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The Body in the Library, Page 2

Agatha Christie

  Mrs. Bantry said in a low voice:

  “You see what I mean? It just isn’t true!”

  The old lady by her side nodded her head. She looked down long and thoughtfully at the huddled figure.

  She said at last in a gentle voice:

  “She’s very young.”

  “Yes—yes—I suppose she is.” Mrs. Bantry seemed almost surprised—like one making a discovery.

  Miss Marple bent down. She did not touch the girl. She looked at the fingers that clutched frantically at the front of the girl’s dress, as though she had clawed it in her last frantic struggle for breath.

  There was the sound of a car scrunching on the gravel outside. Constable Palk said with urgency:

  “That’ll be the Inspector….”

  True to his ingrained belief that the gentry didn’t let you down, Mrs. Bantry immediately moved to the door. Miss Marple followed her. Mrs. Bantry said:

  “That’ll be all right, Palk.”

  Constable Palk was immensely relieved.


  Hastily downing the last fragments of toast and marmalade with a drink of coffee, Colonel Bantry hurried out into the hall and was relieved to see Colonel Melchett, the Chief Constable of the county, descending from a car with Inspector Slack in attendance. Melchett was a friend of the Colonel’s. Slack he had never much taken to—an energetic man who belied his name and who accompanied his bustling manner with a good deal of disregard for the feelings of anyone he did not consider important.

  “Morning, Bantry,” said the Chief Constable. “Thought I’d better come along myself. This seems an extraordinary business.”

  “It’s—it’s—” Colonel Bantry struggled to express himself. “It’s incredible—fantastic!”

  “No idea who the woman is?”

  “Not the slightest. Never set eyes on her in my life.”

  “Butler know anything?” asked Inspector Slack.

  “Lorrimer is just as taken aback as I am.”

  “Ah,” said Inspector Slack. “I wonder.”

  Colonel Bantry said:

  “There’s breakfast in the dining room, Melchett, if you’d like anything?”

  “No, no—better get on with the job. Haydock ought to be here any minute now—ah, here he is.”

  Another car drew up and big, broad-shouldered Doctor Haydock, who was also the police surgeon, got out. A second police car had disgorged two plainclothes men, one with a camera.

  “All set—eh?” said the Chief Constable. “Right. We’ll go along. In the library, Slack tells me.”

  Colonel Bantry groaned.

  “It’s incredible! You know, when my wife insisted this morning that the housemaid had come in and said there was a body in the library, I just wouldn’t believe her.”

  “No, no, I can quite understand that. Hope your missus isn’t too badly upset by it all?”

  “She’s been wonderful—really wonderful. She’s got old Miss Marple up here with her—from the village, you know.”

  “Miss Marple?” The Chief Constable stiffened. “Why did she send for her?”

  “Oh, a woman wants another woman—don’t you think so?”

  Colonel Melchett said with a slight chuckle:

  “If you ask me, your wife’s going to try her hand at a little amateur detecting. Miss Marple’s quite the local sleuth. Put it over us properly once, didn’t she, Slack?”

  Inspector Slack said: “That was different.”

  “Different from what?”

  “That was a local case, that was, sir. The old lady knows everything that goes on in the village, that’s true enough. But she’ll be out of her depth here.”

  Melchett said dryly: “You don’t know very much about it yourself yet, Slack.”

  “Ah, you wait, sir. It won’t take me long to get down to it.”


  In the dining room Mrs. Bantry and Miss Marple, in their turn, were partaking of breakfast.

  After waiting on her guest, Mrs. Bantry said urgently:

  “Well, Jane?”

  Miss Marple looked up at her, slightly bewildered.

  Mrs. Bantry said hopefully:

  “Doesn’t it remind you of anything?”

  For Miss Marple had attained fame by her ability to link up trivial village happenings with graver problems in such a way as to throw light upon the latter.

  “No,” said Miss Marple thoughtfully, “I can’t say that it does—not at the moment. I was reminded a little of Mrs. Chetty’s youngest—Edie, you know—but I think that was just because this poor girl bit her nails and her front teeth stuck out a little. Nothing more than that. And, of course,” went on Miss Marple, pursuing the parallel further, “Edie was fond of what I call cheap finery, too.”

  “You mean her dress?” said Mrs. Bantry.

  “Yes, a very tawdry satin—poor quality.”

  Mrs. Bantry said:

  “I know. One of those nasty little shops where everything is a guinea.” She went on hopefully:

  “Let me see, what happened to Mrs. Chetty’s Edie?”

  “She’s just gone into her second place—and doing very well, I believe.”

  Mrs. Bantry felt slightly disappointed. The village parallel didn’t seem to be exactly hopeful.

  “What I can’t make out,” said Mrs. Bantry, “is what she could possibly be doing in Arthur’s study. The window was forced, Palk tells me. She might have come down here with a burglar and then they quarrelled—but that seems such nonsense, doesn’t it?”

  “She was hardly dressed for burglary,” said Miss Marple thoughtfully.

  “No, she was dressed for dancing—or a party of some kind. But there’s nothing of that kind down here—or anywhere near.”

  “N-n-o,” said Miss Marple doubtfully.

  Mrs. Bantry pounced.

  “Something’s in your mind, Jane.”

  “Well, I was just wondering—”


  “Basil Blake.”

  Mrs. Bantry cried impulsively: “Oh, no!” and added as though in explanation, “I know his mother.”

  The two women looked at each other.

  Miss Marple sighed and shook her head.

  “I quite understand how you feel about it.”

  “Selina Blake is the nicest woman imaginable. Her herbaceous borders are simply marvellous—they make me green with envy. And she’s frightfully generous with cuttings.”

  Miss Marple, passing over these claims to consideration on the part of Mrs. Blake, said:

  “All the same, you know, there has been a lot of talk.”

  “Oh, I know—I know. And of course Arthur goes simply livid when he hears Basil Blake mentioned. He was really very rude to Arthur, and since then Arthur won’t hear a good word for him. He’s got that silly slighting way of talking that these boys have nowadays—sneering at people sticking up for their school or the Empire or that sort of thing. And then, of course, the clothes he wears!”

  “People say,” continued Mrs. Bantry, “that it doesn’t matter what you wear in the country. I never heard such nonsense. It’s just in the country that everyone notices.” She paused, and added wistfully: “He was an adorable baby in his bath.”

  “There was a lovely picture of the Cheviot murderer as a baby in the paper last Sunday,” said Miss Marple.

  “Oh, but Jane, you don’t think he—”

  “No, no, dear. I didn’t mean that at all. That would indeed be jumping to conclusions. I was just trying to account for the young woman’s presence down here. St. Mary Mead is such an unlikely place. And then it seemed to me that the only possible explanation was Basil Blake. He does have parties. People came down from London and from the studios—you remember last July? Shouting and singing—the most terrible noise—everyone very drunk, I’m afraid—and the mess and the broken glass next morning simply unbelievable—so old Mrs. Berry told me—and a young woman asleep in the bath with practically nothing on!”

  Mrs. Bantry said indulg

  “I suppose they were film people.”

  “Very likely. And then—what I expect you’ve heard—several weekends lately he’s brought down a young woman with him—a platinum blonde.”

  Mrs. Bantry exclaimed:

  “You don’t think it’s this one?”

  “Well—I wondered. Of course, I’ve never seen her close to—only just getting in and out of the car—and once in the cottage garden when she was sunbathing with just some shorts and a brassière. I never really saw her face. And all these girls with their makeup and their hair and their nails look so alike.”

  “Yes. Still, it might be. It’s an idea, Jane.”



  It was an idea that was being at that moment discussed by Colonel Melchett and Colonel Bantry.

  The Chief Constable, after viewing the body and seeing his subordinates set to work on their routine tasks, had adjourned with the master of the house to the study in the other wing of the house.

  Colonel Melchett was an irascible-looking man with a habit of tugging at his short red moustache. He did so now, shooting a perplexed sideways glance at the other man. Finally, he rapped out:

  “Look here, Bantry, got to get this off my chest. Is it a fact that you don’t know from Adam who this girl is?”

  The other’s answer was explosive, but the Chief Constable interrupted him.

  “Yes, yes, old man, but look at it like this. Might be deuced awkward for you. Married man—fond of your missus and all that. But just between ourselves—if you were tied up with this girl in any way, better say so now. Quite natural to want to suppress the fact—should feel the same myself. But it won’t do. Murder case. Facts bound to come out. Dash it all, I’m not suggesting you strangled the girl—not the sort of thing you’d do—I know that. But, after all, she came here—to this house. Put it she broke in and was waiting to see you, and some bloke or other followed her down and did her in. Possible, you know. See what I mean?”

  “Damn it all, Melchett, I tell you I’ve never set eyes on that girl in my life! I’m not that sort of man.”

  “That’s all right, then. Shouldn’t blame you, you know. Man of the world. Still, if you say so—Question is, what was she doing down here? She doesn’t come from these parts—that’s quite certain.”

  “The whole thing’s a nightmare,” fumed the angry master of the house.

  “The point is, old man, what was she doing in your library?”

  “How should I know? I didn’t ask her here.”

  “No, no. But she came here, all the same. Looks as though she wanted to see you. You haven’t had any odd letters or anything?”

  “No, I haven’t.”

  Colonel Melchett inquired delicately:

  “What were you doing yourself last night?”

  “I went to the meeting of the Conservative Association. Nine o’clock, at Much Benham.”

  “And you got home when?”

  “I left Much Benham just after ten—had a bit of trouble on the way home, had to change a wheel. I got back at a quarter to twelve.”

  “You didn’t go into the library?”



  “I was tired. I went straight up to bed.”

  “Anyone waiting up for you?”

  “No. I always take the latchkey. Lorrimer goes to bed at eleven unless I give orders to the contrary.”

  “Who shuts up the library?”

  “Lorrimer. Usually about seven-thirty this time of year.”

  “Would he go in there again during the evening?”

  “Not with my being out. He left the tray with whisky and glasses in the hall.”

  “I see. What about your wife?”

  “I don’t know. She was in bed when I got home and fast asleep. She may have sat in the library yesterday evening or in the drawing room. I forgot to ask her.”

  “Oh well, we shall soon know all the details. Of course, it’s possible one of the servants may be concerned, eh?”

  Colonel Bantry shook his head.

  “I don’t believe it. They’re all a most respectable lot. We’ve had ’em for years.”

  Melchett agreed.

  “Yes, it doesn’t seem likely that they’re mixed up in it. Looks more as though the girl came down from town—perhaps with some young fellow. Though why they wanted to break into this house—”

  Bantry interrupted.

  “London. That’s more like it. We don’t have goings on down here—at least—”

  “Well, what is it?”

  “Upon my word!” exploded Colonel Bantry. “Basil Blake!”

  “Who’s he?”

  “Young fellow connected with the film industry. Poisonous young brute. My wife sticks up for him because she was at school with his mother, but of all the decadent useless young jackanapes! Wants his behind kicked! He’s taken that cottage on the Lansham Road—you know—ghastly modern bit of building. He has parties there, shrieking, noisy crowds, and he has girls down for the weekend.”


  “Yes, there was one last week—one of these platinum blondes—”

  The Colonel’s jaw dropped.

  “A platinum blonde, eh?” said Melchett reflectively.

  “Yes. I say, Melchett, you don’t think—”

  The Chief Constable said briskly:

  “It’s a possibility. It accounts for a girl of this type being in St. Mary Mead. I think I’ll run along and have a word with this young fellow—Braid—Blake—what did you say his name was?”

  “Blake. Basil Blake.”

  “Will he be at home, do you know?”

  “Let me see. What’s today—Saturday? Usually gets here sometime Saturday morning.”

  Melchett said grimly:

  “We’ll see if we can find him.”


  Basil Blake’s cottage, which consisted of all modern conveniences enclosed in a hideous shell of half timbering and sham Tudor, was known to the postal authorities, and to William Booker, builder, as “Chatsworth”; to Basil and his friends as “The Period Piece,” and to the village of St. Mary Mead at large as “Mr. Booker’s new house.”

  It was little more than a quarter of a mile from the village proper, being situated on a new building estate that had been bought by the enterprising Mr. Booker just beyond the Blue Boar, with frontage on what had been a particularly unspoilt country lane. Gossington Hall was about a mile farther on along the same road.

  Lively interest had been aroused in St. Mary Mead when news went round that “Mr. Booker’s new house” had been bought by a film star. Eager watch was kept for the first appearance of the legendary creature in the village, and it may be said that as far as appearances went Basil Blake was all that could be asked for. Little by little, however, the real facts leaked out. Basil Blake was not a film star—not even a film actor. He was a very junior person, rejoicing in the title of about fifteenth in the list of those responsible for Set Decorations at Lemville Studios, headquarters of British New Era Films. The village maidens lost interest, and the ruling class of censorious spinsters took exception to Basil Blake’s way of life. Only the landlord of the Blue Boar continued to be enthusiastic about Basil and Basil’s friends. The revenues of the Blue Boar had increased since the young man’s arrival in the place.

  The police car stopped outside the distorted rustic gate of Mr. Booker’s fancy, and Colonel Melchett, with a glance of distaste at the excessive half timbering of Chatsworth, strode up to the front door and attacked it briskly with the knocker.

  It was opened much more promptly than he had expected. A young man with straight, somewhat long, black hair, wearing orange corduroy trousers and a royal-blue shirt, snapped out: “Well, what do you want?”

  “Are you Mr. Basil Blake?”

  “Of course I am.”

  “I should be glad to have a few words with you, if I may, Mr. Blake?”

  “Who are you?”

  “I am Co
lonel Melchett, the Chief Constable of the County.”

  Mr. Blake said insolently:

  “You don’t say so; how amusing!”

  And Colonel Melchett, following the other in, understood what Colonel Bantry’s reactions had been. The toe of his own boot itched.

  Containing himself, however, he said with an attempt to speak pleasantly:

  “You’re an early riser, Mr. Blake.”

  “Not at all. I haven’t been to bed yet.”


  “But I don’t suppose you’ve come here to inquire into my hours of bedgoing—or if you have it’s rather a waste of the county’s time and money. What is it you want to speak to me about?”

  Colonel Melchett cleared his throat.

  “I understand, Mr. Blake, that last weekend you had a visitor—a—er—fair-haired young lady.”

  Basil Blake stared, threw back his head and roared with laughter.

  “Have the old cats been on to you from the village? About my morals? Damn it all, morals aren’t a police matter. You know that.”

  “As you say,” said Melchett dryly, “your morals are no concern of mine. I have come to you because the body of a fair-haired young woman of slightly—er—exotic appearance has been found—murdered.”

  “Strewth!” Blake stared at him. “Where?”

  “In the library at Gossington Hall.”

  “At Gossington? At old Bantry’s? I say, that’s pretty rich. Old Bantry! The dirty old man!”

  Colonel Melchett went very red in the face. He said sharply through the renewed mirth of the young man opposite him: “Kindly control your tongue, sir. I came to ask you if you can throw any light on this business.”

  “You’ve come round to ask me if I’ve missed a blonde? Is that it? Why should—hallo, ’allo, ’allo, what’s this?”