Chapter 1 A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED
Between 7:30 and 8:30 every morning except Sundays, Johnnie Butt made the round of the village of Chipping Cleghorn on his bicycle, whistling vociferously through his teeth, and alighting at each house or cottage to shove through the letter-box such morning papers as had been ordered by the occupants of the house in question from Mr. Totman, stationer, of the High Street. Thus, at Colonel and Mrs. Easterbrook’s he delivered The Times and the Daily Graphic; at Mrs. Swettenham’s he left The Times and the Daily Worker; at Miss Hinchliffe and Miss Murgatroyd’s he left the Daily Telegraph and the News Chronicle; at Miss Blacklog’s he left the Telegraph, The Times and the Daily Mail.
At all these houses, and indeed at practically every house in Chipping Cleghorn, he delivered every Friday a copy of the North Benham News and Chipping Cleghorn Gazette, known locally simply as “the Gazette.”
Thus, on Friday mornings, after a hurried glance at the headlines in the daily paper (International situation critical! U. N. O. meets today! Bloodhounds seek blonde typist’s killer! Three collieries idle. Twenty-three die of food poisoning in Seaside Hotel, etc. most of the inhabitants of Chipping Cleghorn eagerly opened the Gazette and plunged into the local news. After a cursory glance at Correspondence (in which the passionate hates and feuds of rural life found full play) nine out of ten subscribers then turned to the personal column. Here were grouped together higgledy piggledy articles, for Sale or Wanted, frenzied appeals for Domestic Help, innumerable insertions regarding dogs, announcements concerning poultry and garden equipment; and various other items of an interesting nature to those living in the small community of Chipping Cleghorn.
This particular Friday – October 29th – was no exception to the rule…
Mrs. Swettenham, pushing back the
pretty little grey curls from her forehead, opened The Times, looked with a lack lustre eye at the left hand centre page, decided that, as usual, if there was any exciting news The Times had succeeded in camouflaging it in an impeccable manner; took a look at the Births, Marriages and Deaths, particularly the latter; then, her duty done, she put aside The Times and eagerly seized the Chipping Cleghorn Gazette.
When her son Edmund entered the room a moment later, she was already deep in the Personal Column.
“Good morning, dear,” said Mrs. Swettenham. “The Smedleys are selling their Daimler. 1935 – that’s rather a long time ago, isn’t it?”
Her son grunted, poured himself out a cup of coffee, helped himself to a couple of kippers, sat down at the table and opened the Daily Worker which he propped up against the toast rack.
“Bull mastiff puppies,” read out Mrs. Swettenham. “I really don’t know how people manage to feed big dogs nowadays – I really don’t… H’m, Selina Lawrence is advertising for a cook again. I could tell her it’s just a waste of time advertising in these days. She hasn’t put her address, only a box number – that’s quite fatal – I could have told her so – servants simply insist on knowing where they are going. They like a good address… False teeth – I can’t think why false teeth are so popular. Best prices paid… Beautiful bulbs. Our special selection. They sound rather cheap… Here’s a girl wants an ‘Interesting post – Would travel.’ I dare say! Who wouldn’t?… Dachshunds…