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2a: The Green-Eyed Cat

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Author Topic: 2a: The Green-Eyed Cat  (Read 38 times)
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« on: April 06, 2023, 11:19:01 am »

    "And here's to the hound
     With his nose unto the ground----"

                    DRINK, PUPPY, DRINK

SOME people hold that breakfast is the best meal of the day. Others, less robust, hold that it is the worst, and that, of all breakfasts in the week, Sunday morning breakfast is incomparably the worst.

The party gathered about the breakfast-table at Riddlesdale Lodge held, if one might judge from their faces, no brief for that day miscalled of sweet refection and holy love. The only member of it who seemed neither angry nor embarrassed was the Hon. Freddy Arbuthnot, and he was silent, engaged in trying to take the whole skeleton out of a bloater at once. The very presence of that undistinguished fish upon the Duchess's breakfast-table indicated a disorganised household.

The Duchess of Denver was pouring out coffee. This was one of her uncomfortable habits. Persons arriving late for breakfast were thereby made painfully aware of their sloth. She was a long-necked, long-backed woman, who disciplined her hair and her children. She was never embarrassed, and her anger, though never permitted to be visible, made itself felt the more.

Colonel and Mrs. Marchbanks sat side by side. They had nothing beautiful about them but a stolid mutual affection. Mrs. Marchbanks was not angry, but she was embarrassed in the presence of the Duchess, because she could not feel sorry for her. When you felt sorry for people you called them "poor old dear" or "poor dear old man." Since, obviously, you could not call the Duchess poor old dear, you were not being properly sorry for her. This distressed Mrs. Marchbanks. The Colonel was both embarrassed and angry---embarrassed because, 'pon my soul, it was very difficult to know what to talk about in a house where your host had been arrested for murder; angry in a dim way, like an injured animal, because unpleasant things like this had no business to break in on the shooting-season.

Mrs. Pettigrew-Robinson was not only angry, she was outraged. As a girl she had adopted the motto stamped upon the school notepaper: Quæcunque honesta. She had always thought it wrong to let your mind dwell on anything that was not really nice. In middle life she still made a point of ignoring those newspaper paragraphs which bore such headlines as: "ASSAULT UPON A SCHOOLTEACHER AT CRICKLEWOOD"; "DEATH IN A PINT OF STOUT"; "£75 FOR A KISS"; or "SHE CALLED HIM HUBBYKINS." She said she could not see what good it did you to know about such things. She regretted having consented to visit Riddlesdale Lodge in the absence of the Duchess. She had never liked Lady Mary; she considered her a very objectionable specimen of the modern independent young woman; besides, there had been that very undignified incident connected with a Bolshevist while Lady Mary was nursing in London during the war. Nor had Mrs. Pettigrew-Robinson at all cared for Captain Denis Cathcart. She did not like a young man to be handsome in that obvious kind of way. But, of course, since Mr. Pettigrew-Robinson had wanted to come to Riddlesdale, it was her place to be with him. She was not to blame for the unfortunate result.

Mr. Pettigrew-Robinson was angry, quite simply, because the detective from Scotland Yard had not accepted his help in searching the house and grounds for footprints. As an older man of some experience in these matters (Mr. Pettigrew-Robinson was a county magistrate) he had gone out of his way to place himself at the man's disposal. Not only had the man been short with him, but he had rudely ordered him out of the conservatory, where he (Mr. Pettigrew-Robinson) had been reconstructing the affair from the point of view of Lady Mary.

All these angers and embarrassments might have caused less pain to the company had they not been aggravated by the presence of the detective himself, a quiet young man in a tweed suit, eating curry at one end of the table next to Mr. Murbles, the solicitor. This person had arrived from London on Friday, had corrected the local police, and strongly dissented from the opinion of Inspector Craikes. He had suppressed at the inquest information which, if openly given, might have precluded the arrest of the Duke. He had officiously detained the whole unhappy party, on the grounds that he wanted to re-examine everybody, and was thus keeping them miserably cooped up together over a horrible Sunday; and he had put the coping-stone on his offences by turning out to be an intimate friend of Lord Peter Wimsey's, and having, in consequence, to be accommodated with a bed in the gamekeeper's cottage and breakfast at the Lodge.

Mr. Murbles, who was elderly and had a delicate digestion, had travelled up in a hurry on Thursday night. He had found the inquest very improperly conducted and his client altogether impracticable. He had spent all his time trying to get hold of Sir Impey Biggs, K.C., who had vanished for the week-end, leaving no address. He was eating a little dry toast, and was inclined to like the detective, who called him "Sir," and passed him the butter.

"Is anybody thinking of going to church?" asked the Duchess.

"Theodore and I should like to go," said Mrs. Pettigrew-Robinson, "if it is not too much trouble; or we could walk. It is not so very far."

"It's two and a half miles, good," said Colonel Marchbanks.

Mr. Pettigrew-Robinson looked at him gratefully.

"Of course you will come in the car," said the Duchess. "I am going myself."

"Are you, though?" said the Hon. Freddy. "I say, won't you get a bit stared at, what?"

"Really, Freddy," said the Duchess, "does that matter?"

"Well," said the Hon. Freddy, "I mean to say, these bounders about here are all Socialists and Methodists. . . ."

"If they are Methodists," said Mrs. Pettigrew-Robinson, "they will not be at church."

"Won't they?" retorted the Hon. Freddy. "You bet they will if there's anything to see. Why, it'll be better'n a funeral to 'em."

"Surely," said Mrs. Pettigrew-Robinson, "one has a duty in the matter, whatever our private feelings may be---especially at the present day, when people are so terribly slack."

She glanced at the Hon. Freddy.

"Oh, don't you mind me, Mrs. P.," said that youth amiably. "All I say is, if these blighters make things unpleasant, don't blame me."

"Whoever thought of blaming you, Freddy?" said the Duchess.

"Manner of speaking," said the Hon. Freddy.

"What do you think, Mr. Murbles?" inquired her ladyship.

"I feel," said the lawyer, carefully stirring his coffee, "that, while your intention is a very admirable one, and does you very great credit, my dear lady, yet Mr. Arbuthnot is right in saying it may involve you in some---er---unpleasant publicity. Er---I have always been a sincere Christian myself, but I cannot feel that our religion demands that we should make ourselves conspicuous---er---in such very painful circumstances."

Mr. Parker reminded himself of a dictum of Lord Melbourne.

"Well, after all," said Mrs. Marchbanks, "as Helen so rightly says, does it matter? Nobody's really got anything to be ashamed of. There has been a stupid mistake, of course, but I don't see why anybody who wants to shouldn't go to church."

"Certainly not, certainly not, my dear," said the Colonel heartily. "We might look in ourselves, eh dear? Take a walk that way I mean, and come out before the sermon. I think it's a good thing. Shows we don't believe old Denver's done anything wrong, anyhow."

"You forget, dear," said his wife, "I've promised to stay at home with Mary, poor girl."

"Of course, of course---stupid of me," said the Colonel. "How is she?"

"She was very restless last night, poor child," said the Duchess.

"Perhaps she will get a little sleep this morning. It has been a shock to her."

"One which may prove a blessing in disguise," said Mrs. Pettigrew-Robinson.

"My dear!" said her husband.

"Wonder when we shall hear from Sir Impey," said Colonel Marchbanks hurriedly.

"Yes, indeed," moaned Mr. Murbles. "I am counting on his influence with the Duke."

"Of course," said Mrs. Pettigrew-Robinson, "he must speak out---for everybody's sake. He must say what he was doing out of doors at that time. Or, if he does not, it must be discovered. Dear me! That's what these detectives are for, aren't they?"

"That is their ungrateful task," said Mr. Parker suddenly. He had said nothing for a long time, and everybody jumped.

"There," said Mrs. Marchbanks, "I expect you'll clear it all up in no time, Mr. Parker. Perhaps you've got the real mur---the culprit up your sleeve all the time."

"Not quite," said Mr. Parker, "but I'll do my best to get him. Besides," he added, with a grin, "I'll probably have some help on the job."

"From whom?" inquired Mr. Pettigrew-Robinson.

"Her grace's brother-in-law."

"Peter?" said the Duchess. "Mr. Parker must be amused at the family amateur," she added.

"Not at all," said Parker. "Wimsey would be one of the finest detectives in England if he wasn't lazy. Only we can't get hold of him."

"I've wired to Ajaccio---poste restante," said Mr. Murbles, "but I don't know when he's likely to call there. He said nothing about when he was coming back to England."

"He's a rummy old bird," said the Hon. Freddy tactlessly, "but he oughter be here, what? What I mean to say is, if anything happens to old Denver, don't you see, he's the head of the family, ain't he---till little Pickled Gherkins comes of age."

In the frightful silence which followed this remark, the sound of a walking-stick being clattered into an umbrella-stand was distinctly audible.

"Who's that, I wonder," said the Duchess.

The door waltzed open.

"Mornin', dear old things," said the newcomer cheerfully. "How are you all? Hullo, Helen! Colonel, you owe me half a crown since last September year. Mornin', Mrs. Marchbanks, Mornin' Mrs. P. Well, Mr. Murbles, how d'you like this bili---beastly weather? Don't trouble to get up, Freddy; I'd simply hate to inconvenience you. Parker, old man, what a damned reliable old bird you are! Always on the spot, like that patent ointment thing. I say, have you all finished? I meant to get up earlier, but I was snorin' so Bunter hadn't the heart to wake me. I nearly blew in last night, only we didn't arrive till 2 a.m. and I thought you wouldn't half bless me if I did. Eh, what, Colonel? Aeroplane. Victoria from Paris to London---North-Eastern to Northallerton---damn bad roads the rest of the way, and a puncture just below Riddlesdale. Damn bad bed at the 'Lord in Glory'; thought I'd blow in for the last sausage here, if I was lucky. What? Sunday morning in an English family and no sausages? God bless my soul, what's the world coming to, eh, Colonel? I say, Helen, old Gerald's been an' gone an' done it this time, what? You've no business to leave him on his own, you know; he always gets into mischief. What's that? Curry? Thanks, old man. Here, I say, you needn't be so stingy about it; I've been travelling for three days on end. Freddy, pass the toast. Beg pardon, Mrs. Marchbanks? Oh, rather, yes; Corsica was perfectly amazin'---all black-eyed fellows with knives in their belts and jolly fine-looking girls. Old Bunter had a regular affair with the inn-keeper's daughter in one place. D'you know, he's an awfully susceptible old beggar. You'd never think it, would you? Jove! I am hungry. I say, Helen, I meant to get you some fetchin' crêpe-de-Chine undies from Paris, but I saw that old Parker was gettin' ahead of me over the bloodstains, so we packed up our things and buzzed off."

Mrs. Pettigrew-Robinson rose.

"Theodore," she said, "I think we ought to be getting ready for church."

"I will order the car," said the Duchess. "Peter, of course I'm exceedingly glad to see you. Your leaving no address was most inconvenient. Ring for anything you want. It is a pity you didn't arrive in time to see Gerald."

"Oh, that's all right," said Lord Peter cheerfully; "I'll look him up in quod. Y'know it's rather a good idea to keep one's crimes in the family; one has so many more facilities. I'm sorry for poor old Polly, though. How is she?"

"She must not be disturbed to-day," said the Duchess with decision.

"Not a bit of it," said Lord Peter; "she'll keep. To-day Parker and I hold high revel. To-day he shows me all the bloody footprints---it's all right, Helen, that's not swearin', that's an adjective of quality. I hope they aren't all washed away, are they, old thing?"

"No," said Parker, "I've got most of them under flower-pots."

"Then pass the bread and squish," said Lord Peter, "and tell me all about it."

The departure of the church-going element had induced a more humanitarian atmosphere. Mrs. Marchbanks stumped off upstairs to tell Mary that Peter had come, and the Colonel lit a large cigar. The Hon. Freddy rose, stretched himself, pulled a leather arm-chair to the fireside, and sat down with his feet on the brass fender, while Parker marched round and poured himself out another cup of coffee.

"I suppose you've seen the papers," he said.

"Oh yes, I read up the inquest," said Lord Peter. "Y'know, if you'll excuse my saying so, I think you rather mucked it between you."

"It was disgraceful," said Mr. Murbles, "disgraceful. The Coroner behaved most improperly. He had no business to give such a summing-up. With a jury of ignorant country fellows, what could one expect? And the details that were allowed to come out! If I could have got here earlier----"

"I'm afraid that was partly my fault, Wimsey," said Parker penitently. "Craikes rather resents me. The Chief Constable at Stapley sent to us over his head, and when the message came through I ran along to the Chief and asked for the job, because I thought if there should be any misconception or difficulty, you see, you'd just as soon I tackled it as anybody else. I had a few little arrangements to make about a forgery I've been looking into, and, what with one thing and another, I didn't get off till the night express. By the time I turned up on Friday, Craikes and the Coroner were already as thick as thieves, had fixed the inquest for that morning---which was ridiculous---and arranged to produce their blessed evidence as dramatically as possible. I only had time to skim over the ground (disfigured, I'm sorry to say, by the prints of Craikes and his local ruffians), and really had nothing for the jury."

"Cheer up," said Wimsey. "I'm not blaming you. Besides, it all lends excitement to the chase."

"Fact is," said the Hon. Freddy, "that we ain't popular with respectable Coroners. Giddy aristocrats and immoral Frenchmen. I say, Peter, sorry you've missed Miss Lydia Cathcart. You'd have loved her. She's gone back to Golders Green and taken the body with her."

"Oh well," said Wimsey. "I don't suppose there was anything abstruse about the body."

"No," said Parker, "the medical evidence was all right as far as it went. He was shot through the lungs, and that's all."

"Though, mind you," said the Hon. Freddy, "he didn't shoot himself. I didn't say anything, not wishin' to upset old Denver's story, but, you know, all that stuff about his bein' so upset and go-to-blazes in his manner was all my whiskers."

"How do you know?" said Peter.

"Why, my dear man, Cathcart 'n I toddled up to bed together. I was rather fed up, havin' dropped a lot on some shares, besides missin' everything I shot at in the mornin', an' lost a bet I made with the Colonel about the number of toes on the kitchen cat, an' I said to Cathcart it was a hell of a damn-fool world, or words to that effect. 'Not a bit of it,' he said; 'it's a damn good world. I'm goin' to ask Mary for a date to-morrow, an' then we'll go and live in Paris, where they understand sex.' I said somethin' or other vague, and he went off whistlin'."

Parker looked grave. Colonel Marchbanks cleared his throat.
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