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Ask a Policeman

Ask a Policeman
Ask a Policeman Agatha Christie Gladys Mitchell Helen Simpson Anthony Berkeley Dorothy L. Sayers This new edition, which is reproduced from a first printing of the book, is introduced by the author Martin Edwards, archivist of the Detection Club, and includes a never-before-published Preface by Agatha Christie, ‘Detective Writers in England’, in which she discusses her fellow writers in the Detection Club.Lord Comstock is a barbarous newspaper tycoon with enemies in high places. His murder in the study of his country houseposes a dilemma for the Home Secretary. In the hours before his death, Lord Comstock’s visitors included the government Chief Whip, an Archbishop, and the Assistant Commissioner for Scotland Yard. Suspicion falls upon them all and threatens the impartiality of any police investigation. Abandoning protocol, the Home Secretary invites four famous detectives to solve the case: Mrs Adela Bradley, Sir John Saumarez, Lord Peter Wimsey, and Mr Roger Sheringham. All are different, all are plausible, all are on their own – and none of them can ask a policeman…This classic whodunit adopted a completely new approach: Milward Kennedy proposed the title, John Rhode plotted the murder and provided the suspects, and four of their contemporaries were asked to lend their well-known detectives to the task of providing solutions to the crime. But there was to be another twist: the authors would swap detectives and use the characters in their sections of the book. Thus Gladys Mitchell and Helen Simpson swapped Mrs Bradley and Sir John Saumarez, and Dorothy Sayers and Anthony Berkeley swapped Lord Peter Wimsey and Roger Sheringham, enabling the authors to indulge in skilful and sly parodies of each other.The contributors to ASK A POLICEMAN are: John Rhode, Helen Simpson, Gladys Mitchell, Anthony Berkeley, Dorothy L. Sayers, Milward Kennedy with Agatha Christie and Martin Edwards. ASK A POLICEMAN BY ANTHONY BERKELEY MILWARD KENNEDY GLADYS MITCHELL JOHN RHODE DOROTHY L. SAYERS & HELEN SIMPSON COPYRIGHT Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF www.harpercollins.co.uk (http://www.harpercollins.co.uk) This 80th anniversary edition published in 2012 First published in Great Britain by Arthur Barker Ltd 1933 Copyright © The Detection Club 1933, 2012 The Authors asserts the moral right to be identified as the authors of this work A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this ebook on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins ebooks HarperCollinsPublishers has made every reasonable effort to ensure that any picture content and written content in this ebook has been included or removed in accordance with the contractual and technological constraints in operation at the time of publication Source ISBN: 9780007468621 Ebook Edition © SEPTEMBER 2012 ISBN: 9780007468652 Version: 2018-08-06 CONTENTS Cover (#ud6a427f9-3217-56b1-8558-c1c351bcbfc9) Title Page (#u04314e97-be06-5413-8ad5-fbded0ad2973) Copyright (#uafffe8ea-b30e-5956-84d2-8edb21475e3a) Map (#ufd3af23a-f1f0-53d8-ba73-36e5a740f514) Foreword: Ask a Detective Writer by Martin Edwards (#u1bcd7b72-3b24-5160-8e12-37df9ce50ea9) Preface: Detective Writers in England by Agatha Christie (#ua2f1eb5e-2e0e-520e-933e-88a8e4669825) PART I (#ue014027f-b176-5342-a482-2d73badd8b0e) DEATH AT HURSLEY LODGE BY JOHN RHODE (#ud61a564b-e918-5327-8555-997a8bc97cfe) PART II (#litres_trial_promo) I. MRS. BRADLEY’S DILEMMA BY HELEN SIMPSON (#litres_trial_promo) II. SIR JOHN TAKES HIS CUE BY GLADYS MITCHELL (#litres_trial_promo) III. LORD PETER’S PRIVY COUNSEL BY ANTHONY BERKELEY (#litres_trial_promo) IV. THE CONCLUSIONS OF MR. ROGER SHERINGHAM. BY DOROTHY L. SAYERS (#litres_trial_promo) PART III (#litres_trial_promo) “IF YOU WANT TO KNOW—” BY MILWARD KENNEDY (#litres_trial_promo) Final Note (#litres_trial_promo) Footnotes (#litres_trial_promo) About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo) FOREWORD ASK A DETECTIVE WRITER By MARTIN EDWARDS ASK A POLICEMAN, first published in 1933, was the fourth in a sequence of collaborative mysteries produced in quick succession by members of the Detection Club. The Club was set up three years before this book was written, as an elite and rather secretive social network of leading detective novelists. It continues to flourish to this day, although current members include prominent thriller and espionage writers as well as specialists in the whodunit. Ask a Policeman followed two radio serials, Behind the Screen and The Scoop, and a full-length detective novel, The Floating Admiral. These collective ventures generated enough revenue for the Club to rent premises in Soho, where, as Dorothy L. Sayers put it, members convened “chiefly for the purpose of eating dinners together and of talking illimitable shop.” In the early Thirties, detective fiction was hugely popular, and many writers treated the detective story as a game in which they pitted their wits against their readers’. It was supposed to be important to “play fair”. Father Ronald Knox, a founder member of the Club, went so far as to devise a jokey Decalogue of ten commandments for the genre (“not more than one secret room or passage is allowable”, for instance)—which he and his colleagues were happy to break whenever it suited them. Anthony Berkeley, who organized the dinner meetings that led to the foundation of the Club, and Dorothy L. Sayers, a towering presence in its ranks, headed a group of talented crime writers who became increasingly determined to explore criminal psychology and write novels of literary merit. Yet they too relished the intellectual exercise of creating elaborate puzzles. Writing a round-robin mystery presents a variety of challenges for any team of authors, and Club members had to decide how to top the success of The Floating Admiral. Their answer was to come up with a fresh concept—they would write a story in which they exchanged detectives with each other. This gimmick afforded contributors the chance to poke fun at the genre, and at the quirks of their colleagues’ most famous sleuths. But transforming the idea into a readable story was bound to prove complex, with each contributor in turn needing plenty of space to develop the narrative in a distinctive way. This explains why, although 13 members provided ingredients for the mix in The Floating Admiral, just half a dozen created Ask a Policeman. The original dust jacket blurb captured the gleeful spirit of the enterprise: “Here is something delightfully new in ‘thrills’—a story which combines the interest of detection with the fun of parody. A problem is propounded; ingenious, and, for the solvers, malicious, and in itself a parody of a thousand and one detective stories. A great newspaper proprietor dies in his study, and suspicion falls upon an Archbishop, a Secretary, a Police Commissioner, and the Chief Whip of the political party in power. There is, too, a Mysterious Lady. What, then, can the Home Secretary do but call in the Amateur Experts? There are four of them; each takes a hand and each produces a different solution.” The industrious and prolific John Rhode set the scene in a long introductory section. Rhode was the main pen-name of Cecil John Street (1884–1965), a former army officer who had won the Military Cross. His most famous detective was Dr. Lancelot Priestley, a rather severe intellectual who featured in a long line of novels but is absent here. Rhode was an efficient plot-builder, and created the perfect victim, a tyrannical media mogul whom every other character in the story seemed to have a possible motive to kill. In keeping with the fashion of the time, a plan of the scene of the crime was included. The story was introduced by an exchange of letters between Rhode and Milward Kennedy. Kennedy (1894–1968) also concealed his identity under several pseudonyms—his real name was Milward Rodon Kennedy Burge. He worked in Military Intelligence during the First World War, and was awarded the Croix de Guerre prior to taking up a career in diplomacy. Like Anthony Berkeley, he wanted to push out the boundaries of the detective story, and several of his books experiment with the form. None of his characters, however, appeared in more than two books, and the absence of a series detective may help to explain why his fame did not last. To Kennedy fell the unenviable task of tying up the loose ends of the story, and one of the in-jokes of this book is that he gave the job of making sense of the case that had taxed Lord Peter Wimsey and others to a character who was, like himself, a civil servant. Another is his tongue-in-cheek admission to breaking the “Rules to which my fellow-members of the Detection Club always, and I on all occasions but this, make it a point of honour to adhere”. Once Rhode had set the scene, the baton passed to Helen Simpson. Born in Sydney in 1897, she was both gifted and charismatic; Sayers, a close friend, said after Simpson’s untimely death from cancer in 1940, “I have never met anybody who equalled her in vivid personality and in the intense interest she brought into her contacts with people and things.” Simpson tried her hand at poetry and plays before collaborating with Clemence Dane on Enter Sir John, which introduced Sir John Samaurez, the actor-manager of the Sheridan Theatre. Sir John sets about clearing the name of a young actress who has been charged with murder, and makes such a success of the task that, by the time Ask a Policeman appeared, the two of them are husband and wife. Enter Sir John was turned into a film by Alfred Hitchcock called Murder! Simpson co-wrote two more books with Dane, as well as producing several solo novels, including Under Capricorn, which later became another Hitchcock movie. Turning to politics, Simpson was adopted as Liberal Parliamentary Candidate for the Isle of Wight before the cruel intervention of the disease that killed her. The energy, wit and skill with which, in this book, she tackles her portrayal of Gladys Mitchell’s detective, Mrs. Bradley, seem typical of how she approached everything in her life. Gladys Mitchell had been elected to membership of the Club shortly before this book was written. She too admired Simpson, describing her in an interview with B.A. Pike as “brilliant, witty, charming and highly intellectual”; she even allowed Simpson to bestow a second forename, Adela, upon her detective. Mitchell (1901-1983), combined writing with a career as a schoolteacher; she introduced Mrs. Bradley in a convention-defying mystery called Speedy Death, and continued to write about her for more than half a century. Her books often contain bizarre elements, but she attracted a devoted band of readers, including Philip Larkin, who called her “the Great Gladys”. Mrs. Bradley, a psychiatrist and consultant psychologist to the Home Office, has the looks of a “sinister pterodactyl”, but when The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries aired on BBC Television in 1998-9, she was played by Diana Rigg, a casting decision so eccentric as to be worthy of Mitchell herself. Anthony Berkeley was one of crime fiction’s leading innovators. His real name was Anthony Berkeley Cox (1893-1971), and he wrote a good many humorous articles for magazines before introducing Roger Sheringham in The Layton Court Mystery, which was at first published anonymously. Writing as Francis Iles, he produced ground-breaking—and deeply cynical—novels about crime, notably Malice Aforethought and Before the Fact; the latter was filmed by Hitchcock as Suspicion. The Sheringham mysteries often feature puzzles with ingenious multiple solutions; the most dazzling example, The Poisoned Chocolates Case, is name-checked by Sayers in this book. Berkeley liked to explore dilemmas about justice, and was intrigued by the idea of the fallible sleuth. So in his work, murderers sometimes escape unpunished, Sheringham does not always come up with the right solution to the mystery, and tricky plot devices are allied to a sharp, ironic wit. To take on the job of writing about Sayers’ hero Lord Peter required some courage, as she was a formidable woman, held in awe by many of her Detection Club colleagues. But Berkeley rose to the challenge, and he captured Wimsey brilliantly, in a chapter that offers one of the finest of all Golden Age parodies as well as a clever solution to the problem Rhode had posed. Gladys Mitchell—who liked Berkeley rather more than Sayers—recalled in her old age that “Anthony’s manipulation of Lord Peter Wimsey caused the massive lady anything but pleasure”, but although in later years, these two strong, and often intimidating personalities came increasingly into conflict, it is hard to believe that Sayers failed to appreciate the flair displayed in Berkeley’s contribution to Ask a Policeman. At the time this book was written, Sayers was taking the detective story in a new direction. Wimsey had started out as little more than a caricature, albeit a caricature portrayed with affectionate humour. In Whose Body?, published in 1923, we are told that his “long amiable face looked as if it had generated spontaneously from his top hat, as white maggots breed from Gorgonzola”. But once he met and fell in love with Harriet Vane, a detective novelist convicted of murder (was Sir John Samaurez’ first case the inspiration for this idea?), he grew as a character. Sayers’ depiction of his relationship with Harriet set the pattern for succeeding generations of crime writers, who preferred to create serious and believable protagonists with lives that change as the years pass, rather than ‘supermen’ detectives in the mould of Sherlock Holmes. Sayers (1893-1957) was self-consciously intellectual, and in her only non-series novel, The Documents in the Case, co-written with Robert Eustace, musings on the nature of life were integral to the plot. Sayers was dissatisfied with the end product, but her very attempt at such an ambitious undertaking showed that the genre had much more to offer than glorified crossword puzzles. In her chapter for Ask a Policeman, Sayers renders Sheringham effectively, with a neat joke when he overhears two employees of the late Lord Comstock being rude about him, and if the solution she puts forward is not quite as compelling as Berkeley’s, perhaps that underlines her increasing focus on characterisation as opposed to mere puzzle-making. After the start of the Second World War, however, she turned her attention away from crime writing, focusing on the translation of Dante, and writing about religious subjects. Similarly, Berkeley and Kennedy began to concentrate on reviewing rather than producing novels. But all three of them remained associated with the Detection Club, with Sayers holding the office of President from 1948 until her death. Agatha Christie, who had participated in the first three Detection Club collaborations, sat this one out. However, it is a real pleasure to be able to include here a delightful essay she wrote about her fellow practitioners—the first time it has appeared in volume form. She wrote it in 1945, at the request of the Ministry of Information, for publication in a Russian magazine. Presumably because she was confident that none of her peers in the Detection Club would come across her comments, she was quite candid. So it is interesting to see that Christie disapproved of Wimsey’s transformation into a “handsome hero”, and damned Rhode’s prose style with faint praise as “straightforward”, as well as to note her admiration for Anthony Berkeley’s ability to provide first class entertainment. But she also made it clear that the writers she mentioned were those at the top of their profession. Today, though, not only are the books of H.C. Bailey, Rhode, Kennedy and many of their contemporaries forgotten by everyone except a small band of enthusiasts, surprisingly little is known about most of the Detection Club members themselves. I was honoured to be appointed as the first archivist of the Club—although the fact that the official archives are more or less non-existent is somehow typical of this unusual and mysterious institution. Its members—not just the usual suspects in Christie and Sayers, but also A.A. Milne and Baroness Orczy, who in addition to their detective stories were the creators respectively of Winnie-the-Pooh and the Scarlet Pimpernel—played a much more significant part in developing popular culture in the twentieth century than has so far been recognized. Frustratingly, no minutes of meetings appear to have survived, and some of the reminiscences of early members are classics of unreliable narration. So the challenge of discovering more about the early days of the Club, and the lives of its members, is almost as fascinating as many of those Golden Age puzzles Ask a Policeman is, when all is said and done, a period piece. Kennedy’s solution does not really “play fair” with the reader, but the book is laden with charm as well as humour, and its reappearance is as welcome as it is overdue. Howard Haycraft, a noted American historian of the genre, hailed this book as “a matchless tour de force”, and its success prompted plenty of other writers to parody the classic detective story. But few of them achieved such enjoyable results as the six members of the Detection Club who combined to create this lively entertainment. PREFACE DETECTIVE WRITERS IN ENGLAND BY AGATHA CHRISTIE WHAT kind of people read detective stories and why? Invariably, I think, the busy people, the workers of the world. Highly placed men in the scientific world, even if they read nothing else, seem to have time for a detective story; perhaps because a detective story is complete relaxation, an escape from the realism of everyday life. It has, too, the tonic value of a puzzle—a challenge to the ingenuity. It sharpens your wits—makes you mentally alert. To follow a detective story closely you need concentration. To spot the criminal needs acumen and good reasoning powers. It has also a sporting interest and is much less expensive than betting on horses or gambling at cards! Its ethical background is usually sound. Very very rarely is the criminal the hero of the book! Society unites to hunt him down, and the reader can have all the fun of the chase without moving from a comfortable armchair. Before speaking of present day English writers, I must first pay tribute to Conan Doyle, the pioneer of detective writing, with his two great creations Sherlock Holmes and Watson—Watson perhaps the greater creation of the two. Holmes after all has his properties, his violin, his dressing gown, his cocaine etc., whereas Watson has just himself—lovable, obtuse, faithful, maddening, guaranteed to be always wrong, and perpetually in a state of admiration! How badly we all need a Watson in our lives! Most detective writing since then has been modelled roughly on the same structure. The detective is the “central character”. But there has come to be something too artificial about a “private investigator”. The essence of a detective story is that it shall be “natural” in its setting and characters. My own Hercule Poirot is often somewhat of an embarrassment to me—not in himself, but in the calling of his life. Would anyone go and “consult” him? One feels not. So, more and more, his entry into a murder drama has to be fortuitous. My Miss Marple is more happily placed—an elderly gossipy lady in a small village, who pokes her nose into all that does or does not concern her, and draws deductions based on years of experience of human nature. At the present day, I should call Margery Allingham one of the foremost writers of detective fiction. Not only does she write excellent English, but her drawing of character is masterly and she has wonderful power in creating atmosphere. You can feel the sinister influences behind the scenes, and her characters live on in your memory long after you have put the book away: the grim autocrat Mrs. Faraday of Police at the Funeral; the kindly and lovable “belle” in Death of a Ghost; Jimmy Sutane, the sad faced dancer with the twinkling feet. They are unusual but real personalities, vividly interesting. And through the books moves “Mr. Campion”, apparently vacuous, actually keenly acute, and with him the faithful Lugg (in whom, alas, I never can quite believe!) The pleasant negative inconsequence of Campion makes a dramatic contrast with the undercurrent of suspicion and fear that grows to a climax—particularly is this so in Flowers for the Judge. Sometimes, one feels, Margery Allingham is inclined to subordinate plot to characters. She is so interested in them that the denouement of the crime sometimes comes rather flatly as inevitable, rather than as a surprising bombshell. Dorothy Sayers, alas, has wearied of the detective story and has turned her attention elsewhere. We all regret it for she was such an exceptionally good detective story writer and a delightfully witty one. Her earlier books Whose Body?, Unnatural Death and The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club are decidedly her best, having greater simplicity and more “punch” to them. Also her detective “Lord Peter Wimsey”, whose face was originally piquantly described as “emerging from his top hat like a maggot emerging from a gorgonzola cheese”, became through the course of years merely a “handsome hero”, and admirers of his early prowess can hardly forgive his attachment to, and lengthy courtship of, a tiresome young woman called Harriet. One had hoped that, once married to her, he would resume his old form, but Lord Peter remains an example of a good man spoilt. Not so Mr. Fortune, H.C. Bailey’s great creation. Reggie Fortune is always the same, and marriage to a discreet and charming wife has left his incisive character untouched. The stories stand or fall by Mr. Fortune. It is not the cases themselves but Mr. Fortune’s handling of them wherein lies the fascination. For Mr. Fortune is, undeniably, a great man. Now to label a man a great man and then write about him and show him to be a great man is a supreme literary feat! A noted surgeon and consultant to the Home Office, Reggie Fortune’s handling of his problems is like a surgical operation. Where all is apparently straightforward, he feels, probes, notes some tiny fact that a complacent police official has swept aside, and then he cuts down to the heart of the trouble. His method is the method of the knife, ruthless and incisive. His rudeness to the wretched Lomas (Assistant Commissioner of Police) is unbelievable—and leads one to speculate whether one day worm Lomas will turn and murder Mr. Fortune! H.C. Bailey’s longer books are not so satisfactory as his shorter stories. All the characters are inclined to speak a special Baileyesque language of their own—a clear clipped jargon. This is effective in short doses as the atmosphere of the operating theatre. But the atmosphere of an operating theatre is essentially artificial—created deliberately for specific purposes. It cannot be prolonged into a picture of daily life. Some of the best of the Fortune stories show the deduction of a whole malignant growth from one small isolated incident. For instance, the discovery of a couple of withered leaves in a woman’s handbag, recognized by Mr. Fortune as Arctic Willow, cause him to inquire into an apparently satisfactory case of suicide. Fat, lazy, incredibly greedy (his delight in cream and jam for tea make tantalizing reading in war days!), underneath Fortune’s smiling exterior there is cold steel. Reggie Fortune is for Justice—merciless and inexorable justice. His pity and indignation are aroused by the victims—in execution he is as ruthless as his own knife. John Dickson Carr (or Carter Dickson, for they are one and the same) is a master magician. I believe that only those who write detective stories themselves can really appreciate his marvellous sleight of hand. For that is what it is—he is the supreme conjurer, the King of the Art of Misdirection. Each of his books is a brilliant, fantastic, quite impossible conjuring trick. “You watch my hands, ladies and gentlemen, you watch my sleeves, the hat is empty, nothing anywhere—Hey presto! A Rabbit!” He has, too, the gift of story telling, once you begin a book of his, you simply cannot put it down. As each chapter draws to a close, you see ahead a reasonable explanation, then, like Alice through the Looking Glass’s path, it seems to shake itself, and off it goes in a twist of fresh bewilderment. His characterization is not particularly good, his people talk in a way quite unlike life, his events are fantastic. It is all stagey—set behind footlights—but what a performance! Carr’s penchant is for the impossible situation. He starts with that—either with the familiar “closed room”, or “closed circle” or with, as in the “Arabian Nights Mystery”, a setting of pure fantasy, with a set of people behaving apparently like lunatics. Then with a shake of the kaleidoscope you get the reason of it, all is quite normal—and then fresh impossibilities, fresh rationalisations. For some people, the twists of the plot may be too complicated. He can certainly be accused of occasionally loading the dice, but that can be forgiven for the brilliance with which it is done. The clues to the truth are so slight as to be almost unfair: one little sentence slipped into the middle of a tense situation; a mention of a car radiator on p.30 that does not agree with the same car’s radiator on p.180. Do you notice it? Of course not! Your eyes are riveted on a suspicious circumstance which you think only you have spotted. Misdirection, again. A crowd of people are assembled round a dinner table in The Red Widow Murders. There is a sinister room in the house, nailed up for many years. Anyone who stays in it alone is found dead. A man goes in, locks himself in while the others wait outside. Every quarter of an hour they call to him and he replies—but when the door is opened the man is dead, in a room with locked shutters and no secret ways in or out—and, what is more, that man has been dead for over an hour. The impossible has happened! You never noticed a little descriptive phrase about the man at dinner; pale, nervous, eating nothing but soup … Your clue was there, in those four words. Dickson Carr’s detective is the beer drinking Dr. Fell, Carter Dickson’s sleuth is Sir Henry Merrivale, the “old man”, a former chief of Military Intelligence. I much prefer him of the two—but it is the actual unfolding of the story that is the real strength of Dickson Carr’s genius. He is a male Scheherazade—and certainly no cruel Empress could order his execution until she had heard the next instalment! Ngaio Marsh is another deservedly popular detective writer. Her style is amusing and her characterizations excellent. Surfeit of Lampreys was a delightful book, though perhaps one so enjoyed the Lamprey family that one rather forgot about the murder. Death in Ecstasy is a very clever picture of a little coterie of worshippers in a “New Religion” adroitly put over by the infamous Father Garnett. Artists in Crime is a good story of murder amongst a collection of painters. Both the atmosphere and the people are first rate. Then there is the master of alibis, Freeman Wills Crofts. Inspector French is a kindly painstaking man who accomplishes his results by sheer hard work. If you like alibis, then you will enjoy the efforts of Inspector French. The Cask, one of his earliest books, is a model of its kind. A cask arrives at a business firm in London and is found to contain the body of a young woman. From there on you trace the cask back to its sender and forward again—there seems no loop hole, no possible opportunity for the cask to have been opened and the body substituted for the original piece of statuary. Nevertheless, there is a flaw and at last, slowly worried out, the truth emerges. There are many other good detective writers—space forbids the mention of all of them. There is Michael Innes, a brilliant and witty writer. There is straightforward John Rhode with Dr. Priestley in charge. There is Gladys Mitchell with her fascinating Mrs. Bradley, ugly as a toad and armed with the latest up-to-date theories of psychology. And Austin Freeman’s books remain interesting examples of scientific methods of crime deduction. I have chosen out for fullest description those writers whom I myself admire most and consider at the top of their profession. No collection would be complete without the mention of Anthony Berkeley, founder of the Detective Club, although he has, alas, been silent for many years. But what delightful books he has written. Detection and crime at its wittiest—all his stories are amusing, intriguing, and he is a master of the final twist, the surprise dénouement. Roger Sheridan, the slightly fatuous novelist, is his detective, though Roger is not always allowed to shine. He remains always the gifted amateur—hit or miss—but whichever way it is, the entertainment is first class. And now, perhaps, a few words about myself. Since I have been writing detective stories for a quarter of a century and have some forty-odd novels to my credit, I may lay claim at least to being an industrious craftsman. A more aristocratic title was given to me by an American paper which dubbed me the “Duchess of Death”. I have enjoyed writing detective stories, and I think the austerity and stern discipline that goes to making a ‘tight’ detective plot is good for one’s thought processes. It is the kind of writing that does not permit loose or slipshod thinking. It all has to dovetail, to fit in as part of a carefully constructed whole. You must have your blueprint first, and it needs really constructive thinking to make a workmanlike job of it. Naturally one’s methods alter. I have become more interested as the years go on in the preliminaries of crime—the interplay of character upon character, the deep smouldering resentments and dissatisfactions that do not always come to the surface but which may suddenly explode into violence. I have written light-hearted murder stories, and serious crime stories, and technical extravaganzas like Ten Little Niggers [And Then There Were None]. I have laid a crime story in Ancient Egypt, and a murder play on a modern Nile steamer. I have had the conventional Body in the Library, and Bodies in Aeroplanes, and on Boats and in Trans-European Trains. Hercule Poirot has made quite a place for himself in the world and is regarded perhaps with more affection by outsiders than by his own creator! I would give one piece of advice to young detective writers. Be very careful what central character you create—you may have him with you for a very long time! INTRODUCTION TO PART I (a) “DEAR JOHN RHODE, “People ask me, when they find out (let me be honest, ‘when I tell them’) that I write detective stories, ‘Oh, how do you begin? Do you think of a Murder and then work it out, or do you think of a Solution and do it backwards?’ I suppose the question is inevitable; I have never discovered the answer. “At the moment I’m in a peculiar position: I’ve thought of a title—’ Ask a Policeman.’ That ought to suggest a nice murder, surely? You know, with Cabinet Ministers, and Papal Nuncios, and Libraries, and all the rest of it. “But the queer thing is, the title does nothing of the sort—to me: how does it strike you? “Yours ever, “MILWARD KENNEDY.” (b) “DEAR MILWARD KENNEDY, “Yes, I know. I have never answered the question myself. I have come to the conclusion that writing detective stories is just like any other vice. The deed is done without one’s having any clear knowledge of the temptation which led up to it. But I must confess that I usually start with something more comprehensive than a title. “I suppose your veiled suggestion is that I supply a plot to fit your title. But, honestly, to my simple mind ‘Ask a Policeman’ suggests the pawning of a watch—or are you too young to remember the old song?—rather than your galaxy of celebrities. Besides, I have never met a Papal Nuncio. I shouldn’t know what to say to him if I did. But I have seen an Archbishop—in the distance. And once I used to hold awestruck conversations with a Cabinet Minister, whose powers of invective I have always admired. “So here is your plot. As you will see, you have a choice of many Policemen to interrogate as to its solution. “Yours, “JOHN RHODE.” PART I DEATH AT HURSLEY LODGE BY JOHN RHODE IT was impossible to tell, from the Home Secretary’s expression, exactly how the news had affected him. He was a big, heavy man, who looked much more like a country farmer than a Minister of the Crown. Punch was fond of caricaturing him in breeches and gaiters, with a pitchfork over his shoulder. You might have expected his position in the Cabinet to have been Minister of Agriculture. But those who knew Sir Philip Brackenthorpe were well aware that a very keen brain was at work beneath his rather bucolic exterior. And that that brain was particularly active at this precise moment the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police had no doubt. The two were alone together in Sir Philip’s private room at the Home Office. Through the open windows came the muffled roar of the traffic in Whitehall, the only sound to break the silence which had followed the Commissioner’s terse statement. “Comstock!” exclaimed Sir Philip at last, “The man lived on sensation, and it is only fitting that his death should provide the greatest sensation of all. Yes, you’re quite right, Hampton. I shall have to have all the facts at first hand. This business is bound to come up when the Cabinet meets to-morrow. Who have you got there?” “Rather a crowd, I’m afraid, sir,” replied Sir Henry Hampton, “I don’t know whether you’ll care to see them all—” “I’ll see anybody who’s got anything relevant to say about the affair. But, mind, I want evidence, and not speculation. But, before we start, I should like to see Littleton, since he’ll be primarily responsible for the investigations. He came here with you, of course?” Hampton’s tall, gaunt frame imperceptibly stiffened. The question had been asked a good deal earlier than he had anticipated. It was devilish awkward, for Sir Philip was not the sort of person who could be put off with evasions. “Littleton was not in his office when the message came through to Scotland Yard just now, I’m sorry to say,” he replied simply. No use going into details, thought Hampton. Littleton, the Assistant Commissioner in charge of the Criminal Investigation Department, might be expected to return at any minute now. He would find a message telling him to come at once to the Home Office. And then, as Hampton reflected grimly, he could tell his own story. And, if the amazing rumour which had reached the Commissioner as to his whereabouts was true, his story might prove particularly interesting. Sir Philip must have guessed that Hampton was withholding something from him. “You are responsible for your own Department,” he said, with a touch of severity. “You will naturally give Littleton such instructions as you consider necessary. But I want to impress upon you that the death of a man like Comstock is not an everyday event. It will require, shall we say, special methods of investigation. And that for many reasons, which I need scarcely point out to you.” From the far-away expression of his eyes, it seemed that Sir Philip was mentally addressing a larger and more important audience. Hampton wondered idly whether it was the Cabinet or the House of Commons that he was thinking of. The murder—if it was murder—of a man like Lord Comstock was an event of world-wide importance. The newspapers controlled by the millionaire journalist exerted an influence out of all proportion to their real value. Inspired by Comstock himself, they claimed at frequent intervals to be the real arbiters of the nation’s destiny at home and abroad. Governments might come and go, each with its own considered policy. The Comstock Press patronized, ignored, or attacked them, as suited Lord Comstock’s whim at the moment. His policy was fixed and invariable. This may seem an astounding statement to those who remember how swiftly and how frequently the Daily Bugle changed its editorial opinions. But Lord Comstock’s policy was not concerned with the welfare of the State, or of anyone else but himself, for that matter. It was devoted with unswerving purpose to one single aim, the increase in value of his advertisement pages. The surest way to do this was to increase, circulation, to bamboozle the public into buying the organs of the Comstock Press. And nobody knew better than Lord Comstock that the surest way of luring the public was by a stunt, the more extravagant the better. Stunts therefore followed one another with bewildering rapidity. Of those running at the moment, two had attracted special attention. To be successful, stunts must attack something or somebody, preferably so well established that it or he has become part of the ordinary person’s accepted scheme of things. Lord Comstock had selected Christianity as the first object of his attack. But he was far too able a journalist merely to attack. His assault upon Christianity had nothing in common with the iconoclasm of the Bolshevists. Christianity must be abandoned, not because it was a menace to Socialism, but because the Christian civilization had manifestly failed. The economic slough of despond had demonstrated that, clearly enough. Christianity had swept away the conception of the Platonic Republic, with its single and logical solutions of all problems which could beset the Commonwealth. “Back to Paganism!” was the slogan, and the Daily Bugle devoted many columns daily to proving that by this means alone the existing economic depression could be finally cured. One antagonist at a time, even so formidable an antagonist as Christianity, could not satisfy the restless spirit of Lord Comstock. He sought another and found it in the Metropolitan Police, his choice being influenced mainly by the implicit faith which that institution most justly inspired. Scotland Yard was the principal object of the invective of the Comstock Press. It was inefficient, ill-conducted, and corrupt. It must be reformed, root and branch. The crime experts of the Comstock Press, men who knew how to use their brains, were worth the whole of the C.I.D. and its elaborate machinery, which imposed so heavy and useless a burden upon the tax-payer. Now and then it happened that a crime was committed, and no arrest followed. This was the opportunity of the Comstock Press. Without the slightest regard for the merits of the case, and safe in the knowledge that a Government Department cannot reply, the Daily Bugle, and its evening contemporary, the Evening Clarion, unloosed a flood of vituperation upon the C.I.D., from the Assistant Commissioner himself to his humblest subordinate. And the most recent instance of this—the echoes of the storm were still rumbling—was vividly in the Home Secretary’s mind as he sat thoughtfully drawing elaborate geometrical patterns upon his blotting paper. In fact, the shadow of Lord Comstock lay heavily on both men, as they sat in the oppressive warmth of the June afternoon. It was as though his invisible presence lurked in the corner of the room, masterful, contemptuous, poisoning the air with the taint of falsehood. That at that very moment he lay dead in his own country retreat, Hursley Lodge, was a fact so incredible that it required time for its realization. Hence, perhaps, the silence which had once more fallen upon the room. It was broken by Sir Philip. “Did you know the man personally?” he asked abruptly, without taking his eyes from the figures he was tracing. “I’ve seen him often enough, and spoken to him once or twice;” replied the Commissioner; “but I can’t say that I knew him.” “I knew him,” said Sir Philip slowly. From his manner it seemed as though he were more interested in his designs than in his subject. “At least, I knew as much about him as he cared for anyone to know. It wasn’t difficult. He had only one topic of conversation. With men, at least. I’ve been given to understand that his conversation with women was apt to be more intimate. And that was himself.” With infinite care he drew a line joining two triangles apex to apex. He contemplated the result with evident satisfaction, then looked up, and continued more briskly. “He loved to talk about himself and his achievements, up to a point. You can guess the sort of thing. The contrast between what he was and what he became. You couldn’t help admiring the fellow as you listened, however much you disliked him. He was an able man in his own way, Hampton, there’s no getting away from that. An able man, and a strong man, with that innate ruthlessness which makes for success. You know how he started life, of course?” “Pretty low down in the social scale, from all I’ve heard,” replied the Commissioner. “His father worked in a mill somewhere up north. A very decent and respectable chap, I believe. Quite a different type from Comstock. Saved and scraped with only one object in view, to make a gentleman out of that scapegrace son of his. It’s a mercy he never lived to know how completely his efforts failed. Anyhow, he sent the lad to Blackminster Grammar School. Lord knows what sort of a figure he must have cut when he first went there. But he was head of the school before he left.” “No lack of brains, even then, apparently,” remarked the Commissioner. “No lack of brains, or of determination. But then comes a gap. Comstock disappears from sight—conversationally, I mean—after that. Nobody has ever heard him mention the intervening years. The rungs of the ladder are hidden from us. He reappears in a blaze of glory as Lord Comstock, reputed millionaire, and owner of heaven knows how many disreputable rags. Ambitious, too. Life’s work not yet accomplished, and all that sort of thing. And now you say he’s lying dead at that country place of his, Hursley Lodge. I’ve never seen it. Male visitors were not made welcome there, I’ve always understood.” “Welcome or not, there were quite a crowd of them there this morning,” remarked the Commissioner grimly. “Only quite a small house, too.” Sir Philip nodded. His reminiscent mood passed suddenly. “All right, bring them in,” he said. “Your own people first. The police, I mean. This chap who was called in first. I’ll leave you to get the story out of them.” The Commissioner opened the door which led into the Private Secretary’s room beyond. He looked round sharply, hoping to see the truculent figure of the Assistant Commissioner among the group which stood there, nervous and ill at ease. A frown expressed his disappointment. He beckoned sharply to three men, standing by. In single file they followed him into Sir Philip’s presence. Hampton introduced them curtly. “Chief Constable Shawford, Superintendent Churchill, sir. Both of the Yard. This is Superintendent Easton, of the local police.” Sir Philip glanced at the men in turn, nodded at each but said nothing beyond a curt “sit down,” addressed to them all in general. They obeyed—the lower the rank, the greater the distance maintained from the Home Secretary. The Commissioner at first occupied a large arm-chair touching the desk, but as the interview went on he ceased to have a regular station—he would sit one minute, stand the next, lean on the big desk, and almost promise (so it seemed to the inexperienced Easton) to whisk away the Home Secretary and occupy his chair. Sir Philip, picking up his pencil again, drew with more deliberation than skill, a large circle upon his blotting-paper. “Easton’s district includes Hursley Lodge, sir,” the Commissioner began, without further preface. “He was at the police-station when a call was received that Lord Comstock had been found dead in his study. This was at 1.7 this afternoon.” Sir Philip glanced at the clock on his desk. It was then 2.35 p.m. “He drove at once to Hursley Lodge, and was received by Lord Comstock’s secretary, Mr. Mills, who took him straight up to the study. His story will be more easy to follow, sir, if you keep this plan in front of you.” He placed a neatly-drawn diagram on the desk, and Sir Philip studied it curiously. “Where did this come from?” he asked. “Easton brought it with him from Hursley Lodge, sir,” replied the Commissioner, with a touch of impatience. He was anxious to get on with the facts. Sir Philip looked up, and for the first time Easton appeared to him as an individual. He was tall, with a soldierly moustache and bearing, but obviously unnerved by the distinguished company in which he found himself; the Home Secretary’s glance had somehow brought him to his feet, and under his gaze he shifted from one foot to the other, and with difficulty suppressed an almost irresistible inclination to salute. “Pretty smart of you to get hold of a plan like this, Easton,” said Sir Philip encouragingly. “Where did you find it?” “Mr. Mills gave it to me, sir—the secretary,” replied Easton. Something in Sir Philip’s manner seemed to have put him quite at his ease. During the rest of the interview he addressed himself to him exclusively, as though some mysterious bond of sympathy had been established between them. He even took a couple of paces towards the Home Secretary’s desk. “Mr. Mills gave it to you, did he?” said the Home Secretary. “Where did he get it from? People don’t as a rule have plans of their houses ready to hand like that.” “It’s a rough tracing of a plan of the drains, really, sir,” Easton explained gravely, “with the drains left out and a few other things put in. Mr. Mills told me that a new system of drainage had recently been put in at Hursley Lodge, and the builder left a plan behind in case any alterations were required.” “I see. Very well, Easton. Tell me what you found when you got into the study.” “It was a large room, sir, with a big bow-window on the south side. The frames were of the casement type, and were all wide open. There was very little furniture in the room, sir. A row of bookcases round the walls, and half a dozen chairs standing in front of them. One of them had been overturned, and was lying close inside the door leading into the hall. There were two other doors, sir. One led into the drawing-room, and was disguised as a bookcase. The bookcase swung open with the door, if you understand me, sir.” Sir Philip nodded. “And the third door?” he asked. “That was a double door, sir, leading into the room which Mr. Mills used, and which he called the office. At the farther end of the room was a heavy desk, standing close to the window. Behind this desk, and between it and the window, lay the body of Lord Comstock. His lordship lay on his right side, with his knees drawn up towards his chin. I could see at once that he was dead, sir.” “And did you discover as promptly what had killed him?” “There was a very small bullet-wound in his left temple, sir. So small that I thought at first it was a stab with some round weapon like a thick hat-pin.” “What made you alter your opinion, Easton?” “When I looked on the desk, sir, I found this,” replied Easton simply. He put his hand in his pocket, and produced something wrapped carefully in a handkerchief. He opened this out, and disclosed a miniature revolver, which he laid on the edge of the Home Secretary’s desk. At the sight of it, Chief Constable Shawford made a sound as though about to speak. But a sharp glance from the Commissioner silenced him before he could utter anything articulate. Sir Philip looked at it curiously. “Vicious little toy!” he exclaimed. “And you think this is what killed Lord Comstock, do you, Easton?” “I think so, sir. One chamber has been discharged, and that quite recently, by the look of the fouling. But, as far as I have been able to make out, sir, there are no finger-marks.” The Commissioner rose and stepped to the desk. “You had better take charge of this, Shawford,” he said. “The sooner it is examined by the experts the better.” He was about to pick up the pistol, when Sir Philip waved him aside. “No, let it stay there for the present,” he said. “Now, let’s get this clear, Easton. You say that Lord Comstock was lying on the floor, and that the pistol was on the desk. Did it occur to you that Lord Comstock might have shot himself?” “It did occur to me, sir. But if he had been sitting in his chair at the time, I don’t see how the pistol could have fallen to where I found it. It was on the other side of the desk, sir.” “When you found it, perhaps. But other people must have entered the room before you reached the house. Several other people, I dare say?” It was the Commissioner who replied. He was evidently anxious to atone for his slight faux pas over the pistol. “Two at least, Sir Philip. Comstock’s secretary and his butler. They are waiting in the next room. Shall I bring them in?” “All in good time,” said Sir Philip. “I expect that Easton has more to tell us yet. I should like more light on the point of whether Comstock could have shot himself. There are no finger-prints to be seen on the pistol. The inference is that whoever handled it last wore gloves or else it has been wiped over. Was it as hot in the study at Hursley Lodge as it is in here?” “It was certainly very warm, sir.” “I expect it was. It’s one of the hottest June days I remember. I say, Hampton, would you mind putting one of those candlesticks on my desk?” He nodded towards the mantelpiece, on which stood a pair of silver candlesticks. The Commissioner walked up to the nearest one, picked it up, and laid it down beside the pistol. “Thank you, Hampton. Now, Chief Constable, will you look at that candlestick and tell me if you can see any finger-prints on it?” Shawford gingerly picked up the candlestick and breathed on it. “They are very plainly visible where Sir Henry Hampton touched it, sir,” he said solemnly. “That settles the point, I think,” said Sir Philip briskly. “If anybody had touched the pistol with their naked hands this morning they must have left finger-marks upon it. Comstock would not be wearing gloves indoors. We can leave it at that for the present. Now, Easton, what did you do after you had looked round the study?” “The first thing I did, sir, was to telephone to my Chief. I thought he would want to know at once what had happened. When I had done that, sir, I asked Mr. Mills to send for the doctor who usually attended his lordship.” “By his Chief, Easton means the Chief Constable of Southshire, sir,” the Commissioner put in. “Colonel Graham. He rang me up about half-past one, and repeated what Easton had told him. He wanted the Yard to take charge immediately. I thought it best that you should hear all the circumstances at once, and I therefore put a call through to Hursley Lodge. Easton answered it, and I told him to come here as quickly as he could, bringing with him all available witnesses.” Sir Philip nodded. “Sit down over there in the corner, Easton,” he said. “You’ve done very well. Ah, wait! one point—when did you reach Hursley Lodge? 1.15? Right. Now you can produce your witnesses, Hampton. One at a time, of course.” The Commissioner went to the door, and beckoned. “This is Mr. Mills, Lord Comstock’s secretary, sir,” he announced. A young man, somewhere near the thirty mark, entered the room. He was elegantly, a little too elegantly, dressed, his coat cut to suggest a slimmer waist than in fact he possessed. His hair was curly and shone with an odorous ointment. His narrow eyes roamed round the room, his expression a mixture of alarm, bravado, and surprise, and settled finally upon the inexpressive countenance of the Home Secretary. “Sit down, Mr. Mills,” said Sir Philip briskly. “I want to hear what you can tell us about Comstock’s death. I saw him in London not many days ago. How long had he been down at Hursley Lodge?” Mills moistened his lips. It seemed as if he spoke only by a great effort. “Only since the day before yesterday, sir,” he replied. “Had he any particular reason for leaving London just now?” “Not to my knowledge, sir. He often went down to Hursley Lodge for a few days at a time. He could work there without being interrupted, or he could, as a rule, sir.” “Did you always accompany him on these occasons?” An unpleasantly sly look came into Mills’ eyes at this. “Not always, sir. But on this occasion he told me to come, as he would probably want me.” “I see. Now please tell me, in your own words, exactly what happened this morning.” Again Mills moistened his red lips. He hesitated, and seemed at a loss where to begin. Then all at once he seemed to make up his mind, and spoke rapidly in a harsh and monotonous voice. “Lord Comstock came into the dining-room as I was finishing breakfast, sir. I did not expect him so early, as at Hursley Lodge he rarely appeared before half-past nine. Nine was just striking as he came in. He asked me why I wasn’t at work, and without waiting for my answer told me that he would be in his study all the morning, and that he wasn’t on any account to be disturbed. I suppose that he was anxious to think over the policy of the newspapers.” “By which you mean the ‘Back to Paganism’ movement, and the attack on the police, I suppose?” the Commissioner inquired. “It was probably the latter, Sir Henry. He had that cause very much at heart! Yesterday he was very much upset when he learnt that Mr. Littleton had refused to give the crime expert of the Daily Bugle certain information in connection with the Little Cadbury case. He said that the police were deliberately practising a policy of obstruction, entirely contrary to the interests of justice.” Sir Philip glanced at the Commissioner. “Do you know anything of this?” he asked. Hampton shook his head, but Shawford cleared his throat apologetically. “I beg your pardon, sir, but I think I know of the incident to which Mr. Mills refers. Mr. Littleton had given orders that no information was to be given to the press for the present. The case concerns the body of a girl who was found murdered in a wood near Little Cadbury, sir. We have a clue, which is being followed up, but we can only succeed if complete secrecy is maintained.” “I see. You’re probably right, Mills. Comstock was no doubt looking for a stick with which to beat Scotland Yard. He gave orders that he was not to be disturbed, you say. Was there anything unusual in this?” “Nothing at all, sir. It was the rule that Lord Comstock never saw anybody at Hursley Lodge unless he sent for them. He would occasionally ring up one of his editors on the private line to Fort Comstock, and tell him to come down at once. But he very rarely had any other visitors, at least when I was with him. I was all the more surprised when I was told that there was somebody to see him this morning.” “One moment, Mills. Where were you when Lord Comstock entered his study?” “In the office, sir, which communicates with it by double doors.” “And you were there when you were told that somebody wished to see Comstock. What did you do?” “Just after half-past eleven Farrant, the butler, came into the office, sir. I had already told him that Lord Comstock would see nobody. But he said that His Grace the Archbishop of the Midlands had called, and insisted upon seeing his Lordship. Farrant told me that he had shown His Grace into the drawing-room. I hurried in there at once, sir. The Archbishop told me that he was one of his oldest friends. If I may say so, sir, this seemed to me very extraordinary, knowing Lord Comstock’s aversion to the Church.” Sir Philip smiled. “The Archbishop of the Midlands!” he exclaimed softly. “The Most Reverend William Ansehn Pettifer, D.D. Archbishops never lie, you may be sure of that. And in this case Doctor Pettifer was manifestly speaking the truth. He was certainly one of Comstock’s earliest friends. Not that they can have seen much of one another recently. Rather curious, that, eh, Hampton?” “I’m afraid that I don’t quite follow,” replied the Commissioner, with a puzzled expression. “Don’t you remember that Doctor Pettifer was for many years Headmaster of Blackminster Grammar School? He only left there when he became Bishop of Bournemouth. He must have known Comstock as a boy, of course. Go on, Mr. Mills, what did Lord Comstock say when you told him that the Archbishop had called to see him?” “He—er—he indulged in some very bad language, sir. I went into the study through the door leading from the drawing-room, being careful to shut it behind me, of course. Lord Comstock asked me what the devil I meant by coming in without being called for, and I replied that the Archbishop was waiting. He was very much annoyed, sir; in fact I may say that he was furious. I should not like to repeat the actual words he used, sir.” “I think that we had better hear them,” said Sir Philip. “I doubt if even Comstock’s language could shock the present company.” “Well, sir, he said that it was a piece of damned impertinence on the part of the bloody old hypocrite to intrude upon him like that. He spoke so loud, sir, that I am afraid that he must have been audible in the drawing-room. And then he told me to tell His Grace to clear out of the house and get back to his own job of preaching poppy-cock. He was in a very violent mood, sir.” “So it appears,” said Sir Philip. “I presume that you did not deliver his message verbatim to the Archbishop?” “I was not given the opportunity of delivering the message at all, sir. While Lord Comstock was still speaking, the door opened, and His Grace walked in. I thought it best to leave them alone together, sir, so I retired to my office.” “Then you do not know what passed at the interview between your employer and the Archbishop? Their conversation can hardly have been of a most cordial nature on both sides, as the newspapers would say.” “I had the impression that it was not, sir. Owing to the thick wall and the double door between the office and the study, I could only hear the sound of voices, raised apparently in altercation. I fancied once or twice that I distinguished the word ‘clap-trap’ uttered by Lord Comstock, but that was all, sir. The interview had lasted for a quarter of an hour or more, when Farrant entered the office to announce a second visitor.” “It seems to have been your busy day, Mr. Mills. Who was this second visitor?” Mills hesitated for a moment, as though he were not sure how his answer would be received. “Sir Charles Hope-Fairweather, sir,” he replied uneasily. Sir Philip, who had never abandoned his pencil, drew an elaborate curve before he made any comment upon this. Then he glanced at the Commissioner. “Comstock’s visiting list is more varied than I imagined. Did you know that he and Hope-Fairweather were on speaking terms? No, of course you wouldn’t. You’re a policeman, not a politician. But it seems odd to me that the Chief Government Whip should have business with a man who devoted columns daily to denouncing the policy of that Government.” “I might point out, sir, that he devoted fully as much space to denouncing the Faith of which the Archbishop of the Midlands is a distinguished champion,” replied the Commissioner meaningly. “Yes, but the Chief Whip! I can’t think what Hope-Fairweather was about. The Prime Minister will ask him some very pertinent questions, I expect, when he hears of this.” Sir Philip turned sharply upon Mills. “How long had Comstock known Sir Charles Hope-Fairweather?” he asked. “I—I was not aware that they were acquainted, sir,” replied Mills, with a return to his original awkward manner. “You were not aware that they were acquainted?” repeated Sir Philip impressively. “Then you have no knowledge of any previous interview having taken place, or of correspondence having passed between them?” “I have no knowledge of anything of the kind, sir. But Lord Comstock may have met Sir Charles Hope-Fairweather socially.” “I should be very much surprised to hear that the two had ever met in public,” remarked Sir Philip. “However, Hope-Fairweather himself can enlighten us on that point.” He picked up the telephone on his desk, and spoke to his private secretary. “That you, Anderson? Ring up the Whips’ Office, and get hold of Hope-Fairweather, will you? Give him my compliments and ask him if he can make it convenient to come and see me in half an hour from now. Thanks.” Sir Philip pushed the instrument aside, and turned once more to Mills. “Comstock being still engaged upon theological discussion with the Archbishop, how did you dispose of this second visitor?” he asked. “Farrant had told me that Sir Charles Hope-Fairweather was in the hall, sir. I went there, and found him waiting impatiently. He had not taken off a light coat that he was wearing, and he had a pair of driving gloves on his hands. He told me that he had driven from London in a great hurry, and that he positively must see Lord Comstock on the most urgent business. “I explained to him that Lord Comstock was extremely busy, and had given most definite instructions that he could see nobody. But Sir Charles refused to accept my statement. He insisted, very excitedly, that I should inform Lord Comstock of his visit. When I hesitated, he threatened to walk in and announce himself.” “He knew his way about the house, then?” asked Sir Philip sharply. “I think not, sir. But from the hall there was no doubt which room Lord Comstock occupied, since his voice was clearly audible. In order to save any unpleasantness, sir, I promised to inform Lord Comstock as soon as he was disengaged. Meanwhile, I asked Sir Charles to come into the waiting-room, which is a small room opening into my office.” Sir Philip glanced at the plan. “You mean the room with one door opening into the office and another into the hall?” “Yes, sir. I then went into my office, shutting the door between the two rooms. I could still hear Lord Comstock’s voice faintly through the wall, so that I knew that His Grace could not have left. After a few minutes it occurred to me that I had better tell Farrant to admit nobody else to the house. I was afraid that Lord Comstock might resort to violence if his orders were further disobeyed. I therefore went into the hall for this purpose. There, to my astonishment, I found Sir Charles Hope-Fairweather.” “Unable to resist the temptation to listen to the highly-edifying conversation between Comstock and the Archbishop, perhaps?” suggested Sir Philip. “I don’t know, I’m sure, sir. Before I could say anything, Sir Charles told me that he had just come out of the waiting-room because he wanted to take a message to his car that he might be kept longer than he had expected. I said that I would see that the message was conveyed, and waited till I saw Sir Charles re-enter the waiting-room. “I then went to the front door, and looked out into the drive, expecting to see Sir Charles’ chauffeur with the car. But there was no car in sight. I did not like to be absent from my office too long, in case Lord Comstock should summon me. I therefore came back into the hall, intending to call Farrant, and give him the message to the chauffeur and instruct him as to refusing admission to any further visitors. But at that very moment a car drove up; I imagined that it must be Sir Charles’ car. But the driver got out and confronted me, and I saw at once that he was not a chauffeur.” “What, a third visitor!” exclaimed Sir Philip incredulously. “I begin to have some sympathy with Comstock. It is outrageous that a man’s privacy should be invaded like this. And who was it, this time?” Mills’ eyes wandered furtively from the Home Secretary to the Commissioner. “It was the Assistant Commissioner of Police, Mr. Littleton, sir,” he replied. Sir Philip’s busy pencil stopped abruptly. The atmosphere of the room suddenly became tense as though a threat of thunder had overshadowed the bright afternoon. For several moments there was silence, and then the Home Secretary spoke in a curiously quieter tone. “You knew this, Hampton,” he said, as though stating a very ordinary fact. “Far from knowing it for certain, sir, I had only heard a suggestion that Littleton might have gone to Hursley Lodge,” replied the Commissioner, firmly enough, with a glance in the direction of Chief Constable Shawford. Sir Philip seemed to divine the direction of that glance, though he did not appear to intercept it. “Perhaps Littleton confided his intention to one of his subordinates,” he said icily. There was a pause before Shawford summoned up the courage to speak. He was conscious that the Commissioner’s eye was upon him, and, between that and the awe which he felt in the august presence of the Home Secretary, his manner was deplorably nervous. “The Assistant Commissioner was speaking to me first thing this morning, sir,” he said. “He was talking about the Little Cadbury case. I mean, sir, about the crime expert of the Daily Bugle. He was very heated about it, sir, and said it was intolerable.” Sir Philip looked up blandly. “Intolerable? Of course it is intolerable that a poor girl should be murdered in a lonely wood, and that her assailant should escape from justice.” “It is, indeed, sir,” agreed Shawford, positively squirming in his chair. “But that isn’t exactly what the Assistant Commissioner meant at the moment, sir. His meaning, so far as I could follow it, was that it was intolerable that the Yard should be dictated to by irresponsible journalists.” “He had evidently taken Comstock’s criticisms to heart. Well?” The sharp monosyllable increased Shawford’s distress. “I can’t say for certain what happened, sir. But the Assistant Commissioner went on to say that it would have to be stopped. He said that if the Government hadn’t got the pluck to stand up to Lord Comstock, he had a very good mind to go and have a few words with him himself. And as I left the room he rang for his car to be sent round, sir. He didn’t tell me where he was going.” “He may have thought that he had said enough for you to infer that for yourself,” remarked Sir Philip sardonically. “Why those in charge of Departments should habitually attempt to mystify me upon matters within their jurisdiction has always been an insoluble puzzle to me.” “I had no intention—” began the Commissioner sharply, but Sir Philip silenced him with a gesture. “Later, Hampton, later,” he said. “Mr. Mills has not yet completed his story. You hardly expected a visit from the Assistant Commissioner, I suppose, Mr. Mills?” “For a moment, sir, I was quite at a loss. I endeavoured to explain to Mr. Littleton that Lord Comstock already had two visitors, and could not possibly receive any more. But he refused to listen to me, sir. He deliberately pushed past me into the hall, saying that police officers were not on the same footing as ordinary callers. I did not like to ask him if he was in possession of a warrant, sir.” Sir Philip smiled slightly. “It’s a pity you didn’t,” he said. “The situation that would have ensued would probably have added interest to so strenuous a morning. So, in spite of all your precautions, a third element of unrest was introduced into the peaceful household! It must have taxed your ingenuity to dispose of Littleton!” “I had the greatest possible difficulty in dissuading Mr. Littleton from going straight into the study, sir. He overheard Lord Comstock’s voice, as Sir Charles must have done previously. He asked me who he had got with him, and I replied that it was a visitor who had an appointment. On that Mr. Littleton said that he would wait till the fellow came out, and then go in.” “Littleton is a most determined person,” said Sir Philip gravely. “Did he carry out his threat?” “I couldn’t say, sir, for I had not the opportunity of speaking to Mr. Littleton again.” Something in Mills’ voice caused the Home Secretary to glance at him sharply. “Go on,” he said, in an encouraging tone. “I saw that it was no use attempting to argue with Mr. Littleton in his present frame of mind, sir. I therefore suggested to him that if he insisted upon waiting, it would be more comfortable for him to do so in the drawing-room. He allowed me to show him in there, sir.” “Why the drawing-room rather than the waiting-room?” Sir Philip asked. “Well, sir, Sir Charles Hope-Fairweather was in there,” replied Mills hesitatingly. “And Sir Charles had given me the impression that he did not wish his visit to be generally known.” “That I can easily understand,” remarked Sir Philip grimly. “I admire your handling of the situation, Mr. Mills. Comstock’s comments upon it should have been, worth hearing. His habitual method of expression lent itself admirably to lurid description. As I understand it, the position was now this. The Archbishop was closeted with Comstock in the study, presumably endeavouring to snatch him as a brand from the burning. Hope-Fairweather had at last settled down in the waiting-room, and Littleton had consented to be interned in the drawing-room. You, as stage-manager, returned to your office to await events, I suppose?” “I did, sir. It was striking the hour by the dock on my desk as I entered. I remained there for a few minutes. I was very apprehensive as to what Lord Comstock would say when he heard that two fresh visitors had been admitted, and I was wondering how best to put the matter before him. And then I remembered that I had not yet taken Sir Charles’ message to his chauffeur, nor had I seen Farrant. I was about to leave my office for the purpose when I distinctly heard a dull crash from the direction of the study.” “A crash, eh?” said Sir Philip, glancing almost involuntarily at the pistol on his desk. “This sounds as though it might interest you, Hampton.” “Could this crash you mention be described as a report, Mr. Mills?” asked the Commissioner quickly. “It might have been. It was certainly a sharp sound. But, as I have explained, the wall between the study and the office is very thick, and sounds heard through it are very deceptive. Although Lord Comstock was in the habit of speaking very loudly at times, it was only rarely that I was able to catch his actual words.” “Did you attach any significance to this crash at the time?” “I did not. Lord Comstock, when he was roused, had a habit of picking up, say, a chair and banging it down on the floor, in order to emphasise his remarks. If I thought about the sound at all, I attributed it to some incident of this nature. I left the office, and went into the hall. As I did so, the door of the study into the hall opened violently, and His Grace appeared. He slammed the door behind him, and seemed for some moments unaware of my presence. He strode towards the front door, and I heard him distinctly say, twice, ‘The wages of sin.’” “I overtook His Grace before he reached the front door, and asked him if he had a car waiting, or whether I should telephone for a taxi. But he seemed hardly to hear me. He shook his head, then walked rapidly down the drive towards the gate. I watched him until he passed out of sight, and then went back into the hall.” “The Archbishop’s interview seems hardly to have been satisfactory,” Sir Philip remarked. “But it is curious that he should have refused the offer of a taxi. He can hardly have proposed to walk all the way back to his Province. Ah, but wait a minute, though. Convocation is sitting at Lambeth Palace, isn’t it! I forgot that for the moment. That explains Dr. Pettifer’s presence in the neighbourhood of London. How far is Hursley Lodge from the nearest station, Mr. Mills?” “About a mile, sir, and it is almost twenty minutes from there to London by train.” Sir Philip nodded. “No doubt the Archbishop is at Lambeth Palace by now. But, after his departure, you had the other two visitors to deal with. How did you proceed, Mr. Mills?” “I had come to the conclusion that it would be best to introduce them without previously mentioning their presence to Lord Comstock, sir. They would then at least have a chance of explaining their insistence. As I passed through the hall after seeing His Grace off, I opened the drawing-room door. My intention was to tell Mr. Littleton that Lord Comstock was now disengaged, and that I would take the risk of showing him into the study. But then I remembered that Sir Charles Hope-Fairweather had the first claim, and that possibly Lord Comstock would be less displeased to see him than Mr. Littleton.” “What made you think that, Mr. Mills?” asked Sir Philip quietly. If he had expected to catch Mills out, he was disappointed. “It occurred to me, sir, that if Sir Charles was a personal friend, Lord Comstock’s refusal to see visitors might not apply to him.” “Very well, you determined to give Hope-Fairweather the preference. You fetched him from the waiting-room and ushered him into the lion’s den?” “Not exactly, sir. I had opened the door of the drawing-room, but on thinking of Sir Charles I shut it again, thankful that I was able to do so before Mr. Littleton had time to interrogate me. I had not seen him when I glanced into the room.” “One moment, Mr. Mills. I should like you to explain that point a little more fully. As I understand you, you opened the door, glanced in, and shut it hastily. Was the whole of the room visible to you from where you stood?” “Not the whole of it, sir. The half-open door hid the wall between the drawing-room and the study from me. If Mr. Littleton had been standing close to that wall, I might not have seen him.” The Commissioner glanced at Sir Philip, who nodded, almost imperceptibly. Then he addressed Mills sharply. “At the moment when you opened the door, you would have been surprised to find the room empty. Any suggestion that that was the case would have impressed itself upon you. Yet you shut the door again without making further investigations?” “I did. As I have explained, I was anxious to see Sir Charles before Mr. Littleton. I was still in the hall, when I heard a second crash, not dissimilar from the first. For a moment I thought it came from the study, and the thought flashed through my mind that Mr. Littleton, overhearing the departure of His Grace, might have carried out his threat, and entered the study unannounced through the door between that room and the drawing-room.” The Commissioner interrupted him, this time without ceremony. “But that door is concealed by a bookcase, is it not?” he asked. “On the study side, yes. The drawing-room is panelled, and the door is so arranged as to form one of the panels. It has no handle, but a concealed fastening, operated by sliding part of the framework of the panel.” “In fact, a stranger would not perceive that it was a door at all?” “Not at first sight, perhaps. But very little investigation would show him that the panel could be opened.” Sir Philip began to show signs of impatience. “That, surely, is a matter which can be decided on the spot,” he said. “Please continue your narrative, Mr. Mills. Did you proceed to investigate the cause of this second crash?” “I ran into my office, sir, and there, to my astonishment, found Sir Charles Hope-Fairweather. He was bending down and picking up a litter of papers which lay on the floor. The door leading into the waiting-room was open. Sir Charles, who appeared to be very much embarrassed, explained to me that he had entered the office to tell me that he could wait no longer. As he did so, he had stepped on a mat which had slipped beneath him on the polished floor. To save himself from falling he had clutched at a table which stood just inside the door, and on which was a wooden tray containing papers. This, however, had failed to save him, and he had fallen, dragging the table and tray down with him.” “Would this have accounted for the crash you heard?” inquired the Commissioner. “It might have done so. In fact, it seemed to me at the time a likely explanation of the crash.” “You said just now that Sir Charles was wearing gloves when he entered the house. Was he still doing so?” “Yes, he was. I noticed that as I dusted him down after his fall. A minute or two later, I escorted him through the hall to the front door, and immediately hurried back to the drawing-room.” “Littleton’s turn had come, certainly,” remarked Sir Philip. “That is what I thought, sir. My idea was to make one more effort to induce him to go away without seeing Lord Comstock, and if I failed, to introduce him. I walked into the drawing-room, to find it empty.” “Upon my word, your visitors seem to have wandered about the house as if it was their own!” exclaimed Sir Philip. “There was no doubt this time that the room was really empty, I suppose? Littleton wasn’t hiding under the sofa? You can never tell what a policeman may do, you know.” “The room was certainly empty, sir, and the concealed door into the study was shut. I could only conclude that Mr. Littleton had passed through it into the study. He had certainly not left the house, for his car was still in the drive when I saw Sir Charles off at the front door.” “Where was Littleton’s car standing?” asked Sir Philip, glancing at the plan. “A few yards south of the front door, sir. Almost immediately in front of the dining-room window. I went to the east window of the drawing-room, and looked out to see if the car was still there, and found that it was. A plot of grass, with a clump of tall beeches growing in it, hides the farther sweep of the drive from the windows of the house, sir. As I looked out I saw a big saloon car come out from behind it, and head for the gate. I recognized the driver as Sir Charles Hope-Fairweather, by the colour of his coat. “A moment later, sir, I saw Mr. Littleton. He appeared round the north-east corner of the house, running as hard as he could across the lawn towards the front door. He jumped into his car, swung round the trees, and set off towards the gate at a reckless speed.” “But this is most extraordinary, Mr. Mills. Where did you imagine that Littleton had come from?” It seemed that Mills had prepared an answer to this question. At all events, his reply was ready enough. “I imagined that he must have left the house by the front door, and gone round on to the lawn, while I was helping Sir Charles to brush his clothes, sir. As soon as I had lost sight of Mr. Littleton’s car, I went back to my office.” “You did not go into the study?” asked the Commissioner quickly. “There was no reason to do so. Sir Charles and Mr. Littleton had gone, and I had no desire to disturb Lord Comstock unnecessarily. I certainly expected him to ring for me and inquire what Mr. Littleton had been doing on the lawn, since I thought he must infallibly have seen him. But, since he did not do so, I resumed my work.” “Which had suffered considerable interruption,” Sir Philip remarked. “What time was it by then?” “I glanced at the clock as I sat down, sir. It was then twenty-two minutes past twelve. I did not move from my chair again until about five minutes past one, when Farrant flung open the doors leaning into the study, and shouted to me to come in.” “Ah, yes, the butler,” said Sir Philip thoughtfully. “Have you got him outside, Hampton? If so, he had better come in.” The Commissioner went to the Private Secretary’s room and came out followed by an elderly man with a melancholy, almost morose, expression. It struck Sir Philip that Comstock had not been very fortunate in his choice of subordinates. Mills, in spite of his apparent candour, had not impressed him. There was a shifty look in his eyes that the Home Secretary did not quite like. And as for Farrant—well, there was nothing against him yet. But then, from all accounts, no self-respecting person would remain in Comstock’s household any longer than he could help. Sir Philip caught the Commissioner’s eye, and nodded slightly. “Now, Farrant,” said the latter briskly, “I understand that you were the first to discover Lord Comstock’s death. How did this come about?” “Punctually at one o’clock, sir, I came to inform his Lordship that lunch was on the table. I opened the study door, sir—” “How did you reach the study, Farrant?” the Commissioner interrupted. “I entered the hall by the service door from the kitchen, under the stairs, sir. The door of the study is nearly opposite. I opened this door, sir, and the first thing I saw was his Lordship lying on the floor by the window, with his chair half on top of him, sir. I ran up to him, thinking he had fallen over in a fit or something, sir. And then as soon as I looked at him and saw his head, I knew that he had been shot dead. And then I ran to the waiting-room and called Mr. Mills.” “You knew that he had been shot dead, did you? And how did you know that?” The sharp question seemed to confuse Farrant. “Why, sir, there was the wound, and the blood round it. And his Lordship was lying in a way he wouldn’t have been if he hadn’t been dead.” “Yes, dead with a wound in his head, Farrant. But why shot dead?” Farrant’s eyes strayed to the pistol, in full view on the Home Secretary’s desk. “I knew there was a pistol in the room, sir,” he replied confidently. “Oh, you knew that, did you? When did you first see it there?” Farrant glanced towards the chair in which Mills was sitting. “I saw it there yesterday evening, sir. I took the opportunity of tidying up the study then, since his Lordship had gone out to dinner.” The Commissioner turned his attention to Mills. “Do you know where Lord Comstock dined last night?” he asked. “I don’t. Certainly not at Hursley Lodge. He went out with the chauffeur in the car about seven, and did not come back till midnight. He was not in the habit of informing me of his movements unless for some definite purpose.” “You appear to have examined Lord Comstock’s body fairly closely, Farrant?” “I bent down to pick him up, sir, before I realized that he was dead.” “Did you disturb it at all?” “I moved the chair a bit to one side, sir, and I may have shifted the body slightly, but not so that one would notice it. And I dare say I pushed in the drawer an inch or two, so that I could get round to His Lordship.” “What drawer was this, Farrant?” “One of the drawers of the desk, sir, that was pulled nearly right out.” The Commissioner looked at Easton. “You said nothing of this drawer being open in your report, Superintendent,” he said accusingly. “When I entered the room, sir, all the drawers in the desk were shut, sir,” replied Easton positively. “Well, having disturbed everything, you thought it time to call Mr. Mills,” continued the Commissioner. “Are you quite sure that you touched nothing else first?” “Perfectly sure, sir,” Farrant replied. “Was the drawer that Farrant mentions open when you came on the scene, Mr. Mills?” “I did not notice it at the moment. I was too much concerned with Lord Comstock’s condition. I could see at a glance that he was dead. I immediately sent Farrant to the telephone in the hall, with orders to ring up the police-station.” “In the hall! Is there no telephone in the study, then?” “An extension. The main instrument is in the hall.” “The extension would have served the purpose equally well, I should have thought. Had you any reason for getting Farrant out of the room?” “Well, yes, I had. I had noticed by then that one of the drawers of the desk was slightly open, and I knew it to be the one in which Lord Comstock kept documents of a highly confidential nature. Upon Farrant leaving the room, I opened the drawer wide, and found the documents it contained lying in great disorder. I looked them over rapidly, and then shut the drawer.” “Have you any reason to suppose that any of the documents it should have contained were missing?” “I do not know what documents it contained. But all those I found, though highly confidential, had passed through my hands at one time or another. But I have my own reasons for believing that it had contained something of an even more confidential nature.” “I should like to hear those reasons, Mr. Mills.” “I may be wrong. But, when I entered the study earlier in the morning to announce the arrival of His Grace, that drawer was wide open and Lord Comstock was bending over it. As soon as he heard me, he slammed it violently. I certainly got the impression, at the time, that there was something in it that he did not wish me to see. Something particularly private, other than the documents which had passed through my hands already, I mean.” “Then, if your suspicions are correct, it would appear that those documents have been stolen,” said the Commissioner weightily. “That is, unless Lord Comstock himself removed them and placed them elsewhere. This incident of the drawer may prove to be of some importance. You appear to have been somewhat overzealous, Mr. Mills. You should have left the drawer as you found it. Did you touch anything else in the study before the arrival of the police?” Mills shook his head. “Nothing whatever,” he replied sullenly. At this Farrant, who had been listening attentively to the conversation, coughed decorously. “Excuse me, gentlemen,” he said. “But I think Mr. Mills has forgotten the telephone?” The Commissioner turned upon him. “What do you mean, Farrant? What telephone?” “The private telephone, sir. Mr. Mills was using it when I came back from the hall.” To Sir Philip, who had been a silent spectator of the scene, it had been apparent from the first that there was no love lost between the secretary and the butler. His pencil moved more deliberately than ever as he awaited developments. “Oh, so there is a private telephone,” said the Commissioner. “Where does it lead to?” It was Mills who answered him. “Fort Comstock. Naturally it was my duty to ring up the chief editor, and inform him of Lord Comstock’s death. That was hardly touching anything in the study, in the sense you mean.” “Did you speak to anybody at Fort Comstock besides the chief editor?” Mills hesitated. “Well, yes,” he replied defiantly. “I spoke to the crime expert of the Daily Bugle, and gave him a short account of the events of this morning. This statement fell like a bomb among the Scotland Yard contingent. Audible mutters came from the corner where Shawford and Churchill were sitting together, and it was only by an obvious effort that the Commissioner restrained himself. He contented himself with a glance at Sir Philip, on whose lips something very like a smile was visible. Then he turned to Farrant. “You overheard this conversation? “he asked sharply. “A bit of it, sir. I wondered why Mr. Mills should take so much trouble to tell his Lordship’s people and nobody else.” “What do you mean by that?” “Well, sir, Mr. Mills had been given notice by his Lordship,” replied Farrant malevolently. “I heard his Lordship tell him so at lunch yesterday. Something about selling information to rival newspapers, it was, sir.” “Is this a fact, Mr. Mills?” the Commissioner asked. “It is certainly a fact that Lord Comstock threatened me with dismissal at lunch yesterday. He had just seen something in one of the rival papers which he believed to be known only to himself. He accused me of having sold this information for my own benefit. But I did not treat his outburst seriously. Similar incidents have occurred before.” The Commissioner shrugged his shoulders. He had a feeling that the inquiry was straying from its proper course. In order to bring it back to realities he turned to Easton. “You made certain investigations outside the house, I believe?” he asked curtly. “Yes, sir. I thought it possible that Lord Comstock might have been shot by somebody from outside the house, through the open windows of the study. As you can see by the plan, sir, there are no doors leading from the house directly on to the lawn. The back doors lead out of the house on the opposite side. Anyone wishing to reach the lawn would have to pass through two gates, one leading into the kitchen garden, the other from the kitchen garden to the lawn. Alternatively, he would have to climb the wall at the south-eastern corner of the house. That is, of course, sir, if he did not pass round the front of the house.” The Commissioner, who had been looking over Sir Philip’s shoulder at the plan on the desk, nodded. “Yes, I see; go ahead, Easton.” “Well, sir, there were no marks on the flower-beds below this wall, and no sign of anyone having climbed it. It is seven feet high, and would be difficult to climb in any case, without assistance. The gate between the kitchen garden and the lawn was locked. It is a heavy wrought-iron affair, and I was informed that only two keys to this exist. One was produced by the gardener to whom I spoke. The other I found upon Lord Comstock’s desk.” Sir Philip looked up. “It doesn’t look as if anybody had reached the lawn from that direction, does it, Easton?” he remarked pleasantly. “And yet we have heard of somebody “—there was a significant emphasis upon this word—” of somebody who appeared upon the lawn. He must have come round by the front of the house, I suppose?” “I think not, sir,” replied Easton, glancing at the Commissioner. “The gardener—” “Oh, the gardener has something to say, has he? Have you got him outside, Hampton? Bring him in, if so. We’ll hear his story from his own lips.” So the gardener, an incongruous figure in that solemn room, was introduced. But his evidence tended to make things still more obscure. He had been working all the morning at the flower-beds beside the drive. Two or three motors had passed him, but he hadn’t taken any heed of them. He hadn’t expected his Lordship down that week, and he was late with the bedding-out. His Lordship had given him a proper dressing-down because there wasn’t a good show of flowers. He was too busy to take much notice of motor cars and such. “But you would have noticed if anybody had walked on to the lawn, I suppose?” asked the Commissioner impatiently. “I couldn’t very well help noticing the lady when she stopped and watched what I was doing. She didn’t say nothing, though, and I couldn’t say who she was. I don’t mind that I ever saw her before.” Sir Philip looked up and caught the Commissioner’s eye. The fact that there was a lady in the case was a further complication. And it was very curious that neither Mills nor the butler had mentioned her presence. But the Commissioner was alert enough to display no surprise. “Oh yes, the lady, of course,” he said rather vaguely. “Do you remember what time it was when you saw her?” “Can’t say that I do, sir. I’d left my watch in my coat pocket in the potting-shed. But it was a fair time before Mr. Scotney came out just afore one to call me.” “Mr. Scotney?” the Commissioner asked. “Who’s he?” “Why, the chauffeur, to be sure, sir. He always gives me a call just afore one when I’m working round the front. And I saw the lady long before then.” The Commissioner curbed his impatience. “Can’t you give me some idea of how long before?” he asked. “Might have been one hour, might have been three. A man don’t take much heed o’ time when he’s bedding-out. ’Tis a dull job, that is, and precious little praise at the end of it from his Lordship.” “The lady walked on to the lawn, you say. Did you see where she came from?” “Why, where would she come from? Not out of the house, that’s sure. Must have come in through the drive gate, I suppose. In one of they motors, most like. I didn’t give it a thought. And she hadn’t been on the lawn many minutes before she comes back again, quicker than she went.” “How far on to the lawn did she go?” “Bless you, sir, I can’t tell you that. I had more to do than watch the visitors what come to the, house. Besides, his Lordship wouldn’t thank me to be too curious of any lady that might come to see him. Them as is shortsighted gets on best in some situations.” “Well, if you didn’t see how far she went, you can tell what became of her, I suppose?” “Aye, I can do that, sir, for I saw her again a few minutes later. A motor drove out through the gate, and she was sitting beside the gentleman who was driving it. That was before I saw the other gentleman, of course.” “Before you saw which other gentleman?” asked the Commissioner angrily. “Why, him that came running round the corner of the house across the lawn, to be sure, sir. I thought he was trying to catch up the lady. He had a motor, too, for I see him jump into it and go off after the car with the lady and the other gentleman in it.” “Oh, you saw that, did you? Did you see anybody else whatever on the lawn this morning?” “Not a soul, sir. ‘Twasn’t usual for anybody to go that way in the morning.” “Did you leave your bedding-out to go to the kitchen garden at all?” “Not this morning, sir. I hadn’t any occasion to, since I’d brought in the vegetables for the house afore nine o’clock.” “When did you last unlock the gate leading from the kitchen garden to the lawn?” “Not since the day before yesterday, sir, when I was mowing the lawn and carried the grass through that way to the marrow bed.” The Commissioner glanced at Sir Philip, who shook his head. At a sign from the former, Shawford led the gardener to the door, motioned him through, and shut it behind him. Then the Commissioner turned to Mills, “Who was this lady?” he asked sharply. Mills shrugged his shoulders. “I really can’t say,” he replied. “I never saw her, and this is the first I’ve heard of her. But, since she apparently went away with Sir Charles Hope-Fairweather, it seems reasonable to suppose that she came with him.” Apparently Farrant had not seen her either. As he was speaking, the telephone on Sir Philip’s desk buzzed discreetly. The Home Secretary picked up the instrument and put the receiver to his ear. “Thanks, Anderson,” he said. Then, to the Commissioner, “Hope-Fairweather is here. We’d better have him in, I think.” He returned to the telephone. “Show him in, will you, Anderson,” he said. The door opened, and Sir Charles entered the room. He was a tall man, exquisitely dressed, and with an impressive presence. But this was lost upon the group in the Home Secretary’s room. By a common impulse each member of it turned his eyes upon the newcomer’s hands. He still wore a glove upon his left hand, in which he held the second glove, withdrawn from his right. He had clearly expected to find the Home Secretary alone. As he glanced round the room and saw its unaccustomed occupants, he came to an abrupt standstill. He glanced first at the Commissioner, who averted his eyes, and then at Sir Philip, who nodded towards a chair. “Sit down, Hope-Fairweather,” said the latter brusquely. “I’ve got a question or two to ask you. You went to see Comstock this morning, I believe?” Sir Charles’ eyes lighted up suddenly, whether with fear or astonishment it was impossible to say. He glanced round the room once more, and for the first time recognised Mills. His handsome face grew very red. “Yes, Sir Philip, I went to see him,” he replied. “On a purely personal matter, of course. But, as his secretary will tell you, I was unfortunately compelled to leave the house without getting a word with him.” “A purely personal matter, you say? Am I to understand that you and Comstock were on cordial terms? This seems very curious for a man in your position.” Again that queer look came into the Chief Whip’s eyes. “The terms we were on were anything but cordial,” he replied. “In fact—” But he checked himself hurriedly. “Yet you took the trouble to go to Hursley Lodge to see him,” persisted Sir Philip. “Had you a previous appointment?” The Chief Whip shook his head violently. “Most certainly not,” he replied. “I drove over merely on chance. I had something to say to Comstock which could only be mentioned at a personal interview. But, as I have said, I was unsuccessful. I had no opportunity for entering his presence.” “You were not able to penetrate into the study?” “I was not. Somebody else was in there all the time. I could hear Comstock’s voice talking angrily off and on all the time I was there.” “From what Mr. Mills has told us, you seem to have been rather restless during your visit. You asked him to convey a message to your chauffeur that you might be detained, I believe.” “To my chauffeur!” exclaimed Sir Charles. “Certainly not, I had no chauffeur with me. I was driving the car myself. I may have told the secretary—ah, yes, quite so, Mr. Mills—that I was going out to take a message to my car, when I happened to meet him in the hall.” “Somebody was waiting for you in the car, then?” asked Sir Philip quietly. Once more the Chief Whip grew very red. “Yes, a friend of mine,” he replied in a tone of forced unconcern. Sir Philip nodded. “Ah, I see. A lady, was it not?” The Chief Whip glanced swiftly round the room, as though trying to discover who could have revealed this fact. “Yes, it was a lady,” he replied slowly. “Since she was not in any way concerned with my visit to Hursley Lodge, there is no necessity to mention her name. I asked her to wait in the car while I went in to see Comstock, telling her I should not be longer than a few minutes. She knew nothing whatever of the matter which I wished to discuss with him.” “You left in a considerable hurry, didn’t you?” “I did. I had a luncheon appointment in town, and I had already waited so long—till past mid-day—that I was in danger of being late. Besides, my presence didn’t seem particularly welcome. I noticed that Mr. Mills seemed very anxious to get rid of me.” Sir Philip was about to reply, when for the second time the house telephone buzzed. With an impatient gesture he picked up the instrument. “What is it now, Anderson?” he asked. “Oh, is he? Very well, I’ll tell Hampton.” He turned to the Commissioner. “Littleton’s on the phone, asking to speak to you,” he said. “Better have a word with him in Anderson’s room.” The Commissioner fairly rushed to the door, and, once in the outer room, almost snatched the receiver from the private secretary’s hands. “Hullo!” he exclaimed. “Hullo! Damn it, we’ve been cut off! Yes, yes! Hampton speaking. Is that you, Littleton? Where are you? Where have you been all this time?” “I’m at Winborough.” Littleton’s voice replied. “I say, I’ve had a devil of a time You’ve heard by now that that swine Comstock’s been murdered, I suppose?” “Heard it! I’ve heard of nothing else for the last hour and a half. What I want to know is, how the devil you were mixed up in it. What in Heaven’s name took you to Hursley Lodge of all places this morning? Comstock’s secretary, Mills, has told us all about it.” “Has he? I shall want a few words with Mills when I see him. What did I go to Hursley Lodge for? Why, to see Comstock, of course. I had an idea that I could put a stop to that anti-police stunt of his. You’ve seen what his blessed rag says about the Little Cadbury case?” “Yes, yes,” replied the Commissioner impatiently. “Get on, man, I can’t stop talking to you here. We are holding a conference in the Home Secretary’s room.” “Oh, that’s it, is it? Well, I’ll give you the facts as briefly as I can. I knew of a way in which pressure could be brought upon Comstock. I happen to have come across a pretty sticky piece of work. There’s a woman in it, of course. You’ll hardly believe me when I tell you—” “Not on the telephone. Never mind about that. What happened when you got there?” “A devil of a lot happened. I drove up, and found that young chap Mills at the door. Can’t say that I was struck by the look of him. Wanted to keep me out, I fancy. But I soon put a stop to that nonsense. Told him that I meant to see Comstock, whatever he said. At last the fellow showed me into what looked like a drawing-room, and shut the door on me. And as soon as he’d gone, I heard voices from the next room. Comstock and somebody else having a devil of a row, I could tell that. “I looked about the room a bit, and found that there was a dummy panel, forming a door, which must lead into the room where Comstock was kicking up all the rumpus. I didn’t want to butt in, so I strolled across the room and looked out of the window on to a sort of lawn. There was nobody about outside as far as I could see but a gardener chap pottering about the flower beds.” “Did you see a car in the drive, besides the one you came in?” interrupted the Commissioner. “Hullo! What do you know about that car? No, I didn’t see it, that’s the queer thing. Next thing was, I heard people moving about in the hall, and after a bit everything became quiet in Comstock’s room. I waited for a bit, expecting that young chap Mills to come and show me in to see Comstock. But he didn’t come, and I got a bit impatient. I meant to see Comstock, whether he and his secretary liked it or not. So I just opened that concealed door and looked in. I tell you, Hampton, it takes a lot to surprise me. But when I looked into that room I got the shock of my life.” “What did you see?” the Commissioner asked coldly. “I saw Comstock lying in a heap in front of his desk with his chair on top of him. Of course, I went in then. Couldn’t very well do anything else. Didn’t take me long to see what had happened. Wound in the head, still bleeding. Chap dead all right, must have been killed instantaneously. And while I was looking at him, I heard a car drive off from somewhere in the drive. Fellow who killed Comstock, I concluded.” The Commissioner frowned. “Did you touch the body or anything in the room? “he asked. “Hardly. Besides, I hadn’t time. Just a chance I might catch that car, you see. I made for the open window, and jumped out. Lucky I didn’t break my neck. It was a lot farther to the ground than I had bargained for. Crocked one knee a bit, as it was. However, I managed to run to my car, and set off after the chap I’d heard. “Then a rotten thing happened. I swung out at the gate, going like hell, I’ll admit, and before I knew where I was I was into a constable riding a bicycle. The idiot was right over on the wrong side of his road, and I couldn’t help myself. ’Pon my word, Hampton, I didn’t know what to do. If I stopped to pick him up, I should lose all hope of catching the car I was after. But the fellow lay so darned still, with the bicycle twisted up like a Chinese puzzle, that I felt I couldn’t leave him there. So I stopped the car, got out, and had a look at him. And then I saw that he was pretty badly injured. Only thing to do was to take him to hospital. “I had noticed a hospital place on my way to Hursley Lodge. I picked the poor fellow up and hoisted him into the back of the car, and off I went. After all, Comstock was dead, and I couldn’t do any more for him. But I might save this chap’s life if I could get a doctor to him at once.” “A live dog being better than a dead lion,” remarked the Commissioner. “Get on, man.” “Well, my luck was dead out. I suppose it was a couple of miles or so to the hospital. And I was just about half way there when I ran out of petrol. There’ll be hell about that when I get back to the Yard. My orders are that my car is always to be filled up as soon as she’s brought in. Of course, I was carrying a spare can, and I tipped that in. But the blessed autovac didn’t seem to suck properly. I had to crank up the engine for a devil of a time before I could get any petrol to the carburetter.” “Yes, yes; never mind these details. You were delayed. What then?” “I got the poor devil to hospital, but there seemed to be nobody there but a fool of a woman. Matron, I suppose. Regular cottage hospital, more cottage than hospital. Got the poor chap to bed. Rang up a doctor. Out. Rang up another. Out. Matron woman warned me that patient was in a very bad way. Getting desperate, when a doctor looked in. I was afraid the poor chap was done for this time, but after a good wait doctor came down and told me he had a fighting chance, lot of ribs done in, and heaven knows what else. And then I got him to have a look at my knee, which was devilish painful and so stiff I could hardly move it. Altogether, it was past a quarter to two before I got away from that infernal hospital. “It struck me then that I had never seen the number of the car I’d been chasing. I drove back to Hursley Lodge, thinking that someone about the place must have noticed it. But at first I couldn’t find anybody with any sense in their heads. There was a local sergeant in charge, chap like a bullock, with about as much intelligence. He told me that the local superintendent, Weston, or some such name, had been mucking about the place. Destroyed every vestige of a clue, I expect. You know what these local men are. And, if you please, he trotted all the likely witnesses up to town. Did you ever hear of such an ass?” “Superintendent Easton acted upon my instructions,” the Commissioner remarked acidly. “Sorry, I didn’t know that. It looked to me as though the local people were blundering, as usual. So I thought I’d better do what I could to put things straight. I went round to the garage, and there I found Comstock’s chauffeur, a very decent, sensible chap by the name of Scotney. “He had seen the other car, all right. It had been standing in the drive for quite a long time. It’s difficult to explain, but the drive’s got a sort of kink in it. Goes round in a circle, with a clump of trees in the middle—” “Yes, I know all about that,” the Commissioner interrupted. “The trees were between you and the car, so that you couldn’t see it. What about this chauffeur?” “You seem to know the dickens of a lot, Hampton. The chauffeur? Oh, most observant chap. He had noticed the number, all right. QZ7623. Came out with it pat. Hadn’t ever seen the car before, he told me. Twenty horse Armstrong saloon, nearly new, painted blue. Very fine car, according to Scotney. And, would you believe it, the local chaps had never even asked him for the description! “Well, I happened to remember that QZ are the registration letters of the borough of Winborough, not more than seven or eight miles away. So off I went, straight away, to see the licensing authorities there. Sleepy old place, and sleepy old people. Took me a devil of a time at the Town Hall to find the man I wanted. Then we looked up the records, and found that QZ7623 had been allotted to the parson, Canon Pritchard. Chap at the Town Hall told me that his parishioners had just presented him with an Austin Seven. I saw at once there was something wrong, but I went on to the vicarage. There was the Austin in the garage, where Mrs. Pritchard swore it had been all the morning. Couldn’t see the vicar himself. Up in London, they told me, attending some sort of a conference of parsons.” “Convocation, of course. Well, what then?” “Well, it’s clear that the car that was at Hursley Lodge is sailing under false colours. I got on the ’phone to the Yard, to give orders to stop any car with the number QZ7623. As soon as I got through they told me that you had been asking for me, and were now at the Home Office. So I put a call through, and here I am. Any orders?” The Commissioner hesitated. It was in his mind to tell Littleton his candid opinion of his behaviour. Jumping to conclusions like that! Why the devil hadn’t he stayed at Hursley Lodge like a rational being? Only the presence of Anderson, the private secretary, restrained Compton from expressing his feelings. “You don’t seem to have been particularly successful in your search for the murderer,” he said. “The best thing you can do now is to get back to the Yard as quickly as you can. You can give me fuller details then.” He put down the telephone, and returned thoughtfully to the Home Secretary’s room. Sir Philip was still busy with his designs, which by now had almost completely covered his blotting paper. He looked up as the Commissioner came in. “Well, Hampton?” he asked cheerfully. “Any news?” The Commissioner was not in the least anxious to repeat the conversation which he had had with his assistant. He felt quite incapable of making it sound convincing in Sir Philip’s highly critical ears. Littleton had made a fool of himself, but there was no point in revealing this fact before an audience. Later, perhaps, he might have a chance of justifying himself privately. “Littleton told me nothing of importance that we do not know already,” he replied evasively. “Didn’t he?” said Sir Philip gently. “I confess that I had hoped that he would be able to solve the mystery. It does not often happen that the officer in charge of the Criminal Investigation Department is actually on the spot when a murder is committed. Littleton’s lack of information is disappointing. Most disappointing.” Rather an awkward silence fell upon the room. The Commissioner hastened to break it. He turned abruptly to Sir Charles. “What is the make and number of your car?” he asked. “It’s a comparatively new Armstrong saloon, and the number is QX7623,” replied Sir Charles without hesitation. The Commissioner nodded. So that point was explained. The chauffeur had probably memorized the number wrongly. QZ instead of QX. An easy enough mistake to make. QX was one of the London letters. But he was still anxious to divert attention from Littleton’s exploits. The pistol, lying on Sir Philip’s desk, caught his eye, and he picked it up. “You say that Lord Comstock kept this on his desk, Mr. Mills,” he said. Do you know why he did so? Had he any fear that he might be attacked?” Mills smiled rather contemptously. “Lord Comstock frequently expressed himself as being afraid of nobody,” he replied. “In any case, he would not have relied upon firearms to protect himself. One of his crime experts gave him that pistol, I believe. It was to form the basis of one of his criticisms of the methods of the police, or so I understand.” Hitherto, the pistol had been hidden from Churchill, seated at some distance from the desk. But as soon as the Commissioner picked it up, he could see it plainly. It was a small, vicious-looking weapon, not more than three inches over all. Churchill stared at it in amazement as Mills was speaking. Then he could no longer control himself. “Well, I’m blest if that isn’t another of them!” he exclaimed in what he may have believed to be a whisper. But it seemed that Sir Philip had remarkably good ears. He looked up at once, and took in the situation at a glance. Churchill’s remark had, for some reason, scandalized both the Commissioner and Shawford. They were frowning ominously, and the wretched superintendent looked as if he wished the floor to open and swallow him up. Another departmental secret, of course, thought Sir Philip. “I think, Hampton, that we have heard all that the witnesses can tell us for the present,” he said. “If you have no objection, we will talk this matter over together. But, in the absence of Littleton, I think that the Chief Constable and the Superintendent should remain.” Mills, Easton, and Farrant could, of course, be thus summarily dismissed; it was not even a compliment that the Commissioner went with them to the next room. The Chief Whip needed different treatment; and the Home Secretary was at pains to show his personal indebtedness for Sir Charles’ visit before he handed him over to the experienced ministrations of Mr. Anderson. The Commissioner, Shawford, and Churchill had time to await Sir Philip’s return in silent apprehension, but not to concert any measures of mutual support. Sir Philip resumed his place and his pencil, and immediately destroyed Churchill’s faint hope that his unfortunate remark has gone unnoticed. “Now, Superintendent!” he said sharply. “Perhaps you will tell us where you have seen a pistol like this before?” Churchill gulped, and ran his finger round between his collar and his neck. “I’m not sure about it, sir,” he began desperately. “When Sir Henry Hampton held it up just now, I thought—” “Let me have that pistol a moment, will you, Hampton?” said Sir Phillip. “Thank you. Bring your chair close up to the desk, Superintendent. I should not like you to be mistaken. Examine the pistol closely. Now, have you ever seen one like it before or not?” Churchill knew from the tone of the Home Secretary’s voice that he was not to be trifled with. He picked up the pistol gingerly, and laid it down again. “Yes, sir, I have seen one exactly like it,” he replied. “I don’t think that there are many in this country. The race-gangs are beginning to use them, sir. You can’t see a pistol that size when it’s held in the palm of the hand, and yet it’s a deadly little weapon at its own short range, and quiet too—sounds most like a toy pistol. A week or two ago the Sussex police got hold of a chap at Lewes races, and he had one of these on him. That’s how I came to see it, sir.” “Where did you see it, Superintendent?” “It was sent up to the Yard, sir, and Mr. Littleton called some of us into his room to show it to us.” “Oh, Mr. Littleton showed it to you, did he? When was this?” “Yesterday morning, sir. Chief Constable Shawford was there at the time, sir.” “Did Littleton show you this interesting specimen, Hampton?” asked Sir Philip. “No, he didn’t,” replied the Commissioner brusquely. “He did mention to me, however, that he had been sent a pistol captured at Lewes races.” “What did Mr. Littleton do with the pistol after he had shown it to you, Superintendent?” “As far as I remember, sir, he put it down on his desk.” “He put it down on his desk. Nasty thing to have lying about, especially as it might have been loaded. Was it loaded, do you know?” “It was when I first saw it, sir. But Mr. Littleton unloaded it while I was in the room, sir.” “A wise precaution. Now, Chief Constable, you told us that you were in Mr. Littleton’s room this morning discussing the Little Cadbury case, if I remember rightly. Did you see this pistol that the Superintendent talks about then?” Shawford cleared his throat. “Yes, sir. It was lying on Mr. Littleton’s desk.” Sir Philip looked speculatively at the designs upon his blotting-paper. “I wonder if it is there now?” he said gently. “I think, Hampton, that it would be as well if you rang up the Yard and asked them to look.” The Commissioner was about to leave the room, when Shawford spoke again. “I don’t think it will be there now, sir,” he said timidly. “Don’t you, Chief Constable? And what makes you think that?” “Well, sir, while I was talking to Mr. Littleton this morning, he picked it up and put it in his pocket. He said something about taking it round to a gunsmith for expert opinion, sir.” Sir Philip sighed, and leaned back in his chair. “It is extraordinary how difficult it is to elucidate the truth,” he said wearily. “I might surely have been told this fact without the necessity for cross-examination. I begin to feel that Comstock’s attack on the police was not without some justification. I shall expect you, Hampton, to take some action in regard to this want of frankness.” Fortunately for the Commissioner, his reply was interrupted by the buzzing of the house telephone. Sir Philip picked up the instrument and listened. “Yes, certainly, Anderson,” he said. “A special edition, you say? Oh, I know how they got hold of it. The enterprising Mr. Mills gave them the information over the private telephone from Hursley Lodge. Yes, bring it in, by all means.” Anderson came in, bearing a special edition of the Evening Clarion, which he handed to Sir Philip. Across the whole width of the front page were the glaring headlines: MURDER OF LORD COMSTOCK. WHAT DO THE POLICE KNOW? Sir Philip glanced through the heavily-leaded letter-press. It contained a vivid account of the events of the morning, obviously derived from Mills’ message. Following this was a special article by “Our well-known Crime Expert,” who was obviously in his element. “In spite of the fact that one of the Assistant Commissioners of Metropolitan Police, the official who is at the head of our ludicrously inefficient Criminal Investigation Department, was actually present at Hursley Lodge when the dastardly crime was committed, no arrest has yet been made. The British public, accustomed to repeated failures of a similar kind, may see nothing extraordinary in this. But we venture to ask the question, what was the Assistant Commissioner doing at Hursley Lodge? We have authority for stating that his visit was not by appointment with Lord Comstock, and that, in fact, his appearance was entirely unexpected. This visit may have been made with perfectly innocent intentions. But once more we call upon the Home Secretary to insist upon a thorough investigation of the circumstances, and that by some independent body. The Criminal Investigation Department is clearly prejudiced, since its chief official must appear as an actor in the drama. Only the most impartial investigation can be relied upon to solve the mystery of this dastardly outrage.” And so on, to the extent of a couple of columns or more. Sir Philip’s expression did not betray his thoughts-as he handed the paper to the Commissioner. “Well, Hampton, what do you make of that?” he asked. The Commissioner ran his eye through the article, and frowned. “It seems that Comstock’s stunts live after him,” he replied. “Stunt or no stunt it seems to me that Littleton’s visit to Hursley Lodge will want a lot of explanation,” said Sir Philip gravely. “As this fellow asks, what was he doing there? We know that he bitterly resented Comstock’s attack on Scotland Yard. Several other details have been revealed, which place his actions in none too favourable a light. And the grim fact remains that Comstock has been murdered.” There was no mistaking the significance of the Home Secretary’s words. But the Commissioner, bitterly annoyed as he was with Littleton’s account of his actions, was not prepared to acquiesce tamely in his guilt. Not that he considered it impossible. Littleton was notoriously headstrong. It was certain that he and Comstock could not have met, even for a moment, without a furious altercation arising immediately. This would undoubtedly have led to personal violence if the characters of the two men were considered. Littleton would not have shot Comstock in cold blood. But if Comstock had threatened him with the pistol found on his desk— No; the Commissioner’s reluctance to admit the possibility of Littleton’s guilt was not based upon conviction. It was due to his appreciation of the scandal which must ensue if such a thing were suggested. It might well be argued that if an Assistant Commissioner of Police were capable of murder, Comstock’s attacks upon that force were fully justified. For the honour of the Department of which he had charge, it was essential that no breath of official suspicion should cloud for a moment the reputation of his subordinate. “If you will forgive my saying so, sir, it is ridiculous to suppose that Littleton can have had anything to do with the crime,” he said stiffly. “I am well aware that he is impulsive to a fault, and that he would go to almost any lengths to defend his colleagues from outside attack. But nobody who knew him well would believe for a moment that he would condescend to murder. Chief Constable Shawford, who for years has worked in close association with him, will bear me out in that.” “That I will, sir!” exclaimed Shawford courageously. “I’d sooner suspect myself than Mr. Littleton.” “The esprit de corps displayed by the officers of your Department is really touching, Compton,” Sir Philip remarked drily. “In vulgar parlance, they’d rather die than give one another away. I am not likely to forget the difficulty which I experienced in extracting the truth about the second pistol. If you insist that Littleton cannot be guilty, what alternative do you suggest?” “I would point out that Sir Charles Hope-Fairweather’s replies to your questions were scarcely satisfactory,” the Commissioner replied equally. “Hope-Fairweather! I’ll admit that some politicians are hardly qualified to sit among the angels. But they do not as a rule indulge in personal murder. Besides, why in the world should Hope-Fairweather want to murder Comstock?” “There must be a good many people who, for various reasons, will rejoice at his death. He was the sort of man who makes private enemies as well as public ones. For instance, his dealings with women were notorious, and in some cases sufficiently scandalous. And Hope-Fairweather had a woman, whose name he refuses to divulge, with him when he went to Hursley Lodge.” Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/agata-kristi/ask-a-policeman/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. Безопасно оплатить книгу можно банковской картой Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, со счета мобильного телефона, с платежного терминала, в салоне МТС или Связной, через PayPal, WebMoney, Яндекс.Деньги, QIWI Кошелек, бонусными картами или другим удобным Вам способом.
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