Today's Reading

PRELUDE

I

Saturday, 19 December, 1914

'Is he...?' Paul Seddon's gaze veered wildly between the screaming woman and the motionless figure sitting upright at the piano. The question did not need finishing, still less answering. The object sticking out of a bloody wound in the man's ear left little doubt. That object was both incongruous and apt. It was even peculiarly satisfying. Paul was conscious of thinking that he was not as shocked as he ought to have been, neither at the scene that confronted him, nor his own somewhat detached reaction to it.

It was all very unexpected. That was certainly true. But there was an air of unreality to it that left him strangely numb.

Perhaps he was in shock after all.

At last the screaming stopped. Lady Emma nodded energetically. 'Don't touch him. He's been murdered. Aidan has been murdered!'
'Murdered?' It was of course stupid of him to question this self-evident fact. If Sir Aidan was dead, as it seemed he was, the presence of a weapon (however incongruous, apt or satisfying) protruding from the side of his head led inevitably to the conclusion that he had been murdered. Unless he had driven it into his brain himself, which was unlikely.

Lady Emma nodded insistently. 'We ought to send for the police.'

'Of course. But are you absolutely sure he's dead?' He made as if to approach the piano.

'Oh, yes.' She spoke sharply. 'We must seal the room. No one must come in until the police have been. The police will know what to do.'

'Your hand.'

'What about it?'

'There's blood on it.' The same blood, he would hazard, that was pooled around the dead man's ear.

'Blood?' Lady Emma glanced in disgust at the hand with which she had been pointing at her husband. She slowly retracted the index finger. 'I felt for a pulse...on his neck. That must be how it got there.' She held the hand out as if it was not part of her but some dead animal she wanted rid of.

Paul noticed that the blood was not limited to the tip of her index finger, or even just that finger and the one next to it, as would be the case if she had been feeling for a pulse. It was all over her hand. In fact, it was all over both hands.

'Do you have a handkerchief?' She was calm, but her gaze was imploring and strangely commanding. Seddon did not hesitate to comply.

'I'll call the police. There must be a phone in the office. I think you should come outside. I'll get Metcalfe to guard the door.'

'Metcalfe?' She shook her head. 'There's no need to involve him. Or anyone. I shall watch the door.'

He had only said Metcalfe because he knew he was nearby. On reflection he was probably not the best choice. 'Are you sure?'

'Quite sure.' Her voice was decisive, her expression sealed off, unapproachable.

'We will have to...tell people,' he suggested tentatively. 'The police first. And then...tell Cavendish. He will know what to do.'

'Very well. Will you be all right for a moment?'

'All right?' Her face clouded as if she did not quite understand the question. 'Oh, yes,' she said. 'I shall be all right.' She distractedly handed back his handkerchief, which was now smeared with blood. Paul frowned uneasily as he wondered what to do with it.

Eventually, reluctantly, he pushed it down into his trouser pocket.
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