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Agatha Christie

The Body in the Library

CAST OF CHARACTERS
Dolly Bantry -- Mistress of Gossington Hall, and wife of Colonel Arthur Bantry who was caught in a chain of circumstances that nearly proved too much for him.
Jane Marple -- Her uncanny predilection for village parallels enabled her to solve mysterious crimes.
Colonel Melchett -- Chief Constable of the County.
Inspector Slack -- An energetic, and somewhat tactless, police official.
Basil Blake -- A very rude, spirited young man, whose studied insolence covered a great fear.
Dinah Lee -- Blake's equally spirited girl friend, who had a secret of her own.
Ruby Keene -- A young dancer reported missing from the Majestic Hotel at Danemouth.
Josephine Turner -- Professional dancer and hostess at the Majestic Hotel; Ruby Keene's distant cousin and sponsor.
Superintendent Harper -- Of the Glenshire Police; he was inclined to be soothing.
Adelaide Jefferson -- Conway Jefferson's daughter-in-law, who could have told much more than she chose.
George Bartlett -- A guest at the

Majestic, he was young, single, and almost too famous.
Peter Carmody -- Conway Jefferson's grandson, who had a keen interest in criminology.
Mark Gaskell -- Conway Jefferson's son-in-law, keen, ruthless, and disarmingly frank.
Conway Jefferson -- A dynamic personality confined to a wheelchair.
Raymond Starr -- Young tennis and dance pro at the Majestic, he was suave, smooth, and personable, with an eye for the main chance.
Sir Henry Clithering -- Retired ex-commissioner of the Metropolitan

Police; a friend of Conway Jefferson and the Bantrys, with great respect for Miss Marple's "ability."

* * * * * *

Mrs. Bantry was dreaming. Her sweet peas had just taken a First at the flower show. The vicar, dressed in cassock and surplice, was giving out the prizes in church. His wife wandered past, dressed in a bathing suit, but, as is the blessed habit of dreams, this fact did not arouse the disapproval of the parish in the way it would assuredly have done in real life. Mrs. Bantry was enjoying her dream a good deal.
She usually did enjoy those early-morning dreams that were terminated by the arrival of early-morning tea. Somewhere in her inner consciousness was an awareness of the usual early-morning noises of the household. The rattle of the curtain rings on the stairs as the housemaid drew them, the noises of the second housemaid's dustpan and brush in the passage outside. In the distance the heavy noise of the front-door bolt being drawn back.
Another day was beginning. In the meantime she must extract as much pleasure as possible from the flower show, for already its dreamlike quality was becoming apparent.
Below her was the noise of the big wooden shutters in the drawing room being opened. She heard it, yet did not hear it. For quite half an hour longer the usual household noises would go on, discreet, subdued, not disturbing because they were so familiar. They would culminate in a swift, controlled sound of footsteps along the passage, the rustle of a print dress, the subdued chink of tea things as the tray was deposited on the table outside, then the soft knock and the entry of Mary to draw the curtains. In her sleep Mrs. Bantry frowned. Something disturbing was penetrating through the dream state, something out of its time. Footsteps along the passage, footsteps that were too hurried and too soon. Her ears listened unconsciously for the chink of china, but there was no chink of china. The knock came at the door. Automatically, from the depths of her dream, Mrs. Bantry said, "Come in." The door opened; now there would be the chink of curtain ring as the curtains were drawn back.
But there was no chink of curtain rings. Out of the dull green light Mary's voice came, breathless, hysterical. "Oh, ma'am, oh, ma'am, there's a body in the library!" And then, with a hysterical burst of sobs, she rushed out of the room again.
Mrs. Bantry sat up in bed. Either her dream had taken a very odd turn or else -- or else Mary had really rushed into the room and had said -- incredibly fantastic! -- that there was a body in the library. "Impossible," said Mrs. Bantry to herself. "I must have been dreaming." But even as she said it, she felt more and more certain that she had not been dreaming; that Mary, her superior self-controlled Mary, had actually uttered those fantastic words. Mrs. Bantry reflected a minute and then applied an urgent conjugal elbow to her sleeping spouse. "Arthur, Arthur, wake up." Colonel Bantry grunted, muttered and rolled over on his side. "Wake up, Arthur. Did you hear what she said?"
"Very likely," said Colonel Bantry indistinctly. "I quite agree with you. Dolly," and promptly went to sleep again.
Mrs. Bantry shook him. "You've got to listen. Mary came in and said that there was a body in the library." "Eh, what?" "A body in the library" "Who said so?" "Mary."
Colonel Bantry collected his scattered faculties and proceeded to deal with the situation. He said, "Nonsense, old girl! You've been dreaming."
"No, I haven't. I thought so, too, at first. But I haven't. She really came in and said so."
"Mary came in and said there was a body in the library?" "Yes." "But there couldn't be," said Colonel Bantry. "No no, I suppose not," said Mrs. Bantry doubtfully. Rallying, she went on, "But then why did Mary say there was?" "She can't have." "She did." "You must have imagined it." "I didn't imagine it." Colonel Bantry was by now thoroughly awake and prepared to deal with the situation on its merits. He said kindly, "You've been dreaming. Dolly. It's that detective story you were reading The Clue of the Broken Match. You know. Lord Edgbaston finds a beautiful blonde dead on the library hearth rug Bodies are always being found in libraries in books. I've never known a case in real life."
"Perhaps you will now," said Mrs. Bantry, "Anyway Arthur, you've got to get up and see."
"But really. Dolly, it must have been a dream. Dreams often do seem wonderfully vivid when you first wake up. You feel quite sure they're true."
"I was having quite a different sort of dream about a flower show and the vicar's wife in a bathing dress, something like that." Mrs. Bantry jumped out of bed and pulled back the curtains. The light of a fine autumn day flooded the room. "I did not dream it," said Mrs. Bantry firmly. "Get up at once, Arthur, and go downstairs and see about it."
"You want me to go downstairs and ask if there's a body in the library? I shall look a fool."
"You needn't ask anything," said Mrs. Bantry. "If there is a body and of course it's just possible that Mary's gone mad and thinks she sees things that aren't there well, somebody will tell you soon enough. You won't have to say a word."
Grumbling, Colonel Bantry wrapped himself in his dressing gown and left the room. He went along the passage and down the staircase. At the foot of it was a little knot of huddled servants; some of them were sobbing. The butler stepped forward impressively. "I'm glad you have come, sir. I have directed that nothing should be done until you came. Will it be in order for me to ring up the police, sir?"
"Ring 'em up about what?"
The butler cast a reproachful glance over his shoulder at the tall young woman who was weeping hysterically on the cook's shoulder. "I understood, sir, that Mary had already informed you. She said she had done so."
Mary gasped out, "I was so upset, I don't know what I said! It all came over me again and my legs gave way and my insides turned over! Finding it like that. Oh, oh, oh!"
She subsided again onto Mrs. Eccles, who said, "There, there, my dear," with some relish.
"Mary is naturally somewhat upset, sir, having been the one to make the gruesome discovery," exclaimed the butler. "She went into the library, as usual, to draw the curtains, and -- and almost stumbled over the body."
"Do you mean to tell me," demanded Colonel Bantry, "that there's a dead body in my library -- my library?"
The butler coughed. "Perhaps, sir, you would like to see for yourself."
"Hullo, 'ullo, 'ullo. Police station here. Yes, who's speaking?" Police Constable Palk was buttoning up his tunic with one hand while the other held the telephone receiver. "Yes, yes, Gossington Hall. Yes? . . . Oh, good morning, sir." Police Constable Palk's tone underwent a slight modification. It became less impatiently official, recognizing the generous patron of the police sports and the principal magistrate of the district. "Yes, sir? What can I do for you? . . . I'm sorry, sir, I didn't quite catch . . . A body, did you say? . . . Yes? . . . Yes, if you please, sir. . . . That's right, sir. . . . Young woman not known to you, you say? . . . Quite, sir. . . . Yes, you can leave it all to me."
Police Constable Palk replaced the receiver, uttered a long-drawn whistle and proceeded to dial his superior officer's number. Mrs. Palk looked in from the kitchen, whence proceeded an appetizing smell of frying bacon. "What is it?"
"Rummiest thing you ever heard of," replied her husband. "Body of a young woman found up at the Hall. In the colonel's library." "Murdered?" "Strangled, so he says." "Who was she?" "The colonel says he doesn't know her from Adam." "Then what was she doing in 'is library?" Police Constable Palk silenced her with a reproachful glance and spoke officially into the telephone "Inspector Slack? Police Constable Palk here. A report has just come in that the body of a young woman was discovered this morning at seven-fifteen "
Miss Marple's telephone rang when she was dressing. The sound of it flurried her a little. It was an unusual hour for her telephone to ring. So well ordered was her prim spinster's life that unforeseen telephone calls were a source of vivid conjecture. "Dear me," said Miss Marple, surveying the ringing instrument with perplexity. "I wonder who that can be?"
Nine o'clock to nine-thirty was the recognized time for the village to make friendly calls to neighbors. Plans for the day, invitations, and so on, were always issued then. The butcher had been known to ring up just before nine if some crisis in the meat trade had occurred. At intervals during the day spasmodic calls might occur, though it was considered bad form to ring up after nine-thirty at night.
It was true that Miss Marple's nephew, a writer, and therefore erratic, had been known to ring up at the most peculiar times; once as late as ten minutes to midnight. But whatever Raymond West's eccentricities, early rising was not one of them. Neither he nor anyone of Miss Marple's acquaintance would be likely to ring up before eight in the morning. Actually a quarter to eight. Too early even for a telegram, since the post office did not open until eight. "It must be," Miss Marple decided, "a wrong number." Having decided this, she advanced to the impatient instrument and quelled its clamor by picking up the receiver. "Yes?" she said.
"Is that you, Jane?"
Miss Marple was much surprised. "Yes, it's Jane. You're up very early. Dolly."
Mrs. Bantry's voice came, breathless and agitated, over the wire. "The most awful thing has happened."
"Oh, my dear!"
"We've just found a body in the library."
For a moment Miss Marple thought her friend had gone mad. "You've found a what?"
"I know. One doesn't believe it, does one? I mean I thought they only happened in books. I had to argue for hours with Arthur this morning before he'd even go down and see."
Miss Marple tried to collect herself. She demanded breathlessly, "But whose body is it?"
"It's a blonde."
"A what?"
"A blonde. A beautiful blonde like books again. None of us have ever seen her before. She's just lying there in the library, dead. That's why you've got to come up at once."
"You want me to come up?"
"Yes, I'm sending the car down for you."
Miss Marple said doubtfully, "Of course, dear, if you think I can be of any comfort to you."
"Oh, I don't want comfort. But you're so good at bodies."
"Oh, no, indeed. My little successes have been mostly theoretical."
"But you're very good at murders. She's been murdered you see; strangled. What I feel is that if one has got to have a murder actually happening in one's house, one might as well enjoy it, if you know what I mean. That's why I want you to come and help me find out who did it and unravel the mystery and all that. It really is rather thrilling, isn't it?" "Well, of course, my dear, if I can be of any help." "Splendid! Arthur's being rather difficult. He seems to think I shouldn't enjoy myself about it at all. Of course, I do know it's very sad and all that, but then I don't know the girl and when you've seen her you'll understand what I mean when I say she doesn't look real at all."
A little breathless Miss Marple alighted from the Bantrys' car, the door of which was held open for her by the chauffeur. Colonel Bantry came out on the steps and looked a little surprised. "Miss Marple? Er very pleased to see you."
"Your wife telephoned to me," explained Miss Marple.
"Capital, capital. She ought to have someone with her. She'll crack up otherwise. She's putting a good face on things at the moment, but you know what it is."
At this moment Mrs. Bantry appeared and exclaimed, "Do go back and eat your breakfast, Arthur. Your bacon will get cold."
"I thought it might be the inspector arriving," explained Colonel Bantry.
"He'll be here soon enough," said Mrs. Bantry. "That's why it's important to get your breakfast first. You need it."
"So do you. Much better come and eat something, Dolly."
"I'll come in a minute," said Mrs. Bantry. "Go on, Arthur." Colonel Bantry was shooed back into the dining room rather like a recalcitrant hen. "Now!" said Mrs. Bantry with an intonation of triumph. "Come on."
She led the way rapidly along the long corridor to the east of the house. Outside the library door Constable Palk stood on guard. He intercepted Mrs. Bantry with a show of authority. "I'm afraid nobody is allowed in, madam. Inspector's orders."
"Nonsense, Palk," said Mrs. Bantry. "You know Miss Marple perfectly well." Constable Palk admitted to knowing Miss Marple. "It's very important that she should see the body," said Mrs. Bantry. "Don't be stupid, Palk. After all, it's my library, isn't it?"
Constable Palk gave way. His habit of giving in to the gentry was lifelong. The inspector, he reflected, need never know about it. "Nothing must be touched or handled in any way," he warned the ladies.
"Of course not," said Mrs. Bantry impatiently. "We know that. You can come in and watch, if you like." Constable Palk availed himself of this permission. It had been his intention anyway. Mrs. Bantry bore her friend triumphantly across the library to the big old-fashioned fireplace. She said, with a dramatic sense of climax, "There!"
Miss Marple understood then just what her friend had meant when she said the dead girl wasn't real. The library was a room very typical of its owners. It was large and shabby and untidy. It had big, sagging armchairs, and pipes and books and estate papers laid out on the big table. There were one or two good old family portraits on the walls, and some bad Victorian water colors, and some would-be-funny hunting scenes. There was a big vase of flowers in the corner. The whole room was dim and mellow and casual. It spoke of long occupation and familiar use and of links with tradition.
And across the old bearskin hearth rug there was sprawled something new and crude and melodramatic. The flamboyant figure of a girl. A girl with unnaturally fair hair dressed up off her face in elaborate curls and rings. Her thin body was dressed in a backless evening dress of white spangled satin; the face was heavily made up, the powder standing out grotesquely on its blue, swollen surface, the mascara of the lashes lying thickly on the distorted cheeks, the scarlet of the lips looking like a gash. The fingernails were enameled a deep blood red, and so were the toenails in their cheap silver sandal shoes. It was a cheap, tawdry, flamboyant figure, most incongruous in the solid, old-fashioned comfort of Colonel Bantry's library. Mrs. Bantry said in a low voice, "You see what I mean? It just isn't true?"
The old lady by her side nodded her head. She looked down long and thoughtfully at the huddled figure. She said at last in a gentle voice, "She's very young."
"Yes; yes, I suppose she is." Mrs. Bantry seemed almost surprised, like one making a discovery.
There was the sound of a car crunching on the gravel outside. Constable Palk said with urgency, "That'll be the inspector."
True to his ingrained belief that the gentry didn't let you down, Mrs. Bantry immediately moved to the door. Miss Marple followed her. Mrs. Bantry said, "That'll be all right, Palk." Constable Palk was immensely relieved.
Hastily downing the last fragments of toast and marmalade with a drink of coffee Colonel Bantry hurried out into the hall and was relieved to see Colonel Melchett, the chief constable of the county, descending from a car, with Inspector Slack in attendance. Melchett was a friend of the colonel's; Slack he had never very much taken to. An energetic man who belied his name and who accompanied his bustling manner with a good deal of disregard for the feelings of anyone he did not consider important.
"Morning, Bantry," said the chief constable. "Thought I'd better come along myself. This seems an extraordinary business."
"It's -- it's-" Colonel Bantry struggled to express himself "it's incredible fantastic!"
"No idea who the woman is?"
"Not in the slightest. Never set eyes on her in my life."
"Butler know anything?" asked Inspector Slack.
"Lorrimer is just as taken aback as I am."
"Ah," said Inspector Slack. "I wonder."
Colonel Bantry said, "There's breakfast in the dining room, Melchett, if you'd like anything."
"No, no, better get on with the job. Haydock ought to be here any minute now . . . . Ah, here he is." Another car drew up and big, broad-shouldered Doctor Haydock, who was also the police surgeon, got out. A second police car had disgorged two plain-clothes men, one with a camera.
"All set, eh?" said the chief constable. "Right. We'll go along. In the library Slack tells me."
Colonel Bantry groaned. "It's incredible! You know, when my wife insisted this morning that the housemaid had come in and said there was a body in the library, I just wouldn't believe her."
"No, no, I can quite understand that. Hope your missus isn't too badly upset by it all."
"She's been wonderful, really wonderful. She's got old Miss Marple up here with her from the village, you know."
"Miss Marple?" The chief constable stiffened. "Why did she send for her?"
"Oh, a woman wants another woman don't you think so?"
Colonel Melchett said with a slight chuckle, "If you ask me, your wife's going to try her hand at a little amateur detecting. Miss Marple's quite the local sleuth. Put it over us properly once, didn't she Slack?"
Inspector Slack said, "That was different."
"Different from what?"
"That was a local case, that was, sir. The old lady knows everything that goes on in the village, that's true enough. But she'll be out of her depth here."
Melchett said dryly, "You don't know very much about it yourself yet, Slack."
"Ah, you wait, sir. It won't take me long to get down to it."
In the dining room Mrs. Bantry and Miss Marple, in their turn, were partaking of breakfast. After waiting on her guest, Mrs. Bantry said urgently, "Well, Jane?" Miss Marple looked up at her slightly bewildered. Mrs. Bantry said hopefully, "Doesn't it remind you of anything?"
For Miss Marple had attained fame by her ability to link up trivial village happenings with graver problems in such a way as to throw light upon the latter.
"No," said Miss Marple thoughtfully. "I can't say that it does not at the moment. I was reminded a little of Mrs. Chetty's youngest Edie, you know but I think that was just because this poor girl bit her nails and her front teeth stuck out a little. Nothing more than that. And of course," went on Miss Marple, pursuing the parallel further, "Edie was fond of what I call cheap finery too."
"You mean her dress?" said Mrs. Bantry. "Yes, very tawdry satin, poor quality."
Mrs. Bantry said, "I know. One of those nasty little shops where everything is a guinea." She went on hopefully, "Let me see. What happened to Mrs. Chetty's Edie?"
"She's just gone into her second place, and doing very well, I believe," said Miss Marple. Mrs. Bantry felt slightly disappointed. The village parallel didn't seem to be exactly hopeful.
"What I can't make out," said Mrs. Bantry, "is what she could possibly be doing in Arthur's study. The window was forced, Palk tells me. She might have come down here with a burglar, and then they quarreled. But that seems such nonsense, doesn't it?"
"She was hardly dressed for burglary," said Miss Marple thoughtfully.
"No, she was dressed for dancing or a party of some kind. But there's nothing of that kind down here or anywhere near."
"N-no," said Miss Marple doubtfully.
Mrs. Bantry pounced. "Something's in your mind, Jane."
"Well, I was just wondering "
"Yes?"
"Basil Blake."
Mrs. Bantry cried impulsively, "Oh, no!" and added as though in explanation, "I know his mother."
The two women looked at each other. Miss Marple sighed and shook her head. "I quite understand how you feel about it."
"Selina Blake is the nicest woman imaginable. Her herbaceous borders are simply marvelous; they make me green with envy. And she's frightfully generous with cuttings."
Miss Marple, passing over these claims to consideration on the part of Mrs. Blake, said, "All the same, you know, there has been a lot of talk."
"Oh, I know, I know. And of course Arthur goes simply livid when he hears him mentioned. He was really very rude to Arthur, and since then Arthur won't hear a good word for him. He's got that silly slighting way of talking that these boys have nowadays -- sneering at people, sticking up for their school or the Empire or that sort of thing. And then, of course, the clothes he wears! People say," continued Mrs. Bantry, "that it doesn't matter what you wear in the country. I never heard such nonsense. It's just in the country that everyone notices." She paused and added wistfully, "He was an adorable baby in his bath."
"There was a lovely picture of the Cheviot murderer as a baby in the paper last Sunday," said Miss Marple.
"Oh, but, Jane, you don't think he-"
"No, no, dear, I didn't mean that at all. That would indeed be jumping to conclusions. I was just trying to account for the young woman's presence down here. St. Mary Mead is such an unlikely place. And then it seemed to me that the only possible explanation was Basil Blake. He does have parties. People come down from London and from the studios. You remember last July? Shouting and singing, the most terrible noise, everyone very drunk, I'm afraid, and the mess and the broken glass next morning simply unbelievable. So old Mrs. Berry told me and a young woman asleep in the bath with practically nothing on!"
Mrs. Bantry said indulgently, "I suppose they were young people."
"Very likely. And then what I expect you've heard several weekends lately he's brought down a young woman with him. A platinum blonde."
Mrs. Bantry exclaimed, "You don't think it's this one?"
"Well, I wondered. Of course, I've never seen her close, only just getting in and out of the car, and once in the cottage garden when she was sunbathing with just some shorts and a brassiere. I never really saw her face. And all these girls, with their make-up and their hair and their nails, look so alike."
"Yes. Still, it might be. It's an idea, Jane."
It was an idea that was being at that moment discussed by Colonel Melchett and Colonel Bantry. The chief constable, after viewing the body and seeing his subordinates set to work on their routine tasks, had adjourned with the master of the house to the study in the other wing. Colonel Melchett was an irascible-looking man with a habit of tugging at his short red mustache. He did so now, shooting a perplexed sideways glance at the other man. Finally he rapped out, "Look here, Bantry; got to get this off my chest. Is it a fact that you don't know from Adam who this woman is?" The other's answer was explosive, but the chief constable interrupted him. "Yes, yes, old man, but look at it like this: Might be deuced awkward for you. Married man fond of your missus and all that. But just between ourselves, if you were tied up with this girl in any way, better say so now. Quite natural to want to suppress the fact; should feel the same myself. But it won't do. Murder case. Facts bound to come out. Dash it all, I'm not suggesting you strangled the girl not the sort of thing you'd do. I know that! But, after all, she came here to this house. Put it, she broke in and was waiting to see you, and some bloke or other followed her down and did her in. Possible, you know. See what I mean?"
"I've never set eyes on that girl in my life! I'm not that sort of man!"
"That's all right then. Shouldn't blame you, you know. Man of the world. Still, if you say so. Question is, what was she doing down here? She doesn't come from these parts, that's quite certain."
"That whole thing's a nightmare," fumed the angry master of the house.
"The point is, old man, what was she doing in your library?"
"How should I know? I didn't ask her here."
"No, no. But she came here all the same. Looks as though she wanted to see you. You haven't had any odd letters or anything?"
"No, I haven't."
Colonel Melchett inquired delicately, "What were you doing yourself last night?"
"I went to the meeting of the Conservative Association. Nine o'clock, at Much Benham."
"And you got home when?"
"I left Much Benham just after ten. Had a bit of trouble on the way home, had to change a wheel. I got back at a quarter to twelve."
"You didn't go into the library?"
"No."
"Pity."
"I was tired. I went straight up to bed."
"Anyone waiting up for you?"
"No. I always take the latchkey. Lorrimer goes to bed at eleven, unless I give orders to the contrary."
"Who shuts up the library?"
"Lorrimer. Usually about seven-thirty this time of year."
"Would he go in there again during the evening?"
"Not with my being out. He left the tray with whiskey and glasses in the hall."
"I see. What about your wife?"
"She was in bed when I got home, and fast asleep. She may have sat in the library yesterday evening, or in the drawing room. I didn't ask her."
"Oh, well, we shall soon know all the details. Of course it's possible one of the servants may be concerned, eh?"
Colonel Bantry shook his head. "I don't believe it. They're all a most respectable lot. We've had 'em for years."
Melchett agreed. "Yes, it doesn't seem likely that they're mixed up in it. Looks more as though the girl came down from town perhaps with some young fellow. Though why they wanted to break into this house . . ."
Bantry interrupted. "London. That's more like it. We don't have goings-on down here at least."
"Well, what is it?"
"Upon my word!" exploded Colonel Bantry. "Basil Blake!"
"Who's he?"
"Young fellow connected with the film industry. Poisonous young brute. My wife sticks up for him because she was at school with his mother, but of all the decadent useless young Jackanapes he wants his behind kicked. He's taken that cottage on the Lansham Road you know, ghastly modern bit of building. He has parties there shrieking, noisy crowds and he has girls down for the weekend." "Girls?"
"Yes, there was one last week one of these platinum blondes." The colonel's jaw dropped. "A platinum blonde, eh?" said Melchett reflectively. "Yes. I say, Melchett, you don't think . . ." The chief constable said briskly, "It's a possibility. It accounts for a girl of this type being in St. Mary Mead. I think I'll run along and have a word with this young fellow Braid Blake what did you say his name was?"
"Blake. Basil Blake." "Will he be at home, do you know?" asked Melchett. "Let me see, what's today? Saturday? Usually gets here some time Saturday morning." Melchett said grimly, "Well see if we can find him." Basil Blake's cottage, which consisted of all modern conveniences enclosed in a hideous shell of half timbering and sham Tudor, was known to the postal authorities and to William Booker, Builder, as "Chatsworth"; to Basil and his friends as "The Period Piece"; and to the village of St. Mary Mead at large as "Mr. Booker's new house." It was little more than a quarter of a mile from the village proper, being situated on a new building estate that had been bought by the enterprising Mr. Booker just beyond the Blue Boar, with frontage on what had been a particularly unspoiled country lane. Gossington Hall was about a mile farther on along the same road. Lively interest had been aroused in St. Mary Mead when the news went round that "Mr. Booker's new house" had been bought by a film star. Eager watch was kept for the first appearance of the legendary creature in the village, and it may be said that as far as appearances went Basil Blake was all that could be asked for. Little by little, however, the real facts leaked out. Basil Blake was not a film star, not even a film actor. He was a very junior person, rejoicing in the position of about fifteenth in the list of those responsible for set decorations at Lenville Studios, headquarters of British New Era Films. The village maidens lost interest and the ruling class of censorious spinsters took exception to Basil Blake's way of life. Only the landlord of the Blue Boar continued to be enthusiastic about Basil and Basil's friends. The revenues of the Blue Boar had increased since the young man's arrival in the place.
The police car stopped outside the distorted rustic gate of Mr. Booker's fancy, and Colonel Melchett, with a glance of distaste at the excessive half timbering of Chatsworth, strode up to the front door and attacked it briskly with the knocker. It was opened much more promptly than he had expected. A young man with straight, somewhat long black hair, wearing orange corduroy trousers and a royal-blue shirt, snapped out, "Well, what do you want?"
"Are you Mr. Basil Blake?"
"Of course I am."
"I should be glad to have a few words with you if I may, Mr. Blake."
"Who are you?"
"I am Colonel Melchett, the chief constable of the county."
Mr. Blake said insolently, "You don't say so. How amusing."
And Colonel Melchett, following the other in, understood precisely what Colonel Bantry's reactions had been. The toe of his own boot itched. Containing himself, however, he said, with an attempt to speak pleasantly, "You're an early riser, Mr. Blake."
"Not at all. I haven't been to bed yet." "Indeed?" "But I don't suppose you've come here to inquire into my hours of bed-going, or if you have it's rather a waste of the county's time and money. What is it you want to speak to me about?" Colonel Melchett cleared his throat. "I understand, Mr. Blake, that last weekend you had a visitor a . . . er . . . fair-haired young lady."
Basil Blake stared, threw back his head and roared with laughter. "Have the old cats been on to you from the village? About my morals? Damn it all, morals aren't a police matter. You know that."
"As you say," said Melchett dryly, "your morals are no concern of mine. I have come to you because the body of a fair-haired young woman of slightly . . . er . . . exotic appearance has been found murdered."
Blake stared at him. "Where?"
"In the library at Gossington Hall."
"At Gossington? At old Bantry's? I say, that's pretty rich. Old Bantry! The dirty old man!"
Colonel Melchett went very red in the face. He said sharply through the renewed mirth of the young man opposite him, "Kindly control your tongue, sir. I came to ask you if you can throw any light on this business."
"You've come round to ask me it I've missed a blonde? Is that it? Why should- Hullo, 'ullo, 'ullo! What's this?"
A car had drawn up outside with a scream of brakes. Out of it tumbled a young woman dressed in flapping black-and-white pajamas. She had scarlet lips, blackened eyelashes and a platinum-blond head. She strode up to the door, flung it open, and exclaimed angrily, "Why did you run out on me?" Basil Blake had risen. "So there you are. Why shouldn't I leave you? I told you to clear out, and you wouldn't."
"Why should I, because you told me to? I was enjoying myself."
"Yes, with that filthy brute, Rosenberg. You know what he's like."
"You were jealous, that's all."
"Don't flatter yourself. I hate to see a girl I like who can't hold her drink and lets a disgusting Central European paw her about."
"That's a lie. You were drinking pretty hard yourself and going on with the black-haired Spanish girl."
"If I take you to a party, I expect you to be able to behave yourself."
"And I refuse to be dictated to, and that's that. You said we'd go to the party and come on down here afterward. I'm not going to leave a party before I'm ready to leave it."
"No, and that's why I left you flat. I was ready to come down here and I came. I don't hang round waiting for any fool of a woman."
"Sweet, polite person you are."
"You seem to have followed me down, all right."
"I wanted to tell you what I thought of you."
"If you think you can boss me, my girl, you're wrong."
"And if you think you can order me about, you can think again."
They glared at each other. It was at this moment that Colonel Melchett seized his opportunity and cleared his throat loudly. Basil Blake swung round on him. "Hullo, I forgot you were here. About time you took yourself off, isn't it? Let me introduce you Dinah Lee. Colonel Blimp, of the county police. . . . And now, Colonel, that you've seen that my blonde is alive and in good condition, perhaps you'll get on with the good work concerning old Bantry's little bit of fluff. Good morning."
Colonel Melchett said, "I advise you to keep a civil tongue in your head, young man, or you'll let yourself in for trouble," and stumped out, his face red and wrathful.
In his office at Much Benham, Colonel Melchett received and scrutinized the reports of his subordinates. ". . . so it all seems clear enough, sir," Inspector Slack was concluding. "Mrs. Bantry sat in the library after dinner and went to bed just before ten. She turned out the lights when she left the room, and presumably no one entered the room afterward. The servants went to bed at half past ten, and Lorrimer, after putting the drinks in the hall, went to bed at a quarter to eleven. Nobody heard anything out of the usual, except the third housemaid, and she heard too much! Groans and a bloodcurdling yell and sinister footsteps and I don't know what. The second housemaid, who shares a room with her, says the other girl slept all night through without a sound. It's those ones that make up things that cause us all the trouble."
"What about the forced window?"
"Amateur job, Simmons says, done with a common chisel, ordinary pattern; wouldn't have made much noise. Ought to be a chisel about the house, but not
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