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As Travers’s finger touched the dead hand, he felt the warmth, and wondered if the man were still alive. Then he saw the knife that stuck sideways in the ribs.
An attendant had come in with the cage. He stooped and held the rope taut. The cage door was opened, Jules called from high in the roof and at once the rat began to climb. Then something went wrong. All at once Auguste scampered down and shot back into his cage.
The tea had brought a pleasant warmth and Travers snuggled down in bed. Once more he was busy with something that had vastly cheered him of late—a perfect scheme for the murder of Stirrop.
The curtain had been drawn back and there was the bed. Wharton and a stranger were standing by it, and when Wharton moved to meet me, I saw on the bed the body of Penelope Craye.
“She’s dead,” I said.
Wharton merely nodded.
What was I to be this time? A Commandant again of a Prisoner of War Camp? Was I to get a sedentary job at the War Office itself, and begin the slow process of fossilisation? Was I due for some wholly new job of which the rank and file had never even heard? As it turned out, I most certainly was.
“Good God!” I was staring like a lunatic. “Murdered, you say? When?”
“Less than half an hour ago, sir.”
“Is he bad, sir?”
“Worse than that,” I said. “In fact, he’s dead.”
“It’s about a murder. . . . Here. Five Oaks, they call it. . . . A man, he’s murdered. . . . Oh, no, it isn’t a joke. I wish it was. . . . I said I wished it was. . . . You’ll send someone at once?”
It wasn’t I who discovered the body. I want to make that perfectly clear, if only for the benefit of a couple of club acquaintances of mine.
““This is something desperately secret,” she said. “Something I want you to do for me . . . But I can’t tell you now. It’s something I’m frightened about.”
“Send someone here quick. There’s been a murder!”
Travers turned to Wharton. “I ask you, George, as a man of the world—do schoolmasters and mistresses have souls full of glamour and passion and intrigue? Are they torn by the same emotions that rend people like us?”
“Murder is easy. It’s child’s play to commit murder and get away with it.”
Murder on Mondays! Greatest prophecy of the century! T.P. Luffham was murdered!
“It’s terrible. It’s a body . . . the head cut off . . . and the hands.”
Travers looked down at the thing that sprawled. The head gave a last movement, and there was a faint sound like a tired moan. The time was eight minutes to eight.
“You needn’t look impatient, sir. He’ll be finished with you long before dinner.ˮ
‘I judge him to have been dead just about twenty-four hours. Suicide, almost certainly.’
Palmer saw him out, and gave that little deprecatory cough.
“If you’ll pardon me, sir, is it another murder?”
“Looks like it,” Travers told him from the door.
“George Wharton said he hoped I’d have a nice murder for you.”
“Have you heard the news, sir?” the waiter said.
“I’m afraid I haven’t. What is it?”
“Plumley’s dead, sir. Henry Plumley. We just got the news over the ’phone. Suicide they say it was. Anything else you want, sir?”
I am going to commit a murder. I offer no apology for the curtness of the statement.
“And that’s not all. Somers is dead too … He poisoned himself … in the lounge!”
Somebody at that very moment might be watching from behind the hedge! Melodramatic perhaps—but the fact remained that one murder had been committed and a second seemed more than likely.
However thorough your search was, I’m convinced the murderer, or the burglar—call him what you will—is still in the house.
“If you don’t think I’m taking a liberty in saying so, my opinion is that he was knocked down first and hanged after!”
Travers looked down at the face. On the collar was a red patch and a long streak. Across the throat was a gash.
“It was some sort of sudden death?”
Travers made a face. “It certainly was sudden. I’ll say it’s ten to one it was murder.”
“Let us know when you’re dead!”
Old Hunt slithered in the most amazing way and then fell to the floor. He lay between the seats, face upwards.