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3b: (continuation)

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Author Topic: 3b: (continuation)  (Read 30 times)
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« on: April 07, 2023, 12:18:54 am »

"Hard work it is," she said, "rubbing; I quite ache."

"If you would allow me to help you," said Mr. Bunter, appropriating the hot water, the benzine bottle, and the sponge.

He turned up another breadth of the skirt.

"Have you got a brush handy," he asked, "to take this mud off?"

"You're as blind as a bat, Mr. Bunter," said Ellen, giggling. "Can't you see it just in front of you?"

"Ah yes," said the valet. "But that's not as hard a one as I'd like. Just you run and get me a real hard one, there's a dear good girl, and I'll fix this for you."

"Cheek!" said Ellen. "But," she added, relenting before the admiring gleam in Mr. Bunter's eye, "I'll get the clothes-brush out of the hall for you. That's as hard as a brick-bat, that is."

No sooner was she out of the room than Mr. Bunter produced a pocket-knife and two more pill-boxes. In a twinkling of an eye he had scraped the surface of the skirt in two places and written two fresh labels:

"Gravel from Lady Mary's skirt, about 6 in. from hem."

"Silver sand from hem of Lady Mary's skirt."

He added the date, and had hardly pocketed the boxes when Ellen returned with the clothes-brush. The cleaning process continued for some time, to the accompaniment of desultory conversation. A third stain on the skirt caused Mr. Bunter to stare critically.

"Hullo!" he said. "Her ladyship's been trying her hand at cleaning this herself."

"What?" cried Ellen. She peered closely at the mark, which at one edge was smeared and whitened, and had a slightly greasy appearance.

"Well, I never," she exclaimed, "so she has! Whatever's that for, I wonder? And her pretending to be so ill, she couldn't raise her head off the pillow. She's a sly one, she is."

"Couldn't it have been done before?" suggested Mr. Bunter.

"Well, she might have been at it between the day the Captain was killed and the inquest," agreed Ellen, "though you wouldn't think that was a time to choose to begin learning domestic work. She ain't much hand at it, anyhow, for all her nursing. I never believed that came to anything."

"She's used soap," said Mr. Bunter, benzining away resolutely. "Can she boil water in her bedroom?"

"Now, whatever should she do that for, Mr. Bunter?" exclaimed Ellen, amazed. "You don't think she keeps a kettle? I bring up her morning tea. Ladyships don't want to boil water."

"No," said Mr. Bunter, "and why didn't she get it from the bathroom?" He scrutinised the stain more carefully still. "Very amateurish," he said; "distinctly amateurish. Interrupted, I fancy. An energetic young lady, but not ingenious."

The last remarks were addressed in confidence to the benzine bottle. Ellen had put her head out of the window to talk to the gamekeeper.


The Police Superintendent at Ripley received Lord Peter at first frigidly, and later, when he found out who he was, with a mixture of the official attitude to private detectives and the official attitude to a Duke's son.

"I've come to you," said Wimsey, "because you can do this combin'-out business a sight better'n an amateur like myself. I suppose your fine organisation's hard at work already, what?"

"Naturally," said the Superintendent, "but it's not altogether easy to trace a motor-cycle without knowing the number. Look at the Bournemouth Murder." He shook his head regretfully and accepted a Villar y Villar.

"We didn't think at first of connecting him with the number-plate business," the Superintendent went on in a careless tone which somehow conveyed to Lord Peter that his own remarks within the last half-hour had established the connection in the official mind for the first time. "Of course, if he'd been seen going through Ripley without a number-plate he'd have been noticed and stopped, whereas with Mr. Foulis's he was as safe as---as the Bank of England," he concluded in a burst of originality.

"Obviously," said Wimsey. "Very agitatin' for the parson, poor chap. So early in the mornin', too. I suppose it was just taken to be a practical joke?"

"Just that," agreed the Superintendent, "but, after hearing what you have to tell us, we shall use our best efforts to get the man. I expect his grace won't be any too sorry to hear he's found. You may rely on us, and if we find the man or the number-plates----"

"Lord bless us and save us, man," broke in Lord Peter with unexpected vivacity, "you're not goin' to waste your time lookin' for the number-plates. What d'you s'pose he'd pinch the curate's plates for if he wanted to advertise his own about the neighbourhood? Once you drop on them you've got his name and address; s'long as they're in his trousers pocket you're up a gum-tree. Now, forgive me, Superintendent, for shovin' along with my opinion, but I simply can't bear to think of you takin' all that trouble for nothin'---draggin' ponds an' turnin' over rubbish-heaps to look for number-plates that ain't there. You just scour the railway stations for a young man six foot one or two with a No. 10 shoe, and dressed in a Burberry that's lost its belt, and with a deep scratch on one of his hands. And look here, here's my address, and I'll be very grateful if you'll let me know anything that turns up. So awkward for my brother, y'know, all this. Sensitive man; feels it keenly. By the way, I'm a very uncertain bird---always hoppin' about; you might wire me any news in duplicate, to Riddlesdale and to town---110 Piccadilly. Always delighted to see you, by the way, if ever you're in town. You'll forgive me slopin' off now, won't you? I've got a lot to do."


Returning to Riddlesdale, Lord Peter found a new visitor seated at the tea-table. At Peter's entry he rose into towering height, and extended a shapely, expressive hand that would have made an actor's fortune. He was not an actor, but he found this hand useful, nevertheless, in the exploitation of dramatic moments. His magnificent build and the mobility of his head and mask were impressive; his features were flawless; his eyes ruthless. The Dowager Duchess had once remarked: "Sir Impey Biggs is the handsomest man in England, and no woman will ever care twopence for him." He was, in fact, thirty-eight, and a bachelor, and was celebrated for his rhetoric and his suave but pitiless dissection of hostile witnesses. The breeding of canaries was his unexpected hobby, and besides their song he could appreciate no music but revue airs. He answered Wimsey's greeting in his beautiful, resonant, and exquisitely controlled voice. Tragic irony, cutting contempt, or a savage indignation were the emotions by which Sir Impey Biggs swayed court and jury; he prosecuted murderers of the innocent, defended in actions for criminal libel, and, moving others, was himself as stone. Wimsey expressed himself delighted to see him in a voice, by contrast, more husky and hesitant even than usual.

"You just come from Jerry?" he asked. "Fresh toast, please, Fleming. How is he? Enjoyin' it? I never knew a fellow like Jerry for gettin' the least possible out of any situation. I'd rather like the experience myself, you know; only I'd hate bein' shut up and watchin' the other idiots bunglin' my case. No reflection on Murbles and you, Biggs. I mean myself---I mean the man who'd be me if I was Jerry. You follow me?"

"I was just saying to Sir Impey," said the Duchess, "that he really must make Gerald say what he was doing in the garden at three in the morning. If only I'd been at Riddlesdale none of this would have happened. Of course, we all know that he wasn't doing any harm, but we can't expect the jurymen to understand that. The lower orders are so prejudiced. It is absurd of Gerald not to realise that he must speak out. He has no consideration."

"I am doing my very best to persuade him, Duchess," said Sir Impey, "but you must have patience. Lawyers enjoy a little mystery, you know. Why, if everybody came forward and told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth straight out, we should all retire to the workhouse."

"Captain Cathcart's death is very mysterious," said the Duchess, "though when I think of the things that have come out about him it really seems quite providential, as far as my sister-in-law is concerned."

"I s'pose you couldn't get 'em to bring it in 'Death by the Visitation of God,' could you, Biggs?" suggested Lord Peter. "Sort of judgment for wantin' to marry into our family, what?"

"I have known less reasonable verdicts," returned Biggs drily. "It's wonderful what you can suggest to a jury if you try. I remember once at the Liverpool Assizes----"

He steered skilfully away into a quiet channel of reminiscence. Lord Peter watched his statuesque profile against the fire; it reminded him of the severe beauty of the charioteer of Delphi and was about as communicative.


It was not until after dinner that Sir Impey opened his mind to Wimsey. The Duchess had gone to bed, and the two men were alone in the library. Peter, scrupulously in evening dress, had been valeted by Bunter, and had been more than usually rambling and cheerful all evening. He now took a cigar, retired to the largest chair, and effaced himself in a complete silence.

Sir Impey Biggs walked up and down for some half-hour, smoking. Then he came across with determination, brutally switched on a reading-lamp right into Peter's face, sat down opposite to him, and said:

"Now, Wimsey, I want to know all you know."

"Do you, though?" said Peter. He got up, disconnected the reading-lamp, and carried it away to a side-table.

"No bullying of the witness, though," he added, and grinned.

"I don't care so long as you wake up," said Biggs, unperturbed. "Now then."

Lord Peter removed his cigar from his mouth, considered it with his head on one side, turned it carefully over, decided that the ash could hang on to its parent leaf for another minute or two, smoked without speaking until collapse was inevitable, took the cigar out again, deposited the ash entire in the exact centre of the ash-tray, and began his statement, omitting only the matter of the suit-case and Bunter's information obtained from Ellen.

Sir Impey Biggs listened with what Peter irritably described as a cross-examining countenance, putting a sharp question every now and again. He made a few notes, and, when Wimsey had finished, sat tapping his note-book thoughtfully.

"I think we can make a case out of this," he said, "even if the police don't find your mysterious man. Denver's silence is an awkward complication, of course." He hooded his eyes for a moment. "Did you say you'd put the police on to find the fellow?"


"Have you a very poor opinion of the police?"

"Not for that kind of thing. That's in their line; they have all the facilities, and do it well."

"Ah! You expect to find this man, do you?"

"I hope to."

"Ah! What do you think is going to happen to my case if you do find him, Wimsey?"

"What do I----"

"See here, Wimsey," said the barrister, "you are not a fool, and it's no use trying to look like a country policeman. You are really trying to find this man?"


"Just as you like, of course, but my hands are rather tied already. Has it ever occurred to you that perhaps he'd better not be found?"

Wimsey stared at the lawyer with such honest astonishment as actually to disarm him.

"Remember this," said the latter earnestly, "that if once the police get hold of a thing or a person it's no use relying on my, or Murble's, or anybody's professional discretion. Everything's raked out into the light of common day, and very common it is. Here's Denver accused of murder, and he refuses in the most categorical way to give me the smallest assistance."

"Jerry's an ass. He doesn't realise----"

"Do you suppose," broke in Biggs, "I have not made it my business to make him realise? All he says is, 'They can't hang me; I didn't kill the man, though I think it's a jolly good thing he's dead. It's no business of theirs what I was doing in the garden.' Now I ask you, Wimsey, is that a reasonable attitude for a man in Denver's position to take up?"

Peter muttered something about "Never had any sense."

"Had anybody told Denver about this other man?"

"Something vague was said about footsteps at the inquest, I believe."

"That Scotland Yard man is your personal friend, I'm told?"


"So much the better. He can hold his tongue."

"Look here, Biggs, this is all damned impressive and mysterious, but what are you gettin' at? Why shouldn't I lay hold of the beggar if I can?"

"I'll answer that question by another." Sir Impey leaned forward a little. "Why is Denver screening him?"

Sir Impey Biggs was accustomed to boast that no witness could perjure himself in his presence undetected. As he put the question, he released the other's eyes from his, and glanced down with finest cunning at Wimsey's long, flexible mouth and nervous hands. When he glanced up again a second later he met the eyes passing, guarded and inscrutable, through all the changes expressive of surprised enlightenment; but by that time it was too late; he had seen a little line at the corner of the mouth fade out, and the fingers relax ever so slightly. The first movement had been one of relief.

"B'Jove!" said Peter, "I never thought of that. What sleuths you lawyers are. If that's so, I'd better be careful, hadn't I? Always was a bit rash. My mother says----"

"You're a clever devil, Wimsey," said the barrister. "I may be wrong, then. Find your man by all means. There's just one other thing I'd like to ask. Whom are you screening?"

"Look here, Biggs," said Wimsey, "you're not paid to ask that kind of question here, you know. You can jolly well wait till you get into court. It's your job to make the best of the stuff we serve up to you, not to give us the third degree. Suppose I murdered Cathcart myself----"

"You didn't."

"I know I didn't, but if I did I'm not goin' to have you askin' questions and lookin' at me in that tone of voice. However, just to oblige you, I don't mind sayin' plainly that I don't know who did away with the fellow. When I do I'll tell you."

"You will?"

"Yes, I will, but not till I'm sure. You people can make such a little circumstantial evidence go such a damn long way, you might hang me while I was only in the early stages of suspectin' myself."

"H'm!" said Biggs. "Meanwhile, I tell you candidly, I am taking the line that they can't make out a case."

"Not proven, eh? Well, anyhow, Biggs, I swear my brother shan't hang for lack of my evidence."

"Of course not," said Biggs, adding inwardly: "but you hope it won't come to that."

A spurt of rain plashed down the wide chimney and sizzled on the logs.


"Craven Hotel,
"Strand, W.C.,

"MY DEAR WIMSEY,---A line as I promised, to report progress, but it's precious little. On the journey up I sat next to Mrs. Pettigrew-Robinson, and opened and shut the window for her and looked after her parcels. She mentioned that when your sister roused the household on Thursday morning she went first to Mr. Arbuthnot's room--a circumstance which the lady seemed to think odd, but which is natural enough when you come to think of it, the room being directly opposite the head of the staircase. It was Mr. Arbuthnot who knocked up the Pettigrew-Robinson's, and Mr. P. ran downstairs immediately. Mrs. P. then saw that Lady Mary was looking very faint, and tried to support her. Your sister threw her off---rudely, Mrs. P. says---declined 'in a most savage manner' all offers of assistance, rushed to her own room, and locked herself in. Mrs. Pettigrew-Robinson listened at the door 'to make sure,' as she says, 'that everything was all right,' but, hearing her moving about and slamming cupboards, she concluded that she would have more chance of poking her finger into the pie downstairs, and departed.

"If Mrs. Marchbanks had told me this, I admit I should have thought the episode worth looking into, but I feel strongly that if I were dying I should still lock the door between myself and Mrs. Pettigrew-Robinson. Mrs. P. was quite sure that at no time had Lady Mary anything in her hand. She was dressed as described at the inquest---a long coat over her pyjamas (sleeping suit was Mrs. P.'s expression), stout shoes, and a woolly cap, and she kept these garments on throughout the subsequent visit of the doctor. Another odd little circumstance is that Mrs. Pettigrew-Robinson (who was awake, you remember, from 2 a.m. onwards) is certain that just before Lady Mary knocked on Mr. Arbuthnot's door she heard a door slam somewhere in the passage. I don't know what to make of this---perhaps there's nothing in it, but I just mention it.

"I've had a rotten time in town. Your brother-in-law elect was a model of discretion. His room in Albany is a desert from a detecting point of view; no papers except a few English bills and receipts, and invitations. I looked up a few of his inviters, but they were mostly men who had met him at the club or knew him in the Army, and could tell me nothing about his private life. He is known at several night-clubs. I made the round of them last night--or, rather, this morning. General verdict: generous but impervious. By the way, poker seems to have been his great game. No suggestion of anything crooked. He won pretty consistently on the whole, but never very spectacularly.

"I think the information we want must be in Paris. I have written to the Sûreté and the Crédit Lyonnais to produce his papers, especially his account and cheque-book.

"I'm pretty dead with yesterday's and to-day's work. Dancing all night on top of a journey is a jolly poor joke. Unless you want me, I'll wait here for the papers, or I may run over to Paris myself.

"Cathcart's books here consist of a few modern French novels of the usual kind, and another copy of Manon with what the catalogues call 'curious' plates. He must have had a life somewhere, mustn't he?

"The enclosed bill from a beauty specialist in Bond Street may interest you. I called on her. She says he came regularly every week when he was in England.

"I drew quite blank at King's Fenton on Sunday---oh, but I told you that. I don't think the fellow ever went there. I wonder if he slunk off up into the moor. Is it worth rummaging about, do you think? Rather like looking for a needle in a bundle of hay. It's odd about that diamond cat. You've got nothing out of the household, I suppose? It doesn't seem to fit No. 10, somehow---and yet you'd think somebody would have heard about it in the village if it had been lost. Well, so long,

"Yours ever,

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