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Authors: Margery Allingham

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BOOK: The Fashion In Shrouds
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‘I didn't know it for certain until three or four weeks ago and by then I felt sure the boy was dead. Now that I know roughly when he died, I am wondering. Whatever we find out I don't want it made public. I see no point in that. The publicity would hardly hurt me or his memory, but I have daughters and they have children, so I see no reason why the tale should linger on. Let it die with Richard. But I want to know.'

Mr Campion did not look at ease. His thin, good-humoured face with the twisted mouth was grave and his eyes were thoughtful.

‘You put me in a very awkward position,' he said at last. ‘When I undertook this search for your son I simply felt I was making myself useful to an old friend of Belle Lafcadio's, and I've been more than glad to do it, but now I'm afraid I can't go any farther. This woman Georgia Wells is an important client of my sister's. To get hold of her I must abuse hospitality there. You see how it is.'

He paused apologetically, and the old man watched him, a faint smile playing round the corners of his mouth.

‘I'm hardly contemplating revenge,' he observed.

‘No. I did realize that.' Campion was hesitating and unhappy. ‘But this marriage alters the whole complexion of the business.'

‘I think so. It makes it very curious.'

Campion was silent, and after a while Sir Henry went on.

‘My boy,' he said, ‘I'm an old man who's seen a great deal, and I don't like mysteries. My son's death was a shock to my affections, of course, but it was also a shock of surprise. I simply want to know what the circumstances were that induced Richard, who was no neurotic, to take his life, and why that woman should never have told what she must have known. Don't make a mouthful of it, but if you should ever find out, remember I want to know.'

Campion raised his head.

‘I'll do what I can,' he said, ‘but don't rely on me.'

‘Very well,' said the old physician, and changed the subject abruptly.

For the rest of the meal they discussed the Abominable Snowmen and other sedate fripperies, but as Campion drove back to London a thought slipped quietly into his mind and sat there nagging at him.

Georgia Wells had not been sure of Portland-Smith's death until the day on which the discovery of his body had been reported in the newspapers: of that Campion was only fairly certain; but there was one point upon which he was prepared to stake his all, and that was that she had no idea that her ex-husband had committed suicide until Campion himself had told her.

Chapter Six

IT WAS A
little over six weeks later, one evening when the summer was at its height and London was sprawling, dirty and happily voluptuous, in the yellow evening sun, that Mr Campion, letting himself into the flat, was accosted by a hoarse voice from the bathroom.

‘Your sis rang up. She's coming round with a Frog of some sort.'

Not wishing to snub, but at the same time hoping to convey some disapproval at the lack of ceremony, Mr Campion passed on to the sitting-room without comment.

He had seated himself at the desk, found some cigarettes and pulled a sheet of notepaper towards him before there was a lumbering in the passage outside and a vast, melancholy figure in a black velvet coat surged breathily into the room.

Mr Lugg, Mr Campion's ‘male-person's gentleman', regarded his employer with reproachful little black eyes.

‘You 'eard,' he said, and added with charming confiding, ‘I was cleanin' meself up. You'd do well to put on a dressing-gown and a belt.'

‘A belt?' inquired Campion, taken off his guard.

‘Braces is low, except when worn with a white waistcoat for billiards.' Lugg made the pronouncement with justifiable pride. ‘I picked that up down at the club to-day. You'll 'ave to get a new robe, too. Mr Tukes's young feller has a different-coloured one for every day of the week. What d'you say to that idea?'

‘Slightly disgusting.'

Lugg considered, his eyes flickering.

‘I tell 'im it was pansy,' he admitted, ‘but I couldn't be sure. It was a shot in the dark. “Robe”, though; make a note of that. “Robe” 's the new name for dressing-gown. I'm learnin' a lot from Mr Tuke. He lent me 'is book, for one thing.'

Campion threw down his pen.

‘You're learning to read, are you?' he said pleasantly. ‘That's good. That'll keep us both quiet.'

Mr Lugg let down the flap of the cocktail cabinet with elaborate care before he deigned to reply.

‘Silence is like sleep,' he observed with unnatural solemnity. ‘It refreshes wisdom.'

‘Eh?' said Mr Campion.

A slow, smug smile passed over the great white face and Mr Lugg coughed.

‘That give you something to think about,' he said with satisfaction. ‘D'you know 'oo thought of it? Walter Plato.'

‘Really?' Mr Campion was gratified. ‘And who was he?'

‘A bloke.' The scholar did not seem anxious to pursue the matter further, but afterwards, unwilling to lessen any impression he might have made, he spurred himself to a further flight. ‘'Im what give 'is name to the term “platitude”.' He threw the piece of information over his shoulder with all the nonchalance of the finest academic tradition and peered round to see the effect.

He was rewarded. Mr Campion appeared to have been stricken dumb.

‘Is that in the book?' he inquired humbly after a pause.

‘I expec' so,' said Lugg, adding magnificently, ‘I read it somewhere. Mr Tuke's getting me interested in education. Education is the final stamp of good class, that's what 'e says.'

‘And a belt,' murmured Campion. ‘Don't forget that.'

The fat man heaved himself towards the desk.

‘Look 'ere,' he said belligerently, ‘I expected somethin' like this. Every step I've took in an upward direction you've done your best to nark. Now I'm on to somethin' useful. I'm goin' to educate myself, and then I'll never feel inferior, not with anybody, see?'

‘My dear chap – ' Mr Campion was touched. ‘You don't feel inferior with anybody now, surely, do you? Lay off, Lugg. This is a horrible line.'

The other man regarded him shrewdly. His little black eyes were winking, and there was a certain sheepishness in his expression which was out of character.

‘Not with you, of course, cock,' he conceded affectionately. ‘But I do with Mr Tuke. 'E thinks about it. Still, let 'im wait.'

‘Is it
all
in the book?' inquired Mr Campion, whom the idea seemed to fascinate.

‘A ruddy great lot of it is.' Mr Lugg wrestled with his pocket. ‘I'll be as hot as most when I get this on board.' He produced a small dictionary of quotations and laid it metaphorically at Mr Campion's feet. ‘I'm leavin' out the Yiddish,' he remarked as they turned over the pages together. ‘See that bit there? – and there's another over 'ere.'

Campion sighed.

‘It may be Yiddish to you, guv'nor,' he murmured, ‘but it's Greek to me. These two lads Milt and Shakes get an unfair look in, don't they?'

‘They're all all right.' Lugg was magnanimous. ‘But when I get good I'll do me own quotations. A quotation's only a short neat way of sayin' somethin' everybody knows, like “
It's crackers to slip a rozzer the dropsy in snide
”. That s the sort of thing. Only you want it to be about somethin' less 'omely . . . women and such.'

Mr Campion seemed rather taken with the idea of running a line in personal quotations on the system of ‘every man his own poet', and Lugg was gratified.

‘I don't often get you goin',' he observed with satisfaction. ‘Lucky I 'it on this; it might have been religion. There's a bloke at the club . . .'

‘No,' said Mr Campion, pulling himself together. ‘No, old boy. No, really. Not now.'

‘That's what I tell 'im.' Lugg was cheerful. ‘I'll come to it, I says, but not now. I'm sorry, mate, but I don't see yer as a brother yet. Which reminds me – what about your sis? She'll be 'ere any minute. What's she up to? She's in with a funny crowd, isn't she?'

‘Val? I don't think so.'

Lugg sniffed. ‘I do. Mr Tuke tell me in confidence that 'e 'eard someone pass a remark about seein' 'er at a luncheon party at The Tulip with a very funny lot . . . that bloke Ramillies, for one.'

Once more Mr Campion pushed his letter aside, faint distaste on his face.

‘Of course we don't want to go listenin' to servants' gossip,' continued Lugg happily, ‘but I like that girl and I wouldn't like to see 'er mixed up with a chap like Ramillies.'

He pronounced the name with such a wealth of disgust that his employer's interest was stirred in spite of himself.

‘I've met Sir Raymond Ramillies,' he said.

‘'Ave yer?' The black eyes expressed disapproval. ‘I ain't and I don't want to. A ruddy awful chap. 'Ide your wife in a ditch rather than let 'im set eyes on her. 'E's a proper blot. I tell you what, if you 'ad to set in public court and 'ear a beak talkin' to 'im after the sentence you'd 'ave to turn your 'ead away. You'd blush; that's a fact.'

‘That's slander,' said Campion mildly. ‘The man's never been in the dock in his life.'

‘And wot's that?' Lugg was virtuous. ‘As you very well know, there's a lot of people walkin' about to-day 'oo ought to be in the jug by rights. 'E 'appens to be one of them, that's all.'

Long experience had taught Mr Campion not to argue with his aide in this mood, but he felt bound to protest.

‘You mustn't drivel libel about people. You're like a woman.'

‘Ho!' The insult penetrated the skin and Mr Lugg's mountainous form quivered. ‘You've got no right to say a thing like that, cock,' he said earnestly. ‘I know what I'm sayin'. Sir Ramillies is mud, not so good as mud. He's done one man in, to my certain knowledge, and the army tales about 'im make my 'air curl, wherever it may be now. 'Ere's an instance. Take the time of the Irish trouble. There was a couple of fellers come over to England after 'im. They were lookin' for 'im, I admit that, but neither of 'em 'ad a gun. They lay for 'im up in Hampstead where 'e used to live. 'E spotted 'em and went for 'em quick as a flash. 'E caught one chap and killed 'im with 'is bare 'ands – broke 'is neck. The bloke was on the run, mind you, but Ramillies got 'im by the 'air and forced 'is chin up until 'e 'eard 'is neck go. 'E was only a little feller. It was 'ushed up when they found out the lads were reely after 'im and it was self-defence, and Ramillies was ruddy pleased with 'imself. Saw 'imself a Tarzan. I don't know what you think about it, but it don't sound quite nice to me; not at all the article. It's downright brutish, look at it how you like. Put me off the chap for life. It's not respectable to lose your temper like that. Makes you no better than an animal. It's dangerous, for one thing.'

The story was certainly not attractive, and it occurred to Mr Campion that it was unfortunate that, having met Ramillies, it did not strike him as being obviously untrue.

‘Do you know this for a fact?'

‘Of course I do.' Lugg was contemptuous. ‘I 'ad a drink with the other bloke. 'E
was
in a state – not frightened, you know, but shook. There's other tales about Ramillies not as pretty as that. I wouldn't soil yer ears with 'em. 'E's not the bloke for your sis to sit down to table with, not if she was in Salvation Army uniform, take it from me.'

Mr Campion said no more. He remained sitting at his desk with his head slightly on one side and an introspective expression in his eyes.

He was still there, drumming idly on the blotter with his long, thin fingers, when the doorbell buzzed and a subtle change came over Mr Lugg.

He straightened his back from his ministrations at the cocktail cabinet and padded over to the wall-mirror, where he settled his collar, arranging his chins upon its white pedestal with great care. Having thus set the stage, he pulled a silk handkerchief out of his side pocket and gave his glistening head a good rub with it, using it immediately afterwards to give a flick to the toe of each patent-leather pump. Then he pulled himself up to attention and, turning all in one piece with his plump hands flat against his sides, he tottered from the room.

A moment or so later he returned with an expressionless face and the words ‘This way, please. 'E'll see you and be 'appy to,' uttered in a voice so affected in tone and quality that the announcement was barely comprehensible.

Val came in hurriedly. She looked very charming in her black suit with the faintly military air about it, and with her came all that fragrance and flutter which has been the hallmark of the ‘lovely lady' since Madame de Maintenon discovered it. She was so vivacious and determinedly gay that Campion did not notice any change in her for some time.

Behind her came a stranger whose personality was instantly and engagingly apparent.

Georgy Laminoff, or Gaiogi, as his friends called him with the G's hard, was a delightful person. The art of being delightful was with him a life study, and, since he was no
fool and at heart a prince, he achieved an excellence in it. To look at, he was round and gracious, with a small white beard and bright circular eyes in sockets as arched and sombre as Norman gateways.

He took Mr Campion's hand with a murmur of apology which came from his soul. It was an intrusion, he insisted, an abominable and disgusting thing, but Val had assured him that it would be forgiven and he was happy to note from the very amiability of his host's expression that it was indeed miraculously so. He seated himself when bidden, conveying without saying so that the chair was incomparably comfortable and that he knew and appreciated the superb quality of the sherry which had been offered him.

BOOK: The Fashion In Shrouds
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