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       Hangman's Holiday: A Collection of Short Mysteries, p.1

         Part #1 of Lord Peter Wimsey series by Dorothy L. Sayers
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Hangman's Holiday: A Collection of Short Mysteries

  Hangman's Holiday

  Dorothy L. Sayers

  First published in Great Britain in 1933 by Victor Gollancz Ltd

  First published in paperback by New English Library in 1974

  An imprint of Hodder and Stoughton

  An Hachette Livre UK company

  Introduction © Susan Elizabeth George 2003

  The right of Dorothy L. Sayers to be identified as the Author

  of the Work has been asserted in accordance with the

  Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,

  stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any

  means without the prior written permission of the publisher,

  nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other

  than that in which it is published and without a similar

  condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

  All characters in this publication are fictitious

  and any resemblance to real persons,

  living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  A CIP catalogue record for this title

  is available from the British Library

  Epub ISBN 9781848943735

  Book ISBN 9780450019609

  Hodder and Stoughton

  A division of Hodder Headline

  338 Euston Road

  London NW1 3BH


  Author’s Note


  The Image in the Mirror

  The Incredible Elopement of Lord Peter Wimsey

  The Queen’s Square

  The Necklace of Pearls

  The Poisoned Dow ’08

  Sleuths on the Scent

  Murder in the Morning

  One Too Many

  Murder at Pentecost


  The Man Who Knew How

  The Fountain Plays


  Every person, incident, institution, firm or whatnot in this book is purely imaginary and is not intended to refer to any actual person, institution, incident, college, firm or whatnot whatsoever.


  I came to the wonderful detective novels of Dorothy L. Sayers in a way that would probably make that distinguished novelist spin in her grave. Years ago, actor Ian Carmichael starred in the film productions of a good chunk of them, which I eventually saw on my public television station in Huntington Beach, California. I recall the host of the show reciting the impressive, salient details of Sayers’ life and career – early female graduate of Oxford, translator of Dante, among other things – and I was much impressed. But I was even more impressed with her delightful sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey, and I soon sought out her novels.

  Because I had never been – and still am not today – a great reader of detective fiction, I had not heard of this marvellous character. I quickly became swept up in everything about him: from his foppish use of language to his family relations. In very short order, I found myself thoroughly attached to Wimsey, to his calm and omnipresent manservant Bunter, to the Dowager Duchess of Denver (was ever there a more deliciously alliterative title?), to the stuffy Duke and the unbearable Duchess of Denver, to Viscount St. George, to Charles Parker, to Lady Mary. . . . In Dorothy L. Sayers’ novels, I found the sort of main character I loved when I turned to fiction: someone with a ‘real’ life, someone who wasn’t just a hero who conveniently had no relations to mess up the workings of the novelist’s plot.

  Dorothy L. Sayers, as I discovered, had much to teach me both as a reader and as a future novelist. While many detective novelists from the Golden Age of mystery kept their plots pared down to the requisite crime, suspects, clues, and red herrings, Sayers did not limit herself to so limited a canvas in her work. She saw the crime and its ensuing investigation as merely the framework for a much larger story, the skeleton – if you will – upon which she could hang the muscles, organs, blood vessels and physical features of a much larger tale. She wrote what I like to call the tapestry novel, a book in which the setting is realised (from Oxford, to the dramatic coast of Devon, to the flat bleakness of the Fens), in which throughout both the plot and the subplots the characters serve functions surpassing that of mere actors on the stage of the criminal investigation, in which themes are explored, in which life and literary symbols are used, in which allusions to other literature abound. Sayers, in short, did what I call ‘taking no prisoners’ in her approach to the detective novel. She did not write down to her readers; rather, she assumed that her readers would rise to her expectations of them.

  I found in her novels a richness that I had not previously seen in detective fiction. I became absorbed in the careful application of detail that characterized her plots: whether she was educating me about bell ringing in The Nine Tailors, about the unusual uses of arsenic in Strong Poison, about the beauties of architectural Oxford in Gaudy Night. She wrote about everything from cryptology to vinology, making unforgettable that madcap period between wars that marked the death of an overt class system and heralded the beginning of an insidious one.

  What continues to be remarkable about Sayers’ work, however, is her willingness to explore the human condition. The passions felt by characters created eighty years ago are as real today as they were then. The motives behind people’s behavior are no more complex now than they were in 1923 when Lord Peter Wimsey took his first public bow. Times have changed, rendering Sayers’ England in so many ways unrecognizable to today’s reader. But one of the true pleasures inherent to picking up a Sayers novel now is to see how the times in which we live alter our perceptions of the world around us, while doing nothing at all to alter the core of our humanity.

  When I first began my own career as a crime novelist, I told people that I would rest content if my name was ever mentioned positively in the same sentence as that of Dorothy L. Sayers. I’m pleased to say that that occurred with the publication of my first novel. If I ever come close to offering the reader the details and delights that Sayers offered in her Wimsey novels, I shall consider myself a success indeed.

  The reissuing of a Sayers novel is an event, to be sure. As successive generations of readers welcome her into their lives, they embark upon an unforgettable journey with an even more unforgettable companion. In time of dire and immediate trouble, one might well call upon a Sherlock Holmes for a quick solution to one’s trials. But for the balm that reassures one about surviving the vicissitudes of life, one could do no better than to anchor onto a Lord Peter Wimsey.

  Elizabeth George

  Huntington Beach, California

  May 27, 2003


  A Lord Peter Wimsey Story


  The little man with the cow-lick seemed so absorbed in the book that Wimsey had not the heart to claim his property, but, drawing up the other arm-chair and placing his drink within easy reach, did his best to entertain himself with the Dunlop Book, which graced, as usual, one of the tables in the lounge.

  The little man read on, his elbows squared upon the arms of his chair, his ruffled red head bent anxiously over the test. He breathed heavily, and when he came to the turn of the page, he set the thick volume down on his knee and used both hands for his task. Not what is called ‘a great reader’, Wimsey decided.

  When he reached the end of the story, he turned laboriously back, and read one passage over again with attention. Then he laid the book, still open, upon the table, and
in so doing caught Wimsey’s eye.

  ‘I beg your pardon, sir,’ he said in his rather thin Cockney voice, ‘is this your book?’

  ‘It doesn’t matter at all,’ said Wimsey graciously, ‘I know it by heart. I only brought it along with me because it’s handy for reading a few pages when you’re stuck in a place like this for the night. You can always take it up and find something entertaining.’

  ‘This chap Wells,’ pursued the red-haired man, ‘he’s what you’d call a very clever writer, isn’t he? It’s wonderful how he makes it all so real, and yet some of the things he says, you wouldn’t hardly think they could be really possible. Take this story now; would you say, sir, a thing like that could actually happen to a person, as it might be you – or me?’

  Wimsey twisted his head round so as to get a view of the page.

  ‘The Plattner Experiment,’ he said, ‘that’s the one about the schoolmaster who was blown into the fourth dimension and came back with his right and left sides reversed. Well, no, I don’t suppose such a thing would really occur in real life, though of course it’s very fascinating to play with the idea of a fourth dimension.’

  ‘Well –’ He paused and looked up shyly at Wimsey. ‘I don’t rightly understand about this fourth dimension. I didn’t know there was such a place, but he makes it all very clear no doubt to them that know science. But this right-and-left business, now, I know that’s a fact. By experience, if you’ll believe me.’

  Wimsey extended his cigarette-case. The little man made an instinctive motion towards it with his left hand and then seemed to check himself and stretched his right across.

  ‘There, you see. I’m always left-handed when I don’t think about it. Same as this Plattner. I fight against it, but it doesn’t seem any use. But I wouldn’t mind that – it’s a small thing and plenty of people are left-handed and think nothing of it. No. It’s the dretful anxiety of not knowing what I mayn’t be doing when I’m in this fourth dimension or whatever it is.’

  He sighed deeply.

  ‘I’m worried, that’s what I am, worried to death.’

  ‘Suppose you tell me about it,’ said Wimsey.

  ‘I don’t like telling people about it, because they might think I had a slate loose. But it’s fairly getting on my nerves. Every morning when I wake up I wonder what I’ve been doing in the night and whether it’s the day of the month it ought to be. I can’t get any peace till I see the morning paper, and even then I can’t be sure. . . .

  ‘Well, I’ll tell you, if you won’t take it as a bore or a liberty. It all began –’ He broke off and glanced nervously about the room. ‘There’s nobody to see. If you wouldn’t mind, sir, putting your hand just here a minute—’

  He unbuttoned his rather regrettable double-breasted waist-coat, and laid a hand on the part of his anatomy usually considered to indicate the site of his heart.

  ‘By all means,’ said Wimsey, doing he was requested.

  ‘Do you feel anything?’

  ‘I don’t know that I do,’ said Wimsey. ‘What ought I to feel? A swelling or anything? If you mean your pulse, the wrist is a better place.’

  ‘Oh, you can feel it there, all right,’ said the little man. ‘Just try the other side of the chest, sir.’

  Wimsey obediently moved his hand across.

  ‘I seem to detect a little flutter,’ he said after a pause.

  ‘You do? Well, you wouldn’t expect to find it that side and not the other, would you? Well, that’s where it is. I’ve got my heart on the right side, that’s what I wanted you to feel for yourself.’

  ‘Did it get displaced in an illness?’ asked Wimsey sympathetically.

  ‘In a manner of speaking. But that’s not all. My liver’s got round the wrong side, too, and my organs. I’ve had a doctor see it, and he told me I was all reversed. I’ve got my appendix on my left side – that is, I had till they took it away. If we was private, now, I could show you the scar. It was a great surprise to the surgeon when they told him about me. He said afterwards it made it quite awkward for him, coming left-handed to the operation, as you might say.’

  ‘It’s unusual, certainly,’ said Wimsey, ‘but I believe such cases do occur sometimes.’

  ‘Not the way it occurred to me. It happened in an air-raid.’

  ‘In an air-raid?’ said Wimsey, aghast.

  ‘Yes – and if that was all it had done to me I’d put up with it and be thankful. Eighteen I was then, and I’d just been called up. Previous to that I’d been working in the packing department at Crichton’s – you’ve heard of them, I expect – Crichton’s for Admirable Advertising, with offices in Holborn. My mother was living in Brixton, and I’d come up to town on leave from the training-camp. I’d been seeing one or two of my old pals, and I thought I’d finish the evening by going to see a film at the Stoll. It was after supper – I had just time to get into the last house, so I cut across from Leicester Square through Covent Garden Market. Well, I was getting along when whallop! A bomb came down it seemed to me right under my feet, and everything went black for a bit.’

  ‘That was the raid that blew up Odham’s, I suppose.’

  ‘Yes, it was January 28th, 1918. Well, as I say, everything went right out. Next thing as I knew, I was walking in some place in broad daylight, with green grass all round me, and trees, and water to the side of me, and knowing no more about how I got there than the man in the moon.’

  ‘Good Lord!’ said Wimsey. ‘And was it the fourth dimension, do you think?’

  ‘Well, no, it wasn’t. It was Hyde Park, as I come to when I had my wits about me. I was along the bank of the Serpentine and there was a seat with some women sitting on it, and children playing about.’

  ‘Had the explosion damaged you?’

  ‘Nothing to see or feel, except that I had a big bruise on one hip and shoulder as if I’d been chucked up against something. I was fairly staggered. The air-raid had gone right out of my mind, don’t you see, and I couldn’t imagine how I came there, and why I wasn’t at Crichton’s. I looked at my watch, but that had stopped. I was feeling hungry. I felt in my pocket and found some money there, but it wasn’t as much as I should have had – not by a long way. But I felt I must have a bit of something, so I got out of the Park by the Marble Arch gate, and went into a Lyons. I ordered two poached on toast and a pot of tea, and while I was waiting I took up a paper that somebody had left on the seat. Well, that finished me. The last thing I remembered was starting off to see that film on the 28th – and here was the date on the paper – January 30th! I’d lost a whole day and two nights somewhere!’

  ‘Shock,’ suggested Wimsey. The little man took the suggestion and put his own meaning on it.

  ‘Shock? I should think it was. I was scared out of my life. The girl who brought my eggs must have thought I was barmy. I asked her what day of the week it was, and she said “Friday”. There wasn’t any mistake.

  ‘Well, I don’t want to make this bit too long, because that’s not the end by a long chalk. I got my meal down somehow, and went to see a doctor. He asked me what I remembered doing last, and I told him about the film, and he asked whether I was out in the air-raid. Well, then it came back to me, and I remembered the bomb falling, but nothing more. He said I’d had a nervous shock and lost my memory a bit, and that it often happened and I wasn’t to worry. And then he said he’d look me over to see if I’d got hurt at all. So he started in with his stethoscope, and all of a sudden he said to me:

  ‘“Why, you keep your heart on the wrong side, my lad!’

  ‘“Do I?” said I. “That’s the first I’ve heard of it.”

  ‘Well, he looked me over pretty thoroughly, and then he told me what I’ve told you, that I was all reversed inside, and he asked a lot of questions about my family. I told him I was an only child and my father was dead – killed by a motor-lorry, he was, when I was a kid of ten – and I lived with my mother in Brixton and all that. And he said I was an unusual case, but there was nothing to wo
rry about. Bar being wrong side round I was sound as a bell, and he told me to go home and take things quietly for a day or two.

  ‘Well, I did, and I felt all right, and I thought that was the end of it, though I’d overstayed my leave and had a bit of a job explaining myself to the R.T.O. It wasn’t till several months afterwards the draft was called up, and I went along for my farewell leave. I was having a cup of coffee in the Mirror Hall at the Strand Corner House – you know it, down the steps?’

  Wimsey nodded.

  ‘All the big looking-glasses all round. I happened to look into the one near me, and I saw a young lady smiling at me as if she knew me. I saw her reflection, that is, if you understand me. Well, I couldn’t make it out, for I had never seen her before, and I didn’t take any notice, thinking she’d mistook me for somebody else. Besides, though I wasn’t so very old then, I thought I knew her sort, and my mother had always brought me up strict. I looked away and went on with my coffee, and all of a sudden a voice said quite close to me:

  ‘“Hullo, Ginger – aren’t you going to say good evening?’

  ‘I looked up and there she was. Pretty, too, if she hadn’t been painted up too much.

  ‘“I’m afraid,” I said, rather stiff, “you have the advantage of me, miss.”

  ‘“Oh, Ginger,” says she, “Mr Duckworthy, and after Wednesday night!” A kind of mocking way she had of speaking.

  ‘I hadn’t thought so much of her calling me Ginger, because that’s what any girl would say to a fellow with my sort of hair, but when she got my name off so pat, I tell you it did give me a turn.

  ‘“You seem to think we’re acquainted, miss,” said I.

  ‘“Well, I should rather say so, shouldn’t you?” said she.

  ‘There! I needn’t go into it all. From what she said I found out she thought she’d met me one night and taken me home with her. And what frightened me most of all, she said it had happened on the night of the big raid.

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