MURDER IN BLACK AND WHITE
by Evelyn Elder
THE ARTIST RETURNS FROM ABROAD
A cocktail party was in progress at Henry Evelyn’s studio. It should be made clear at once that there was nothing ordinary about it. The host, Henry Evelyn, for example, was in theory an architect and that evidently justified his possession of a studio; but he was an architect only for the reason which used to drive some younger men to Parliament, others to the Bar and others again to the Guards. In other words, it seemed proper to him to acquire a nominal profession; there is no record of any edifice built to his design except his own residence.
Then the studio. It was admirably proportioned, large and cool, and it boasted the conventional “north light”; but otherwise it differed very little from a large living-room, eminently suitable for the hospitality which a well-to-do bachelor may choose to offer to a varied acquaintance. It occupied the main part of the ground floor, the rest consisting of hall, stairs and kitchen; the two floors above it provided not only a sufficiency of bedrooms for Evelyn and his domestic staff (an efficient married couple), but also a smaller and more homely sitting-room.
It was noticeably modern, alike in its furniture, its lighting and its decoration, yet it was saved from the effect of restlessness which a surfeit of steel tubes is liable to produce by the view, afforded by the two tall French windows on its southern side, of a delightful paved garden. The garden, indeed, in its formal imitation of artificiality, and its blaze of colour liberated by Nature from the canons of angularity, was in striking contrast with the studio.
If the studio and its owner, whose elegant spick and span appearance in no way suggested either the painter or the working architect, were far from the conventional types, so too was the cocktail party. It was small; it was not one of those affairs where you stand back to back and shoulder to shoulder. It was not necessary for you to shout, and risk so complete an acquisition of the shouting habit as to become a startling figure at a staid dinner after the party. The guests all knew one another, and had no need to grope conversationally in search of one another’s interests or occupations. And finally, the cocktails were good—and well and truly iced.
The quiet conversation of the eight or ten people in the room, over which laughter rippled gently like a light breeze over a field of wheat, was momentarily interrupted by the entry of Siddons, the inferior half of the “married couple.” He approached his master (no other term could do justice to the dignity of his demeanour) and murmured discreetly.
“Mr. Horder!” the latter exclaimed. “Splendid. Of course I’ll speak to him. Sam Horder, just back,” he added by way of general explanation. “I’ll get him to come round at once.”
And he hurried to the hall, followed by Siddons.
“Where has the infant Samuel been?” asked one of the men. “I suppose you know, don’t you, Phoebe?”
Phoebe Carstairs shrugged her slim shoulders.
“I’m afraid Sam gave me up as a bad job—oh, months ago,” she answered, with an easy laugh. “He was never sure whether he wanted to marry me or employ me, free of charge, as a model. And I didn’t want either.”
“Poor Sam,” Vi Halliday observed. “I do really believe he could be an artist if he spent less time and energy in displaying the artistic temperament.”
“Don’t you believe it.” The speaker was a solid, sunburnt man in the early forties, whose dark bushy eyebrows and moustache seemed to suit his rather sardonic tone. “You can’t be an artist if you’ve money enough not to take your work seriously.”
“What about you, Richard? Or isn’t a writer an artist?”
“I? Good heavens. I depend on my pen for my livelihood. And the more I earn, the worse I write.”
“And the more you sell.”
“How very inconsistent you are,” said Tom Halliday.
“Certainly. What else is a cocktail party for?” the writer admitted idly.
“Now he’s started to be clever,” observed the first inquirer after Samuel Horder’s affairs. “When Richard Dawson starts to be clever, I always know it’s time for me to go.”
Henry Evelyn had re-entered the room and overheard the last remark.
“Don’t be misled,” he said. “George Appleton trades upon his egregious athleticism to make people believe he has no intellect.”
“I’m no more of a fraud than you are, Henry, pretending you’re the kind of architect who knows nothing about architecture when all the time—”
“Rot,” the writer interrupted. “Henry’s the complete—”
“Amateur,” Vi Halliday suggested.
“Flaneur.” This was contributed by Mrs. Beecham, and was accompanied by a smirk of superior knowledge. Her chief claim to distinction was the nickname of “Jam,” which in fact was misleading, for people as a rule were readier to swallow her husband than her.
“At all events we all agree he shows a tendency to err,” said Appleton, and was met by a chorus of expostulation.
“And what about Sam Horder?” Phoebe Carstairs brought the conversation back to its earlier topic.
“He’s just got back from Paris, by the 5.30 boat train, I suppose. Apparently yearns for human companionship. So he’s coming round here at once.”
“Oh, good,” said Mrs. Beecham, who liked to pretend that good-looking and eligible young men naturally enjoyed her society. She glanced a little maliciously at Phoebe Carstairs, who paid no attention whatever. Henry Evelyn coughed in mock embarrassment.
“I rather gathered that he did not yearn for the companionship of crowds: rather of the individual.”
“Don’t say it’s Phoebe still.” This from George Appleton.
“No, I don’t. If you really want to know—our Sam seems to have got into trouble—”
His guests groaned.
“Not necessarily that sort,” went on Evelyn. “In fact, I rather gathered it was something—well, more serious. And what he wants to do is to confide in a real man of the world—one who has knocked about a bit—”
“Capital description of an amateur architect,” Dawson commented, with a characteristic twitch of his bushy eyebrows.
“Oh, of course, if we’re not wanted—” Mrs. Halliday began in spurious indignation.
“Where’s Samuel been to, then?” Appleton asked.
“Place called—let’s see, St. Andre, I think.”
“You don’t mean the place where there’s a tennis-court?”
“How too utterly strange,” Mrs. Beecham said sarcastically. “I suppose that’s a very rare thing to find anywhere but at Wimbledon nowadays?”
“Tennis,” said Appleton wearily, “is not the same as lawn-tennis.”
“Real tennis, he means,” two or three voices broke out, with an undercurrent of anxiety; Mrs. Beecham failed to observe it, or the glances of reproof which were cast in her direction.
“Never heard of it,” she said, with self-satisfied composure.
“That’s torn it,” Henry Evelyn murmured, not too gently for Appleton to hear: as, of course, he was meant to. That determined games-player proceeded, undeterred by the general expostulation, to embark upon a lecture on the merits of the best of ball games.
“Don’t you believe him, Mrs. Beecham,” Tom Halliday said. “It’s a ghastly game. I watched George playing it once; in fact, I played in a four-handed game with him—”
“The single’s the real game, you know—”
“I dare say. All I can say is that I found it infernally hard to hit the ball, and when I did it was usually to be cursed by George for not letting it bounce and make chase better than twenty or something; and we were for ever changing sides with our opponents for no reason that I could discover; and finally when it was all over I hadn’t the foggiest idea who had won.”
“And the man who plays that game pretends he’s lacking in intellect,” was Dawson’s comment.
Appleton laughed good-humouredly.
“You must just take my word for it, Mrs. Beecham. It’s a game in a million—though I admit it’s not easy.”
“Is it necessary to go to St. André to play it?”
He laughed again.
“Oh, there are quite a lot of courts. But they vary a bit, and one is always interested in the ones one doesn’t know. The one at St. André is quite famous. And whatever young Horder may want in the way of company, I for one intend to stay and cross-examine him about it.”
“As I think I hear his taxi, you’ll all have to listen to the cross-examination,” Henry Evelyn observed, smiling, though a certain gravity was discernible beneath his good humour.
“Not that, please,” said Phoebe Carstairs. “Dearly as I love both George and Samuel, I can’t bear that. I’ll just kiss the prodigal in a motherly way, swallow another cocktail and move on to places where I’m more welcome.”
The door opened: Siddons gravely announced, “Mr. Horder.”
His welcome if affectedly boisterous was unaffectedly sincere.
“Sorry, Sam,” said Evelyn, when the noise subsided. “I gave ’em a broad hint you’d prefer my room to their company, but—well, you can see for yourself.”
“Couldn’t bear to miss you,” Phoebe Carstairs assured him with a languishing look. Sam Horder coloured and stammered and glanced away, and Miss Carstairs bestowed a broad wink on the rest of the company.
“Jilted!” she exclaimed, tragically.
Sam Horder was a presentable young man, slightly callow; some would have called him good-looking, others might say that he might become so. His ingenuous expression recalled that so frequently portrayed in advertisements—whether of raincoats, cigarettes or tennis racquets—but he could hardly claim to possess the same superhuman handsomeness. He was fair-haired and blue-eyed, but his cheeks were rather too chubby and his ambition to keep his head as sleek as a new pin was one which he could never achieve. His attire was hardly more of an artist’s than his host’s was an architect’s: still, he wore a rather voluminous tie as his ensign of artistry, and in his private opinion a distinctly dashing one. Under his arm, moreover, he carried a portfolio.
“Pretty pictures?” inquired Mrs. Beecham, displaying her usual flair for the obvious.
“Well—of course, one day—but—”
“Ah, the Quartier Latin still exists, does it?” Dawson suggested.
“Worse than that, I’m afraid,” said Phoebe Carstairs. “It’s—” and she whispered to Tom Halliday, who nodded solemnly.
“I’m afraid so. It is that sort of scrape,” he informed his wife.
“Oh, Samuel! Who is she?” Vi demanded. “You might have sent us a snapshot.”
“I say, do shut up,” Horder protested, his cheeks now a deep red.
“Give him a cocktail first,” Mrs. Beecham said; the others were clamouring for him to “tell them the worst.”
“Well, if you must know, I did meet a jolly nice girl—”
“This! To me!” Miss Carstairs moaned.
“Avec mes sabots,” said Dawson.
“How d’you mean?” Apple ton promptly asked the writer, assuming his air of bovine stupidity.
“Is she really French?” Tom Halliday asked. “Because if so you can’t have got very far. You should just hear his accent.”
“Man of deeds,” Dawson answered.
“As a matter of fact, she’s English,” Sam Horder said, rather annoyed by all this chaff. “And I’d met her before—or practically.”
“The suspense is awful. Who is she?”
“No one you’d know, Phoebe.”
“Oh, Sam! Don’t say she’s ‘that sort of a girl.’ What will your uncle say, the rural dean, I mean?”
“Why don’t rural deans wear gaiters? I think it’s a shame,” Mrs. Beecham put in, but no one took any notice of her—properly enough.
“Obviously a clergyman’s daughter,” Vi Halliday commented.
“She’s a very nice girl,” said Sam indignantly. “I only meant you people wouldn’t know her because she doesn’t go in for this sort of thing.”
Henry Evelyn decided that it was time to put an end to the party and the banter, good-tempered as it was. From what Horder had said to him on the telephone and from his manner now that he was in the studio, he was sure that the young man was really upset about something. He contrived to whisper as much to Vi Halliday; she nodded, then:
“Come on, Tom,” she said to her husband. “How dare you stand there and let Sam insult me? Take me away from this sink of iniquity. Come, Phoebe dear,” she added. “What a bore that you’re taller than I am. I feel that I ought to sweep out of the room, taking you under my wing.”
The others took their cue from her, and departed full of simulated wrath with Sam Horder.
“Traitor,” said Phoebe Carstairs.
“Viper,” said Richard Dawson.
“I say, do tell me about the tennis court at St. André,” said George Appleton, whereupon the rest seized him and urged him forcibly into the hall.
Horder and Evelyn stood at the front door and watched them climb into a variety of cars and depart.
“You will show me the pictures, won’t you, Sam?” was Mrs. Beecham’s parting word, accompanied by her most entrancing smile.
“Say ‘Yes’,” shouted her husband. “I’ll chaperon you.”
Evelyn led the way back to the studio, closed the door, poured out two more cocktails, sat down, waved Horder to a seat and lit a cigarette.
“Sorry, old man,” he said, with a sigh of relief. “They were quite peaceful till you telephoned. And I didn’t like to tell ’em you really were—upset.”
“That’s all right, Henry, of course.”
“Well, now, what is it?”
“A beastly business. Louis de Vigny is dead.”
Henry Evelyn cleared his throat.
“I confess I should feel more genuinely sorry if I’d ever heard of him before,” he observed.
“Sorry. I’m putting it all wrong,” said Horder. “Don’t you remember Margaret Daubeney?”
“Oh, of course. Yes; she married a de Vigny, didn’t she?”
“Yes, but not Louis: that’s her brother-in-law. Lawrence de Vigny is her husband; they own the Château St. André. You know, they’re a French family, but English to all intents and purposes.”
“All right. Go ahead.”
“I’d forgotten all about them myself when I went to St. André. It’s a quiet place, you know; ‘quaint medieval relic’ is the sort of thing the guidebooks say. They were very decent to me. And I met—”
“The new lady?” The architect’s tone was wholly friendly and understanding.
“Yes. Verity Brown. She’s—but never mind now. It was at a dance. Louis de Vigny was—murdered. Practically under my eyes. The police—well, they seemed to suspect either Margaret de Vigny or her sister Joan Daubeney. And Joan Daubeney is Verity’s greatest friend. I wish to God I could help. It was—beastly. So are the police.”
“Let’s hear the whole story. It would do you good to get it off your chest.”
“That’s what I felt. That’s why I rang you up. You didn’t mind?”
“Of course not, old man.” Henry Evelyn was some ten years the elder of the two, but he was bound closely to Horder by the memory of his sister, who had died nearly eleven years ago, just out of her teens: to this some people attributed the fact that Henry Evelyn was still a bachelor.
“You might just have a look at these sketches first,” the younger man said, proffering the portfolio. “They’re very rough, of course. But they may help you to understand the lie of the land. St. André is a queer old place—all heaped up like a fairy-tale castle. Wonderfully fascinating; you can easily believe that murders and tortures and battles happened there ages ago as well as Courts of Love and Troubadours—but to-day it’s just a place for romance. Not for murder.”
Henry Evelyn opened the portfolio.
Horder stayed to dinner, and his narrative was continued through it and afterwards. It was long afterwards, when they were settling themselves comfortably in arm-chairs that Henry Evelyn, rustling the leaves of the portfolio and turning back to the plan of the Château St. André, asked whether it was “pretty accurate.”
“Yes,” was the reply. “I made it myself, but from an official French map. It’s a Historical Monument, you know, and all that.”
“What d’you think?” Sam asked, anxiously.
“Give me time, old man,” said his friend. “As you say, it’s an unpleasant business—and a puzzling one. There’s this de Vigny fellow shot, with a rifle bullet, at the apex of this projecting angle of the wall—just where there is a kind of W on the plan. Oh, yes, a fire-step. So the angle of the wall gives us the limits from which the shot must have been fired. That is, either from the garden, or from the round tower—the Tour Panteleon, I see it’s marked.”
“Yes,” said Samuel, heavily.
“And you can yourself swear that only three people were in the tower, and no one in the garden but the dead man. No one could have got to the tower without passing you?”
“Well, the people in the tower, of course, can swear that there was no one else there—I mean, otherwise someone might have gone there before I was on guard, so to speak.”
“And Madame de Vigny and this big-game hunter were in the room at the top of the tower and Miss Daubeney was at the bottom of the stairs?”
“And none of the three had a rifle when they passed you on the way to the tower, and no rifle, or indeed any weapon at all, was discovered?”
“That’s the only reason why they weren’t all arrested, I think.”
Henry Evelyn resumed his study of the drawings.
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