He was not going to the party. Literary sherry parties, even distinguished
ones, were not Grant’s cup of tea. He was going to collect Marta Hallard
and take her out to dinner. Policemen, it is true, do not normally take
out to dinner leading actresses who gravitate between the Haymarket and
the Old Vic; not even when the policemen are Detective-Inspectors at
Scotland Yard. There were three reasons for his privileged position, and
Grant was aware of all three. In the first place he was a presentable
escort, in the second place he could afford to dine at Laurent’s, and in
the third place Marta Hallard did not find it easy to obtain escort. For
all her standing, and her chic, men were a little afraid of Marta. So when
Grant, a mere Detective-Sergeant then, appeared in her life over a matter
of stolen jewellery, she had seen to it that he did not entirely fade out
of it again. And Grant had been glad to stay. If he was useful to Marta as
a cavalier when she needed one, she was even more useful to him as a
window on the world. The more windows on the world a policeman has the
better he is likely to be at his job, and Marta was Grant’s ‘leper’s
squint’ on the theatre.

With a policeman’s ingrained habit of inspection he let his eye run over
the crowd between them, but found nothing of interest. It was the usual
collection. The very prosperous firm of Ross and Cromarty were celebrating
the publication of Lavinia Fitch’s twenty-first book, and since it was
largely due to Lavinia that the firm was prosperous the drinks were
plentiful and the guests were distinguished. Distinguished in the sense of
being well-dressed and well-known, that is to say. The distinguished in
achievement did not celebrate the birth of _Maureen’s Lover_, nor drink
the sherry of Messrs Ross and Cromarty. Even Marta, that inevitable Dame,
was here because she was a neighbour of Lavinia’s in the country. And
Marta, bless her black-and-white chic and her disgruntled look, was the
nearest thing to real distinction in the room.

Grant saw the interest in the young man’s face as he looked at Liz
Garrowby, and wondered a little. Liz was a small plain girl with a sallow
face. True, she had remarkable eyes; speedwell blue and surprising; and
she had the kind of face a man might want to live with; she was a nice
girl, Liz. But she was not the type of girl at whom young men look with
instant attention. Perhaps it was just that Searle had heard rumours of
her engagement, and was identifying her as Walter Whitmore’s fiancée.

‘Marguerite? Oh, she was mad, of course.’

‘How mad?’

‘Ten tenths.’

‘In what way?’

‘You mean how did it take her? Oh, a complete indifference to everything
but the thing she wanted at the moment.’

‘That isn’t madness; that is merely the criminal mind at its simplest.’

Grant thought how independable Malta’s ignorances were.

‘It might still be homicide, though,’ Marta said, in the cooing,
considering voice that was her trade-mark on the stage. ‘I could just
stand the thyme and the bullets, but now that he has taken a ninety-nine
years’ lease of the spring corn, and the woodpeckers, and things, he
amounts to a public menace.’

‘Why do you listen to him?’

‘Well, there’s a dreadful fascination about it, you know. One thinks:
Well, that’s the absolute sky-limit of awfulness, than which _nothing_
could be worse. And so next week you listen to see if it really _can_ be
worse. It’s a snare. It’s so awful that you can’t even switch off. You
wait fascinated for the next piece of awfulness, and the next. And you are
still there when he signs off.’

‘It couldn’t be, could it, Marta, that this is mere professional

‘Are you suggesting that the creature is a _professional_?’ asked Marta,
dropping her voice a perfect fifth, so that it quivered with the
reflection of repertory years, and provincial digs, and Sunday trains, and
dreary auditions in cold dark theatres.

‘No, I’m suggesting that he is an actor. A quite natural and unconscious
actor, who has made himself a household word in a few years without doing
any noticeable work to that end. I could forgive you for not liking that.
What did Marguerite find so wonderful about him?’

‘I can tell you that. His devotion. Marguerite liked picking the wings off
flies. Walter would let her take him to pieces and then come back for

‘There was one time that he didn’t come back.’


‘What was the final row about, do you know?’

‘I don’t think there was one. I think he just told her he was through. At
least that is what he said at the inquest. Did you read the obituaries, by
the way?’

‘I suppose I must have at the time. I don’t remember them individually.’

‘If she had lived another ten years she would have got a tiny par in among
the “ads” on the back page. As it was she got better notices than Duse. “A
flame of genius has gone out and the world is the poorer.” “She had the
lightness of a blown leaf and the grace of a willow in the wind.” That
sort of thing. One was surprised that there were no black edges in the
Press. The mourning was practically of national dimensions.’

‘It’s a far cry from that to Liz Garrowby.’

‘Dear, nice Liz. If Marguerite Merriam was too bad even for Walter
Whitmore, then Liz is too good for him. Much too good for him. I should be
delighted if the beautiful young man took her from under his nose.’

‘Somehow I can’t see your “beautiful young man” in the rôle of husband,
whereas Walter will make a very good one.’

‘My good man, Walter will broadcast about it. All about their children,
and the shelves he has put up in the pantry, and how the little woman’s
bulbs are coming along, and the frost patterns on the nursery window.
She’d be much safer with–what did you say his name was?’

‘Searle. Leslie Searle.’ Absentmindedly he watched the pale yellow neon
signature of _Laurent’s_ coming nearer.

‘I don’t think safe is the adjective I would apply to Searle, somehow,’ he
said reflectively; and from that moment forgot all about Leslie Searle
until the day when he was sent down to Salcott St Mary to search for the
young man’s body.

‘I’ve been in England for holidays quite often, yes. Not often as early in
the year as this, though.’

‘You haven’t seen England at all unless you have seen it in the spring.’

‘So I’ve heard.’

‘Did you fly over?’

‘Just from Paris, like a good American. Paris is fine in the spring too.’

‘So I’ve heard,’ she said, returning his phrase and his tone.

‘Press photography?’

‘Not Press. Just photography. I spend most of the winter on the Coast,
doing people.’

‘The Coast?’

‘California. That keeps me on good terms with my bank manager. And the
other half of the year I travel and photograph the things I want to

‘It sounds a good sort of life,’ Liz said, as she unlocked the car door and
got in.

‘It’s a very good life.’

The car was a two-seater Rolls; a little old-fashioned in shape as Rolls
cars, which last for ever, are apt to be. Liz explained it as they drove
out of the square into the stream of the late afternoon traffic.

‘The first thing Aunt Lavinia did when she made money was to buy herself a
sable scarf. She had always thought a sable scarf the last word in good
dressing. And the second thing she wanted was a Rolls. She got that with
her next book. She never wore the scarf at all because she said it was a
dreadful nuisance to have something dangling about her all the time, but
the Rolls was a great success so we still have it.’

‘What happened to the sable scarf?’

‘She swopped it for a pair of Queen Anne chairs and a lawn-mower.’

By the time they left the hotel the first street lamps were decorating the

‘This is when I think lights look best,’ Liz said. ‘While it is still
daylight. They are daffodil yellow and magic. Presently when it grows dark
they will go white and ordinary.’

‘Yes. Every third cottage in the place has an alien in it. All degrees of
wealth, from Toby Tullis–the play-wright, you know–who has a lovely
Jacobean house in the middle of the village street, to Serge Ratoff the
dancer who lives in a converted stable. All degrees of living in sin, from
Deenie Paddington who never has the same weekend guest twice, to poor old
Atlanta Hope and Bart Hobart who have been living in sin, bless them, for
the best part of thirty years. All degrees of talent from Silas Weekley,
who writes those dark novels of country life, all steaming manure and
slashing rain, to Miss Easton-Dixon who writes a fairy-tale book once a
year for the Christmas trade.’

‘It sounds lovely,’ Searle said.

‘It’s obscene,’ Liz said, more hotly than she intended; and then wondered
again why she should be so on edge this evening. ‘

So Mrs Garrowby sat and brooded darkly behind her gracious exterior. She
was not afraid for the Trimmings silver, of course. She was afraid of what
she called the young man’s ‘personableness.’ She distrusted it for itself,
and hated it as a potential threat to her house.

For the introspective Liz, on the other hand, life had become all of a
sudden a sort of fun-fair. A kaleidoscope. A place where no surface ever
stayed still or horizontal for more than a few seconds together. Where one
was plunged into swift mock danger and whirled about in coloured lights.
Liz had been falling in and out of love more or less regularly since the
age of seven, but she had never wanted to marry anyone but Walter. Who was
Walter, and different. But never in that long progression from the baker’s
roundsman to Walter had she been aware of anyone as she was aware of
Searle. Even with Tino Tresca, of the yearning eyes and the tenor that
dissolved one’s heart like a melting ice, even with Tresca, craziest of
all her devotions, it was possible to forget for minutes together that she
was in the same room with him. (With Walter, of course, there was nothing
remarkable in the fact that they should be sharing the same air: he was
just there and it was nice.) But it was never possible to forget that
Searle was in a room.

Why? she kept asking herself. Or rather, why not?

It had nothing to do with falling in love, this interest; this excitement.
If, on Sunday night, after two days in his company, he had turned to her
and said: ‘Come away with me, Liz,’ she would have laughed aloud at so
absurd a notion. She had no desire to go away with him.

But a light went out of the room with him, and sprang up again when he
came back. She was aware of every movement of his, from the small mallet
of his forefinger as it flicked the radio switch, to the lift of his foot
as it kicked a log in the fireplace.


She had gone walking with him through the woods, she had shown him the
village and the church, and always the excitement had been there; in his
gentle drawling courtesy, and in those disconcerting grey eyes that seemed
to know too much about her. For Liz, all American men were divided into
two classes: those who treated you as if you were a frail old lady, and
those who treated you as if you were just frail. Searle belonged to the
first class. He helped her over stiles, and shielded her from the crowding
dangers of the village street; he deferred to her opinion and flattered
her ego; and, as a mere change from Walter, Liz found it pleasant. Walter
took it for granted that she was adult enough to look after herself, but
not quite adult enough to be consulted by Walter Whitmore, Household Word
Throughout the British Isles and a Large Part of Overseas. Searle’s was a
charming reversal of form.

She had thought, watching him move slowly round the interior of the
church, what a perfect companion he would have made if it were not for
this pricking excitement; this sense of wrongness.

Even the unimpressionable Lavinia, always but semi-detached from her
current heroine, was, Liz noticed, touched by this strange attraction.
Searle had sat with her on the terrace after dinner on Saturday night,
while Walter and Liz walked in the garden and Emma attended to household
matters.  As they passed below the terrace each time on their round of the
garden, Liz could hear her aunt’s light childlike voice babbling happily,
like a little stream in the half-dark of the early moonrise. And on Sunday
morning Lavinia had confided to Liz that no one had ever made her feel so
_abandoned_ as Mr Searle. ‘I am sure that he was something very wicked in
Ancient Greece,’ she said. And had added with a giggle: ‘But don’t tell
your mother that I said so!’

Miss Easton-Dixon lived in a tiny cottage on the slope behind the village
street. It had three windows, asymmetrical in their own right and in
relation to each other, a thatched roof, and a single chimney, and it
looked as if one good sneeze would bring the whole thing round the
occupant’s ears; but its aspect of disintegration was equalled only by its
spick and span condition. The cream wash of the plaster, the lime-green
paint of door and windows, the dazzling crispness of the muslin curtains,
the swept condition of the red-brick path, together with the almost
conscientious crookedness of everything that normally would be straight,
made a picture that belonged by right to one of Miss Easton-Dixon’s own
fairy-tale books for Christmas.

In the intervals of writing her annual story, Miss Easton-Dixon indulged
in handcrafts. In the schoolroom she had tortured wood with red-hot
pokers. When pen-painting came in she had pen-painted with assiduity, and
had graduated from that to barbola work. After a spell of sealing-wax, she
had come to raffia, and thence to hand-weaving. She still weaved now and
then, but her ingrained desire was not to create but to transform. No
plain surface was safe against Miss Easton-Dixon. She would take a cold
cream jar and reduce its functional simplicity to a nightmare of
mock-Meissen. In times which have seen the disappearance of both the attic
and the boxroom, she was the scourge of her friends; who, incidentally,
loved her.

She looked at Liz’s sallow little countenance and tried to remember when
she had last seen it so alive; so full of the joy of life. After a little
she remembered. It was on a Christmas afternoon long ago, and Liz had
experienced in the short space of an hour her first snow and her first
Christmas tree.

So far she had hated only Leslie Searle’s beauty. Now she began to hate
Leslie Searle.

Ratoff had at one time been the raison d’être and prospective
star of an embryo play of Toby Tullis’s which was to be called _Afternoon_
and was all about a faun. Unfortunately it had suffered considerable
changes in the processes of birth and had eventually become something
called _Crépuscule_, which was all about a little waiter in the Bois, and
was played by a newcomer with an Austrian name and a Greek temperament.
Ratoff had never recovered from this ‘betrayal’. At first he had drunk
himself into scintillations of self-pity; then he had drunk to avoid the
ache of self-pity that filled him when he was sober; then he was sacked
because he had become independable both at rehearsals and performance;
then he reached the ultimate stage of a ballet dancer’s downfall and
ceased even to practise. So that now, vaguely but surely, the fatty tissue
was blurring the spare tautness. Only the furious eyes still had the old
life and fire. The eyes still had meaning and purpose.

Walter thought with
a mild amusement how scandalised poor Serge would be if he could witness
the treatment to which his adored Toby was being subjected. Toby had by
now discovered that Leslie Searle was a fellow who photographed the
world’s celebrities, and was therefore confirmed in his suspicion that
Searle had known quite well who he was. He was puzzled, not to say
wounded. No one had been rude to Toby Tullis for at least a decade. But
his actor’s need to be liked was stronger than his resentment, and he was
putting forth all his charm in an effort to win over this so-unexpected

Sitting watching the charm at work, Walter thought how ineradicable was
the ‘bounder’ in a man’s personality. When he was a child his friends at
school had used the word ‘bounder’ loosely to describe anyone who wore the
wrong kind of collar. But of course it was not at all like that. What made
a man a bounder was a quality of mind. A crassness. A lack of sensitivity.
It was something that was quite incurable; a spiritual astigmatism. And
Toby Tullis, after all those years, stayed unmistakably a bounder. It was
a very odd thing. With the possible exception of the Court of St James’s,
there was no door in the world that was not wide open to Toby Tullis. He
travelled like royalty and was given almost diplomatic privileges; he was
dressed by the world’s best tailors and had acquired the social tricks of
the world’s best people; in everything but essence he was the well-bred
man of the world. In essence he remained a bounder. Marta Hallard had once
said: ‘Everything that Toby does is just a little off-key,’ and that
described it very well.

Looking sideways to see how Searle was taking this odd wooing, Walter was
delighted to observe a sort of absentmindedness in Searle as he consumed
his beer. The degree of absentmindedness was beautifully graded, Walter
noticed; any more would have laid him open to the charge of rudeness and
so put him in the wrong, any less might not have been obvious enough to
sting Tullis. As it was, Toby was baffled into trying far too hard and
making a fool of himself. He did everything but juggle with plates. That
anyone should be unimpressed by Toby Tullis was a state of affairs not to
be borne. He sweated. And Walter smiled into his beer, and Leslie Searle
was gentle and polite and a little absentminded.

Weekley had been watching them from the bar for some time, and now brought
his beer over to their table and greeted them. He came, as Walter knew,
for two reasons: because he had a woman’s curiosity, and because
everything beautiful had for him the attraction of the repulsive. Weekley
resented beauty, and it was not entirely to be held against him that he
made a very large income indeed out of that resentment. His resentment was
quite genuine. The world he approved of was, as Liz had said, ‘all
steaming manure and slashing rain’. And not even the clever parodies of
his individual style had sufficed to ruin his vogue. His lecture tours in
America were wild successes, not so much because his earnest readers in
Peoria and Paduca loved steaming manure but because Silas Weekley looked
the part so perfectly. He was cadaverous, and dark, and tall, and his
voice was slow and sibilant and hopeless, and all the good ladies of
Peoria and Paduca longed to take him home and feed him up and give him a
brighter outlook on life. In which they were a great deal more generous
than his English colleagues; who considered him an unmitigated bore and a
bit of an ass. Lavinia always referred to him as ‘that tiresome man who
always tells you that he was at a board school’, and held that he was just
a little mad. (He, on his part, referred to her as ‘the woman Fitch’, as
one speaking of a criminal.)

Weekley had come over to them because he could not keep away from the
hateful beauty of Leslie Searle, and Walter caught himself wondering if
Searle knew it. For Searle, who had been all gentle indifference with the
eager Toby, was now engaged in throwing a rope over the antagonistic
Silas. Walter, watching the almost feminine dexterity of it, was willing
to bet that in about fifteen minutes Searle would have Silas roped and
hog-tied. He glanced at the big bland clock behind the bar and decided to
time him.

Searle did it with five minutes to spare. In ten minutes he had Weekley,
resentful and struggling, a prisoner in his toils. And the bewilderment in
Weekley’s sunken eyes was greater than ever the bewilderment in Toby’s
fish-scale ones had been. Walter nearly laughed aloud.

And then Searle put the final touch of comedy to the act. At a moment when
both Silas and Toby were doing their rival best to be entertaining, Searle
said in his quiet drawl: ‘Do forgive me, won’t you, but I see a friend of
mine,’ and got up without haste and walked away to join the friend at the
bar. The friend was Bill Maddox, the garage keeper.

‘For the five hundred and seventh time, I do not eat pickles. I have a
palate, Williams. A precious possession. And I have no intention of
prostituting it to pickles. There was something among Searle’s things that
was a great deal more suggestive than any photograph.’

‘What, sir?’

‘One of the girl’s gloves,’ Grant said; and told him where it had been

‘Well, well,’ Williams said, and chewed the information over in silence
for a little. ‘Doesn’t sound as if it had gone very far.’


‘The affair. If he was still at the stage of stealing her glove. Honestly,
sir, in this day and age I didn’t imagine that anyone was driven to making
do with a glove.’

So the beautiful young man had been sufficiently attracted to steal one of
his beloved’s gloves. Grant found it oddly endearing. An almost Victorian
gesture. Nowadays fetish-worship took much more sinister forms.

Photographs?’ Williams’s ears pricked.

‘Local ones that he has taken since he came here.’

‘Oh. Any of Walter Whitmore’s girl, by any chance?’

‘A very great number indeed.’

‘Yes? Posed ones?’

‘No, Williams, no. Romantic. Her head against a sunlit sky with a spray of
almond blossom across it. That kind of thing.’

‘Is she photogenic, would you say? A blonde?’

‘No, she is a small, dark, plainish creature with a nice face.’

‘Oh. What does he want to go on photographing her for? Must be in love

with her.’

Searle had occupied a first-floor room in the battlemented tower that
stuck out to the left of the Tudor front door, so that it had windows on
three sides of it. It was large and high, and was furnished in very
superior Tottenham Court Road, a little too gay and coy for its Victorian
amplitude. It was an impersonal room and Searle had evidently done nothing
to stamp it with his personality. This struck Grant as odd. He had rarely
seen a room, occupied for so long, so devoid of atmosphere. There were
brushes on the table, and books by the bedside, but of their owner there
was no trace. It might have been a room in a shop window.

Of course it had been swept and tidied since last it was occupied six days
ago. But still. But still.

The feeling was so strong that Grant paused to look round and consider. He
thought of all the rooms he had searched in his time. They had all–even
the hotel rooms–been redolent of their late occupier. But here was
nothing but emptiness. An impersonal blank. Searle had kept his
personality to himself.

As he went through Searle’s belongings Grant thought about Liz
Garrowby–Marta’s ‘dear nice Liz’–and her relations with William’s
‘push-ee’. There was never any saying what a woman saw in any man, and
Whitmore was of course a celebrity as well as a potentially good husband.
He had said as much to Marta, coming away from the party that day. But how
right had Marta been about Searle’s power to upset? How much had Liz
Garrowby felt Searle’s charm? How much of that eager welcome of hers in
the hall had been joy at Searle’s imagined safety and how much mere relief
from the burden of suspicion and gloom?

‘No, of course it isn’t too late. It isn’t ten o’clock yet.’ She sounded
weary. ‘Since this happened time stretches out and out. It’s like
having–hashish, is it? Are you looking for anything in particular,

Grant had asked about their trip down the Rushmere, so as to set him
talking; if you got a man to talk enough he lost his defensive quality.
Whitmore was drawing too hard on his cigarette but talking quite freely.
Before he had actually reached their Wednesday evening visit to the Swan,
Grant deflected him. It was too early yet to ask him about that night.

Grant took this, rightly, as capitulation, and went away to collect
Williams. He liked Williams and liked working with him. Williams was his
opposite and his complement. He was large and pink and slow-moving, and he
rarely read anything but an evening paper; but he had terrier qualities
that were invaluable in a hunt. No terrier at a rat hole ever displayed
more patience or more pertinacity than Williams did when introduced to a
quarry. ‘I would hate to have you on my tail,’ Grant had said to him more
than once in their years of working together.

To Williams, on the other hand, Grant was everything that was brilliant
and spontaneous. He admired Grant with passion, and envied him without
malice; Williams had no ambition, and coveted no man’s shoes. ‘You’ve no
idea how lucky you are, sir,’ Williams would say, ‘not looking like a
policeman. Me, I go into a pub, and they take one look at me and think:
Copper! But with you, they just cast an eye over you and think: Army in
plain clothes; and they don’t think another thing about you. It’s a great
advantage in a job like ours, sir.’