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Then he returned it to the envelope and put it in his pocket. The opera. What I was going to do. I told them the truth. And I did not kill her. Would you care to elaborate on the Rossi bit? One of those Italian family feuds. Mafia sort of stuff. A series of murders and the victim always a woman. She said she was in the direct line to be murdered. She really believed that. She even thought the Strix man might be one of them — the Rossis. Something about silence. Rupert stamped his feet and threw up his hands. Because she wanted me to pity her.

Seen her for what she was. It was awful. I was trapped. I hated her for singing my opera so beautifully. Can you understand that? It was a kind of insult. As if she deliberately showed how worthless it was. She was a vulgar woman, you know. That was why she degraded me. That was what I felt after the curtain fell — degraded — and it was then I knew I hated her. I suppose you could say I was sort of beside myself. Standing there. It was indecent exposure. I will write you a receipt for it.

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Horribly tired but — yes — better. Alleyn thought wearily that he supposed he ought to prevent this but said he would look at the score. They switched off the backstage lights and went to the front-of-house. Alleyn sat on the apron steps and turned through the score, forcing himself to look closely at each page. All those busy little black marks that had seemed so eloquent, he supposed, until the moment of truth came to Rupert and all the strangely unreal dialogue that librettists put in the mouths of their singers.

He came to the last page and found that, sure enough, the corner had been torn off. He looked at Rupert and found he was sound asleep in one of the VIP chairs. Alleyn gathered the score and separate parts together, put them beside Rupert and touched his shoulder. He woke with a start as if tweaked by a puppeteer. So Rupert went to the fireplace in the hall where the embers glowed. Papers bound solidly together are slow to burn.

The Alien Corn merely smouldered, blackened and curled. Rupert used an oversized pair of bellows and flames crawled round the edges. He threw on loose sheets from the individual parts and these burst at once into flame and flew up the chimney. There was a basket of kindling by the hearth. He began to heap it on the fire in haphazard industry as if to put his opera out of its misery.

Soon firelight and shadows leapt about the hall. The pregnant woman looked like a smirking candidate for martyrdom. At one moment the solitary dagger on the wall flashed red. At another the doors into the concert chamber appeared momentarily and once the stairs were caught by an erratic flare.

Ngaio Marsh

It was then that Alleyn caught sight of a figure on the landing. It stood with its hands on the balustrade and its head bent, looking down into the hall. Its appearance was as brief as a thought, a fraction of a fraction of a second. The flare expired and when it fitfully reappeared whoever it was up there had gone. It had, he felt sure, worn a dressing gown or overcoat but beyond that there had been no impression of an individual among the seven men, any one of whom might have been abroad in the night.

At its end The Alien Corn achieved dramatic value.

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The wind howled in the chimney, blazing logs fell apart and what was left of the score flew up and away. Without a word Rupert turned away and walked quickly upstairs.

Photo Finish

Alleyn put a fireguard across the hearth. When he turned away he noticed, on a table inside the front entrance, a heavy canvas bag with a padlock and chain: the mailbag. Evidently it should have gone off with the launch and in the confusion had been overlooked. Alleyn followed Rupert upstairs. The house was now very quiet. He fancied there were longer intervals between the buffets of the storm.

Inspector Roderick Alleyn - Death And The Dancing Footman

When he reached the landing he was surprised to find Rupert still there and staring at the sleeping Bert. For you. Go into that room! See her! Like that. And then Rupert realized what he had said. He broke into a jumble of whispered expostulations and denials. Maria had told him what it was like. Maria had described it. Maria had said Alleyn had sent her for the key. And at last Alleyn himself went to bed. Gladys Mitchell.

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