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“Is Florence looking after the house all right? I thought it was rather touching of her to say she would like to stay and be bombed with you. Mind you put her underneath when you’re lying down flat in an air-raid.”

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Oxford, it appeared, if it did not seem to have fitted her for any precise occupation, had at least unfitted her for a great many things.

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We might be living in the first chapter of one of my own detective stories, the kind of story I always felt to be so improbable. A woman lay dead upstairs waiting to be screwed down; in another bedroom a man was having hysterics; in the kitchen a grey parrot was imitating both their voices; and in the sitting-room crouched the pugs, glaring at us now with rage and terror in their popping eyes. Soon a car would drive up and Henry’s sisters would join us, and Mr Galvain the man of business; and I, the stranger, wearing black for a woman I had never known, sat waiting to meet them.

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She wondered how Lady Masters got her old parlour maid to carry the coffee right across the lawn. But, of course, Lady Masters got things simply by always having had them and by taking it for granted that she always would have them.

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At the end of the war, Mrs. Midge stayed on. While the war lasted Mrs. Custance had accepted her as part of the war-effort; it was only in the past year or two that Mrs. Midge had been transferred to the category which Mrs. Custance described as “people we could manage without.”

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A widow, at an age when birthdays are best forgotten, with no children to occupy her mind, can be very lonely. Julia Dunstan knew she was more fortunate than most widows, not merely because she was prosperous—as widows go—but because she had always taken an interest in other people.

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“I wonder what Mr. Heritage thought of his godson,” she said quickly.

“Rather clumsy, but quite good manners,” Edith remarked. “And a well-shaped skull.”

These were her own views, but she took it for granted that sensible people would agree with her.

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“My last secretary was thirty-five,” old M. said gloomily, “and no more sense than a child of ten. Or else she wasn’t all there. You all there?” he asked suddenly, giving Maud a searching look. “No banging your head on the table? No throwing the china at me? Hey?”

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“The best thing one can say about the Priory is that it would have made a splendid ruin,” she stated. “If only the Seamarks had left it alone . . .”

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“Everything that’s happening to us—yes, everything—is to be regarded as a lark. See? This is my last word. This. Is. Going. To. Be. A. Lark.”

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A tragic discovery was made at Bishop’s Hotel last evening when a maid, on entering the suite of Signora da Costa, a rich Argentine guest at the hotel, found her dead body on the bed wrapped in an eiderdown.

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Before she could touch him she saw it—the handle of a weapon sticking out between his shoulder-blades.

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“Give me my rights or I will let them kill you. Think what has happened already—”

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“What happens,” Bobby asked, “when a woman with an irresistible attraction for men, and the man with an irresistible attraction for women, meet? When glamour meets glamour . . . ?”

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At that moment the door opened and a deep, harsh, husky voice said:

“Discussing my murder, are you?”

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“There’s a spot of trouble this morning. Old gentleman found dead in his bath.”

Bobby answered: “there may be one chance in a million it’s natural death.”

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“Why should anyone want to pinch the dagger—except to do somebody in?”

No one answered this question.

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“It’s murder all right; no one could bash his own head in the way this chap’s was.”

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“The poor devil’s mouth was filled with feathers. An unconscious man with his mouth full of feathers wouldn’t have had much chance of surviving, and this one didn’t.”

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The stage was set, Bobby thought, the actors in position; but how the drama would develop, that he could not even guess.

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“You called him a ‘wrong ’un’. Why? Birds of a feather know each other? Is that the idea? Or do you really know something about him? Oh, and don’t lie.”

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Bobby studied the Rembrandt intently, with his own strange intensity of gaze that seemed as if by sheer strength of will it could force all secrets to reveal themselves.

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“You’re the murder man, aren’t you?” Mrs. James demanded.

“Well, that’s not exactly how I describe myself,” Bobby answered.

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In September 1967, the Beatles came to Tonypandy, South Wales, and spent six days with Tom Morris of 23 Upper Chemical Terrace …

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