Clouds of witness, p.1
Clouds of Witness, p.1Dorothy L. Sayers
Clouds of Witness
Dorothy L Sawyers
First published in Great Britain in 1926 by T. Fisher Unwin
First published in Great Britain in 1970 by New English Library
An imprint of Hodder & 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 9781848943698
Book ISBN 9780450001802
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THE SOLUTION OF
THE RIDDLESDALE MYSTERY
OF THE TRIAL OF
THE DUKE OF DENVER
BEFORE THE HOUSE OF LORDS
The inimitable stories of Tong-king never have any real ending, and this one, being in his most elevated style, has even less end than most of them. But the whole narrative is permeated with the odour of joss-sticks and honourable high-mindedness, and the two characters are both of noble birth. – The Wallet of Kai-Lung
WIMSEY, PETER DEATH BREDON
This re-issue of Clouds of Witness
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.
Huntington Beach, California
May 27, 2003
‘OF HIS MALICE AFORETHOUGHT’
‘O, Who hath done this deed?’
LORD PETER WIMSEY stretched himself luxuriously between the sheets provided by the Hôtel Meurice. After his exertions in the unravelling of the Battersea Mystery, he had followed Sir Julian Freke’s advice and taken a holiday. He had felt suddenly weary of breakfasting every morning before his view over the Green Park; h
Now, however, the call of the blood was upon Lord Peter. They had returned late last night in a vile train to Paris, and had picked up their luggage. The autumn light, filtering through the curtains, touched caressingly the silver-topped bottles on the dressing-table, outlined an electric lamp-shade and the shape of the telephone. A noise of running water near by proclaimed that Bunter had turned on the bath (h. & c.) and was laying out scented soap, bath-salts, the huge bath-sponge, for which there had been no scope in Corsica, and the delightful flesh-brush with the long handle, which rasped you so agreeably all down the spine. ‘Contrast,’ philosophised Lord Peter sleepily, ‘is life. Corsica – Paris – then London. . . . Good morning, Bunter.’
‘Good morning, my lord. Fine morning, my lord. Your lordship’s bath-water is ready.’
‘Thanks,’ said Lord Peter. He blinked at the sunlight.
It was a glorious bath. He wondered, as he soaked in it, how he could have existed in Corsica. He wallowed happily and sang a few bars of a song. In a soporific interval he heard the valet de chambre bringing in coffee and rolls. Coffee and rolls! He heaved himself out with a splash, towelled himself luxuriously, enveloped his long-mortified body in a silken bath-robe, and wandered back.
To his immense surprise he perceived Mr Bunter calmly replacing all the fittings in his dressing-case. Another astonished glance showed him the bags – scarcely opened the previous night – repacked, relabelled, and standing ready for a journey.
‘I say, Bunter, what’s up?’ said his lordship. ‘We’re stayin’ here a fortnight y’know.’
‘Excuse me, my lord,’ said Mr Bunter, deferentially, ‘but, having seen The Times (delivered here every morning by air, my lord; and very expeditious I’m sure, all things considered), I made no doubt your lordship would be wishing to go to Riddlesdale at once.
‘Riddlesdale!’ exclaimed Peter. ‘What’s the matter? Anything wrong with my brother?’
For answer Mr Bunter handed him the paper, folded open at the heading:
DUKE OF DENVER ARRESTED
ON MURDER CHARGE.
Lord Peter stared as if hypnotised.
‘I thought your lordship wouldn’t wish to miss anything,’ said Mr Bunter, ‘so I took the liberty—’
Lord Peter pulled himself together.
‘When’s the next train?’ he asked.
‘I beg your lordship’s pardon – I thought your lordship would wish to take the quickest route. I took it on myself to book two seats in the aeroplane Victoria. She starts at 11.30.’
Lord Peter looked at his watch.
‘Ten o’clock,’ he said. ‘Very well. You did quite right. Dear me! Poor old Gerald arrested for murder. Uncommonly worryin’ for him, poor chap. Always hated my bein’ mixed up with police-courts. Now he’s there himself. Lord Peter Wimsey in the witness-box – very distressin’ to feelin’s of a brother. Duke of Denver in the dock – worse still. Dear me! Well, I suppose one must have breakfast.’
‘Yes, my lord. Full account of the inquest in the paper, my lord.’
‘Yes. Who’s on the case, by the way?’
‘Mr Parker, my lord.’
‘Parker? That’s good. Splendid old Parker! Wonder how he managed to get put on to it. How do things look, Bunter?’
‘If I may say so, my lord, I fancy the investigation will prove very interesting. There are several extremely suggestive points in the evidence, my lord.’
‘From a criminological point of view, I daresay it is interesting,’ replied his lordship, sitting down cheerfully to his café au lait, ‘but it’s deuced awkward for my brother, all the same, havin’ no turn for criminology, what?’
‘Ah, well!’ said Mr Bunter, ‘they say, my lord, there’s nothing like having a personal interest.’
‘The inquest was held today at Riddlesdale, in the North Riding of Yorkshire, on the body of Captain Denis Cathcart, which was found at three o’clock on Thursday morning lying just outside the conservatory door of the Duke of Denver’s shooting-box, Riddlesdale Lodge. Evidence was given to show that deceased had quarrelled with the Duke of Denver on the preceding evening, and was subsequently shot in a small thicket adjoining the house. A pistol belonging to the Duke was found near the scene of the crime. A verdict of murder was returned against the Duke of Denver. Lady Mary Wimsey, sister of the Duke, who was engaged to be married to the deceased, collapsed after giving evidence, and is now lying seriously ill at the Lodge. The Duchess of Denver hastened from town yesterday and was present at the inquest. Full report on p.12.’
‘Poor old Gerald!’ thought Lord Peter, as he turned to page 12; ‘and poor old Mary! I wonder if she really was fond of the fellow. Mother always said not, but Mary never would let on about herself.’
The full report began by describing the little village of Riddlesdale, where the Duke of Denver had recently taken a small shooting-box for the season. When the tragedy occurred the Duke had been staying there with a party of guests. In the Duchess’s absence Lady Mary Wimsey had acted as hostess. The other guests were Colonel and Mrs Marchbanks the Hon. Frederick Arbuthnot, Mr and Mrs Pettigrew-Robinson, and the dead man, Denis Cathcart.
The first witness was the Duke of Denver, who claimed to have discovered the body. He gave evidence that he was coming into the house by the conservatory door at three o’clock in the morning of Thursday, October 14th, when his foot struck against something. He had switched on his electric torch and seen the body of Denis Cathcart at his feet. He had at once turned it over, and seen that Cathcart had been shot in the chest. He was quite dead. As Denver was bending over the body, he heard a cry in the conservatory, and, looking up, saw Lady Mary Wimsey gazing out horror-struck. She came out by the conservatory door and exclaimed at once. ‘O God, Gerald, you’ve killed him!’ (Sensation.)*
The Coroner: ‘Were you surprised by that remark?’
Duke of D.: ‘Well, I was so shocked and surprised at the whole thing. I think I said to her, “Don’t look,” and she said, “Oh, it’s Denis! Whatever can have happened? Has there been an accident?” I stayed with the body, and sent her up to rouse the house.’
The Coroner: ‘Did you expect to see Lady Mary Wimsey in the conservatory?’
Duke of D.: ‘Really, as I say, I was astonished all round, don’t you know, I didn’t think about it.’
The Coroner: ‘Do you remember how she was dressed?’
* This report, though substantially the same as that read by Lord Peter in The Times, has been corrected, amplified, and annotated from the shorthand report made at the time by Mr Parker.
Duke of D.: ‘I don’t think she was in her pyjamas.’ (Laughter.) ‘I think she had a coat on.’
The Coroner: ‘I understand that Lady Mary Wimsey was engaged to the deceased?’
Duke of D.: ‘Yes.’
The Coroner: ‘He was well known to you?’
Duke of D.: ‘He was the son of an old friend of my father’s; his parents are dead. I believe he lived chiefly abroad. I ran across him during the war, and in 1919 he came to stay at Denver. He became engaged to my sister at the beginning of this year.’
The Coroner: ‘With your consent, and with that of the family?’
Duke of D.: ‘Oh, yes, certainly
The Coroner; ‘What kind of man was Captain Cathcart?’
Duke of D.: ‘Well – he was a Sahib and all that. I don’t know what he did before he joined in 1914. I think he lived on his income; his father was well off. Crack shot, good at games, and so on. I never heard anything against him – till that evening.’
The Coroner: ‘What was that?’
Duke of D.: ‘Well – the fact is – it was deuced queer. He – If anybody but Tommy Freeborn had said it I should never have believed it.’ (Sensation.)
The Coroner: ‘I’m afraid I must ask your grace of what exactly you had to accuse the deceased.’
Duke of D.: ‘Well, I didn’t – I don’t exactly accuse him. An old friend of mine made a suggestion. Of course I thought it must be all a mistake, so I went to Cathcart, and, to my amazement, he practically admitted it! Then we both got angry, and he told me to go to the devil, and rushed out of the house.’ (Renewed sensation.)
The Coroner: ‘When did this quarrel occur?’
Duke of D.: ‘On Wednesday night. That was the last I saw of him.’ (Unparalleled sensation.)
The Coroner: ‘Please, please, we cannot have this disturbance. Now, will your grace kindly give me, as far as you can remember it, the exact history of this quarrel?’
Duke of D.: ‘Well, it was like this. We’d had a long day on the moors and had dinner early, and about half-past nine we began to feel like turning in. My sister and Mrs Pettigrew-Robinson toddled on up, and we were havin’ a last peg in the billiard-room when Fleming – that’s my man – came in with the letters. They come rather any old time in the evening, you know, we being two and a half miles from the village. No – I wasn’t in the billiard-room at the time – I was lockin’ up the gun-room. The letter was from an old friend of mine I hadn’t seen for years – Tom Freeborn – used to know him at the House—’
Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers / Mystery & Detective / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes