Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L Sayers
published 1926 chapter 3
[Lord Peter Wimsey’s man Bunter is chatting up the maid as she cleans Lady Mary’s tweed skirt]
He gallantly intercepted Ellen's hand as it approached the skirt with a benzine-soaked sponge. “For instance, now, here's a stain on the hem of this skirt, just at the bottom of the side-seam. Now, supposing it was a case of murder, we'll say, and the person that had worn this skirt was suspected, I should examine that stain.” (Here Mr. Bunter whipped a lens out of his pocket.) “Then I might try it at one edge with a wet handkerchief.” (He suited the action to the word.) “And I should find, you see, that it came off red. Then I should turn the skirt inside-out, I should see that the stain went right through, and I should take my scissors” (Mr. Bunter produced a small, sharp pair) “and snip off a tiny bit of the inside edge of the seam, like this” (he did so) “and pop it into a little pill-box, so” (the pill-box appeared magically from an inner pocket), “and seal it up both sides with a wafer, and write on the top 'Lady Mary Wimsey's skirt,' and the date. Then I should send it straight off to the analytical gentleman in London, and he'd look through his microscope, and tell me right off that it was rabbit's blood, maybe, and how many days it had been there, and that would be the end of that,” finished Mr. Bunter triumphantly, replacing his nail-scissors and thoughtlessly pocketing the pill-box with its contents.
observations: Although the shooting party in the book takes place in October, the grouse-shooting season has just opened in the UK in real life. It is usually 12th August, but there is still one area in life where Sundays are sacred, so this year it is today, 13th August.
Lord Peter has quite the time in this book, as he tries to clear his brother, The Duke of Denver, of murder – is he going to have to accuse his sister, Lady Mary, of the crime instead? Her fiancé is the victim, though Ellen thinks she didn’t love him THAT much, she just wanted to get away from home. Lady Mary was wearing her tweed skirt for a day with the guns [= people, not just their weapons. Metonymy or synechdoche?] at the shooting lodge, and of course the blood must be related to that, mustn’t it? Surely?
But it is the Duke who will be tried: by a jury of his peers, so that means in the House of Lords. If he’d been found guilty and sentenced to hang, a silken rope would have been used, no doubt a great comfort. It is not an enormous spoiler to say that no such shame shall visit the Wimsey family, and that Lady Mary will find a new fiancé among the investigating policemen.
Links up with: More Sayers here and here. Mattie is a good shot in True Grit. A smart tweed suit makes for smart office wear in The Best of Everything.
Picture of silent movie star Dorothy Gish in her tweed coat and skirt is from the Bain Collection at the Library of Congress.