Authors: Margery Allingham
About the Book
Celebrated amateur detective Albert Campion awakes in hospital accused of attacking a police officer and suffering from acute amnesia. All he can remember is that he was on a mission of vital importance to His Majesty’s government before his accident. On the run from the police and unable to recognise even his faithful servant Lugg or his own fiancée, Campion struggles desperately to put the pieces together while the very fate of England is at stake.
About the Author
Margery Allingham was born in London in 1904. She attended the Perse School in Cambridge before returning to London to the Regent Street Polytechnic. Her father – author H. J. Allingham – encouraged her to write, and was delighted when she contributed to her aunt’s cinematic magazine,
The Picture Show
, at the age of eight.
Her first novel was published when she was seventeen. In 1928 she published her first detective story,
The White Cottage Mystery
, which had been serialised in the
. The following year, in
The Crime at Black Dudley
, she introduced the character who was to become the hallmark of her writing – Albert Campion. Her novels heralded the more sophisticated suspense genre: characterised by her intuitive intelligence, extraordinary energy and accurate observation, they vary from the grave to the openly satirical, whilst never losing sight of the basic rules of the classic detective tale. Famous for her London thrillers, such as
Hide My Eyes
The Tiger in the Smoke
, she has been compared to Dickens in her evocation of the city’s shady underworld.
In 1927 she married the artist, journalist and editor Philip Youngman Carter. They divided their time between their Bloomsbury flat and an old house in the village of Tolleshunt D’Arcy in Essex. Margery Allingham died in 1966.
ALSO BY MARGERY ALLINGHAM
The Crime at Black Dudley
Look to the Lady
Police at the Funeral
Death of a Ghost
Dancers in Mourning
Flowers for the Judge
The Case of the Late Pig
Mr Campion and Others
The Fashion in Shrouds
The Casebook of Mr Campion
More Work for the Undertaker
The Tiger in the Smoke
The Beckoning Lady
Hide My Eyes
The China Governess
The Mind Readers
A Cargo of Eagles
This book is for
THE MUTTERING WAS
indistinct. It crept down the dark ward, forcing itself upon the man who lay in the patch of light at the far end of the vast room.
It was a pleasant muttering. It made a reassuring undercurrent below the worry, that terrifying anxiety which was thrusting icy fingers deep into his diaphragm.
He tried to concentrate on the muttering. Mercifully it was recognizable. There were two distinct voices and when he could catch them the words meant something. That was good. That was hopeful.
In a little while the words might start connecting and then, please God, he would learn something and this appalling fear would recede.
From where he lay he could just see a wedge of polished floor, a section of a neat empty bed, and a tall shrouded window, fading into complete darkness at the top where the shaded light over his own head was too faint to reach it. All these were entirely unfamiliar. He was not even sure that he was in a hospital. That was part of the whole situation. He knew what a hospital was; that was comforting. They were large grey buildings, made grimly gay by enormous posters announcing scarifying debts. The recollection of those placards cheered him up. He could still read; he was sure of that. Sometimes one couldn’t. Sometimes on these occasions one could only recognize spoken words. That was an odd piece of information to remember now. His mind was clear enough as far as it went … as far as it went.
He concentrated on the muttering. It was a long way away. They must be just outside the farther door up there in the darkness. The woman was a nurse, of course. The discovery delighted him foolishly. He was getting on. At any moment now other obvious things must occur to him.
He had no idea who the man was, but his rumble was human and friendly. He settled himself to listen.
‘I shan’t question him myself, you know.’ He heard the man’s words with mild interest.
‘I daresay not.’ She sounded acid. ‘It’s very serious indeed. I wonder they left him alone with us here. It’s not very nice.’
‘There’s no need to worry about that, Miss.’ The rumble was aggrieved. ‘I’d like a quid for every one I’ve handled. He’ll be quiet enough, you’ll see. Probably he won’t even remember what’s happened – or he’ll say he doesn’t until he’s seen a lawyer. They’re like that nowadays, up to anything.’
The man in bed lay very still. The muttering had ceased to be so comforting. He forgot to be glad that it was coherent. He listened avidly.
‘They’ll hang him, I suppose?’ said the nurse.
‘Bound to, Miss.’ The man was both apologetic and definite. ‘It was one of us, you see, so there’s no way of getting out of it. Once a man slugs an officer of police he’s for it. It’s a necessary precaution for the safety of the public,’ he added, not without satisfaction. ‘This chap had all that money on him, too. That’ll take a bit of explaining on its own.’
‘All I can say it’s very unpleasant.’ The nurse crackled a little after she had spoken and the man in bed thought she was coming in. He close his eyes and lay rigid. There were no footsteps, and presently she spoke again.
‘It seems very strange here without any patients,’ she said and laughed a little unnaturally, as if she recognized the ghostliness of the great empty wards. ‘We’re only a skeleton staff left behind to deal with emergencies like this. We’re the one hospital in the town cleared for action in case of anything. All our regulars have been evacuated. I don’t know how they’re all getting on in the country, I’m sure.’
‘My missus and the kids are in the country,’ said the policeman unexpectedly. ‘It keeps me short and she’s lonely….’ His voice died away into a murmur of confidence and
the other end of the ward the man in bed opened his eyes again.
Slugging a policeman. He knew what that meant, whatever condition his mind was in. That was pretty serious. It was so serious that it made him sweat.
He had had nightmares like that and he’d known policemen. Now he came to consider the matter it seemed to him that he had known policemen very well and had liked them.
What on earth had happened to him? The bobby outside had just said that he might not remember anything about it. Well, he didn’t. He didn’t remember anything about anything. That was the anxiety, or part of it. He did not remember anything at all. There was only that secret worry, that gnawing, fidgeting, terrifying anxiety, beyond any consideration of his personal safety; that awful half-recollected responsibility about fifteen. Fifteen. He had no idea what the figure signified. That part had gone completely. But it was both urgent and vital: he did know that. It towered over the rest of his difficulties, a great dim spirit of disaster.
Now, to add to everything else, he was going to be hanged for slugging a policeman. He might have slugged him too; that was the devil of it. Anyhow, there was that fool bobby talking to a nurse about it as if it were a foregone conclusion. They expected him to call in a solicitor, did they? A fine chance he had of helping any solicitor to make a case, he who didn’t even know his own name!
Moved by indignation and the odd singleness of purpose symptomatic of his condition, he got out of bed.
He moved very quickly and naturally, still partly wrapped in the shrouding comfort of semi-consciousness, and therefore made no noise at all.
He chose the nearest door, since even he recognized the prudence of avoiding the mutterers, and his bare feet were silent on the tiles of the passage. It was a wide corridor, clean and yet ill lit because the bulbs were shaded heavily and cast separate circles of light on the gleaming floor.
It was in one of these circles that he saw the hairpin. He stooped to pick it up mechanically and the wave of dull pain
swept over him as he bent down frightened him. This was a fine kettle of fish. What was going to happen now? He was going to pass out, he supposed, and be dragged back and hanged for slugging a policeman. God Almighty, what a position!
The tiles, striking cold on his bare soles, pulled him together a little, and he became aware for the first time that he was undressed and the coarse hospital pyjamas were his only covering.
He glanced at the row of shining doors on his left. At any moment one of these might open and Authority emerge. It would be a dreadful supercilious Authority, too, properly clothed and antipathetic.
It was a real nightmare. This idea seemed feasible and he seized on it gratefully. The conviction relieved him of a great deal of worry. For one thing, it did not matter so much that his brain was so unreliable.
All the same, even in dreams certain problems are urgent and it was obvious that some sort of clothes were imperative if he were to have a dog’s chance with the lurking Authority behind those shining doors.
He glanced round him anxiously. The walls were as bare as an empty plate save for the fire-buckets, and the alcove beneath that crimson row escaped him until he was upon it, and then the glimpse of the red-rimmed glass case within jerked him to a standstill. He stood before the cupboard transfixed. There was the usual paraphernalia inside. A black oilskin coat hung at the back and the toes of a pair of thigh-boots showed just beneath it, while the hose was draped round the ensemble in neat heraldic festoons.
The man in pyjamas ignored the invitation printed on the enamelled plate requiring him to break the glass. Instead he concentrated on the keyhole in the smooth red wood. When he lifted his hand to touch it he rediscovered the hairpin and a warmth of satisfaction spread over him. So it was one of those merciful dreams in which things came out all right – that was, if it worked.