Mark Easterbrook, a scholarly man of rather conservative views, once observes in one of the Chelsea bars the scene that struck him: two girls dressed sloppy and too warm, having quarreled because of the gentleman, clung to each other’s hair, so much so that one of them, red, parted with whole bunches. The girls are separated. To expressing sympathy, the red-haired Tomazin Tuckerton replies that she did not even feel pain. The owner of the bar after leaving Tommy tells her about Mark: a wealthy heiress settles in Chelsea, spends time with the same like her, loafers.
A week after this accidental meeting Mark sees in the “Taimo announcement of the death of Tomasina Tuckerton.
Behind the priest Father Gorman the boy resorted and called him to the dying Mrs. Davis. The woman, panting, tells her father Gorman of last-ditch strength of terrible villainy and asks to put an end to him. The stunned priest, not fully believing the horrible story, nevertheless enters a small cafe and, having ordered a cup of coffee, which he hardly touches, writes on the torn scrap of paper the names of the people named by the woman. Remembering that the housekeeper again did not sew a hole in his pocket, Father Gorman hides a note in his shoe, as he has done many times. Then he goes home. He is deafened by a heavy blow to the head. Father Gorman staggers and falls… The police, who discovered the corpse of the priest, are at a loss: who needed to kill him? Is that the case in a note hidden in a shoe. There are several names: Ormerod, Sandford, Parkinson, Hesket-Dubois, Shaw, Harmondsworth, Tuckerton, Corrigan, Delafontein… As a test, Police Inspector Lejeune and the intrigued Dr. Corrigan, a forensic surgeon, phone Lady Hesket-Dubois by phone, searching for her number in the directory. It turns out that she died five months ago.
One of the interviewees in the case of the murder of the father of Gorman’s witnesses, the pharmacist Mr. Osborne, claims to have seen the person following the priest and gives a clear description of his appearance: sloping shoulders, a large hooked nose, protruding Adam’s apple, long hair, high growth.
Mark Easterbrook with his friend Hermione Redcliffe, after watching “Macbeth” at the Old Vic Theater, go to dinner in a restaurant. There they meet a friend, David Ardingly, a history teacher at Oxford. He introduces them to his companion, Pam. The girl is pretty, with a fashionable hairstyle,
with huge blue eyes and, as Mark curses, “impassably stupid.” The conversation is about the play, about the good old days, when “you hire a murderer, and he removes who you need.” Suddenly, Pam enters into the conversation, noticing that even now one can get rid of a person if necessary. Then she is embarrassed, confused, and in Mark’s memory, only the name “White Horse” remains from what has been said.
Soon the “White Horse”, as the name of the tavern, in a context much less sinister, arises in Mark’s conversation with the familiar writer, the author of the detectives, Mrs. Oliver. Mark persuades her to take part in a charity event, which is organized by his cousin Rode.
Mark accidentally meets with Jim Corrigan, who once, about fifteen years ago, was friends at Oxford. It’s about the mysterious list found in Father Gorman. The deceased lady Hackett-Dubois was Marcia’s aunt, and he is ready to vouch that she was respectable, law-abiding and had no ties to the underworld.
Mark participates in the holiday organized by the city. “White horse” is located near the house of Rode in a suburb of London. This is not a tavern, it’s a former hotel. Now in this house, built in the sixteenth century, there are three women. One of them, Tirza Gray, a tall woman with short hair, is engaged in occult sciences, spiritualism and magic. Another – her friend Sybil Stamfordis – medium. Dresses in oriental style, hung with necklaces and scarabs. Their cook Bella is known in the district as a witch, and her inherited gift – her mother was considered a witch.
The road leads Mark, Mrs. Oliver and the red-haired girl, nicknamed Ginger, to visit his neighbor, Mr. Vinables, an extremely rich and interesting man. Once he was an inveterate traveler, but after suffering a few years ago, poliomyelitis can only move in a wheelchair. Mr. Vinablza is about fifty, he has a thin face with a large hooked nose and a friendly disposition. He gladly shows his beautiful collections to guests.
After that, the whole company goes to tea in the “White Horse” at the invitation of Tirza Gray. Tirza demonstrates to Mark his library, which contains books related to witchcraft and magic, among which rare medieval editions are found. Tirza asserts that now science has expanded the horizons of witchcraft. To kill a person, it is necessary to awaken in him a subconscious desire to die, then he, yielding to any self-induced disease, inevitably and soon dies.
From an accidental conversation with Mrs. Oliver, Mark learns of the death of her friend, Mary Delafontein, whose name he saw on the list found with Father Gorman.
Mark ponders what he heard from Tirza. It becomes clear to him that to the aid of the three witches living in the villa “White Horse”, people who want to get rid of their loved ones are successfully resorting. At the same time, the sanity of a man living in the twentieth century prevents him from believing in the operation of witchcraft. He decides to find out the mystery of mysterious deaths, to understand whether three witches from the White Horse really can kill a man, Mark asks for help from his friend Hermia, but she is absorbed in her scientific studies, Mark’s “medieval sorceresses” seem to her to be perfect nonsense. Then Mark resorts to the help of Ginger Red, a girl whom he met at a festival near Roda.
Ginger, whose real name is Catherine Corrigan, wants to help Mark. She advises him under some pretext to visit her stepmother Tomasina Tuckerton, now the owner of a huge inheritance. Mark does so, easily finding a pretext: the Tuckerton house, it turns out, was created by the unusual design of the famous architect Nash. When you mention the “White Horse” on the face of the widow Tuckerton appears obvious fear. Ginger at this time is looking for Pam, from which Mark first heard about the “White Horse”. She manages to make friends with Pam and find out from her the address of a man named Bradley, who lives in Birmingham. Those who need the help of the “White Horse”, turn to this person.
Mark visits Bradley, and it becomes clear to him how the murder is ordered. For example, a client who appeals to Bradley claims that his rich aunt or jealous wife will be alive and well for Christmas, and Mr. Bradley makes a bet with him that he does not. The winner receives the amount on which the bet was placed. Upon learning of this, Ginger decides to portray Mark’s wife, who allegedly does not give him a divorce, and he can not marry Hermie Redcliffe.
Having concluded the corresponding bet with Bradley, Marc Easterbrook with a heavy heart, worried that he endangered Ginger’s life, goes to the “White Horse” villa. He brings – as ordered – an item belonging to his “wife”, a suede glove, and is present during a session of magic.
Sybil is in a trance, Tirza puts the glove in some device and adjusts it to the compass, Bella sacrifices a white cockerel, whose blood smears the glove.
Under the terms of the contract, Mark had to leave London, and now he calls Ginger every day. On the first day, everything is in order, nothing suspicious, only an electrician came in to take a meter reading, some woman asked what kind of cosmetics and medicines Ginger prefers, and one more – for donations to the blind.
But the next day Ginger has a fever, sore throat, bones. The frightened Mark returns to London. Ginger is placed in a private clinic. Doctors find her pneumonia, but the treatment is slow and not very successful. Mark invites dinner to Pam. In conversation with her, a new name emerges – Eileen Brandon, who once worked in an office for the registration of consumer demand, somehow related to the “White Horse”.
Mrs. Oliver calls Mark and talks about how his aunt died. Her hair crawled out in tatters. And Mrs. Oliver, with her writing memories and detective inclinations, remembered that her recently deceased friend, Mary Delafontaine, also had hair. Here? before the eyes of Mark there is a fight in the bar, Tomazin Tuckerton, and he suddenly realizes what’s wrong. Once he happened to read an article about thallium poisoning. The people working at the plant died from a variety of diseases, but one symptom was common – everyone had hair falling out. Thanks to timely intervention, Mark Ginger begins to treat with thallium poisoning.
Mark and Inspector Lejeune meet Eileen Brandon. She talks about her work in a company that takes into account consumer demand. She walked around the people on the list and asked a number of questions about their consumer interests. But she was embarrassed that the questions were asked haphazardly, as if to divert her eyes. At one time she consulted with another employee, Mrs. Davis. But she did not dispel her suspicions, rather, on the contrary. “This whole office is just a signboard for a gang of bandits” – this was the view of Mrs. Davis. She told Eileen that she had once seen one person come out of the house, “where he had absolutely nothing to do”, carrying a bag with tools. It becomes clear that Mrs. Davis fell victim to a “gang of bandits,” and the disclosures that she shared with Father Gorman cost him his life.
A week or three later, in the villa of Mr. Vinablza, inspector Lejeune arrives with the sergeant, Mark Easterbrook and the apothecary Mr. Osborne. The inspector talks with the owner of the house and, apparently, suspects him of leading the organization of the murders. In addition, a sack of thallium was found in the shed in the garden at Vinablza. Lezhen utters lengthy accusations against Mr. Wynabls, returning to the evening when Father Gorman was killed. Osborne can not stand it and starts to say yes, screaming excitedly, as Mr. Vinabza saw. However, Lezhen refutes his allegations and accuses Osborn himself of killing the priest, adding: “We would sit quietly in our pharmacy, maybe everything would get out of hand.” Lejeune had long begun to suspect Osborne, and the whole visit to Mr. Wynabls was a well-thought-out trap. A package with thallium was thrown into the same shed by Osborne.
Mark finds Ginger in the villa “White Horse”, which lost its sinister inhabitants. Ginger is still pale and thin, and her hair has not grown properly, but her eyes shine with the old fervor. Mark hints about Ginger in love, but she requires an official offer – and gets it. Ginger asks if Mark really does not want to marry “his own Hermione”? Remembering, Mark pulls out of his pocket the letter he received a few days ago from Hermy, in which she calls him to go to the Old Vic Theater for Futile Efforts of Love. Ginger resolutely tears the letter.
“If you want to go to Old Vic, you’ll only go with me now,” she says in a tone that does not object.