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Authors: Margery Allingham

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BOOK: The Fashion In Shrouds
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‘A man like that ought to fall in love a few times. It matures the mind. He can't marry her, of course, because of Ramillies. In a way that's almost a pity because, in a case like that, that type of decent, rather sentimental chap is apt to go off and nurse a lovely pie-eyed dream of tragical frustration for a hell of a time.'

He caught sight of her white face with the two tears on her cheek-bones and jerked himself up with sudden contrition.

‘My dear girl, forgive me. I was thinking aloud. I forgot you were in this. I'm mental. Oi! Val! Val, I'm sorry. I'm a tick. What shall we do? Go and chuck the woman in the Regent's Canal? What's she doing, by the way? Accepting it all with fashionable languor?'

‘Oh no.' Val's lips twisted. ‘You underestimate her. Georgia doesn't do things like that. Georgia loves. She always does. She's riotously, deliriously, ecstatically in love at the moment. She's a fire, a whirlwind. She comes and tells me about it by the hour. I rushed off with Gaiogi this afternoon to get away from her. She's so heartrendingly genuine, Albert, like all the worst in one's self.'

Mr Campion looked scandalized and his sympathy for his sister increased.

‘That's not quite decent,' he remarked. ‘How startlingly vulgar you women are.'

‘It's not vulgarity. It's cheating,' said Val calmly. ‘You do so hope you're not really hurting, but you do want to do it so much. I know the instinct. It's a feeling, not a “think” at all.'

Mr Campion made no direct comment.

‘Is Ramillies in on all this?' he inquired at last.

‘Oh yes. Georgia's like a house on fire. It can't be kept a secret for the rest of the street, much less from the master in the library. Ramillies knows more about it than anyone.'

‘What's he doing? Anything?'

‘I don't know.' Val sounded uneasy. ‘He's a very curious person. When I can bring myself to listen to her Georgia seems to be taking him very seriously. She says he's frightfully jealous and frighteningly quiet, but that may mean anything or nothing. He seems to have set his heart on having this party out there with the Taretons. Georgia's not
so keen. She says that once she gets out there he'll make her stay. That'll be awkward because
The Lover
looks like settling down, and whereas they could risk dropping her out for a month, if it was running away, I doubt whether it would carry on for a full season without her. It might, of course. It's a success.'

‘In six weeks' time,' said Mr Campion thoughtfully. ‘I'm not at all sure that my estimation of Sieur Ramillies doesn't go up. The
grande passion
should just about reach the wobbling point by then. These thundering fires die down pretty fast, don't they?'

He paused. Val was looking at him with a speculative expression that was not altogether sympathetic.

‘You've forgotten Alan,' she said. ‘Alan's in it, too. He's a different kettle of fish altogether. It's not so simple, my dear. Frankly I wish it were. They're not children. It might so easily be very serious.'

‘You mean Ramillies might divorce her?'

‘Not because of Alan. He'd never get grounds. You don't know Alan at all. He's an idealist.'

‘Well then, it'll come to a quiet, uncomfortable end and you'll have to stand by and pick up the pieces,' said Campion, a little irritated by what he felt was an unjust estimation of his powers of comprehension.

‘Yes,' said Val slowly. She shivered and stretched herself with a graceful, furtive movement like a little cat. ‘I envy those women who just love normally and nobly with their bodies,' she observed unexpectedly. ‘Then they're only engulfed by a sort of lovely high tragedy. The hero persists. That's at least decent. Once you cultivate your mind you lay yourself open to low tragedy, the mingy, dirty little tragedy of making an ass of yourself over an ordinary poor little bloke. Female women love so abjectly that a reasonable hard-working mind becomes a responsibility. It's a cruelty that shouldn't have to be endured. I tell you I'd rather die than have to face it that he was neither better nor even more intelligent than I am!'

Her passionate sincerity demanded his consideration and he looked at her helplessly.

‘You're asking rather a lot of him, old girl, aren't you?'

‘Yes, I know.' Val rose to her feet. ‘That's what I'm
kicking at. I'm asking much too much of most men. I've so constructed myself that I've either got to ask too much or go maternal. Anyway, that's how it looks to me when I pull myself together and remember that I'm one of the most important business women in Europe, with a reputation to keep up and a staff to look after.'

She looked very slim and small standing on his hearthrug and it came to him with something of a shock that she was not overestimating herself.

‘Do you always see your – er – passion in this slightly inhuman light?'

‘No.' She glanced down at her exquisitely-cut shoes, which a Viennese manufacturer had materialized from her design. ‘No, my other viewpoint is ordinary and howlingly undignified. I wish she were dead.'

She met his eyes with sudden fire.

‘My God, I hate her,' she said.

Mr. Campion blinked. ‘I can't do her in,' he said.

‘Of course not. Don't be an ape.' She was laughing. ‘Don't take any notice of me. I am nervy, very nervy. I had no idea I could behave like this. It's come rather late – I ought to be twenty-two to feel like this and enjoy it – and it's frightening me for the time being. Look here, all I want you to do is to see that Ramillies goes quietly out of the country without any fuss on Sunday. Then Georgia will follow him in six weeks' time and meanwhile –'

She broke off so sharply that he was startled.

‘Meanwhile what?'

‘Meanwhile Alan will at least be safe physically.'

‘Whom from? Ramillies? My poor girl, you're cuckoo. Husbands don't go around pigsticking their rivals these days. They seize another woman and sit showing off with her at the other end of the drawing-room until the wife's boy-friend leaves out of sheer embarrassment.'

Val was not disarmed.

‘You're
vieux jeu
, my pet,' she said. ‘Like most men you're between three and five years out of date. Don't you notice a change in the fashion? Gaiogi's right. To-day anything can happen. People can wear
anything,
say
anything
, do
anything
. It's the motif of the moment; look at the waist-line. Besides, consider Ramillies. He's a man who might have
taken up a
blasé
attitude if he thought it would be in any way shocking. Nowadays it's not. It's dull, it's ordinary, it's provincial. D'you know, last week the most fashionable woman in London rushed in to tell me that her husband had thrashed her within an inch of her life and pitched her boy-friend through a first-story window into a holly hedge. She was scandalized but terribly excited.'

‘Dear me,' said Mr Campion mildly. ‘You matched up her black eye in your new
peau de pêche noire
, I hope? Oh well, you surprise me. The old man must catch up on his homework. Let me get this straight. You seriously think that Sir Raymond Ramillies is capable of making a physical assault on Alan Dell?'

‘I know he's capable of it,' said Val bluntly. ‘I'm telling you that I'm haunted by the idea that it's likely. Naturally I'm bothered because I can't tell if my worry is reasonable or just some silly physical reaction. I do have to explain things in detail to you. I thought you were so hot on understanding people.'

‘I've been cheating all these years. I'm really Alice in Wonderland,' said Mr Campion humbly. ‘Still, I'm picking up a crumb or two now in my fiddling little way. What am I expected to do? Stand by to plant my body between them to stop the bullet?'

‘Oh, darling, don't be a lout.' Val was at her sweedling best. ‘I don't know what I want. Can't you see that? Just be about. I'm frightened of Ramillies. I don't think he'd simply hit out like a Christian, but I think he might do something – something – well, elaborate. That's the impression he gives me. I'm uneasy with him. After all, there was Portland-Smith, you know.'

Mr Campion's eyelids drooped.

‘What about Portland-Smith?' he said. ‘He committed suicide.'

‘How do you know?'

‘I do. There's no doubt about it.'

Val shrugged her shoulders.

‘It was very convenient for Ramillies, wasn't it?' she said, sweeping away the facts with a carelessness that left him helpless. ‘There's been no end of chatter about it in the last few weeks.'

‘Then someone will get into trouble,' Campion insisted firmly. ‘That's pure slander.'

‘You can't have smoke without fire, my dear,' said Val, and he could have slapped her because she was both unreasonable and quite right. ‘Now I'm going,' she said. ‘Don't come down with me. I'm sorry I've behaved like a neurotic. You ought to fall in love yourself sometime and get the angle.'

He did not answer her immediately, but when he looked up his eyes were apologetic.

‘It wouldn't take me like that, you know,' he remarked seriously.

‘Evidently not.'

‘Why?'

‘Well, where is she?' Val's glance round the room was expressive and she went off, leaving him reflecting that the gentle, conservative dog with his taboos, his conscience and his ideals was a rather pathetic, defenceless animal beside his ruthless, hag-ridden sister, the cat.

Lugg's stomach appeared round the doorway.

‘Sex rearin' its ugly 'ead again, eh?' he remarked, coming into fuller view. ‘I didn't 'ear 'er speak because I kep' in the kitchen like a gent, but you can see it in 'er face, can't you? Funny, we seem to 'ave struck a patch of it lately. It's pitch, sex is. Once you touch it it clings to you. Why don't you sneak off and come on this cruise we're always talking about? Crime's vulgar enough, but sex crime is common. There's no other word for it. 'Oo's she in love with? 'Andle to 'is name?'

Mr Campion regarded him with disgust.

‘You turn my stomach,' he said. ‘I believe if you had a fortune you'd try to buy a title.'

‘No, I wouldn't.' Lugg appeared to be giving the suggestion more serious thought than it warranted. ‘Not a title. I wouldn't mind being a Councillor of a nice classy little burrow. That's about my mark. I'm sorry about your sis, but we can't 'elp 'er troubles. You look out. I don't like sex. Remember the set-out we 'ad down in the country. Which reminds me, I 'ad a note from my little mate the other day. Like to see it? She's at boarding school.'

He waddled over to the bureau and pulled open the bottom drawer.

‘'Ere you are,' he said with the nonchalance that ill disguises bursting pride. ‘Not bad for a kid, is it?'

Mr Campion took the inky square of expensive notepaper and glanced at the embossed address.

‘The Convent of the Holy Sepulchre, Lording, Dorset.'

‘
Dear Mr Lug
,' – the handwriting was enormous and abominable – ‘
I am at scool. Here we speak French. Some of the nuns like the tricks you showed me and some do not. I have written “I must not swindle” 50 times for S. Mary Therese but S. Mary Anna laffed. I am going to read the Gompleat works of William Shakespeare. Lots and lots of love from Sarah
.'

Mr Lugg put the note back among his better shirts, which he insisted on keeping in the bureau in defiance of all objections.

‘I could 'ave done a lot with that poor little bit if I'd 'ad the educatin' of 'er,' he remarked regretfully. ‘Still, she'd 'ave bin a nuisance, you know. Per'aps she's better off, reelly, with them nuns.'

‘Indeed, perhaps so,' said Mr Campion not without derision.

Lugg straightened his back and regarded his employer under fat white eyelids.

‘I found this 'ere in one of yer suits,' he said, feeling in his waistcoat pocket. ‘I've bin waitin' for an opportunity to give it to you. There you are, a little yeller button. It came off one of Mrs Sutane's dresses, I think. Correc' me if I'm wrong.'

Mr Campion took the button, turned it over and pitched it out of the open window into the street below. He said nothing and his face was an amiable blank.

Mr Lugg's complacent expression vanished and he pulled his collar off.

‘I'm more comfortable without it,' he remarked in the tone of one making pleasant conversation under difficulties. ‘Now the company's gone I can let out the compression. Blest came in while you was talkin' to your sis. I tell 'im you was busy. I give 'im the end of one of my old bottles and made 'im leave a message.'

‘Oh?' Mr Campion seemed mildly interested. ‘And how did the ex-inspector take that from the ex-Borstal prefect?'

‘Drunk up every drop like a starvin' kitty.' Mr Lugg's conversational powers increased with his anxiety. ‘It did me good to see 'im “'Ave another mite of the wages of virtue, mate,” I said, smellin' another 'arf empty, but he wouldn't stop. Said 'e'd phone you, and meanwhile you might like to know that 'e'd found a little church down in Putney with some very interesting records of a wedding three and a 'alf years ago. 'E wouldn't tell me 'oo the parties were; said you'd know and that it was all okay, he'd got the doings.'

‘Anything else?'

‘Yus. Wait a minute. 'Ullo, that's the bell. It would be.' Mr Lugg fumbled with his collar again. ‘It's comin' back to me,' he said breathlessly in the midst of his struggle. ‘He said, did you know there was someone else snouting around for the same information less than a week ago, and if it was news to you, did you think it funny?'

He lumbered out into the passage. Mr Campion's eyebrows rose.

BOOK: The Fashion In Shrouds
10.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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