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Murder Is Easy Agatha Christie Agatha Christie’s ingenious murder mystery thriller, reissued with a striking cover designed to appeal to the latest generation of Agatha Christie fans and book lovers.Luke Fitzwilliam could not believe Miss Pinkerton’s wild allegation that a multiple murderer was at work in the quiet English village of Wychwood – or her speculation that the local doctor was next in line.But within hours, Miss Pinkerton had been killed in a hit-and-run car accident. Mere coincidence? Luke was inclined to think so – until he read in The Times of the unexpected demise of Dr Humbleby… Copyright (#ulink_0e297e4e-eef9-5efa-a906-d06d08615c0d) Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF www.harpercollins.co.uk (http://www.harpercollins.co.uk) First published in Great Britain by Collins, The Crime Club 1938 Murder is Easy is a trade mark of Agatha Christie Limited and Agatha Christie and the Agatha Christie Signature are registered trade marks of Agatha Christie Limited in the UK and elsewhere. Copyright © 1938 Agatha Christie Limited. All rights reserved. www.agathachristie.com (http://www.agathachristie.com) Cover by designedbydavid.co.uk (http://designedbydavid.co.uk) © HarperCollins/Agatha Christie Ltd 2017 Agatha Christie asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work. A catalogue copy of this book is available from the British Library. This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental. 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 e-book 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. Source ISBN: 9780008196301 Ebook Edition © February 2017 ISBN: 9780007422531 Version: 2017-04-12 Dedication (#ulink_42c37952-efde-548c-979a-07c656bcde91) Dedicated to Rosalind and Susan the first two critics of this book Contents Cover (#ubadb1dee-47bd-5f12-8077-4b9adeaf95da) Title Page (#u11e781e5-cc97-5a91-b92c-04e2988ac8e2) Copyright (#uc5d4d2bf-cd31-57aa-b5ab-6142afa24ec7) Dedication (#u212b3b58-d12d-526f-827b-77631ad82a39) 1. A Fellow-Traveller (#u3a0eff66-32a1-51f5-8b50-b595565318eb) 2. Obituary Notice (#u14acc333-30be-5612-a047-dc6bcd59d4cb) 3. Witch Without Broomstick (#u2d72559f-a6fb-5990-9387-c16248ac6956) 4. Luke Makes a Beginning (#u46c6541a-aea7-56a4-a0fa-7f8ad71851ff) 5. Visit to Miss Waynflete (#ue7cba1b2-2489-55fd-b8b8-2b8ca2e0803b) 6. Hat Paint (#litres_trial_promo) 7. Possibilities (#litres_trial_promo) 8. Dr Thomas (#litres_trial_promo) 9. Mrs Pierce Talks (#litres_trial_promo) 10. Rose Humbleby (#litres_trial_promo) 11. Domestic Life of Major Horton (#litres_trial_promo) 12. Passage of Arms (#litres_trial_promo) 13. Miss Waynflete Talks (#litres_trial_promo) 14. Meditations of Luke (#litres_trial_promo) 15. Improper Conduct of a Chauffeur (#litres_trial_promo) 16. The Pineapple (#litres_trial_promo) 17. Lord Whitfield Talks (#litres_trial_promo) 18. Conference in London (#litres_trial_promo) 19. Broken Engagement (#litres_trial_promo) 20. We’re in It—Together (#litres_trial_promo) 21. ‘O Why Do You Walk Through the Fields in Gloves?’ (#litres_trial_promo) 22. Mrs Humbleby Speaks (#litres_trial_promo) 23. New Beginning (#litres_trial_promo) Also by Agatha Christie (#litres_trial_promo) About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER 1 (#ulink_be89069e-9c84-5650-aef8-557a9be643bf) A Fellow-Traveller (#ulink_be89069e-9c84-5650-aef8-557a9be643bf) England! England after many years! How was he going to like it? Luke Fitzwilliam asked himself that question as he walked down the gang-plank to the dock. It was present at the back of his mind all through the wait in the Customs’ shed. It came suddenly to the fore when he was finally seated in the boat-train. England on leave was one thing. Plenty of money to blue (to begin with anyway!), old friends to look up, meetings with other fellows home like himself—a carefree atmosphere of ‘Well, it won’t be long. Might as well enjoy myself! Soon be going back.’ But now there was no question of going back. No more of the hot stifling nights, no more blinding sun and tropical beauty of rich vegetation, no more lonely evenings reading and re-reading old copies of The Times. Here he was, honourably retired on a pension, with some small private means of his own, a gentleman of leisure, come home to England. What was he going to do with himself? England! England on a June day, with a grey sky and a sharp biting wind. Nothing welcoming about her on a day like this! And the people! Heavens, the people! Crowds of them, all with grey faces like the sky—anxious worried faces. The houses too, springing up everywhere like mushrooms. Nasty little houses! Revolting little houses! Chicken coops in the grandiose manner all over the countryside! With an effort Luke Fitzwilliam averted his eyes from the landscape outside the railway carriage window and settled down to a perusal of the papers he had just bought. The Times, the Daily Clarion and Punch. He started with the Daily Clarion. The Clarion was given over entirely to Epsom. Luke thought: ‘A pity we didn’t get in yesterday. Haven’t seen the Derby run since I was nineteen.’ He had drawn a horse in the Club sweep and he looked now to see what the Clarion’s racing correspondent thought of its chance. He found it dismissed contemptuously in a sentence. ‘Of the others, Jujube the II, Mark’s Mile, Santony and Jerry Boy are hardly likely to qualify for a place. A likely outsider is—’ But Luke paid no attention to the likely outsider. His eye had shifted to the betting. Jujube the II was listed at a modest 40 to 1. He glanced at his watch. A quarter to four. ‘Well,’ he thought. ‘It’s over now.’ And he wished he’d had a bet on Clarigold who was the second favourite. Then he opened The Times and became absorbed in more serious matters. Not for long, however, for a fierce-looking colonel in the corner opposite was so incensed at what he himself had just read that he had to pass on his indignation to his fellow-passenger. A full half-hour passed before the colonel tired of saying what he thought about ‘these damned Communist agitators, sir’. The colonel died down at last and finally dropped off to sleep with his mouth open. Shortly afterwards the train slowed down and finally stopped. Luke looked out of the window. They were in a large empty-looking station with many platforms. He caught sight of a bookstall some way up the platform with a placard: DERBY RESULT. Luke opened the door, jumped out, and ran towards the bookstall. A moment later he was staring with a broad grin at a few smudged lines in the stop press. Derby Result JUJUBE THE II MAZEPPA CLARIGOLD Luke grinned broadly. A hundred pounds to blue! Good old Jujube the II, so scornfully dismissed by all the tipsters. He folded the paper, still grinning to himself, and turned back—to face emptiness. In the excitement of Jujube the II’s victory, his train had slipped out of the station unnoticed by him. ‘When the devil did that train go out?’ he demanded of a gloomy-looking porter. The latter replied: ‘What train? There hasn’t been no train since the 3.14.’ ‘There was a train here just now. I got out of it. The boat express.’ The porter replied austerely: ‘The boat express don’t stop anywhere till London.’ ‘But it did,’ Luke assured him. ‘I got out of it.’ ‘No stop anywhere till London,’ repeated the porter immovably. ‘It stopped at this very platform and I got out of it, I tell you.’ Faced by facts, the porter changed his ground. ‘You didn’t ought to have done,’ he said reproachfully. ‘It don’t stop here.’ ‘But it did.’ ‘That ’twas signal, that was. Signal against it. It didn’t what you’d call “stop”.’ ‘I’m not so good at these fine distinctions as you are,’ said Luke. ‘The point is, what do I do next?’ The porter, a man of slow ideas, repeated reproachfully: ‘You didn’t ought to have got out.’ ‘We’ll admit that,’ said Luke. ‘The wrong is done, past all recall—weep we never so bitterly we can never bring back the dead past—Quoth the raven “Nevermore”—The moving finger writes; and having writ moves on, etc., etc., and so on and so forth. What I’m trying to get at is, what do you, a man experienced in the service of the railway company, advise me to do now?’ ‘You’re asking what you’d better do?’ ‘That,’ said Luke, ‘is the idea. There are, I presume, trains that stop, really officially stop, here?’ ‘Reckon,’ said the porter. ‘You’d best go on by the 4.25.’ ‘If the 4.25 goes to London,’ said Luke, ‘the 4.25 is the train for me.’ Reassured on that point, Luke strolled up and down the platform. A large board informed him that he was at Fenny Clayton Junction for Wychwood-under-Ashe, and presently a train consisting of one carriage pushed backwards by an antiquated little engine came slowly puffing in and deposited itself in a modest bay. Six or seven people alighted, and crossing over a bridge, came to join Luke on his platform. The gloomy porter suddenly awoke to life and began pushing about a large truck of crates and baskets, another porter joined him and began to rattle milk cans. Fenny Clayton awoke to life. At last, with immense importance the London train came in. The third-class carriages were crowded, and of firsts there were only three and each one contained a traveller or travellers. Luke scrutinized each compartment. The first, a smoker, contained a gentleman of military aspect smoking a cigar. Luke felt he had had enough of Anglo-Indian colonels today. He passed on to the next one, which contained a tired-looking genteel young woman, possibly a nursery governess, and an active-looking small boy of about three. Luke passed on quickly. The next door was open and the carriage contained one passenger, an elderly lady. She reminded Luke slightly of one of his aunts, his Aunt Mildred, who had courageously allowed him to keep a grass snake when he was ten years old. Aunt Mildred had been decidedly a good aunt as aunts go. Luke entered the carriage and sat down. After some five minutes of intense activity on the part of milk vans, luggage trucks and other excitements, the train moved slowly out of the station. Luke unfolded his paper and turned to such items of news as might interest a man who had already read his morning paper. He did not hope to read it for long. Being a man of many aunts, he was fairly certain that the nice old lady in the corner did not propose to travel in silence to London. He was right—a window that needed adjusting, dropped umbrella—and the way the old lady was telling him what a good train this was. ‘Only an hour and ten minutes. That’s very good, you know, very good indeed. Much better than the morning one. That takes an hour and forty minutes.’ She went on: ‘Of course, nearly everyone goes by the morning one. I mean, when it is the cheap day it’s silly to go up in the afternoon. I meant to go up this morning, but Wonky Pooh was missing—that’s my cat, a Persian, such a beauty only he’s had a painful ear lately—and of course I couldn’t leave home till he was found!’ Luke murmured: ‘Of course not,’ and let his eyes drop ostentatiously to his paper. But it was of no avail. The flood went on. ‘So I just made the best of a bad job and took the afternoon train instead, and of course it’s a blessing in one way because it’s not so crowded—not that that matters when one is travelling first class. Of course, I don’t usually do that. I mean, I should consider it an extravagance, what with taxes and one’s dividends being less and servants’ wages so much more and everything—but really I was so upset because you see, I’m going up on very important business, and I wanted to think out exactly what I was going to say—just quietly, you know—’ Luke repressed a smile. ‘And when there are people you know travelling up too—well, one can’t be unfriendly—so I thought just for once, the expense was quite permissible—though I do think nowadays there is so much waste—and nobody saves or thinks of the future. One is sorry the seconds were ever abolished—it did make just that little difference. ‘Of course,’ she went on quickly, with a swift glance at Luke’s bronzed face, ‘I know soldiers on leave have to travel first class. I mean, being officers, it’s expected of them—’ Luke sustained the inquisitive glance of a pair of bright twinkling eyes. He capitulated at once. It would come to it, he knew, in the end. ‘I’m not a soldier,’ he said. ‘Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—I just thought—you were so brown—perhaps home from the East on leave.’ ‘I’m home from the East,’ said Luke. ‘But not on leave.’ He stalled off further researches with a bald statement. ‘I’m a policeman.’ ‘In the police? Now really, that’s very interesting. A dear friend of mine—her boy has just joined the Palestine police.’ ‘Mayang Straits,’ said Luke, taking another short cut. ‘Oh, dear—very interesting. Really, it’s quite a coincidence—I mean, that you should be travelling in this carriage. Because, you see, this business I’m going up to town about—well, actually it is to Scotland Yard I’m going.’ ‘Really?’ said Luke. He thought to himself, ‘Will she run down soon like a clock or will this go on all the way to London?’ But he did not really mind very much, because he had been very fond of his Aunt Mildred, and he remembered how she had once stumped up a fiver in the nick of time. Besides, there was something very cosy and English about old ladies like this old lady and his Aunt Mildred. There was nothing at all like them in the Mayang Straits. They could be classed with plum pudding on Christmas Day and village cricket and open fireplaces with wood fires. The sort of things you appreciated a good deal when you hadn’t got them and were on the other side of the world. (They were also the sort of thing you got very bored with when you had a good deal of them, but as has been already told, Luke had only landed in England three or four hours ago.) The old lady was continuing happily: ‘Yes, I meant to go up this morning—and then, as I told you, I was so worried about Wonky Pooh. But you don’t think it will be too late, do you? I mean, there aren’t any special office hours at Scotland Yard.’ ‘I don’t think they close down at four or anything like that,’ said Luke. ‘No, of course, they couldn’t, could they? I mean, somebody might want to report a serious crime at any minute, mightn’t they?’ ‘Exactly,’ said Luke. For a moment the old lady relapsed into silence. She looked worried. ‘I always think it’s better to go right to the fountain-head,’ she said at last. ‘John Reed is quite a nice fellow—that’s our constable in Wychwood—a very civil-spoken, pleasant man—but I don’t feel, you know—that he would be quite the person to deal with anything serious. He’s quite used to dealing with people who’ve drunk too much, or with exceeding the speed limit, or lighting-up time—or people who haven’t taken out a dog licence—and perhaps with burglary even. But I don’t think—I’m quite sure—he isn’t the person to deal with murder!’ Luke’s eyebrows rose. ‘Murder?’ The old lady nodded vigorously. ‘Yes, murder. You’re surprised, I can see. I was myself at first … I really couldn’t believe it. I thought I must be imagining things.’ ‘Are you quite sure you weren’t?’ Luke asked gently. ‘Oh, no.’ She shook her head positively. ‘I might have been the first time, but not the second, or the third or the fourth. After that one knows.’ Luke said: ‘Do you mean there have been—er—several murders?’ The quiet gentle voice replied: ‘A good many, I’m afraid.’ She went on: ‘That’s why I thought it would be best to go straight to Scotland Yard and tell them about it. Don’t you think that’s the best thing to do?’ Luke looked at her thoughtfully, then he said: ‘Why, yes—I think you’re quite right.’ He thought to himself: ‘They’ll know how to deal with her. Probably get half a dozen old ladies a week coming in burbling about the amount of murders committed in their nice quiet country villages! There may be a special department for dealing with the old dears.’ And he saw in imagination a fatherly superintendent, or a good-looking young inspector, tactfully murmuring: ‘Thank you, ma’am, very grateful to you, I’m sure. Now just go back and leave it all in our hands and don’t worry any more about it.’ He smiled a little to himself at the picture. He thought: ‘I wonder why they get these fancies? Deadly dull lives, I suppose—an unacknowledged craving for drama. Some old ladies, so I’ve heard, fancy everyone is poisoning their food.’ He was roused from these meditations by the thin, gentle voice continuing: ‘You know, I remember reading once—I think it was the Abercrombie case—of course he’d poisoned quite a lot of people before any suspicion was aroused—what was I saying? Oh, yes, somebody said that there was a look—a special look that he gave anyone—and then very shortly afterwards that person would be taken ill. I didn’t really believe that when I read about it—but it’s true!’ ‘What’s true?’ ‘The look on a person’s face …’ Luke stared at her. She was trembling a little, and her nice pink cheeks had lost some of their colour. ‘I saw it first with Amy Gibbs—and she died. And then it was Carter. And Tommy Pierce. But now—yesterday—it was Dr Humbleby—and he’s such a good man—a really good man. Carter, of course, drank, and Tommy Pierce was a dreadfully cheeky impertinent little boy, and bullied the tiny boys, twisting their arms and pinching them. I didn’t feel quite so badly about them, but Dr Humbleby’s different. He must be saved. And the terrible thing is that if I went to him and told him about it he wouldn’t believe me! He’d only laugh! And John Reed wouldn’t believe me either. But at Scotland Yard it will be different. Because, naturally, they’re used to crime there!’ She glanced out of the window. ‘Oh, dear, we shall be in in a minute.’ She fussed a little, opening and shutting her bag, collecting her umbrella. ‘Thank you—thank you so much.’ This to Luke as he picked the umbrella up for the second time. ‘It’s been such a relief talking to you—most kind of you, I’m sure—so glad you think I’m doing the right thing.’ Luke said kindly: ‘I’m sure they’ll give you good advice at Scotland Yard.’ ‘I really am most grateful.’ She fumbled in her bag. ‘My card—oh, dear, I only have one—I must keep that—for Scotland Yard—’ ‘Of course, of course—’ ‘But my name is Pinkerton.’ ‘Very suitable name, too, Miss Pinkerton,’ said Luke, smiling, adding hastily as she looked a little bewildered, ‘My name is Luke Fitzwilliam.’ As the train drew in to the platform he added: ‘Can I get you a taxi?’ ‘Oh, no, thank you.’ Miss Pinkerton seemed quite shocked at the idea. ‘I shall take the tube. That will take me to Trafalgar Square, and I shall walk down Whitehall.’ ‘Well, good luck,’ said Luke. Miss Pinkerton shook him warmly by the hand. ‘So kind,’ she murmured again. ‘You know, just at first I thought you didn’t believe me.’ Luke had the grace to blush. ‘Well,’ he said. ‘So many murders! Rather hard to do a lot of murders and get away with it, eh?’ Miss Pinkerton shook her head. She said earnestly: ‘No, no, my dear boy, that’s where you’re wrong. It’s very easy to kill—so long as no one suspects you. And you see, the person in question is just the last person anyone would suspect!’ ‘Well, anyway, good luck,’ said Luke. Miss Pinkerton was swallowed up in the crowd. He himself went off in search of his luggage, thinking as he did so: ‘Just a little bit batty? No, I don’t think so. A vivid imagination, that’s all. Hope they let her down lightly. Rather an old dear.’ CHAPTER 2 (#ulink_4de8b7a8-9540-5256-b973-751da077d806) Obituary Notice (#ulink_4de8b7a8-9540-5256-b973-751da077d806) Jimmy Lorrimer was one of Luke’s oldest friends. As a matter of course, Luke stayed with Jimmy as soon as he got to London. It was with Jimmy that he sallied forth on the evening of his arrival in search of amusement. It was Jimmy’s coffee that he drank with an aching head the morning after, and it was Jimmy’s voice that went unanswered while he read twice over a small insignificant paragraph in the morning paper. ‘Sorry, Jimmy,’ he said, coming to himself with a start. ‘What were you absorbed in—the political situation?’ Luke grinned. ‘No fear. No, it’s rather queer—old pussy I travelled up with in the train yesterday got run over.’ ‘Probably trusted to a Belisha Beacon,’ said Jimmy. ‘How do you know it’s her?’ ‘Of course, it mayn’t be. But it’s the same name—Pinkerton—she was knocked down and killed by a car as she was crossing Whitehall. The car didn’t stop.’ ‘Nasty business,’ said Jimmy. ‘Yes, poor old bean. I’m sorry. She reminded me of my Aunt Mildred.’ ‘Whoever was driving that car will be for it. Bring it in manslaughter as likely as not. I tell you, I’m scared stiff of driving a car nowadays.’ ‘What have you got at present in the way of a car?’ ‘Ford V 8. I tell you, my boy—’ The conversation became severely mechanical. Jimmy broke it off to ask: ‘What the devil are you humming?’ Luke was humming to himself: ‘Fiddle de dee, fiddle de dee, the fly has married the bumble bee.’ He apologized. ‘Nursery rhyme remembered from my childhood. Can’t think what put it into my head.’ It was over a week later that Luke, carelessly scanning the front page of The Times, gave a sudden startled exclamation. ‘Well, I’m damned!’ Jimmy Lorrimer looked up. ‘What’s the matter?’ Luke did not answer. He was staring at a name in the printed column. Jimmy repeated his question. Luke raised his head and looked at his friend. His expression was so peculiar that Jimmy was quite taken aback. ‘What’s up, Luke? You look as though you’d seen a ghost.’ For a minute or two the other did not reply. He dropped the paper, strode to the window and back again. Jimmy watched him with increasing surprise. Luke dropped into a chair and leaned forward. ‘Jimmy, old son, do you remember my mentioning an old lady I travelled up to town with—the day I arrived in England?’ ‘The one you said reminded you of your Aunt Mildred? And then she got run over by a car?’ ‘That’s the one. Listen, Jimmy. The old girl came out with a long rigmarole of how she was going up to Scotland Yard to tell them about a lot of murders. There was a murderer loose in her village—that’s what it amounted to, and he’s been doing some pretty rapid execution.’ ‘You didn’t tell me she was batty,’ said Jimmy. ‘I didn’t think she was.’ ‘Oh, come now, old boy, wholesale murder—’ Luke said impatiently: ‘I didn’t think she was off her head. I thought she was just letting her imagination run away with her like old ladies sometimes do.’ ‘Well, yes, I suppose that might have been it. But she was probably a bit touched as well, I should think.’ ‘Never mind what you think, Jimmy. At the moment, I’m telling you, see?’ ‘Oh, quite—quite—get on with it.’ ‘She was quite circumstantial, mentioned one or two victims by name and then explained that what had really rattled her was the fact that she knew who the next victim was going to be.’ ‘Yes?’ said Jimmy encouragingly. ‘Sometimes a name sticks in your head for some silly reason or other. This name stuck in mine because I linked it up with a silly nursery rhyme they used to sing to me when I was a kid. Fiddle de dee, fiddle de dee, the fly has married the bumble bee.’ ‘Very intellectual, I’m sure, but what’s the point?’ ‘The point, my good ass, is that the man’s name was Humbleby—Dr Humbleby. My old lady said Dr Humbleby would be the next, and she was distressed because he was “such a good man”. The name stuck in my head because of the aforementioned rhyme.’ ‘Well?’ said Jimmy. ‘Well, look at this.’ Luke passed over the paper, his finger pressed against an entry in the column of deaths. HUMBLEBY.—On June 13, suddenly, at his residence, Sandgate, Wychwood-under-Ashe, John Edward Humbleby, md, beloved husband of Jessie Rose Humbleby. Funeral Friday. No flowers, by request. ‘You see, Jimmy? That’s the name and the place and he’s a doctor. What do you make of it?’ Jimmy took a moment or two to answer. His voice was serious when he said at last rather uncertainly: ‘I suppose it’s just a damned odd coincidence.’ ‘Is it, Jimmy? Is it? Is that all it is?’ Luke began to walk up and down again. ‘What else could it be?’ asked Jimmy. Luke wheeled round suddenly. ‘Suppose that every word that dear bleating old sheep said was true! Suppose that that fantastic story was just the plain literal truth!’ ‘Oh, come now, old boy! That would be a bit thick! Things like that don’t happen.’ ‘What about the Abercrombie case? Wasn’t he supposed to have done away with a goodish few?’ ‘More than ever came out,’ said Jimmy. ‘A pal of mine had a cousin who was the local coroner. I heard a bit through him. They got Abercrombie for feeding the local vet with arsenic, then they dug up his wife and she was full of it, and it’s pretty certain his brother-in-law went the same way—and that wasn’t all, by a long chalk. This pal of mine told me the unofficial view was that Abercrombie had done away with at least fifteen people in his time. Fifteen!’ ‘Exactly. So these things do happen!’ ‘Yes, but they don’t happen often.’ ‘How do you know? They may happen a good deal oftener than you suppose.’ ‘There speaks the police wallah! Can’t you forget you’re a policeman now that you’ve retired into private life?’ ‘Once a policeman, always a policeman, I suppose,’ said Luke. ‘Now look here, Jimmy, supposing that before Abercrombie had got so foolhardy as fairly to push his murders under the nose of the police, some dear loquacious old spinster had just simply guessed what he was up to and had trotted off to tell someone in authority all about it. Do you suppose they’d have listened to her?’ Jimmy grinned. ‘No fear!’ ‘Exactly. They’d have said she’d got bats in the belfry. Just as you said! Or they’d have said, “Too much imagination. Not enough to do.” As I said! And both of us, Jimmy, would have been wrong.’ Lorrimer took a moment or two to consider, then he said: ‘What’s the position exactly—as it appears to you?’ Luke said slowly: ‘The case stands like this. I was told a story—an improbable, but not an impossible story. One piece of evidence, the death of Dr Humbleby, supports that story. And there’s one other significant fact. Miss Pinkerton was going to Scotland Yard with this improbable story of hers. But she didn’t get there. She was run over and killed by a car that didn’t stop.’ Jimmy objected. ‘You don’t know that she didn’t get there. She might have been killed after her visit, not before.’ ‘She might have been, yes—but I don’t think she was.’ ‘That’s pure supposition. It boils down to this—you believe in this—this melodrama.’ Luke shook his head sharply. ‘No, I don’t say that. All I say is, there’s a case for investigation.’ ‘In other words, you are going to Scotland Yard?’ ‘No, it hasn’t come to that yet—not nearly. As you say, this man Humbleby’s death may be merely a coincidence.’ ‘Then what, may I ask, is the idea?’ ‘The idea is to go down to this place and look into the matter.’ ‘So that’s the idea, is it?’ ‘Don’t you agree that that is the only sensible way to set about it?’ Jimmy stared at him, then he said: ‘Are you serious about this business, Luke?’ ‘Absolutely.’ ‘Suppose the whole thing’s a mare’s nest?’ ‘That would be the best thing that could happen.’ ‘Yes, of course …’ Jimmy frowned. ‘But you don’t think it is, do you?’ ‘My dear fellow, I’m keeping an open mind.’ Jimmy was silent for a minute or two. Then he said: ‘Got any plan? I mean, you’ll have to have some reason for suddenly arriving in this place.’ ‘Yes, I suppose I shall.’ ‘No “suppose” about it. Do you realize what a small English country town is like? Anyone new sticks out a mile!’ ‘I shall have to adopt a disguise,’ said Luke with a sudden grin. ‘What do you suggest? Artist? Hardly—I can’t draw, let alone paint.’ ‘You could be a modern artist,’ suggested Jimmy. ‘Then that wouldn’t matter.’ But Luke was intent on the matter in hand. ‘An author? Do authors go to strange country inns to write? They might, I suppose. A fisherman, perhaps—but I’ll have to find out if there’s a handy river. An invalid ordered country air? I don’t look the part, and anyway everyone goes to a nursing home nowadays. I might be looking for a house in the neighbourhood. But that’s not very good. Hang it all, Jimmy, there must be some plausible reason for a hearty stranger to descend upon an English village?’ Jimmy said: ‘Wait a sec—give me that paper again.’ Taking it, he gave it a cursory glance and announced triumphantly: ‘I thought so! Luke, old boy—to put it in a nutshell—I’ll fix you OK. Everything’s as easy as winking!’ Luke wheeled round. ‘What?’ Jimmy was continuing with modest pride: ‘I thought something struck a chord! Wychwood-under-Ashe. Of course! The very place!’ ‘Have you, by any chance, a pal who knows the coroner there?’ ‘Not this time. Better than that, my boy. Nature, as you know, has endowed me plentifully with aunts and cousins—my father having been one of a family of thirteen. Now listen to this: I have a cousin in Wychwood-under-Ashe.’ ‘Jimmy, you’re a blinking marvel.’ ‘It is pretty good, isn’t it?’ said Jimmy modestly. ‘Tell me about him.’ ‘It’s a her. Her name’s Bridget Conway. For the last two years she’s been secretary to Lord Whitfield.’ ‘The man who owns those nasty little weekly papers?’ ‘That’s right. Rather a nasty little man too! Pompous! He was born in Wychwood-under-Ashe, and being the kind of snob who rams his birth and breeding down your throat and glories in being self-made, he has returned to his home village, bought up the only big house in the neighbourhood (it belonged to Bridget’s family originally, by the way) and is busy making the place into a “model estate”.’ ‘And your cousin is his secretary?’ ‘She was,’ said Jimmy darkly. ‘Now she’s gone one better! She’s engaged to him!’ ‘Oh,’ said Luke, rather taken aback. ‘He’s a catch, of course,’ said Jimmy. ‘Rolling in money. Bridget took rather a toss over some fellow—it pretty well knocked the romance out of her. I dare say this will pan out very well. She’ll probably be kind but firm with him and he’ll eat out of her hand.’ ‘And where do I come in?’ Jimmy replied promptly. ‘You go down there to stay—you’d better be another cousin. Bridget’s got so many that one more or less won’t matter. I’ll fix that up with her all right. She and I have always been pals. Now for your reason for going there—witchcraft, my boy.’ ‘Witchcraft?’ ‘Folklore, local superstitions—all that sort of thing. Wychwood-under-Ashe has got rather a reputation that way. One of the last places where they had a Witches’ Sabbath—witches were still burnt there in the last century—all sorts of traditions. You’re writing a book, see? Correlating the customs of the Mayang Straits and old English folklore—points of resemblance, etc. You know the sort of stuff. Go round with a notebook and interview the oldest inhabitant about local superstitions and customs. They’re quite used to that sort of thing down there, and if you’re staying at Ashe Manor it vouches for you.’ ‘What about Lord Whitfield?’ ‘He’ll be all right. He’s quite uneducated and completely credulous—actually believes things he reads in his own papers. Anyway Bridget will fix him. Bridget’s all right. I’ll answer for her.’ Luke drew a deep breath. ‘Jimmy, old scout, it looks as though the thing is going to be easy. You’re a wonder. If you can really fix me up with your cousin—’ ‘That will be absolutely OK. Leave it to me.’ ‘I’m no end grateful to you.’ Jimmy said: ‘All I ask is, if you’re hunting down a homicidal murderer, let me be in at the death!’ He added sharply: ‘What is it?’ Luke said slowly: ‘Just something I remembered my old lady saying to me. I’d said to her that it was a bit thick to do a lot of murders and get away with it, and she answered that I was wrong—that it was very easy to kill …’ He stopped, and then said slowly, ‘I wonder if that’s true, Jimmy? I wonder if it is—’ ‘What?’ ‘Easy to kill …’ CHAPTER 3 (#ulink_cc8ed9c9-44ca-5104-939e-ed9b053bc43a) Witch Without Broomstick (#ulink_cc8ed9c9-44ca-5104-939e-ed9b053bc43a) The sun was shining when Luke came over the hill and down into the little country town of Wychwood-under-Ashe. He had bought a second-hand Standard Swallow, and he stopped for a moment on the brow of the hill and switched off the engine. The summer day was warm and sunny. Below him was the village, singularly unspoilt by recent developments. It lay innocently and peacefully in the sunlight—mainly composed of a long straggling street that ran along under the overhanging brow of Ashe Ridge. It seemed singularly remote, strangely untouched. Luke thought, ‘I’m probably mad. The whole thing’s fantastic.’ Had he really come here solemnly to hunt down a killer—simply on the strength of some garrulous ramblings on the part of an old lady, and a chance obituary notice? He shook his head. ‘Surely these things don’t happen,’ he murmured. ‘Or—do they? Luke, my boy, it’s up to you to find out if you’re the world’s most credulous prize ass, or if your policeman’s nose has led you hot on the scent.’ He switched on the engine, threw in the gear and drove gently down the twisting road and so entered the main street. Wychwood, as has been said, consists mainly of its one principal street. There were shops, small Georgian houses, prim and aristocratic, with whitened steps and polished knockers, there were picturesque cottages with flower gardens. There was an inn, the Bells and Motley, standing a little back from the street. There was a village green and a duck pond, and presiding over them a dignified Georgian house which Luke thought at first must be his destination, Ashe Manor. But on coming nearer he saw that there was a large painted board announcing that it was the Museum and Library. Farther on there was an anachronism, a large white modern building, austere and irrelevant to the cheerful haphazardness of the rest of the place. It was, Luke gathered, a local Institute and Lads’ Club. It was at this point that he stopped and asked the way to his destination. He was told that Ashe Manor was about half a mile farther on—he would see the gates on his right. Luke continued his course. He found the gates easily—they were of new and elaborate wrought-iron. He drove in, caught a gleam of red brick through the trees, and turned a corner of the drive to be stupefied by the appalling and incongruous castellated mass that greeted his eyes. While he was contemplating the nightmare, the sun went in. He became suddenly conscious of the overlying menace of Ashe Ridge. There was a sudden sharp gust of wind, blowing back the leaves of the trees, and at that moment a girl came round the corner of the castellated mansion. Her black hair was blown up off her head by the sudden gust and Luke was reminded of a picture he had once seen—Nevinson’s ‘Witch’. The long pale delicate face, the black hair flying up to the stars. He could see this girl on a broomstick flying up to the moon … She came straight towards him. ‘You must be Luke Fitzwilliam. I’m Bridget Conway.’ He took the hand she held out. He could see her now as she was—not in a sudden moment of fantasy. Tall, slender, a long delicate face with slightly hollow cheek-bones—ironic black brows—black eyes and hair. She was like a delicate etching, he thought—poignant and beautiful. He had had an acknowledged picture at the back of his mind during his voyage home to England—a picture of an English girl flushed and sunburnt—stroking a horse’s neck, stooping to weed a herbaceous border, sitting holding out her hands to the blaze of a wood fire. It had been a warm gracious vision … Now—he didn’t know if he liked Bridget Conway or not—but he knew that that secret picture wavered and broke up—became meaningless and foolish … He said: ‘How d’you do? I must apologize for wishing myself on you like this. Jimmy would have it that you wouldn’t mind.’ ‘Oh, we don’t. We’re delighted.’ She smiled, a sudden curving smile that brought the corners of her long mouth half-way up her cheeks. ‘Jimmy and I always stand in together. And if you’re writing a book on folklore this is a splendid place. All sorts of legends and picturesque spots.’ ‘Splendid,’ said Luke. They went together towards the house. Luke stole another glance at it. He discerned now traces of a sober Queen Anne dwelling overlaid and smothered by the florid magnificence. He remembered that Jimmy had mentioned the house as having originally belonged to Bridget’s family. That, he thought grimly, was in its unadorned days. Stealing a glance at the line of her profile, at the long beautiful hands, he wondered. She was about twenty-eight or -nine, he supposed. And she had brains. And she was one of those people about whom you knew absolutely nothing unless they chose that you should … Inside, the house was comfortable and in good taste—the good taste of a first-class decorator. Bridget Conway led the way to a room with bookshelves and comfortable chairs where a tea table stood near the window with two people sitting by it. She said: ‘Gordon, this is Luke, a sort of cousin of a cousin of mine.’ Lord Whitfield was a small man with a semi-bald head. His face was round and ingenuous, with a pouting mouth and boiled gooseberry eyes. He was dressed in careless-looking country clothes. They were unkind to his figure, which ran mostly to stomach. He greeted Luke with affability. ‘Glad to see you—very glad. Just come back from the East, I hear? Interesting place. Writing a book, so Bridget tells me. They say too many books are written nowadays. I say no—always room for a good one.’ Bridget said, ‘My aunt, Mrs Anstruther,’ and Luke shook hands with a middle-aged woman with a rather foolish mouth. Mrs Anstruther, as Luke soon learned, was devoted body and soul to gardening. She never talked of anything else, and her mind was constantly occupied by considerations of whether some rare plant was likely to do well in the place she intended to put it. After acknowledging the introduction, she said now: ‘You know, Gordon, the ideal spot for a rockery would be just beyond the rose garden, and then you could have the most marvellous water garden where the stream comes through that dip.’ Lord Whitfield stretched himself back in his chair. ‘You fix all that with Bridget,’ he said easily. ‘Rock plants are niggly little things, I think—but that doesn’t matter.’ Bridget said: ‘Rock plants aren’t sufficiently in the grand manner for you, Gordon.’ She poured out some tea for Luke and Lord Whitfield said placidly: ‘That’s right. They’re not what I call good value for money. Little bits of flowers you can hardly see … I like a nice show in a conservatory, or some good beds of scarlet geraniums.’ Mrs Anstruther, who possessed par excellence the gift of continuing with her own subject undisturbed by that of anyone else, said: ‘I believe those new rock roses would do perfectly in this climate,’ and proceeded to immerse herself in catalogues. Throwing his squat little figure back in his chair, Lord Whitfield sipped his tea and studied Luke appraisingly. ‘So you write books,’ he murmured. Feeling slightly nervous, Luke was about to enter on explanations when he perceived that Lord Whitfield was not really seeking for information. ‘I’ve often thought,’ said his lordship complacently, ‘that I’d like to write a book myself.’ ‘Yes?’ said Luke. ‘I could, mark you,’ said Lord Whitfield. ‘And a very interesting book it would be. I’ve come across a lot of interesting people. Trouble is, I haven’t got the time. I’m a very busy man.’ ‘Of course. You must be.’ ‘You wouldn’t believe what I’ve got on my shoulders,’ said Lord Whitfield. ‘I take a personal interest in each one of my publications. I consider that I’m responsible for moulding the public mind. Next week millions of people will be thinking and feeling just exactly what I’ve intended to make them feel and think. That’s a very solemn thought. That means responsibility. Well, I don’t mind responsibility. I’m not afraid of it. I can do with responsibility.’ Lord Whitfield swelled out his chest, attempted to draw in his stomach, and glared amiably at Luke. Bridget Conway said lightly: ‘You’re a great man, Gordon. Have some more tea.’ Lord Whitfield replied simply: ‘I am a great man. No, I won’t have any more tea.’ Then, descending from his own Olympian heights to the level of more ordinary mortals, he inquired kindly of his guest: ‘Know anybody round this part of the world?’ Luke shook his head. Then, on an impulse, and feeling that the sooner he began to get down to his job the better, he added: ‘At least, there’s a man here that I promised to look up—friend of friends of mine. Man called Humbleby. He’s a doctor.’ ‘Oh!’ Lord Whitfield struggled upright in his chair. ‘Dr Humbleby? Pity.’ ‘What’s a pity?’ ‘Died about a week ago,’ said Lord Whitfield. ‘Oh, dear,’ said Luke. ‘I’m sorry about that.’ ‘Don’t think you’d have cared for him,’ said Lord Whitfield. ‘Opinionated, pestilential, muddle-headed old fool.’ ‘Which means,’ put in Bridget, ‘that he disagreed with Gordon.’ ‘Question of our water supply,’ said Lord Whitfield. ‘I may tell you, Mr Fitzwilliam, that I’m a public-spirited man. I’ve got the welfare of this town at heart. I was born here. Yes, born in this very town—’ With chagrin Luke perceived that they had left the topic of Dr Humbleby and had reverted to the topic of Lord Whitfield. ‘I’m not ashamed of it and I don’t care who knows it,’ went on that gentleman. ‘I had none of your natural advantages. My father kept a boot-shop—yes, a plain boot-shop. And I served in that shop when I was a young lad. I raised myself by my own efforts, Fitzwilliam—I determined to get out of the rut—and I got out of the rut! Perseverance, hard work and the help of God—that’s what did it! That’s what made me what I am today.’ Exhaustive details of Lord Whitfield’s career were produced for Luke’s benefit and the former wound up triumphantly: ‘And here I am and the whole world’s welcome to know how I’ve got here! I’m not ashamed of my beginnings—no, sir—I’ve come back here where I was born. Do you know what stands where my father’s shop used to be? A fine building built and endowed by me—Institute, Boys’ Clubs, everything tip-top and up to date. Employed the best architect in the country! I must say he’s made a bare plain job of it—looks like a workhouse or a prison to me—but they say it’s all right, so I suppose it must be.’ ‘Cheer up,’ said Bridget. ‘You had your own way over this house!’ Lord Whitfield chuckled appreciatively. ‘Yes, they tried to put it over on me here! Carry out the original spirit of the building. No, I said, I’m going to live in the place, and I want something to show for my money! When one architect wouldn’t do what I wanted I sacked him and got another. The fellow I got in the end understood my ideas pretty well.’ ‘He pandered to your worst flights of imagination,’ said Bridget. ‘She’d have liked the place left as it was,’ said Lord Whitfield. He patted her arm. ‘No use living in the past, my dear. Those old Georges didn’t know much. I didn’t want a plain red-brick house. I always had a fancy for a castle—and now I’ve got one!’ He added, ‘I know my taste isn’t very classy, so I gave a good firm carte blanche to do the inside, and I must say they haven’t done too badly—though some of it is a bit drab.’ ‘Well,’ said Luke, a little at a loss for words, ‘it’s a great thing to know what you want.’ ‘And I usually get it too,’ said the other, chuckling. ‘You nearly didn’t get your way about the water scheme,’ Bridget reminded him. ‘Oh, that!’ said Lord Whitfield. ‘Humbleby was a fool. These elderly men are inclined to be pig-headed. They won’t listen to reason.’ ‘Dr Humbleby was rather an outspoken man, wasn’t he?’ Luke ventured. ‘He made a good many enemies that way, I should imagine.’ ‘N-no, I don’t know that I should say that,’ demurred Lord Whitfield, rubbing his nose. ‘Eh, Bridget?’ ‘He was very popular with everyone, I always thought,’ said Bridget. ‘I only saw him when he came about my ankle that time, but I thought he was a dear.’ ‘Yes, he was popular enough on the whole,’ admitted Lord Whitfield. ‘Though I know one or two people who had it in for him. Pig-headedness again.’ ‘One or two of the people living here?’ Lord Whitfield nodded. ‘Lots of little feuds and cliques in a place like this,’ he said. ‘Yes, I suppose so,’ said Luke. He hesitated, uncertain of his next step. ‘What sort of people live here mostly?’ he queried. It was rather a weak question, but he got an instant response. ‘Relicts, mostly,’ said Bridget. ‘Clergymen’s daughters and sisters and wives. Doctors’ dittoes. About six women to every man.’ ‘But there are some men?’ hazarded Luke. ‘Oh, yes, there’s Mr Abbot, the solicitor, and young Dr Thomas, Dr Humbleby’s partner, and Mr Wake, the rector, and—who else is there, Gordon? Oh! Mr Ellsworthy, who keeps the antique shop and who is too, too terribly sweet! And Major Horton and his bulldogs.’ ‘There’s somebody else I believe my friends mentioned as living down here,’ said Luke. ‘They said she was a nice old pussy but talked a lot.’ Bridget laughed. ‘That applies to half the village!’ ‘What was the name now? I’ve got it. Pinkerton.’ Lord Whitfield said with a hoarse chuckle: ‘Really, you’ve no luck! She’s dead too. Got run over the other day in London. Killed outright.’ ‘You seem to have a lot of deaths here,’ said Luke lightly. Lord Whitfield bridled immediately. ‘Not at all. One of the healthiest places in England. Can’t count accidents. They may happen to anyone.’ But Bridget Conway said thoughtfully: ‘As a matter of fact, Gordon, there have been a lot of deaths in the last year. They’re always having funerals.’ ‘Nonsense, my dear.’ Luke said: ‘Was Dr Humbleby’s death an accident too?’ Lord Whitfield shook his head. ‘Oh, no,’ he said. ‘Humbleby died of acute septicæmia. Just like a doctor. Scratched his finger with a rusty nail or something—paid no attention to it, and it turned septic. He was dead in three days.’ ‘Doctors are rather like that,’ said Bridget. ‘And of course, they’re very liable to infection, I suppose, if they don’t take care. It was sad, though. His wife was broken-hearted.’ ‘No good rebelling against the will of providence,’ said Lord Whitfield easily. ‘But was it the will of providence?’ Luke asked himself later as he changed into his dinner jacket. Septicæmia? Perhaps. A very sudden death, though. And there echoed through his head Bridget Conway’s lightly spoken words: ‘There have been a lot of deaths in the last year.’ CHAPTER 4 (#ulink_54b77604-ad67-588b-bff8-d958ab850e71) Luke Makes a Beginning (#ulink_54b77604-ad67-588b-bff8-d958ab850e71) Luke had thought out his plan of campaign with some care, and prepared to put it into action without more ado when he came down to breakfast the following morning. The gardening aunt was not in evidence, but Lord Whitfield was eating kidneys and drinking coffee, and Bridget Conway had finished her meal and was standing at the window, looking out. After good-mornings had been exchanged and Luke had sat down with a plentifully heaped plate of eggs and bacon, he began: ‘I must get to work,’ he said. ‘Difficult thing is to induce people to talk. You know what I mean—not people like you and—er—Bridget.’ (He remembered just in time not to say Miss Conway.) ‘You’d tell me anything you knew—but the trouble is you wouldn’t know the things I want to know—that is the local superstitions. You’d hardly believe the amount of superstition that still lingers in out-of-the-way parts of the world. Why, there’s a village in Devonshire. The rector had to remove some old granite menhirs that stood by the church because the people persisted in marching round them in some old ritual every time there was a death. Extraordinary how old heathen rites persist.’ ‘Dare say you’re right,’ said Lord Whitfield. ‘Education, that’s what people need. Did I tell you that I’d endowed a very fine library here? Used to be the old manor house—was going for a song—now it’s one of the finest libraries—’ Luke firmly quelled the tendency of the conversation to turn in the direction of Lord Whitfield’s doings. ‘Splendid,’ he said heartily. ‘Good work. You’ve evidently realized the background of old-world ignorance there is here. Of course, from my point of view, that’s just what I want. Old customs—old wives’ tales—hints of the old rituals such as—’ Here followed almost verbatim a page of a work that Luke had read up for the occasion. ‘Deaths are the most hopeful line,’ he ended. ‘Burial rites and customs always survive longer than any others. Besides, for some reason or other, village people always like talking about deaths.’ ‘They enjoy funerals,’ agreed Bridget from the window. ‘I thought I’d make that my starting-point,’ went on Luke. ‘If I can get a list of recent demises in the parish, track down the relatives and get into conversation, I’ve no doubt I shall soon get a hint of what I’m after. Who had I better get the data from—the parson?’ ‘Mr Wake would probably be very interested,’ said Bridget. ‘He’s quite an old dear and a bit of an antiquary. He could give you a lot of stuff, I expect.’ Luke had a momentary qualm during which he hoped that the clergyman might not be so efficient an antiquary as to expose his own pretensions. Aloud he said heartily: ‘Good. You’ve no idea, I suppose, of likely people who’ve died during the last year.’ Bridget murmured: ‘Let me see. Carter, of course. He was the landlord of the Seven Stars, that nasty little pub down by the river.’ ‘A drunken ruffian,’ said Lord Whitfield. ‘One of these socialistic, abusive brutes, a good riddance.’ ‘And Mrs Rose, the laundress,’ went on Bridget. ‘And little Tommy Pierce—he was a nasty little boy if you like. Oh, of course, and that girl Amy what’s-her-name.’ Her voice changed slightly as she uttered the last name. ‘Amy?’ said Luke. ‘Amy Gibbs. She was housemaid here and then she went to Miss Waynflete. There was an inquest on her.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Fool of a girl mixed up some bottles in the dark,’ said Lord Whitfield. ‘She took what she thought was cough mixture and it was hat paint,’ explained Bridget. Luke raised his eyebrows. ‘Somewhat of a tragedy.’ Bridget said: ‘There was some idea of her having done it on purpose. Some row with a young man.’ She spoke slowly—almost reluctantly. There was a pause. Luke felt instinctively the presence of some unspoken feeling weighing down the atmosphere. He thought: ‘Amy Gibbs? Yes, that was one of the names old Miss Pinkerton mentioned.’ She had also mentioned a small boy—Tommy someone—of whom she had evidently held a low opinion (this, it seemed, was shared by Bridget!) And yes—he was almost sure—the name Carter had been spoken too. Rising, he said lightly: ‘Talking like this makes me feel rather ghoulish—as though I dabbled only in graveyards. Marriage customs are interesting too—but rather more difficult to introduce into conversation unconcernedly.’ ‘I should imagine that was likely,’ said Bridget with a faint twitch of the lips. ‘Ill-wishing or overlooking, there’s another interesting subject,’ went on Luke with a would-be show of enthusiasm. ‘You often get that in these old-world places. Know of any gossip of that kind here?’ Lord Whitfield slowly shook his head. Bridget Conway said: ‘We shouldn’t be likely to hear of things like that—’ Luke took it up almost before she finished speaking. ‘No doubt about it, I’ve got to move in lower social spheres to get what I want. I’ll be off to the vicarage first and see what I can get there. After that perhaps a visit to the—Seven Stars, did you say? And what about the small boy of unpleasant habits? Did he leave any sorrowing relatives?’ ‘Mrs Pierce keeps a tobacco and paper shop in High Street.’ ‘That,’ said Luke, ‘is nothing less than providential. Well, I’ll be on my way.’ With a swift graceful movement Bridget moved from the window. ‘I think,’ she said, ‘I’ll come with you, if you don’t mind.’ ‘Of course not.’ He said it as heartily as possible, but he wondered if she had noticed that, just for a moment, he had been taken aback. It would have been easier for him to handle an elderly antiquarian clergyman without an alert discerning intelligence by his side. ‘Oh well,’ he thought to himself. ‘It’s up to me to do my stuff convincingly.’ Bridget said: ‘Will you just wait, Luke, while I change my shoes?’ Luke—the Christian name uttered so easily gave him a queer warm feeling. And yet what else could she have called him? Since she had agreed to Jimmy’s scheme of cousinship she could hardly call him Mr Fitzwilliam. He thought suddenly and uneasily, ‘What does she think of it all? In God’s name what does she think?’ Queer that that had not worried him beforehand. Jimmy’s cousin had just been a convenient abstraction—a lay figure. He had hardly visualized her, just accepted his friend’s dictum that ‘Bridget would be all right.’ He had thought of her—if he had thought of her at all—as a little blonde secretary person—astute enough to have captured a rich man’s fancy. Instead she had force, brains, a cool clear intelligence and he had no idea what she was thinking of him. He thought: She’s not an easy person to deceive. ‘I’m ready now.’ She had joined him so silently that he had not heard her approach. She wore no hat, and there was no net on her hair. As they stepped out from the house the wind, sweeping round the corner of the castellated monstrosity, caught her long black hair and whipped it into a sudden frenzy round her face. She said smiling: ‘You need me to show you the way.’ ‘It’s very kind of you,’ he answered punctiliously. And wondered if he had imagined a sudden swiftly passing ironic smile. Looking back at the battlements behind him, he said irritably: ‘What an abomination! Couldn’t anyone stop him?’ Bridget answered: ‘An Englishman’s house is his castle—literally so in Gordon’s case! He adores it.’ Conscious that the remark was in bad taste, yet unable to control his tongue, he said: ‘It’s your old home, isn’t it? Do you “adore” to see it the way it is now?’ She looked at him then—a steady slightly amused look it was. ‘I hate to destroy the dramatic picture you are building up,’ she murmured. ‘But actually I left here when I was two and a half, so you see the old home motive doesn’t apply. I can’t even remember this place.’ ‘You’re right,’ said Luke. ‘Forgive the lapse into film language.’ She laughed. ‘Truth,’ she said, ‘is seldom romantic.’ And there was a sudden bitter scorn in her voice that startled him. He flushed a deep red under his tan, then realized suddenly that the bitterness had not been aimed at him. It was her own scorn and her own bitterness. Luke was wisely silent. But he wondered a good deal about Bridget Conway … Five minutes brought them to the church and to the vicarage that adjoined it. They found the vicar in his study. Alfred Wake was a small stooping old man with very mild blue eyes, and an absent-minded but courteous air. He seemed pleased but a little surprised by the visit. ‘Mr Fitzwilliam is staying with us at Ashe Manor,’ said Bridget, ‘and he wants to consult you about a book he is writing.’ Mr Wake turned his mild inquiring eyes towards the younger man, and Luke plunged into explanations. He was nervous—doubly so. Nervous in the first place because this man had no doubt a far deeper knowledge of folklore and superstitious rites and customs than one could acquire by merely hurriedly cramming from a haphazard collection of books. Secondly he was nervous because Bridget Conway was standing by listening. Luke was relieved to find that Mr Wake’s special interest was Roman remains. He confessed gently that he knew very little of medieval folklore and witchcraft. He mentioned the existence of certain items in the history of Wychwood, offered to take Luke to the particular ledge of hill where it was said the Witches’ Sabbaths had been held, but expressed himself regretful that he could add no special information of his own. Inwardly much relieved, Luke expressed himself as somewhat disappointed, and then plunged into inquiries as to death-bed superstitions. Mr Wake shook his head gently. ‘I am afraid I should be the last person to know about those. My parishioners would be careful to keep anything unorthodox from my ears.’ ‘That’s so, of course.’ ‘But I’ve no doubt, all the same, there is a lot of superstition still rife. These village communities are very backward.’ Luke plunged boldly. ‘I’ve been asking Miss Conway for a list of all the recent deaths she could remember. I thought I might get at something that way. I suppose you could supply me with a list, so that I could pick out the likelies.’ ‘Yes—yes—that could be managed. Giles, our sexton, a good fellow but sadly deaf, could help you there. Let me see now. There have been a good many—a good many—a treacherous spring and a hard winter behind it—and then a good many accidents—quite a cycle of bad luck there seems to have been.’ ‘Sometimes,’ said Luke, ‘a cycle of bad luck is attributed to the presence of a particular person.’ ‘Yes, yes. The old story of Jonah. But I do not think there have been any strangers here—nobody, that is to say, outstanding in any way, and I’ve certainly never heard any rumour of such a feeling—but then again, as I said, perhaps I shouldn’t. Now let me see—quite recently we have had Dr Humbleby and poor Lavinia Pinkerton—a fine man, Dr Humbleby—’ Bridget put in: ‘Mr Fitzwilliam knows friends of his.’ ‘Do you indeed? Very sad. His loss will be much felt. A man with many friends.’ ‘But surely a man with some enemies too,’ said Luke. ‘I’m only going by what I’ve heard my friends say,’ he went on hastily. Mr Wake sighed. ‘A man who spoke his mind—and a man who wasn’t always very tactful, shall we say—’ he shook his head. ‘It does get people’s backs up. But he was greatly beloved among the poorer classes.’ Luke said carelessly: ‘You know I always feel that one of the most unpalatable facts to be faced in life, is the fact that every death that occurs means a gain to someone—I don’t mean only financially.’ The vicar nodded thoughtfully. ‘I see your meaning, yes. We read in an obituary notice that a man is regretted by everybody, but that can only be true very rarely I fear. In Dr Humbleby’s case, there is no denying that his partner, Dr Thomas, will find his position very much improved by Dr Humbleby’s death.’ ‘How is that?’ ‘Thomas, I believe, is a very capable fellow—certainly Humbleby always said so, but he didn’t get on here very well. He was, I think, overshadowed by Humbleby who was a man of very definite magnetism. Thomas appeared rather colourless in contrast. He didn’t impress his patients at all. I think he worried over it, too, and that made him worse—more nervous and tongue-tied. As a matter of fact I’ve noticed an astonishing difference already. More aplomb—more personality. I think he feels a new confidence in himself. He and Humbleby didn’t always agree, I believe. Thomas was all for newer methods of treatment and Humbleby preferred to stick to the old ways. There were clashes between them more than once—over that as well as over a matter nearer home—but there, I mustn’t gossip—’ Bridget said softly and clearly: ‘But I think Mr Fitzwilliam would like you to gossip!’ Luke shot her a quick disturbed look. Mr Wake shook his head doubtfully, and then went on, smiling a little in deprecation. ‘I am afraid one learns to take too much interest in one’s neighbours’ affairs. Rose Humbleby is a very pretty girl. One doesn’t wonder that Geoffrey Thomas lost his heart. And of course Humbleby’s point of view was quite understandable too—the girl is young and buried away here she hadn’t much chance of seeing other men.’ ‘He objected?’ said Luke. ‘Very definitely. Said they were far too young. And of course young people resent being told that! There was a very definite coldness between the two men. But I must say that I’m sure Dr Thomas was deeply distressed at his partner’s unexpected death.’ ‘Septicæmia, Lord Whitfield told me.’ ‘Yes—just a little scratch that got infected. Doctors run grave risks in the course of their profession, Mr Fitzwilliam.’ ‘They do indeed,’ said Luke. Mr Wake gave a sudden start. ‘But I have wandered a long way from what we were talking about,’ he said. ‘A gossiping old man, I am afraid. We were speaking of the survival of pagan death customs and of recent deaths. There was Lavinia Pinkerton—one of our more kindly Church helpers. Then there was that poor girl, Amy Gibbs—you might discover something in your line there, Mr Fitzwilliam—there was just a suspicion, you know, that it might have been suicide—and there are certain rather eerie rites in connection with that type of death. There is an aunt—not, I fear, a very estimable woman, and not very much attached to her niece—but a great talker.’ ‘Valuable,’ said Luke. ‘Then there was Tommy Pierce—he was in the choir at one time—a beautiful treble—quite angelic—but not a very angelic boy otherwise, I am afraid. We had to get rid of him in the end, he made the other boys behave so badly. Poor lad, I’m afraid he was not very much liked anywhere. He was dismissed from the post office where we got him a job as telegraph boy. He was in Mr Abbot’s office for a while, but there again he was dismissed very soon—interfered with some confidential papers, I believe. Then, of course, he was at Ashe Manor for a time, wasn’t he, Miss Conway, as garden boy, and Lord Whitfield had to discharge him for gross impertinence. I was so sorry for his mother—a very decent hard-working soul. Miss Waynflete very kindly got him some odd window-cleaning work. Lord Whitfield objected at first, then suddenly he gave in—actually it was sad that he did so.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Because the boy was killed that way. He was cleaning the top windows of the library (the old Hall, you know) and tried some silly fooling—dancing on the window ledge or something of that sort—lost his balance, or else became dizzy, and fell. A nasty business! He never recovered consciousness and died a few hours after they got him to hospital.’ ‘Did anyone see him fall?’ asked Luke with interest. ‘No. He was on the garden side—not the front of the house. They estimate he lay there for about half an hour before anyone found him.’ ‘Who did find him?’ ‘Miss Pinkerton. You remember, the lady I mentioned just now who was unfortunately killed in a street accident the other day. Poor soul, she was terribly upset. A nasty experience! She had obtained permission to take a cutting of some plants and found the boy there lying where he had fallen.’ ‘It must have been a very unpleasant shock,’ said Luke thoughtfully. ‘A greater shock,’ he thought to himself, ‘than you know …’ ‘A young life cut short is a very sad thing,’ said the old man, shaking his head. ‘Tommy’s faults may have been mainly due to high spirits.’ ‘He was a disgusting bully,’ said Bridget. ‘You know he was, Mr Wake. Always tormenting cats and stray puppies and pinching other little boys.’ ‘I know—I know.’ Mr Wake shook his head sadly. ‘But you know, my dear Miss Conway, sometimes cruelty is not so much innate as due to the fact that imagination is slow in ripening. That is why if you conceive of a grown man with the mentality of a child you realize that the cunning and brutality of a lunatic may be quite unrealized by the man himself. A lack of growth somewhere, that, I am convinced, is at the root of much of the cruelty and stupid brutality in the world today. One must put away childish things—’ He shook his head and spread out his hands. Bridget said in a voice suddenly hoarse: ‘Yes, you’re right. I know what you mean. A man who is a child is the most frightening thing in the world …’ Luke looked at her with some curiosity. He was convinced that she was thinking of some particular person, and although Lord Whitfield was in some respects exceedingly childish, he did not believe she was thinking of him. Lord Whitfield was slightly ridiculous, but he was certainly not frightening. Luke Fitzwilliam wondered very much whom the person Bridget was thinking of might be. CHAPTER 5 (#ulink_b045780e-ab34-5b1d-b50e-4b0c223ed430) Visit to Miss Waynflete (#ulink_b045780e-ab34-5b1d-b50e-4b0c223ed430) Mr Wake murmured a few more names to himself. ‘Let me see now—poor Mrs Rose, and old Bell and that child of the Elkins and Harry Carter—they’re not all my people, you understand. Mrs Rose and Carter were dissenters. And that cold spell in March took off poor old Ben Stanbury at last—ninety-two he was.’ ‘Amy Gibbs died in April,’ said Bridget. ‘Yes, poor girl—a sad mistake to happen.’ Luke looked up to find Bridget watching him. She lowered her eyes quickly. He thought, with some annoyance: ‘There’s something here that I haven’t got on to. Something to do with this girl Amy Gibbs.’ When they had taken leave of the vicar and were outside again, he said: ‘Just who and what was Amy Gibbs?’ Bridget took a minute or two to answer. Then she said—and Luke noticed the slight constraint in her voice: ‘Amy was one of the most inefficient housemaids I have ever known.’ ‘That’s why she got the sack?’ ‘No. She stayed out after hours playing about with some young man. Gordon has very moral and old-fashioned views. Sin in his view does not take place until after eleven o’clock, but then it is rampant. So he gave the girl notice and she was impertinent about it!’ Luke asked: ‘A good-looking girl?’ ‘Very good-looking.’ ‘She’s the one who swallowed hat paint in mistake for cough mixture?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Rather a stupid thing to do?’ Luke hazarded. ‘Very stupid.’ ‘Was she stupid?’ ‘No, she was quite a sharp girl.’ Luke stole a look at her. He was puzzled. Her replies were given in an even tone, without emphasis or even much interest. But behind what she said, there was, he felt convinced, something not put into words. At that moment Bridget stopped to speak to a tall man who swept off his hat and greeted her with breezy heartiness. Bridget, after a word or two, introduced Luke. ‘This is my cousin, Mr Fitzwilliam, who is staying at the Manor. He’s down here to write a book. This is Mr Abbot.’ Luke looked at Mr Abbot with some interest. This was the solicitor who had employed Tommy Pierce. Luke had a somewhat illogical prejudice against lawyers in general—based on the grounds that so many politicians were recruited from their ranks. Also their cautious habit of not committing themselves annoyed him. Mr Abbot, however, was not at all the conventional type of lawyer, he was neither thin, spare, nor tight-lipped. He was a big florid man, dressed in tweeds with a hearty manner and a jovial effusiveness. There were little creases at the corners of his eyes, and the eyes themselves were more shrewd than one appreciated in a first casual glance. ‘Writing a book, eh? Novel?’ ‘Folklore,’ said Bridget. ‘You’ve come to the right place for that,’ said the lawyer. ‘Wonderfully interesting part of the world here.’ ‘So I’ve been led to understand,’ said Luke. ‘I dare say you could help me a bit. You must come across curious old deeds—or know of some interesting surviving customs.’ ‘Well, I don’t know about that—maybe—maybe—’ ‘Much belief in ghosts round here?’ asked Luke. ‘As to that I couldn’t say—I really couldn’t say.’ ‘No haunted houses?’ ‘No—I don’t know of anything of that kind.’ ‘There’s the child superstition, of course,’ said Luke. ‘Death of a boy child—a violent death that is—the boy always walks. Not a girl child—interesting that.’ ‘Very,’ said Mr Abbot. ‘I never heard that before.’ Since Luke had just invented it, that was hardly surprising. ‘Seems there’s a boy here—Tommy something—was in your office at one time. I’ve reason to believe they think that he’s walking.’ Mr Abbot’s red face turned slightly purple. ‘Tommy Pierce? A good for nothing, prying, meddlesome jackanapes.’ ‘Spirits always seem to be mischievous. Good law-abiding citizens seldom trouble this world after they’ve left it.’ ‘Who’s seen him—what’s this story?’ ‘These things are difficult to pin down,’ said Luke. ‘People won’t come out into the open with a statement. It’s just in the air, so to speak.’ ‘Yes—yes, I suppose so.’ Luke changed the subject adroitly. ‘The real person to get hold of is the local doctor. They hear a lot in the poorer cases they attend. All sorts of superstitions and charms—probably love philtres and all the rest of it.’ ‘You must get on to Thomas. Good fellow, Thomas, thoroughly up-to-date man. Not like poor old Humbleby.’ ‘Bit of a reactionary, wasn’t he?’ ‘Absolutely pig-headed—a diehard of the worst description.’ ‘You had a real row over the water scheme, didn’t you?’ asked Bridget. Again a rich ruddy glow suffused Abbot’s face. ‘Humbleby stood dead in the way of progress,’ he said sharply. ‘He held out against the scheme! He was pretty rude, too, in what he said. Didn’t mince his words. Some of the things he said to me were positively actionable.’ Bridget murmured: ‘But lawyers never go to law, do they? They know better.’ Abbot laughed immoderately. His anger subsided as quickly as it had arisen. ‘Pretty good, Miss Bridget! And you’re not far wrong. We who are in it know too much about law, ha, ha. Well, I must be getting along. Give me a call if you think I can help you in any way, Mr—er—’ ‘Fitzwilliam,’ said Luke. ‘Thanks, I will.’ As they walked on Bridget said: ‘Your methods, I note, are to make statements and see what they provoke.’ ‘My methods,’ said Luke, ‘are not strictly truthful, if that is what you mean?’ ‘I’ve noticed that.’ A little uneasy, he hesitated what to say next. But before he could speak, she said: ‘If you want to hear more about Amy Gibbs, I can take you to someone who could help you.’ ‘Who is that?’ ‘A Miss Waynflete. Amy went there after she left the Manor. She was there when she died.’ ‘Oh, I see—’ he was a little taken aback. ‘Well—thank you very much.’ ‘She lives just here.’ They were crossing the village green. Inclining her head in the direction of the big Georgian house that Luke had noticed the day before, Bridget said: ‘That’s Wych Hall. It’s a library now.’ Adjoining the Hall was a little house that looked rather like a doll’s house in proportion. Its steps were dazzlingly white, its knocker shone and its window curtains showed white and prim. Bridget pushed open the gate and advanced to the steps. As she did so the front door opened and an elderly woman came out. She was, Luke thought, completely the country spinster. Her thin form was neatly dressed in a tweed coat and skirt and she wore a grey silk blouse with a cairngorm brooch. Her hat, a conscientious felt, sat squarely upon her well-shaped head. Her face was pleasant and her eyes, through their pince-nez, decidedly intelligent. She reminded Luke of those nimble black goats that one sees in Greece. Her eyes held just that quality of mild inquiring surprise. ‘Good morning, Miss Waynflete,’ said Bridget. ‘This is Mr Fitzwilliam.’ Luke bowed. ‘He’s writing a book—about deaths and village customs and general gruesomeness.’ ‘Oh, dear,’ said Miss Waynflete. ‘How very interesting.’ And she beamed encouragingly upon him. He was reminded of Miss Pinkerton. ‘I thought,’ said Bridget—and again he noted that curious flat tone in her voice—‘that you might tell him something about Amy.’ ‘Oh,’ said Miss Waynflete. ‘About Amy? Yes. About Amy Gibbs.’ He was conscious of a new factor in her expression. She seemed to be thoughtfully summing him up. Then, as though coming to a decision, she drew back into the hall. ‘Do come in,’ she said. ‘I can go out later. No, no,’ in answer to a protest from Luke. ‘I had really nothing urgent to do. Just a little unimportant domestic shopping.’ The small drawing-room was exquisitely neat and smelled faintly of burnt lavender. There were some Dresden china shepherds and shepherdesses on the mantelpiece, simpering sweetly. There were framed water-colours, two samplers, and three needlework pictures on the wall. There were some photographs of what were obviously nephews and nieces and some good furniture—a Chippendale desk, some little satinwood tables—and a hideous and rather uncomfortable Victorian sofa. Miss Waynflete offered her guests chairs and then said apologetically: ‘I’m afraid I don’t smoke myself, so I have no cigarettes, but do please smoke if you like.’ Luke refused but Bridget promptly lighted a cigarette. Sitting bolt upright in a chair with carved arms, Miss Waynflete studied her guest for a moment or two and then, dropping her eyes as though satisfied, she said: ‘You want to know about that poor girl Amy? The whole thing was very sad and caused me a great deal of distress. Such a tragic mistake.’ ‘Wasn’t there some question of—suicide?’ asked Luke. Miss Waynflete shook her head. ‘No, no, that I cannot believe for a moment. Amy was not at all that type.’ ‘What type was she?’ asked Luke bluntly. ‘I’d like to hear your account of her.’ Miss Waynflete said: ‘Well, of course, she wasn’t at all a good servant. But nowadays, really, one is thankful to get anybody. She was very slipshod over her work and always wanting to go out—well, of course she was young and girls are like that nowadays. They don’t seem to realize that their time is their employer’s.’ Luke looked properly sympathetic and Miss Waynflete proceeded to develop her theme. ‘She wasn’t the sort of girl I care for—rather a bold type—though of course I wouldn’t like to say much now that she’s dead. One feels un-Christian—though really I don’t think that that is a logical reason for suppressing the truth.’ Luke nodded. He realized that Miss Waynflete differed from Miss Pinkerton in having a more logical mind and better processes of thought. ‘She was fond of admiration,’ went on Miss Waynflete, ‘and was inclined to think a lot of herself. Mr Ellsworthy—he keeps the new antique shop but he is actually a gentleman—he dabbles a little in water-colours and he had done one or two sketches of the girl’s head—and I think, you know, that rather gave her ideas. She was inclined to quarrel with the young man she was engaged to—Jim Harvey. He’s a mechanic at the garage and very fond of her.’ Miss Waynflete paused and then went on. ‘I shall never forget that dreadful night. Amy had been out of sorts—a nasty cough and one thing and another (those silly cheap silk stockings they will wear and shoes with paper soles practically—of course they catch chills) and she’d been to the doctor that afternoon.’ Luke asked quickly: ‘Dr Humbleby or Dr Thomas?’ ‘Dr Thomas. And he gave her the bottle of cough mixture that she brought back with her. Something quite harmless, a stock mixture, I believe. She went to bed early and it must have been about one in the morning when the noise began—an awful kind of choking scream. I got up and went to her door but it was locked on the inside. I called to her but couldn’t get any answer. Cook was with me and we were both terribly upset. And then we went to the front door and luckily there was Reed (our constable) just passing on his beat, and we called to him. He went round the back of the house and managed to climb up on the outhouse roof, and as her window was open he got in quite easily that way and unlocked the door. Poor girl, it was terrible. They couldn’t do anything for her, and she died in hospital a few hours later.’ ‘And it was—what—hat paint?’ ‘Yes. Oxalic acid poisoning is what they called it. The bottle was about the same size as the cough linctus one. The latter was on her washstand and the hat paint was by her bed. She must have picked up the wrong bottle and put it by her in the dark ready to take if she felt badly. That was the theory at the inquest.’ Miss Waynflete stopped. Her intelligent goat’s eyes looked at him, and he was aware that some particular significance lay behind them. He had the feeling that she was leaving some part of the story untold—and a stronger feeling that, for some reason, she wanted him to be aware of the fact. There was a silence—a long and rather difficult silence. Luke felt like an actor who does not know his cue. He said rather weakly: ‘And you don’t think it was suicide?’ Miss Waynflete said promptly: ‘Certainly not. If the girl had decided to make away with herself, she would have bought something probably. This was an old bottle of stuff that she must have had for years. And anyway, as I’ve told you, she wasn’t that kind of girl.’ ‘So you think—what?’ said Luke bluntly. Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/agata-kristi/murder-is-easy/?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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