Read Here Comes a Chopper Online

Authors: Gladys Mitchell

Here Comes a Chopper

Contents

Cover

About the Book

About the Author

Also by Gladys Mitchell

Dedication

Title Page

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Copyright

About the Book

A MRS BRADLEY MYSTERY

When a pair of ramblers, lost in the English countryside, stop at a country house to ask for directions, they are most astonished to be ushered in to dinner. It seems they’ve been invited as a necessity by the superstitious lady of the house, to avoid thirteen guests sitting down to dinner. But the thirteenth guest never arrives, and his headless body is discovered in a wood the next day.

Fortunately, numbered among the original dinner guests is a rather extraordinary psychoanalyst, and amateur detective, by the name of Mrs Bradley...

About the Author

Gladys Maude Winifred Mitchell – or ‘The Great Gladys’ as Philip Larkin called her – was born in 1901, in Cowley in Oxfordshire. She graduated in history from University College London and in 1921 began her long career as a teacher. She studied the works of Sigmund Freud and attributed her interest in witchcraft to the influence of her friend, the detective novelist Helen Simpson.

Her first novel,
Speedy Death
, was published in 1929 and introduced readers to Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley, the heroine of a further sixty-six crime novels. She wrote at least one novel a year throughout her career and was an early member of the Detection Club, alongside Agatha Christie, G. K. Chesterton and Dorothy Sayers. In 1961 she retired from teaching and, from her home in Dorset, continued to write, receiving the Crime Writers’ Association Silver Dagger in 1976. Gladys Mitchell died in 1983.

ALSO BY GLADYS MITCHELL

Speedy Death

The Mystery of a Butcher’s Shop

The Longer Bodies

The Saltmarsh Murders

Death at the Opera

The Devil at Saxon Wall

Dead Men’s Morris

Come Away, Death

St Peter’s Finger

Printer’s Error

Brazen Tongue

Hangman’s Curfew

When Last I Died

Laurels Are Poison

The Worsted Viper

Sunset Over Soho

My Father Sleeps

The Rising of the Moon

Death and the Maiden

Tom Brown’s Body

Groaning Spinney

The Devil’s Elbow

The Echoing Strangers

Merlin’s Furlong

Watson’s Choice

Faintley Speaking

Twelve Horses and the Hangman’s Noose

The Twenty-Third Man

Spotted Hemlock

The Man Who Grew Tomatoes

Say It With Flowers

The Nodding Canaries

My Bones Will Keep

Adders on the Heath

Death of a Delft Blue

Pageant of Murder

The Croaking Raven

Skeleton Island

Three Quick and Five Dead

Dance to Your Daddy

Gory Dew

Lament for Leto

A Hearse on May-Day

The Murder of Busy Lizzie

Winking at the Brim

A Javelin for Jonah

Convent on Styx

Late, Late in the Evening

Noonday and Night

Fault in the Structure

Wraiths and Changelings

Mingled With Venom

The Mudflats of the Dead

Nest of Vipers

Uncoffin’d Clay

The Whispering Knights

Lovers, Make Moan

The Death-Cap Dancers

The Death of a Burrowing Mole

Here Lies Gloria Mundy

Cold, Lone and Still

The Greenstone Griffins

The Crozier Pharaohs

No Winding-Sheet

To

DOROTHY ALLEN

‘As goddess Isis when she went

Or glided through the street,

Made all that touched her, with her scent,

And whom she touched, turn sweet.’

R
OBERT
H
ERRICK
,
A Song to the Maskers

GLADYS MITCHELL
Here Comes a
Chopper

‘Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
Here comes a chopper to chop off your head.’

Chapter One
‘And in the wood, where often you and I
Upon faint primrose beds were wont to lie,
Emptying our bosoms of their counsels sweet,
There my Lysander and myself shall meet,
And thence from Athens turn away our eyes
To seek new friends and stranger companies.’

W
ILLIAM
S
HAKESPEARE
,
A Midsummer Night’s Dream

ROGER SHAVED BEFORE
a mirror which was set, he always thought, in the darkest and most inconvenient corner of the bathroom, and then, in his bedroom, examined the result. It would do for old Bob, he decided. He explored his long lean jaw with a long, lean hand, finished dressing, disregarded his landlady’s summons to the early breakfast he had asked for, and checked his holiday luggage.

Mackintosh, spare shoes and socks, shaving tackle, hairbrush, toothbrush, comb, pyjamas, spare shirt, shorts, handkerchief, chocolate, tobacco, second
pipe, unopened box of fifty cigarettes, John Donne, the
Eagle and the Dove
, the
Hesperides
, the
Woman on the Beast
. He regarded his possessions with pride and added to them a couple of boxes of matches—he already had a lighter in his pocket—and a small compass.

He breakfasted—kippers, thick bread and butter, strong tea and two cigarettes—packed his modest but satisfactory kit in the rucksack in which it would be carried, added an Ordnance map and an extra sweater, called good-bye to his landlady and set out.

It occurred to him, before he had gone a hundred yards, that he had left his ashplant in the umbrella stand in the hall. He went back for it, and surprised his landlady, who was kneeling on the mat just inside the front door polishing out the marks left by his hiking shoes on her linoleum, by opening the front door almost on to her face. He apologized, seized the stick, glanced at his wristwatch, and began to run down the road.

The bus was on time, and he caught it. As it was an hourly service, be thought he might congratulate himself on this achievement. He was superstitious about it, however, for it was within his experience that if matters went too well at the beginning they were apt to fall short towards the end. All the same, he felt glad he had returned for the ashplant. It was a trusted friend, and he would have missed it on the kind of holiday which he and Bob had planned.

Roger enjoyed riding on buses. This one was a
single-decker. He contrived to get the back seat, and there was able to enjoy his first pipe of the day. The route lay along a country road, and he was almost sorry when it was time to get out. There were few people travelling his way, for it was the Thursday before Good Friday, and most people had not begun their Easter holiday. It was not, in any case, a very promising day, and he was glad he had brought the mackintosh, a neat roll at the top of the rucksack.

He paid his fare, leaned back, and, at the end of an hour, looked out for Bob as they approached the bus stop, but Bob was not to be seen. This was somewhat surprising, for Bob was always first, and Roger had grown to expect that this would continue. He hitched the rucksack on to his shoulders—he had taken it off to sit down—knocked out his pipe and refilled it, then set down the ferrule of his ashplant and rose to his feet to get out. Waiting at the bus stop was a girl. She barred his way.

‘Don’t get out if you’re Roger Hoskyn,’ she said. ‘Get in again. I’ve come about Bob.’ She spoke quietly and with pleasant friendliness, and, Roger retreating before her, she took a seat in the bus.
‘Are
you Roger Hoskyn?’ she continued. ‘I’m sorry, but Bob can’t come. He sprained his ankle when he fell over the cat last night. It was too late to let you know, so I promised I’d meet you and tell you.’

‘Oh?’ said Roger blankly, removing his pipe. He was sorry for Bob, but sorrier still for himself. The holiday plans were finished. So much was clear.

‘I’m so sorry,’ the girl said again. ‘He would have let you know, but we couldn’t get you on the ’phone.’

The bus changed its driver and conductor. This took some little time.

‘No, my digs are not on the ’phone, worse luck,’ said Roger. ‘Oh, Lord! What a mess it all is!’ He stared gloomily out of the window.

‘He said you’d be annoyed,’ said the girl. ‘But we couldn’t think of anything to do.’

It occurred to Roger that the girl—she could not be more than about nineteen, he thought—had put herself to considerable trouble to come and bring him the news. He felt much ashamed of his reactions.

‘Poor old Bob!’ he said, turning towards her and smiling. ‘After all, it’s worse for him than it is for me. I say, it was awfully good of you to come. Couldn’t we have lunch or something?’

The girl appeared to regard this offer doubtfully; so much so that Roger was piqued.

‘I shan’t eat
you
for lunch,’ he said.

‘It isn’t that,’ said the girl. ‘But I have to be rather careful where I go.’

‘Oh? On a diet or something?’

‘No. A dream.’

The conductor rang the bell. Roger said:

‘I beg your pardon?’ The bus was rather noisy and he did not think he could have heard her.

‘I expect it’s silly, and I don’t suppose you believe in such things,’ said the girl who, although Roger had been very slow to notice it, was most
becomingly dressed and was also delightfully pretty. ‘I had a dream last night about a plane crash. It was horrible, and it’s left me with the feeling that something awful will happen today.’

‘Well, it’s happened. Old Bob sprained his ankle.’

‘That was last night, and doesn’t count.’

‘It counts to me all right.’

‘Yes, I know. He’s most frightfully disappointed, and I expect you are, too. It’s too rotten!’

‘Well, I’m not feeling so bad as I thought I should,’ said Roger, beginning to deplore his flannel trousers and old tweed jacket, and the fact that his shaving had been very far from perfect. ‘Look here, why not sit on this side?’

They had been talking across the bus. He moved out, gave her the inside seat, slung his rucksack on to the place she had just vacated, and transferred various bulges in the shape of a tin of tobacco, a small electric torch and a stiff-covered notebook from the pockets next to the girl to the pockets next to the gangway, and settled down again.

‘There! That’s better,’ he said. He looked at the conductress to invite her to come for the fares. ‘Where shall we go from here? I was going to get out where I met you.’

‘I don’t mind a bit,’ said the girl.

‘If I was you,’ said the conductress, regarding them sentimentally, for she was married and liked to do her best for those who had not yet achieved the blessed state, ‘I should get orf at Rowberry Corner. There’s nice walks from there, so they
tell me.’ She clipped the tickets without awaiting instructions, and handed Roger his change. ‘From the
Cow and Horses
, wasn’t it? Two fives.’

She retired to the front of the bus and indulged in her own thoughts, which included the shrewd surmise that Roger would not be everybody’s choice, but that she supposed girls knew their own business best. ‘Bit of a weary willie,’ was her verdict, for, like other unobservant and ignorant persons, she was inclined, from the young man’s aesthetic air, untidy appearance, pallor and apparent thinness to underestimate his physique and his mental qualities. ‘One of them artists, most like.’

Roger, accustomed to a certain amount of homage from his circle, never dreamed of these disparaging opinions.

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