They waited in an embarrassed silence until Harold returned, Lucy becoming involved in a game of her own invention; a hopscotch-inspired game of stepping on every plank in the hall. White studied the antique weapons on the wall.
"Are all these real?"
"Of course." DeVille frowned. "Why? Did you think they were pictures?"
White searched his face, certain he was being made fun of but the man looked to be innocent of subterfuge. "No, I meant are they genuine antique weapons, rather than modern reproductions."
"Oh." Jasfoup studied the array of swords, axes, maces and polearms. "Yes. I can't see a single one that hasn't been used to end the life of an enemy. Of course, your definition of an enemy may vary from one year to the next. Sometimes it's a Frenchman, sometimes a Turk or an Arab and sometimes a Yorkshireman." He patted a saber. "Less impressive are the weapons of Thomas Aquaville, seventh Lord of Laverstone, who amassed a small fortune with rapier and pistol."
"Why? Was he a professional duellist?"
"No, a highwayman. He was hanged in what is now Market Square, on the spot St. Marples was built on. Is it any wonder the building is a harbinger of ill luck when its on the site of a gibbet?"
"I suppose not."
"You should bring back capital punishment. Think of all the money you'd save on prisons. It costs seven hundred pounds a week just to keep a tea-leaf in prison. High security prisoners – those who would have been executed prior to nineteen sixty-five – cost up to triple that. One executed murderer could save over half a million over the length of a prison sentence. There's be no need for cuts in public transport, libraries and student grants if you were saving that much, and there are six and a half thousand people in Britain serving life sentences for murder."
"Capital punishment rarely works as a deterrent." White ran his hand over a what appeared to be a headsman's axe. There are very few people convicted of premeditated murder. Most people kill through acts of passion or stupidity. Should we hang everyone convicted of driving while intoxicated or just the ones who have accidents? Drug barons will almost always avoid conviction thanks to their networks of alibis and witness intimidation. We'd end up with only "sane" murderers being executed. Ruth Ellis might hang because she was sane but Beverley Allitt, who murdered 4 small children, would get a reprieve because she was deemed to have Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy." He shook his head. "I wouldn't like to be a copper in that situation."