Archive for November, 2011


http://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/metroplus/article2597859.ece

LATHA ANANTHARAMAN

Yes, we take books and don’t always return them, but sometimes we’re told to

I would never take a coconut that had fallen from our neighbour’s tree into our yard. So why do I covet books that have been left behind in homestays and pensions? Maybe because I rank them as abandoned puppies. When I travel light, I pack books that I can leave behind if needed. There are so many books I read only once. They may be fifty-rupee volumes I picked up at a used-books sale. Or scruffy paperbacks passed on to me by a friend, with the firm injunction, “Don’t give these back to me.”

So I immediately deduced the provenance of the paperbacks on a forlorn shelf in the hallway of the Hotel Mimosa in Rome. There I found “The Trial” by Franz Kafka, the Holocaust novel “Sarah’s Key” by Tatiana de Rosnay, and other titles in Italian, English, Russian and German.

Who owns those books, anyway? The person who runs the pension? He won’t care, and surely he can’t read all those languages. And why does he leave them out of sight of the reception desk if he didn’t mean for us to help ourselves? And if he wants them, why not put up a sign saying “Please put back the books”?

In short, I was determined to steal. I developed my own code of honour for future fits of covetousness. I will take it only if I haven’t finished reading it during my stay, or only if I can’t live without knowing how it ends, or only if it’s a title I know I won’t find elsewhere. I will also try to leave behind a book in exchange. I took “Sarah’s Key” from that bookshelf in Rome. It was poorly written but impossible to leave half-read. I finished it on the train to Chiusi and left it on the seat for the next reader.

This was the first time I “borrowed without permission.” Usually, I take books only when I’m told to. A couple of years ago, at a suburban bus stand in the U.S., I found a shelf with books, from which riders were encouraged to take one. On each ride I took one. And now I read that a national book swap was recently launched in the U.K. Throughout this autumn, readers can pick up books that have been left out in public places and leave them for others afterwards, and then tweet about where they left the books.

As with chocolate left out for guests, one should strictly take just one. I violated that rule when I left the Hotel Mimosa. I had so few pages left in “Sarah’s Key” that halfway through my coming train ride I would be left bookless. Unthinkable.

So I took the Kafka as well. It was a tea-stained, dog-eared Penguin paperback with copious scribbles in it. And who reads Kafka any more? And just look at the tiny black and white author picture on the back of the Penguin edition. He looks exactly like an abandoned puppy.

Grant sat in a pleasant warm daze, chewing and considering. He noted the
tightly-joined tops of the n’s and m’s. A liar? Or just secretive? A
curiously cautious trait to appear in the writing of a man with those
eyebrows. It was a strange thing how much the meaning of a countenance
depended on eyebrows. One change of degree in the angle this way or that
and the whole effect was different. Film magnates took nice little girls
from Balham and Muswell Hill and rubbed out their eyebrows and painted
in other ones and they became straightway mysterious creatures from Omsk
and Tomsk. He had once been told by Trabb, the cartoonist, that it was
his eyebrows that had lost Ernie Price his chance of being Prime
Minister. ‘They didn’t like his eyebrows,’ Trabb had said, blinking
owlishly over his beer. ‘Why? Don’t ask me. I just draw. Because they
looked bad-tempered, perhaps. They don’t like a bad-tempered man. Don’t
trust him. But that’s what lost him his chance, take it from me. His
eyebrows. They didn’t like ’em.’ Bad-tempered eyebrows, supercilious
eyebrows, calm eyebrows, worried eyebrows–it was the eyebrows that gave
a face its keynote. And it was the slant of the black eyebrows that had
given that thin white face on the pillow its reckless look even in
death.

The singing sand.

Uncanny but somehow attractive.

Singing sand. Surely there actually were singing sands somewhere? It had
a vaguely familiar sound. Singing sands. They cried out under your feet
as you walked. Or the wind did it, or something. A man’s forearm in a
checked tweed sleeve reached in front of him and took a bap from the
plate.

It was so like Tommy not to waste time or vitality on conventional
inquiries as to his journey and his health. Neither would Laura, of
course. They would accept him as he stood; as if he had been there for
some time. As if he had never gone away at all but was still on his
previous visit. It was an extraordinarily restful atmosphere to sink
back into.

‘How is Laura?’

‘Never better. Putting on a bit of weight. At least that’s what she
says. Don’t see it myself. I never liked skinny women.’

There had been a time, when they were both about twenty, when Grant had
thought of marrying his cousin Laura; and she, he had been sure, had had
thoughts of marrying him. But before any word had been said the magic
had faded and they were back on the old friendly footing. The magic had
been part of the long intoxication of a Highland summer. Part of hill
mornings smelling of pine needles, and of endless twilights sweet with
the scent of clover. For Grant his cousin Laura had always been part of
the happiness of summer holidays; they had graduated together from
burn-paddling to their first fishing-rods, and together they had first
walked the Larig and together had stood for the first time on the top of
Braeriach. But it was not until that summer at the end of their
adolescence that the happiness had crystallised into Laura herself; that
the whole of summer was focused into the person of Laura Grant. He still
had a slight lifting of the heart when he thought of that summer. It had
the light perfection, the iridescence, of a bubble. And because no word
had been said the bubble would never now be broken. It stayed light and
perfect and iridescent and poised, where they had left it. They had both
gone on to other things; to other people. Laura indeed had skipped from
one person to the next one with the bright indifference of a child
playing hop-scotch. And then he had taken her to that Old Boys’ dance.
And she had met Tommy Rankin. And that had been that.

‘What’s the fuss at the station?’ Tommy asked. ‘Ambulances and things.’

‘A man died on the train. I expect it is that.’

‘Oh,’ said Tommy, dismissing it. ‘Not your funeral this time,’ he added
in a congratulatory way.

‘No. Not my funeral, thank Heaven.’

‘They’ll miss you on the Embankment.’

‘I doubt it.’

‘Mary,’ said Tommy, ‘I could do with a pot of good strong tea.’ He
flicked the plate that held the baps with a contemptuous forefinger.
‘And another couple of these poor bargains.’ He turned his serious
childlike gaze on Grant and said: ‘They’ll have to miss you. They’ll be
one short, won’t they?’

‘What will they do to fill the gap?’ Tommy asked.

‘Promote Sergeant Williams, probably. His promotion is long overdue
anyhow.’

It had been no easier to tell the faithful Williams. When your
subordinate has openly hero-worshipped you for years it is not pleasant
to have to appear before him as a poor nerve-ridden creature at the
mercy of non-existent demons. Williams, too, had never had a nerve in
his body. He took everything as it came, placid and unquestioning. It
had not been easy to tell Williams and see the admiration change to
concern. To–pity?

THE peace induced by Tommy’s matter-of-fact acceptance of him deepened
as they drove into the hills. These two accepted him; standing around in
a detached benevolence, watching him come in a familiar quiet. It was a
grey morning, and still. The landscape was tidy and bare. Tidy grey
walls round bare fields, bare fences along the tidy ditches. Nothing had
begun to grow yet in this waiting countryside. Only a willow here and
there by a culvert side showed live and green in the half-shades.

It was going to be all right. This is what he had needed; this wide
silence, this space, this serenity. He had forgotten how benevolent the
place was; how satisfying. The near hills were round and green and kind;
beyond them were farther ones, stained blue by the distance. And behind
all stood the long rampart of the Highland line, white and remote
against the calm sky.

‘The river is very low, isn’t it?’ he said, as they came down into the
valley of the Turlie. And was invaded by panic.

That was the way it always happened. One moment a sane, free,
self-possessed human being, and the next a helpless creature in the grip
of unreason. He pressed his hands together to keep himself from flinging
the door open and tried to listen to what Tommy was saying. No rain for
weeks. They had had no rain for weeks. Let him think about the lack of
rain. It was important, the lack of rain. It spoiled the fishing. It was
to fish he had come to Clune. If they didn’t have rain there would be no
run of fish. No water for them. Oh God, help me not to make Tommy stop!
No water. Think intelligently about fishing. If they had had no rain for
weeks then rain must be due, mustn’t it? Why could you ask a friend to
stop the car and let you be sick and yet not ask him to stop the car so
that you could get out of its small shut-in-ness? Look at the river.
_Look_ at it. Remember things about it. That was where you caught your
best fish last year. That was where Pat slipped down when he was sitting
on the rock and was left hanging by the seat of his pants.

yoga

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qigong

Typically a qigong practice involves rhythmic breathing, coordinated
with slow stylized repetition of fluid movement, and a calm mindful state.[3] Qigong is now practiced throughout China and worldwide, and is considered by some to be exercise, and by others to be a type of alternative medicine or meditative practice.[4]
From a philosophical perspective qigong is believed to help develop
human potential, to increase access to higher realms of awareness, and
to awaken one to one’s true nature.[5]

 

Overwork, the doctor called it.

‘Sit back and browse for a little,’ the doctor had said, crossing one
elegant Wimpole Street leg over the other and admiring the hang of it.

Grant could not imagine himself sitting back, and he considered browsing
a loathsome word and a contemptible occupation. Browsing. A fattening-up
for the table. A mindless satisfaction of animal desires. Browse,
indeed! The very sound of the word was an offence. A snore.

‘Have you any hobbies?’ the doctor had asked, his admiring glance going
on to his shoes.

‘No,’ Grant had said shortly.

‘What do you do when you go on holiday?’

‘I fish.’

‘You fish?’ said the psychologist, seduced from his Narcissian gazing.
‘And you don’t consider that a hobby?’

‘Certainly not.’

‘What is it, then, would you say?’

‘Something between a sport and a religion.’

And at that Wimpole Street had smiled and had looked quite human; and
assured him that his cure was only a matter of time. Time and
relaxation.

Well, at least he had managed not to open that door last night. But the
triumph had been dearly bought. He was drained and empty; a walking
nothingness. ‘Don’t fight it,’ the doctor had said. ‘If you want to be
in the open, go into the open.’ But to have opened that door last night
would have meant a defeat so mortal that he felt there would be no
recovery. It would have been an unconditional surrender to the forces of
Unreason. So he had lain and sweated. And the door had stayed closed.

But now, in the unrewarding dark of early morning, in the bleak
anonymous dark, he was as without virtue as if he had lost. ‘I suppose
this is how women feel after long labour,’ he thought, with that
fundamental detachment which Wimpole Street had noted and approved. ‘But
at least they have a brat to show for it. What have I got?’

His pride, he supposed. Pride that he had not opened a door that there
was no reason to open. Oh God!

‘Can’t you recognise a dead man when you see one?’ he said. Through the
haze of his tiredness he heard his own voice say it: ‘Can’t you recognise
a dead man when you see one? As if it were a thing of no moment. Can’t
you recognise a primrose when you see one? Can’t you recognise a Rubens
when you see one? Can’t you recognise the Albert Memorial when—-‘

‘Dead!’ said Yughourt in a kind of howl. ‘He can’t be! I’m due to go
off.’

That, Grant noted from his far-away stance, was all that it meant to Mr
Blast His Soul Gallacher.   Someone had taken leave of life, had gone out
from warmth and feeling and perception to nothingness, and all it meant
to Damn His Eyes Gallacher was that he would be late in getting off
duty.

He dropped the two suitcases on the platform and stood there (chattering
like a blasted monkey, he thought resentfully) and wished that it were
possible to die temporarily. In some last dim recess of his mind he knew
that to dither with cold and nerves on a station platform at six of a
winter morning was in the final resort a privilege; a corollary to being
alive; but oh, how wonderful it would be to achieve temporary death and
pick up life again at some happier moment.

‘To the hotel, sir?’ the porter said. ‘Yes, I’ll take them over when
I’ve seen to this barrow-load.’

He stumbled up the steps and across the bridge. The wood sounded
drumlike and hollow under his tread, great bursts of steam billowed up
round him from below, noises clanged and echoed from the dark vault
about him. They were all wrong about hell, he thought. Hell wasn’t a
nice cosy place where you fried. Hell was a great cold echoing cave
where there was neither past nor future; a black, echoing desolation.
Hell was concentrated essence of a winter morning after a sleepless
night of self-distaste.

He stepped out into the empty courtyard, and the sudden quiet soothed
him. The darkness was cold but clean. A hint of greyness in its quality
spoke of morning, and a breath of snow in its cleanness spoke of the
‘high tops’. Presently, when it was daylight, Tommy would come to the
hotel and pick him up and they would drive away into the great clean
Highland country; away into the wide, unchanging, undemanding Highland
world where people died only in their beds and no one bothered to shut a
door anyhow because it was too much trouble.

In the hotel dining-room the lights were on only at one end, and into
the gloom of the unlit spaces marched ranks of naked baize-topped
tables. He had never before, now he came to think of it, seen restaurant
tables undressed. They were really very humble shabby things stripped of
their white armour. Like waiters without their shirt-fronts.

 

Grant looked with interest at the pencilled words. The writer had
designed his effort in eight lines, it seemed, but had not been able to
think of the fifth and sixth. So that the scribble read:

     _The beasts that talk,
     The streams that stand,
     The stones that walk,
     The singing sand,_
            .    .
            .    .
     _That guard the way
     To Paradise._

Well, it was odd enough, in all conscience. The beginnings of delirium
tremens?

It was understandable that the owner of that very individual face would
see nothing so ordinary in his alcoholic dreams as pink rats. Nature
itself would turn cartwheels for the young man with the reckless
eyebrows. What was the Paradise that was guarded by so terrifying a
strangeness? Oblivion? Why had he needed oblivion so badly that it
represented Paradise to him? That he had been prepared to run the known
horror of the approaches to it?

Grant ate the fine fresh bap that there was ‘no chew in’ and considered
the matter. The writing was unformed but not at all shaky; it looked the
writing of an adult who wrote an unformed hand not because his
co-ordination was bad but because he had never quite grown up. Because
in essentials he was still the schoolboy who had originally written that
way. This theory was confirmed by the shape of the capital letters,
which were made in pure copy-book form. Odd, that so individual a
creature had had no desire to impress his individuality on the form of
his letters. Very few people indeed did not adapt the copy-book form to
their own liking; to their own unconscious need.

One of Grant’s milder interests had for years been this business of
handwriting; and in his work he had found the results of his long
observation greatly useful. Now and then, of course, he was shaken out
of any complacency about his deductions–a multiple murderer who
dissolved his victims in acid turned out to have handwriting remarkable
only for its extreme logic; which after all was perhaps appropriate
enough–but in general, handwriting provided a very good index to a man.
And in general a man who continued to use the schoolboy form for his
letters did so for one of two reasons: either he was unintelligent, or
he wrote so little that the writing had had no chance of absorbing his
personality.

Considering the high degree of intelligence that had put into words that
nightmare hazard at the gates of Paradise, it was obvious that it was
not lack of personality that had kept the young man’s writing
adolescent. His personality–his vitality and interest–had gone into
something else.

Into what? Something active, something extrovert. Something in which
writing was used for messages like: ‘Meet me Cumberland bar, 6.45,
Tony’, or for filling up a log.

But he was introvert enough to have analysed and put into words that
country-of-the-moon on the way to his Paradise. Introvert enough to have
stood apart and looked at it; to have wanted to record it.

Grant sat in a pleasant warm daze, chewing and considering. He noted the
tightly-joined tops of the n’s and m’s. A liar? Or just secretive? A
curiously cautious trait to appear in the writing of a man with those
eyebrows. It was a strange thing how much the meaning of a countenance
depended on eyebrows. One change of degree in the angle this way or that
and the whole effect was different. Film magnates took nice little girls
from Balham and Muswell Hill and rubbed out their eyebrows and painted
in other ones and they became straightway mysterious creatures from Omsk
and Tomsk. He had once been told by Trabb, the cartoonist, that it was
his eyebrows that had lost Ernie Price his chance of being Prime
Minister. ‘They didn’t like his eyebrows,’ Trabb had said, blinking
owlishly over his beer. ‘Why? Don’t ask me. I just draw. Because they
looked bad-tempered, perhaps. They don’t like a bad-tempered man. Don’t
trust him. But that’s what lost him his chance, take it from me. His
eyebrows. They didn’t like ’em.’ Bad-tempered eyebrows, supercilious
eyebrows, calm eyebrows, worried eyebrows–it was the eyebrows that gave
a face its keynote. And it was the slant of the black eyebrows that had
given that thin white face on the pillow its reckless look even in
death.

Well, the man had been sober when he wrote those words, that at least
was clear. That toper’s oblivion in compartment B Seven–the fugged air,
the rucked blankets, the empty bottle rolling about on the floor, the
overturned glass on the shelf–may have been the Paradise he sought, but
he was sober when he blue-printed the way to it.

The singing sand.

Uncanny but somehow attractive.

Singing sand. Surely there actually were singing sands somewhere? It had
a vaguely familiar sound. Singing sands. They cried out under your feet
as you walked. Or the wind did it, or something. A man’s forearm in a
checked tweed sleeve reached in front of him and took a bap from the
plate.

‘You seem to be doing yourself very well,’ Tommy said, pulling out a
chair and sitting down. He split the bap and buttered it. ‘There’s no
chew in these things at all nowadays. When I was a boy you sank your
teeth in them and pulled. It was evens which came away first: your teeth
or the bit of bap. But if your teeth won you really had something worth
having. A nice floury, yeasty mouthful that would last you for a couple
of minutes. They don’t taste of anything nowadays, and you could fold
them in two and put the whole thing in your mouth without any danger of
choking yourself.’

Grant looked at him in silence and with affection. There was no intimacy
so close, he thought, as the intimacy that bound you to a man with whom
you’d shared a Prep. school dorm. They had shared their public school
days too, but it was Prep. school that he remembered each time he
encountered Tommy anew. Perhaps because in all essentials that fresh
pinky-brown face with the round ingenuous blue eyes was the same face
that used to appear above a crookedly-buttoned maroon blazer. Tommy had
always buttoned his blazer with a fine insouciance.

It was so like Tommy not to waste time or vitality on conventional
inquiries as to his journey and his health. Neither would Laura, of
course. They would accept him as he stood; as if he had been there for
some time. As if he had never gone away at all but was still on his
previous visit. It was an extraordinarily restful atmosphere to sink
back into.

 

 

never knew heyer wrote mysteries too………………gud ones too . love this neville character and his fiance , forgot her name .

A breeze, hardly more than a whisper of wind, stirred the curtains at the long window,and wafted into the room the scent of the wisteria covering the wall of the house. The policeman turned his head as the curtains faintly rustled, his rather glassy blue eyes frowning and suspicious. Straightening himself, for he had been bending over the figure of a man seated behind the carved knee-hole desk in the middle of the room, he trod over to the window and looked out into the dusky garden. His torch explored the shadows cast by two flowering shrubs without, however, revealing anything but a nondescript cat, whose eyes caught and flung back the light for an instant before the animal glided into the recesses of the shrub. There was no other sign of life in the garden, and after a moment of keen scrutiny, the policeman turned back into the room, and went to the desk. The man behind it paid no heed, for he was dead, as the policeman had already ascertained. His head lay on the open blotter, with blood congealing in his sleek, pomaded hair.

Glass laid down the receiver, and restored his handkerchief to his pocket. “Lo, this is the man that made not God his strength, but trusted in his riches,” he said.

The sombre pronouncement recalled Simmons’s thoughts. He gave a sympathetic groan. “That’s true, Mr. Glass. Woe to the crown of pride! But how did it happen? How do you come to be here? Oh dear, oh dear, I never thought to be mixed up with a thing like this!”

Yes, but I don’t like murders. So inartistic, don’t you think? Besides, they don’t happen.”

“This has happened, sir,” said Glass, a little puzzled.

“Yes, that’s what upsets me. Murders only occur in other people’s families. Not even in one’s own circle. Ever noticed that? No, I suppose not. Nothing in one’s experience – one had thought it so wide! – has taught one how to cope with such a bizarre situation.”

He ended on an uncertain laugh; it was plain that under his flippancy he was shaken. The butler looked at him curiously, and then at Glass, who, after staring at Neville Fletcher for a moment, licked his pencil-point, and asked: “When did you see Mr. Fletcher last, if you please, sir?”

“At dinner. In the dining-room, I mean. No, let us be exact; not the dining-room; the hall.”

“Make up your mind, sir,” recommended Glass stolidly.

“Oh! And what about Mr. Neville? Was he annoyed?”

“I shouldn’t like to say, Sergeant. Mr. Neville is a peculiar young gentleman, not given to showing what he feels, if he feels anything, which I sometimes doubt.”

“Well I do, frequently,” said Neville, who had come into the room in time to hear this remark.

The Sergeant, unaccustomed to young Mr. Fletcher’s noiseless way of entering rooms, was momentarily startled. Neville smiled in his deprecating fashion, and said softly: ‘Good-evening. Isn’t it shocking? I do hope you’ve arrived at something? My aunt would like to see you before you go. Do you know who killed my uncle?”

“It’s early days to ask me that, sir,” replied the Sergeant guardedly.

“Your words hint at a prolonged period of suspense, which I find peculiarly depressing.”

“Very unpleasant for all concerned, sir,” agreed the Sergeant. He turned to Simmons. “That’ll be all for the present,” he said.

Simmons withdrew, and the Sergeant, who had been eyeing Neville with a good deal of curiosity, invited him to sit down. Neville obligingly complied with this request, choosing a deep armchair by the fireplace. The Sergeant said politely: “I’m hoping you may be able to help me, sir. I take it you were pretty intimate with the deceased?”

“Oh no!” said Neville, shocked. “I shouldn’t have liked that at all.”

“No, sir? Am I to understand you were not on good terms with Mr. Fletcher?”

“But I was. I’m on good terms with everyone. Only I’m not intimate.”

“Well, but, what I mean, sir, is -‘

“Yes, yes, I know what you mean. Did I know the secrets of my uncle’s life? No, Sergeant: I hate secrets, and other people’s troubles.”

He said this with an air of sweet affability. The Sergeant was a little taken aback, but rallied, and said: “At all events, you knew him fairly well, sir?”

“We won’t argue the point,” murmured Neville.

“Do you know if he had any enemies?”

“Well, obviously he had, hadn’t he?”

“Yes, sir, but what I’m trying to establish -‘

“I know, but you see I’m just as much at a loss as you are. You weren’t acquainted with my uncle?”

“I can’t say as I was, sir.”

Neville blew one smoke ring through another, and watched it dreamily. “Everybody called him Ernie,” he sighed. “Or Ernie dear, according to sex. You see?”

The Sergeant stared for a moment, and then said slowly: “I think I get you, sir. I’ve always heard him well spoken of, I’m bound to say. I take it you don’t know of any person with a grudge against him?”

Neville shook his head. The Sergeant looked at him rather discontentedly, and consulted Glass’s notebook. “I see you state that after you left the dining-room you went into the billiard-room, where you remained until Miss Fletcher came to find you. At what hour would that have been?”

Neville smiled apologetically.

“You don’t know, sir? No idea at all? Try and think!”

“Alas, time has hitherto meant practically nothing to me. Does it help if I say that my aunt mentioned that a most peculiar visitor was with my uncle? A fat little man, who carried his hat in his hand. She had seen him in the hall.”

“Did you see this man?” asked the Sergeant quickly.

“No.”

“You don’t know whether he was still with your uncle when you went up to your room?”

“Sergeant, Sergeant, do you think I listen at keyholes?”

“Of course not, sir, but -‘

“At least, not when I’m wholly incurious,” explained Neville, temporising.

“Well, sir, we’ll say that some time between 9.00 and 10.00 you went up to your room.”

“At half-past nine,” said Neville.

“At – A moment ago, sir, you said you had no idea what time it was!”

“Oh, I hadn’t, but I remember now one solitary cuckoo.”

The Sergeant shot a startled look towards Glass, standing motionless and disapproving by the door. A suspicion that the eccentric Neville Fletcher was of unsound mind had darted into his brain. “What might you mean by that, sir?”

“Only the clock on the landing,” said Neville.

“A cuckoo-clock! Well, really, sir, for a moment I thought – And it struck the half-hour?”

“Yes, but it’s quite often wrong.”

“We’ll go into that presently. Which way does your room face, sir?”

“North.”

“It’s at the back of the house, then? Would it be possible for you to hear anyone coming up the side path?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t hear anyone, but I wasn’t trying to.

“Quite,” said the Sergeant. “Well, I think that’ll be all for the present, thank you, sir. Of course, you understand that you will not be able to leave this house for a day or two? Just a matter of routine, you know. We’ll hope it won’t be long before we get the whole thing cleared up.”

“Yes, let’s,” agreed Neville. His gaze dwelt speculatively on a picture on the wall opposite the fireplace. “It wouldn’t be robbery, would it?”

“Hardly, sir, but of course we can’t say definitely yet. It isn’t likely a burglar would come when Mr. Fletcher was still up, not to mention the rest of the household.”

“No. Only the safe is behind that picture -just in case you didn’t know.”

“Yes, sir, so the butler informed me. We’ve been over it for finger-prints, and as soon as we can get Mr. Fletcher’s lawyer down we’ll have it opened. Yes, Hepworth? Found anything?”

The last words were addressed to a constable who had stepped into the room through the window.

“Not much, Sergeant, but I’d like you to have a look at one thing.”

The Sergeant went at once; Neville uncoiled himself, got up, and wandered out of the room in his wake. “Don’t mind me coming, do you?” he murmured, as the Sergeant turned his head.

“I don’t see as there’s any objection, sir. The fact is, a man was seen sneaking out by the side gate just after 10 p.m., and unless I’m mistaken he’s the chap we’re after.”

“A – a fat man?” suggested Neville, blinking.

“Ah, that would be too easy, wouldn’t it, sir?” said the Sergeant indulgently. “No, just an ordinary looking chap in a soft hat. Well, Hepworth, what is it?”

The constable had led the way to the back of a flowering currant bush, which was planted in a bed close to the house. He directed the beam of his torch on to the ground. In the soft earth were the deep imprints of a pair of high-heeled shoes.

“They’re freshly made, Sergeant,” said Hepworth. “Someone’s been hiding behind this bush.”

“The Women in the Case!” said Neville. “Aren’t we having fun?”

The Sergeant had found himself listening to a panegyric  ( A panegyric is a formal public speech, or (in later use) written verse, delivered in high praise of a person or thing,   ) on the late Ernest Fletcher: how charming he was; how popular; what perfect manners he had; how kind he had always been to his sister; how gay; how dashing; how generous! Out of this turmoil of words certain facts had emerged. Neville was the son of Ernie’s brother Ted, many years deceased, and certainly his heir. Neville was a dear boy, but you never knew what he would be up to next, and – yes, it did annoy poor Ernie when he got himself imprisoned in some horrid Balkan state – oh, nothing serious, but Neville was so hopelessly vague, and simply lost his passport. As for the Russian woman who had appeared at Neville’s hotel with all her luggage before breakfast one morning in Budapest, saying he had invited her at some party the night before – well, one couldn’t exactly approve, of course, but young men did get drunk sometimes, and anyway the woman was obviously no better than she should be, and really Neville was not like that at all. At the same time, one did rather feel for Ernie, having to buy the creature off. But it was quite, quite untrue to say that Ernie didn’t like Neville: they hadn’t much in common, but blood was thicker than water, and Ernie was always so understanding.

Questioned more closely, no, she knew of no one who nourished the least grudge against her brother. She thought the murderer must have been one of these dreadful maniacs one read about in the papers.

The Sergeant got away from her, not without difficulty, and very soon left the house. Aunt and nephew confronted one another in the drawing-room.

“I feel as though this were all a horrible nightmare!” said Miss Fletcher, putting a hand to her head. “There’s a policeman in the hall, and they’ve locked dear Ernie’s study!”

“Does it worry you?” asked Neville. “Was there anything there you wished to destroy?”

“That,” said Miss Fletcher, “would be most dishonest. Not but what I feel sure Ernie would have preferred it to having strangers poking their noses into his affairs. Of course I wouldn’t destroy anything important, but I’m sure there isn’t anything. Only you know what men are, dear, even the best of them.”

“No, do tell me!”

“Well,” said Miss Fletcher, “one shuts one’s eyes to That Side of a Man’s life, but I’m afraid, Neville, that there have been Women. And some of them, I think – though of course I don’t know – not what I call Nice Women.”

“Men are funny like that,” said Neville dulcetly.

“Yes, dear, and naturally I was very thankful, because at one time I made sure Ernie would get caught.”

“Caught?”

“Marriage,” explained Miss Fletcher. “That would have been a great blow to me. Only, luckily, he wasn’t a very constant man.”

Neville looked at her in surprise. She smiled unhappily at him, apparently unaware of having said anything remarkable. She looked the acme of respectability; a plump, faded lady, with wispy grey hair and mild eyes, red-rimmed from crying, and a prim little mouth, innocent of lip-stick.

“I’m now definitely upset,” said Neville. “I think I’ll go to bed.”

She said distressfully: “Oh dear, is it what I’ve told you? But it’s bound to come out, so you had to know sooner or later.”

“Not my uncle; my aunt!” said Neville.

“You do say such odd things, dear,” she said. “You’re overwrought, and no wonder. Ought I to offer that policeman some refreshment?”

He left her engaged in conversation with the officer on duty in the hall, and went up to his own room. After a short interval his aunt tapped on his door, desiring to know whether he felt all right. He called out to her that he was quite all right, but sleepy, and so after exchanging good-nights with him, and promising not to disturb him again, Miss Fletcher went away to her own bedroom in the front of the house.

Neville Fletcher, having locked his door, climbed out of his window, and reached the ground by means of a stout drain-pipe, and the roof of the verandah outside the drawing-room.

The garden lay bathed in moonlight. In case a watch had been set over the side entrance, Neville made his way instead to the wall at the end of the garden, which separated it from the Arden Road. Espaliers trained up it made the scaling of it a simple matter. Neville reached the top, lowered himself on the other side, and let himself drop. He landed with the ease of the trained athlete, paused to light a cigarette, and began to walk westwards along the road. A hundred yards brought him to a crossroad running parallel to Maple Grove. He turned up it, and entered the first gateway he came to. A big, square house was sharply outlined by the moonshine, lights shining through the curtains of several of the windows. One of these, on the ground-floor to the left of the front door, stood open. Neville went to it, parted the curtains, and looked into the room.

A woman sat at an escritoire, writing, the light of a reading-lamp touching her gold hair with fire. She wore evening dress, and a brocade cloak hung over the back of her chair. Neville regarded her thoughtfully for a moment, and then stepped into the room.

She looked up quickly, and gave a sobbing gasp of shock. The fright of her eyes gave place almost immediately to an expression of relief. Colour rushed into her lovely face; she caught her hand to her breast, saying faintly: ‘Neville! Oh, how you startled me!”

“That’s nothing to what I’ve been through tonight,” replied Neville. “Such fun and games at Greystones, my dear: you wouldn’t believe!”

She shut her blotter upon her half-finished letter. “You haven’t got them?” she asked, between eagerness and incredulity.

“All I’ve got is the jitters,” said Neville. He strolled over to her, and to her surprise went down on his knee.

“Neville, what on earth – ?”

“Are you an escapist?” inquired Neville solicitously. “Is that why you write improbable novels? Have you felt the banality of real life to be intolerable?”

“My novels aren’t improbable! It may interest you to know that the critics consider me as one of the six most important crime novelists.”

“If you think that you’re a bad judge of character,” said Neville.

Helen gave a strangled shriek of exasperation. “Oh, don’t, don’t! What does any of that matter at a time like this? What am I to do?”

Sally turned away from Neville. “All right, let’s get this thing straight,” she said. “I don’t feel I’ve got all the data. When did you start falling for Ernie Fletcher?”

“I didn’t. Only he was so attractive, and – and he had a sort of sympathetic understanding. Almost a touch of the feminine, but not quite that, either. I can’t explain. Ernie made you feel as though you were made of very brittle, precious porcelain.”

“That must have added excitement to your life,” said Neville reflectively.

 

“Lummy!” said Miss Drew elegantly. “Gilded vice, and haggard harpies, and suicides adjacent? All that sort of thing?”

“It wasn’t gilded, and I don’t know about any suicides, but it was a bad place, and yet – in a way – rather thrilling. If John knew of it – the people who belonged to it – Sally, no one would believe I wasn’t a bad woman if it was known I went to that place!”

“Well, why did you go there?”

“Oh, for the thrill! Like one goes to Limehouse. And at first it sort of got me. I adored the excitement of the play. Then I lost rather a lot of money, and like a fool I thought I could win it back. I expect you know how one gets led on, and on.”

“Why not have sold your pearls?”

A wan smile touched Helen’s lips. “Because they aren’t worth anything.”

“What?” Sally gasped.

“Copies,” said Helen bitterly. “I sold the real ones ages ago. Other things, too. I’ve always been an extravagant little beast, and John warned me he wouldn’t put up with it. So I sold things.”

“Helen!”

Neville, who had been reposing in a luxurious chair with his eyes shut, said sleepily: “You said you wanted copy, didn’t you?”

“Even if it didn’t concern Helen I couldn’t use this,” said Sally. “Not my line of country at all. I shall have to concentrate on the murder. By the way, Helen, who introduced you to this hell? Dear Ernie?”

“Oh no, no!” Helen cried. “He absolutely rescued me from it! I can’t tell you how divine he was. He said everything would be all right, and I wasn’t to worry any more, but just be a good child for the future.”

“Snake!” said Sally hotly.

“Yes, only – it didn’t seem like that. He had such a way with him! He got hold of those ghastly IOUs, and at first I was so thankful!”

“Then he blackmailed you!”

“N – no, he didn’t. Not quite. I can’t tell you about that, but it wasn’t exactly as you imagine. Of course, he did use the IOUs as a weapon, but perhaps he didn’t really mean it! It was all done so – so laughingly, and he was very much in love with me. I expect I lost my head a bit, didn’t handle him properly. But I got frightened, and I couldn’t sleep for thinking of my IOUs in Ernie’s possession. That’s why I told Neville. I thought he might be able to do something.”

“Neville?” said Miss Drew, in accents of withering contempt. “You might as well have applied to a village idiot!”

“I know, but there wasn’t anyone else. And he is clever, in spite of being so hopeless.”

“As judged by village standards?” inquired Neville, mildly interested.

“He may have a kind of brain, but I’ve yet to hear of him putting himself out for anyone, or behaving like an ordinarily nice person. I can’t think how you ever succeeded in persuading him to take it on.”

“The dripping of water on a stone,” murmured Neville.

“Well having taken it on, I do think you might have put your back into it. Did you even try?”

“Yes, it was a most painful scene.”

“Why? Was Ernie furious?”

“Not so much furious as astonished. So was I. You ought to have seen me giving my impersonation of a Nordic public-school man with a reverence for good form and the done-thing. I wouldn’t like to swear I didn’t beg him to play the game. Ernie ended up by being nauseated, and I’m sure I’m not surprised.”

“You know, you’re not hard-hearted, you’re just soulless,” Sally informed him. She glanced at her sister. “Was I invited to stay to be a chaperon?”

“Yes, in a way. Besides, I wanted you.”

“Thanks a lot. What happened tonight?”

“Oh, nothing, Sally, nothing! It was silly of me, but I thought if only I could talk quietly to Ernie, and – and throw myself on his generosity, everything would be all right. You were busy with your book, so I got my cloak, and just slipped round by the back way to Greystones, on the off chance of finding Ernie in his study.”

“Oh, don’t be a fool! Don’t you realise you’ll have led them straight to Helen?”

“Oh no! No, really I haven’t,” Neville replied, with his apologetic smile. “I climbed out of my window, and over the wall.”

“You – Did you really?” exclaimed Sally, her thunderous frown vanishing. “I must say I should never have thought it of you.”

“Atavism,” he explained.

“Oh, Neville, how on earth did you manage it?” Helen asked, a note of admiration in her voice.

He looked alarmed. “Please don’t get misled! It wasn’t a bit heroic, or daring, or even difficult.”

“It must have been. I can’t think how you did it! I should never have had the nerve.”

“No nerve. Merely one of the advantages of a University education.”

.