Lord peter views the bod.., p.17
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       Lord Peter Views the Body, p.17

           Dorothy L. Sayers
 
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  The doctor returned, and put his hand on Brotherton’s shoulder.

  ‘Come,’ he said gently, ‘we have laid her in the other bedroom. She looks very peaceful. You must remember that, except for that moment of terror when she saw the knife, she suffered nothing. It is terrible for you, but you must try not to give way. The police —’

  The police can’t bring her back to life,’ said the man savagely. ‘She’s dead. Leave me alone, curse you! Leave me alone, I say!’

  He stood up, with a violent gesture.

  ‘You must not sit here,’ said Hartman firmly. ‘I will give you something to take, and you must try to keep calm. Then we will leave you, but if you don’t control yourself —’

  After some further persuasion, Brotherton allowed himself to be led away.

  ‘Bunter,’ said Lord Peter, as the kitchen door closed behind them, ‘do you know why I am doubtful about the success of those rat experiments?’

  ‘Meaning Dr Hartman’s, my lord?’

  ‘Yes. Dr Hartman has a theory. In any investigation, my Bunter, it is most damnably dangerous to have a theory.’

  ‘I have heard you say so, my lord.’

  ‘Confound you — you know it as well as I do! What is wrong with the doctor’s theories, Bunter?’

  ‘You wish me to reply, my lord, that he only sees the facts which fit into the theory.’

  ‘Thought-reader!’ exclaimed Lord Peter bitterly.

  ‘And that he supplies them to the police, my lord.’

  ‘Hush!’ said Peter, as the doctor returned.

  ‘I have got him to lie down,’ said Dr Hartman, ‘and I think the best thing we can do is to leave him to himself.’

  ‘D’you know,’ said Wimsey, ‘I don’t cotton to that idea, somehow.’

  ‘Why? Do you think he’s likely to destroy himself?’

  ‘That’s as good a reason to give as any other, I suppose,’ said Wimsey, ‘when you haven’t got any reason which can be put into words. But my advice is, don’t leave him for a moment.’

  ‘But why? Frequently, with a deep grief like this, the presence of other people is merely an irritant. He begged me to leave him.’

  ‘Then for God’s sake go back to him,’ said Peter.

  ‘Really, Lord Peter,’ said the doctor, ‘I think I ought to know what is best for my patient.’

  ‘Doctor,’ said Wimsey, ‘this is not a question of your patient. A crime has been committed.’

  ‘But there is no mystery.’

  ‘There are twenty mysteries. For one thing, when was the window-cleaner here last?’

  ‘The window-cleaner?’

  ‘Who shall fathom the ebony-black enigma of the window-cleaner?’ pursued Peter lightly, putting a match to his pipe. ‘You are quietly in your bath, in a state of more or less innocent nature, when an intrusive head appears at the window, like the ghost of Hamilton Tighe, and a gruff voice, suspended between earth and heaven, says “Good morning, sir.” Where do window-cleaners go between visits? Do they hibernate, like busy bees? Do they —?’

  ‘Really, Lord Peter,’ said the doctor, ‘don’t you think you’re going a bit beyond the limit?’

  ‘Sorry you feel like that,’ said Peter, ‘but I really want to know about the window-cleaner. Look how clear these panes are.’

  ‘He came yesterday, if you want to know,’ said Dr Hartman, rather stiffly.

  ‘You are sure?’

  ‘He did mine at the same time.’

  ‘I thought as much,’ said Lord Peter. ‘In the words of the song:

  ‘I thought as much,

  It was a little — window-cleaner,

  ‘In that case,’ he added, ‘it is absolutely imperative that Brotherton should not be left alone for a moment. Bunter! Confound it all, where’s that fellow got to?’

  The door into the bedroom opened.

  ‘My lord?’ Mr Bunter unobtrusively appeared, as he had unobtrusively stolen out to keep an unobtrusive eye upon the patient.

  ‘Good,’ said Wimsey. ‘Stay where you are.’ His lackadaisical manner had gone, and he looked at the doctor as four years previously he might have looked at a refractory subaltern.

  ‘Dr Hartman,’ he said, ‘something is wrong. Cast your mind back. We were talking about symptoms. Then came the scream. Then came the sound of feet running. Which direction did they run in?’

  ‘I’m sure I don’t know.’

  ‘Don’t you? Symptomatic, though, doctor. They have been troubling me all the time, subconsciously. Now I know why. They ran from the kitchen.’

  ‘Well?’

  ‘Well! And now the window-cleaner —’

  ‘What about him?’

  ‘Could you swear that it wasn’t the window-cleaner who made those marks on the sill?’

  ‘And the man Brotherton saw — ?’

  ‘Have we examined your laboratory roof for his footsteps?’

  ‘But the weapon? Wimsey, this is madness! Someone took the weapon.’

  ‘I know. But did you think the edge of the wound was clean enough to have been made by a smooth stiletto? It looked ragged to me.’

  ‘Wimsey, what are you driving at?’

  ‘There’s a clue here in the flat — and I’m damned if I can remember it. I’ve seen it — I know I’ve seen it. It’ll come to me presently. Meanwhile, don’t let Brotherton —’

  ‘What?’

  ‘Do whatever it is he’s going to do.’

  ‘But what is it?’

  ‘If I could tell you that I could show you the clue. Why couldn’t he make up his mind whether the bedroom door was open or shut? Very good story, but not quite thought out. Anyhow — I say, doctor, make some excuse, and strip him, and bring me his clothes. And send Bunter to me.’

  The doctor stared at him, puzzled. Then he made a gesture of acquiescence and passed into the bedroom. Lord Peter followed him, casting a ruminating glance at Brotherton as he went. Once in the sitting-room, Lord Peter sat down on a red velvet arm-chair, fixed his eyes on a gilt-framed oleograph, and became wrapped in contemplation.

  Presently Bunter came in, with his arms full of clothing. Wimsey took it, and began to search it, methodically enough, but listlessly. Suddenly he dropped the garments, and turned to the manservant.

  ‘No, he said, ‘this is a precaution, Bunter mine, but I’m on the wrong tack. It wasn’t here I saw — whatever I did see. It was in the kitchen. Now, what was it?’

  ‘I could not say, my lord, but I entertain a conviction that I was also, in a manner of speaking, conscious — not consciously conscious, my lord, if you understand me, but still conscious of an incongruity.’

  ‘Hurray!’ said Wimsey suddenly. ‘Cheer-oh! for the subconscious what’s-his-name! Now let’s remember the kitchen. I cleared out of it because I was gettin’ obfuscated. Now then. Begin at the door. Fryin’-pans and saucepans on the wall. Gas-stove — oven goin’ — chicken inside. Racks of wooden spoons on the wall, gas-lighter, pan-lifter. Stop me when I’m gettin’ hot. Mantelpiece. Spice-boxes and stuff. Anything wrong with them? No. Dresser. Plates. Knives and forks, — all clean; flour dredger — milk-jug — sieve on the wall — nutmeg-grater. Three-tier steamer. Looked inside — no grisly secrets in the steamer.’

  ‘Did you look in all the dresser drawers, my lord?’

  ‘No. That could be done. But the point is, I did notice somethin’. What did I notice? That’s the point. Never mind. On with the dance — let joy be unconfined! Knife-board. Knife-powder. Kitchen table. Did you speak?’

  ‘No,’ said Bunter, who had moved from his attitude of wooden deference.

  ‘Table stirs a chord. Very good. On table. Choppin’-board. Remains of ham and herb stuffin’. Packet of suet. Another sieve. Several plates. Butter in a glass dish. Bowl of drippin’ —’

  ‘Ah!’

  ‘Drippin’ —! Yes, there was —’

  ‘Something unsatisfactory, my lord —’

  ‘About the drippin’! Oh, my head! What’s that t
hey say in Dear Brutus, Bunter? “Hold on to the workbox.” That’s right. Hold on to the drippin’. Beastly slimy stuff to hold on to — Wait!’

  There was a pause.

  ‘When I was a kid,’ said Wimsey, ‘I used to love to go down into the kitchen and talk to old cookie. Good old soul she was, too. I can see her now, gettin’ chicken ready, with me danglin’ my legs on the table. She used to pluck an’ draw ’em herself. I revelled in it. Little beasts boys are, ain’t they, Bunter? Pluck it, draw it, wash it, stuff it, tuck its little tail through its little what-you-may-call-it, truss it, grease the dish — Bunter?’

  ‘My lord!’

  ‘Hold on to the dripping!’

  ‘The bowl, my lord —’

  ‘The bowl — visualise it — what was wrong?’

  ‘It was full, my lord!’

  ‘Got it — got it — got it! The bowl was full — smooth surface. Golly! I knew there was something queer about it. Now why shouldn’t it be full? Hold on to the —’

  ‘The bird was in the oven.’

  ‘Without dripping!’

  ‘Very careless cookery my lord.’

  ‘The bird — in the oven — no dripping. Bunter! Suppose it was never put in till after she was dead? Thrust in hurriedly by someone who had something to hide — horrible!’

  ‘But with what object, my lord?’

  ‘Yes, why? That’s the point. One more mental association with the bird. It’s just coming. Wait a moment. Pluck, draw, wash, stuff, tuck up, truss — By God!’

  ‘My lord?’

  ‘Come on, Bunter. Thank Heaven we turned off the gas!’

  He dashed through the bedroom, disregarding the doctor and the patient, who sat up with a smothered shriek. He flung open the oven door and snatched out the baking-tin. The skin of the bird had just begun to discolour. With a little gasp of triumph, Wimsey caught the iron ring that protruded from the wing, and jerked out — the six-inch spiral skewer.

  The doctor was struggling with the excited Brotherton in the doorway. Wimsey caught the man as he broke away, and shook him into the corner with a jiu-jitsu twist.

  ‘Here is the weapon,’ he said.

  ‘Prove it, blast you!’ said Brotherton savagely.

  ‘I will,’ said Wimsey. ‘Bunter, call in the policeman whom you will find at the door. Doctor, we shall need your microscope.’

  In the laboratory the doctor bent over the microscope. A thin layer of blood from the skewer had been spread upon the slide.

  ‘Well?’ said Wimsey impatiently.

  ‘It’s all right,’ said Hartman. ‘The roasting didn’t get anywhere near the middle. My God, Wimsey, yes, you’re right — round corpuscles, diameter 1/3621 — mammalian blood — probably human —’

  ‘Her blood,’ said Wimsey.

  ‘It was very clever, Bunter,’ said Lord Peter, as the taxi trundled along on the way to his flat in Piccadilly. ‘If that fowl had gone, on roasting a bit longer the blood-corpuscles might easily have been destroyed beyond all hope of recognition. It all goes to show that the unpremeditated crime is usually the safest.’

  ‘And what does your lordship take the man’s motive to have been?’

  ‘In my youth,’ said Wimsey meditatively, ‘they used to make me read the Bible. Trouble was, the only books I ever took to naturally were the ones they weren’t over and above keen on. But I got to know the Song of Songs pretty well by heart. Look it up, Bunter, at your age it won’t hurt you; it talks sense about jealousy.’

  ‘I have perused the work in question, your lordship,’ replied Mr Bunter, with a sallow blush. ‘It says, if I remember rightly: “Jealousy is cruel as the grave.” ’

  The Bibulous Business of a Matter of Taste

  ‘HALTE-LÀ!… ATTENTION!… F----e!’

  The young man in the grey suit pushed his way through the protesting porters and leapt nimbly for the footboard of the guard’s van as the Paris-Evreux express steamed out of the Invalides. The guard, with an eye to a tip, fielded him adroitly from among the detaining hands.

  ‘It is happy for monsieur that he is so agile,’ he remarked. ‘Monsieur is in a hurry?’

  ‘Somewhat. Thank you. I can get through by the corridor?’

  ‘But certainly. The premières are two coaches away, beyond the luggage-van.’

  The young man rewarded his rescuer, and made his way forward, mopping his face. As he passed the piled-up luggage, something caught his eye, and he stopped to investigate. It was a suit-case, nearly new, of expensive-looking leather, labelled conspicuously:

  LORD PETER WIMSEY,

  Hôtel Saumon d’Or,

  Verneuil-sur-Eure.

  and bare witness to its itinerary thus:

  LONDON — PARIS

  (Waterloo) (Gare St Lazare)

  via Southampton-Havre.

  PARIS — VERNEUIL

  (Ch. de Fer de l’Ouest)

  The young man whistled, and sat down on a trunk to think it out.

  Somewhere there had been a leakage, and they were on his trail. Nor did they care who knew it. There were hundreds of people in London and Paris who would know the name of Wimsey, not counting the police of both countries. In addition to belonging to one of the oldest ducal families in England, Lord Peter had made himself conspicuous by his meddling with crime detection. A label like this was a gratuitous advertisement.

  But the amazing thing was that the pursuers were not troubling to hide themselves from the pursued. That argued very great confidence. That he should have got into the guard’s van was, of course, an accident, but, even so, he might have seen it on the platform, or anywhere.

  An accident? It occurred to him — not for the first time, but definitely now, and without doubt — that it was indeed an accident for them that he was here. The series of maddening delays that had held him up between London and the Invalides presented itself to him with an air of pre-arrangement. The preposterous accusation, for instance, of the woman who had accosted him in Piccadilly, and the slow process of extricating himself at Marlborough Street. It was easy to hold a man up on some trumped-up charge till an important plan had matured. Then there was the lavatory door at Waterloo, which had so ludicrously locked itself upon him. Being athletic, he had climbed over the partition, to find the attendant mysteriously absent. And, in Paris, was it by chance that he had had a deaf taxi-driver, who mistook the direction ‘Quai d’Orléans’ for ‘Gare de Lyon,’ and drove a mile and a half in the wrong direction before the shouts of his fare attracted his attention? They were clever, the pursuers, and circumspect. They had accurate information; they would delay him, but without taking any overt step; they knew that, if only they could keep time on their side, they needed no other ally.

  Did they know he was on the train? If not, he still kept the advantage, for they would travel in a false security, thinking him to be left, raging and helpless, in the Invalides. He decided to make a cautious reconnaissance.

  The first step was to change his grey suit for another of inconspicuous navy-blue cloth, which he had in his small black bag. This he did in the privacy of the toilet, substituting for his grey soft hat a large travelling-cap, which pulled well down over his eyes.

  There was little difficulty in locating the man he was in search of. He found him seated in the inner corner of a first-class compartment, facing the engine, so that the watcher could approach unseen from behind. On the rack was a handsome dressing-case, with the initials P. D. B. W. The young man was familiar with Wimsey’s narrow, beaky face, flat yellow hair, and insolent dropped eyelids. He smiled a little grimly.

  ‘He is confident,’ he thought, ‘and has regrettably made the mistake of underrating the enemy. Good! This is where I retire into a seconde and keep my eyes open. The next act of this melodrama will take place, I fancy, at Dreux.’

  It is a rule on the Chemin de Fer de l’Ouest that all Paris-Evreux trains, whether of Grande Vitesse or what Lord Peter Wimsey preferred to call Grande Paresse, shall halt for an interminable p
eriod at Dreux. The young man (now in navy-blue) watched his quarry safely into the refreshment-room, and slipped unobtrusively out of the station. In a quarter of an hour he was back — this time in a heavy motoring-coat, helmet, and goggles, at the wheel of a powerful hired Peugeot. Coming quietly on to the platform, he took up his station behind the wall of the lampisterie, whence he could keep an eye on the train and the buffet door. After fifteen minutes his patience was rewarded by the sight of his man again boarding the express, dressing-case in hand. The porters slammed the doors, crying: ‘Next stop Verneuil!’ The engine panted and groaned; the long train of grey-green carriages clanked slowly away. The motorist drew a breath of satisfaction, and, hurrying past the barrier, started up the car. He knew that he had a good eighty miles an hour under his bonnet, and there is no speed-limit in France.

  Mon Souci, the seat of that eccentric and eremitical genius the Comte de Rueil, is situated three kilometres from Verneuil. It is a sorrowful and decayed château, desolate at the termination of its neglected avenue of pines. The mournful state of a nobility without an allegiance surrounds it. The stone nymphs droop greenly over their dry and mouldering fountains. An occasional peasant creaks with a single waggon-load of wood along the ill-forested glades. It has the atmosphere of sunset at all hours of the day. The woodwork is dry and gaping for lack of paint. Through the jalousies one sees the prim salon, with its beautiful and faded furniture. Even the last of its ill-dressed, ill-favoured women has withered away from Mon Souci, with her in-bred, exaggerated features and her long white gloves. But at the rear of the château a chimney smokes incessantly. It is the furnace of the laboratory, the only living and modern thing among the old and dying; the only place tended and loved, petted and spoiled, heir to the long solicitude which counts of a more light-hearted day had given to stable and kennel, portrait-gallery and ballroom. And below, in the cool cellar, lie row upon row the dusty bottles, each an enchanted glass coffin in which the Sleeping Beauty of the vine grows ever more ravishing in sleep.

 
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