THE INSPIRATION OF MR. BUDD. Dorothy L. Sayers.
The Evening Messenger has
decided to offer the above reward to any person who shall give (1) information
leading to the arrest of the man, William Strickland, who is wanted by the
police in connection with the murder of the late Emma Strickland at 59, Acacia
DESCRIPTION OF THE WANTED MAN
The following is the official description of William Strickland: Age 43;
height 6 ft
1 or 2 (2); complexion rather dark; hair silver-grey and abundant, may dye same
(3); full grey moustache and beard, may now be clean-shaven; eyes light grey;
left upper eye-tooth stopped with gold; left thumb-nail deformed by a recent
Speaks in rather loud voice; quick, decisive manner.
Disappeared 5th inst. (4), and may have left, or will try to
leave, the country.
Mr. Budd read the description through carefully once again and sighed.
It was most unlikely that William Strickland should choose his small and
unsuccessful saloon (5), out of all the barbers’ shops in London, for a haircut or a shave, still less for «dyeing
same»; even if he was in London,
which Mr. Budd saw no reason to suppose.
Nevertheless, Mr. Budd committed the description, as well as he could,
to memory. It was a chance – and Mr. Budd’s eye was always fascinated by
headlines with money in them.
He put the newspaper down, and as he did so, caught sight of his own
reflection in the glass and smiled, for he was not without a sense of humour.
He did not look quite the man to catch a brutal murderer singlehanded. He was well
on in the middle forties (6) – with a small paunch and pale hair, five feet
six at most, and soft-handed, as a hairdresser must be.
Even razor in hand, he would hardly be a match for William Strickland,
height six feet one or two, who had so fiercely beaten his old aunt to death.
Shaking his head doubtfully, Mr. Budd advanced to the door, and nearly ran into
a large customer who dived in rather suddenly.
«I beg your pardon, sir», murmured Mr. Budd, fearful of losing
ninepence (7); «just stepping out for a breath of fresh air, sir Shave,
The large man tore off his overcoat without waiting for Mr. Budd’s
«Are you prepared to die?», he demanded abruptly.
The question fitted in so alarmingly with Mr. Budd’s thoughts about
murder that for a moment it quite threw him off his professional balance.
«I beg your pardon, sir», he stammered, and in the same moment decided
that the man must be a preacher of some kind. He looked rather like it, with
his odd, light eyes, his bush of fiery red hair and short chin-beard.
«Do you do dyeing?», said the man impatiently.
«Oh!», said Mr. Budd, relieved, «yes, sir, certainly, sir».
A stroke of luck, this: dyeing meant quite a big sum.
«Fact is», said the man, «my young lady doesn’t like red hair. She says
it attracts attention. Dark brown, now – that’s the colour she has a fancy for.
And I’m afraid the beard will have to go. My young lady doesn’t like beards».
«Will you have the moustache off as well, sir?».
«Well, no – no, I think I’ll stick to that as long as I’m allowed to,
what?». He laughed loudly, and Mr. Budd approvingly noted well-kept teeth and a
gold stopping. The customer was obviously ready to spend money on his personal appearance.
In fancy, Mr. Budd saw this well-off and gentlemanly customer advising
all his friends to visit «his man». It was most important that there should be
no failure. Hair-dyes were awkward things – there had been a case (8) in
the paper lately.
«I see you have been using a tint before, sir», said Mr. Budd with respect.
«Could you tell me...?».
«Eh?», said the man. «Oh, yes – well, fact is, as I said, my fiancée’s
(9) a good bit younger than I am. As I expect you can see I began to go grey
early – my father was just the same – all our family – so I had it touched up –
grey bits restored, you see. But she doesn’t like the colour, so I thought, if
I have to dye it at all, why not a colour she does fancy while we’re about it, what?».
Lightly talking about the feminine mind, Mr. Budd gave his customer’s
hair the examination of trained eye and fingers. Never – never in the process
of nature could hair of that kind have been red. It was naturally black hair,
prematurely grey. However, that was none of his business. He received the information
he really needed – the name of the dye formerly used, and noted that he would
have to be careful. Some dyes do not mix kindly with other dyes.
Chatting pleasantly, Mr. Budd worked on, and as he used the roaring
drier, talked of the Manchester
«The police seem to have given it up as a bad job», said the man.
«Perhaps the reward will liven things up a bit», said Mr. Budd, the
thought being naturally uppermost in his mind.
«Oh, there’s a reward, is there? I hadn’t seen that».
«It’s in to-night’s paper, sir. Maybe you’d like to have a look at it».
The stranger read the paragraph carefully and Mr. Budd, watching him in
the glass, saw him suddenly draw back his left hand, which was resting
carelessly on the arm of the chair, and push it under the white apron.
But not before Mr. Budd had seen it. Not before he had taken conscious
note of the horny, deformed thumb-nail. Many people had such an ugly mark, Mr.
Budd told himself hurriedly, but the man glanced up, and the eyes of his
reflection became fixed on Mr. Budd’s face in a serious examination.
«Well», said Mr. Budd, «the man is safe out of the country by now, I
reckon. They’ve put it off too late».
The man laughed.
«I reckon they have», he said. Mr. Budd wondered whether many men with
smashed left thumbs showed a gold upper left eye-tooth. Probably there were
hundreds of people like that going about the country. Likewise with silver-grey
hair («may dye same») and aged about forty-three. Undoubtedly.
There came back to him (10) the exact number and extent of
the brutal wounds inflicted upon the Manchester
victim – an elderly lady, rather stout, she had been. Glancing through the
door, Mr. Budd noticed that the streets were full of people. How easy it would
«Be as quick as you can, won’t you?», said the man, a little impatiently,
but pleasantly enough. «It’s getting late. I’m afraid it will keep you overtime».
«Not at all, sir», said Mr. Budd. «It doesn’t matter at all».
No – if he tried to rush out of the door, his terrible customer would
jump upon him, drag him back, and then with one frightful blow like the one he
had given his aunt...
Yet surely Mr. Budd was in a position of advantage. A decided man would
do it. He would be out in the street before the customer could get out of the
chair. Mr. Budd began to move round towards the door.
«What’s the matter?», said the customer. «Just stepping out to look at
the time, sir», said Mr. Budd softly and stopped. He retreated to the back of
the shop, collecting his materials. If only he had been quicker – more like a
detective in a book – he would have observed that thumbnail, that tooth, put
two and two together (11), and run out to give the alarm while the man’s
beard was wet and soapy and his face buried in the towel. Or he could put
lather in his eyes – nobody could possibly commit a murder or even run away
down the street with his eyes full of soap.
But after all, Mr. Budd didn’t have to arrest the man himself.
«Information leading to arrest» – those were the words. He would be able
to tell them the wanted man had been there, that he would now have dark brown
hair and moustache and no beard.
It was at this moment that the great Inspiration (12) came to Mr.
As he fetched a bottle from the glass-fronted case he remembered an
old-fashioned wooden paper-knife that had belonged to his mother. Hand-painted,
it bore the inscription «Knowledge is Power» (13).
Mr. Budd now felt a strange freedom and confidence; he removed the
razors with an easy, natural movement, and made light conversation as he
skilfully applied the dark-brown tint.
The streets were less crowded when Mr. Budd let his customer out. He
watched the tall figure cross Grosvenor
Place (14) and climb on to a 24 bus.
He closed the shop door, and in his turn made his way, by means of a 24,
to the top of Whitehall
Mr. Budd was interviewed by an important-looking inspector in uniform,
who listened very politely to his story and made him repeat very carefully
about the gold tooth and the thumbnail and the hair which had been black before
it was grey or red and was now dark-brown.
«But there’s one thing more», said Mr. Budd – «and I’m sure to goodness»,
he added, «I hope, sir, it is the right man because if it isn’t it’ll be the
ruin of me...».
Nervously he crushed his soft hat into a ball as he leant across the
table, breathlessly uttering the story of his great professional betrayal.
The Miranda docked at Ostend (16) at 7 a.m. A man burst hurriedly
into the cabin where the wireless operator was just taking off his headphones.
«Here!», he cried; «this is to go. There’s something up and the Old
Man’s (17) sent over for the police. The Consul’s coming on board. A message
to the English police:
«Man on board answering to description. Ticket booked name of Watson.
Has locked himself in cabin and refuses to come out. Insists on having
hairdresser sent out to him. Have communicated Ostend police. Await instructions».
The Old Man with authoritative gestures cleared a way through the
excited little knot of people gathered about First Class Cabin No. 36, for
several passengers had heard of «something up». Sternly he bade the stewards
and the boy to stand away from the door. Terribly he commanded them to hold
their tongues. Four or five sailors stood watchfully at his side. In the sudden
silence, the passenger in No. 36 could be heard pacing up and down the narrow
cabin, moving things, clattering, splashing water.
Presently came steps overhead. Six pairs of Belgian police boots came
tip-toeing down the stairs. The Old Man glanced at the official paper held out
to him and nodded.
The Old Man knocked at the door of No. 36.
«Who is it?», cried a harsh, sharp voice.
«The barber is here, sir, that you sent for».
«Ah!». There was relief in the tone. «Send him in alone, if you please.
I – I have had an
At the sound of the bolt being carefully withdrawn, the Old Man stepped
forward. The door opened a chink, and was slammed to again, but the Old Man’s
boot was firmly pushed into the opening. The policemen hurried forward. The
passenger was brought out.
«Strike me pink! (18)», screamed the boy, «strike me pink if he ain’t
(19) gone green in the night!».
Not for nothing had Mr. Budd studied the complicated reactions of
chemical dyes. In the pride of his knowledge he had set a mark on his man, to
mark him out from all the billions of this overpopulated world. Was there a
port in all the world where a murderer might slip away, with every hair on him
green as a parrot – green moustache, green eye-brows, and that thick, springing
mass of hair, vivid, flaring midsummer green?
Mr. Budd got his £ 500. The Evening
Messenger published the full story of his great betrayal. He trembled,
fearing this dangerous fame. Surely no one would ever come to him again.
On the next morning an enormous blue limousine rolled up to his door. A
lady, magnificent in furs and diamonds, swept into the saloon.
«You are Mr. Budd, aren’t you?»,
she cried. «The great Mr. Budd? Isn’t
it too wonderful? And now, dear Mr. Budd, you must do me a favour. You must dye my hair green, at once. Now. I want to be able to say I’m the very first to be done by you.
I’m the Duchess of Winchester, and that awful Melcaster woman (20) is
chasing me down the street – the cat (21)!».
If you want it done, I can give the number of Mr. Budd’s parlours in Bond
Street (22). But I understand it is a terribly expensive process.
Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957), an English writer,
best known for her successful detective stories; the hero in most of her
writings is the aristocratic amateur detective Lord Peter Wimsey.
1. who shall give: this form
is mostly used in legal or official language, the normal form being «who gives»,
even with a future meaning.
2. 6 ft
1 or 2: six feet (one foot equals 12 inches or 30.48 cm) one or two
inches (one inch equals 2.48 cm).
3. same: here his hair. In official or old-fashioned commercial use it
stands for something already mentioned.
4. inst.: this month. This is
the short form of «instant», used only in official or business letters.
5. saloon: an old-fashioned
name for a barber’s shop. Modern hairdressers’ shops, especially for women, are
6. well on in the middle forties: between forty-six and forty-eight
7. fearful of losing ninepence: afraid that the customer may go away
without a haircut or a shave, ninepence being the price of a man’s haircut at
the time when the story was written.
8. case: a story in the newspaper of a hairdye that went wrong. «Case»
also means «lawsuit» and an angry customer might well have «brought a case»
against a barber in these circumstances claiming damages.
9. fiancée (Fr.): a woman to
whom one is engaged to be married.
10. There came back to him: he remembered.
11. put two and two together: reach an obvious conclusion by
considering several facts together.
12. Inspiration (coll): a
sudden brilliant idea; here it is capitalized to stress its significance to Mr. Budd.
13. Knowledge is Power: the
words are believed to have been first used by Francis Bacon (1561-1626), an
English philosopher, in his chief work the Novum
14. Grosvenor Place: a street in London near Victoria Station.
the street in London
which is near Scotland Yard, where the police headquarters stood when this
story was written. In 1967 the police headquarters were moved to new offices in
on the Thames Embankment, and the famous C. I. D. (Criminal Investigation
Department) is there.
a seaport in Belgium; a
passenger route between Britain
and the continent of Europe.
17. Old Man: a familiar name
given to the captain of a ship, aircraft, etc., by his crew.
18. Strike me pink! (coll): an expression of surprise.
19. ain’t (ungram): here hasn’t.
20. that awful Melcaster woman:
a slighting way of speaking of a person. The Duchess of Melcaster was evidently
a rival of the Duchess of Winchester.
21. cat (fig): a spiteful woman.
22. Bond Street: a street in the fashionable West
End of London.
1. What notice did the Evening
2. Why did Mr. Budd memorize the description of the man wanted by the
3. Why did Mr. Budd think he would hardly be a match for William
4. What did Mr. Budd suppose when his customer said, «Are you prepared
5. What did the customer really mean?
6. What made Mr. Budd suspect his customer?
7. What confirmed his suspicions?
8. What was Mr. Budd’s first impulse?
9. What was Mr. Budd’s great inspiration?
10. How was the murderer captured?
11. How was Mr. Budd rewarded for his ingenious idea?
12. Why did the Duchess of Winchester want to have her hair dyed green?
(b) Read through the
story once again and see if you can find facts to prove that:
1. Mr. Budd believed it next to impossible that he should ever meet the
criminal face to face.
2. Mr. Budd was no match for William Strickland.
3. Mr. Budd gradually realized that his customer was the man wanted by
4. William Strickland did not know that he was identified by Mr. Budd.
5. For Mr. Budd knowledge really and truly proved to be power.
(c) Talking points:
1. A character-sketch of Mr. Budd.
2. Give a story of how things might have developed had Mr. Budd rushed
out into the street for help.
3. Tell the story of Mr. Budd’s great professional betrayal as he might
have told it to the police inspector.
4. Try to explain how it sometimes happens that the most impossible of
things may become the current fashion.
5. Show how the writer keeps surprises in store for