Sunday, January 15, 2012

Clouds of Witness ch 3 cont

Lord Peter gazed down sadly. Muffled in an overcoat and a thick grey scarf, he looked, with his long, narrow face, like a melancholy adjutant stork.
Leptoptilos is a genus of very large tropical storks. Two species are resident breeders in southern Asia, and the Marabou Stork is found in sub-Saharan Africa.

These are huge birds, typically 110–150 cm tall with a 210–250 cm wingspan. The three species each have a black upper body and wings, and white belly and undertail. The head and neck are bare like those of a vulture. The huge bill is long and thick. Juveniles are a duller, browner version of the adult.

Leptoptilos storks are gregarious colonial breeders in wetlands, building large stick nests in trees. They feed on frogs, insects, young birds, lizards and rodents. They are frequent scavengers, and the naked head and neck are adaptations to this, as are those of the vultures with which they often feed. A feathered head would become rapidly clotted with blood and other substances when a scavenging bird's head was inside a large corpse, and the bare head is easier to keep clean.

Most storks fly with neck outstretched, but the three Leptoptilos storks retract their necks in flight like a heron.

The writhing body of the fallen man had scraped up the dead leaves and left a depression in the sodden ground. At one place the darker earth showed where a great pool of blood had soaked into it, and the yellow leaves of a Spanish poplar were rusted with no autumnal stain.

Populus alba, commonly called abele, silver poplar, silverleaf poplar, or white poplar, is a species of poplar, most closely related to the aspens (Populus sect. Populus). It is native from Spain and Morocco through central Europe (north to Germany and Poland) to central Asia. It grows in moist sites, often by watersides, in regions with hot summers and cold to mild winters.

It is a medium-sized deciduous tree, growing to heights of up to 16-27 m (rarely more), with a trunk up to 2 m diameter and a broad rounded crown. The bark is smooth and greenish-white to greyish-white with characteristic diamond-shaped dark marks on young trees, becoming blackish and fissured at the base of old trees. The young shoots are covered with whitish-grey down, including the small buds. The leaves are 4-15 cm long, five-lobed, with a thick covering of white scurfy down on both sides but thicker underneath; this layer wears off the upper side but not the lower, which stays white until autumn leaf fall. Larger, deeply lobed leaves are produced on fast-growing young trees, and smaller, less deeply lobed leaves on older, slow-growing trees. The flowers are catkins up to 8 cm long, produced in early spring; they are dioecious, with male and female catkins on separate trees; the male catkins are grey with conspicuous dark red stamens, the female catkins are greyish-green. The female catkins lengthen to 8–10 cm after pollination, with several green seed capsules, maturing in late spring to early summer. It also propagates by means of root suckers growing from the lateral roots, often as far as 20-30 m from the trunk, to form extensive clonal colonies.

White Poplar hybridises with the closely related Common Aspen Populus tremula; the resulting hybrid, known as Grey Poplar (Populus × canescens), is intermediate between its parents, with a thin grey downy coating on the leaves, which are also much less deeply lobed than White Poplar leaves. It is a very vigorous tree with marked hybrid vigour, reaching 40 m tall and over 1.5 m trunk diameter (much larger than either of its parents). Most Grey Poplars in cultivation are male, but female trees occur naturally and some of these are also propagated
“That's where they found the handkerchief and revolver,” said Parker. “I looked for finger-marks, but the rain and mud had messed everything up.”

Wimsey took out his lens, lay down, and conducted a personal tour of the whole space slowly on his stomach, Parker moving mutely after him.

“He paced up and down for some time,” said Lord Peter. “He wasn't smoking. He was turning something over in his mind, or waiting for somebody. What's this? Aha! Here's our No. 10 foot again, coming in through the trees on the farther side. No signs of a struggle. That's odd! Cathcart was shot close up, wasn't he?”

“Yes; it singed his shirt-front.”

“Quite so. Why did he stand still to be shot at?”

“I imagine,” said Parker, “that if he had an appointment with No. 10 Boots it was somebody he knew, who could get close to him without arousing suspicion.”

“Then the interview was a friendly one—on Cathcart's side, anyhow. But the revolver's a difficulty. How did No. 10 get hold of Gerald's revolver?”

“The conservatory door was open,” said Parker dubiously.

“Nobody knew about that except Gerald and Fleming,” retorted Lord Peter. “Besides, do you mean to tell me that No. 10 walked in here, went to the study, fetched the revolver, walked back here, and shot Cathcart? It seems a clumsy method. If he wanted to do any shooting, why didn't he come armed in the first place?”

“It seems more probable that Cathcart brought the revolver,” said Parker.

“Then why no signs of a struggle?”

“Perhaps Cathcart shot himself,” said Parker.

“Then why should No. 10 drag him into a conspicuous position and then run away?”

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