has he murdered anybody.”

“It was a man, then?” said Parker.

Mrs. Forrest bowed her head with a kind of mocking ruefulness. “I live
apart from my husband,” she murmured.

“I am sorry,” said Parker, “to have to press for this gentleman’s name
and address.”

“Isn’t that asking rather much? Perhaps if you would give me further

“Well, you see,” cut in Wimsey again, “if we could just know for certain
it wasn’t Lyndhurst. My cousin is so frightfully upset, as I said, and
that Evelyn girl is making trouble. In fact—of course one doesn’t want
it to go any further—but actually Sylvia lost her head very completely.
She made a savage attack on poor old Lyndhurst—with a revolver, in fact,
only fortunately she is a shocking bad shot. It went over his shoulder
and broke a vase—most distressin’ thing—a Famille Rose jar, worth
thousands—and of course it was smashed to atoms. Sylvia is really hardly
responsible when she’s in a temper. And, we thought, as Lyndhurst was
actually traced to this block of flats—if you could give us definite
proof it wasn’t him, it might calm her down and prevent murder being
done, don’t you know. Because, though they might call it Guilty but
Insane, still, it would be awfully awkward havin’ one’s cousin in
Broadmoor—a first cousin, and really a very nice woman, when she’s not

Mrs. Forrest gradually softened into a faint smile.

“I think I understand the position, Mr. Templeton,” she said, “and if I
give you a name, it will be in strict confidence, I presume?”

“Of course, of course,” said Wimsey. “Dear me, I’m sure it’s uncommonly
kind of you.”

“You’ll swear you aren’t spies of my husband’s?” she said, quickly. “I
am trying to divorce him. How do I know this isn’t a trap?”

“Madam,” said Wimsey, with intense gravity, “I swear to you on my honour
as a gentleman that I have not the slightest connection with your
husband. I have never even heard of him before.”

Mrs. Forrest shook her head.

“I don’t think, after all,” she said, “it would be much good my giving
you the name. In any case, if you asked him whether he’d been here, he
would say no, wouldn’t he? And if you’ve been sent by my husband, you’ve
got all the evidence you want already. But I give you my solemn
assurance, Mr. Templeton, that I know nothing about your friend, Mr.

“Major Lyndhurst,” put in Wimsey, plaintively.

“And if Mrs. Lyndhurst is not satisfied, and likes to come round and see
me, I will do my best to satisfy her of the fact. Will that do?”

“Thank you very much,” said Wimsey. “I’m sure it’s as much as any one
could expect. You’ll forgive my abruptness, won’t you? I’m
rather—er—nervously constituted, and the whole business is exceedingly
upsetting. _Good_ afternoon. Come on, Inspector, it’s quite all
right—you see it’s quite all right. I’m really very much
obliged—uncommonly so. Please don’t trouble to see us out.”

He teetered nervously down the narrow hall-way, in his imbecile and
well-bred way, Parker following with a policeman-like stiffness. No
sooner, however, had the flat-door closed behind them than Wimsey seized
his friend by the arm and bundled him helter-skelter into the lift.

“I thought we should never get away,” he panted. “Now quick—how do we
get round to the back of these flats?”

“What do you want with the back?” demanded Parker, annoyed. “And I wish
you wouldn’t stampede me like this. I’ve no business to let you come
with me on a job at all, and if I do, you might have the decency to keep

“Right you are,” said Wimsey, cheerfully, “just let’s do this little bit
and you can get all the virtuous indignation off your chest later on.
Round here, I fancy, up this back alley. Step lively and mind the
dust-bin. One, two, three, four—here we are! Just keep a look-out for
the passing stranger, will you?”

Selecting a back window which he judged to belong to Mrs. Forrest’s
flat, Wimsey promptly grasped a drain-pipe and began to swarm up it with
the agility of a cat-burglar. About fifteen feet from the ground he
paused, reached up, and appeared to detach something with a quick jerk,
and then slid very gingerly to the ground again, holding his right hand
at a cautious distance from his body, as though it were breakable.

And indeed, to his amazement, Parker observed that Wimsey now held a
long-stemmed glass in his fingers, similar to those from which they had
drunk in Mrs. Forrest’s sitting-room.

“What on earth—?” said Parker.

“Hush! I’m Hawkshaw the detective—gathering finger-prints. Here we come
a-wassailing and gathering prints in May. That’s why I took the glass
back. I brought a different one in the second time. Sorry I had to do
this athletic stunt, but the only cotton-reel I could find hadn’t much
on it. When I changed the glass, I tip-toed into the bathroom and hung
it out of the window. Hope she hasn’t been in there since. Just brush my
bags down, will you, old man? Gently—don’t touch the glass.”

“What the devil do you want finger-prints for?”

“You’re a grateful sort of person. Why, for all you know, Mrs. Forrest
is someone the Yard has been looking for for years. And anyway, you
could compare the prints with those on the Bass bottle, if any. Besides,
you never know when finger-prints mayn’t come in handy. They’re
excellent things to have about the house. Coast clear? Right. Hail a
taxi, will you? I can’t wave my hand with this glass in it. Look so
silly, don’t you know. I say!”


“I saw something else. The first time I went out for the drinks, I had a
peep into her bedroom.”


“What do you think I found in the wash-stand drawer?”


“A hypodermic syringe!”


“Oh, yes, and an innocent little box of ampullæ, with a doctor’s
prescription headed ‘The injection, Mrs. Forrest. One to be injected
when the pain is very severe.’ What do you think of that?”

“Tell you when we’ve got the results of that post-mortem,” said Parker,
really impressed. “You didn’t bring the prescription, I suppose?”

“No, and I didn’t inform the lady who we were or what we were after or
ask her permission to carry away the family crystal. But I made a note
of the chemist’s address.”

“Did you?” ejaculated Parker. “Occasionally, my lad, you have some
glimmerings of sound detective sense.”

                              CHAPTER VIII
                            Concerning Crime

  “_Society is at the mercy of a murderer who is remorseless,_
  _who takes no accomplices and who keeps his head._”
                            Edmund Pearson, _Murder at Smutty Nose_

_Letter from Miss Alexandra Katherine Climpson to Lord Peter Wimsey._

                                                            “Fair View,”
                                                          Nelson Avenue,
                                                           12 May, 1927.

  My dear Lord Peter,

  I have not _yet_ been able to get ALL the information you ask for, as
  Miss Whittaker has been away for some weeks, inspecting
  _chicken-farms_!! With a view to purchase, I mean of course, and not
  in any _sanitary capacity_(!). I _really think_ she means to set up
  farming _with Miss Findlater_, though what Miss Whittaker can see in
  that very gushing and really _silly_ young woman I cannot think.
  However, Miss Findlater has evidently quite a “pash” (as we used to
  call it at school) for Miss Whittaker, and I am afraid none of us are
  being _flattered_ by such outspoken admiration. I must say, I think it
  rather _unhealthy_—you may remember Miss Clemence Dane’s _very clever
  book_ on the subject?—I have seen so _much_ of that kind of thing in
  my rather WOMAN-RIDDEN existence! It has such a bad effect, as a rule,
  upon the _weaker character_ of the two—But I must not take up your
  time with my TWADDLE!!

  Miss Murgatroyd, who was quite a friend of old _Miss Dawson_, however,
  has been able to tell me a _little_ about her past life.

  It seems that, until five years ago, Miss Dawson lived in Warwickshire
  with her cousin, a Miss Clara Whittaker, Mary Whittaker’s great-aunt
  on the _father’s_ side. This Miss Clara was evidently rather a
  “character,” as my dear father used to call it. In her day she was
  considered very “advanced” and _not quite nice_(!) because she
  _refused_ several _good offers_, cut her hair short(!!) and set up in
  business for herself as a HORSE-BREEDER!!! Of course, _nowadays_,
  nobody would think anything of it, but _then_ the old lady—or _young_
  lady as she was when she embarked on this _revolutionary_ proceeding,
  was quite a PIONEER.

  Agatha Dawson was a school-fellow of hers, and _deeply attached_ to
  her. And as a result of this friendship, Agatha’s _sister_, Harriet,
  married Clara Whittaker’s brother James! But _Agatha_ did not care
  about marriage, any more than _Clara_, and the two ladies lived
  together in a big old house, with immense stables, in a village in
  Warwickshire—Crofton, I think the name was. Clara Whittaker turned out
  to be a remarkably _good business woman_, and worked up a big
  connection among the _hunting folk_ in those parts. Her hunters became
  quite _famous_, and from a capital of a few thousand pounds with which
  she started she made quite a _fortune_, and was a _very rich woman_
  before her death! Agatha Dawson never had anything to do with the
  _horsey_ part of the business. She was the “domestic” partner, and
  looked after the _house_ and the _servants_.

  When Clara Whittaker died, she left _all her money_ to Agatha, passing
  over her _own family_, with whom she was _not on very good
  terms_—owing to the narrow-minded attitude they had taken up about her
  horse-dealing!! Her nephew, Charles Whittaker, who was a clergyman,
  and the father of _our_ Miss Whittaker, resented very much not getting
  the money, though, as he had kept up the feud in a very _un-Christian_
  manner, he had really _no right_ to complain, especially as Clara had
  built up her fortune _entirely_ by her own exertions. But, of course,
  he inherited the _bad, old-fashioned_ idea that women _ought not_ to
  be their own mistresses, or make money for themselves, or do what they
  liked with their own!

  He and his family were the only surviving Whittaker relations, and
  when _he and his wife_ were killed in a motor-car accident, Miss
  Dawson asked Mary to leave her work as a nurse and make her home with
  her. So that, you see, Clara Whittaker’s money was destined to _come
  back_ to James Whittaker’s daughter in the end!! Miss Dawson made it
  _quite_ CLEAR that this was her intention, provided Mary would come
  and _cheer the declining days_ of a lonely old lady!

  Mary accepted, and as her aunt—or, to speak more _exactly_, her
  great-aunt—had given up the big old Warwickshire house after Clara’s
  death, they lived in London for a short time and then moved to
  Leahampton. As you know, poor old Miss Dawson was then already
  suffering from the _terrible disease_ of which she died, so that Mary
  did not have to wait very long for Clara Whittaker’s money!!

  I hope this information will be of some _use_ to you. Miss Murgatroyd
  did not, of course, know anything about the rest of the family, but
  she always understood that there were _no other_ surviving relatives,
  either on the Whittaker or the Dawson side.

  When Miss Whittaker returns, I hope to _see more_ of her. I enclose my
  _account_ for expenses up to date. I do _trust_ you will not consider
  it _extravagant_. How are your money-lenders progressing? I was sorry
  not to see more of those _poor women_ whose cases I investigated—their
  stories were _so_ PATHETIC!

                                    I am,
                            Very sincerely yours,
                                                  Alexandra K. Climpson.

  P.S.—I _forgot_ to say that Miss Whittaker has a little motor-car. I
  do not, of course, know anything about these matters, but Mrs. Budge’s
  maid tells me that Miss Whittaker’s maid says it is an Austin 7 (is
  this right?). It is grey, and the number is XX9917.

Mr. Parker was announced, just as Lord Peter finished reading this
document, and sank rather wearily in a corner of the chesterfield.

“What luck?” inquired his lordship, tossing the letter over to him. “Do
you know, I’m beginning to think you were right about the Bertha Gotobed
business, and I’m rather relieved. I don’t believe one word of Mrs.
Forrest’s story, for reasons of my own, and I’m now hoping that the
wiping out of Bertha was a pure coincidence and nothing to do with my

“Are you?” said Parker, bitterly, helping himself to whisky and soda.
“Well, I hope you’ll be cheered to learn that the analysis of the body
has been made, and that there is not the slightest sign of foul play.
There is no trace of violence or of poisoning. There was a heart
weakness of fairly long standing, and the verdict is syncope after a
heavy meal.”

“That doesn’t worry me,” said Wimsey. “We suggested shock, you know.
Amiable gentleman met at flat of friendly lady suddenly turns funny
after dinner and makes undesirable overtures. Virtuous young woman is
horribly shocked. Weak heart gives way. Collapse. Exit. Agitation of
amiable gentleman and friendly lady, left with corpse on their hands.
Happy thought motor-car; Epping Forest; _exeunt omnes_, singing and
washing their hands. Where’s the difficulty?”

“Proving it is the difficulty, that’s all. By the way, there were no
finger-marks on the bottle—only smears.”

“Gloves, I suppose. Which looks like camouflage, anyhow. An ordinary
picnicking couple wouldn’t put on gloves to handle a bottle of Bass.”

“I know. But we can’t arrest all the people who wear gloves.”

“I weep for you, the Walrus said, I deeply sympathise. I see the
difficulty, but it’s early days yet. How about those injections?”

“Perfectly O.K. We’ve interrogated the chemist and interviewed the
doctor. Mrs. Forrest suffers from violent neuralgic pains, and the
injections were duly prescribed. Nothing wrong there, and no history of
doping or anything. The prescription is a very mild one, and couldn’t
possibly be fatal to anybody. Besides, haven’t I told you that there was
no trace of morphia or any other kind of poison in the body?”

“Oh, well!” said Wimsey. He sat for a few minutes looking thoughtfully
at the fire.

“I see the case has more or less died out of the papers,” he resumed,

“Yes. The analysis has been sent to them, and there will be a paragraph
to-morrow and a verdict of natural death, and that will be the end of

“Good. The less fuss there is about it the better. Has anything been
heard of the sister in Canada?”

“Oh, I forgot. Yes. We had a cable three days ago. She’s coming over.”

“Is she? By Jove! What boat?”

“The _Star of Quebec_—due in next Friday.”

“H’m! We’ll have to get hold of her. Are you meeting the boat?”

“Good heavens, no! Why should I?”

“I think someone ought to. I’m reassured—but not altogether happy. I
think I’ll go myself, if you don’t mind. I want to get that Dawson
story—and this time I want to make sure the young woman doesn’t have a
heart attack before I interview her.”

“I really think you’re exaggerating, Peter.”

“Better safe than sorry,” said his lordship. “Have another peg, won’t
you? Meanwhile, what do you think of Miss Climpson’s latest?”

“I don’t see much in it.”


“It’s a bit confusing, but it all seems quite straightforward.”

“Yes. The only thing we know now is that Mary Whittaker’s father was
annoyed about Miss Dawson’s getting his aunt’s money and thought it
ought to have come to him.”

“Well, you don’t suspect _him_ of having murdered Miss Dawson, do you?
He died before her, and the daughter’s got the money, anyhow.”

“Yes, I know. But suppose Miss Dawson had changed her mind? She might
have quarrelled with Mary Whittaker and wanted to leave her money

“Oh, I see—and been put out of the way before she could make a will?”

“Isn’t it possible?”

“Yes, certainly. Except that all the evidence we have goes to show that
will-making was about the last job anybody could persuade her to do.”

“True—while she was on good terms with Mary. But how about that morning
Nurse Philliter mentioned, when she said people were trying to kill her
before her time? Mary may really have been impatient with her for being
such an unconscionable time a-dying. If Miss Dawson became aware of
that, she would certainly have resented it and may very well have
expressed an intention of making her will in someone else’s favour—as a
kind of insurance against premature decease!”

“Then why didn’t she send for her solicitor?”

“She may have tried to. But after all, she was bed-ridden and helpless.
Mary may have prevented the message from being sent.”

“That sounds quite plausible.”

“Doesn’t it? That’s why I want Evelyn Cropper’s evidence. I’m perfectly
certain those girls were packed off because they had heard more than
they should. Or why such enthusiasm over sending them to London?”

“Yes. I thought that part of Mrs. Gulliver’s story was a bit odd. I say,
how about the other nurse?”

“Nurse Forbes? That’s a good idea. I was forgetting her. Think you can
trace her?”

“Of course, if you really think it important.”

“I do. I think it’s damned important. Look here, Charles, you don’t seem
very enthusiastic about this case.”

“Well, you know, I’m not so certain it is a case at all. What makes you
so fearfully keen about it? You seem dead set on making it a murder,
with practically nothing to go upon. Why?”

Lord Peter got up and paced the room. The light from the solitary
reading-lamp threw his lean shadow, diffused and monstrously elongated,
up to the ceiling. He walked over to a book-shelf, and the shadow
shrank, blackened, settled down. He stretched his hand, and the hand’s
shadow flew with it, hovering over the gilded titles of the books and
blotting them out one by one.

“Why?” repeated Wimsey. “Because I believe this is the case I have
always been looking for. The case of cases. The murder without
discernible means, or motive or clue. The norm. All these”—he swept his
extended hand across the book-shelf, and the shadow outlined a vaster
and more menacing gesture—“all these books on this side of the room are
books about crimes. But they only deal with the abnormal crimes.”

“What do you mean by abnormal crimes?”

“The failures. The crimes that have been found out. What proportion do
you suppose they bear to the successful crimes—the ones we hear nothing

“In this country,” said Parker, rather stiffly, “we manage to trace and
convict the majority of criminals—”

“My good man, I know that where a crime is known to have been committed,
you people manage to catch the perpetrator in at least sixty per cent of
the cases. But the moment a crime is even suspected, it falls, _ipso
facto_, into the category of failures. After that, the thing is merely a
question of greater or less efficiency on the part of the police. But
how about the crimes which are never even suspected?”

Parker shrugged his shoulders.

“How can anybody answer that?”

“Well—one may guess. Read any newspaper to-day. Read the _News of the
World_. Or, now that the Press has been muzzled, read the divorce court
lists. Wouldn’t they give you the idea that marriage is a failure? Isn’t
the sillier sort of journalism packed with articles to the same effect?
And yet, looking round among the marriages you know of personally,
aren’t the majority of them a success, in a hum-drum, undemonstrative
sort of way? Only you don’t hear of them. People don’t bother to come
into court and explain that they dodder along very comfortably on the
whole, thank you. Similarly, if you read all the books on this shelf,
you’d come to the conclusion that murder was a failure. But bless you,
it’s always the failures that make the noise. Successful murderers don’t
write to the papers about it. They don’t even join in imbecile symposia
to tell an inquisitive world ‘What Murder means to me,’ or ‘How I became
a Successful Poisoner.’ Happy murderers, like happy wives, keep quiet
tongues. And they probably bear just about the same proportion to the
failures as the divorced couples do to the happily mated.”

“Aren’t you putting it rather high?”

“I don’t know. Nor does anybody. That’s the devil of it. But you ask any
doctor, when you’ve got him in an unbuttoned, well-lubricated frame of
mind, if he hasn’t often had grisly suspicions which he could not and
dared not take steps to verify. You see by our friend Carr what happens
when one doctor is a trifle more courageous than the rest.”

“Well, he couldn’t prove anything.”

“I know. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be proved. Look at the
scores and scores of murders that have gone unproved and unsuspected
till the fool of a murderer went too far and did something silly which
blew up the whole show. Palmer, for instance. His wife and brother and
mother-in-law and various illegitimate children, all peacefully put
away—till he made the mistake of polishing Cook off in that spectacular
manner. Look at George Joseph Smith. Nobody’d have thought of bothering
any more about those first two wives he drowned. It was only when he did
it the third time that he aroused suspicion. Armstrong, too, is supposed
to have got away with many more crimes than he was tried for—it was
being clumsy over Martin and the Chocolates that stirred up the hornets’
nest in the end. Burke and Hare were convicted of murdering an old
woman, and then brightly confessed that they’d put away sixteen people
in two months and no one a penny the wiser.”

“But they _were_ caught.”

“Because they were fools. If you murder someone in a brutal, messy way,
or poison someone who had previously enjoyed rollicking health, or
choose the very day after a will’s been made in your favour to
extinguish the testator, or go on killing everyone you meet till people
begin to think you’re first cousin to a upas tree, naturally you’re
found out in the end. But choose somebody old and ill, in circumstances
where the benefit to yourself isn’t too apparent, and use a sensible
method that looks like natural death or accident, and don’t repeat your
effects too often, and you’re safe. I swear all the heart-diseases and
gastric enteritis and influenzas that get certified are not nature’s
unaided work. Murder’s so easy, Charles, so damned easy—even without
special training.”

Parker looked troubled.

“There’s something in what you say. I’ve heard some funny tales myself.
We all do, I suppose. But Miss Dawson—”

“Miss Dawson fascinates me, Charles. Such a beautiful subject. So old
and ill. So likely to die soon. Bound to die before long. No near
relations to make inquiries. No connections or old friends in the
neighbourhood. And so rich. Upon my soul, Charles, I lie in bed licking
my lips over ways and means of murdering Miss Dawson.”

“Well, anyhow, till you can think of one that defies analysis and
doesn’t seem to need a motive, you haven’t found the right one,” said
Parker, practically, rather revolted by this ghoulish conversation.

“I admit that,” replied Lord Peter, “but that only shows that as yet I’m
merely a third-rate murderer. Wait till I’ve perfected my method and
then I’ll show you—perhaps. Some wise old buffer has said that each of
us holds the life of one other person between his hands—but only one,
Charles, only one.”

                               CHAPTER IX
                                The Will

  “_Our wills are ours to make them thine._”
                                            Tennyson, _In Memoriam_

“Hullo! hullo—ullo! oh, operator, shall I call thee bird or but a
wandering voice? . . . Not at all, I had no intention of being rude, my
child, that was a quotation from the poetry of Mr. Wordsworth . . .
well, ring him again . . . thank you, is that Dr. Carr? . . . Lord Peter
Wimsey speaking . . . oh, yes . . . yes . . . aha! . . . not a bit of
it . . . We are about to vindicate you and lead you home, decorated with
triumphal wreaths of cinnamon and senna-pods . . . No, really. . . .
we’ve come to the conclusion that the thing is serious. . . . Yes. . . .
I want Nurse Forbes’ address. . . . Right, I’ll hold on. . . .
Luton? . . . oh, Tooting, yes, I’ve got that. . . . Certainly, I’ve no
doubt she’s a tartar, but I’m the Grand Panjandrum with the little round
button a-top. . . . Thanks awfully . . . cheer-frightfully-ho!—oh! I
say!—hullo!—I say, she doesn’t do maternity work, does she? Maternity
work?—M for Mother-in-law—Maternity?—No—You’re sure? . . . It would be
simply awful if she did and came along. . . . I couldn’t possibly
produce a baby for her. . . . As long as you’re quite sure. . . .
Right—right—yes—not for the world—nothing to do with you at all.
Good-bye, old thing, good-bye.”

Lord Peter hung up, whistling cheerfully, and called for Bunter.

“My lord?”

“What is the proper suit to put on, Bunter, when one is an expectant

“I regret, my lord, to have seen no recent fashions in paternity wear. I
should say, my lord, whichever suit your lordship fancies will induce a
calm and cheerful frame of mind in the lady.”

“Unfortunately I don’t know the lady. She is, in fact, only the figment
of an over-teeming brain. But I think the garments should express bright
hope, self-congratulations, and a tinge of tender anxiety.”

“A newly married situation, my lord, I take it. Then I would suggest the
lounge suit in pale grey—the willow-pussy cloth, my lord—with a dull
amethyst tie and socks and a soft hat. I would not recommend a bowler,
my lord. The anxiety expressed in a bowler hat would be rather of the
financial kind.”

“No doubt you are right, Bunter. And I will wear those gloves that got
so unfortunately soiled yesterday at Charing Cross. I am too agitated to
worry about a clean pair.”

“Very good, my lord.”

“No stick, perhaps.”

“Subject to your lordship’s better judgment, I should suggest that a
stick may be suitably handled to express emotion.”

“You are always right, Bunter. Call me a taxi, and tell the man to drive
to Tooting.”

Nurse Forbes regretted very much. She would have liked to oblige Mr.
Simms-Gaythorpe, but she never undertook maternity work. She wondered
who could have misled Mr. Simms-Gaythorpe by giving him her name.

“Well, y’know, I can’t say I was misled,” said Mr. Simms-Gaythorpe,
dropping his walking-stick and retrieving it with an ingenuous laugh.
“Miss Murgatroyd—you know Miss Murgatroyd of Leahampton, I
think—yes—she—that is, I heard about you through her” (this was a fact),
“and she said what a charming person—excuse my repeatin’ these personal
remarks, won’t you?—what a charmin’ person you were and all that, and
how nice it would be if we could persuade you to come, don’t you see.
But she said she was afraid perhaps you _didn’t_ do maternity work.
Still, y’know, I thought it was worth tryin’, what? Bein’ so anxious,
what?—about my wife, that is, you see. So necessary to have someone
young and cheery at these—er—critical times, don’t you know. Maternity
nurses often such ancient and ponderous sort of people—if you don’t mind
my sayin’ so. My wife’s highly nervous—naturally—first effort and all
that—doesn’t like middle-aged people tramplin’ round—you see the idea.”

Nurse Forbes, who was a bony woman of about forty, saw the point
perfectly, and was very sorry she really could not see her way to
undertaking the work.

“It was very kind of Miss Murgatroyd,” she said. “Do you know her well?
Such a delightful woman, is she not?”

The expectant father agreed.

“Miss Murgatroyd was so very much impressed by your sympathetic
way—don’t you know—of nursin’ that poor old lady, Miss Dawson, y’know.
Distant connection of my own as a matter of fact—er, yes—somewhere about
fifteenth cousin twelve times removed. So nervous, wasn’t she? A little
bit eccentric, like the rest of the family, but a charming old lady,
don’t you think?”

“I became very much attached to her,” said Nurse Forbes. “When she was
in full possession of her faculties, she was a most pleasant and
thoughtful patient. Of course, she was in great pain, and we had to keep
her under morphia a great part of the time.”

“Ah, yes! poor old soul! I sometimes think, Nurse, it’s a great pity we
aren’t allowed just to help people off, y’know, when they’re so far
gone. After all, they’re practically dead already, as you might say.
What’s the point of keepin’ them sufferin’ on like that?”

Nurse Forbes looked rather sharply at him.

“I’m afraid that wouldn’t do,” she said, “though one understands the lay
person’s point of view, of course. Dr. Carr was not of your opinion,”
she added, a little acidly.

“I think all that fuss was simply shockin’,” said the gentleman warmly.
“Poor old soul! I said to my wife at the time, why couldn’t they let the
poor old thing rest. Fancy cuttin’ her about, when obviously she’d just
mercifully gone off in a natural way! My wife quite agreed with me. She
was quite upset about it, don’t you know.”

“It was very distressing to everybody concerned,” said Nurse Forbes,
“and of course, it put me in a very awkward position. I ought not to
talk about it, but as you are one of the family, you will quite

“Just so. Did it ever occur to you, Nurse”—Mr. Simms-Gaythorpe leaned
forward, crushing his soft hat between his hands in a nervous
manner—“that there might be something behind all that?”

Nurse Forbes primmed up her lips.

“You know,” said Mr. Simms-Gaythorpe, “there _have_ been cases of
doctors tryin’ to get rich old ladies to make wills in their favour. You
don’t think—eh?”

Nurse Forbes intimated that it was not her business to think things.

“No, of course not, certainly not. But as man to man—I mean, between you
and me, what?—wasn’t there a little—er—friction, perhaps, about sending
for the solicitor-johnnie, don’t you know? Of course, my Cousin Mary—I
call her cousin, so to speak, but it’s no relation at all really—of
course, I mean, she’s an awfully nice girl and all that sort of thing,
but I’d got a sort of idea perhaps she wasn’t altogether keen on having
the will-making wallah sent for, what?”

“Oh, Mr. Simms-Gaythorpe, I’m sure you’re quite wrong there. Miss
Whittaker was most anxious that her aunt should have every facility in
that way. In fact—I don’t think I’m betraying any confidence in telling
you this—she said to me, ‘If at any time Miss Dawson should express a
wish to see a lawyer, be sure you send for him at once.’ And so, of
course, I did.”

“You did? And didn’t he come, then?”

“Certainly he came. There was no difficulty about it at all.”

“There! That just shows, doesn’t it? how wrong some of these gossipy
females can be! Excuse me, but y’know, I’d got absolutely the wrong
impression about the thing. I’m quite _sure_ Mrs. Peasgood said that no
lawyer had been sent for.”

“I don’t know what Mrs. Peasgood could have known about it,” said Nurse
Forbes with a sniff, “her permission was not asked in the matter.”

“Certainly not—but you know how these ideas get about. But, I say—if
there was a will, why wasn’t it produced?”

“I didn’t say that, Mr. Simms-Gaythorpe. There was no will. The lawyer
came to draw up a power of attorney, so that Miss Whittaker could sign
cheques and so on for her aunt. That was very necessary, you know, on
account of the old lady’s failing powers.”

“Yes—I suppose she was pretty woolly towards the end.”

“Well, she was quite sensible when I took over from Nurse Philliter in
September, except, of course, for that fancy she had about poisoning.”

“She really was afraid of that?”

“She said once or twice, ‘I’m not going to die to please anybody,
Nurse.’ She had great confidence in me. She got on better with me than
with Miss Whittaker, to tell you the truth, Mr. Simms-Gaythorpe. But
during October, her mind began to give way altogether, and she rambled a
lot. She used to wake up sometimes all in a fright and say, ‘Have they
passed it yet, Nurse?’—just like that. I’d say, ‘No, they haven’t got
that far yet,’ and that would quiet her. Thinking of her hunting days, I
expect she was. They often go back like that, you know, when they’re
being kept under drugs. Dreaming, like, they are, half the time.”

“Then in the last month or so, I suppose she could hardly have made a
will, even if she had wanted to.”

“No, I don’t think she could have managed it then.”

“But earlier on, when the lawyer was there, she could have done so if
she had liked?”

“Certainly she could.”

“But she didn’t?”

“Oh no. I was there with her all the time, at her particular request.”

“I see. Just you and Miss Whittaker.”

“Not even Miss Whittaker most of the time. I see what you mean, Mr.
Simms-Gaythorpe, but indeed you should clear your mind of any unkind
suspicions of Miss Whittaker. The lawyer and Miss Dawson and myself were
alone together for nearly an hour, while the clerk drew up the necessary
papers in the next room. It was all done then, you see, because we
thought that a second visit would be too much for Miss Dawson. Miss
Whittaker only came in quite at the end. If Miss Dawson had wished to
make a will, she had ample opportunity to do so.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear that,” said Mr. Simms-Gaythorpe, rising to go.
“These little doubts are so apt to make unpleasantness in families,
don’t you know. Well, I must be toddlin’ now. I’m frightfully sorry you
can’t come with us, Nurse—my wife will be so disappointed. I must try to
find somebody else equally charmin’ if possible. Good-bye.”

Lord Peter removed his hat in the taxi and scratched his head

“Another good theory gone wrong,” he murmured. “Well, there’s another
string to the jolly old bow yet. Cropper first and then Crofton—that’s
the line to take, I fancy.”

                                Part II
                           THE LEGAL PROBLEM

  “_The gladsome light of jurisprudence._”
                                                    Sir Edward Coke

      NOTE—A genealogical table is printed at the end of the book

                               CHAPTER X
                             The Will Again

  “_The will! the will! We will hear Caesar’s will!_”
                                                    _Julius Caesar_

“Oh, Miss Evelyn, my dear, oh, poor dear!”

The tall girl in black started, and looked round.

“Why, Mrs. Gulliver—how very, very kind of you to come and meet me!”

“And glad I am to have the chance, my dear, all owing to these kind
gentlemen,” cried the landlady, flinging her arms round the girl and
clinging to her to the great annoyance of the other passengers pouring
off the gangway. The elder of the two gentlemen referred to gently put
his hand on her arm, and drew them out of the stream of traffic.

“Poor lamb!” mourned Mrs. Gulliver, “coming all this way by your
lonesome, and poor dear Miss Bertha in her grave and such terrible
things said, and her such a good girl always.”

“It’s poor Mother I’m thinking about,” said the girl. “I couldn’t rest.
I said to my husband, ‘I must go,’ I said, and he said, ‘My honey, if I
could come with you I would, but I can’t leave the farm, but if you feel
you ought to go, you shall,’ he said.”

“Dear Mr. Cropper—he was always that good and kind,” said Mrs. Gulliver,
“but here I am, forgittin’ all about the good gentlemen as brought me
all this way to see you. This is Lord Peter Wimsey, and this is Mr.
Murbles, as put in that unfortnit advertisement, as I truly believes was
the beginin’ of it all. ’Ow I wish I’d never showed it to your poor
sister, not but wot I believe the gentleman acted with the best
intentions, ’avin’ now seen ’im, which at first I thought ’e was a wrong

“Pleased to meet you,” said Mrs. Cropper, turning with the ready address
derived from service in a big restaurant. “Just before I sailed I got a
letter from poor Bertha enclosing your ad. I couldn’t make anything of
it, but I’d be glad to know anything which can clear up this shocking
business. What have they said it is—murder?”

“There was a verdict of natural death at the inquiry,” said Mr. Murbles,
“but we feel that the case presents some inconsistencies, and shall be
exceedingly grateful for your co-operation in looking into the matter,
and also in connection with another matter which may or may not have
some bearing upon it.”

“Righto,” said Mrs. Cropper. “I’m sure you’re proper gentlemen, if Mrs.
Gulliver answers for you, for I’ve never known her mistaken in a person
yet, have I, Mrs. G? I’ll tell you anything I know, which isn’t much,
for it’s all a horrible mystery to me. Only I don’t want you to delay
me, for I’ve got to go straight on down to Mother. She’ll be in a
dreadful way, so fond as she was of Bertha, and she’s all alone except
for the young girl that looks after her, and that’s not much comfort
when you’ve lost your daughter so sudden.”

“We shall not detain you a moment, Mrs. Cropper,” said Mr. Murbles. “We
propose, if you will allow us, to accompany you to London, and to ask
you a few questions on the way, and then—again with your permission—we
should like to see you safely home to Mrs. Gotobed’s house, wherever
that may be.”

“Christchurch, near Bournemouth,” said Lord Peter. “I’ll run you down
straight away, if you like. It will save time.”

“I say, you know all about it, don’t you?” exclaimed Mrs. Cropper with
some admiration. “Well, hadn’t we better get a move on, or we’ll miss
this train?”

“Quite right,” said Mr. Murbles. “Allow me to offer you my arm.”

Mrs. Cropper approving of this arrangement, the party made its way to
the station, after the usual disembarkation formalities. As they passed
the barrier on to the platform Mrs. Cropper gave a little exclamation
and leaned forward as though something had caught her eye.

“What is it, Mrs. Cropper?” said Lord Peter’s voice in her ear. “Did you
think you recognised somebody?”

“You’re a noticing one, aren’t you?” said Mrs. Cropper. “Make a good
waiter—you would—not meaning any offence, sir, that’s a real compliment
from one who knows. Yes, I did think I saw someone, but it couldn’t be,
because the minute she caught my eye she went away.”

“Who did you think it was?”

“Why, I thought it looked like Miss Whittaker, as Bertha and me used to
work for.”

“Where was she?”

“Just down by that pillar there, a tall dark lady in a crimson hat and
grey fur. But she’s gone now.”

“Excuse me.”

Lord Peter unhitched Mrs. Gulliver from his arm, hitched her smartly on
to the unoccupied arm of Mr. Murbles, and plunged into the crowd. Mr.
Murbles, quite unperturbed by this eccentric behaviour, shepherded the
two women into an empty first-class carriage which, Mrs. Cropper noted,
bore a large label, “Reserved for Lord Peter Wimsey and party.” Mrs.
Cropper made some protesting observation about her ticket, but Mr.
Murbles merely replied that everything was provided for, and that
privacy could be more conveniently secured in this way.

“Your friend’s going to be left behind,” said Mrs. Cropper as the train
moved out.

“That would be very unlike him,” replied Mr. Murbles, calmly unfolding a
couple of rugs and exchanging his old-fashioned top-hat for a curious
kind of travelling cap with flaps to it. Mrs. Cropper, in the midst of
her anxiety, could not help wondering where in the world he had
contrived to purchase this Victorian relic. As a matter of fact, Mr.
Murbles’ caps were specially made to his own design by an exceedingly
expensive West End hatter, who held Mr. Murbles in deep respect as a
real gentleman of the old school.

Nothing, however, was seen of Lord Peter for something like a quarter of
an hour, when he suddenly put his head in with an amiable smile and

“One red-haired woman in a crimson hat; three dark women in black hats;
several nondescript women in those pull-on sort of dust-coloured hats;
old women with grey hair, various; sixteen flappers without hats—hats on
rack, I mean, but none of ’em crimson; two obvious brides in blue hats;
innumerable fair women in hats of all colours; one ash-blonde dressed as
a nurse, none of ’em our friend as far as I know. Thought I’d best just
toddle along the train to make sure. There’s just one dark sort of
female whose hat I can’t see because it’s tucked down beside her. Wonder
if Mrs. Cropper would mind doin’ a little stagger down the corridor to
take a squint at her.”

Mrs. Cropper, with some surprise, consented to do so.

“Right you are. ’Splain later. About four carriages along. Now, look
here, Mrs. Cropper, if it _should_ be anybody you know, I’d rather on
the whole she didn’t spot you watching her. I want you to walk along
behind me, just glancin’ into the compartments but keepin’ your collar
turned up. When we come to the party I have in mind, I’ll make a screen
for you, what?”

These manœuvres were successfully accomplished, Lord Peter lighting a
cigarette opposite the suspected compartment, while Mrs. Cropper viewed
the hatless lady under cover of his raised elbows. But the result was
disappointing. Mrs. Cropper had never seen the lady before, and a
further promenade from end to end of the train produced no better

“We must leave it to Bunter, then,” said his lordship, cheerfully, as
they returned to their seats. “I put him on the trail as soon as you
gave me the good word. Now, Mrs. Cropper, we really get down to
business. First of all, we should be glad of any suggestions you may
have to make about your sister’s death. We don’t want to distress you,
but we have got an idea that there might, just possibly, be something
behind it.”

“There’s just one thing, sir—your lordship, I suppose I should say.
Bertha was a real good girl—I can answer for that absolutely. There
wouldn’t have been any carryings-on with her young man—nothing of that.
I know people have been saying all sorts of things, and perhaps, with
lots of girls as they are, it isn’t to be wondered at. But, believe me,
Bertha wouldn’t go for to do anything that wasn’t right. Perhaps you’d
like to see this last letter she wrote me. I’m sure nothing could be
nicer and properer from a girl just looking forward to a happy marriage.
Now, a girl as wrote like that wouldn’t be going larking about, sir,
would she? I couldn’t rest, thinking they was saying that about her.”

Lord Peter took the letter, glanced through it, and handed it reverently
to Mr. Murbles.

“We’re not thinking that at all, Mrs. Cropper, though of course we’re
very glad to have your point of view, don’t you see. Now, do you think
it possible your sister might have been—what shall I say?—got hold of by
some woman with a plausible story and all that, and—well—pushed into
some position which shocked her very much? Was she cautious and up to
the tricks of London people and all that?”

And he outlined Parker’s theory of the engaging Mrs. Forrest and the
supposed dinner in the flat.

“Well, my lord, I wouldn’t say Bertha was a very quick girl—not as quick
as me, you know. She’d always be ready to believe what she was told and
give people credit for the best. Took more after her father, like. I’m
Mother’s girl, they always said, and I don’t trust anybody further than
I can see them. But I’d warned her very careful against taking up with
women as talks to a girl in the street, and she did ought to have been
on her guard.”

“Of course,” said Peter, “it may have been somebody she’d got to know
quite well—say, at the restaurant, and she thought she was a nice lady
and there’d be no harm in going to see her. Or the lady might have
suggested taking her into good service. One never knows.”

“I think she’d have mentioned it in her letters if she’d talked to the
lady much, my lord. It’s wonderful what a lot of things she’d find to
tell me about the customers. And I don’t think she’d be for going into
service again. We got real fed up with service, down in Leahampton.”

“Ah, yes. Now that brings us to quite a different point—the thing we
wanted to ask you or your sister about before this sad accident took
place. You were in service with this Miss Whittaker whom you mentioned
just now. I wonder if you’d mind telling us just exactly why you left.
It was a good place, I suppose?”

“Yes, my lord, quite a good place as places go, though of course a girl
doesn’t get her freedom the way she does in a restaurant. And naturally
there was a good deal of waiting on the old lady. Not as we minded that,
for she was a very kind, good lady, and generous too.”

“But when she became so ill, I suppose Miss Whittaker managed
everything, what?”

“Yes, my lord; but it wasn’t a hard place—lots of the girls envied us.
Only Miss Whittaker was very particular.”

“Especially about the china, what?”

“Ah, they told you about that, then?”

“I told ’em, dearie,” put in Mrs. Gulliver. “I told ’em all about how
you come to leave your place and go to London.”

“And it struck us,” put in Mr. Murbles, “that it was, shall we say,
somewhat rash of Miss Whittaker to dismiss so competent and, if I may
put it so, so well-spoken and personable a pair of maids on so trivial a

“You’re right there, sir. Bertha—I told you she was the trusting one—she
was quite ready to believe as she done wrong, and thought how good it
was of Miss Whittaker to forgive her breaking the china, and take so
much interest in sending us to London, but I always thought there was
something more than met the eye. Didn’t I, Mrs. Gulliver?”

“That you did, dear; something more than meets the eye, that’s what you
says to me, and what I agrees with.”

“And did you, in your own mind,” pursued Mr. Murbles, “connect this
sudden dismissal with anything which had taken place?”

“Well, I did then,” replied Mrs. Cropper, with some spirit. “I said to
Bertha—but she would hear nothing of it, taking after her father as I
tell you—I said, ‘Mark my words,’ I said, ‘Miss Whittaker don’t care to
have us in the house after the row she had with the old lady.’”

“And what row was that?” inquired Mr. Murbles.

“Well, I don’t know as I ought rightly to tell you about it, seeing it’s
all over now and we promised to say nothing about it.”

“That, of course,” said Mr. Murbles, checking Lord Peter, who was about
to burst in impetuously, “depends upon your own conscience. But, if it
will be of any help to you in making up your mind, I think I may say, in
the strictest confidence, that this information may be of the utmost
importance to us—in a roundabout way which I won’t trouble you with—in
investigating a very singular set of circumstances which have been
brought to our notice. And it is just barely possible—again in a very
roundabout way—that it may assist us in throwing some light on the
melancholy tragedy of your sister’s decease. Further than that I cannot
go at the moment.”

“Well, now,” said Mrs. Cropper, “if that’s so—though, mind you, I don’t
see what connection there could be—but if you think that’s so, I reckon
I’d better come across with it, as my husband would say. After all, I
only promised I wouldn’t mention about it to the people in Leahampton,
as might have made mischief out of it—and a gossipy lot they is, and no

“We’ve nothing to do with the Leahampton crowd,” said his lordship, “and
it won’t be passed along unless it turns out to be necessary.”

“Righto. Well, I’ll tell you. One morning early in September Miss
Whittaker comes along to Bertha and I, and says, ‘I want you girls to be
just handy on the landing outside Miss Dawson’s bedroom,’ she says,
‘because I may want you to come in and witness her signature to a
document. We shall want two witnesses,’ she says, ‘and you’ll have to
see her sign; but I don’t want to flurry her with a lot of people in the
room, so when I give you the tip, I want you to come just inside the
door without making a noise, so that you can see her write her name, and
then I’ll bring it straight across to you and you can write your names
where I show you. It’s quite easy,’ she says, ‘nothing to do but just
put your names opposite where you see the word Witnesses.’

“Bertha was always a bit the timid sort—afraid of documents and that
sort of thing, and she tried to get out of it. ‘Couldn’t Nurse sign
instead of me?’ she says. That was Nurse Philliter, you know, the
red-haired one as was the doctor’s fiancée. She was a very nice woman,
and we liked her quite a lot. ‘Nurse has gone out for her walk,’ says
Miss Whittaker, rather sharp, ‘I want you and Evelyn to do it,’ meaning
me, of course. Well, we said we didn’t mind, and Miss Whittaker goes
upstairs to Miss Dawson with a whole heap of papers, and Bertha and I
followed and waited on the landing, like she said.”

“One moment,” said Mr. Murbles, “did Miss Dawson often have documents to

“Yes, sir, I believe so, quite frequently, but they was usually
witnessed by Miss Whittaker or the nurse. There was some leases and
things of that sort, or so I heard. Miss Dawson had a little
house-property. And then there’d be the cheques for the housekeeping,
and some papers as used to come from the Bank, and be put away in the

“Share coupons and so on, I suppose,” said Mr. Murbles.

“Very likely, sir, I don’t know much about those business matters. I did
have to witness a signature once, I remember, a long time back, but that
was different. The paper was brought down to me with the signature ready
wrote. There wasn’t any of this to-do about it.”

“The old lady was capable of dealing with her own affairs, I

“Up till then, sir. Afterwards, as I understood, she made it all over to
Miss Whittaker—that was just before she got feeble-like, and was kept
under drugs. Miss Whittaker signed the cheques then.”

“The power of attorney,” said Mr. Murbles, with a nod. “Well now, did
you sign this mysterious paper?”

“No, sir, I’ll tell you how that was. When me and Bertha had been
waiting a little time, Miss Whittaker comes to the door and makes us a
sign to come in quiet. So we comes and stands just inside the door.
There was a screen by the head of the bed, so we couldn’t see Miss
Dawson nor she us, but we could see her reflection quite well in a big
looking-glass she had on the left side of the bed.”

Mr. Murbles exchanged a significant glance with Lord Peter.

“Now be sure you tell us every detail,” said Wimsey, “no matter how
small and silly it may sound. I believe this is goin’ to be very

“Yes, my lord. Well, there wasn’t much else, except that just inside the
door, on the left-hand side as you went in, there was a little table,
where Nurse mostly used to set down trays and things that had to go
down, and it was cleared, and a piece of blotting-paper on it and an
inkstand and pen, all ready for us to sign with.”

“Could Miss Dawson see that?” asked Mr. Murbles.

“No, sir, because of the screen.”

“But it was inside the room.”

“Yes, sir.”

“We want to be quite clear about this. Do you think you could draw—quite
roughly—a little plan of the room, showing where the bed was and the
screen and the mirror, and so on?”

“I’m not much of a hand at drawing,” said Mrs. Cropper dubiously, “but
I’ll try.”

Mr. Murbles produced a notebook and fountain pen, and after a few false
starts, the following rough sketch was produced.

                 [Illustration: Miss Dawson’s bedroom]

“Thank you, that is very clear indeed. You notice, Lord Peter, the
careful arrangements to have the document signed in presence of the
witnesses, and witnessed by them in the presence of Miss Dawson and of
each other. I needn’t tell you for what kind of document that
arrangement is indispensable.”

“Was that it, sir? We couldn’t understand why it was all arranged like

“It might have happened,” explained Mr. Murbles, “that in case of some
dispute about this document, you and your sister would have had to come
into court and give evidence about it. And if so, you would have been
asked whether you actually saw Miss Dawson write her signature, and
whether you and your sister and Miss Dawson were all in the same room
together when you signed your names as witnesses. And if that had
happened, you could have said yes, couldn’t you, and sworn to it?”

“Oh, yes.”

“And yet, actually, Miss Dawson would have known nothing about your
being there.”

“No, sir.”

“That was it, you see.”

“I see now, sir, but at the time Bertha and me couldn’t make nothing of

“But the document, you say, was never signed.”

“No, sir. At any rate, we never witnessed anything. We saw Miss Dawson
write her name—at least, I suppose it was her name—to one or two papers,
and then Miss Whittaker puts another lot in front of her and says,
‘Here’s another little lot, auntie, some more of those income-tax
forms.’ So the old lady says, ‘What are they exactly, dear, let me see?’
So Miss Whittaker says, ‘Oh, only the usual things.’ And Miss Dawson
says, ‘Dear, dear, what a lot of them. How complicated they do make
these things to be sure.’ And we could see that Miss Whittaker was
giving her several papers, all laid on top of one another, with just the
places for the signatures left showing. So Miss Dawson signs the top
one, and then lifts up the paper and looks underneath at the next one,
and Miss Whittaker says, ‘They’re all the same,’ as if she was in a
hurry to get them signed and done with. But Miss Dawson takes them out
of her hand and starts looking through them, and suddenly she lets out a
screech, and says, ‘I won’t have it, I won’t have it! I’m not dying yet.
How dare you, you wicked girl! Can’t you wait till I’m dead?—you want to
frighten me into my grave before my time. Haven’t you got everything you
want?’ And Miss Whittaker says, ‘Hush, auntie, you won’t let me
explain—’ and the old lady says, ‘No, I won’t, I don’t want to hear
anything about it. I hate the thought of it. I won’t talk about it. You
leave me be. I can’t get better if you keep frightening me so.’ And then
she begins to take and carry on dreadful, and Miss Whittaker comes over
to us looking awful white and says, ‘Run along, you girls,’ she says,
‘my aunt’s taken ill and can’t attend to business. I’ll call you if I
want you,’ she says. And I said, ‘Can we help with her, miss?’ and she
says, ‘No, it’s quite all right. It’s just the pain come on again. I’ll
give her her injection and then she’ll be all right.’ And she pushes us
out of the room, and shuts the door, and we heard the poor old lady
crying fit to break anybody’s heart. So we went downstairs and met Nurse
just coming in, and we told her Miss Dawson was took worse again, and
she runs up quick without taking her things off. So we was in the
kitchen, just saying it seemed rather funny-like, when Miss Whittaker
comes down again and says, ‘It’s all right now, and auntie’s sleeping
quite peaceful, only we’ll have to put off business till another day.’
And she says, ‘Better not say anything about this to anybody, because
when the pain comes on Aunt gets frightened and talks a bit wild. She
don’t mean what she says, but if people was to hear about it they might
think it odd.’ So I up and says, ‘Miss Whittaker,’ I says, ‘me and
Bertha was never ones to talk’; rather stiff, I said it, because I don’t
hold by gossip and never did. And Miss Whittaker says, ‘That’s quite all
right,’ and goes away. And the next day she gives us an afternoon off
and a present—ten shillings each, it was, because it was her aunt’s
birthday, and the old lady wanted us to have a little treat in her

“A very clear account indeed, Mrs. Cropper, and I only wish all
witnesses were as sensible and observant as you are. There’s just one
thing. Did you by any chance get a sight of this paper that upset Miss
Dawson so much?”

“No, sir—only from a distance, that is, and in the looking-glass. But I
think it was quite short—just a few lines of typewriting.”

“I see. Was there a typewriter in the house, by the way?”

“Oh, yes, sir. Miss Whittaker used one quite often for business letters
and so on. It used to stand in the sitting-room.”

“Quite so. By the way, do you remember Miss Dawson’s solicitor calling
shortly after this?”

“No, sir. It was only a little time later Bertha broke the teapot and we
left. Miss Whittaker gave her her month’s warning, but I said no. If she
could come down on a girl like that for a little thing, and her such a
good worker, Bertha should go at once and me with her. Miss Whittaker
said, ‘Just as you like,’ she said—she never was one to stand any
back-chat. So we went that afternoon. But afterwards I think she was
sorry, and came over to see us at Christchurch, and suggested why
shouldn’t we try for a better job in London. Bertha was a bit afraid to
go so far—taking after Father, as I mentioned, but Mother, as was always
the ambitious one, she says, ‘If the lady’s kind enough to give you a
good start, why not go? There’s more chances for a girl in Town.’ And I
said to Bertha, private-like, afterwards, I says, ‘Depend on it, Miss
Whittaker wants to see the back of us. She’s afraid we’ll get talking
about the things Miss Dawson said that morning. But,’ I says, ‘if she’s
willing to pay us to go, why not go,’ I says. ‘A girl’s got to look out
for herself these days, and if we go off to London she’ll give us a
better character than what she would if we stayed. And anyway,’ I said,
‘if we don’t like it we can always come home again.’ So the long and
short was, we came to Town, and after a bit we got good jobs with Lyons,
what with the good character Miss Whittaker gave us, and I met my
husband there and Bertha met her Jim. So we never regretted having taken
the chance—not till this dreadful thing happened to Bertha.”

The passionate interest with which her hearers had received this recital
must have gratified Mrs. Cropper’s sense of the dramatic. Mr. Murbles
was very slowly rotating his hands over one another with a dry, rustling
sound—like an old snake, gliding through the long grass in search of

“A little scene after your own heart, Murbles,” said Lord Peter, with a
glint under his dropped eyelids. He turned again to Mrs. Cropper.

“This is the first time you’ve told this story?”

“Yes—and I wouldn’t have said anything if it hadn’t been—”

“I know. Now, if you’ll take my advice, Mrs. Cropper, you won’t tell it
again. Stories like that have a nasty way of bein’ dangerous. Will you
consider it an impertinence if I ask you what your plans are for the
next week or two?”

“I’m going to see Mother and get her to come back to Canada with me. I
wanted her to come when I got married, but she didn’t like going so far
away from Bertha. She was always Mother’s favourite—taking so much after
Father, you see. Mother and me was always too much alike to get on. But
now she’s got nobody else, and it isn’t right for her to be all alone,
so I think she’ll come with me. It’s a long journey for an ailing old
woman, but I reckon blood’s thicker than water. My husband said, ‘Bring
her back first-class, my girl, and I’ll find the money.’ He’s a good
sort, is my husband.”

“You couldn’t do better,” said Wimsey, “and if you’ll allow me, I’ll
send a friend to look after you both on the train journey and see you
safe on to the boat. And don’t stop long in England. Excuse me buttin’
in on your affairs like this, but honestly I think you’d be safer

“You don’t think that Bertha—?”

Her eyes widened with alarm.

“I don’t like to say quite what I think, because I don’t know. But I’ll
see you and your mother are safe, whatever happens.”

“And Bertha? Can I do anything about that?”

“Well, you’ll have to come and see my friends at Scotland Yard, I think,
and tell them what you’ve told me. They’ll be interested.”

“And will something be done about it?”

“I’m sure, if we can prove there’s been any foul play, the police won’t
rest till it’s been tracked down to the right person. But the difficulty
is, you see, to prove that the death wasn’t natural.”

“I observe in to-day’s paper,” said Mr. Murbles, “that the local
superintendent is now satisfied that Miss Gotobed came down alone for a
quiet picnic and died of a heart attack.”

“That man would say anything,” said Wimsey. “We know from the
post-mortem that she had recently had a heavy meal—forgive these
distressin’ details, Mrs. Cropper’—so why the picnic?”

“I suppose they had the sandwiches and the beer-bottle in mind,” said
Mr. Murbles, mildly.

“I see. I suppose she went down to Epping alone with a bottle of Bass
and took out the cork with her fingers. Ever tried doing it, Murbles?
No? Well, when they find the corkscrew I’ll believe she went there
alone. In the meantime, I hope the papers will publish a few more
theories like that. Nothin’ like inspiring criminals with confidence,
Murbles—it goes to their heads, you know.”

                               CHAPTER XI

  “_Patience—and shuffle the cards._”
                                                      _Don Quixote_

Lord Peter took Mrs. Cropper down to Christchurch and returned to town
to have a conference with Mr. Parker. The latter had just listened to
his recital of Mrs. Cropper’s story, when the discreet opening and
closing of the flat-door announced the return of Bunter.

“Any luck?” inquired Wimsey.

“I regret exceedingly to have to inform your lordship that I lost track
of the lady. In fact, if your lordship will kindly excuse the
expression, I was completely done in the eye.”

“Thank God, Bunter, you’re human after all. I didn’t know anybody could
do you. Have a drink.”

“I am much obliged to your lordship. According to instructions, I
searched the platform for a lady in a crimson hat and a grey fur, and at
length was fortunate enough to observe her making her way out by the
station entrance towards the big bookstall. She was some way ahead of
me, but the hat was very conspicuous, and, in the words of the poet, if
I may so express myself, I followed the gleam.”

“Stout fellow.”

“Thank you, my lord. The lady walked into the Station Hotel, which, as
you know, has two entrances, one upon the platform, and the other upon
the street. I hurried after her for fear she should give me the slip,
and made my way through the revolving doors just in time to see her back
disappearing into the Ladies’ Retiring Room.”

“Whither, as a modest man, you could not follow her. I quite

“Quite so, my lord. I took a seat in the entrance hall, in a position
from which I could watch the door without appearing to do so.”

“And discovered too late that the place had two exits, I suppose.
Unusual and distressin’.”

“No, my lord. That was not the trouble. I sat watching for three
quarters of an hour, but the crimson hat did not reappear. Your lordship
will bear in mind that I had never seen the lady’s face.”

Lord Peter groaned.

“I foresee the end of this story, Bunter. Not your fault. Proceed.”

“At the end of this time, my lord, I felt bound to conclude either that
the lady had been taken ill or that something untoward had occurred. I
summoned a female attendant who happened to cross the hall and informed
her that I had been entrusted with a message for a lady whose dress I
described. I begged her to ascertain from the attendant in the Ladies’
Room whether the lady in question was still there. The girl went away
and presently returned to say that the lady had changed her costume in
the cloak-room and had gone out half an hour previously.”

“Oh, Bunter, Bunter. Didn’t you spot the suitcase or whatever it was
when she came out again?”

“Excuse me, my lord. The lady had come in earlier in the day and had
left an attaché-case in charge of the attendant. On returning, she had
transferred her hat and fur to the attaché-case and put on a small black
felt hat and a light-weight raincoat which she had packed there in
readiness. So that her dress was concealed when she emerged and she was
carrying the attaché-case, whereas, when I first saw her, she had been

“Everything foreseen. What a woman!”

“I made immediate inquiries, my lord, in the region of the hotel and the
station, but without result. The black hat and raincoat were entirely
inconspicuous, and no one remembered having seen her. I went to the
Central Station to discover if she had travelled by any train. Several
women answering to the description had taken tickets for various
destinations, but I could get no definite information. I also visited
all the garages in Liverpool, with the same lack of success. I am
greatly distressed to have failed your lordship.”

“Can’t be helped. You did everything you could do. Cheer up. Never say
die. And you must be tired to death. Take the day off and go to bed.”

“I thank your lordship, but I slept excellently in the train on the way

“Just as you like, Bunter. But I did hope you sometimes got tired like
other people.”

Bunter smiled discreetly and withdrew.

“Well, we’ve gained this much, anyhow,” said Parker. “We know now that
this Miss Whittaker has something to conceal, since she takes such
precautions to avoid being followed.”

“We know more than that. We know that she was desperately anxious to get
hold of the Cropper woman before anybody else could see her, no doubt to
stop her mouth by bribery or by worse means. By the way, how did she
know she was coming by that boat.”

“Mrs. Cropper sent a cable, which was read at the inquest.”

“Damn these inquests. They give away all the information one wants kept
quiet, and produce no evidence worth having.”

“Hear, hear,” said Parker, with emphasis, “not to mention that we had to
sit through a lot of moral punk by the Coroner, about the prevalence of
jazz and the immoral behaviour of modern girls in going off alone with
young men to Epping Forest.”

“It’s a pity these busy-bodies can’t be had up for libel. Never mind.
We’ll get the Whittaker woman yet.”

“Always provided it was the Whittaker woman. After all, Mrs. Cropper may
have been mistaken. Lots of people do change their hats in cloak-rooms
without any criminal intentions.”

“Oh, of course. Miss Whittaker’s supposed to be in the country with Miss
Findlater, isn’t she? We’ll get the invaluable Miss Climpson to pump the
girl when they turn up again. Meanwhile, what do you think of Mrs.
Cropper’s story?”

“There’s no doubt about what happened there. Miss Whittaker was trying
to get the old lady to sign a will without knowing it. She gave it to
her all mixed up with the income-tax papers, hoping she’d put her name
to it without reading it. It must have been a will, I think, because
that’s the only document I know of which is invalid unless it’s
witnessed by two persons in the presence of the testatrix and of each

“Exactly. And since Miss Whittaker couldn’t be one of the witnesses
herself, but had to get the two maids to sign, the will must have been
in Miss Whittaker’s favour.”

“Obviously. She wouldn’t go to all that trouble to disinherit herself.”

“But that brings us to another difficulty. Miss Whittaker, as next of
kin, would have taken all the old lady had to leave in any case. As a
matter of fact, she did. Why bother about a will?”

“Perhaps, as we said before, she was afraid Miss Dawson would change her
mind, and wanted to get a will made out before—no, that won’t work.”

“No—because, anyhow, any will made later would invalidate the first
will. Besides, the old lady sent for her solicitor some time later, and
Miss Whittaker put no obstacle of any kind in her way.”

“According to Nurse Forbes, she was particularly anxious that every
facility should be given.”

“Seeing how Miss Dawson distrusted her niece, it’s a bit surprising,
really, that she didn’t will the money away. Then it would have been to
Miss Whittaker’s advantage to keep her alive as long as possible.”

“I don’t suppose she really distrusted her—not to the extent of
expecting to be made away with. She was excited and said more than she
meant—we often do.”

“Yes, but she evidently thought there’d be other attempts to get a will

“How do you make that out?”

“Don’t you remember the power of attorney? The old girl evidently
thought that out and decided to give Miss Whittaker authority to sign
everything for her so that there couldn’t possibly be any jiggery-pokery
about papers in future.”

“Of course. Cute old lady. How very irritating for Miss Whittaker. And
after that very hopeful visit of the solicitor, too. So disappointing.
Instead of the expected will, a very carefully planted spoke in her

“Yes. But we’re still brought up against the problem, why a will at

“So we are.”

The two men pulled at their pipes for some time in silence.

“The aunt evidently intended the money to go to Mary Whittaker all
right,” remarked Parker at last. “She promised it so often—besides, I
daresay she was a just-minded old thing, and remembered that it was
really Whittaker money which had come to her over the head of the Rev.
Charles, or whatever his name was.”

“That’s so. Well, there’s only one thing that could prevent that
happening, and that’s—oh, lord! old son. Do you know what it works out
at? The old, old story, beloved of novelists—the missing heir!”

“Good lord, yes, you’re right. Damn it all, what fools we were not to
think of it before. Mary Whittaker possibly found out that there was
some nearer relative left, who would scoop the lot. Maybe she was afraid
that if Miss Dawson got to know about it, she’d divide the money or
disinherit Mary altogether. Or perhaps she just despaired of hammering
the story into the old lady’s head, and so hit on the idea of getting
her to make the will unbeknownst to herself in Mary’s favour.”

“What a brain you’ve got, Charles. Or, see here, Miss Dawson may have
known all about it, sly old thing, and determined to pay Miss Whittaker
out for her indecent urgency in the matter of will-makin’ by just dyin’
intestate in the other chappie’s favour.”

“If she did, she deserved anything she got,” said Parker, rather
viciously. “After taking the poor girl away from her job under promise
of leaving her the dibs.”

“Teach the young woman not to be so mercenary,” retorted Wimsey, with
the cheerful brutality of the man who has never in his life been short
of money.

“If this bright idea is correct,” said Parker, “it rather messes up your
murder theory, doesn’t it? Because Mary would obviously take the line of
keeping her aunt alive as long as possible, in hopes she might make a
will after all.”

“That’s true. Curse you, Charles, I see that bet of mine going west.
What a blow for friend Carr, too. I did hope I was going to vindicate
him and have him played home by the village band under a triumphal arch
with ‘Welcome, Champion of Truth!’ picked out in red-white-and-blue
electric bulbs. Never mind. It’s better to lose a wager and see the
light than walk in ignorance bloated with gold.—Or stop!—why shouldn’t
Carr be right after all? Perhaps it’s just my choice of a murderer
that’s wrong. Aha! I see a new and even more sinister villain step upon
the scene. The new claimant, warned by his minions—”

“What minions?”

“Oh, don’t be so pernickety, Charles. Nurse Forbes, probably. I
shouldn’t wonder if she’s in his pay. Where was I? I wish you wouldn’t

“Warned by his minions—” prompted Parker.

“Oh, yes—warned by his minions that Miss Dawson is hob-nobbing with
solicitors and being tempted into making wills and things, gets the said
minions to polish her off before she can do any mischief.”

“Yes, but how?”

“Oh, by one of those native poisons which slay in a split second and
defy the skill of the analyst. They are familiar to the meanest writer
of mystery stories. I’m not going to let a trifle like that stand in my

“And why hasn’t this hypothetical gentleman brought forward any claim to
the property so far?”

“He’s biding his time. The fuss about the death scared him, and he’s
lying low till it’s all blown over.”

“He’ll find it much more awkward to dispossess Miss Whittaker now she’s
taken possession. Possession is nine points of the law, you know.”

“I know, but he’s going to pretend he wasn’t anywhere near at the time
of Miss Dawson’s death. He only read about it a few weeks ago in a sheet
of newspaper wrapped round a salmon-tin, and now he’s rushing home from
his distant farm in thing-ma-jig to proclaim himself as the long-lost
Cousin Tom. . . . Great Scott! that reminds me.”

He plunged his hand into his pocket and pulled out a letter.

“This came this morning just as I was going out, and I met Freddy
Arbuthnot on the doorstep and shoved it into my pocket before I’d read
it properly. But I do believe there was something in it about a Cousin
Somebody from some god-forsaken spot. Let’s see.”

He unfolded the letter, which was written in Miss Climpson’s
old-fashioned flowing hand, and ornamented with such a variety of
underlinings and exclamation marks as to look like an exercise in
musical notation.

“Oh, lord!” said Parker.

“Yes, it’s worse than usual, isn’t it?—it must be of desperate
importance. Luckily it’s comparatively short.”

  My dear Lord Peter,

  I heard something this morning which MAY be of _use, so_ I HASTEN to
  communicate it!! You remember I _mentioned before_ that Mrs. Budge’s
  _maid_ is the SISTER of the _present_ maid at Miss _Whittaker’s_?
  Well!!! The AUNT of these two girls came to _pay a visit_ to Mrs.
  Budge’s girl this afternoon, and was _introduced to me_—of course, as
  _boarder_ at Mrs. Budge’s I am naturally an _object of local
  interest_—and, bearing _your instructions_ in mind, I _encourage_ this
  to an extent I should not otherwise do!!

  It appears that this _aunt_ was well acquainted with a _former
  housekeeper_ of Miss Dawson’s—_before_ the time of the Gotobed girls,
  I mean. The _aunt_ is a highly _respectable_ person of FORBIDDING
  ASPECT!—with a _bonnet_(!) and to my mind, a most _disagreeable_
  CENSORIOUS woman. However!—We got to speaking of Miss Dawson’s death,
  and this aunt—her name is Timmins—_primmed_ up her mouth and said: “No
  unpleasant scandal would surprise me about _that_ family, Miss
  Climpson. They were _most_ UNDESIRABLY connected! You recollect, Mrs.
  Budge, that I felt _obliged to leave_ after the appearance of that
  _most_ EXTRAORDINARY person who announced himself as Miss Dawson’s
  cousin.” Naturally, I asked _who_ this _might be_, not having heard of
  any _other relations_! She said that this person, whom she described
  as a _nasty_, DIRTY NIGGER(!!!) arrived one morning, dressed up as a
  CLERGYMAN!!!—and sent her—Miss Timmins—to announce him to Miss Dawson
  as her Cousin Hallelujah!!! Miss Timmins showed him up, _much against
  her will_, she said, into the _nice_, CLEAN, drawing-room! Miss
  Dawson, she said, actually _came down_ to see this “creature” instead
  of sending him about his “black business”(!), and as a _crowning
  scandal_, asked him to _stay to lunch_!—“with her niece there, too,”
  Miss Timmins said, “and this horrible _blackamoor_ ROLLING his
  dreadful eyes at her.” Miss Timmins said that it “regularly turned her
  stomach”—that was her phrase, and I trust you will excuse it—I
  understand that these _parts of the body_ are frequently referred to
  in polite(!) society nowadays. In fact, it appears she _refused to
  cook the lunch_ for the poor black man—(after all, even _blacks_ are
  God’s _creatures_ and we might _all_ be _black_ OURSELVES if He had
  not in His infinite kindness seen fit to _favour us_ with _white_
  skins!!)—and walked straight out of the house!!! So that unfortunately
  she cannot tell us anything _further_ about this _remarkable_
  incident! She is _certain_, however, that the “nigger” had a
  _visiting-card_, with the name “Rev. H. Dawson” upon it, and an
  address in foreign parts. It does seem _strange_, does it not, but I
  believe many of these _native preachers_ are called to do _splendid
  work_ among their own people, and no doubt a _MINISTER_ is entitled to
  have _visiting-card_, even when black!!!

                               In great haste,
                              Sincerely yours,
                                                         A. K. Climpson.

“God bless my soul,” said Lord Peter, when he had disentangled this
screed—“here’s our claimant ready made.”

“With a hide as black as his heart, apparently,” replied Parker. “I
wonder where the Rev. Hallelujah has got to—and where he came from.
He—er—he wouldn’t be in ‘Crockford,’ I suppose.”

“He would be, probably, if he’s Church of England,” said Lord Peter,
dubiously, going in search of that valuable work of reference.
“Dawson—Rev. George, Rev. Gordon, Rev. Gurney, Rev. Habbakuk, Rev.
Hadrian, Rev. Hammond—no, there’s no Rev. Hallelujah. I was afraid the
name hadn’t altogether an established sound. It would be easier if we
had an idea what part of the world the gentleman came from. ‘Nigger,’ to
a Miss Timmins, may mean anything from a high-caste Brahmin to Sambo and
Raustus at the Coliseum—it may even, at a pinch, be an Argentine or an

“I suppose other religious bodies have their Crockfords,” suggested
Parker, a little hopelessly.

“Yes, no doubt—except perhaps the more exclusive sects—like the
Agapemonites and those people who gather together to say OM. Was it
Voltaire who said that the English had three hundred and sixty-five
religions and only one sauce?”

“Judging from the War Tribunals,” said Parker, “I should say that was an
under-statement. And then there’s America—a country, I understand,
remarkably well supplied with religions.”

“Too true. Hunting for a single dog-collar in the States must be like
the proverbial needle. Still, we could make a few discreet inquiries,
and meanwhile I’m going to totter up to Crofton with the jolly old


“Where Miss Clara Whittaker and Miss Dawson used to live. I’m going to
look for the man with the little black bag—the strange, suspicious
solicitor, you remember, who came to see Miss Dawson two years ago, and
was so anxious that she should make a will. I fancy he knows all there
is to know about the Rev. Hallelujah and his claim. Will you come too?”

“Can’t—not without special permission. I’m not officially on this case,
you know.”

“You’re on the Gotobed business. Tell the Chief you think they’re
connected. I shall need your restraining presence. No less ignoble
pressure than that of the regular police force will induce a smoke-dried
family lawyer to spill the beans.”

“Well, I’ll try—if you’ll promise to drive with reasonable precaution.”

“Be thou as chaste as ice and have a license as pure as snow, thou shalt
not escape calumny. I am _not_ a dangerous driver. Buck up and get your
leave. The snow-white horsepower foams and frets and the blue
bonnet—black in this case—is already, in a manner of speaking, over the

“You’ll drive me over the border one of these days,” grumbled Parker,
and went to the ’phone to call up Sir Andrew Mackenzie at Scotland Yard.

Crofton is a delightful little old-world village tucked away amid the
maze of criss-cross country roads which fills the triangle of which
Coventry, Warwick and Birmingham mark the angles. Through the falling
night, “Mrs. Merdle” purred her way delicately round hedge-blinded
corners and down devious lanes, her quest made no easier by the fact
that the Warwick County Council had pitched upon that particular week
for a grand repainting of signposts and had reached the preliminary
stage of laying a couple of thick coats of gleaming white paint over all
the lettering. At intervals the patient Bunter unpacked himself from the
back seat and climbed one of these uncommunicative guides to peer at its
blank surface with a torch—a process which reminded Parker of Alan
Quartermain trying to trace the features of the departed Kings of the
Kukuanas under their calcareous shrouds of stalactite. One of the posts
turned out to be in the wet-paint stage, which added to the depression
of the party. Finally, after several misdirections, blind alleys, and
reversings back to the main road, they came to a fourways. The signpost
here must have been in extra need of repairs, for its arms had been
removed bodily; it stood, stark and ghastly—a long, livid finger erected
in wild protest to the unsympathetic heavens.

“It’s starting to rain,” observed Parker, conversationally.

“Look here, Charles, if you’re going to bear up cheerfully and be the
life and soul of the expedition, say so and have done with it. I’ve got
a good, heavy spanner handy under the seat, and Bunter can help to bury
the body.”

“I think this must be Brushwood Cross,” resumed Parker, who had the map
on his knee. “If so, and if it’s not Covert Corner, which I thought we
passed half an hour ago, one of those roads leads directly to Crofton.”

“That would be highly encouraging if we only knew which road we were

“We can always try them in turn, and come back if we find we’re going

“They bury _suicides_ at cross-roads,” replied Wimsey, dangerously.

“There’s a man sitting under that tree,” pursued Parker. “We can ask

“He’s lost his way too, or he wouldn’t be sitting there,” retorted the
other. “People don’t sit about in the rain for fun.”

At this moment the man observed their approach and, rising, advanced to
meet them with raised, arresting hand.

Wimsey brought the car to a standstill.

“Excuse me,” said the stranger, who turned out to be a youth in
motor-cycling kit, “but could you give me a hand with my ’bus?”

“What’s the matter with her?”

“Well, she won’t go.”

“I guessed as much,” said Wimsey. “Though why she should wish to linger
in a place like this beats me.” He got out of the car, and the youth,
diving into the hedge, produced the patient for inspection.

“Did you tumble there or put her there?” inquired Wimsey, eyeing the
machine distastefully.

“I put her there. I’ve been kicking the starter for hours but nothing
happened, so I thought I’d wait till somebody came along.”

“I see. What is the matter, exactly?”

“I don’t know. She was going beautifully and then she conked out

“Have you run out of petrol?”

“Oh, no. I’m sure there’s plenty in.”

“Plug all right?”

“I don’t know.” The youth looked unhappy. “It’s only my second time out,
you see.”

“Oh! well—there can’t be much wrong. We’ll just make sure about the
petrol first,” said Wimsey, more cheerfully. He unscrewed the filler-cap
and turned his torch upon the interior of the tank. “Seems all right.”
He bent over again, whistling, and replaced the cap. “Let’s give her
another kick for luck and then we’ll look at the plug.”

The young man, thus urged, grasped the handle-bars, and with the energy
of despair delivered a kick which would have done credit to an army
mule. The engine roared into life in a fury of vibration, racing

“Good God!” said the youth, “it’s a miracle.”

Lord Peter laid a gentle hand on the throttle-lever and the shattering
bellow calmed into a grateful purr.

“What did you do to it?” demanded the cyclist.

“Blew through the filler-cap,” said his lordship with a grin. “Air-lock
in the feed, old son, that’s all.”

“I’m frightfully grateful.”

“That’s all right. Look here, can you tell us the way to Crofton?”

“Sure. Straight down here. I’m going there, as a matter of fact.”

“Thank Heaven. Lead and I follow, as Sir Galahad says. How far?”

“Five miles.”

“Decent inn?”

“My governor keeps the ‘Fox-and-Hounds.’ Would that do? We’d give you
awfully decent grub.”

“Sorrow vanquished, labour ended, Jordan passed. Buzz off, my lad. No,
Charles, I will _not_ wait while you put on a Burberry. Back and side go
bare, go bare, hand and foot go cold, so belly-god send us good ale
enough, whether it be new or old.”

The starter hummed—the youth mounted his machine and led off down the
lane after one alarming wobble—Wimsey slipped in the clutch and followed
in his wake.

The “Fox-and-Hounds” turned out to be one of those pleasant,
old-fashioned inns where everything is upholstered in horse-hair and it
is never too late to obtain a good meal of cold roast sirloin and
home-grown salad. The landlady, Mrs. Piggin, served the travellers
herself. She wore a decent black satin dress and a front of curls of the
fashion favoured by the Royal Family. Her round, cheerful face glowed in
the firelight, seeming to reflect the radiance of the scarlet-coated
huntsmen who galloped and leapt and fell on every wall through a series
of sporting prints. Lord Peter’s mood softened under the influence of
the atmosphere and the house’s excellent ale, and by a series of
inquiries directed to the hunting-season, just concluded, the
neighbouring families and the price of horseflesh, he dexterously led
the conversation round to the subject of the late Miss Clara Whittaker.

“Oh, dear, yes,” said Mrs. Piggin, “to be sure, we knew Miss Whittaker.
Everybody knew her in these parts. A wonderful old lady she was. There’s
a many of her horses still in the country. Mr. Cleveland, he bought the
best part of the stock, and is doin’ well with them. Fine honest stock
she bred, and they all used to say she was a woman of wonderful judgment
with a horse—or a man either. Nobody ever got the better of her twice,
and very few, once.”

“Ah!” said Lord Peter, sagaciously.

“I remember her well, riding to hounds when she was well over sixty,”
went on Mrs. Piggin, “and she wasn’t one to wait for a gap, neither. Now
Miss Dawson—that was her friend as lived with her—over at the Manor
beyond the stone bridge—she was more timid-like. She’d go by the gates,
and we often used to say she’d never be riding at all, but for bein’
that fond of Miss Whittaker and not wanting to let her out of her sight.
But there, we can’t all be alike, can we, sir?—and Miss Whittaker was
altogether out of the way. They don’t make them like that nowadays. Not
but what these modern girls are good goers, many of them, and does a lot
of things as would have been thought very fast in the old days, but Miss
Whittaker had the knowledge as well. Bought her own horses and physicked
’em and bred ’em, and needed no advice from anybody.”

“She sounds a wonderful old girl,” said Wimsey, heartily. “I’d have
liked to know her. I’ve got some friends who knew Miss Dawson quite
well—when she was living in Hampshire, you know.”

“Indeed, sir? Well, that’s strange, isn’t it? She was a very kind, nice
lady. We heard she’d died, too. Of this cancer, was it? That’s a
terrible thing, poor soul. And fancy you being connected with her, so to
speak. I expect you’d be interested in some of our photographs of the
Crofton Hunt. Jim?”


“Show these gentlemen the photographs of Miss Whittaker and Miss Dawson.
They’re acquainted with some friends of Miss Dawson down in Hampshire.
Step this way—if you’re sure you won’t take anything more, sir.”

Mrs. Piggin led the way into a cosy little private bar, where a number
of hunting-looking gentlemen were enjoying a final glass before
closing-time. Piggin, stout and genial as his wife, moved forward to do
the honours.

“What’ll you have, gentlemen?—Joe, two pints of the winter ale. And
fancy you knowing our Miss Dawson. Dear me, the world’s a very small
place, as I often says to my wife. Here’s the last group as was ever
took of them, when the meet was held at the Manor in 1918. Of course,
you’ll understand, it wasn’t a regular meet, like, owing to the War and
the gentlemen being away and the horses too—we couldn’t keep things up
regular like in the old days. But what with the foxes gettin’ so
terrible many, and the packs all going to the dogs—ha! ha!—that’s what I
often used to say in this bar—the ’ounds is going to the dogs, I says.
Very good, they used to think it. There’s many a gentleman has laughed
at me sayin’ that—the ’ounds, I says, is goin’ to the dogs—well, as I
was sayin’, Colonel Fletcher and some of the older gentlemen, they says,
we must carry on somehow, they says, and so they ’ad one or two scratch
meets as you might say, just to keep the pack from fallin’ to pieces, as
you might say. And Miss Whittaker, she says, ‘’Ave the meet at the
Manor, Colonel,’ she says, ‘it’s the last meet I’ll ever see, perhaps,’
she says. And so it was, poor lady, for she ’ad a stroke in the New
Year. She died in 1922. That’s ’er, sitting in the pony-carriage and
Miss Dawson beside ’er. Of course, Miss Whittaker ’ad ’ad to give up
riding to ’ounds some years before. She was gettin’ on, but she always
followed in the trap, up to the very last. ’Andsome old lady, ain’t she,

Lord Peter and Parker looked with considerable interest at the rather
grim old woman sitting so uncompromisingly upright with the reins in her
hand. A dour, weather-beaten old face, but certainly handsome still,
with its large nose and straight, heavy eyebrows. And beside her,
smaller, plumper and more feminine, was the Agatha Dawson whose curious
death had led them to this quiet country place. She had a sweet, smiling
face—less dominating than that of her redoubtable friend, but full of
spirit and character. Without doubt they had been a remarkable pair of
old ladies.

Lord Peter asked a question or two about the family.

“Well, sir, I can’t say as I knows much about that. We always understood
as Miss Whittaker had quarrelled with her people on account of comin’
here and settin’ up for herself. It wasn’t usual in them days for girls
to leave home the way it is now. But if you’re particularly interested,
sir, there’s an old gentleman here as can tell you all about the
Whittakers and the Dawsons too, and that’s Ben Cobling. He was Miss
Whittaker’s groom for forty years, and he married Miss Dawson’s maid as
come with her from Norfolk. Eighty-six ’e was, last birthday, but a
grand old fellow still. We thinks a lot of Ben Cobling in these parts.
’Im and his wife lives in the little cottage what Miss Whittaker left
them when she died. If you’d like to go round and see them to-morrow,
sir, you’ll find Ben’s memory as good as ever it was. Excuse me, sir,
but it’s time. I must get ’em out of the bar.—Time, gentlemen, please!
Three and eightpence, sir, thank you, sir. Hurry up, gentlemen, please.
Now then, Joe, look sharp.”

“Great place, Crofton,” said Lord Peter, when he and Parker were left
alone in a great, low-ceilinged bedroom, where the sheets smelt of
lavender. “Ben Cobling’s sure to know all about Cousin Hallelujah. I’m
looking forward to Ben Cobling.”

                              CHAPTER XII
                        A Tale of Two Spinsters

  “_The power of perpetuating our property in our families is one of the
  most valuable and interesting circumstances belonging to it._”
                                  Burke, _Reflections on the Revolution_

The rainy night was followed by a sun-streaked morning. Lord Peter,
having wrapped himself affectionately round an abnormal quantity of
bacon and eggs, strolled out to bask at the door of the
“Fox-and-Hounds.” He filled a pipe slowly and meditated. Within, a
cheerful bustle in the bar announced the near arrival of opening time.
Eight ducks crossed the road in Indian file. A cat sprang up upon the
bench, stretched herself, tucked her hind legs under her and coiled her
tail tightly round them as though to prevent them from accidentally
working loose. A groom passed, riding a tall bay horse and leading a
chestnut with a hogged mane; a spaniel followed them, running
ridiculously, with one ear flopped inside-out over his foolish head.

Lord Peter said, “Hah!”

The inn-door was set hospitably open by the barman, who said, “Good
morning, sir; fine morning, sir,” and vanished within again.

Lord Peter said, “Umph.” He uncrossed his right foot from over his left
and straddled happily across the threshold.

Round the corner by the church-yard wall a little bent figure hove into
sight—an aged man with a wrinkled face and legs incredibly bowed, his
spare shanks enclosed in leather gaiters. He advanced at a kind of brisk
totter and civilly bared his ancient head before lowering himself with
an audible creak on to the bench beside the cat.

“Good morning, sir,” said he.

“Good morning,” said Lord Peter. “A beautiful day.”

“That it be, sir, that it be,” said the old man, heartily. “When I sees
a beautiful May day like this, I pray the Lord He’ll spare me to live in
this wonderful world of His a few years longer. I do indeed.”

“You look uncommonly fit,” said his lordship, “I should think there was
every chance of it.”

“I’m still very hearty, sir, thank you, though I am eighty-seven next

Lord Peter expressed a proper astonishment.

“Yes, sir, eighty-seven, and if it wasn’t for the rheumatics I’d have
nothin’ to complain on. I’m stronger maybe than what I look. I knows I’m
a bit bent, sir, but that’s the ’osses, sir, more than age. Regular
brought up with ’osses I’ve been all my life. Worked with ’em, slept
with ’em—lived in a stable, you might say, sir.”

“You couldn’t have better company,” said Lord Peter.

“That’s right, sir, you couldn’t. My wife always used to say she was
jealous of the ’osses. Said I preferred their conversation to hers.
Well, maybe she was right, sir. A ’oss never talks no foolishness, I
says to her, and that’s more than you can always say of women, ain’t it,

“It is indeed,” said Wimsey. “What are you going to have?”

“Thank you, sir, I’ll have my usual pint of bitter. Jim knows. Jim!
Always start the day with a pint of bitter, sir. It’s ’olesomer than tea
to my mind and don’t fret the coats of the stomach.”

“I dare say you’re right,” said Wimsey. “Now you mention it, there is
something fretful about tea. Mr. Piggin, two pints of bitter, please,
and will you join us?”

“Thank you, my lord,” said the landlord. “Joe! Two large bitters and a
Guinness. Beautiful morning, my lord—’morning, Mr. Cobling—I see you’ve
made each other’s acquaintance already.”

“By Jove! So this is Mr. Cobling. I’m delighted to see you. I wanted
particularly to have a chat with you.”

“Indeed, sir?”

“I was telling this gentleman—Lord Peter Wimsey his name is—as you could
tell him all about Miss Whittaker and Miss Dawson. He knows friends of
Miss Dawson’s.”

“Indeed? Ah! There ain’t much I _couldn’t_ tell you about them ladies.
And proud I’d be to do it. Fifty years I was with Miss Whittaker. I come
to her as under-groom in old Johnny Blackthorne’s time, and stayed on as
headgroom after he died. A rare young lady she was in them days. Deary
me. Straight as a switch, with a fine, high colour in her cheeks and
shiny black hair—just like a beautiful two-year-old filly she was. And
very sperrited. Wonnerful sperrited. There was a many gentlemen as would
have been glad to hitch up with her, but she was never broke to harness.
Like dirt, she treated ’em. Wouldn’t look at ’em, except it might be the
grooms and stablehands in a matter of ’osses. And in the way of
business, of course. Well, there is some creatures like that. I ’ad a
terrier-bitch that way. Great ratter she was. But a business
woman—nothin’ else. I tried ’er with all the dogs I could lay ’and to,
but it weren’t no good. Bloodshed there was an’ sich a row—you never
’eard. The Lord makes a few on ’em that way to suit ’Is own purposes, I
suppose. There ain’t no arguin’ with females.”

Lord Peter said “Ah!”

The ale went down in silence.

Mr. Piggin roused himself presently from contemplation to tell a story
of Miss Whittaker in the hunting-field. Mr. Cobling capped this by
another. Lord Peter said “Ah!” Parker then emerged and was introduced,
and Mr. Cobling begged the privilege of standing a round of drinks. This
ritual accomplished, Mr. Piggin begged the company would be his guests
for a third round, and then excused himself on the plea of customers to
attend to.

He went in, and Lord Peter, by skilful and maddeningly slow degrees,
began to work his way back to the history of the Dawson family.
Parker—educated at Barrow-in-Furness grammar school and with his wits
further sharpened in the London police service—endeavoured now and again
to get matters along faster by a brisk question. The result, every time,
was to make Mr. Cobling lose the thread of his remarks and start him off
into a series of interminable side-tracks. Wimsey kicked his friend
viciously on the anklebone to keep him quiet, and with endless patience
worked the conversation back to the main road again.

At the end of an hour or so, Mr. Cobling explained that his wife could
tell them a great deal more about Miss Dawson than what he could, and
invited them to visit his cottage. This invitation being accepted with
alacrity, the party started off, Mr. Cobling explaining to Parker that
he was eighty-seven come next Michaelmas, and hearty still, indeed,
stronger than he appeared, bar the rheumatics that troubled him. “I’m
not saying as I’m not bent,” said Mr. Cobling, “but that’s more the work
of the ’osses. Regular lived with ’osses all my life—”

“Don’t look so fretful, Charles,” murmured Wimsey in his ear, “it must
be the tea at breakfast—it frets the coats of the stomach.”

Mrs. Cobling turned out to be a delightful old lady, exactly like a
dried-up pippin and only two years younger than her husband. She was
entranced at getting an opportunity to talk about her darling Miss
Agatha. Parker, thinking it necessary to put forward some reason for the
inquiry, started on an involved explanation, and was kicked again. To
Mrs. Cobling, nothing could be more natural than that all the world
should be interested in the Dawsons, and she prattled gaily on without

She had been in the Dawson family service as a girl—almost born in it as
you might say. Hadn’t her mother been housekeeper to Mr. Henry Dawson,
Miss Agatha’s papa, and to his father before him? She herself had gone
to the big house as stillroom maid when she wasn’t but fifteen. That was
when Miss Harriet was only three years old—her as afterwards married Mr.
James Whittaker. Yes, and she’d been there when the rest of the family
was born. Mr. Stephen—him as should have been the heir—ah, dear! only
the trouble came and that killed his poor father and there was nothing
left. Yes, a sad business that was. Poor Mr. Henry speculated with
something—Mrs. Cobling wasn’t clear what, but it was all very wicked and
happened in London where there were so many wicked people—and the long
and the short was, he lost it all, poor gentleman, and never held up his
head again. Only fifty-four he was when he died; such a fine upright
gentleman with a pleasant word for everybody. And his wife didn’t live
long after him, poor lamb. She was a Frenchwoman and a sweet lady, but
she was very lonely in England, having no family and her two sisters
walled up alive in one of them dreadful Romish Convents.

“And what did Mr. Stephen do when the money went?” asked Wimsey.

“Him? Oh, he went into business—a strange thing that did seem, though I
have heard tell as old Barnabas Dawson, Mr. Henry’s grandfather that
was, was nought but a grocer or something of that—and they do say, don’t
they, that from shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves is three generations?
Still, it was very hard on Mr. Stephen, as had always been brought up to
have everything of the best. And engaged to be married to a beautiful
lady, too, and a very rich heiress. But it was all for the best, for
when she heard Mr. Stephen was a poor man after all, she threw him over,
and that showed she had no heart in her at all. Mr. Stephen never
married till he was over forty, and then it was a lady with no family at
all—not lawful, that is, though she was a dear, sweet girl and made Mr.
Stephen a most splendid wife—she did indeed. And Mr. John, he was their
only son. They thought the world of him. It was a terrible day when the
news came that he was killed in the War. A cruel business that was, sir,
wasn’t it?—and nobody the better for it as I can see, but all these
shocking hard taxes, and the price of everything gone up so, and so many
out of work.”

“So he was killed? That must have been a terrible grief to his parents.”

“Yes, sir, terrible. Oh, it was an awful thing altogether, sir, for poor
Mr. Stephen, as had had so much trouble all his life, he went out of his
poor mind and shot hisself. Out of his mind he must have been, sir, to
do it—and what was more dreadful still, he shot his dear lady as well.
You may remember it, sir. There was pieces in the paper about it.”

“I seem to have some vague recollection of it,” said Peter, quite
untruthfully, but anxious not to seem to belittle the local tragedy.
“And young John—he wasn’t married, I suppose.”

“No, sir. That was very sad, too. He was engaged to a young lady—a nurse
in one of the English hospitals, as we understood, and he was hoping to
get back and be married to her on his next leave. Everything did seem to
go all wrong together them terrible years.”

The old lady sighed, and wiped her eyes.

“Mr. Stephen was the only son, then?”

“Well, not exactly, sir. There was the darling twins. Such pretty
children, but they only lived two days. They come four years after Miss
Harriet—her as married Mr. James Whittaker.”

“Yes, of course. That was how the families became connected.”

“Yes, sir. Miss Agatha and Miss Harriet and Miss Clara Whittaker was all
at the same school together, and Mrs. Whittaker asked the two young
ladies to go and spend their holidays with Miss Clara, and that was when
Mr. James fell in love with Miss Harriet. She wasn’t as pretty as Miss
Agatha, to my thinking, but she was livelier and quicker—and then, of
course, Miss Agatha was never one for flirting and foolishness. Often
she used to say to me, ‘Betty,’ she said, ‘I mean to be an old maid and
so does Miss Clara, and we’re going to live together and be ever so
happy, without any stupid, tiresome gentlemen.’ And so it turned out,
sir, as you know, for Miss Agatha, for all she was so quiet, was very
determined. Once she’d said a thing, you couldn’t turn her from it—not
with reasons, nor with threats, nor with coaxings—nothing! Many’s the
time I’ve tried when she was a child—for I used to give a little help in
the nursery sometimes, sir. You might drive her into a temper or into
the sulks, but you couldn’t make her change her little mind, even then.”

There came to Wimsey’s mind the picture of the stricken, helpless old
woman, holding to her own way in spite of her lawyer’s reasoning and her
niece’s subterfuge. A remarkable old lady, certainly, in her way.

“I suppose the Dawson family has practically died out, then,” he said.

“Oh, yes, sir. There’s only Miss Mary now—and she’s a Whittaker, of
course. She is Miss Harriet’s grand-daughter, Mr. Charles Whittaker’s
only child. She was left all alone, too, when she went to live with Miss
Dawson. Mr. Charles and his wife was killed in one of these dreadful
motors—dear, dear—it seemed we was fated to have nothing but one tragedy
after another. Just to think of Ben and me outliving them all.”

“Cheer up, Mother,” said Ben, laying his hand on hers. “The Lord have
been wonderful good to us.”

“That He have. Three sons we have, sir, and two daughters, and fourteen
grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Maybe you’d like to see
their pictures, sir.”

Lord Peter said he should like to very much, and Parker made
confirmatory noises. The life-histories of all the children and
descendants were detailed at suitable length. Whenever a pause seemed
discernible, Parker would mutter hopefully in Wimsey’s car, “How about
Cousin Hallelujah?” but before a question could be put, the interminable
family chronicle was resumed.

“And for God’s sake, Charles,” whispered Peter, savagely, when Mrs.
Cobling had risen to hunt for the shawl which Grandson William had sent
home from the Dardanelles, “don’t keep saying Hallelujah at me! I’m not
a revival meeting.”

The shawl being duly admired, the conversation turned upon foreign
parts, natives and black people generally, following on which, Lord
Peter added carelessly:

“By the way, hasn’t the Dawson family got some sort of connections in
those foreign countries, somewhere?”

Well, yes, said Mrs. Cobling, in rather a shocked tone. There had been
Mr. Paul, Mr. Henry’s brother. But he was not mentioned much. He had
been a terrible shock to his family. In fact—a gasp here, and a lowering
of the voice—he had _turned Papist_ and become—a monk! (Had he become a
murderer, apparently, he could hardly have done worse.) Mr. Henry had
always blamed himself very much in the matter.

“How was it his fault?”

“Well, of course, Mr. Henry’s wife—my dear mistress, you see, sir—she
was French, as I told you, and of course, _she_ was a Papist. Being
brought up that way, she wouldn’t know any better, naturally, and she
was very young when she was married. But Mr. Henry soon taught her to be
a Christian, and she put away her idolatrous ideas and went to the
parish church. But Mr. Paul, _he_ fell in love with one of her sisters,
and the sister had been vowed to religion, as they called it, and had
shut herself up in a nunnery.” And then Mr. Paul had broken his heart
and “gone over” to the Scarlet Woman and—again the pause and the
hush—become a monk. A terrible to-do it made. And he’d lived to be a
very old man, and for all Mrs. Cobling knew was living yet, still in the
error of his ways.

“If he’s alive,” murmured Parker, “he’s probably the real heir. He’d be
Agatha Dawson’s uncle and her nearest relation.”

Wimsey frowned and returned to the charge.

“Well, it couldn’t have been Mr. Paul I had in mind,” he said, “because
this sort of relation of Miss Agatha Dawson’s that I heard about was a
real foreigner—in fact, a very dark-complexioned man—almost a black man
or so I was told.”

“Black?” cried the old lady—“oh, no, sir—that couldn’t be. Unless—dear
Lord a’ mercy, it couldn’t be that, surely! Ben, do you think it could
be that?—Old Simon, you know?”

Ben shook his head. “I never heard tell much about him.”

“Nor nobody did,” replied Mrs. Cobling, energetically. “He was a long
way back, but they had tales of him in the family. ‘Wicked Simon,’ they
called him. He sailed away to the Indies, many years ago, and nobody
knew what became of him. Wouldn’t it be a queer thing, like, if he was
to have married a black wife out in them parts, and this was his—oh,
dear—his grandson it ’ud have to be, if not his great-grandson, for he
was Mr. Henry’s uncle, and that’s a long time ago.”

This was disappointing. A grandson of “old Simon’s” would surely be too
distant a relative to dispute Mary Whittaker’s title. However:

“That’s very interesting,” said Wimsey. “Was it the East Indies or the
West Indies he went to, I wonder?”

Mrs. Cobling didn’t know, but she believed it was something to do with

“It’s a pity as Mr. Probyn ain’t in England any longer. He could have
told you more about the family than what I can. But he retired last year
and went away to Italy or some such place.”

“Who was he?”

“He was Miss Whittaker’s solicitor,” said Ben, “and he managed all Miss
Dawson’s business, too. A nice gentleman he was, but uncommon sharp—ha,
ha! Never gave nothing away. But that’s lawyers all the world over,”
added he, shrewdly, “take all and give nothing.”

“Did he live in Crofton?”

“No, sir, in Croftover Magna, twelve miles from here. Pointer & Winkin
have his business now, but they’re young men, and I don’t know much
about them.”

Having by this time heard all the Coblings had to tell, Wimsey and
Parker gradually disentangled themselves and took their leave.

“Well, Cousin Hallelujah’s a wash-out,” said Parker.

“Possibly—possibly not. There may be some connection. Still, I certainly
think the disgraceful and papistical Mr. Paul is more promising.
Obviously Mr. Probyn is the bird to get hold of. You realise who he is?”

“He’s the mysterious solicitor, I suppose.”

“Of course he is. He knows why Miss Dawson ought to have made her will.
And we’re going straight off to Croftover Magna to look up Messrs.
Pointer & Winkin, and see what they have to say about it.”

Unhappily, Messrs. Pointer & Winkin had nothing to say whatever. Miss
Dawson had withdrawn her affairs from Mr. Probyn’s hands and had lodged
all the papers with her new solicitor. Messrs. Pointer & Winkin had
never had any connection with the Dawson family. They had no objection,
however, to furnishing Mr. Probyn’s address—Villa Bianca, Fiesole. They
regretted that they could be of no further assistance to Lord Peter
Wimsey and Mr. Parker. Good morning.

“Short and sour,” was his lordship’s comment. “Well, well—we’ll have a
spot of lunch and write a letter to Mr. Probyn and another to my good
friend Bishop Lambert of the Orinoco Mission to get a line on Cousin
Hallelujah, Smile, smile, smile. As Ingoldsby says: ‘The breezes are
blowing a race, a race! The breezes are blowing—we near the chase!’ Do
ye ken John Peel? Likewise, know’st thou the land where blooms the
citron-flower? Well, never mind if you don’t—you can always look forward
to going there for your honeymoon.”

                              CHAPTER XIII

  “_Our ancestors are very good kind of folks, but they are the last
  people I should choose to have a visiting acquaintance with._”
                                                  Sheridan, _The Rivals_

That excellent prelate, Bishop Lambert of the Orinoco Mission, proved to
be a practical and kind man. He did not personally know the Rev.
Hallelujah Dawson, but thought he might belong to the Tabernacle
Mission—a Nonconformist body which was doing a very valuable work in
those parts. He would himself communicate with the London Headquarters
of this community and let Lord Peter know the result. Two hours later,
Bishop Lambert’s secretary had duly rung up the Tabernacle Mission and
received the very satisfactory information that the Rev. Hallelujah
Dawson was in England, and, indeed, available at their Mission House in
Stepney. He was an elderly minister, living in very reduced
circumstances—in fact, the Bishop rather gathered that the story was a
sad one—Oh, not at all, pray, no thanks. The Bishop’s poor miserable
slave of a secretary did all the work. Very glad to hear from Lord
Peter, and was he being good? Ha, ha! and when was he coming to dine
with the Bishop?

Lord Peter promptly gathered up Parker and swooped down with him upon
the Tabernacle Mission, before whose dim and grim frontage Mrs. Merdle’s
long black bonnet and sweeping copper exhaust made an immense
impression. The small fry of the neighbourhood had clustered about her
and were practising horn solos almost before Wimsey had rung the bell.
On Parker’s threatening them with punishment and casually informing them
that he was a police officer, they burst into ecstasies of delight, and
joining hands, formed a ring-o’-roses round him, under the guidance of a
sprightly young woman of twelve years old or thereabouts. Parker made a
few harassed darts at them, but the ring only broke up, shrieking with
laughter, and reformed, singing. The Mission door opened at the moment,
displaying this undignified exhibition to the eyes of a lank young man
in spectacles, who shook a long finger disapprovingly and said, “Now,
you children,” without the slightest effect and apparently without the
faintest expectation of producing any.

Lord Peter explained his errand.

“Oh, come in, please,” said the young man, who had one finger in a book
of theology. “I’m afraid your friend—er—this is rather a noisy

Parker shook himself free from his tormentors, and advanced, breathing
threatenings and slaughter, to which the enemy responded by a derisive
blast of the horn.

“They’ll run those batteries down,” said Wimsey.

“You can’t do anything with the little devils,” growled Parker.

“Why don’t you treat them as human beings?” retorted Wimsey. “Children
are creatures of like passions with politicians and financiers. Here,
Esmeralda!” he added, beckoning to the ringleader.

The young woman put her tongue out and made a rude gesture, but
observing the glint of coin in the outstretched hand, suddenly
approached and stood challengingly before them.

“Look here,” said Wimsey, “here’s half a crown—thirty pennies, you know.
Any use to you?”

The child promptly proved her kinship with humanity. She became abashed
in the presence of wealth, and was silent, rubbing one dusty shoe upon
the calf of her stocking.

“You appear,” pursued Lord Peter, “to be able to keep your young friends
in order if you choose. I take you, in fact, for a woman of character.
Very well, if you keep them from touching my car while I’m in the house,
you get this half-crown, see? But if you let ’em blow the horn, I shall
hear it. Every time the horn goes, you lose a penny, got that? If the
horn blows six times, you only get two bob. If I hear it thirty times,
you don’t get anything. And I shall look out from time to time, and if I
see anybody mauling the car about or sitting in it, _then_ you don’t get
anything. Do I make myself clear?”

“I takes care o’ yer car fer ’arf a crahn. An’ ef the ’orn goes, you
docks a copper ’orf of it.”

“That’s right.”

“Right you are, mister. I’ll see none on ’em touches it.”

“Good girl. Now, sir.”

The spectacled young man led them into a gloomy little waiting-room,
suggestive of a railway station and hung with Old Testament prints.

“I’ll tell Mr. Dawson you’re here,” said he, and vanished, with the
volume of theology still clutched in his hand.

Presently a shuffling step was heard on the coconut matting, and Wimsey
and Parker braced themselves to confront the villainous claimant.

The door, however, opened to admit an elderly West Indian, of so humble
and inoffensive an appearance that the hearts of the two detectives sank
into their boots. Anything less murderous could scarcely be imagined, as
he stood blinking nervously at them from behind a pair of steel-rimmed
spectacles, the frames of which had at one time been broken and bound
with twine.

The Rev. Hallelujah Dawson was undoubtedly a man of colour. He had the
pleasant, slightly aquiline features and brown-olive skin of the
Polynesian. His hair was scanty and greyish—not woolly, but closely
curled. His stooping shoulders were clad in a threadbare clerical coat.
His black eyes, yellow about the whites and slightly protruding, rolled
amiably at them, and his smile was open and frank.

“You asked to see me?” he began, in perfect English, but with the soft
native intonation. “I think I have not the pleasure—?”

“How do you do, Mr. Dawson? Yes. We are—er—makin’ certain
inquiries—er—in connection with the family of the Dawsons of Crofton in
Warwickshire, and it has been suggested that you might be able to
enlighten us, what? as to their West Indian connections—if you would be
so good.”

“Ah, yes!” The old man drew himself up slightly. “I am myself—in a way—a
descendant of the family. Won’t you sit down?”

“Thank you. We thought you might be.”

“You do not come from Miss Whittaker?”

There was something eager, yet defensive in the tone. Wimsey, not quite
knowing what was behind it, chose the discreeter part.

“Oh, no. We are—preparin’ a work on County Families, don’t you know.
Tombstones and genealogies and that sort of thing.”

“Oh!—yes—I hoped perhaps—” The mild tones died away in a sigh. “But I
shall be very happy to help you in any way.”

“Well, the question now is, what became of Simon Dawson? We know that he
left his family and sailed for the West Indies in—ah!—in seventeen—”

“Eighteen hundred and ten,” said the old man, with surprising quickness.
“Yes. He got into trouble when he was a lad of sixteen. He took up with
bad men older than himself, and became involved in a very terrible
affair. It had to do with gaming, and a man was killed. Not in a duel—in
those days that would not have been considered disgraceful—though
violence is always displeasing to the Lord—but the man was foully
murdered and Simon Dawson and his friends fled from justice. Simon fell
in with the press-gang and was carried off to sea. He served fifteen
years and was then taken by a French privateer. Later on he escaped
and—to cut a long story short—got away to Trinidad under another name.
Some English people there were kind to him and gave him work on their
sugar plantation. He did well there and eventually became owner of a
small plantation of his own.”

“What was the name he went by?”

“Harkaway. I suppose he was afraid that they would get hold of him as a
deserter from the Navy if he went by his own name. No doubt he should
have reported his escape. Anyway, he liked plantation life and was quite
satisfied to stay where he was. I don’t suppose he would have cared to
go home, even to claim his inheritance. And then, there was always the
matter of the murder, you know—though I dare say they would not have
brought that trouble up against him, seeing he was so young when it
happened and it was not his hand that did the awful deed.”

“His inheritance? Was he the eldest son, then?”

“No. Barnabas was the eldest, but he was killed at Waterloo and left no
family. Then there was a second son, Roger, but he died of smallpox as a
child. Simon was the third son.”

“Then it was the fourth son who took the estate?”

“Yes, Frederick. He was Henry’s Dawson’s father. They tried, of course,
to find out what became of Simon, but in those days it was very
difficult, you understand, to get information from foreign places, and
Simon had quite disappeared. So they had to pass him over.”

“And what happened to Simon’s children?” asked Parker. “Did he have

The clergyman nodded, and a deep, dusky flush showed under his dark

“I am his grandson,” he said, simply. “That is why I came over to
England. When the Lord called me to feed His lambs among my own people,
I was in quite good circumstances. I had the little sugar plantation
which had come down to me through my father, and I married and was very
happy. But we fell on bad times—the sugar crop failed, and our little
flock became smaller and poorer and could not give so much support to
their minister. Besides, I was getting too old and frail to do my
work—and I have a sick wife, too, and God has blessed us with many
daughters, who needed our care. I was in great straits. And then I came
upon some old family papers belonging to my grandfather, Simon, and
learned that his name was not Harkaway but Dawson, and I thought, maybe
I had a family in England and that God would yet raise up a table in the
wilderness. Accordingly, when the time came to send a representative
home to our London Headquarters, I asked permission to resign my
ministry out there and come over to England.”

“Did you get into touch with anybody?”

“Yes. I went to Crofton—which was mentioned in my grandfather’s
letters—and saw a lawyer in the town there—a Mr. Probyn of Croftover.
You know him?”

“I’ve heard of him.”

“Yes. He was very kind, and very much interested to see me. He showed me
the genealogy of the family, and how my grandfather should have been the
heir to the property.”

“But the property had been lost by that time, had it not?”

“Yes. And, unfortunately—when I showed him my grandmother’s marriage
certificate, he—he told me that it was no certificate at all. I fear
that Simon Dawson was a sad sinner. He took my grandmother to live with
him, as many of the planters did take women of colour, and he gave her a
document which was supposed to be a certificate of marriage signed by
the Governor of the country. But when Mr. Probyn inquired into it, he
found that it was all a sham, and no such governor had ever existed. It
was distressing to my feelings as a Christian, of course—but since there
was no property, it didn’t make any actual difference to us.”

“That was bad luck,” said Peter, sympathetically.

“I called resignation to my aid,” said the old Indian, with a dignified
little bow. “Mr. Probyn was also good enough to send me with a letter of
introduction to Miss Agatha Dawson, the only surviving member of our

“Yes, she lived at Leahampton.”

“She received me in the most charming way, and when I told her who I
was—acknowledging, of course, that I had not the slightest claim upon
her—she was good enough to make me an allowance of £100 a year, which
she continued till her death.”

“Was that the only time you saw her?”

“Oh, yes. I would not intrude upon her. It could not be agreeable to her
to have a relative of my complexion continually at her house,” said the
Rev. Hallelujah, with a kind of proud humility. “But she gave me lunch,
and spoke very kindly.”

“And—forgive my askin’—hope it isn’t impertinent—but does Miss Whittaker
keep up the allowance?”

“Well, no—I—perhaps I should not expect it, but it would have made a
great difference to our circumstances. And Miss Dawson rather led me to
hope that it might be continued. She told me that she did not like the
idea of making a will, but, she said, ‘It is not necessary at all,
Cousin Hallelujah, Mary will have all my money when I am gone, and she
can continue the allowance on my behalf.’ But perhaps Miss Whittaker did
not get the money after all?”

“Oh, yes, she did. It is very odd. She may have forgotten about it.”

“I took the liberty of writing her a few words of spiritual comfort when
her aunt died. Perhaps that did not please her. Of course, I did not
write again. Yet I am loath to believe that she has hardened her heart
against the unfortunate. No doubt there is some explanation.”

“No doubt,” said Lord Peter. “Well, I’m very grateful to you for your
kindness. That has quite cleared up the little matter of Simon and his
descendants. I’ll just make a note of the names and dates, if I may.”

“Certainly. I will bring you the paper which Mr. Probyn kindly made out
for me, showing the whole of the family. Excuse me.”

He was not gone long, and soon reappeared with a genealogy, neatly typed
out on a legal-looking sheet of blue paper.

Wimsey began to note down the particulars concerning Simon Dawson and
his son, Bosun, and his grandson, Hallelujah. Suddenly he put his finger
on an entry further along.

“Look here, Charles,” he said. “Here is our Father Paul—the bad boy who
turned R.C. and became a monk.”

“So he is. But—he’s dead, Peter—died in 1922, three years before Agatha

“Yes. We must wash him out. Well, these little setbacks will occur.”

They finished their notes, bade farewell to the Rev. Hallelujah, and
emerged to find Esmeralda valiantly defending Mrs. Merdle against all
comers. Lord Peter handed over the half-crown and took delivery of the

“The more I hear of Mary Whittaker,” he said, “the less I like her. She
might at least have given poor old Cousin Hallelujah his hundred quid.”

“She’s a rapacious female,” agreed Parker. “Well, anyway, Father Paul’s
safely dead, and Cousin Hallelujah is illegitimately descended. So
there’s an end of the long-lost claimant from overseas.”

“Damn it all!” cried Wimsey, taking both hands from the steering-wheel
and scratching his head, to Parker’s extreme alarm, “that strikes a
familiar chord. Now where in thunder have I heard those words before?”

                              CHAPTER XIV
                       Sharp Quillets of the Low

  “_Things done without example—in their issue
  Are to be feared._”
                                                 _Henry VIII_, 1, 2

“Murbles is coming round to dinner to-night, Charles,” said Wimsey. “I
wish you’d stop and have grub with us too. I want to put all this family
history business before him.”

“Where are you dining?”

“Oh, at the flat. I’m sick of restaurant meals. Bunter does a wonderful
bloody steak and there are new peas and potatoes and genuine English
grass. Gerald sent it up from Denver specially. You can’t buy it. Come
along. Ye olde English fare, don’t you know, and a bottle of what Pepys
calls Ho Bryon. Do you good.”

Parker accepted. But he noticed that, even when speaking on his beloved
subject of food, Wimsey was vague and abstracted. Something seemed to be
worrying at the back of his mind, and even when Mr. Murbles appeared,
full of mild legal humour, Wimsey listened to him with extreme courtesy
indeed, but with only half his attention.

They were partly through dinner when, a propos of nothing, Wimsey
suddenly brought his fist down on the mahogany with a crash that
startled even Bunter, causing him to jerk a great crimson splash of the
Haut Brion over the edge of the glass upon the tablecloth.

“Got it!” said Lord Peter.

Bunter in a low shocked voice begged his lordship’s pardon.

“Murbles,” said Wimsey, without heeding him, “isn’t there a new Property

“Why, yes,” said Mr. Murbles, in some surprise. He had been in the
middle of a story when the interruption occurred, and was a little put

“I knew I’d read that sentence somewhere—you know, Charles—about doing
away with the long-lost claimant from overseas. It was in some paper or
other about a couple of years ago, and it had to do with the new Act. Of
course, it said what a blow it would be to romantic novelists. Doesn’t
the Act wash out the claims of distant relatives, Murbles?”

“In a sense, it does,” replied the solicitor. “Not, of course, in the
case of entailed property, which has its own rules. But I understand you
to refer to ordinary personal property or real estate not entailed.”

“Yes—what happens to that, now, if the owner of the property dies
without making a will?”

“It is rather a complicated matter,” began Mr. Murbles.

“Well, look here, first of all—before the jolly old Act was passed, the
next-of-kin got it all, didn’t he—no matter if he was only a seventh
cousin fifteen times removed?”

“In a general way, that is correct. If there was a husband or wife—”

“Wash out the husband and wife. Suppose the person is unmarried and has
no near relations living. It would have gone—”

“To the next-of-kin, whoever that was, if he or she could be traced.”

“Even if you had to burrow back to William the Conqueror to get at the

“Always supposing you could get a clear record back to so very early a
date,” replied Mr. Murbles. “It is, of course, in the highest degree

“Yes, yes, I know, sir. But what happens now in such a case?”

“The new Act makes inheritance on intestacy very much simpler,” said Mr.
Murbles, setting his knife and fork together, placing both elbows on the
table and laying the index-finger of his right hand against his left
thumb in a gesture of tabulation.

“I bet it does,” interpolated Wimsey. “I know what an Act to make things
simpler means. It means that the people who drew it up don’t understand
it themselves and that every one of its clauses needs a law-suit to
disentangle it. But do go on.”

“Under the new Act,” pursued Mr. Murbles, “one half of the property goes
to the husband and wife, if living, and subject to his or her
life-interest, then all to the children equally. But if there be no
spouse and no children, then it goes to the father or mother of the
deceased. If the father and mother are both dead, then everything goes
to the brothers and sisters of the whole blood who are living at the
time, but if any brother or sister dies before the intestate, then to
his or her issue. In case there are no brothers or sisters of the—”

“Stop, stop! you needn’t go any further. You’re absolutely sure of that?
It goes to the brothers’ or sisters’ issue?”

“Yes. That is to say, if it were you that died intestate and your
brother Gerald and your sister Mary were already dead, your money would
be equally divided among your nieces and nephews.”

“Yes, but suppose they were already dead too—suppose I’d gone tediously
living on till I’d nothing left but great-nephews and great-nieces—would
they inherit?”

“Why—why, yes, I suppose they would,” said Mr. Murbles, with less
certainty, however. “Oh, yes, I think they would.”

“Clearly they would,” said Parker, a little impatiently, “if it says to
the issue of the deceased’s brothers and sisters.”

“Ah! but we must not be precipitate,” said Mr. Murbles, rounding upon
him. “To the lay mind, doubtless, the word ‘issue’ appears a simple one.
But in law”—(Mr. Murbles, who up till this point had held the
index-finger of the right hand poised against the ring-finger of the
left, in recognition of the claims of the brothers and sisters of the
half-blood, now placed his left palm upon the table and wagged his right
index-finger admonishingly in Parker’s direction)—“in _law_ the word may
bear one of two, or indeed several, interpretations according to the
nature of the document in which it occurs and the date of that

“But in the new Act—” urged Lord Peter.

“I am not, particularly,” said Mr. Murbles, “a specialist in the law
concerning property, and I should not like to give a decided opinion as
to its interpretation, all the more as, up to the present, no case has
come before the Courts bearing on the present issue—no pun intended, ha,
ha, ha! But my immediate and entirely tentative opinion—which, however,
I should advise you not to accept without the support of some weightier
authority—would be, I _think_, that issue in this case means issue _ad
infinitum_, and that therefore the great-nephews and great-nieces would
be entitled to inherit.”

“But there might be another opinion?”

“Yes—the question is a complicated one—”

“What did I tell you?” groaned Peter. “I _knew_ this simplifying Act
would cause a shockin’ lot of muddle.”

“May I ask,” said Mr. Murbles, “exactly why you want to know all this?”

“Why, sir,” said Wimsey, taking from his pocket-book the genealogy of
the Dawson family which he had received from the Rev. Hallelujah Dawson,
“here is the point. We have always talked about Mary Whittaker as Agatha
Dawson’s niece; she was always called so and she speaks of the old lady
as her aunt. But if you look at this, you will see that actually she was
no nearer to her than great-niece: she was the grand-daughter of
Agatha’s sister Harriet.”

“Quite true,” said Mr. Murbles, “but still, she was apparently the
nearest surviving relative, and since Agatha Dawson died in 1925, the
money passed without any question to Mary Whittaker under the old
Property Act. There’s no ambiguity there.”

“No,” said Wimsey, “none whatever, that’s the point. But—”

“Good God!” broke in Parker, “I see what you’re driving at. When did the
new Act come into force, sir?”

“In January, 1926,” replied Mr. Murbles.

“And Miss Dawson died, rather unexpectedly, as we know, in November,
1925,” went on Peter. “But supposing she had lived, as the doctor fully
expected her to do, till February or March, 1926—are you absolutely
positive, sir, that Mary Whittaker would have inherited then?”

Mr. Murbles opened his mouth to speak—and shut it again. He rubbed his
hands very slowly the one over the other. He removed his eyeglasses and
resettled them more firmly on his nose. Then:

“You are quite right, Lord Peter,” he said in a grave tone, “this is a
very serious and important point. Much too serious for me to give an
opinion on. If I understand you rightly, you are suggesting that any
ambiguity in the interpretation of the new Act might provide an
interested party with a very good and sufficient motive for hastening
the death of Agatha Dawson.”

“I do mean exactly that. Of course, if the great-niece inherits anyhow,
the old lady might as well die under the new Act as under the old. But
if there was any doubt about it—how tempting, don’t you see, to give her
a little push over the edge, so as to make her die in 1925. Especially
as she couldn’t live long anyhow, and there were no other relatives to
be defrauded.”

“That reminds me,” put in Parker, “suppose the great-niece is excluded
from the inheritance, where does the money go?”

“It goes to the Duchy of Lancaster—or in other words, to the Crown.”

“In fact,” said Wimsey, “to no one in particular. Upon my soul, I really
can’t see that it’s very much of a crime to bump a poor old thing off a
bit previously when she’s sufferin’ horribly, just to get the money she
intends you to have. Why the devil should the Duchy of Lancaster have
it? Who cares about the Duchy of Lancaster? It’s like defrauding the
Income Tax.”

“Ethically,” observed Mr. Murbles, “there may be much to be said for
your point of view. Legally, I am afraid, murder is murder, however
frail the victim or convenient the result.”

“And Agatha Dawson didn’t want to die,” added Parker, “she said so.”

“No,” said Wimsey, thoughtfully, “and I suppose she had a right to an

“I think,” said Mr. Murbles, “that before we go any further, we ought to
consult a specialist in this branch of the law. I wonder whether
Towkington is at home. He is quite the ablest authority I could name.
Greatly as I dislike that modern invention, the telephone, I think it
might be advisable to ring him up.”

Mr. Towkington proved to be at home and at liberty. The case of the
great-niece was put to him over the ’phone. Mr. Towkington, taken at a
disadvantage without his authorities, and hazarding an opinion on the
spur of the moment, thought that in all probability the great-niece
would be excluded from the succession under the new Act. But it was an
interesting point, and he would be glad of an opportunity to verify his
references. Would not Mr. Murbles come round and talk it over with him?
Mr. Murbles explained that he was at that moment dining with two friends
who were interested in the question. In that case, would not the two
friends also come round and see Mr. Towkington?

“Towkington has some very excellent port,” said Mr. Murbles, in a
cautious aside, and clapping his hand over the mouth-piece of the

“Then why not go and try it?” said Wimsey, cheerfully.

“It’s only as far as Gray’s Inn,” continued Mr. Murbles.

“All the better,” said Lord Peter.

Mr. Murbles released the telephone and thanked Mr. Towkington. The party
would start at once for Gray’s Inn. Mr. Towkington was heard to say,
“Good, good,” in a hearty manner before ringing off.

On their arrival at Mr. Towkington’s chambers the oak was found to be
hospitably unsported, and almost before they could knock, Mr. Towkington
himself flung open the door and greeted them in a loud and cheerful
tone. He was a large, square man with a florid face and a harsh voice.
In court, he was famous for a way of saying, “Come now,” as a preface to
tying recalcitrant witnesses into tight knots, which he would then
proceed to slash open with a brilliant confutation. He knew Wimsey by
sight, expressed himself delighted to meet Inspector Parker, and bustled
his guests into the room with jovial shouts.

“I’ve been going into this little matter while you were coming along,”
he said. “Awkward, eh? ha! Astonishing thing that people can’t say what
they mean when they draw Acts, eh? ha! Why do you suppose it is, Lord
Peter, eh? ha! Come now!”

“I suspect it’s because Acts are drawn up by lawyers,” said Wimsey with
a grin.

“To make work for themselves, eh? I daresay you’re right. Even lawyers
must live, eh? ha! Very good. Well now, Murbles, let’s just have this
case again, in greater detail, d’you mind?”

Mr. Murbles explained the matter again, displaying the genealogical
table and putting forward the point as regards a possible motive for

“Eh, ha!” exclaimed Mr. Towkington, much delighted, “that’s good—very
good—your idea, Lord Peter? Very ingenious. Too ingenious. The dock at
the Old Bailey is peopled by gentlemen who are too ingenious. Ha! Come
to a bad end one of these days, young man. Eh! Yes—well, now, Murbles,
the question here turns on the interpretation of the word ‘issue’—you
grasp that, eh, ha! Yes. Well, _you_ seem to think it means issue _ad
infinitum_. How do you make that out, come now?”

“I didn’t say I thought it did; I said I thought it might,” remonstrated
Mr. Murbles, mildly. “The general intention of the Act appears to be to
exclude any remote kin where the common ancestor is further back than
the grandparents—not to cut off the descendants of the brothers and

“Intention?” snapped Mr. Towkington. “I’m astonished at you, Murbles!
The law has nothing to do with good intentions. What does the Act _say_?
It says, ‘To the brothers and sisters of the whole blood and their
issue.’ Now, in the absence of any new definition, I should say that the
word is here to be construed as before the Act it was construed on
intestacy—in so far, at any rate, as it refers to personal property,
which I understand the property in question to be, eh?”

“Yes,” said Mr. Murbles.

“Then I don’t see that you and your great-niece have a leg to stand
on—come now!”

“Excuse me,” said Wimsey, “but d’you mind—I know lay people are awful
ignorant nuisances—but if you _would_ be so good as to explain what the
beastly word did or does mean, it would be frightfully helpful, don’t
you know.”

“Ha! Well, it’s like this,” said Mr. Towkington, graciously. “Before

“Queen Victoria, I know,” said Peter, intelligently.

“Quite so. At the time when Queen Victoria came to the throne, the word
‘issue’ had no legal meaning—no legal meaning at all.”

“You surprise me!”

“You are too easily surprised,” said Mr. Towkington. “Many words have no
legal meaning. Others have a legal meaning very unlike their ordinary
meaning. For example, the word ‘daffy-down-dilly.’ It is a criminal
libel to call a lawyer a daffy-down-dilly. Ha! Yes, I advise you _never_
to do such a thing. No, I certainly advise you never to do it. Then
again, words which are quite meaningless in your ordinary conversation
may have a meaning in law. For instance, I might say to a young man like
yourself, ‘You wish to leave such-and-such property to so-and-so.’ And
you would very likely reply, ‘Oh, yes, absolutely’—meaning nothing in
particular by that. But if you were to write in your will, ‘I leave
such-and-such property to so-and-so _absolutely_,’ then that word would
bear a definite legal meaning, and would condition your bequest in a
certain manner, and might even prove an embarrassment and produce
results very far from your actual intentions. Eh, ha! You see?”


“Very well. Prior to 1837, the word ‘issue’ meant nothing. A grant ‘to
A. and his issue’ merely gave A. a life estate. Ha! But this was altered
by the Wills Act of 1837.”

“As far as a will was concerned,” put in Mr. Murbles.

“Precisely. After 1837, in a will, ‘issue’ meant ‘heirs of the
body’—that is to say, ‘issue _ad infinitum_.’ In a deed, on the other
hand, ‘issue’ retained its old meaning—or lack of meaning, eh, ha! You

“Yes,” said Mr. Murbles, “and on intestacy of personal property—”

“I am coming to that,” said Mr. Towkington.

“—the word ‘issue’ continued to mean ‘heirs of the body,’ and that held
good till 1926.”

“Stop!” said Mr. Towkington, “issue of the child or children of the
deceased certainly meant ‘issue _ad infinitum’—but_—issue of any person
_not_ a child of the deceased only meant the child of that person and
did not include other descendants. And that undoubtedly held good till
1926. And since the new Act contains no statement to the contrary, I
think we must presume that it continues to hold good. Ha! Come now! In
the case before us, you observe that the claimant is _not_ the child of
the deceased nor issue of the child of the deceased; nor is she the
child of the deceased’s sister. She is merely the grandchild of the
deceased sister of the deceased. Accordingly, I think she is debarred
from inheriting under the new Act, eh? ha!”

“I see your point,” said Mr. Murbles.

“And moreover,” went on Mr. Towkington, “after 1925, ‘issue’ in a will
or deed does _not mean_ ‘issue _ad infinitum_.’ That at least is clearly
stated, and the Wills Act of 1837 is revoked on that point. Not that
that has any direct bearing on the question. But it may be an indication
of the tendency of modern interpretation, and might possibly affect the
mind of the court in deciding how the word ‘issue’ was to be construed
for the purposes of the new Act.”

“Well,” said Mr. Murbles, “I bow to your superior knowledge.”

“In any case,” broke in Parker, “any uncertainty in the matter would
provide as good a motive for murder as the certainty of exclusion from
inheritance. If Mary Whittaker only _thought_ she might lose the money
in the event of her great-aunt’s surviving into 1926, she might quite
well be tempted to polish her off a little earlier, and make sure.”

“That’s true enough,” said Mr. Murbles.

“Shrewd, very shrewd, ha!” added Mr. Towkington. “But you realise that
all this theory of yours depends on Mary Whittaker’s having known about
the new Act and its probable consequences as early as October, 1925, eh,

“There’s no reason why she shouldn’t” said Wimsey. “I remember reading
an article in the _Evening Banner_, I think it was, some months
earlier—about the time when the Act was having its second reading.
That’s what put the thing into my head—I was trying to remember all
evening where I’d seen that thing about washing out the long-lost heir,
you know. Mary Whittaker may easily have seen it too.”

“Well, she’d probably have taken advice about it if she did,” said Mr.
Murbles. “Who is her usual man of affairs?”

Wimsey shook his head.

“I don’t think she’d have asked him,” he objected. “Not if she was wise,
that is. You see, if she did, and he said she probably wouldn’t get
anything unless Miss Dawson either made a will or died before January,
1926, and if after that the old lady did unexpectedly pop off in
October, 1925, wouldn’t the solicitor-johnnie feel inclined to ask
questions? It wouldn’t be safe, don’t y’know. I ’xpect she went to some
stranger and asked a few innocent little questions under another name,

“Probably,” said Mr. Towkington. “You show a remarkable disposition for
crime, don’t you, eh?”

“Well, if I did go in for it, I’d take reasonable precautions,” retorted
Wimsey. “’S wonderful, of course, the tomfool things murderers _do_ do.
But I have the highest opinion of Miss Whittaker’s brains. I bet she
covered her tracks pretty well.”

“You don’t think Mr. Probyn mentioned the matter,” suggested Parker,
“the time he went down and tried to get Miss Dawson to make her will.”

“I _don’t_,” said Wimsey, with energy, “but I’m pretty certain he tried
to explain matters to the old lady, only she was so terrified of the
very idea of a will she wouldn’t let him get a word in. But I fancy old
Probyn was too downy a bird to tell the heir that her only chance of
gettin’ the dollars was to see that her great-aunt died off before the
Act went through. Would _you_ tell anybody that, Mr. Towkington?”

“Not if I knew it,” said that gentleman, grinning.

“It would be highly undesirable,” agreed Mr. Murbles.

“Anyway,” said Wimsey, “we can easily find out. Probyn’s in Italy—I was
going to write to him, but perhaps you’d better do it, Murbles. And, in
the meanwhile, Charles and I will think up a way to find whoever it was
that did give Miss Whittaker an opinion on the matter.”

“You’re not forgetting, I suppose,” said Parker, rather dryly, “that
before pinning down a murder to any particular motive, it is usual to
ascertain that a murder has been committed? So far, all we know is that,
after a careful post-mortem analysis, two qualified doctors have agreed
that Miss Dawson died a natural death.”

“I wish you wouldn’t keep on saying the same thing, Charles. It bores me
so. It’s like the Raven never flitting which, as the poet observes,
still is sitting, still is sitting, inviting one to heave the pallid
bust of Pallas at him and have done with it. You wait till I publish my
epoch-making work: _The Murderer’s Vade-Mecum, or 101 Ways of Causing
Sudden Death_. That’ll show you I’m not a man to be trifled with.”

“Oh, well!” said Parker.

But he saw the Chief Commissioner next morning and reported that he was
at last disposed to take the Dawson case seriously.

                               CHAPTER XV
                        Temptation of St. Peter

  Pierrot: “_Scaramel, I am tempted._”
  Scaramel: “_Always yield to temptation._”
                                             L. Housman, _Prunella_

As Parker came out from the Chief Commissioner’s room, he was caught by
an officer.

“There’s been a lady on the ’phone to you,” he said. “I told her to ring
up at 10:30. It’s about that now.”

“What name?”

“A Mrs. Forrest. She wouldn’t say what she wanted.”

“Odd,” thought Parker. His researches in the matter had been so
unfruitful that he had practically eliminated Mrs. Forrest from the
Gotobed mystery—merely keeping her filed, as it were, in the back of his
mind for future reference. It occurred to him, whimsically, that she had
at length discovered the absence of one of her wine-glasses and was
ringing him up in a professional capacity. His conjectures were
interrupted by his being called to the telephone to answer Mrs.
Forrest’s call.

“Is that Detective-Inspector Parker?—I’m so sorry to trouble you, but
could you give me Mr. Templeton’s address?”

“Templeton?” said Parker, momentarily puzzled.

“Wasn’t it Templeton—the gentleman who came with you to see me?”

“Oh, yes, of course—I beg your pardon—I—the matter had slipped my
memory. Er—you want his address?”

“I have some information which I think he will be glad to hear.”

“Oh, yes. You can speak quite freely to me, you know, Mrs. Forrest.”

“Not _quite_ freely,” purred the voice at the other end of the wire,
“you are rather official, you know. I should prefer just to write to Mr.
Templeton privately, and leave it to him to take up with you.”

“I see.” Parker’s brain worked briskly. It might be inconvenient to have
Mrs. Forrest writing to Mr. Templeton at 110A, Piccadilly. The letter
might not be delivered. Or, if the lady were to take it into her head to
call and discovered that Mr. Templeton was not known to the porter, she
might take alarm and bottle up her valuable information.

“I think,” said Parker, “I ought not, perhaps, to give you Mr.
Templeton’s address without consulting him. But you could ’phone him—”

“Oh, yes, that would do. Is he in the book?”

“No—but I can give you his private number.”

“Thank you very much. You’ll forgive my bothering you.”

“No trouble at all.” And he named Lord Peter’s number.

Having rung off, he waited a moment and then called the number himself.

“Look here, Wimsey,” he said, “I’ve had a call from Mrs. Forrest. She
wants to write to you. I wouldn’t give the address, but I’ve given her
your number, so if she calls and asks for Mr. Templeton, you will
remember who you are, won’t you?”

“Righty-ho! Wonder what the fair lady wants.”

“It’s probably occurred to her that she might have told a better story,
and she wants to work off a few additions and improvements on you.”

“Then she’ll probably give herself away. The rough sketch is frequently
so much more convincing than the worked-up canvas.”

“Quite so. I couldn’t get anything out of her myself.”

“No. I expect she’s thought it over and decided that it’s rather unusual
to employ Scotland Yard to ferret out the whereabouts of errant
husbands. She fancies there’s something up, and that I’m a nice
soft-headed imbecile whom she can easily pump in the absence of the
official Cerberus.”

“Probably. Well, you’ll deal with the matter. I’m going to make a search
for that solicitor.”

“Rather a vague sort of search, isn’t it?”

“Well, I’ve got an idea which may work out. I’ll let you know if I get
any results.”

Mrs. Forrest’s call duly came through in about twenty minutes’ time.
Mrs. Forrest had changed her mind. Would Mr. Templeton come round and
see her that evening—about 9 o’clock, if that was convenient? She had
thought the matter over and preferred not to put her information on

Mr. Templeton would be very happy to come round. He had no other
engagement. It was no inconvenience at all. He begged Mrs. Forrest not
to mention it.

Would Mr. Templeton be so very good as not to tell anybody about his
visit? Mr. Forrest and his sleuths were continually on the watch to get
Mrs. Forrest into trouble, and the decree absolute was due to come up in
a month’s time. Any trouble with the King’s Proctor would be positively
disastrous. It would be better if Mr. Templeton would come by
Underground to Bond Street, and proceed to the flats on foot, so as not
to leave a car standing outside the door or put a taxi-driver into a
position to give testimony against Mrs. Forrest.

Mr. Templeton chivalrously promised to obey these directions.

Mrs. Forrest was greatly obliged, and would expect him at nine o’clock.


“My lord.”

“I am going out to-night. I’ve been asked not to say where, so I won’t.
On the other hand, I’ve got a kind of feelin’ that it’s unwise to
disappear from mortal ken, so to speak. Anything might happen. One might
have a stroke, don’t you know. So I’m going to leave the address in a
sealed envelope. If I don’t turn up before to-morrow mornin’, I shall
consider myself absolved from all promises, what?”

“Very good, my lord.”

“And if I’m not to be found at that address, there wouldn’t be any harm
in tryin’—say Epping Forest, or Wimbledon Common.”

“Quite so, my lord.”

“By the way, you made the photographs of those finger-prints I brought
you some time ago?”

“Oh, yes, my lord.”

“Because possibly Mr. Parker may be wanting them presently for some
inquiries he will be making.”

“I quite understand, my lord.”

“Nothing whatever to do with my excursion to-night, you understand.”

“Certainly not, my lord.”

“And now you might bring me Christie’s catalogue. I shall be attending a
sale there and lunching at the club.”

And, detaching his mind from crime, Lord Peter bent his intellectual and
financial powers to outbidding and breaking a ring of dealers, an
exercise very congenial to his mischievous spirit.

Lord Peter duly fulfilled the conditions imposed upon him, and arrived
on foot at the block of flats in South Audley Street. Mrs. Forrest, as
before, opened the door to him herself. It was surprising, he
considered, that, situated as she was, she appeared to have neither maid
nor companion. But then, he supposed, a chaperon, however disarming of
suspicion in the eyes of the world, might prove venal. On the whole,
Mrs. Forrest’s principle was a sound one: no accomplices. Many
transgressors, he reflected, had

    “_died because they never knew
  These simple little rules and few._”

Mrs. Forrest apologised prettily for the inconvenience to which she was
putting Mr. Templeton.

“But I never know when I am not spied upon,” she said. “It is sheer
spite, you know. Considering how my husband has behaved to me, I think
it is monstrous—don’t you?”

Her guest agreed that Mr. Forrest must be a monster, jesuitically,
however, reserving the opinion that the monster might be a fabulous one.

“And now you will be wondering why I have brought you here,” went on the
lady. “Do come and sit on the sofa. Will you have whisky or coffee?”

“Coffee, please.”

“The fact is,” said Mrs. Forrest, “that I’ve had an idea since I saw
you. I—you know, having been much in the same position myself” (with a
slight laugh) “I felt _so much_ for your friend’s wife.”

“Sylvia,” put in Lord Peter with commendable promptitude. “Oh, yes.
Shocking temper and so on, but possibly some provocation. Yes, yes,
quite. Poor woman. Feels things—extra sensitive—highly-strung and all
that, don’t you know.”

“Quite so.” Mrs. Forrest nodded her fantastically turbanned head.
Swathed to the eyebrows in gold tissue, with only two flat crescents of
yellow hair plastered over her cheek-bones, she looked, in an exotic
smoking-suit of embroidered tissue, like a young prince out of the
Arabian Nights. Her heavily ringed hands busied themselves with the

“Well—I felt that your inquiries were really serious, you know, and
though, as I told you, it had nothing to do with me, I was interested
and mentioned the matter in a letter to—to my friend, you see, who was
with me that night.”

“Just so,” said Wimsey, taking the cup from her, “yes—er—that was
very—er—it was kind of you to be interested.”

“He—my friend—is abroad at the moment. My letter had to follow him, and
I only got his reply to-day.”

Mrs. Forrest took a sip or two of coffee as though to clear her

“His letter rather surprised me. He reminded me that after dinner he had
felt the room rather close, and had opened the sitting-room window—that
window, there—which overlooks South Audley Street. He noticed a car
standing there—a small closed one, black or dark blue or some such
colour. And while he was looking idly at it—the way one does, you
know—he saw a man and woman come out of this block of flats—not this
door, but one or two along to the left—and get in and drive off. The man
was in evening dress and he thought it might have been your friend.”

Lord Peter, with his coffee-cup at his lips, paused and listened with
great attention.

“Was the girl in evening dress, too?”

“No—that struck my friend particularly. She was in just a plain little
dark suit, with a hat on.”

Lord Peter recalled to mind as nearly as possible Bertha Gotobed’s
costume. Was this going to be real evidence at last?

“Th—that’s very interesting,” he stammered. “I suppose your friend
couldn’t give any more exact details of the dress?”

“No,” replied Mrs. Forrest, regretfully, “but he said the man’s arm was
round the girl as though she was feeling tired or unwell, and he heard
him say, ‘That’s right—the fresh air will do you good.’ But you’re not
drinking your coffee.”

“I beg your pardon—” Wimsey recalled himself with a start. “I was
dreamin’—puttin’ two and two together, as you might say. So he was along
here at the time—the artful beggar. Oh, the coffee. D’you mind if I put
this away and have some without sugar?”

“I’m _so_ sorry. Men always seem to take sugar in black coffee. Give it
to me—I’ll empty it away.”

“Allow me.” There was no slop-basin on the little table, but Wimsey
quickly got up and poured the coffee into the window-box outside.
“That’s all right. How about another cup for you?”

“Thank you—I oughtn’t to take it really, it keeps me awake.”

“Just a drop.”

“Oh, well, if you like.” She filled both cups and sat sipping quietly.
“Well—that’s all, really, but I thought perhaps I ought to let you

“It was very good of you,” said Wimsey.

They sat talking a little longer—about plays in Town (“I go out very
little, you know, it’s better to keep oneself out of the limelight on
these occasions”), and books (“I adore Michael Arlen”). Had she read
_Young Men in Love_ yet? No—she had ordered it from the library.
Wouldn’t Mr. Templeton have something to eat or drink? Really? A brandy?
A liqueur?

No, thank you. And Mr. Templeton felt he really ought to be slippin’
along now.

“No—don’t go yet—I get so lonely, these long evenings.”

There was a desperate kind of appeal in her voice. Lord Peter sat down

She began a rambling and rather confused story about her “friend.” She
had given up so much for the friend. And now that her divorce was really
coming off, she had a terrible feeling that perhaps the friend was not
as affectionate as he used to be. It was very difficult for a woman, and
life was very hard.

And so on.

As the minutes passed, Lord Peter became uncomfortably aware that she
was watching him. The words tumbled out—hurriedly, yet lifelessly, like
a set task, but her eyes were the eyes of a person who expects
something. Something alarming, he decided, yet something she was
determined to have. It reminded him of a man waiting for an
operation—keyed up to it—knowing that it will do him good—yet shrinking
from it with all his senses.

He kept up his end of the fatuous conversation. Behind a barrage of
small-talk, his mind ran quickly to and fro, analysing the position,
getting the range. . .

Suddenly he became aware that she was trying—clumsily, stupidly and as
though in spite of herself—to get him to make love to her.

The fact itself did not strike Wimsey as odd. He was rich enough,
well-bred enough, attractive enough and man of the world enough to have
received similar invitations fairly often in his thirty-seven years of
life. And not always from experienced women. There had been those who
sought experience as well as those qualified to bestow it. But so
awkward an approach by a woman who admitted to already possessing a
husband and a lover was a phenomenon outside his previous knowledge.

Moreover, he felt that the thing would be a nuisance. Mrs. Forrest was
handsome enough, but she had not a particle of attraction for him. For
all her make-up and her somewhat outspoken costume, she struck him as
spinsterish—even epicene. That was the thing which puzzled him during
their previous interview. Parker—a young man of rigid virtue and limited
worldly knowledge—was not sensitive to these emanations. But Wimsey had
felt her as something essentially sexless, even then. And he felt it
even more strongly now. Never had he met a woman in whom “the great It,”
eloquently hymned by Mrs. Elinor Glyn, was so completely lacking.

Her bare shoulder was against him now, marking his broadcloth with white
patches of powder.

Blackmail was the first explanation that occurred to him. The next move
would be for the fabulous Mr. Forrest, or someone representing him, to
appear suddenly in the doorway, aglow with virtuous wrath and outraged

“A very pretty little trap,” thought Wimsey, adding aloud, “Well, I
really must be getting along.”

She caught him by the arm.

“Don’t go.”

There was no caress in the touch—only a kind of desperation.

He thought, “If she really made a practice of this, she would do it

“Truly,” he said, “I oughtn’t to stay longer. It wouldn’t be safe for

“I’ll risk it,” she said.

A passionate woman might have said it passionately. Or with a brave
gaiety. Or challengingly. Or alluringly. Or mysteriously.

She said it grimly. Her fingers dug at his arm.

“Well, damn it all, _I’ll_ risk it,” thought Wimsey. “I must and will
know what it’s all about.”

“Poor little woman.” He coaxed into his voice the throaty, fatuous tone
of the man who is preparing to make an amorous fool of himself.

He felt her body stiffen as he slipped his arm round her, but she gave a
little sigh of relief.

He pulled her suddenly and violently to him, and kissed her mouth with a
practised exaggeration of passion.

He knew then. No one who has ever encountered it can ever again mistake
that awful shrinking, that uncontrollable revulsion of the flesh against
a caress that is nauseous. He thought for a moment that she was going to
be actually sick.

He released her gently, and stood up—his mind in a whirl, but somehow
triumphant. His first instinct had been right, after all.

“That was very naughty of me,” he said, lightly. “You made me forget
myself. You will forgive me, won’t you?”

She nodded, shaken.

“And I really must toddle. It’s gettin’ frightfully late and all that.
Where’s my hat? Ah, yes, in the hall. Now, good-bye, Mrs. Forrest, an’
take care of yourself. An’ thank you ever so much for telling me about
what your friend saw.”

“You are really going?”

She spoke as though she had lost all hope.

“In God’s name,” thought Wimsey, “what does she want? Does she suspect
that Mr. Templeton is not everything that he seems? Does she want me to
stay the night so that she can get a look at the laundry-mark on my
shirt? Should I suddenly save the situation for her by offering her Lord
Peter Wimsey’s visiting-card?”

His brain toyed freakishly with the thought as he babbled his way to the
door. She let him go without further words.

As he stepped into the hall he turned and looked at her. She stood in
the middle of the room, watching him, and on her face was such a fury of
fear and rage as turned his blood to water.

                              CHAPTER XVI
                           A Cast-Iron Alibi

  “_Oh, Sammy, Sammy, why vorn’t there an alleybi?_”
                                                       _Pickwick Papers_

Miss Whittaker and the youngest Miss Findlater had returned from their
expedition. Miss Climpson, most faithful of sleuths, and carrying Lord
Peter’s letter of instructions in the pocket of her skirt like a
talisman, had asked the youngest Miss Findlater to tea.

As a matter of fact, Miss Climpson had become genuinely interested in
the girl. Silly affectation and gush, and a parrot-repetition of the
shibboleths of the modern school were symptoms that the experienced
spinster well understood. They indicated, she thought, a real
unhappiness, a real dissatisfaction with the narrowness of life in a
country town. And besides this, Miss Climpson felt sure that Vera
Findlater was being “preyed upon,” as she expressed it to herself, by
the handsome Mary Whittaker. “It would be a mercy for the girl,” thought
Miss Climpson, “if she could form a genuine attachment to a young man.
It is natural for a schoolgirl to be _schwärmerisch_—in a young woman of
twenty-two it is thoroughly undesirable. That Whittaker woman encourages
it—she would, of course. She likes to have someone to admire her and run
her errands. And she prefers it to be a stupid person, who will not
compete with her. If Mary Whittaker were to marry, she would marry a
rabbit.” (Miss Climpson’s active mind quickly conjured up a picture of
the rabbit—fair-haired and a little paunchy, with a habit of saying,
“I’ll ask the wife.” Miss Climpson wondered why Providence saw fit to
create such men. For Miss Climpson, men were intended to be masterful,
even though wicked or foolish. She was a spinster made and not born—a
perfectly womanly woman.)

“But,” thought Miss Climpson, “Mary Whittaker is not of the marrying
sort. She is a professional woman by nature. She has a profession, by
the way, but she does not intend to go back to it. Probably nursing
demands too much sympathy—and one is under the authority of the doctors.
Mary Whittaker prefers to control the lives of chicken. ‘Better to reign
in hell than serve in heaven.’ Dear me! I wonder if it is uncharitable
to compare a fellow-being to Satan. Only in poetry, of course—I daresay
that makes it not so bad. At any rate, I am certain that Mary Whittaker
is doing Vera Findlater no good.”

Miss Climpson’s guest was very ready to tell about their month in the
country. They had toured round at first for a few days, and then they
had heard of a delightful poultry farm which was for sale, near
Orpington in Kent. So they had gone down to have a look at it, and found
that it was to be sold in about a fortnight’s time. It wouldn’t have
been wise, of course, to take it over without some inquiries, and by the
greatest good fortune they found a dear little cottage to let,
furnished, quite close by. So they had taken it for a few weeks, while
Miss Whittaker “looked round” and found out about the state of the
poultry business in that district, and so on. They _had_ enjoyed it so,
and it was delightful keeping house together, right away from all the
silly people at home.

“Of course, I don’t mean you, Miss Climpson. You come from London and
are so much more broadminded. But I simply can’t stick the Leahampton
lot, nor can Mary.”

“It is very delightful,” said Miss Climpson, “to be _free_ from the
conventions, I’m sure—especially if one is in company with a _kindred

“Yes—of course Mary and I are tremendous friends, though she is so much
cleverer than I am. It’s absolutely settled that we’re to take the farm
and run it together. Won’t it be wonderful?”

“Won’t you find it rather dull and lonely—just you two girls together?
You mustn’t forget that you’ve been accustomed to see quite a lot of
young people in Leahampton. Shan’t you miss the tennis-parties, and the
young men, and so on?”

“Oh, no! If you only knew what a stupid lot they are! Anyway, I’ve no
use for men!” Miss Findlater tossed her head. “They haven’t got any
ideas. And they always look on women as sort of pets or playthings. As
if a woman like Mary wasn’t worth fifty of them! You should have heard
that Markham man the other day—talking politics to Mr. Tredgold, so that
nobody could get a word in edgeways, and then saying, ‘I’m afraid this
is a very dull subject of conversation for you, Miss Whittaker,’ in his
condescending way. Mary said in that quiet way of hers, ‘Oh, I think the
_subject_ is anything but dull, Mr. Markham.’ But he was so stupid, he
couldn’t even grasp that and said, ‘One doesn’t expect ladies to be
interested in politics, you know. But perhaps you are one of the modern
young ladies who want the flapper’s vote.’ Ladies, indeed! Why are men
so insufferable when they talk about ladies?”

“I think men are apt to be _jealous_ of women,” replied Miss Climpson,
thoughtfully, “and jealousy _does_ make people rather _peevish_ and
_ill-mannered_. I suppose that when one would _like_ to despise a set of
people and yet has a horrid suspicion that one _can’t_ genuinely despise
them, it makes one _exaggerate_ one’s contempt for them in conversation.
That is why, my dear, I am always _very_ careful not to speak sneeringly
about men—even though they _often deserve_ it, you know. But if I did,
everybody would think I was an _envious old maid_, wouldn’t they?”

“Well, I mean to be an old maid, anyhow,” retorted Miss Findlater. “Mary
and I have quite decided that. We’re interested in things, not in men.”

“You’ve made a good start at finding out how it’s going to work,” said
Miss Climpson. “Living with a person for a month is an _excellent_ test.
I suppose you had somebody to do the housework for you.”

“Not a soul. We did every bit of it, and it was great fun. I’m ever so
good at scrubbing floors and laying fires and things, and Mary’s a
simply marvellous cook. It was such a change from having the servants
always bothering round like they do at home. Of course, it was quite a
modern, labour-saving cottage—it belongs to some theatrical people, I

“And what did you do when you weren’t inquiring into the poultry

“Oh, we ran round in the car and saw places and attended markets.
Markets are frightfully amusing, with all the funny old farmers and
people. Of course, I’d often been to markets before, but Mary made it
all so interesting—and then, too, we were picking up hints all the time
for our own marketing later on.”

“Did you run up to Town at all?”


“I should have thought you’d have taken the opportunity for a little

“Mary hates Town.”

“I thought _you_ rather enjoyed a run up now and then.”

“I’m not keen. Not now. I used to think I was, but I expect that was
only the sort of spiritual restlessness one gets when one hasn’t an
object in life. There’s nothing in it.”

Miss Findlater spoke with the air of a disillusioned rake, who has
sucked life’s orange and found it dead sea fruit. Miss Climpson did not
smile. She was accustomed to the rôle of confidante.

“So you were together—just you two—all the time?”

“Every minute of it. And we weren’t bored with one another a bit.”

“I hope your experiment will prove very successful,” said Miss Climpson.
“But when you really start on your life together, don’t you think it
would be wise to arrange for a few _breaks_ in it? A little _change of
companionship_ is good for _everybody_. I’ve known so many _happy
friendships_ spoilt by people seeing _too much_ of one another.”

“They couldn’t have been _real_ friendships, then,” asserted the girl,
dogmatically. “Mary and I are _absolutely_ happy together.”

“Still,” said Miss Climpson, “if you don’t mind an _old woman_ giving
you a word of warning, I should be inclined not to keep the bow _always_
bent. Suppose Miss Whittaker, for instance, wanted to go off and have a
day in Town on her own, say—or go to stay with friends—you would have to
learn not to mind that.”

“Of course I shouldn’t mind. Why—” she checked herself. “I mean, I’m
quite sure that Mary would be every bit as loyal to me as I am to her.”

“That’s right,” said Miss Climpson. “The longer I live, my dear, the
more _certain_ I become that _jealousy_ is the most _fatal_ of feelings.
The Bible calls it ‘cruel as the grave,’ and I’m sure that is so.
_Absolute_ loyalty, without jealousy, is the essential thing.”

“Yes. Though naturally one would hate to think that the person one was
really friends with was putting another person in one’s place . . . Miss
Climpson, you do believe, don’t you, that a friendship ought to be

“That is the ideal friendship, I suppose,” said Miss Climpson,
thoughtfully, “but I think it is a _very rare thing_. Among women, that
is. I doubt very much if I’ve ever seen an example of it. _Men_, I
believe, find it easier to give and take in that way—probably because
they have so many outside interests.”

“Men’s friendships—oh yes! I know one hears a lot about them. But half
the time, I don’t believe they’re _real_ friendships at all. Men can go
off for years and forget all about their friends. And they don’t really
confide in one another. Mary and I tell each other all our thoughts and
feelings. Men seem just content to think each other good sorts without
ever bothering about their inmost selves.”

“Probably that’s why their friendships last so well,” replied Miss
Climpson. “They don’t make such demands on one another.”

“But a great friendship does make demands,” cried Miss Findlater
eagerly. “It’s got to be just everything to one. It’s wonderful the way
it seems to colour all one’s thoughts. Instead of being centred in
oneself, one’s centred in the other person. That’s what Christian love
means—one’s ready to die for the other person.”

“Well, I don’t know,” said Miss Climpson. “I once heard a sermon about
that from a most _splendid_ priest—and he said that that kind of love
might become _idolatry_ if one wasn’t very careful. He said that
Milton’s remark about Eve—you know, ‘he for God only, she for God in
him’—was not congruous with Catholic doctrine. One must get the
_proportions_ right, and it was _out of proportion_ to see everything
through the eyes of another fellow-creature.”

“One must put God first, of course,” said Miss Findlater, a little
formally. “But if the friendship is mutual—that was the point—quite
unselfish on both sides, it _must_ be a good thing.”

“Love is always good, when it’s the _right kind_,” agreed Miss Climpson,
“but I don’t think it ought to be too _possessive_. One has to _train_
oneself—” she hesitated, and went on courageously—“and in any case, my
dear, I cannot help feeling that it is more natural—more proper, in a
sense—for a man and woman to be all in all to one another than for two
persons of the same sex. Er—after all, it is a—a _fruitful_ affection,”
said Miss Climpson, boggling a trifle at this idea, “and—and all that,
you know, and I am sure that when the _right_ MAN comes along for you—”

“Bother the right man!” cried Miss Findlater, crossly. “I do hate that
kind of talk. It makes one feel dreadful—like a prize cow or something.
Surely, we have got beyond that point of view in these days.”

Miss Climpson perceived that she had let her honest zeal outrun her
detective discretion. She had lost the goodwill of her informant, and it
was better to change the conversation. However, she could assure Lord
Peter now of one thing. Whoever the woman was that Mrs. Cropper had seen
at Liverpool, it was not Miss Whittaker. The attached Miss Findlater,
who had never left her friend’s side, was sufficient guarantee of that.

                              CHAPTER XVII
                       The Country Lawyer’s Story

  “_And he that gives us in these days new lords may give us new
                                       Wither, _Contented Man’s Morrice_

_Letter from Mr. Probyn, retired Solicitor, of Villa Bianca, Fiesole, to
Mr. Marbles, Solicitor, of Staple Inn._

  _Private and confidential._

  Dear Sir,

  I was much interested in your letter relative to the death of Miss
  Agatha Dawson, late of Leahampton, and will do my best to answer your
  inquiries as briefly as possible, always, of course, on the
  understanding that all information as to the affairs of my late client
  will be treated as strictly confidential. I make an exception, of
  course, in favor of the police officer you mention in connection with
  the matter.

  You wish to know (1) whether Miss Agatha Dawson was aware that it
  might possibly prove necessary, under the provisions of the new Act,
  for her to make a testamentary disposition, in order to ensure that
  her great-niece, Miss Mary Whittaker, should inherit her personal
  property. (2) Whether I ever urged her to make this testamentary
  disposition and what her reply was. (3) Whether I had made Miss Mary
  Whittaker aware of the situation in which she might be placed,
  supposing her great-aunt to die intestate later than December 31,

  In the course of the Spring of 1925, my attention was called by a
  learned friend to the ambiguity of the wording of certain clauses in
  the Act, especially in respect of the failure to define the precise
  interpretation to be placed on the word “Issue.” I immediately passed
  in review the affairs of my various clients, with a view to satisfying
  myself that the proper dispositions had been made in each case to
  avoid misunderstanding and litigation in case of intestacy. I at once
  realised that Miss Whittaker’s inheritance of Miss Dawson’s property
  entirely depended on the interpretation given to the clauses in
  question. I was aware that Miss Dawson was extremely averse from
  making a will, owing to that superstitious dread of decease which we
  meet with so frequently in our profession. However, I thought it my
  duty to make her understand the question and to do my utmost to get a
  will signed. Accordingly, I went down to Leahampton and laid the
  matter before her. This was on March the 14th, or thereabouts—I am not
  certain to the precise day.

  Unhappily, I encountered Miss Dawson at a moment when her opposition
  to the obnoxious idea of making a will was at its strongest. Her
  doctor had informed her that a further operation would become
  necessary in the course of the next few weeks, and I could have
  selected no more unfortunate occasion for intruding the subject of
  death upon her mind. She resented any such suggestion—there was a
  conspiracy, she declared, to frighten her into dying under the
  operation. It appears that that very tactless practitioner of hers had
  frightened her with a similar suggestion before her previous
  operation. But she had come through that and she meant to come through
  this, if only people would not anger and alarm her.

  Of course, if she _had_ died under the operation, the whole question
  would have settled itself and there would have been no need of any
  will. I pointed out that the very reason why I was anxious for the
  will to be made was that I fully expected her to live on into the
  following years, and I explained the provisions of the Act once more,
  as clearly as I could. She retorted that in that case I had no
  business to come and trouble her about the question at all. It would
  be time enough when the Act was passed.

  Naturally, the fool of a doctor had insisted that she was not to be
  told what her disease was—they always do—and she was convinced that
  the next operation would make all right and that she would live for
  years. When I ventured to insist—giving as my reason that we men of
  laws always preferred to be on the safe and cautious side, she became
  exceedingly angry with me, and practically ordered me out of the
  house. A few days afterwards I received a letter from her, complaining
  of my impertinence, and saying that she could no longer feel any
  confidence in a person who treated her with such inconsiderate
  rudeness. At her request, I forwarded all her private papers in my
  possession to Mr. Hodgson, of Leahampton, and I have not held any
  communication with any member of the family since that date.

  This answers your first and second questions. With regard to the
  third: I certainly did not think it proper to inform Miss Whittaker
  that her inheritance might depend upon her great-aunt’s either making
  a will or else dying before December 31, 1925. While I know nothing to
  the young lady’s disadvantage, I have always held it inadvisable that
  persons should know too exactly how much they stand to gain by the
  unexpected decease of other persons. In case of any unforeseen
  accident, the heirs may find themselves in an equivocal position,
  where the fact of their possessing such knowledge might—if made
  public—be highly prejudicial to their interests. The most that I
  thought it proper to say was that if at any time Miss Dawson should
  express a wish to see me, I should like to be sent for without delay.
  Of course, the withdrawal of Miss Dawson’s affairs from my hands put
  it out of my power to interfere any further.

  In October 1925, feeling that my health was not what it had been, I
  retired from business and came to Italy. In this country the English
  papers do not always arrive regularly, and I missed the announcement
  of Miss Dawson’s death. That it should have occurred so suddenly and
  under circumstances somewhat mysterious, is certainly interesting.

  You say further that you would be glad of my opinion on Miss Agatha
  Dawson’s mental condition at the time when I last saw her. It was
  perfectly clear and competent—in so far as she was ever competent to
  deal with business. She was in no way gifted to grapple with legal
  problems, and I had extreme difficulty in getting her to understand
  what the trouble was with regard to the new Property Act. Having been
  brought up all her life to the idea that property went of right to the
  next of kin, she found it inconceivable that this state of things
  should ever alter. She assured me that the law would never permit the
  Government to pass such an Act. When I had reluctantly persuaded her
  that it would, she was quite sure that no court would be wicked enough
  to interpret the Act so as to give the money to anybody but Miss
  Whittaker, when she was clearly the proper person to have it. “Why
  should the Duchy of Lancaster have any right to it?” she kept on
  saying. “I don’t even know the Duke of Lancaster.” She was not a
  particularly sensible woman, and in the end I was not at all sure that
  I had made her comprehend the situation—quite apart from the dislike
  she had of pursuing the subject. However, there is no doubt that she
  was then quite _compos mentis_. My reason for urging her to make the
  will before her final operation was, of course, that I feared she
  might subsequently lose the use of her faculties, or—which comes to
  the same thing from a business point of view—might have to be kept
  continually under the influence of opiates.

  Trusting that you will find here the information you require,

                                  I remain,
                              Yours faithfully,
                                                           Thos. Probyn.

Mr. Murbles read this letter through twice, very thoughtfully. To even
his cautious mind, the thing began to look like the makings of a case.
In his neat, elderly hand, he wrote a little note to Detective-Inspector
Parker, begging him to call at Staple Inn at his earliest convenience.

Mr. Parker, however, was experiencing nothing at that moment but
inconvenience. He had been calling on solicitors for two whole days, and
his soul sickened at the sight of a brass plate. He glanced at the long
list in his hand, and distastefully counted up the scores of names that
still remained unticked.

Parker was one of those methodical, painstaking people whom the world
could so ill spare. When he worked with Wimsey on a case, it was an
understood thing that anything lengthy, intricate, tedious and
soul-destroying was done by Parker. He sometimes felt that it was
irritating of Wimsey to take this so much for granted. He felt so now.
It was a hot day. The pavements were dusty. Pieces of paper blew about
the streets. Buses were grilling outside and stuffy inside. The Express
Dairy, where Parker was eating a hurried lunch, seemed full of the
odours of fried plaice and boiling tea-urns. Wimsey, he knew, was
lunching at his club, before running down with Freddy Arbuthnot to see
the New Zealanders at somewhere or other. He had seen him—a vision of
exquisite pale grey, ambling gently along Pall Mall. Damn Wimsey! Why
couldn’t he have let Miss Dawson rest quietly in her grave? There she
was, doing no harm to anybody—and Wimsey must insist on prying into her
affairs and bringing the inquiry to such a point that Parker simply had
to take official notice of it. Oh well! he supposed he must go on with
these infernal solicitors.

He was proceeding on a system of his own, which might or might not prove
fruitful. He had reviewed the subject of the new Property Act, and
decided that if and when Miss Whittaker had become aware of its possible
effect on her own expectations, she would at once consider taking legal

Her first thought would no doubt be to consult a solicitor in
Leahampton, and unless she already had the idea of foul play in her
mind, there was nothing to deter her from doing so. Accordingly,
Parker’s first move had been to run down to Leahampton and interview the
three firms of solicitors there. All three were able to reply quite
positively that they had never received such an inquiry from Miss
Whittaker, or from anybody, during the year 1925. One solicitor,
indeed—the senior partner of Hodgson & Hodgson, to whom Miss Dawson had
entrusted her affairs after her quarrel with Mr. Probyn—looked a little
oddly at Parker when he heard the question.

“I assure you, Inspector,” he said, “that if the point had been brought
to my notice in such a way, I should certainly have remembered it, in
the light of subsequent events.”

“The matter never crossed your mind, I suppose,” said Parker, “when the
question arose of winding up the estate and proving Miss Whittaker’s
claim to inherit?”

“I can’t say it did. Had there been any question of searching for
next-of-kin it might—I don’t say it would—have occurred to me. But I had
a very clear history of the family connections from Mr. Probyn, the
death took place nearly two months before the Act came into force, and
the formalities all went through more or less automatically. In fact, I
never thought about the Act one way or another in that connection.”

Parker said he was not surprised to hear it, and favoured Mr. Hodgson
with Mr. Towkington’s learned opinion on the subject, which interested
Mr. Hodgson very much. And that was all he got at Leahampton, except
that he fluttered Miss Climpson very much by calling upon her and
hearing all about her interview with Vera Findlater. Miss Climpson
walked to the station with him, in the hope that they might meet Miss
Whittaker—“I am sure you would be _interested_ to _see_ her”—but they
were unlucky. On the whole, thought Parker, it might be just as well.
After all, though he would like to see Miss Whittaker, he was not
particularly keen on her seeing him, especially in Miss Climpson’s
company. “By the way,” he said to Miss Climpson, “you had better explain
me in some way to Mrs. Budge, or she may be a bit inquisitive.”

“But I _have_,” replied Miss Climpson, with an engaging giggle, “when
Mrs. Budge said there was a Mr. Parker to see me, of course I realised
at _once_ that she mustn’t know _who_ you were, so I said, quite
quickly, ‘Mr. Parker! Oh, that must be my nephew Adolphus.’ You don’t
mind being Adolphus, do you? It’s funny, but that was the _only_ name
that came into my mind at the moment. I can’t _think_ why, for I’ve
never known an Adolphus.”

“Miss Climpson,” said Parker, solemnly, “you are a marvellous woman, and
I wouldn’t mind even if you’d called me Marmaduke.”

So here he was, working out his second line of inquiry. If Miss
Whittaker did not go to a Leahampton solicitor, to whom would she go?
There was Mr. Probyn, of course, but he did not think she would have
selected him. She would not have known him at Crofton, of course—she had
never actually lived with her great-aunts. She had met him the day he
came down to Leahampton to see Miss Dawson. He had not then taken her
into his confidence about the object of his visit, but she must have
known from what her aunt said that it had to do with the making of a
will. In the light of her new knowledge, she would guess that Mr. Probyn
had then had the Act in his mind, and had not thought fit to trust her
with the facts. If she asked him now, he would probably reply that Miss
Dawson’s affairs were no longer in his hands, and refer her to Mr.
Hodgson. And besides, if she asked the question and anything were to
happen—Mr. Probyn might remember it. No, she would not have approached
Mr. Probyn.

What then?

To the person who has anything to conceal—to the person who wants to
lose his identity as one leaf among the leaves of a forest—to the person
who asks no more than to pass by and be forgotten, there is one name
above others which promises a haven of safety and oblivion. London.
Where no one knows his neighbour. Where shops do not know their
customers. Where physicians are suddenly called to unknown patients whom
they never see again. Where you may lie dead in your house for months
together unmissed and unnoticed till the gas-inspector comes to look at
the meter. Where strangers are friendly and friends are casual. London,
whose rather untidy and grubby bosom is the repository of so many odd
secrets. Discreet, incurious and all-enfolding London.

Not that Parker put it that way to himself. He merely thought, “Ten to
one she’d try London. They mostly think they’re safer there.”

Miss Whittaker knew London, of course. She had trained at the Royal
Free. That meant she would know Bloomsbury better than any other
district. For nobody knew better than Parker how rarely Londoners move
out of their own particular little orbit. Unless, of course, she had at
some time during her time at the hospital been recommended to a
solicitor in another quarter, the chances were that she would have gone
to a solicitor in the Bloomsbury or Holborn district.

Unfortunately for Parker, this is a quarter which swarms with
solicitors. Gray’s Inn Road, Gray’s Inn itself, Bedford Row, Holborn,
Lincoln’s Inn—the brass plates grow all about as thick as blackberries.

Which was why Parker was feeling so hot, tired and fed-up that June

With an impatient grunt he pushed away his eggy plate,
paid-at-the-desk-please, and crossed the road towards Bedford Row, which
he had marked down as his portion for the afternoon.

He started at the first solicitor’s he came to, which happened to be the
office of one J. F. Trigg. He was lucky. The youth in the outer office
informed him that Mr. Trigg had just returned from lunch, was
disengaged, and would see him. Would he walk in?

Mr. Trigg was a pleasant, fresh-faced man in his early forties. He
begged Mr. Parker to be seated and asked what he could do for him.

For the thirty-seventh time, Parker started on the opening gambit which
he had devised to suit his purpose.

“I am only temporarily in London, Mr. Trigg, and finding I needed legal
advice, I was recommended to you by a man I met in a restaurant. He did
give me his name, but it has escaped me, and anyway, it’s of no great
importance, is it? The point is this. My wife and I have come up to Town
to see her great-aunt, who is in a very bad way. In fact, she isn’t
expected to live.

“Well, now, the old lady has always been fond of my wife, don’t you see,
and it has always been an understood thing that Mrs. Parker was to come
into her money when she died. It’s quite a tidy bit, and we have been—I
won’t say looking forward to it, but in a kind of mild way counting on
it as something for us to retire upon later on. You understand. There
aren’t any other relations at all, so, though the old lady has often
talked about making a will, we didn’t worry much, one way or the other,
because we took it for granted my wife would come in for anything there
was. But we were talking about it to a friend yesterday, and he took us
rather aback by saying that there was a new law or something, and that
if my wife’s great-aunt hadn’t made a will we shouldn’t get anything at
all. I think he said it would all go to the Crown. I didn’t think that
could be right and told him so, but my wife is a bit nervous—there are
the children to be considered, you see—and she urged me to get legal
advice, because her great-aunt may go off at any minute, and we don’t
know whether there is a will or not. Now, how does a great-niece stand
under the new arrangements?”

“The point has not been made very clear,” said Mr. Trigg, “but my advice
to you is, to find out whether a will has been made and if not, to get
one made without delay if the testatrix is capable of making one.
Otherwise I think there is a very real danger of your wife’s losing her

“You seem quite familiar with the question,” said Parker, with a smile;
“I suppose you are always being asked it since this new Act came in?”

“I wouldn’t say ‘always.’ It is comparatively rare for a great-niece to
be left as sole next-of-kin.”

“Is it? Well, yes, I should think it must be. Do you remember being
asked that question in the summer of 1925, Mr. Trigg?”

A most curious expression came over the solicitor’s face—it looked
almost like alarm.

“What makes you ask that?”

“You need have no hesitation in answering,” said Parker, taking out his
official card. “I am a police officer and have a good reason for asking.
I put the legal point to you first as a problem of my own, because I was
anxious to have your professional opinion first.”

“I see. Well, Inspector, in that case I suppose I am justified in
telling you all about it. I _was_ asked that question in June, 1925.”

“Do you remember the circumstances?”

“Clearly. I am not likely to forget them—or rather, the sequel to them.”

“That sounds interesting. Will you tell the story in your own way and
with all the details you can remember?”

“Certainly. Just a moment.” Mr. Trigg put his head out into the outer
office. “Badcock, I am engaged with Mr. Parker and can’t see anybody.
Now, Mr. Parker, I am at your service. Won’t you smoke?”

Parker accepted the invitation and lit up his well-worn briar, while Mr.
Trigg, rapidly smoking cigarette after cigarette, unfolded his
remarkable story.

                             CHAPTER XVIII
                       The London Lawyer’s Story

  “_I who am given to novel-reading, how often have I gone out with the
  doctor when the stranger has summoned him to visit the unknown patient
  in the lonely house. . . . This Strange Adventure may lead, in a later
  chapter, to the revealing of a mysterious crime._”
                                                          _The Londoner_

“I think,” said Mr. Trigg, “that it was on the 15th, or 16th June, 1925,
that a lady called to ask almost exactly the same question that you have
done—only that she represented herself as inquiring on behalf of a
friend whose name she did not mention. Yes—I think I can describe her
pretty well. She was tall and handsome, with a very clear skin, dark
hair and blue eyes—an attractive girl. I remember that she had very fine
brows, rather straight, and not much colour in her face, and she was
dressed in something summery but very neat. I should think it would be
called an embroidered linen dress—I am not an expert on those things—and
a shady white hat of panama straw.”

“Your recollection seems very clear,” said Parker.

“It is; I have rather a good memory; besides, I saw her on other
occasions, as you shall hear.

“At this first visit she told me—much as you did—that she was only
temporarily in Town, and had been casually recommended to me. I told her
that I should not like to answer her question off-hand. The Act, you may
remember, had only recently passed its Final Reading, and I was by no
means up in it. Besides, from just skimming through it, I had convinced
myself that various important questions were bound to crop up.

“I told the lady—Miss Grant was the name she gave, by the way—that I
should like to take counsel’s opinion before giving her any advice, and
asked if she could call again the following day. She said she could,
rose and thanked me, offering me her hand. In taking it, I happened to
notice rather an odd scar, running across the backs of all the
fingers—rather as though a chisel or something had slipped at some time.
I noticed it quite idly, of course, but it was lucky for me I did.

“Miss Grant duly turned up the next day. I had looked up a very learned
friend in the interval, and gave her the same opinion that I gave you
just now. She looked rather concerned about it—in fact, almost more
annoyed than concerned.

“‘It seems rather unfair,’ she said, ‘that people’s family money should
go away to the Crown like that. After all, a great-niece is quite a near
relation, really.’

“I replied that, provided the great-niece could call witnesses to prove
that the deceased had always had the intention of leaving her the money,
the Crown would, in all probability, allot the estate, or a suitable
proportion of it, in accordance with the wishes of the deceased. It
would, however, lie entirely within the discretion of the court to do so
or not, and, of course, if there had been any quarrel or dispute about
the matter at any time, the judge might take an unfavourable view of the
great-niece’s application.’

“‘In any case,’ I added, ‘I don’t _know_ that the great-niece is
excluded under the Act—I only understand that she _may_ be. In any case,
there are still six months before the Act comes into force, and many
things may happen before then.’

“‘You mean that Auntie may die,’ she said, ‘but she’s not really
dangerously ill—only mental, as Nurse calls it.’

“Anyhow, she went away then after paying my fee, and I noticed that the
‘friend’s great-aunt’ had suddenly become ‘Auntie,’ and decided that my
client felt a certain personal interest in the matter.”

“I fancy she had,” said Parker. “When did you see her again?”

“Oddly enough, I ran across her in the following December. I was having
a quick and early dinner in Soho, before going on to a show. The little
place I usually patronise was very full, and I had to sit at a table
where a woman was already seated. As I muttered the usual formula about
‘Was anybody sitting there,’ she looked up, and I promptly recognised my

“‘Why, how do you do, Miss Grant?’ I said.

“‘I beg your pardon,’ she replied, rather stiffly. ‘I think you are

“‘I beg _your_ pardon,’ said I, stiffer still, ‘My name is Trigg, and
you came to consult me in Bedford Row last June. But if I am intruding,
I apologise and withdraw.’

“She smiled then, and said, ‘I’m sorry, I did not recognise you for the

“I obtained permission to sit at her table.

“By way of starting a conversation, I asked whether she had taken any
further advice in the matter of the inheritance. She said no, she had
been quite content with what I had told her. Still to make conversation,
I inquired whether the great-aunt had made a will after all. She
replied, rather briefly, that it had not been necessary; the old lady
had died. I noticed that she was dressed in black, and was confirmed in
my opinion that she herself was the great-niece concerned.

“We talked for some time, Inspector, and I will not conceal from you
that I found Miss Grant a very interesting personality. She had an
almost masculine understanding. I may say I am not the sort of a man who
prefers women to be brainless. No, I am rather modern in that respect.
If ever I was to take a wife, Inspector, I should wish her to be an
intelligent companion.”

Parker said Mr. Trigg’s attitude did him great credit. He also made the
mental observation that Mr. Trigg would probably not object to marrying
a young woman who had inherited money and was unencumbered with

“It is rare,” went on Mr. Trigg, “to find a woman with a legal mind.
Miss Grant was unusual in that respect. She took a great interest in
some case or other that was prominent in the newspapers at the time—I
forget now what it was—and asked me some remarkably sensible and
intelligent questions. I must say that I quite enjoyed our conversation.
Before dinner was over, we had got on to more personal topics, in the
course of which I happened to mention that I lived in Golder’s Green.”

“Did she give you her own address?”

“She said she was staying at the Peveril Hotel in Bloomsbury, and that
she was looking for a house in Town. I said that I might possibly hear
of something out Hampstead way, and offered my professional services in
case she should require them. After dinner I accompanied her back to her
hotel, and bade her good-bye in the lounge.”

“She was really staying there, then?”

“Apparently. However, about a fortnight later, I happened to hear of a
house in Golder’s Green that had fallen vacant suddenly. It belonged, as
a matter of fact, to a client of mine. In pursuance of my promise, I
wrote to Miss Grant at the Peveril. Receiving no reply, I made inquiries
there, and found that she had left the hotel the day after our meeting,
leaving no address. In the hotel register, she had merely given her
address as Manchester. I was somewhat disappointed, but thought no more
about the matter.

“About a month later—on January 26th, to be exact, I was sitting at home
reading a book, preparatory to retiring to bed. I should say that I
occupy a flat, or rather maisonette, in a small house which has been
divided to make two establishments. The people on the ground floor were
away at that time, so that I was quite alone in the house. My
housekeeper only comes in by the day. The telephone rang—I noticed the
time. It was a quarter to eleven. I answered it, and a woman’s voice
spoke, begging me to come instantly to a certain house on Hampstead
Heath, to make a will for someone who was at the point of death.”

“Did you recognise the voice?”

“No. It sounded like a servant’s voice. At any rate, it had a strong
cockney accent. I asked whether to-morrow would not be time enough, but
the voice urged me to hurry or it might be too late. Rather annoyed, I
put my things on and went out. It was a most unpleasant night, cold and
foggy. I was lucky enough to find a taxi on the nearest rank. We drove
to the address, which we had great difficulty in finding, as everything
was pitch-black. It turned out to be a small house in a very isolated
position on the Heath—in fact, there was no proper approach to it. I
left the taxi on the road, about a couple of hundred yards off, and
asked the man to wait for me, as I was very doubtful of ever finding
another taxi in that spot at that time of night. He grumbled a good
deal, but consented to wait if I promised not to be very long.

“I made my way to the house. At first I thought it was quite dark, but
presently I saw a faint glimmer in a ground-floor room. I rang the bell.
No answer, though I could hear it trilling loudly. I rang again and
knocked. Still no answer. It was bitterly cold. I struck a match to be
sure I had come to the right house, and then I noticed that the front
door was ajar.

“I thought that perhaps the servant who had called me was so much
occupied with her sick mistress as to be unable to leave her to come to
the door. Thinking that in that case I might be of assistance to her, I
pushed the door open and went in. The hall was perfectly dark, and I
bumped against an umbrella-stand in entering. I thought I heard a faint
voice calling or moaning, and when my eyes had become accustomed to the
darkness, I stumbled forward, and saw a dim light coming from a door on
the left.”

“Was that the room which you had seen to be illumined from outside?”

“I think so. I called out, ‘May I come in?’ and a very low, weak voice
replied, ‘Yes, please.’ I pushed the door open and entered a room
furnished as a sitting-room. In one corner there was a couch, on which
some bed-clothes appeared to have been hurriedly thrown to enable it to
be used as a bed. On the couch lay a woman, all alone.

“I could only dimly make her out. There was no light in the room except
a small oil-lamp, with a green shade so tilted as to keep the light from
the sick woman’s eyes. There was a fire in the grate, but it had burnt
low. I could see, however, that the woman’s head and face were swathed
in white bandages. I put out my hand and felt for the electric switch,
but she called out:

“‘No light, please—it hurts me.’”

“How did she see you put your hand to the switch?”

“Well,” said Mr. Trigg, “that was an odd thing. She didn’t speak, as a
matter of fact, till I had actually clicked the switch down. But nothing
happened. The light didn’t come on.”


“No. I supposed that the bulb had been taken away or had gone phut.
However, I said nothing, and came up to the bed. She said in a sort of
half-whisper, ‘Is that the lawyer?’

“I said, ‘Yes,’ and asked what I could do for her.

“She said, ‘I have had a terrible accident. I can’t live. I want to make
my will quickly.’ I asked whether there was nobody with her. ‘Yes, yes,’
she said in a hurried way, ‘my servant will be back in a moment. She has
gone to look for a doctor.’ ‘But,’ I said, ‘couldn’t she have rung up?
You are not fit to be left alone.’ ‘We couldn’t get through to one,’ she
replied, ‘it’s all right. She will be here soon. Don’t waste time. I
must make my will.’ She spoke in a dreadful, gasping way, and I felt
that the best thing would be to do what she wanted, for fear of
agitating her. I drew a chair to the table where the lamp was, got out
my fountain pen and a printed will-form with which I had provided
myself, and expressed myself ready to receive her instructions.

“Before beginning, she asked me to give her a little brandy and water
from a decanter which stood on the table. I did so, and she took a small
sip, which seemed to revive her. I placed the glass near her hand, and
at her suggestion mixed another glass for myself. I was very glad of it,
for, as I said, it was a beast of a night, and the room was cold. I
looked round for some extra coals to put on the fire, but could see

“That,” said Parker, “is extremely interesting and suggestive.”

“I thought it queer at the time. But the whole thing was queer. Anyway,
I then said I was ready to begin. She said, ‘You may think I am a little
mad, because my head has been so hurt. But I am quite sane. But he
shan’t have a penny of the money.’ I asked her if someone had attacked
her. She replied, ‘My husband. He thinks he has killed me. But I am
going to live long enough to will the money away.’ She then said that
her name was Mrs. Marion Mead, and proceeded to make a will, leaving her
estate, which amounted to about £10,000, among various legatees,
including a daughter and three or four sisters. It was rather a
complicated will, as it included various devices for tying up the
daughter’s money in a trust, so as to prevent her from ever handing over
any of it to the father.”

“Did you make a note of the names and addresses of the people involved?”

“I did, but, as you will see later on, I could make no use of them. The
testatrix was certainly clear-headed enough about the provisions of the
will, though she seemed terribly weak, and her voice never rose above a
whisper after that one time when she had called to me not to turn on the

“At length I finished my notes of the will, and started to draft it out
on to the proper form. There were no signs of the servant’s return, and
I began to be really anxious. Also the extreme cold—or something
else—added to the fact that it was now long past my bed-time, was making
me appallingly sleepy. I poured out another stiff little dose of the
brandy to warm me up, and went on writing out the will.

“When I had finished I said:

“‘How about signing this? We need another witness to make it legal.’

“She said, ‘My servant must be here in a minute or two. I can’t think
what has happened to her.’

“‘I expect she has missed her way in the fog,’ I said. ‘However, I will
wait a little longer. I can’t go and leave you like this.’

“She thanked me feebly, and we sat for some time in silence. As time
went on, I began to feel the situation to be increasingly uncanny. The
sick woman breathed heavily, and moaned from time to time. The desire
for sleep overpowered me more and more. I could not understand it.

“Presently it occurred to me, stupefied though I felt, that the most
sensible thing would be to get the taxi-man—if he was still there—to
come in and witness the will with me, and then to go myself to find a
doctor. I sat, sleepily revolving this in my mind, and trying to summon
energy to speak. I felt as though a great weight of inertia was pressing
down upon me. Exertion of any kind seemed almost beyond my powers.

“Suddenly something happened which brought me back to myself. Mrs. Mead
turned a little over upon the couch and peered at me intently, as it
seemed, in the lamp-light. To support herself, she put both her hands on
the edge of the table. I noticed, with a vague sense of something
unexpected, that the left hand bore no wedding-ring. And then I noticed
something else.

“Across the back of the fingers of the right hand went a curious scar—as
though a chisel or some such thing had slipped and cut them.”

Parker sat upright in his chair.

“Yes,” said Mr. Trigg, “that interests you. It startled me. Or rather,
startled isn’t quite the word. In my oppressed state, it affected me
like some kind of nightmare. I struggled upright in my chair, and the
woman sank back upon her pillows.

“At that moment there came a violent ring at the bell.”

“The servant?”

“No—thank Heaven it was my taxi-driver, who had become tired of waiting.
I thought—I don’t quite know what I thought—but I was alarmed. I gave
some kind of shout or groan, and the man came straight in. Happily, I
had left the door open as I had found it.

“I pulled myself together sufficiently to ask him to witness the will. I
must have looked queer and spoken in a strange way, for I remember how
he looked from me to the brandy-bottle. However, he signed the paper
after Mrs. Mead, who wrote her name in a weak, straggling hand as she
lay on her back.

“‘Wot next, guv’nor?’ asked the man, when this was done.

“I was feeling dreadfully ill by now. I could only say, ‘Take me home.’

“He looked at Mrs. Mead and then at me, and said, ‘Ain’t there nobody to
see to the lady, sir?’

“I said, ‘Fetch a doctor. But take me home first.’

“I stumbled out of the house on his arm. I heard him muttering something
about its being a rum start. I don’t remember the drive home. When I
came back to life, I was in my own bed, and one of the local doctors was
standing over me.

“I’m afraid this story is getting very long and tedious. To cut matters
short, it seems the taxi-driver, who was a very decent, intelligent
fellow, had found me completely insensible at the end of the drive. He
didn’t know who I was, but he hunted in my pocket and found my visiting
card and my latch-key. He took me home, got me upstairs and, deciding
that if I was drunk, I was a worse drunk that he had ever encountered in
his experience, humanely went round and fetched a doctor.

“The doctor’s opinion was that I had been heavily drugged with veronal
or something of that kind. Fortunately, if the idea was to murder me,
the dose had been very much under-estimated. We went into the matter
thoroughly, and the upshot was that I must have taken about 30 grains of
the stuff. It appears that it is a difficult drug to trace by analysis,
but that was the conclusion the doctor came to, looking at the matter
all round. Undoubtedly the brandy had been doped.

“Of course, we went round to look at the house next day. It was all shut
up, and the local milkman informed us that the occupiers had been away
for a week and were not expected home for another ten days. We got into
communication with them, but they appeared to be perfectly genuine,
ordinary people, and they declared they knew nothing whatever about it.
They were accustomed to go away every so often, just shutting the house
and not bothering about a caretaker or anything. The man came along at
once, naturally, to investigate matters, but couldn’t find that anything
had been stolen or disturbed, except that a pair of sheets and some
pillows showed signs of use, and a scuttle of coal had been used in the
sitting-room. The coal-cellar, which also contained the electric meter,
had been left locked and the meter turned off before the family
left—they apparently had a few grains of sense—which accounts for the
chill darkness of the house when I entered it. The visitor had
apparently slipped back the catch of the pantry window—one of the usual
gimcrack affairs—with a knife or something, and had brought her own
lamp, siphon and brandy. Daring, but not really difficult.

“No Mrs. Mead or Miss Grant was to be heard of anywhere, as I needn’t
tell you. The tenants of the house were not keen to start expensive
inquiries—after all, they’d lost nothing but a shilling’s worth of
coals—and on consideration, and seeing that I hadn’t actually been
murdered or anything, I thought it best to let the matter slide. It was
a most unpleasant adventure.”

“I’m sure it was. Did you ever hear from Miss Grant again?”

“Why, yes. She rang me up twice—once, after three months, and again only
a fortnight ago, asking for an appointment. You may think me cowardly,
Mr. Parker, but each time I put her off. I didn’t quite know what might
happen. As a matter of fact, the opinion I formed in my own mind was
that I had been entrapped into that house with the idea of making me
spend the night there and afterwards blackmailing me. That was the only
explanation I could think of which would account for the
sleeping-draught. I thought discretion was the better part of valour,
and gave my clerks and my housekeeper instructions that if Miss Grant
should call at any time I was out and not expected back.”

“H’m. Do you suppose she knew you had recognised the scar on her hand?”

“I’m sure she didn’t. Otherwise she would hardly have made advances to
me in her own name again.”

“No. I think you are right. Well, Mr. Trigg, I am much obliged to you
for this information, which may turn out to be very valuable. And if
Miss Grant should ring you up again—where did she call from, by the

“From call-boxes, each time. I know that, because the operator always
tells one when the call is from a public box. I didn’t have the calls

“No, of course not. Well, if she does it again, will you please make an
appointment with her, and then let me know about it at once? A call to
Scotland Yard will always find me.”

Mr. Trigg promised that he would do this, and Parker took his leave.

“And now we know,” thought Parker as he returned home, “that somebody—an
odd unscrupulous somebody—was making inquiries about great-nieces in
1925. A word to Miss Climpson, I fancy, is indicated—just to find out
whether Mary Whittaker has a scar on her right hand, or whether I’ve got
to hunt up any more solicitors.”

The hot streets seemed less oppressively oven-like than before. In fact,
Parker was so cheered by his interview that he actually bestowed a
cigarette-card upon the next urchin who accosted him.

                                Part III
                        THE MEDICO-LEGAL PROBLEM

            “_There’s not a crime
    But takes its proper change out still in crime
  If once rung on the counter of this world._”
                                     E. B. Browning, _Aurora Leigh_

                              CHAPTER XIX
                               Gone Away

  “_There is nothing good or evil save in the will._”

“You will not, I imagine, deny,” observed Lord Peter, “that very odd
things seem to happen to the people who are in a position to give
information about the last days of Agatha Dawson. Bertha Gotobed dies
suddenly, under suspicious circumstances; her sister thinks she sees
Miss Whittaker lying in wait for her at Liverpool docks; Mr. Trigg is
inveigled into a house of mystery and is semi-poisoned. I wonder what
would have happened to Mr. Probyn, if he had been careless enough to
remain in England.”

“I deny nothing,” replied Parker. “I will only point out to you that
during the month in which these disasters occurred to the Gotobed
family, the object of your suspicions was in Kent with Miss Vera
Findlater, who never left her side.”

“As against that undoubted snag,” rejoined Wimsey, “I bring forward a
letter from Miss Climpson, in which—amid a lot of rigmarole with which I
will not trouble you—she informs me that upon Miss Whittaker’s right
hand there is a scar, precisely similar to the one which Mr. Trigg

“Is there? That does seem to connect Miss Whittaker pretty definitely
with the Trigg business. But is it your theory that she is trying to
polish off all the people who know anything about Miss Dawson? Rather a
big job, don’t you think, for a single-handed female? And if so, why is
Dr. Carr spared? and Nurse Philliter? and Nurse Forbes? And the other
doctor chappie? And the rest of the population of Leahampton, if it
comes to that?”

“That’s an interesting point which had already occurred to me. I think I
know why. Up to the present, the Dawson case has presented two different
problems, one legal and one medical—the motive and the means, if you
like that better. As far as opportunity goes, only two people figure as
possibles—Miss Whittaker and Nurse Forbes. The Forbes woman had nothing
to gain by killin’ a good patient, so for the moment we can wash her

“Well now, as to the medical problem—the means. I must say that up to
now that appears completely insoluble. I am baffled, Watson (said he,
his hawk-like eyes gleaming angrily from under the half-closed lids).
Even I am baffled. But not for long! (he cried, with a magnificent burst
of self-confidence). My Honour (capital H) is concerned to track this
Human Fiend (capitals) to its hidden source, and nail the whited
sepulchre to the mast even though it crush me in the attempt! Loud
applause. His chin sank broodingly upon his dressing-gown, and he
breathed a few guttural notes into the bass saxophone which was the
cherished companion of his solitary hours in the bathroom.”

Parker ostentatiously took up the book which he had laid aside on
Wimsey’s entrance.

“Tell me when you’ve finished,” he said, caustically.

“I’ve hardly begun. The means, I repeat, seems insoluble—and so the
criminal evidently thinks. There has been no exaggerated mortality among
the doctors and nurses. On that side of the business the lady feels
herself safe. No. The motive is the weak point—hence the hurry to stop
the mouths of the people who knew about the legal part of the problem.”

“Yes, I see. Mrs. Cropper has started back to Canada, by the way. She
doesn’t seem to have been molested at all.”

“No—and that’s why I still think there was somebody on the watch in
Liverpool. Mrs. Cropper was only worth silencing so long as she had told
nobody her story. That is why I was careful to meet her and accompany
her ostentatiously to Town.”

“Oh, rot, Peter! Even if Miss Whittaker had been there—which we know she
couldn’t have been—how was she to know that you were going to ask about
the Dawson business? She doesn’t know you from Adam.”

“She might have found out who Murbles was. The advertisement which
started the whole business was in his name, you know.”

“In that case, why hasn’t she attacked Murbles or you?”

“Murbles is a wise old bird. In vain are nets spread in his sight. He is
seeing no female clients, answering no invitations, and never goes out
without an escort.”

“I didn’t know he took it so seriously.”

“Oh, yes. Murbles is old enough to have learnt the value of his own
skin. As for me—have you noticed the remarkable similarity in some ways
between Mr. Trigg’s adventure and my own little adventurelet, as you
might say, in South Audley Street?”

“What, with Mrs. Forrest?”

“Yes. The secret appointment. The drink. The endeavour to get one to
stay the night at all costs. I’m positive there was something in that
sugar, Charles, that no sugar should contain—see Public Health
(Adulteration of Food) Acts, various.”

“You think Mrs. Forrest is an accomplice?”

“I do. I don’t know what she has to gain by it—probably money. But I
feel sure there is some connection. Partly because of Bertha Gotobed’s
£5 note; partly because Mrs. Forrest’s story was a palpable fake—I’m
certain the woman’s never had a lover, let alone a husband—you can’t
mistake real inexperience; and chiefly because of the similarity of
method. Criminals always tend to repeat their effects. Look at George
Joseph Smith and his brides. Look at Neill Cream. Look at Armstrong and
his tea-parties.”

“Well, if there’s an accomplice, all the better. Accomplices generally
end up by giving the show away.”

“True. And we are in a good position because up till now I don’t think
they know that we suspect any connection between them.”

“But I still think, you know, we ought to get some evidence that actual
crimes have been committed. Call me finicking, if you like. If you
_could_ suggest a means of doing away with these people so as to leave
no trace, I should feel happier about it.”

“The means, eh?—Well, we do know something about it.”

“As what?”

“Well—take the two victims—”


“All right, old particular. The two alleged victims and the two
(alleged) intended victims. Miss Dawson was ill and helpless; Bertha
Gotobed possibly stupefied by a heavy meal and an unaccustomed quantity
of wine; Trigg was given a sufficient dose of veronal to send him to
sleep, and I was offered something of probably the same kind—I wish I
could have kept the remains of that coffee. So we deduce from that,

“I suppose that it was a means of death which could only be used on
somebody more or less helpless or unconscious.”

“Exactly. As for instance, a hypodermic injection—only nothing appears
to have been injected. Or a delicate operation of some kind—if we could
only think of one to fit the case. Or the inhalation of something—such
as chloroform—only we could find no traces of suffocation.”

“Yes. That doesn’t get us very far, though.”

“It’s something. Then again, it may very well be something that a
trained nurse would have learnt or heard about. Miss Whittaker was
trained, you know—which, by the way, was what made it so easy for her to
bandage up her own head and provide a pitiful and unrecognisable
spectacle for the stupid Mr. Trigg.”

“It wouldn’t have to be anything very out of the way—nothing, I mean,
that only a trained surgeon could do, or that required very specialised

“Oh, no. Probably something picked up in conversation with a doctor or
the other nurses. I say, how about getting hold of Dr. Carr again? Or,
no—if he’d got any ideas on the subject he’d have trotted ’em out before
now. I know! I’ll ask Lubbock, the analyst. He’ll do. I’ll get in touch
with him to-morrow.”

“And meanwhile,” said Parker, “I suppose we just sit round and wait for
somebody else to be murdered.”

“It’s beastly, isn’t it? I still feel poor Bertha Gotobed’s blood on my
head, so to speak. I say!”


“We’ve practically got clear proof on the Trigg business. Couldn’t you
put the lady in quod on a charge of burglary while we think out the rest
of the dope? It’s often done. It _was_ a burglary, you know. She broke
into a house after dark and appropriated a scuttleful of coal to her own
use. Trigg could identify her—he seems to have paid the lady particular
attention on more than one occasion—and we could rake up his taxi-man
for corroborative detail.”

Parker pulled at his pipe for a few minutes.

“There’s something in that,” he said finally. “I think perhaps it’s
worth while putting it before the authorities. But we mustn’t be in too
much of a hurry, you know. I wish we were further ahead with our other
proofs. There’s such a thing as Habeas Corpus—you can’t hold on to
people indefinitely just on a charge of stealing coal—”

“There’s the breaking and entering, don’t forget that. It’s burglary,
after all. You can get penal servitude for life for burglary.”

“But it all depends on the view the law takes of the coal. It might
decide that there was no original intention of stealing coal, and treat
the thing as a mere misdemeanour or civil trespass. Anyhow, we don’t
really _want_ a conviction for stealing coal. But I’ll see what they
think about it at our place, and meanwhile I’ll get hold of Trigg again
and try and find the taxi-driver. And Trigg’s doctor. We might get it as
an attempt to murder Trigg, or at least to inflict grievous bodily harm.
But I should like some more evidence about—”

“Cuckoo! So should I. But I can’t manufacture evidence out of nothing.
Dash it all, be reasonable. I’ve built you up a case out of nothing.
Isn’t that handsome enough? Base ingratitude—that’s what’s the matter
with you.”

Parker’s inquiries took some time, and June lingered into its longest

Chamberlin and Levine flew the Atlantic, and Segrave bade farewell to
Brooklands. The _Daily Yell_ wrote anti-Red leaders and discovered a
plot, somebody laid claim to a marquisate, and a Czecho-Slovakian
pretended to swim the Channel. Hammond out-graced Grace, there was an
outburst of murder at Moscow, Foxlaw won the Gold Cup and the earth
opened at Oxhey and swallowed up somebody’s front garden. Oxford decided
that women were dangerous, and the electric hare consented to run at the
White City. England’s supremacy was challenged at Wimbledon, and the
House of Lords made the gesture of stooping to conquer.

Meanwhile, Lord Peter’s projected _magnum opus_ on a-hundred-and-one
ways of causing sudden death had advanced by the accumulation of a mass
of notes which flowed all over the library at the flat, and threatened
to engulf Bunter, whose task it was to file and cross-reference and
generally to produce order from chaos. Oriental scholars and explorers
were button-holed in clubs and strenuously pumped on the subject of
abstruse native poisons; horrid experiments performed in German
laboratories were communicated in unreadable documents; and the life of
Sir James Lubbock, who had the misfortune to be a particular friend of
Lord Peter’s, was made a burden to him with daily inquiries as to the
post-mortem detection of such varying substances as chloroform, curate,
hydrocyanic acid gas and diethylsulphonmethylethylmetane.

“But surely there _must_ be something which kills without leaving a
trace,” pleaded Lord Peter, when at length informed that the persecution
must cease. “A thing in such universal demand—surely it is not beyond
the wit of scientists to invent it. It must exist. Why isn’t it properly
advertised? There ought to be a company to exploit it. It’s simply
ridiculous. Why, it’s a thing one might be wantin’ one’s self any day.”

“You don’t understand,” said Sir James Lubbock. “Plenty of poisons leave
no particular post-mortem appearances. And plenty of them—especially the
vegetable ones—are difficult to find by analysis, unless you know what
you are looking for. For instance, if you’re testing for arsenic, that
test won’t tell you whether strychnine is present or not. And if you’re
testing for strychnine, you won’t find morphia. You’ve got to try one
test after another till you hit the right one. And of course there are
certain poisons for which no recognised tests exist.”

“I know all that,” said Wimsey. “I’ve tested things myself. But these
poisons with no recognised test—how do you set about proving that
they’re there?”

“Well, of course, you’d take the symptoms into account, and so on. You
would look at the history of the case.”

“Yes—but I want a poison that doesn’t produce any symptoms. Except
death, of course—if you call that a symptom. Isn’t there a poison with
no symptoms and no test? Something that just makes you go off, Pouf!
like that?”

“Certainly not,” said the analyst, rather annoyed—for your medical
analyst lives by symptoms and tests, and nobody likes suggestions that
undermine the very foundations of his profession—“not even old age or
mental decay. There are always symptoms.”

Fortunately, before symptoms of mental decay could become too pronounced
in Lord Peter, Parker sounded the call to action.

“I’m going down to Leahampton with a warrant,” he said. “I may not use
it, but the chief thinks it might be worth while to make an inquiry.
What with the Battersea mystery and the Daniels business, and Bertha
Gotobed, there seems to be a feeling that there have been too many
unexplained tragedies this year, and the Press have begun yelping again,
blast them! There’s an article in _John Citizen_ this week, with a
poster: ‘Ninety-six Murderers at Large,’ and the _Evening Views_ is
starting its reports with ‘Six weeks have now passed, and the police are
no nearer the solution—’ you know the kind of thing. We’ll simply have
to get some sort of move on. Do you want to come?”

“Certainly—a breath of country air would do me good, I fancy. Blow away
the cobwebs, don’t you know. It might even inspire me to invent a good
way of murderin’ people. ‘O Inspiration, solitary child, warbling thy
native wood-notes wild—’ Did somebody write that, or did I invent it? It
sounds reminiscent, somehow.”

Parker, who was out of temper, replied rather shortly, and intimated
that the police car would be starting for Leahampton in an hour’s time.

“I will be there,” said Wimsey, “though, mind you, I hate being driven
by another fellow. It feels so unsafe. Never mind. I will be bloody,
bold and resolute, as Queen Victoria said to the Archbishop of

They reached Leahampton without any incident to justify Lord Peter’s
fears. Parker had brought another officer with him, and on the way they
picked up the Chief Constable of the County, who appeared very dubiously
disposed towards their errand. Lord Peter, observing their array of five
strong men, going out to seize upon one young woman, was reminded of the
Marquise de Brinvilliers—(“What! all that water for a little person like
me?”)—but this led him back to the subject of poison, and he remained
steeped in thought and gloom till the car drew up before the house in
Wellington Avenue.

Parker got out, and went up the path with the Chief Constable. The door
was opened to them by a frightened-looking maid, who gave a little
shriek at sight of them.

“Oh, sir! have you come to say something’s happened to Miss Whittaker?”

“Isn’t Miss Whittaker at home, then?”

“No, sir. She went out in the car with Miss Vera Findlater on
Monday—that’s four days back, sir, and she hasn’t come home, nor Miss
Findlater neither, and I’m frightened something’s happened to them. When
I see you, sir, I thought you was the police come to say there had been
an accident. I didn’t know what to do, sir.”

“Skipped, by God!” was Parker’s instant thought, but he controlled his
annoyance, and asked:

“Do you know where they were going?”

“Crow’s Beach, Miss Whittaker said, sir.”

“That’s a good fifty miles,” said the Chief Constable. “Probably they’ve
just decided to stay there a day or two.”

“More likely gone in the opposite direction,” thought Parker.

“They didn’t take no things for the night, sir. They went off about ten
in the morning. They said they was going to have lunch there and come
home in the evening. And Miss Whittaker hasn’t written nor nothing. And
her always so particular. Cook and me, we didn’t know what—”

“Oh, well, I expect it’s all right,” said the Chief Constable. “It’s a
pity, as we particularly wanted to see Miss Whittaker. When you hear
from her, you might say Sir Charles Pillington called with a friend.”

“Yes, sir. But please, sir, what ought we to do, sir?”

“Nothing. Don’t worry. I’ll have inquiries made. I’m the Chief
Constable, you know, and I can soon find out whether there’s been an
accident or anything. But if there had been, depend upon it we should
have heard about it. Come, my girl, pull yourself together, there’s
nothing to cry about. We’ll let you know as soon as we hear anything.”

But Sir Charles looked disturbed. Coming on top of Parker’s arrival in
the district, the thing had an unpleasant look about it.

Lord Peter received the news cheerfully.

“Good,” said he, “joggle ’em up. Keep ’em moving. That’s the spirit.
Always like it when somethin’ happens. My worst suspicions are goin’ to
be justified. That always makes one feel so important and virtuous,
don’t you think? Wonder why she took the girl with her, though. By the
way, we’d better look up the Findlaters. They may have heard something.”

This obvious suggestion was acted upon at once. But at the Findlaters’
house they drew blank. The family were at the seaside, with the
exception of Miss Vera, who was staying in Wellington Avenue with Miss
Whittaker. No anxiety was expressed by the parlour-maid and none,
apparently, felt. The investigators took care not to arouse any alarm,
and, leaving a trivial and polite message from Sir Charles, withdrew for
a consultation.

“There’s nothing for it, so far as I can see,” said Parker, “but an
all-stations call to look out for the car and the ladies. And we must
put inquiries through to all the ports, of course. With four days’
start, they may be anywhere by now. I wish to Heaven I’d risked a bit
and started earlier, approval or no approval. What’s this Findlater girl
like? I’d better go back to the house and get photographs of her and the
Whittaker woman. And, Wimsey, I wish you’d look in on Miss Climpson and
see if she has any information.”

“And you might tell ’em at the Yard to keep an eye on Mrs. Forrest’s
place,” said Wimsey. “When anything sensational happens to a criminal
it’s a good tip to watch the accomplice.”

“I feel sure you are both quite mistaken about this,” urged Sir Charles
Pillington. “Criminal—accomplice—bless me! I have had considerable
experience in the course of a long life—longer than either of yours—and
I really feel convinced that Miss Whittaker, whom I know quite well, is
as good and nice a girl as you could wish to find. But there has
undoubtedly been an accident of some kind, and it is our duty to make
the fullest investigation. I will get on to Crow’s Beach police
immediately, as soon as I know the description of the car.”

“It’s an Austin Seven and the number is XX9917,” said Wimsey, much to
the Chief Constable’s surprise. “But I doubt very much whether you’ll
find it at Crow’s Beach, or anywhere near it.”

“Well, we’d better get a move on,” snapped Parker. “We’d better
separate. How about a spot of lunch in an hour’s time at the George?”

Wimsey was unlucky. Miss Climpson was not to be found. She had had her
lunch early and gone out, saying she felt that a long country walk would
do her good. Mrs. Budge was rather afraid she had had some bad news—she
had seemed so upset and worried since yesterday evening.

“But indeed, sir,” she added, “if you was quick, you might find her up
at the church. She often drops in there to say her prayers like. Not a
respectful way to approach a place of worship to my mind, do you think
so yourself, sir? Popping in and out on a week-day, the same as if it
was a friend’s house. And coming home from Communion as cheerful as
anything and ready to laugh and make jokes. I don’t see as how we was
meant to make an ordinary thing of religion that way—so disrespectful
and nothing uplifting to the ’art about it. But there! we all ’as our
failings, and Miss Climpson is a nice lady and that I must say, even if
she is a Roaming Catholic or next door to one.”

Lord Peter thought that Roaming Catholic was rather an appropriate name
for the more ultramontane section of the High Church party. At the
moment, however, he felt he could not afford time for religious
discussion, and set off for the church in quest of Miss Climpson.

The doors of S. Onesimus were hospitably open, and the red Sanctuary
lamp made a little spot of welcoming brightness in the rather dark
building. Coming in from the June sunshine, Wimsey blinked a little
before he could distinguish anything else. Presently he was able to make
out a dark, bowed figure kneeling before the lamp. For a moment he hoped
it was Miss Climpson, but presently saw to his disappointment that it
was merely a Sister in a black habit, presumably taking her turn to
watch before the Host. The only other occupant of the church was a
priest in a cassock, who was busy with the ornaments on the High Altar.
It was the Feast of S. John, Wimsey remembered suddenly. He walked up
the aisle, hoping to find his quarry hidden in some obscure corner. His
shoes squeaked. This annoyed him. It was a thing which Bunter never
permitted. He was seized with a fancy that the squeak was produced by
diabolic possession—a protest against a religious atmosphere on the part
of his own particular besetting devil. Pleased with this thought, he
moved forward more confidently.

The priest’s attention was attracted by the squeak. He turned and came
down towards the intruder. No doubt, thought Wimsey, to offer his
professional services to exorcise the evil spirit.

“Were you looking for anybody?” inquired the priest, courteously.

“Well, I was looking for a lady,” began Wimsey. Then it struck him that
this sounded a little odd under the circumstances, and he hastened to
explain more fully, in the stifled tones considered appropriate to
consecrated surroundings.

“Oh, yes,” said the priest, quite unperturbed, “Miss Climpson was here a
little time ago, but I fancy she has gone. Not that I usually keep tabs
on my flock,” he added, with a laugh, “but she spoke to me before she
went. Was it urgent? What a pity you should have missed her. Can I give
any kind of message or help you in any way?”

“No, thanks,” said Wimsey. “Sorry to bother you. Unseemly to come and
try to haul people out of church, but—yes, it was rather important. I’ll
leave a message at the house. Thanks frightfully.”

He turned away; then stopped and came back.

“I say,” he said, “you give advice on moral problems and all that sort
of thing, don’t you?”

“Well, we’re supposed to try,” said the priest. “Is anything bothering
you in particular?”

“Ye-es,” said Wimsey, “nothing religious, I don’t mean—nothing about
infallibility or the Virgin Mary or anything of that sort. Just
something I’m not comfortable about.”

The priest—who was, in fact, the vicar, Mr. Tredgold—indicated that he
was quite at Lord Peter’s service.

“It’s very good of you. Could we come somewhere where I didn’t have to
whisper so much. I never can explain things in a whisper. Sort of
paralyses one, don’t you know.”

“Let’s go outside,” said Mr. Tredgold.

So they went out and sat on a flat tombstone.

“It’s like this,” said Wimsey. “Hypothetical case, you see, and so on.
S’posin’ one knows somebody who’s very, very ill and can’t last long
anyhow. And they’re in awful pain and all that, and kept under
morphia—practically dead to the world, you know. And suppose that by
dyin’ straight away they could make something happen which they really
wanted to happen and which couldn’t happen if they lived on a little
longer (I can’t explain exactly how, because I don’t want to give
personal details and so on)—you get the idea? Well, supposin’ somebody
who knew all that was just to give ’em a little push off so to
speak—hurry matters on—why should that be a very dreadful crime?”

“The law—” began Mr. Tredgold.

“Oh, the law says it’s a crime, fast enough,” said Wimsey. “But do you
honestly think it’s very bad? I know you’d call it a sin, of course, but
why is it so very dreadful? It doesn’t do the person any harm, does it?”

“We can’t answer that,” said Mr. Tredgold, “without knowing the ways of
God with the soul. In those last weeks or hours of pain and
unconsciousness, the soul may be undergoing some necessary part of its
pilgrimage on earth. It isn’t our business to cut it short. Who are we
to take life and death into our hands?”

“Well, we do it all day, one way and another.
Juries—soldiers—doctors—all that. And yet I do feel, somehow, that it
isn’t a right thing in this case. And yet, by interfering—finding things
out and so on—one may do far worse harm. Start all kinds of things.”

“I think,” said Mr. Tredgold, “that the sin—I won’t use that word—the
damage to Society, the wrongness of the thing lies much more in the harm
it does the killer than in anything it can do to the person who is
killed. Especially, of course, if the killing is to the killer’s own
advantage. The consequence you mention—this thing which the sick person
wants done—does the other person stand to benefit by it, may I ask?”

“Yes. That’s just it. He—she—they do.”

“That puts it at once on a different plane from just hastening a
person’s death out of pity. Sin is in the intention, not the deed. That
is the difference between divine law and human law. It is bad for a
human being to get to feel that he has any right whatever to dispose of
another person’s life to his own advantage. It leads him to think
himself above all laws—Society is never safe from the man who has
deliberately committed murder with impunity. That is why—or one reason
why—God forbids private vengeance.”

“You mean that one murder leads to another.”

“Very often. In any case it leads to a readiness to commit others.”

“It has. That’s the trouble. But it wouldn’t have if I hadn’t started
trying to find things out. Ought I to have left it alone?”

“I see. That is very difficult. Terrible, too, for you. You feel


“You yourself are not serving a private vengeance?”

“Oh, no. Nothing really to do with me. Started in like a fool to help
somebody who’d got into trouble about the thing through having
suspicions himself. And my beastly interference started the crimes all
over again.”

“I shouldn’t be too troubled. Probably the murderer’s own guilty fears
would have led him into fresh crimes even without your interference.”

“That’s true,” said Wimsey, remembering Mr. Trigg.

“My advice to you is to do what you think is right, according to the
laws which we have been brought up to respect. Leave the consequences to
God. And try to think charitably, even of wicked people. You know what I
mean. Bring the offender to justice, but remember that if we all got
justice, you and I wouldn’t escape either.”

“I know. Knock the man down but don’t dance on the body. Quite. Forgive
my troublin’ you—and excuse my bargin’ off, because I’ve got a date with
a friend. Thanks so much. I don’t feel quite so rotten about it now. But
I was gettin’ worried.”

Mr. Tredgold watched him as he trotted away between the graves. “Dear,
dear,” he said, “how nice they are. So kindly and scrupulous and so
vague outside their public-school code. And much more nervous and
sensitive than people think. A very difficult class to reach. I must
make a special intention for him at Mass to-morrow.”

Being a practical man, Mr. Tredgold made a knot in his handkerchief to
remind himself of this pious resolve.

“The problem—to interfere or not to interfere—God’s law and Cæsar’s.
Policemen, now—it’s no problem to them. But for the ordinary man—how
hard to disentangle his own motives. I wonder what brought him here.
Could it possibly be—No!” said the vicar, checking himself, “I have no
right to speculate.” He drew out his handkerchief again and made another
mnemonic knot as a reminder against his next confession that he had
fallen into the sin of inquisitiveness.

                               CHAPTER XX

  Siegfried: “_What does this mean?_”
  Isbrand: “_A pretty piece of kidnapping, that’s all._”
                                       Beddoes, _Death’s Jest-Book_

Parker, too, had spent a disappointing half-hour. It appeared that Miss
Whittaker not only disliked having her photograph taken, but had
actually destroyed all the existing portraits she could lay hands on,
shortly after Miss Dawson’s death. Of course, many of Miss Whittaker’s
friends might be in possession of one—notably, of course, Miss
Findlater. But Parker was not sure that he wanted to start a local
hue-and-cry at the moment. Miss Climpson might be able to get one, of
course. He went round to Nelson Avenue. Miss Climpson was out; there had
been another gentleman asking for her. Mrs. Budge’s eyes were beginning
to bulge with curiosity—evidently she was becoming dubious about Miss
Climpson’s “nephew” and his friends. Parker then went to the local
photographers. There were five. From two of them he extracted a number
of local groups, containing unrecognisable portraits of Miss Whittaker
at church bazaars and private theatricals. She had never had a studio
portrait made in Leahampton.

Of Miss Findlater, on the other hand, he got several excellent
likenesses—a slight, fair girl, with a rather sentimental look—plump and
prettyish. All these he despatched to Town, with directions that they
should be broadcast to the police, together with a description of the
girl’s dress when last seen.

The only really cheerful members of the party at the “George” were the
second policeman, who had been having a pleasant gossip with various
garage-proprietors and publicans, with a view to picking up information,
and the Chief Constable, who was vindicated and triumphant. He had been
telephoning to various country police-stations, and had discovered that
XX9917 had actually been observed on the previous Monday by an A.A.
scout on the road to Crow’s Beach. Having maintained all along that the
Crow’s Beach excursion was a genuine one, he was inclined to exult over
the Scotland Yard man. Wimsey and Parker dispiritedly agreed that they
had better go down and make inquiries at Crow’s Beach.

Meanwhile, one of the photographers, whose cousin was on the staff of
the _Leahampton Mercury_, had put a call through to the office of that
up-to-date paper, which was just going to press. A stop-press
announcement was followed by a special edition; somebody rang up the
London _Evening Views_ which burst out into a front-page scoop; the fat
was in the fire, and the _Daily Yell_, _Daily Views_, _Daily Wire_ and
_Daily Tidings_, who were all suffering from lack of excitement, came
brightly out next morning with bold headlines about disappearing young

Crow’s Beach, indeed, that pleasant and respectable watering-place, knew
nothing of Miss Whittaker, Miss Findlater, or car XX9917. No hotel had
received them; no garage had refuelled or repaired them; no policeman
had observed them. The Chief Constable held to his theory of an
accident, and scouting parties were sent out. Wires arrived at Scotland
Yard from all over the place. They had been seen at Dover, at Newcastle,
at Sheffield, at Winchester, at Rugby. Two young women had had tea in a
suspicious manner at Folkestone; a car had passed noisily through
Dorchester at a late hour on Monday night; a dark-haired girl in an
“agitated condition” had entered a public-house in New Alresford just
before closing-time and asked the way to Hazelmere. Among all these
reports, Parker selected that of a boy-scout, who reported on the
Saturday morning that he had noticed two ladies with a car having a
picnic on the downs on the previous Monday, not far from Shelly Head.
The car was an Austin Seven—he knew that, because he was keen on motors
(an unanswerable reason for accuracy in a boy of his age), and he had
noticed that it was a London number, though he couldn’t say positively
what the number was.

Shelly Head lies about ten miles along the coast from Crow’s Beach, and
is curiously lonely, considering how near it lies to the watering-place.
Under the cliffs is a long stretch of clear sandy beach, never visited,
and overlooked by no houses. The cliffs themselves are chalk, and
covered with short turf, running back into a wide expanse of downs,
covered with gorse and heather. Then comes a belt of pine-trees, beyond
which is a steep, narrow and rutty road, leading at length into the
tarmac high-road between Ramborough and Ryders Heath. The downs are by
no means frequented, though there are plenty of rough tracks which a car
can follow, if you are not particular about comfort or fussy over your

Under the leadership of the boy-scout, the police-car bumped
uncomfortably over these disagreeable roads. It was hopeless to look for
any previous car-tracks, for the chalk was dry and hard, and the grass
and heath retained no marks. Everywhere, little dells and hollows
presented themselves—all exactly alike, and many of them capable of
hiding a small car, not to speak of the mere signs and remains of a
recent picnic. Having arrived at what their guide thought to be
approximately the right place, they pulled up and got out. Parker
quartered the ground between the five of them and they set off.

Wimsey took a dislike to gorse-bushes that day. There were so many of
them and so thick. Any of them might hold a cigarette package or a
sandwich paper or a scrap of cloth or a clue of some kind. He trudged
along unhappily, back bent and eyes on the ground, over one ridge and
down into the hollow—then circling to right and to left, taking his
bearings by the police-car; over the next ridge and down into the next
hollow; over the next ridge—

Yes. There was something in the hollow.

He saw it first sticking out round the edge of a gorse-bush. It was
light in colour, and pointed, rather like a foot.

He felt a little sick.

“Somebody has gone to sleep here,” he said aloud.

Then he thought:

“Funny—it’s always the feet they leave showing.”

He scrambled down among the bushes, slipping on the short turf and
nearly rolling to the bottom. He swore irritably.

The person was sleeping oddly. The flies must be a nuisance all over her
head like that.

It occurred to him that it was rather early in the year for flies. There
had been an advertising rhyme in the papers. Something about “Each fly
you swat now means, remember, Three hundred fewer next September.” Or
was it a thousand fewer? He couldn’t get the metre quite right.

Then he pulled himself together and went forward. The flies rose up in a
little cloud.

It must have been a pretty heavy blow, he thought, to smash the back of
the skull in like that. The shingled hair was blonde. The face lay
between the bare arms.

He turned the body on its back.

Of course, without the photograph, he could not—he need not—be certain
that this was Vera Findlater.

All this had taken him perhaps thirty seconds.

He scrambled up to the rim of the hollow and shouted.

A small black figure at some distance stopped and turned. He saw its
face as a white spot with no expression on it. He shouted again, and
waved his arms in wide gestures of explanation. The figure came running;
it lurched slowly and awkwardly over the heathy ground. It was the
policeman—a heavy man, not built for running in the heat. Wimsey shouted
again, and the policeman shouted too. Wimsey saw the others closing in
upon him. The grotesque figure of the boy-scout topped a ridge, waving
its staff—then disappeared again. The policeman was quite near now. His
bowler hat was thrust back on his head, and there was something on his
watch-chain that glinted in the sun as he ran. Wimsey found himself
running to meet him and calling—explaining at great length. It was too
far off to make himself heard, but he explained, wordily, with emphasis,
pointing, indicating. He was quite breathless when the policeman and he
came together. They were both breathless. They wagged their heads and
gasped. It was ludicrous. He started running again, with the man at his
heels. Presently they were all there, pointing, measuring, taking notes,
grubbing under the gorse-bushes. Wimsey sat down. He was dreadfully

“Peter,” said Parker’s voice, “come and look at this.”

He got up wearily.

There were the remains of a picnic lunch a little farther down the
hollow. The policeman had a little bag in his hand—he had taken it from
under the body, and was now turning over the trifles it contained. On
the ground, close to the dead girl’s head, was a thick, heavy
spanner—unpleasantly discoloured and with a few fair hairs sticking to
its jaws. But what Parker was calling his attention to was none of
these, but a man’s mauve-grey cap.

“Where did you find that?” asked Wimsey.

“Alf here picked it up at the top of the hollow,” said Parker.

“Tumbled off into the gorse it was,” corroborated the scout, “just up
here, lying upside down just as if it had fallen off somebody’s head.”

“Any footmarks?”

“Not likely. But there’s a place where the bushes are all trodden and
broken. Looks as if there’d been some sort of struggle. What’s become of
the Austin? Hi! don’t touch that spanner, my lad. There may be
finger-prints on it. This looks like an attack by some gang or other.
Any money in that purse? Ten-shilling note, sixpence and a few
coppers—oh! Well, the other woman may have had more on her. She’s very
well off, you know. Held up for ransom, I shouldn’t wonder.” Parker bent
down and very gingerly enfolded the spanner in a silk handkerchief,
carrying it slung by the four corners. “Well, we’d better spread about
and have a look for the car. Better try that belt of trees over there.
Looks a likely spot. And, Hopkins—I think you’d better run back with our
car to Crow’s Beach and let ’em know at the station, and come back with
a photographer. And take this wire and send it to the Chief Commissioner
at Scotland Yard, and find a doctor and bring him along with you. And
you’d better hire another car while you’re about it, in case we don’t
find the Austin—we shall be too many to get away in this one. Take Alf
back with you if you’re not sure of finding the place again. Oh! and
Hopkins, fetch us along something to eat and drink, will you, we may be
at it a long time. Here’s some money—that enough?”

“Yes, thank you, sir.”

The constable went off, taking Alf, who was torn between a desire to
stay and do some more detecting, and the pride and glory of being first
back with the news. Parker gave a few words of praise for his valuable
assistance which filled him with delight, and then turned to the Chief

“They obviously went off in this direction. Would you bear away to the
left, sir, and enter the trees from that end, and Peter, will you bear
to the right and work through from the other end, while I go straight up
the middle?”

The Chief Constable, who seemed a good deal shaken by the discovery of
the body, obeyed without a word. Wimsey caught Parker by the arm.

“I say,” he said, “have you looked at the wound? Something funny, isn’t
there? There ought to be more mess, somehow. What do you think?”

“I’m not thinking anything for the moment,” said Parker, a little
grimly. “We’ll wait for the doctor’s report. Come on, Steve! We want to
dig out that car.”

“Let’s have a look at the cap. H’m. Sold by a gentleman, resident in
Stepney. Almost new. Smells strongly of California Poppy—rather a swell
sort of gangsman, apparently. Quite one of the lads of the village.”

“Yes—we ought to be able to trace that. Thank Heaven, they always
overlook something. Well, we’d better get along.”

The search for the car presented no difficulties. Parker stumbled upon
it almost as soon as he got in under the trees. There was a clearing,
with a little rivulet of water running through it, beside which stood
the missing Austin. There were other trees here, mingled with the pines,
and the water made an elbow and spread into a shallow pool, with a kind
of muddy beach.

The hood of the car was up, and Parker approached with an uncomfortable
feeling that there might be something disagreeable inside, but it was
empty. He tried the gears. They were in neutral and the handbrake was
on. On the seat was a handkerchief—a large linen handkerchief, very
grubby and with no initials or laundry-mark. Parker grunted a little
over the criminal’s careless habit of strewing his belongings about. He
came round in front of the car and received immediate further proof of
carelessness. For on the mud there were footmarks—two men’s and a
woman’s, it seemed.

The woman had got out of the car first—he could see where the left heel
had sunk heavily in as she extricated herself from the low seat. Then
the right foot—less heavily—then she had staggered a little and started
to run. But one of the men had been there to catch her. He had stepped
out of the bracken in shoes with new rubbers on them, and there were
some scuffling marks as though he had held her and she had tried to
break away. Finally, the second man, who seemed to possess rather narrow
feet and to wear the long-toed boots affected by town boys of the louder
sort—had come after her from the car—the marks of his feet were clear,
crossing and half-obliterating hers. All three had stood together for a
little. Then the tracks moved away, with those of the woman in the
middle, and led up to where the mark of a Michelin balloon tyre showed
clearly. The tyres of the Austin were ordinary Dunlops—besides, this was
obviously a bigger car. It had apparently stood there for some little
time, for a little pool of engine-oil had dripped from the crank-case.
Then the bigger car had moved off, down a sort of ride that led away
through the trees. Parker followed it for a little distance, but the
tracks soon became lost in a thick carpet of pine-needles. Still, there
was no other road for a car to take. He turned to the Austin to
investigate further. Presently shouts told him that the other two were
converging upon the centre of the wood. He called back and before long
Wimsey and Sir Charles Pillington came crashing towards him through the
bracken which fringed the pines.

“Well,” said Wimsey, “I imagine we may put down this elegant bit of
purple headgear to the gentleman in the slim boots. Bright yellow, I
fancy, with buttons. He must be lamenting his beautiful cap. The woman’s
footprints belong to Mary Whittaker, I take it.”

“I suppose so. I don’t see how they can be the Findlater girl’s. This
woman went or was taken off in the car.”

“They are certainly not Vera Findlater’s—there was no mud on her shoes
when we found her.”

“Oh! you were taking notice, then. I thought you were feeling a bit dead
to the world.”

“So I was, old dear, but I can’t help noticin’ things, though moribund.
Hullo! what’s this?”

He put his hand down behind the cushions of the car and pulled out an
American magazine—that monthly collection of mystery and sensational
fiction published under the name of _The Black Mask_.

“Light reading for the masses,” said Parker.

“Brought by the gentleman in the yellow boots, perhaps,” suggested the
Chief Constable.

“More likely by Miss Findlater,” said Wimsey.

“Hardly a lady’s choice,” said Sir Charles, in a pained tone.

“Oh, I dunno. From all I hear, Miss Whittaker was dead against
sentimentality and roses round the porch, and the other poor girl copied
her in everything. They might have a boyish taste in fiction.”

“Well, it’s not important,” said Parker.

“Wait a bit. Look at this. Somebody’s been making marks on it.”

Wimsey held out the cover for inspection. A thick pencil-mark had been
drawn under the first two words of the title.

“Do you think it’s some sort of message? Perhaps the book was on the
seat, and she contrived to make the marks unnoticed and shove it away
here before they transferred her to the other car.”

“Ingenious,” said Sir Charles, “but what does it mean? The Black. It
makes no sense.”

“Perhaps the long-toed gentleman was a black man,” suggested Parker. “Or
possibly a Hindu or Parsee of sorts.”

“God bless my soul,” said Sir Charles, horrified, “an English girl in
the hands of a black man. How abominable!”

“Well, we’ll hope it isn’t so. Shall we follow the road out or wait for
the doctor to arrive?”

“Better go back to the body, I think,” said Parker. “They’ve got a long
start of us, and half an hour more or less in following them up won’t
make much odds.”

They turned from the translucent cool greenness of the little wood back
on to the downs. The streamlet clacked merrily away over the pebbles,
running out to the southwest on its way to the river and the sea.

“It’s all very well your chattering,” said Wimsey to the water. “Why
can’t you say what you’ve seen?”

                              CHAPTER XXI
                             By What Means?

  “_Death hath so many doors to let out life._”
                     Beaumont and Fletcher, _Custom of the Country_

The doctor turned out to be a plumpish, fussy man—and what Wimsey
impatiently called a “Tutster.” He tutted over the mangled head of poor
Vera Findlater as though it was an attack of measles after a party or a
self-provoked fit of the gout.

“Tst, tst, tst. A terrible blow. How did we come by that, I wonder? Tst,
tst. Life extinct? Oh, for several days, you know. Tst, tst—which makes
it so much more painful, of course. Dear me, how shocking for her poor
parents. And her sisters. They are very agreeable girls; you know them,
of course, Sir Charles. Yes. Tst, tst.”

“There is no doubt, I suppose,” said Parker, “that it is Miss

“None whatever,” said Sir Charles.

“Well, as you can identify her, it may be possible to spare the
relatives the shock of seeing her like this. Just a moment, doctor—the
photographer wants to record the position of the body before you move
anything. Now, Mr.—Andrews?—yes—have you ever done any photographs of
this kind before? No?—well, you mustn’t be upset by it! I know it’s
rather unpleasant. One from here, please, to show the position of the
body—now from the top of the bank—that’s right—now one of the wound
itself—a close-up view, please. Yes. Thank you. Now, doctor, you can
turn her over, please—I’m sorry, Mr. Andrews—I know exactly how you are
feeling, but these things have to be done. Hullo! look how her arms are
all scratched about. Looks as if she’d put up a bit of a fight. The
right wrist and left elbow—as though someone had been trying to hold her
down. We must have a photograph of the marks, Mr. Andrews—they may be
important. I say, doctor, what do you make of this on the face?”

The doctor looked as though he would have preferred not to make so much
as an examination of the face. However, with many tuts he worked himself
up to giving an opinion.

“As far as one can tell, with all these post-mortem changes,” he
ventured, “it looks as though the face had been roughened or burnt about
the nose and lips. Yet there is no appearance of the kind on the bridge
of the nose, neck or forehead. Tst, tst—otherwise I should have put it
down to severe sunburn.”

“How about chloroform burns?” suggested Parker.

“Tst, tst,” said the doctor, annoyed at not having thought of this
himself—“I wish you gentlemen of the police force would not be quite so
abrupt. You want everything decided in too great a hurry. I was about to
remark—if you had not anticipated me—that since I could _not_ put the
appearance down to sunburn, there remains some such possibility as you
suggest. I can’t possibly say that it is the result of
chloroform—medical pronouncements of that kind cannot be hastily made
without cautious investigation—but I was about to remark that it _might_

“In that case,” put in Wimsey, “could she have died from the effects of
the chloroform? Supposing she was given too much or that her heart was

“My good sir,” said the doctor, deeply offended this time, “look at that
blow upon the head, and ask yourself whether it is necessary to suggest
any other cause of death. Moreover, if she had died of the chloroform,
where would be the necessity for the blow?”

“That is exactly what I was wondering,” said Wimsey.

“I suppose,” went on the doctor, “you will hardly dispute my medical

“Certainly not,” said Wimsey, “but as you say, it is unwise to make any
medical pronouncement without cautious investigation.”

“And this is not the place for it,” put in Parker, hastily. “I think we
have done all there is to do here. Will you go with the body to the
mortuary, doctor. Mr. Andrews, I shall be obliged if you will come and
take a few photographs of some footmarks and so on up in the wood. The
light is bad, I’m afraid, but we must do our best.”

He took Wimsey by the arm.

“The man is a fool, of course,” he said, “but we can get a second
opinion. In the meantime, we had better let it be supposed that we
accept the surface explanation of all this.”

“What is the difficulty?” asked Sir Charles, curiously.

“Oh, nothing much,” replied Parker. “All the appearances are in favour
of the girls having been attacked by a couple of ruffians, who have
carried Miss Whittaker off with a view to ransom, after brutally
knocking Miss Findlater on the head when she offered resistance.
Probably that is the true explanation. Any minor discrepancies will
doubtless clear themselves up in time. We shall know better when we have
had a proper medical examination.”

They returned to the wood, where photographs were taken and careful
measurements made of the footprints. The Chief Constable followed these
activities with intense interest, looking over Parker’s shoulder as he
entered the particulars in his notebook.

“I say,” he said, suddenly, “isn’t it rather odd—”

“Here’s somebody coming,” broke in Parker.

The sound of a motor-cycle being urged in second gear over the rough
ground proved to be the herald of a young man armed with a camera.

“Oh, God!” groaned Parker. “The damned Press already.”

He received the journalist courteously enough, showing him the
wheel-tracks and the footprints, and outlining the kidnapping theory as
they walked back to the place where the body was found.

“Can you give us any idea, Inspector, of the appearance of the two
wanted men?”

“Well,” said Parker, “one of them appears to be something of a dandy; he
wears a loathsome mauve cap and narrow pointed shoes, and, if those
marks on the magazine cover mean anything, one or other of the men may
possibly be a coloured man of some kind. Of the second man, all we can
definitely say is that he wears number 10 shoes, with rubber heels.”

“I was going to say,” said Pillington, “that, à propos de bottes, it is
rather remarkable—”

“And this is where we found the body of Miss Findlater,” went on Parker,
ruthlessly. He described the injuries and the position of the body, and
the journalist gratefully occupied himself with taking photographs,
including a group of Wimsey, Parker and the Chief Constable standing
among the gorse-bushes, while the latter majestically indicated the
fatal spot with his walking-stick.

“And now you’ve got what you want, old son,” said Parker, benevolently,
“buzz off, won’t you, and tell the rest of the boys. You’ve got all we
can tell you, and we’ve got other things to do beyond granting special

The reporter asked no better. This was tantamount to making his
information exclusive, and no Victorian matron could have a more
delicate appreciation of the virtues of exclusiveness than a modern
newspaper man.

“Well now, Sir Charles,” said Parker, when the man had happily chugged
and popped himself away, “what were you about to say in the matter of
the footprints?”

But Sir Charles was offended. The Scotland Yard man had snubbed him and
thrown doubt on his discretion.

“Nothing,” he replied. “I feel sure that my conclusions would appear
very elementary to you.”

And he preserved a dignified silence throughout the return journey.

The Whittaker case had begun almost imperceptibly, in the overhearing of
a casual remark dropped in a Soho restaurant; it ended amid a roar of
publicity that shook England from end to end and crowded even Wimbledon
into the second place. The bare facts of the murder and kidnapping
appeared exclusively that night in a Late Extra edition of the _Evening
Views_. Next morning it sprawled over the Sunday papers with photographs
and full details, actual and imaginary. The idea of two English
girls—the one brutally killed, the other carried off for some end
unthinkably sinister, by a black man—aroused all the passion of horror
and indignation of which the English temperament is capable. Reporters
swarmed down upon Crow’s Beach like locusts—the downs near Shelly Head
were like a fair with motors, bicycles and parties on foot, rushing out
to spend a happy week-end amid surroundings of mystery and bloodshed.
Parker, who with Wimsey had taken rooms at the Green Lion, sat answering
the telephone and receiving the letters and wires which descended upon
him from all sides, with a stalwart policeman posted at the end of the
passage to keep out all intruders.

Wimsey fidgeted about the room, smoking cigarette after cigarette in his

“This time we’ve got them,” he said. “They’ve overreached themselves,
thank God!”

“Yes. But have a little patience, old man. We can’t lose them—but we
must have all the facts first.”

“You’re sure those fellows have got Mrs. Forrest safe?”

“Oh, yes. She came back to the flat on Monday night—or so the garage man
says. Our men are shadowing her continually and will let us know the
moment anybody comes to the flat.”

“Monday night!”

“Yes. But that’s no proof in itself. Monday night is quite a usual time
for week-enders to return to Town. Besides, I don’t want to frighten her
till we know whether she’s the principal or merely the accomplice. Look
here, Peter, I’ve had a message from another of our men. He’s been
looking into the finances of Miss Whittaker and Mrs. Forrest. Miss
Whittaker has been drawing out big sums, ever since last December year
in cheques to Self, and these correspond almost exactly, amount for
amount, with sums which Mrs. Forrest has been paying into her own
account. That woman has had a big hold over Miss Whittaker, ever since
old Miss Dawson died. She’s in it up to the neck, Peter.”

“I knew it. She’s been doing the jobs while the Whittaker woman held
down her alibi in Kent. For God’s sake, Charles, make no mistake.
Nobody’s life is safe for a second while either of them is at large.”

“When a woman is wicked and unscrupulous,” said Parker, sententiously,
“she is the most ruthless criminal in the world—fifty times worse than a
man, because she is always so much more single-minded about it.”

“They’re not troubled with sentimentality, that’s why,” said Wimsey,
“and we poor mutts of men stuff ourselves up with the idea that they’re
romantic and emotional. All punk, my son. Damn that ’phone!”

Parker snatched up the receiver.

“Yes—yes—speaking. Good God, you don’t say so. All right. Yes. Yes, of
course you must detain him. I think myself it’s a plant, but he must be
held and questioned. And see that all the papers have it. Tell ’em
you’re sure he’s the man. See? Soak it well into ’em that that’s the
official view. And—wait a moment—I want photographs of the cheque and of
any finger-prints on it. Send ’em down immediately by a special
messenger. It’s genuine, I suppose? The Bank people say it is? Good!
What’s his story? . . . Oh! . . . any envelope?—Destroyed?—Silly devil.
Right. Right. Good-bye.”

He turned to Wimsey with some excitement.

“Hallelujah Dawson walked into Lloyds Bank in Stepney yesterday morning
and presented Mary Whittaker’s cheque for £10,000, drawn on their
Leahampton branch to Bearer, and dated Friday 24th. As the sum was such
a large one and the story of the disappearance was in Friday night’s
paper, they asked him to call again. Meanwhile, they communicated with
Leahampton. When the news of the murder came out yesterday evening, the
Leahampton manager remembered about it and ’phoned the Yard, with the
result that they sent round this morning and had Hallelujah up for a few
inquiries. His story is that the cheque arrived on Saturday morning, all
by itself in an envelope, without a word of explanation. Of course the
old juggins chucked the envelope away, so that we can’t verify his tale
or get a line on the post-mark. Our people thought the whole thing
looked a bit fishy, so Hallelujah is detained pending investigation—in
other words, arrested for murder and conspiracy!”

“Poor old Hallelujah! Charles, this is simply devilish! That innocent,
decent old creature, who couldn’t harm a fly.”

“I know. Well, he’s in for it and will have to go through with it. It’s
all the better for us. Hell’s bells, there’s somebody at the door. Come

“It’s Dr. Faulkner to see you, sir,” said the constable, putting his
head in.

“Oh, good. Come in, doctor. Have you made your examination?”

“I have, Inspector. Very interesting. You were quite right. I’ll tell
you that much straight away.”

“I’m glad to hear that. Sit down and tell us all about it.”

“I’ll be as brief as possible,” said the doctor. He was a London man,
sent down by Scotland Yard, and accustomed to police work—a lean, grey
badger of a man, business-like and keen-eyed, the direct opposite of the
“tutster” who had annoyed Parker the evening before.

“Well, first of all, the blow on the head had, of course, nothing
whatever to do with the death. You saw yourself that there had been next
to no bleeding. The wound was inflicted some time after death—no doubt
to create the impression of an attack by a gang. Similarly with the cuts
and scratches on the arms. They are the merest camouflage.”

“Exactly. Your colleague—”

“My colleague, as you call him, is a fool,” snorted the doctor. “If
that’s a specimen of his diagnosis, I should think there would be a high
death-rate in Crow’s Beach. That’s by the way. You want the cause of


“Possibly. I opened the body but found no special symptoms suggestive of
poisoning or anything. I have removed the necessary organs and sent them
to Sir James Lubbock for analysis at your suggestion, but candidly I
expect nothing from that. There was no odour of chloroform on opening
the thorax. Either the time elapsed since the death was too long, as is
very possible, seeing how volatile the stuff is, or the dose was too
small. I found no indications of any heart weakness, so that, to produce
death in a healthy young girl, chloroform would have had to be
administered over a considerable time.”

“Do you think it was administered at all?”

“Yes, I think it was. The burns on the face certainly suggest it.”

“That would also account for the handkerchief found in the car,” said

“I suppose,” pursued Parker, “that it would require considerable
strength and determination to administer chloroform to a strong young
woman. She would probably resist strenuously.”

“She would,” said the doctor, grimly, “But the odd thing is, she didn’t.
As I said before, all the marks of violence were inflicted post-mortem.”

“Suppose she had been asleep at the time,” suggested Wimsey, “couldn’t
it have been done quietly then?”

“Oh, yes—easily. After a few long breaths of the stuff she would become
semi-conscious and then could be more firmly dealt with. It is quite
possible, I suppose, that she fell asleep in the sunshine, while her
companion wandered off and was kidnapped, and that the kidnappers then
came along and got rid of Miss Findlater.”

“That seems a little unnecessary,” said Parker. “Why come back to her at

“Do you suggest that they both fell asleep and were both set on and
chloroformed at the same time? It sounds rather unlikely.”

He outlined the history of their suspicions about Mary Whittaker, to
which the doctor listened in horrified amazement.

“What happened,” said Parker, “as we think, is this. We think that for
some reason Miss Whittaker had determined to get rid of this poor girl
who was so devoted to her. She arranged that they should go off for a
picnic and that it should be known where they were going to. Then, when
Vera Findlater was dozing in the sunshine, our theory is that she
murdered her—either with chloroform or—more likely, I fancy—by the same
method that she used upon her other victims, whatever that was. Then she
struck her on the head and produced the other appearances suggestive of
a struggle, and left on the bushes a cap which she had previously
purchased and stained with brilliantine. I am, of course, having the cap
traced. Miss Whittaker is a tall, powerful woman—l don’t think it would
be beyond her strength to inflict that blow on an unresisting body.”

“But how about those footmarks in the wood?”

“I’m coming to that. There are one or two very odd things about them. To
begin with, if this was the work of a secret gang, why should they go
out of their way to pick out the one damp, muddy spot in twenty miles of
country to leave their footprints in, when almost anywhere else they
could have come and gone without leaving any recognisable traces at

“Good point,” said the doctor. “And I add to that, that they must have
noticed they’d left a cap behind. Why not come back and remove it?”

“Exactly. Then again. Both pairs of shoes left prints entirely free from
the marks left by wear and tear. I mean that there were no signs of the
heels or soles being worn at all, While the rubbers on the larger pair
were obviously just out of the shop. We shall have the photographs here
in a moment, and you will see. Of course, it’s not impossible that both
men should be wearing brand new shoes, but on the whole it’s unlikely.”

“It is,” agreed the doctor.

“And now we come to the most suggestive thing of all. One of the
supposed men had very much bigger feet than the other, from which you
would expect a taller and possibly heavier man with a longer stride. But
on measuring the footprints, what do we find? In all three cases—the big
man, the little man and the woman—we have exactly the same length of
stride. Not only that, but the footprints have sunk into the ground to
precisely the same depth, indicating that all three people were of the
same weight. Now, the other discrepancies might pass, but that is
absolutely beyond the reach of coincidence.”

Dr. Faulkner considered this for a moment.

“You’ve proved your point,” he said at length. “I consider that
absolutely convincing.”

“It struck even Sir Charles Pillington, who is none too bright,” said
Parker. “I had the greatest difficulty in preventing him from blurting
out the extraordinary agreement of the measurements to that _Evening
Views_ man.”

“You think, then, that Miss Whittaker had come provided with these shoes
and produced the tracks herself.”

“Yes, returning each time through the bracken. Cleverly done. She had
made no mistake about superimposing the footprints. It was all worked
out to a nicety—each set over and under the two others, to produce the
impression that three people had been there at the same time. Intensive
study of the works of Mr. Austin Freeman, I should say.”

“And what next?”

“Well, I think we shall find that this Mrs. Forrest, who we think has
been her accomplice all along, had brought her car down—the big car,
that is—and was waiting there for her. Possibly she did the making of
the footprints while Mary Whittaker was staging the assault. Anyhow, she
probably arrived there after Mary Whittaker and Vera Findlater had left
the Austin and departed to the hollow on the downs. When Mary Whittaker
had finished her part of the job, they put the handkerchief and the
magazine called _The Black Mask_ into the Austin and drove off in Mrs.
Forrest’s car. I’m having the movements of the car investigated,
naturally. It’s a dark blue Renault fourseater, with Michelin
balloon-tyres, and the number is X04247. We know that it returned to
Mrs. Forrest’s garage on the Monday night with Mrs. Forrest in it.”

“But where is Miss Whittaker?”

“In hiding somewhere. We shall get her all right. She can’t get money
from her own bank—they’re warned. If Mrs. Forrest tries to get money for
her, she will be followed. So if the worst comes to the worst, we can
starve her out in time with any luck. But we’ve got another clue. There
has been a most determined attempt to throw suspicion on an unfortunate
relative of Miss Whittaker’s—a black Nonconformist parson, with the
remarkable name of Hallelujah Dawson. He has certain pecuniary claims on
Miss Whittaker—not legal claims, but claims which any decent and humane
person should have respected. She didn’t respect them, and the poor old
man might very well have been expected to nurse a grudge against her.
Yesterday morning he tried to cash a Bearer cheque of hers for £10,000,
with a lame-sounding story to the effect that it had arrived by the
first post, without explanation, in an envelope. So, of course, he’s had
to be detained as one of the kidnappers.”

“But that is very clumsy, surely. He’s almost certain to have an alibi.”

“I fancy the story will be that he hired some gangsters to do the job
for him. He belongs to a Mission in Stepney—where that mauve cap came
from—and no doubt there are plenty of tough lads in his neighbourhood.
Of course we shall make close inquiries and publish details broadcast in
all the papers.”

“And then?”

“Well then, I fancy, the idea is that Miss Whittaker will turn up
somewhere in an agitated condition with a story of assault and holding
to ransom made to fit the case. If Cousin Hallelujah has not produced a
satisfactory alibi, we shall learn that he was on the spot directing the
murderers. If he has definitely shown that he wasn’t there, his name
will have been mentioned, or he will have turned up at some time which
the poor dear girl couldn’t exactly ascertain, in some dreadful den to
which she was taken in a place which she won’t be able to identify.”

“What a devilish plot.”

“Yes. Miss Whittaker is a charming young woman. If there’s anything
she’d stop at, I don’t know what it is. And the amiable Mrs. Forrest
appears to be another of the same kidney. Of course, doctor, we’re
taking you into our confidence. You understand that our catching Mary
Whittaker depends on her believing that we’ve swallowed all these false
clues of hers.”

“I’m not a talker,” said the doctor. “Gang you call it, and gang it is,
as far as I’m concerned. And Miss Findlater was hit on the head and died
of it. I only hope my colleague and the Chief Constable will be equally
discreet. I warned them, naturally, after what you said last night.”

“It’s all very well,” said Wimsey, “but what positive evidence have we,
after all, against this woman? A clever defending counsel would tear the
whole thing to rags. The only thing we can absolutely _prove_ her to
have done is the burgling that house on Hampstead Heath and stealing the
coal. The other deaths were returned natural deaths at the inquest. And
as for Miss Findlater—even if we show it to be chloroform—well,
chloroform isn’t difficult stuff to get hold of—it’s not arsenic or
cyanide. And even if there were finger-prints on the spanner—”

“There were not,” said Parker, gloomily. “This girl knows what she’s

“What did she want to kill Vera Findlater for, anyway?” asked the
doctor, suddenly. “According to you, the girl was the most valuable bit
of evidence she had. She was the one witness who could prove that Miss
Whittaker had an alibi for the other crimes—if they were crimes.”

“She may have found out too much about the connection between Miss
Whittaker and Mrs. Forrest. My impression is that she had served her
turn and become dangerous. What we’re hoping to surprise now is some
communication between Forrest and Whittaker. Once we’ve got that—”

“Humph!” said Dr. Faulkner. He had strolled to the window. “I don’t want
to worry you unduly, but I perceive Sir Charles Pillington in conference
with the Special Correspondent of the _Wire_. The _Yell_ came out with
the gang story all over the front page this morning, and a patriotic
leader about the danger of encouraging coloured aliens. I needn’t remind
you that the _Wire_ would be ready to corrupt the Archangel Gabriel in
order to kill the _Yell’s_ story.”

“Oh, hell!” said Parker, rushing to the window.

“Too late,” said the doctor. “The _Wire_ man has vanished into the post
office. Of course, you can ’phone up and try to stop it.”

Parker did so, and was courteously assured by the editor of the _Wire_
that the story had not reached him, and that if it did, he would bear
Inspector Parker’s instructions in mind.

The editor of the _Wire_ was speaking the exact truth. The story had
been received by the editor of the _Evening Banner_, sister paper to the
_Wire_. In times of crisis, it is sometimes convenient that the left
hand should not know what the right hand does. After all, it was an
exclusive story.

                              CHAPTER XXII
                          A Case of Conscience

        _“I know thou art religious,_
  _And hast a thing within thee called conscience,_
  _With twenty popish tricks and ceremonies_
  _Which I have seen thee careful to observe.”_
                                                 _Titus Andronicus_

Thursday, June 23rd, was the Eve of S. John. The sober green workaday
dress in which the church settles down to her daily duties after the
bridal raptures of Pentecost, had been put away, and the altar was white
and shining once again. Vespers were over in the Lady Chapel at S.
Onesimus—a faint reek of incense hung cloudily under the dim beams of
the roof. A very short acolyte with a very long brass extinguisher
snuffed out the candles, adding the faintly unpleasant yet sanctified
odour of hot wax. The small congregation of elderly ladies rose up
lingeringly from their devotions and slipped away in a series of deep
genuflections. Miss Climpson gathered up a quantity of little manuals,
and groped for her gloves. In doing so, she dropped her office-book. It
fell, annoyingly, behind the long kneeler, scattering as it went a small
pentecostal shower of Easter cards, book-markers, sacred pictures, dried
palms and Ave Marias into the dark corner behind the confessional.

Miss Climpson gave a little exclamation of wrath as she dived after
them—and immediately repented this improper outburst of anger in a
sacred place. “Discipline,” she murmured, retrieving the last lost sheep
from under a hassock, “discipline. I must learn self-control.” She
crammed the papers back into the office-book, grasped her gloves and
handbag, bowed to the Sanctuary, dropped her bag, picked it up this time
in a kind of glow of martyrdom, bustled down the aisle and across the
church to the south door, where the sacristan stood, key in hand,
waiting to let her out. As she went, she glanced up at the High Altar,
unlit and lonely, with the tall candles like faint ghosts in the
twilight of the apse. It had a grim and awful look she thought,

“Good night, Mr. Stanniforth,” she said, quickly.

“Good night, Miss Climpson, good night.”

She was glad to come out of the shadowy porch into the green glow of the
June evening. She had felt a menace. Was it the thought of the stern
Baptist, with his call to repentance? the prayer for grace to speak the
truth and boldly rebuke vice? Miss Climpson decided that she would hurry
home and read the Epistle and Gospel—curiously tender and comfortable
for the festival of that harsh and uncompromising Saint. “And I can tidy
up these cards at the same time,” she thought.

Mrs. Budge’s first-floor front seemed stuffy after the scented
loveliness of the walk home. Miss Climpson flung the window open and sat
down by it to rearrange her sanctified oddments. The card of the Last
Supper went in at the Prayer of Consecration; the Fra Angelico
Annunciation had strayed out of the office for March 25th and was
wandering among the Sundays after Trinity; the Sacred Heart with its
French text belonged to Corpus Christi; the. . . “Dear me!” said Miss
Climpson, “I must have picked this up in church.”

Certainly the little sheet of paper was not in her writing. Somebody
must have dropped it. It was natural to look and see whether it was
anything of importance.

Miss Climpson was one of those people who say: “I am not the kind of
person who reads other people’s postcards.” This is clear notice to all
and sundry that they are, precisely, that kind of person. They are not
untruthful; the delusion is real to them. It is merely that Providence
has provided them with a warning rattle, like that of the rattlesnake.
After that, if you are so foolish as to leave your correspondence in
their way, it is your own affair.

Miss Climpson perused the paper.

In the manuals for self-examination issued to the Catholic-minded, there
is often included an unwise little paragraph which speaks volumes for
the innocent unworldliness of the compilers. You are advised, when
preparing for confession, to make a little list of your misdeeds, lest
one or two peccadilloes should slip your mind. It is true that you are
cautioned against writing down the names of other people or showing your
list to your friends, or leaving it about. But accidents may happen—and
it may be that this recording of sins is contrary to the mind of the
church, who bids you whisper them with fleeting breath into the ear of a
priest and bids him, in the same moment that he absolves, forget them as
though they had never been spoken.

At any rate, somebody had been recently shriven of the sins set forth
upon the paper—probably the previous Saturday—and the document had
fluttered down unnoticed between the confession-box and the hassock,
escaping the eye of the cleaner. And here it was—the tale that should
have been told to none but God—lying open upon Mrs. Budge’s round
mahogany table under the eye of a fellow-mortal.

To do Miss Climpson justice, she would probably have destroyed it
instantly unread, if one sentence had not caught her eye:

“The lies I told for M. W.’s sake.”

At the same moment she realised that this was Vera Findlater’s
handwriting, and it “came over her like a flash”—as she explained
afterwards, exactly what the implication of the words was.

For a full half-hour Miss Climpson sat alone, struggling with her
conscience. Her natural inquisitiveness said “Read”; her religious
training said, “You must not read”; her sense of duty to Wimsey, who
employed her, said, “Find out”; her own sense of decency said, “Do no
such thing”; a dreadful, harsh voice muttered gratingly, “Murder is the
question. Are you going to be the accomplice of Murder?” She felt like
Lancelot Gobbo between conscience and the fiend—but which was the fiend
and which was conscience?

“To speak the truth and boldly rebuke vice.”


There was a real possibility now.

But _was_ it a possibility? Perhaps she had read into the sentence more
than it would bear.

In that case, was it not—almost—a duty to read further and free her mind
from this horrible suspicion?

She would have liked to go to Mr. Tredgold and ask his advice. Probably
he would, tell her to burn the paper promptly and drive suspicion out of
her mind with prayer and fasting.

She got up and began searching for the match-box. It would be better to
get rid of the thing quickly.

What, exactly, was she about to do?—To destroy the clue to the discovery
of a Murder?

Whenever she thought of the word, it wrote itself upon her brain in
large capitals, heavily underlined. MURDER—like a police-bill.

Then she had an idea. Parker was a policeman—and probably also he had no
particular feelings about the sacred secrecy of the Confessional. He had
a Protestant appearance—or possibly he thought nothing of religion one
way or the other. In any case, he would put his professional duty before
everything. Why not send him the paper, without reading it, briefly
explaining how she had come upon it? Then the responsibility would be

On consideration, however, Miss Climpson’s innate honesty scouted this
scheme as jesuitical. Secrecy was violated by this open publication as
much as if she had read the thing—or more so. The old Adam, too, raised
his head at this point, suggesting that if anybody was going to see the
confession, she might just as well satisfy her own reasonable curiosity.
Besides—suppose she was quite mistaken. After all, the “lies” might have
nothing whatever to do with Mary Whittaker’s alibi. In that case, she
would have betrayed another person’s secret wantonly, and to no purpose.
If she _did_ decide to show it, she was bound to read it first—in
justice to all parties concerned.

Perhaps—if she just glanced at another word or two, she would see that
it had nothing to do with—MURDER—and then she could destroy it and
forget it. She knew that if she destroyed it unread she never would
forget it, to the end of her life. She would always carry with her that
grim suspicion. She would think of Mary Whittaker as—perhaps—a
Murderess. When she looked into those hard blue eyes, she would be
wondering what sort of expression they had when the soul behind them was
plotting—MURDER. Of course, the suspicions had been there before,
planted by Wimsey, but now they were her own suspicions. They
crystallised—became real to her.

“What shall I do?”

She gave a quick, shamefaced glance at the paper again. This time she
saw the word “London.”

Miss Climpson gave a kind of little gasp, like a person stepping under a
cold shower-bath.

“Well,” said Miss Climpson, “if this is a sin I am going to do it, and
may I be forgiven.”

With a red flush creeping over her cheeks as though she were stripping
something naked, she turned her attention to the paper.

The jottings were brief and ambiguous. Parker might not have made much
of them, but to Miss Climpson, trained in this kind of devotional
shorthand, the story was clear as print.

“Jealousy”—the word was written large and underlined. Then there was a
reference to a quarrel, to wicked accusations and angry words and to a
pre-occupation coming between the penitent’s soul and God. “Idol”—and a
long dash.

From these few fossil bones, Miss Climpson had little difficulty in
reconstructing one of those hateful and passionate “scenes” of slighted
jealousy with which a woman-ridden life had made her only too familiar.
“I do everything for you—you don’t care a bit for me—you treat me
cruelly—you’re simply sick of me, that’s what it is!” And “Don’t be so
ridiculous. Really, I can’t stand this. Oh, stop it, Vera! I hate being
slobbered over.” Humiliating, degrading, exhausting, beastly scenes.
Girls’ school, boarding-house, Bloomsbury-flat scenes. Damnable
selfishness wearying of its victim. Silly _schwärmerei_ swamping all
decent self-respect. Barren quarrels ending in shame and hatred.

“Beastly, blood-sucking woman,” said Miss Climpson, viciously. “It’s too
bad. She’s only making use of the girl.”

But the self-examiner was now troubled with a more difficult problem.
Piecing the hints together, Miss Climpson sorted it out with practised
ease. Lies had been told—that was wrong, even though done to help a
friend. Bad confessions had been made, suppressing those lies. This
ought to be confessed and put right. But (the girl asked herself) had
she come to this conclusion out of hatred of the lies or out of spite
against the friend? Difficult, this searching of the heart. And ought
she, not content with confessing the lies to the priest, also to tell
the truth to the world?

Miss Climpson had here no doubt what the priest’s ruling would be. “You
need not go out of your way to betray your friend’s confidence. Keep
silent if you can, but if you speak you must speak the truth. You must
tell your friend that she is not to expect any more lying from you. She
is entitled to ask for secrecy—no more.”

So far, so good. But there was a further problem.

“Ought I to connive at her doing what is wrong?”—and then a sort of
explanatory aside—“the man in South Audley Street.”

This was a little mysterious. . . No!—on the contrary, it explained the
whole mystery, jealousy, quarrel and all.

In those weeks of April and May, when Mary Whittaker had been supposed
to be all the time in Kent with Vera Findlater, she had been going up to
London. And Vera had promised to say that Mary was with her the whole
time. And the visits to London had to do with a man in South Audley
Street, and there was something sinful about it. That probably meant a
love-affair. Miss Climpson pursed her lips virtuously, but she was more
surprised than shocked. Mary Whittaker! she would never have suspected
it of her, somehow. But it so explained the jealousy and the quarrel—the
sense of desertion. But how had Vera found out? Had Mary Whittaker
confided in her?—No; that sentence again, under the heading
“Jealousy”—what was it—“following M. W to London.” She had followed
then, and seen. And then, at some moment, she had burst out with her
knowledge—reproached her friend. Yet this expedition to London must have
happened before her own conversation with Vera Findlater, and the girl
had then seemed so sure of Mary’s affection. Or had it been that she was
trying to persuade herself, with determined self-deception, that there
was “nothing in” this business about the man? Probably. And probably
some brutality of Mary’s had brought all the miserable suspicions
boiling to the surface, vocal, reproachful and furious. And so they had
gone on to the row and the break.

“Queer,” thought Miss Climpson, “that Vera has never come and told me
about her trouble. But perhaps she is ashamed, poor child. I haven’t
seen her for nearly a week. I think I’ll call and see her and perhaps
she’ll tell me all about it. In which case”—cried Miss Climpson’s
conscience, suddenly emerging with a bright and beaming smile from under
the buffets of the enemy—“in which case I shall know the whole history
of it legitimately and can _quite honourably_ tell Lord Peter about it.”

The next day—which was the Friday—she woke, however, with an unpleasant
ache in the conscience. The paper—still tucked into the
office-book—worried her. She went round early to Vera Findlater’s house,
only to hear that she was staying with Miss Whittaker. “Then I suppose
they’ve made it up,” she said. She did not want to see Mary Whittaker,
whether her secret was murder or mere immorality; but she was tormented
by the desire to clear up the matter of the alibi for Lord Peter.

In Wellington Avenue she was told that the two girls had gone away on
the Monday and had not yet returned. She tried to reassure the maid, but
her own heart misgave her. Without any real reason, she was uneasy. She
went round to the church and said her prayers, but her mind was not on
what she was saying. On an impulse, she caught Mr. Tredgold as he
pottered in and out of the Sacristy, and asked if she might come the
next evening to lay a case of conscience before him. So far, so good,
and she felt that a “good walk” might help to clear the cob-webs from
her brain.

So she started off, missing Lord Peter by a quarter of an hour, and took
the train to Guildford and then walked and had lunch in a wayside
tea-shop and walked back into Guildford and so came home, where she
learnt that “Mr. Parker and ever so many gentlemen had been asking for
her all day, and what a dreadful thing, miss, here was Miss Whittaker
and Miss Findlater disappeared and the police out looking for them, and
them motor-cars was such dangerous things, miss, wasn’t they? It was to
be hoped there wasn’t an accident.”

And into Miss Climpson’s mind there came, like an inspiration, the
words, “South Audley Street.”

Miss Climpson did not, of course, know that Wimsey was at Crow’s Beach.
She hoped to find him in Town. For she was seized with a desire, which
she could hardly have explained even to herself, to go and look at South
Audley Street. What she was to do when she got there she did not know,
but go there she must. It was the old reluctance to make open use of
that confession paper. Vera Findlater’s story at first hand—that was the
idea to which she obscurely clung. So she took the first train to
Waterloo, leaving behind her, in case Wimsey or Parker should call
again, a letter so obscure and mysterious and so lavishly underlined and
interlined that it was perhaps fortunate for their reason that they were
never faced with it.

In Piccadilly she saw Bunter, and learned that his lordship was at
Crow’s Beach with Mr. Parker, where he, Bunter, was just off to join
him. Miss Climpson promptly charged him with a message to his employer
slightly more involved and mysterious than her letter, and departed for
South Audley Street. It was only when she was walking up it that she
realised how vague her quest was and how little investigation one can do
by merely walking along a street. Also, it suddenly occurred to her that
if Miss Whittaker was carrying on anything of a secret nature in South
Audley Street, the sight of an acquaintance patrolling the pavement
would put her on her guard. Much struck by this reflection, Miss
Climpson plunged abruptly into a Chemist’s shop and bought a toothbrush,
by way of concealing her movements and gaining time. One can while away
many minutes comparing the shapes, sizes and bristles of toothbrushes,
and sometimes chemists will be nice and gossipy.

Looking round the shop for inspiration, Miss Climpson observed a tin of
nasal snuff labelled with the chemist’s own name.

“I will take a tin of that, too, please,” she said. “What _excellent_
stuff it is—quite _wonderful_. I have used it for _years_ and am really
_delighted_ with it. I recommend it to all my friends, particularly for
_hay fever_. In fact, there’s a friend of mine who often passes your
shop, who told me only _yesterday_ what a _martyr_ she was to that
complaint. ‘My dear,’ I said to her, ‘you have only to get a tin of this
_splendid_ stuff and you will be _quite_ all right _all_ summer.’ She
was so _grateful_ to me for telling her about it. Has she been in for it
yet?” And she described Mary Whittaker closely.

It will be noticed, by the way, that in the struggle between Miss
Climpson’s conscience and what Wilkie Collins calls “detective fever,”
conscience was getting the worst of it and was winking at an amount of
deliberate untruth which a little time earlier would have staggered it.

The chemist, however, had seen nothing of Miss Climpson’s friend.
Nothing, therefore, was to be done but to retire from the field and
think what was next to be done. Miss Climpson left, but before leaving
she neatly dropped her latchkey into a large basket full of sponges
standing at her elbow. She felt she might like to have an excuse to
visit South Audley Street again.

Conscience sighed deeply, and her guardian angel dropped a tear among
the sponges.

Retiring into the nearest tea-shop she came to, Miss Climpson ordered a
cup of coffee and started to think out a plan for honey-combing South
Audley Street. She needed an excuse—and a disguise. An adventurous
spirit was welling up in her elderly bosom, and her first dozen or so
ideas were more lurid than practical.

At length a really brilliant notion occurred to her. She was (she did
not attempt to hide it from herself) precisely the type and build of
person one associates with the collection of subscriptions. Moreover,
she had a perfectly good and genuine cause ready to hand. The church
which she attended in London ran a slum mission, which was badly in need
of funds, and she possessed a number of collecting cards, bearing full
authority to receive subscriptions on its behalf. What more natural than
that she should try a little house-to-house visiting in a wealthy

The question of disguise, also, was less formidable than it might
appear. Miss Whittaker had only known her well-dressed and affluent in
appearance. Ugly, clumping shoes, a hat of virtuous ugliness, a
shapeless coat and a pair of tinted glasses would disguise her
sufficiently at a distance. At close quarters, it would not matter if
she was recognised, for if once she got to close quarters with Mary
Whittaker, her job was done and she had found the house she wanted.

Miss Climpson rose from the table, paid her bill and hurried out to buy
the glasses, remembering that it was Saturday. Having secured a pair
which hid her eyes effectively without looking exaggeratedly mysterious,
she made for her rooms in St. George’s Square, to choose suitable
clothing for her adventure. She realised, of course, that she could
hardly start work till Monday—Saturday afternoon and Sunday are hopeless
from the collector’s point of view.

The choice of clothes and accessories occupied her for the better part
of the afternoon. When she was at last satisfied she went downstairs to
ask her landlady for some tea.

“Certainly, miss,” said the good woman. “Ain’t it awful, miss, about
this murder?”

“What murder?” asked Miss Climpson, vaguely.

She took the _Evening Views_ from her landlady’s hand, and read the
story of Vera Findlater’s death.

Sunday was the most awful day Miss Climpson had ever spent. An active
woman, she was condemned to inactivity, and she had time to brood over
the tragedy. Not having Wimsey’s or Parker’s inside knowledge, she took
the kidnapping story at its face value. In a sense, she found it
comforting, for she was able to acquit Mary Whittaker of any share in
this or the previous murders. She put them down—except, of course, in
the case of Miss Dawson, and that might never have been a murder after
all—to the mysterious man in South Audley Street. She formed a nightmare
image of him in her mind—blood-boltered, sinister, and—most horrible of
all—an associate and employer of debauched and brutal assassins. To Miss
Climpson’s credit be it said that she never for one moment faltered in
her determination to track the monster to his lurking-place.

She wrote a long letter to Lord Peter, detailing her plans. Bunter, she
knew, had left 110A Piccadilly, so, after considerable thought, she
addressed it to Lord Peter Wimsey, c/o Inspector Parker, The
Police-Station, Crow’s Beach. There was, of course, no Sunday post from
Town. However, it would go with the midnight collection.

On the Monday morning she set out early, in her old clothes and her
spectacles, for South Audley Street. Never had her natural
inquisitiveness and her hard training in third-rate boarding-houses
stood her in better stead. She had learned to ask questions without
heeding rebuffs—to be persistent, insensitive and observant. In every
flat she visited she acted her natural self, with so much sincerity and
such limpet-like obstinacy that she seldom came away without a
subscription and almost never without some information about the flat
and its inmates.

By tea-time, she had done one side of the street and nearly half the
other, without result. She was just thinking of going to get some food,
when she caught sight of a woman, about a hundred yards ahead, walking
briskly in the same direction as herself.

Now it is easy to be mistaken in faces, but almost impossible not to
recognise a back. Miss Climpson’s heart gave a bound. “Mary Whittaker!”
she said to herself, and started to follow.

The woman stopped to look into a shop window. Miss Climpson hesitated to
come closer. If Mary Whittaker was at large, then—why then the
kidnapping had been done with her own consent. Puzzled, Miss Climpson
determined to play a waiting game. The woman went into the shop. The
friendly chemist’s was almost opposite. Miss Climpson decided that this
was the moment to reclaim her latchkey. She went in and asked for it. It
had been put aside for her and the assistant produced it at once. The
woman was still in the shop over the way. Miss Climpson embarked upon a
long string of apologies and circumstantial details about her
carelessness. The woman came out. Miss Climpson gave her a longish
start, brought the conversation to a close, and fussed out again,
replacing the glasses which she had removed for the chemist’s benefit.

The woman walked on without stopping, but she looked into the shop
windows from time to time. A man with a fruiterer’s barrow removed his
cap as she passed and scratched his head. Almost at once, the woman
turned quickly and came back. The fruiterer picked up the handles of his
barrow and trundled it away into a side street. The woman came straight
on, and Miss Climpson was obliged to dive into a doorway and pretend to
be tying a bootlace, to avoid a face to face encounter.

Apparently the woman had only forgotten to buy cigarettes. She went into
a tobacconist’s and emerged again in a minute or two, passing Miss
Climpson again. That lady had dropped her bag and was agitatedly sorting
its contents. The woman passed her without a glance and went on. Miss
Climpson, flushed from stooping, followed again. The woman turned in at
the entrance to a block of flats next door to a florist’s. Miss Climpson
was hard on her heels now, for she was afraid of losing her.

Mary Whittaker—if it was Mary Whittaker—went straight through the hall
to the lift, which was one of the kind worked by the passenger. She
stepped in and shot up. Miss Climpson—gazing at the orchids and roses in
the florist’s window—watched the lift out of sight. Then, with her
subscription card prominently in her hand, she too entered the flats.

There was a porter on duty in a little glass case. He at once spotted
Miss Climpson as a stranger and asked politely if he could do anything
for her. Miss Climpson, selecting a name at random from the list of
occupants in the entrance, asked which was Mrs. Forrest’s flat. The man
replied that it was on the fourth floor, and stepped forward to bring
the lift down for her. A man, to whom he had been chatting, moved
quietly from the glass case and took up a position in the doorway. As
the lift ascended, Miss Climpson noticed that the fruiterer had
returned. His barrow now stood just outside.

The porter had come up with her, and pointed out the door of Mrs.
Forrest’s flat. His presence was reassuring. She wished he would stay
within call till she had concluded her search of the building. However,
having asked for Mrs. Forrest, she must begin there. She pressed the

At first she thought the flat was empty, but after ringing a second time
she heard footsteps. The door opened, and a heavily over-dressed and
peroxided lady made her appearance, whom Lord Peter would at once—and
embarrassingly—have recognised.

“I have come,” said Miss Climpson, wedging herself briskly in at the
doorway with the skill of the practised canvasser, “to try if I can
enlist your help for our Mission Settlement. May I come in? I am sure

“No thanks,” said Mrs. Forrest, shortly, and in a hurried, breathless
tone, as if there was somebody behind her who she was anxious should not
overhear her, “I’m not interested in Missions.”

She tried to shut the door. But Miss Climpson had seen and heard enough.

“Good gracious!” she cried, staring, “why, it’s—”

“Come in.” Mrs. Forrest caught her by the arm almost roughly and pulled
her over the threshold, slamming the door behind them.

“How extraordinary!” said Miss Climpson, “I hardly recognised you, Miss
Whittaker, with your hair like that.”

“You!” said Mary Whittaker. “You—of all people!” They sat facing one
another in the sitting-room with its tawdry pink silk cushions. “I knew
you were a meddler. How did you get here? Is there anyone with you?”

“No—yes—I just happened,” began Miss Climpson vaguely. One thought was
uppermost in her mind. “How did you get free? What happened? Who killed
Vera?” She knew she was asking her questions crudely and stupidly. “Why
are you disguised like that?”

“Who sent you?” reiterated Mary Whittaker.

“Who is the man with you?” pursued Miss Climpson. “Is he here? Did he do
the murder?”

“What man?”

“The man Vera saw leaving your flat. Did he—?”

“So that’s it. Vera told you. The liar. I thought I had been quick

Suddenly, something which had been troubling Miss Climpson for weeks
crystallised and became plain to her. The expression in Mary Whittaker’s
eyes. A long time ago, Miss Climpson had assisted a relative to run a
boarding-house, and there had been a young man who paid his bill by
cheque. She had had to make a certain amount of unpleasantness about the
bill, and he had written the cheque unwillingly, sitting, with her eye
upon him, at the little plush-covered table in the drawing-room. Then he
had gone away—slinking out with his bag when no one was about. And the
cheque had come back, like the bad penny that it was. A forgery. Miss
Climpson had had to give evidence. She remembered now the odd, defiant
look with which the young man had taken up his pen for his first plunge
into crime. And to-day she was seeing it again—an unattractive mingling
of recklessness and calculation. It was with the look which had once
warned Wimsey and should have warned her. She breathed more quickly.

“Who was the man?”

“The man?” Mary Whittaker laughed suddenly. “A man called Templeton—no
friend of mine. It’s really funny that you should think he was a friend
of mine. I would have killed him if I could.”

“But where is he? What are you doing? Don’t you know that everybody is
looking for you? Why don’t you—?”

“That’s why!”

Mary Whittaker flung her ten o’clock edition of the _Evening Banner_,
which was lying on the sofa. Miss Climpson read the glaring headlines.

                        AMAZING NEW DEVELOPMENTS
                         IN CROW’S BEACH CRIME.
                           FAKED FOOTPRINTS.

Miss Climpson gasped with amazement, and bent over the smaller type.
“How extraordinary!” she said, looking up quickly.

Not quite quickly enough. The heavy brass lamp missed her head indeed,
but fell numbingly on her shoulder. She sprang to her feet with a loud
shriek, just as Mary Whittaker’s strong white hands closed upon her

                             CHAPTER XXIII
                          —And Smote Him, Thus

  “_’Tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church-door;_
  _but ’tis enough, ’twill serve._”
                                                 _Romeo and Juliet_

Lord Peter missed both Miss Climpson’s communications. Absorbed in the
police inquiry, he never thought to go back to Leahampton. Bunter had
duly arrived with “Mrs. Merdle” on the Saturday evening. Immense police
activity was displayed in the neighbourhood of the downs, and at
Southampton and Portsmouth, in order to foster the idea that the
authorities supposed the “gang” to be lurking in those districts.
Nothing, as a matter of fact, was farther from Parker’s thoughts. “Let
her think she is safe,” he said, “and she’ll come back. It’s the
cat-and-mouse act for us, old man.” Wimsey fretted. He wanted the
analysis of the body to be complete and loathed the thought of the long
days he had to wait. And he had small hope of the result.

“It’s all very well sitting round with your large disguised policemen
outside Mrs. Forrest’s flat,” he said irritably, over the bacon and eggs
on Monday morning, “but you do realise, don’t you, that we’ve still got
no proof of murder. Not in one single case.”

“That’s so,” replied Parker, placidly.

“Well, doesn’t it make your blood boil?” said Wimsey.

“Hardly,” said Parker. “This kind of thing happens too often. If my
blood boiled every time there was a delay in getting evidence, I should
be in a perpetual fever. Why worry? It may be that perfect crime you’re
so fond of talking about—the one that leaves no trace. You ought to be
charmed with it.”

“Oh, I daresay. O Turpitude, where are the charms that sages have seen
in thy face? Time’s called at the Criminals’ Arms, and there isn’t a
drink in the place. Wimsey’s Standard Poets, with emendations by
Thingummy. As a matter of fact, I’m not at all sure that Miss Dawson’s
death _wasn’t_ the perfect crime—if only the Whittaker girl had stopped
at that and not tried to cover it up. If you notice, the deaths are
becoming more and more violent, elaborate and unlikely in appearance.
Telephone again. If the Post Office accounts don’t show a handsome
profit on telephones this year it won’t be your fault.”

“It’s the cap and shoes,” said Parker, mildly. “They’ve traced them.
They were ordered from an outfitter’s in Stepney, to be sent to the Rev.
H. Dawson, Peveril Hotel, Bloomsbury, to await arrival.”

“The Peveril again!”

“Yes. I recognise the hand of Mr. Trigg’s mysterious charmer. The Rev.
Hallelujah Dawson’s card, with message ‘Please give parcel to bearer,’
was presented by a District Messenger next day, with a verbal
explanation that the gentleman found he could not get up to Town after
all. The messenger, obeying instructions received by telephone, took the
parcel to a lady in a nurse’s dress on the platform at Charing Cross.
Asked to describe the lady, he said she was tall and wore blue glasses
and the usual cloak and bonnet. So that’s that.”

“How were the goods paid for?”

“Postal order, purchased at the West Central office at the busiest
moment of the day.”

“And when did all this happen?”

“That’s the most interesting part of the business. Last month, shortly
before Miss Whittaker and Miss Findlater returned from Kent. This plot
was well thought out beforehand.”

“Yes. Well, that’s something more for you to pin on to Mrs. Forrest. It
looks like proof of conspiracy, but whether it’s proof of murder—”

“It’s _meant_ to look like a conspiracy of Cousin Hallelujah’s, I
suppose. Oh, well, we shall have to trace the letters and the typewriter
that wrote them and interrogate all these people, I suppose. God! what a
grind! Hullo! Come in! Oh, it’s you, doctor?”

“Excuse my interrupting your breakfast,” said Dr. Faulkner, “but early
this morning, while lying awake, I was visited with a bright idea. So I
had to come and work it off on you while it was fresh. About the blow on
the head and the marks on the arms, you know. Do you suppose they served
a double purpose? Besides making it look like the work of a gang, could
they be hiding some other, smaller mark? Poison, for instance, could be
injected, and the mark covered up by scratches and cuts inflicted after

“Frankly,” said Parker, “I wish I could think it. It’s a very sound idea
and may be the right one. Our trouble is, that in the two previous
deaths which we have been investigating, and which we are inclined to
think form a part of the same series as this one, there have been no
signs or traces of poison discoverable in the bodies at all by any
examination or analysis that skill can devise. In fact, not only no
proof of poison, but no proof of anything but natural death.”

And he related the cases in fuller detail.

“Odd,” said the doctor. “And you think this may turn out the same way.
Still, in this case the death can’t very well have been natural—or why
these elaborate efforts to cover it up?”

“It wasn’t,” said Parker; “the proof being that—as we now know—the plot
was laid nearly two months ago.”

“But the method!” cried Wimsey, “the method! Hang it all—here are all we
people with our brilliant brains and our professional reputations—and
this half-trained girl out of a hospital can beat the lot of us. How was
it done?”

“It’s probably something so simple and obvious that it’s never occurred
to us,” said Parker. “The sort of principle you learn when you’re in the
fourth form and never apply to anything. Rudimentary. Like that
motor-cycling imbecile we met up at Crofton, who sat in the rain and
prayed for help because he’d never heard of an air-lock in his feed. Now
I daresay that boy had learnt—What’s the matter with you?”

“My God!” cried Wimsey. He smashed his hand down among the breakfast
things, upsetting his cup. “My God! But that’s it! You’ve got it—you’ve
done it—Obvious? God Almighty—it doesn’t need a doctor. A garage hand
could have told you. People die of it every day. Of course, it was an
air-lock in the feed.”

“Bear up, doctor,” said Parker, “he’s always like this when he gets an
idea. It wears off in time. D’you mind explaining yourself, old thing?”

Wimsey’s pallid face was flushed. He turned on the doctor.

“Look here,” he said, “the body’s a pumping engine, isn’t it? The jolly
old heart pumps the blood round the arteries and back through the veins
and so on, doesn’t it? That’s what keeps things working, what? Round and
home again in two minutes—that sort of thing?”


“Little valve to let the blood out; ’nother little valve to let it
in—just like an internal combustion engine, which it is?”

“Of course.”

“And s’posin’ that stops?”

“You die.”

“Yes. Now, look here. S’posin’ you take a good big hypodermic, empty,
and dig it into one of the big arteries and push the handle—what would
happen? What would happen, doctor? You’d be pumpin’ a big air-bubble
into your engine feed, wouldn’t you? What would become of your
circulation, then?”

“It would stop it,” said the doctor, without hesitation. “That is why
nurses have to be particular to fill the syringe properly, especially
when doing an intra-venous injection.”

“I _knew_ it was the kind of thing you learnt in the fourth form. Well,
go on. Your circulation would stop—it would be like an embolism in its
effect, wouldn’t it?”

“Only if it was in a main artery, of course. In a small vein the blood
would find a way round. That is why” (this seemed to be the doctor’s
favourite opening) “that is why it is so important that
embolisms—blood-clots—should be dispersed as soon as possible and not
left to wander about the system.”

“Yes—yes—but the air-bubble, doctor—in a main artery—say the femoral or
the big vein in the bend of the elbow—that would stop the circulation,
wouldn’t it? How soon?”

“Why, at once. The heart would stop beating.”

“And then?”

“You would die.”

“With what symptoms?”

“None to speak of. Just a gasp or two. The lungs would make a desperate
effort to keep things going. Then you’d just stop. Like heart failure.
It would _be_ heart failure.”

“How well I know it. . . That sneeze in the carburettor—a gasping, as
you say. And what would be the post-mortem symptoms?”

“None. Just the appearances of heart failure. And, of course, the little
mark of the needle, if you happened to be looking for it.”

“You’re sure of all this, doctor?” said Parker.

“Well, it’s simple, isn’t it? A plain problem in mechanics. Of course
that would happen. It must happen.”

“Could it be proved?” insisted Parker.

“That’s more difficult.”

“We must try,” said Parker. “It’s ingenious, and it explains a lot of
things. Doctor, will you go down to the mortuary again and see if you
can find any puncture mark on the body. I really think you’ve got the
explanation of the whole thing, Peter. Oh, dear! Who’s on the ’phone
now? . . . What?—_what?_—oh, hell!—Well, that’s torn it. She’ll never
come back now. Warn all the ports—send out an all-stations call—watch
the railways and go through Bloomsbury with a toothcomb—that’s the part
she knows best. I’m coming straight up to Town now—yes, immediately.
Right you are.” He hung up the receiver with a few brief, choice

“That adjectival imbecile, Pillington, has let out all he knows. The
whole story is in the early editions of the _Banner_. We’re doing no
good here. Mary Whittaker will know the game’s up, and she’ll be out of
the country in two twos, if she isn’t already. Coming back to Town,

“Naturally. Take you up in the car. Lose no time. Ring the bell for
Bunter, would you? Oh, Bunter, we’re going up to Town. How soon can we

“At once, my lord. I have been holding your lordship’s and Mr. Parker’s
things ready packed from hour to hour, in case a hurried adjournment
should be necessary.”

“Good man.”

“And there is a letter for you, Mr. Parker, sir.”

“Oh, thanks. Ah, yes. The finger-prints off the cheque. H’m. Two sets
only—besides those of the cashier, of course—Cousin Hallelujah’s and a
female set, presumably those of Mary Whittaker. Yes, obviously—here are
the four fingers of the left hand, just as one would place them to hold
the cheque flat while signing.

“Pardon me, sir—but might I look at that photograph?”

“Certainly. Take a copy for yourself. I know it interests you as a
photographer. Well, cheerio, doctor. See you in Town some time. Come on,

Lord Peter came on. And that, as Dr. Faulkner would say, was why Miss
Climpson’s second letter was brought up from the police-station too late
to catch him.

They reached Town at twelve—owing to Wimsey’s brisk work at the
wheel—and went straight to Scotland Yard, dropping Bunter, at his own
request, as he was anxious to return to the flat. They found the Chief
Commissioner in rather a brusque mood—angry with the _Banner_ and
annoyed with Parker for having failed to muzzle Pillington.

“God knows where she will be found next. She’s probably got a disguise
and a get-away all ready.”

“Probably gone already,” said Wimsey. “She could easily have left
England on the Monday or Tuesday and nobody a penny the wiser. If the
coast had seemed clear, she’d have come back and taken possession of her
goods again. Now she’ll stay abroad. That’s all.”

“I’m very much afraid you’re right,” agreed Parker, gloomily.

“Meanwhile, what is Mrs. Forrest doing?”

“Behaving quite normally. She’s been carefully shadowed, of course, but
not interfered with in any way. We’ve got three men out there now—one as
a coster—one as a dear friend of the hall-porter’s who drops in every so
often with racing tips, and an odd-job man doing a spot of work in the
back-yard. They report that she has been in and out, shopping and so on,
but mostly having her meals at home. No one has called. The men deputed
to shadow her away from the flat have watched carefully to see if she
speaks to anyone or slips money to anyone. We’re pretty sure the two
haven’t met yet.”

“Excuse me, sir.” An officer put his head in at the door. “Here’s Lord
Peter Wimsey’s man, sir, with an urgent message.”

Bunter entered, trimly correct in bearing, but with a glitter in his
eye. He laid down two photographs on the table.

“Excuse me, my lord and gentlemen, but would you be so good as to cast
your eyes on these two photographs?”

“Finger-prints?” said the chief, interrogatively.

“One of them is our own official photograph of the prints on the £10,000
cheque,” said Parker. “The other—where did you get this, Bunter? It
looks like the same set of prints, but it’s not one of ours.”

“They appeared similar, sir, to my uninstructed eye. I thought it better
to place the matter before you.”

“Send Dewsby here,” said the Chief Commissioner.

Dewsby was the head of the fingerprint department, and he had no
hesitation at all.

“They are undoubtedly the same prints,” he said.

A light was slowly breaking in on Wimsey.

“Bunter—did these come off that wine-glass?”

“Yes, my lord.”

“But they are Mrs. Forrest’s!”

“So I understood you to say, my lord, and I have filed them under that

“Then, if the signature on the cheque is genuine—”

“We haven’t far to look for our bird,” said Parker, brutally. “A double
identity; damn the woman, she’s made us waste a lot of time. Well, I
think we shall get her now, on the Findlater murder at least, and
possibly on the Gotobed business.”

“But I understood there was an alibi for that,” said the Chief.

“There was,” said Parker, grimly, “but the witness was the girl that’s
just been murdered. Looks as though she had made up her mind to split
and was got rid of.”

“Looks as though several people had had a near squeak of it,” said

“Including you. That yellow hair was a wig, then.”

“Probably. It never looked natural, you know. When I was there that
night she had on one of those close turban affairs—she might have been
bald for all one could see.”

“Did you notice the scar on the fingers of the right hand?”

“I did not—for the very good reason that her fingers were stiff with
rings to the knuckles. There was pretty good sense behind her ugly bad
taste. I suppose I was to be drugged—or, failing that, caressed into
slumber and then—shall we say, put out of circulation! Highly
distressin’ incident. Amorous clubman dies in a flat. Relations very
anxious to hush matter up. I was selected, I suppose, because I was seen
with Evelyn Cropper at Liverpool. Bertha Gotobed got the same sort of
dose, too, I take it. Met by old employer, accidentally, on leaving
work—£5 note and nice little dinner—lashings of champagne—poor kid as
drunk as a blind fiddler—bundled into the car—finished off there and
trundled out to Epping in company with a ham sandwich and a bottle of
Bass. Easy, ain’t it—when you know how?”

“That being so,” said the Chief Commissioner, “the sooner we get hold of
her the better. You’d better go at once, Inspector; take a warrant for
Whittaker or Forrest—and any help you may require.”

“May I come?” asked Wimsey, when they were outside the building.

“Why not? You may be useful. With the men we’ve got there already we
shan’t need any extra help.”

The car whizzed swiftly through Pall Mall, up St. James’s Street and
along Piccadilly. Half-way up South Audley Street they passed the
fruit-seller, with whom Parker exchanged an almost imperceptible signal.
A few doors below the entrance to the flats they got out and were almost
immediately joined by the hall-porter’s sporting friend.

“I was just going out to call you up,” said the latter. “She’s arrived.”

“What, the Whittaker woman?”

“Yes. Went up about two minutes ago.”

“Is Forrest there too?”

“Yes. She came in just before the other woman.”

“Queer,” said Parker. “Another good theory gone west. Are you sure it’s

“Well, she’s made up with old-fashioned clothes and greyish hair and so
on. But she’s the right height and general appearance. And she’s running
the old blue spectacle stunt again. I think it’s the right one—though of
course I didn’t get close to her, remembering your instructions.”

“Well, we’ll have a look, anyhow. Come along.”

The coster had joined them now, and they all entered together.

“Did the old girl go up to Forrest’s flat all right?” asked the third
detective of the porter.

“That’s right. Went straight to the door and started something about a
subscription. Then Mrs. Forrest pulled her in quick and slammed the
door. Nobody’s come down since.”

“Right. We’ll take ourselves up—and mind you don’t let anybody give us
the slip by the staircase. Now then, Wimsey, she knows you as Templeton,
but she may still not know for certain that you’re working with us. Ring
the bell, and when the door’s opened, stick your foot inside. We’ll
stand just round the corner here and be ready to rush.”

This manœuvre was executed. They heard the bell trill loudly.

Nobody came to answer it, however. Wimsey rang again, and then bent his
ear to the door.

“Charles,” he cried suddenly, “there’s something going on here.” His
face was white. “Be quick! I couldn’t stand _another_—!”

Parker hastened up and listened. Then he caught Peter’s stick and
hammered on the door, so that the hollow liftshaft echoed with the

“Come on there—open the door—this is the police.”

And all the time, a horrid, stealthy thumping and gurgling sounded
inside—dragging of something heavy and a scuffling noise. Then a loud
crash, as though a piece of furniture had been flung to the floor—and
then a loud hoarse scream, cut brutally off in the middle.

“Break in the door,” said Wimsey, the sweat pouring down his face.

Parker signalled to the heavier of the two policemen. He came along,
shoulder first, lunging. The door shook and cracked. They stamped and
panted in the narrow space.

The door gave way, and they tumbled into the hall. Everything was
ominously quiet.

“Oh, quick!” sobbed Peter.

A door on the right stood open. A glance assured them that there was
nothing there. They sprang to the sitting-room door and pushed it. It
opened about a foot. Something bulky impeded its progress. They shoved
violently and the obstacle gave. Wimsey leapt over it—it was a tall
cabinet, fallen, with broken china strewing the floor. The room bore
signs of a violent struggle—tables flung down, a broken chair, a smashed
lamp. He dashed for the bedroom, with Parker hard at his heels.

The body of a woman lay limply on the bed. Her long, grizzled hair hung
in a dark rope over the pillow and blood was on her head and throat. But
the blood was running freely, and Wimsey could have shouted for joy at
the sight. Dead men do not bleed.

Parker gave only one glance at the injured woman. He made promptly for
the dressing-room beyond. A shot sang past his head—there was a snarl
and a shriek—and the episode was over. The constable stood shaking his
bitten hand, while Parker put the come-along-o’-me grip on the quarry.
He recognised her readily, though the peroxide wig had fallen awry and
the blue eyes were bleared with terror and fury.

“That’ll do,” said Parker, quietly, “the game’s up. It’s not a bit of
use. Come, be reasonable. You don’t want us to put the bracelets on, do
you? Mary Whittaker, alias Forrest, I arrest you on the charge—” he
hesitated for a moment and she saw it.

“On what charge? What have you got against me?”

“Of attempting to murder this lady, for a start,” said Parker.

“The old fool!” she said, contemptuously, “she forced her way in here
and attacked me. Is that all?”

“Very probably not,” said Parker. “I warn you that anything you say may
be taken down and used in evidence at your trial.”

Indeed, the third officer had already produced a notebook and was
imperturbably writing down: “When told the charge, the prisoner said ‘Is
that all?’” The remark evidently struck him as an injudicious one, for
he licked his pencil with an air of satisfaction.

“Is the lady all right—who is it?” asked Parker, coming back to a survey
of the situation.

“It’s Miss Climpson—God knows how she got here. I think she’s all right,
but she’s had a rough time.”

He was anxiously sponging her head as he spoke, and at that moment her
eyes opened.

“Help!” said Miss Climpson, confusedly. “The syringe—you shan’t—oh!” She
struggled feebly, and then recognised Wimsey’s anxious face. “Oh, dear!”
she exclaimed, “Lord Peter. Such an upset. Did you get my letter? Is it
all right? . . . Oh, dear! What a state I’m in. I—that woman—”

“Now, don’t worry, Miss Climpson,” said Wimsey, much relieved,
“everything’s quite all right and you mustn’t talk. You must tell us
about it later.”

“What was that about a syringe?” said Parker, intent on his case.

“She’d got a syringe in her hand,” panted Miss Climpson, trying to sit
up, and fumbling with her hands over the bed. “I fainted, I think—such a
struggle—and something hit me on the head. And I saw her coming at me
with the thing. And I knocked it out of her hand and I can’t remember
what happened afterwards. But I have _remarkable_ vitality,” said Miss
Climpson, cheerfully. “My dear father always used to say ‘Climpsons take
a lot of killing’!”

Parker was groping on the floor.

“Here you are,” said he. In his hand was a hypodermic syringe.

“She’s mental, that’s what she is,” said the prisoner. “That’s only the
hypodermic I use for my injections when I get neuralgia. There’s nothing
in that.”

“That is quite correct,” said Parker, with a significant nod at Wimsey.
“There is—nothing in it.”

On the Tuesday night, when the prisoner had been committed for trial on
the charges of murdering Bertha Gotobed and Vera Findlater, and
attempting to murder Alexandra Climpson, Wimsey dined with Parker. The
former was depressed and nervous.

“The whole thing’s been beastly,” he grumbled. They had sat up
discussing the case into the small hours.

“Interesting,” said Parker, “interesting. I owe you seven and six, by
the way. We ought to have seen through that Forrest business earlier,
but there seemed no real reason to suspect the Findlater girl’s word as
to the alibi. These mistaken loyalties make a lot of trouble.

“I think the thing that put us off was that it all started so early.
There seemed no reason for it, but looking back on Trigg’s story it’s as
plain as a pike-staff. She took a big risk with that empty house, and
she couldn’t always expect to find empty houses handy to do away with
people in. The idea was, I suppose, to build up a double identity, so
that, if Mary Whittaker was ever suspected of anything, she could
quietly disappear and become the frail but otherwise innocent Mrs.
Forrest. The real slip-up was forgetting to take back that £5 note from
Bertha Gotobed. If it hadn’t been for that, we might never have known
anything about Mrs. Forrest. It must have rattled her horribly when we
turned up there. After that, she was known to the police in both her
characters. The Findlater business was a desperate attempt to cover up
her tracks—and it was bound to fail, because it was so complicated.”

“Yes. But the Dawson murder was beautiful in its ease and simplicity.”

“If she had stuck to that and left well alone, we could never have
proved anything. We can’t prove it now, which is why I left it off the
charge-sheet. I don’t think I’ve ever met a more greedy and heartless
murderer. She probably really thought that anyone who inconvenienced her
had no right to exist.”

“Greedy and malicious. Fancy tryin’ to shove the blame on poor old
Hallelujah. I suppose he’d committed the unforgivable sin of askin’ her
for money.”

“Well, he’ll get it, that’s one good thing. The pit digged for Cousin
Hallelujah has turned into a gold-mine. That £10,000 cheque has been
honoured. I saw to that first thing, before Whittaker could remember to
try and stop it. Probably she couldn’t have stopped it anyway, as it was
duly presented last Saturday.”

“Is the money legally hers?”

“Of course it is. We know it was gained by a crime, but we haven’t
charged her with the crime, so that legally no such crime was committed.
I’ve not said anything to Cousin Hallelujah, of course, or he mightn’t
like to take it. He thinks it was sent him in a burst of contrition,
poor old dear.”

“So Cousin Hallelujah and all the little Hallelujahs will be rich.
That’s splendid. How about the rest of the money? Will the Crown get it
after all?”

“No. Unless she wills it to someone, it will go to the Whittaker
next-of-kin—a first cousin, I believe, called Allcock. A very decent
fellow, living in Birmingham. That is,” he added, assailed by sudden
doubt, “if first cousins _do_ inherit under this confounded Act.”

“Oh, I think first cousins are safe,” said Wimsey, “though nothing seems
safe nowadays. Still, dash it all, some relations must still be allowed
a look-in, or what becomes of the sanctity of family life? If so, that’s
the most cheering thing about the beastly business. Do you know, when I
rang up that man Carr and told him all about it, he wasn’t a bit
interested or grateful. Said he’d always suspected something like that,
and he hoped we weren’t going to rake it all up again, because he’d come
into that money he told us about and was setting up for himself in
Harley Street, so he didn’t want any more scandals.”

“I never did like that man. I’m sorry for Nurse Philliter.”

“You needn’t be. I put my foot in it again over that. Carr’s too grand
to marry a nurse now—at least, I fancy that’s what it is. Anyway, the
engagement’s off. And I was so pleased at the idea of playing Providence
to two deserving young people,” added Wimsey, pathetically.

“Dear, dear! Well, the girl’s well out of it. Hullo! there’s the ’phone.
Who on earth—? Some damned thing at the Yard, I suppose. At three ack
emma! Who’d be a policeman?—Yes?—Oh!—right, I’ll come round. The case
has gone west, Peter.”


“Suicide. Strangled herself with a sheet. I’d better go round, I

“I’ll come with you.”

“An evil woman, if ever there was one,” said Parker, softly, as they
looked at the rigid body, with its swollen face and the deeper, red ring
about the throat.

Wimsey said nothing. He felt cold and sick. While Parker and the
Governor of the prison made the necessary arrangements and discussed the
case, he sat hunched unhappily upon his chair. Their voices went on and
on interminably. Six o’clock had struck some time before they rose to
go. It reminded him of the eight strokes of the clock which announce the
running-up of the black and hideous flag.

As the gate clanged open to let them out, they stepped into a wan and
awful darkness. The June day had risen long ago, but only a pale and
yellowish gleam lit the half-deserted streets. And it was bitterly cold
and raining.

“What is the matter with the day?” said Wimsey. “Is the world coming to
an end?”

“No,” said Parker, “it is the eclipse.”


              [Illustration: A LORD PETER WIMSEY MYSTERY]

                            UNNATURAL DEATH

“Suspense, wonderful plotting, first-rate detection.”
                                                  —_Cincinnati Enquirer_

The wealthy old woman was dead—a trifle sooner than expected. The
intricate trail of horror and senseless murder led from a beautiful
Hampshire village to a fashionable London flat and a deliberate test of
_amour_—staged by the debonair sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey.

  “Here the modern detective story begins to come into its own; and all
  the historical importance aside, it remains an absorbing and charming
  story today.”
                                                       —_New York Times_

                       PERENNIAL MYSTERY LIBRARY
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  Cover Design: Carin Goldberg
  Illustration ©: Marie Michal

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                          Transcriber’s Notes

--In the text versions, delimited italics text in _underscores_ (the
  HTML version reproduces the font form of the printed book.)

--Silently corrected palpable typos; left non-standard spellings and
  dialect unchanged.

                _Other mysteries by Dorothy L. Sayers_:

                           Busman’s Honeymoon
                           Clouds of Witness
                       The Documents in the Case
                         The Five Red Herrings
                              Gaudy Night
                           Hangman’s Holiday
                            Have His Carcase
                      In the Teeth of the Evidence
    Lord Peter: _A Collection of All the Lord Peter Wimsey Stories_
                       Lord Peter Views the Body
                         Murder Must Advertise
                             Strong Poison
                 The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club
                              Whose Body?

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Unnatural death" ***

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