Whose Body? A Lord Peter Wimsey Novel
Inconsistent hyphenation and spelling in the original document have been preserved. Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.
On page 117, "Mrs. Thipps's forehead" should possibly be "Mr. Thipps's forehead."
DOROTHY L. SAYERS
A Lord Peter Wimsey Novel
HARPER & BROTHERS, PUBLISHERS
Copyright, 1923, by Dorothy Sayers
Printed in the United States of America
All rights in this book are reserved.
No part of the book may be used or reproducedin any manner whatsoever without written permissionexcept in the case of brief quotationsembodied in critical articles and reviews. Forinformation address Harper & Brothers49 East 33rd Street, New York 16, N. Y.
The Singular Adventure of the
Man with the Golden Pince-Nez
To M. J.
This book is your fault. If it had not been for yourbrutal insistence, Lord Peter would never have staggeredthrough to the end of this enquiry. Pray considerthat he thanks you with his accustomed suavity.
D. L. S.
“Oh, damn!” said Lord Peter Wimsey at PiccadillyCircus. “Hi, driver!”
The taxi man, irritated at receiving this appealwhile negotiating the intricacies of turning intoLower Regent Street across the route of a 19 ’bus, a38-B and a bicycle, bent an unwilling ear.
“I’ve left the catalogue behind,” said Lord Peterdeprecatingly. “Uncommonly careless of me. D’youmind puttin’ back to where we came from?”
“To the Savile Club, sir?”
“No—110 Piccadilly—just beyond—thank you.”
“Thought you was in a hurry,” said the man, overcomewith a sense of injury.
“I’m afraid it’s an awkward place to turn in,” saidLord Peter, answering the thought rather than thewords. His long, amiable face looked as if it had generatedspontaneously from his top hat, as white maggotsbreed from Gorgonzola.
The taxi, under the severe eye of a policeman, revolvedby slow jerks, with a noise like the grindingof teeth.
The block of new, perfect and expensive flats inwhich Lord Peter dwelt upon the second floor, stooddirectly opposite the Green Park, in a spot for manyyears occupied by the skeleton of a frustrate commercialenterprise. As Lord Peter let himself in he10heard his man’s voice in the library, uplifted in thatthrottled stridency peculiar to well-trained personsusing the telephone.
“I believe that’s his lordship just coming in again—ifyour Grace would kindly hold the line a moment.”
“What is it, Bunter?”
“Her Grace has just called up from Denver, mylord. I was just saying your lordship had gone to thesale when I heard your lordship’s latchkey.”
“Thanks,” said Lord Peter; “and you might findme my catalogue, would you? I think I must have leftit in my bedroom, or on the desk.”
He sat down to the telephone with an air of leisurelycourtesy, as though it were an acquaintancedropped in for a chat.
“Hullo, Mother—that you?”
“Oh, there you are, dear,” replied the voice of theDowager Duchess. “I was afraid I’d just missed you.”
“Well, you had, as a matter of fact. I’d just startedoff to Brocklebury’s sale to pick up a book or two,but I had to come back for the catalogue. What’sup?”
“Such a quaint thing,” said the Duchess. “I thoughtI’d tell you. You know little Mr. Thipps?”
“Thipps?” said Lord Peter. “Thipps? Oh, yes, thelittle architect man who’s doing the church roof. Yes.What about him?”
“Mrs. Throgmorton’s just been in, in quite a stateof mind.”
“Sorry, Mother, I can’t hear. Mrs. Who?”
“Throgmorton—Throgmorton—the vicar’s wife.”11
“Oh, Throgmorton, yes?”
“Mr. Thipps rang them up this morning. It washis day to come down, you know.”
“He rang them up to say he couldn’t. He was soupset, poor little man. He’d found a dead body in hisbath.”
“Sorry, Mother, I can’t hear; found what, where?”
“A dead body, dear, in his bath.”
“What?—no, no, we haven’t finished. Please don’tcut us off. Hullo! Hullo! Is that you, Mother? Hullo!—Mother!—Oh,yes—sorry, the girl was trying tocut us off. What sort of body?”
“A dead man, dear, with nothing on but a pair ofpince-nez. Mrs. Throgmorton positively blushed whenshe was telling me. I’m afraid people do get a littlenarrow-minded in country vicarages.”
“Well, it sounds a bit unusual. Was it anybody heknew?”
“No, dear, I don’t think so, but, of course, hecouldn’t give her many details. She said he soundedquite distracted. He’s such a respectable little man—andhaving the police in the house and so on, reallyworried him.”
“Poor little Thipps! Uncommonly awkward forhim. Let’s see, he lives in Battersea, doesn’t he?”
“Yes, dear; 59, Queen Caroline Mansions; oppositethe Park. That big block just round the corner fromthe Hospital. I thought perhaps you’d like to runround and see him and ask if there’s anything we cando. I always thought him a nice little man.”12
“Oh, quite,” said Lord Peter, grinning at the telephone.The Duchess was always of the greatest assistanceto his hobby of criminal investigation, thoughshe never alluded to it, and maintained a polite fictionof its non-existence.
“What time did it happen, Mother?”
“I think he found it early this morning, but, ofcourse, he didn’t think of telling the Throgmortonsjust at first. She came up to me just before lunch—sotiresome, I had to ask her to stay. Fortunately, Iwas alone. I don’t mind being bored myself, but I hatehaving my guests bored.”
“Poor old Mother! Well, thanks awfully for tellin’me. I think I’ll send Bunter to the sale and toddleround to Battersea now an’ try and console the poorlittle beast. So-long.”
“Yes, my lord.”
“Her Grace tells me that a respectable Batterseaarchitect has discovered a dead man in his bath.”
“Indeed, my lord? That’s very gratifying.”
“Very, Bunter. Your choice of words is unerring.I wish Eton and Balliol had done as much for me.Have you found the catalogue?”
“Here it is, my lord.”
“Thanks. I am going to Battersea at once. I wantyou to attend the sale for me. Don’t lose time—Idon’t want to miss the Folio Dante[A] nor the de13Voragine—here you are—see? ‘Golden Legend’—Wynkynde Worde, 1493—got that?—and, I say,make a special effort for the Caxton folio of the ‘FourSons of Aymon’—it’s the 1489 folio and unique.Look! I’ve marked the lots I want, and put my outsideoffer against each. Do your best for me. I shall beback to dinner.”
“Very good, my lord.”
“Take my cab and tell him to hurry. He may foryou; he doesn’t like me very much. Can I,” said LordPeter, looking at himself in the eighteenth-centurymirror over the mantelpiece, “can I have the heart tofluster the flustered Thipps further—that’s very difficultto say quickly—by appearing in a top-hat andfrock-coat? I think not. Ten to one he will overlookmy trousers and mistake me for the undertaker. Agrey suit, I fancy, neat but not gaudy, with a hat totone, suits my other self better. Exit the amateur offirst editions; new motive introduced by solo bassoon;enter Sherlock Holmes, disguised as a walking gentleman.There goes Bunter. Invaluable fellow—neveroffers to do his job when you’ve told him to do somethin’else. Hope he doesn’t miss the ‘Four Sons ofAymon.’ Still, there is another copy of that—in theVatican.[B] It might become available, you never know14—if the Church of Rome went to pot or Switzerlandinvaded Italy—whereas a strange corpse doesn’t turnup in a suburban bathroom more than once in a lifetime—atleast, I should think not—at any rate, thenumber of times it’s happened, with a pince-nez,might be counted on the fingers of one hand, I imagine.Dear me! it’s a dreadful mistake to ride twohobbies at once.”
He had drifted across the passage into his bedroom,and was changing with a rapidity one might not haveexpected from a man of his mannerisms. He selecteda dark-green tie to match his socks and tied it accuratelywithout hesitation or the slightest compressionof his lips; substituted a pair of brown shoes forhis black ones, slipped a monocle into a breast pocket,and took up a beautiful Malacca walking-stick witha heavy silver knob.
“That’s all, I think,” he murmured to himself.“Stay—I may as well have you—you may come inuseful—one never knows.” He added a flat silvermatchbox to his equipment, glanced at his watch, andseeing that it was already a quarter to three, ranbriskly downstairs, and, hailing a taxi, was carried toBattersea Park.
Mr. Alfred Thipps was a small, nervous man, whoseflaxen hair was beginning to abandon the unequalstruggle with destiny. One might say that his onlyreally marked feature was a large bruise over the lefteyebrow, which gave him a faintly dissipated air incongruouswith the rest of his appearance. Almost in15the same breath with his first greeting, he made aself-conscious apology for it, murmuring somethingabout having run against the dining-room door in thedark. He was touched almost to tears by Lord Peter’sthoughtfulness and condescension in calling.
“I’m sure it’s most kind of your lordship,” herepeated for the dozenth time, rapidly blinking hisweak little eyelids. “I appreciate it very deeply, verydeeply, indeed, and so would Mother, only she’s sodeaf, I don’t like to trouble you with making herunderstand. It’s been very hard all day,” he added,“with the policemen in the house and all this commotion.It’s what Mother and me have never been usedto, always living very retired, and it’s most distressingto a man of regular habits, my lord, and reely, I’malmost thankful Mother doesn’t understand, for I’msure it would worry her terribly if she was to knowabout it. She was upset at first, but she’s made upsome idea of her own about it now, and I’m sure it’sall for the best.”
The old lady who sat knitting by the fire noddedgrimly in response to a look from her son.
“I always said as you ought to complain about thatbath, Alfred,” she said suddenly, in the high, pipingvoice peculiar to the deaf, “and it’s to be ’oped thelandlord’ll see about it now; not but what I think youmight have managed without having the police in,but there! you always were one to make a fuss abouta little thing, from chicken-pox up.”
“There now,” said Mr. Thipps apologetically, “yousee how it is. Not but what it’s just as well she’s settled16on that, because she understands we’ve locked up thebathroom and don’t try to go in there. But it’s been aterrible shock to me, sir—my lord, I should say, butthere! my nerves are all to pieces. Such a thing hasnever ’appened—happened to me in all my born days.Such a state I was in this morning—I didn’t know ifI was on my head or my heels—I reely didn’t, and myheart not being too strong, I hardly knew how to getout of that horrid room and telephone for the police.It’s affected me, sir, it’s affected me, it reely has—Icouldn’t touch a bit of breakfast, nor lunch neither,and what with telephoning and putting off clients andinterviewing people all morning, I’ve hardly knownwhat to do with myself.”
“I’m sure it must have been uncommonly distressin’,”said Lord Peter, sympathetically, “especiallycomin’ like that before breakfast. Hate anything tiresomehappenin’ before breakfast. Takes a man at sucha confounded disadvantage, what?”
“That’s just it, that’s just it,” said Mr. Thipps,eagerly. “When I saw that dreadful thing lying therein my bath, mother-naked, too, except for a pair ofeyeglasses, I assure you, my lord, it regularly turnedmy stomach, if you’ll excuse the expression. I’m notvery strong, sir, and I get that sinking feeling sometimesin the morning, and what with one thing andanother I ’ad—had to send the girl for a stiff brandy,or I don’t know what mightn’t have happened. I feltso queer, though I’m anything but partial to spirits asa rule. Still, I make it a rule never to be withoutbrandy in the house, in case of emergency, you know?”17
“Very wise of you,” said Lord Peter, cheerfully.“You’re a very far-seein’ man, Mr. Thipps. Wonderfulwhat a little nip’ll do in case of need, and the lessyou’re used to it the more good it does you. Hopeyour girl is a sensible young woman, what? Nuisanceto have women faintin’ and shriekin’ all over theplace.”
“Oh, Gladys is a good girl,” said Mr. Thipps, “veryreasonable indeed. She was shocked, of course; that’svery understandable. I was