Authors: Margaret Yorke
Tags: #Cast For Death
The two visitors had not explained their presence, but she seemed to need no reason. She was accustomed, Patrick realised, to men coming to see her just because they wanted to. With rather more self-consciousness this time, he and Humphrey flung themselves into their roles again. Adrian wanted to go on to the battle scene, but Tessa reprieved them by calling from the kitchen that tea was ready.
Adrian did not know whether he approved of Patrick; his familiarity with the text was awesome, and he read – or rather, spoke – it well, but the unaffectedness of his manner might be deceptive; he could be secretly mocking. Sulking somewhat, he said he would go upstairs.
‘What—no tea?’ Patrick asked.
‘Come on, Adrian. There’s apricot jam,’ called Tessa. ‘You’d better have something – you missed lunch.’
‘Oh, if you insist.’
With scant grace, Adrian followed the others into the kitchen where among the cups and saucers on the table was a fresh, crusty loaf, half a pound of butter on a blue plate, and a new pot of jam.
Humphrey’s eyes brightened.
‘What a splendid sight,’ he said, rubbing his hands. ‘Patrick, you haven’t introduced me.’
He beamed at Tessa, and she smiled back.
‘Humphrey Wilberforce,’ he said, bowing from the waist.
‘Hullo, Humphrey. Have a seat,’ said Tessa, waving at the stools which stood around the large table.
Patrick warmed to her; what a nice, natural girl. Then he glanced at Humphrey and saw his own feelings reflected in his colleague’s thin, rather careworn face. Humphrey, a shy man in women’s company, was smiling and relaxed, watching Tessa pour tea into blue cups. Adrian was told to cut the bread. Soon all were eating thick, crookedly-cut slices, rather greedily spread; they were soft and doughy, and utterly delicious. Patrick, between mouthfuls, held forth at some length about the tensions there must be for an understudy who, however much he might hope to be called on, would feel fright on the night.
‘Adrian’s just longing for the chance, aren’t you?’ said Tessa. ‘You’ll get some real parts at the end of the season, I’m sure.’
‘You’re good as the boy. It’s an important part,’ said Patrick.
Adrian unbent at this praise, and told them about the importance of movement, getting up to demonstrate.
‘Are you both Shakespearian scholars?’ he asked them.
‘I’m a historian,’ said Humphrey. ‘I know the scene from a different aspect.’
Tessa looked at him with interest.
‘You do like the theatre, though?’ she asked. ‘Shakespeare, at least?’
‘Oh, certainly,’ said Humphrey. ‘I often come up here.’
The three of them talked about productions they had all seen. Adrian felt left out, and grew bored. He left the room, and the others pulled their stools closer to the table. Tessa poured out more tea, and Patrick cut them each another slice of bread.
‘Adrian’s edgy,’ said Tessa, like the mother of a difficult adolescent. ‘It’s hard, when you’re beginning. You have to get quite tough if you’re to succeed.’
‘What about the others? You’ve two more lodgers, haven’t you?’ Patrick asked.
‘Yes. Two men. They’re a pair,’ said Tessa.
‘He’s lonely, I suppose,’ said Humphrey, nodding towards the door through which Adrian had departed. ‘Hasn’t he got any friends?’
‘It’s early in the season. He’ll make some,’ Tessa said. ‘Actually, one of the others I’ve got here was his friend at first. We’ve got a triangle.’
‘Oh, how inconvenient,’ Patrick said.
‘This landlady business is going to be more difficult than you expected, then.’
‘Yes. But I’ll get the hang of it. I don’t take any notice of their moods.’
‘It’s easier for you, if they’re like that,’ said Humphrey, looking at her thoughtfully. ‘Interested in each other, and not pursuing you.’
‘Depends how you look at it,’ said Tessa, laughing. ‘I like them all, in their different ways.’
She certainly seemed happy enough, despite the problems of her household.
Patrick was wondering how to work round to the subject of the paintings when Humphrey did it for him.
‘Patrick told me you had some rather bad paintings which you sold. Have you any more like that? I’ve got a friend who’s interested in dark moorland scenes.’
As he told Patrick later, it was perfectly true, for Patrick was interested.
‘No. I got rid of them all. They were terrible,’ she said, and appealed to Patrick, ‘weren’t they?’
‘Pretty awful,’ he agreed. ‘You were lucky anyone took them.’
‘Yes. If that man from Stratford hadn’t called I’d probably have shoved them all back in the press.’
‘That big old press upstairs – we looked at it when you came before, don’t you remember?’
‘In the press?’ Patrick frowned. ‘Back in it?’
‘Yes. The removal men must have put them in it out of the way. I took them out as I’d decided to use it for linen – sheets and things. I’ve masses. Tina had enough to stock a hotel. I was going to put them down in the cellar – the paintings, I mean. But it’s rather damp – the river, you know.’
‘Where did they hang in your aunt’s house?’ asked Patrick.
‘I don’t remember seeing them there,’ said Tessa. Then she saw what he was getting at. ‘You mean maybe they weren’t Tina’s? Maybe they were here already?’ She began to laugh. ‘I shouldn’t think they were Joss Ruxton’s style, either. Maybe they’re passed down from owner to owner, like the press. In that case I was jolly lucky to get rid of them so handsomely.’ She was completely unperturbed. ‘By the way, I found some photographs you might be interested in – they rather confirm Tina’s involvement with the theatre. I’ll get them.’
She left the room, and they heard her open a drawer in the bureau in the sitting-room. She came back with a faded Kodak folder and drew from it several snapshots. They showed a man and a woman in a narrow street with high buildings in the background.
‘It’s Venice,’ said Humphrey at once.
And the actor with Tina wasn’t Sam Irwin: it was Joss Ruxton.
‘What were you doing in Tessa’s bedroom?’ demanded Humphrey when they drove away.
‘Ha!’ Patrick was delighted at the inference. ‘All perfectly innocent, I assure you. She’d just moved in, and I carried a heavy suitcase upstairs for her. There was this enormous old cupboard in one of the bedrooms.’
‘I don’t know whose it was,’ said Patrick. ‘I just had a look round – you know how curious I am.’
‘I do,’ said Humphrey, far from satisfied.
‘She is rather a nice girl,’ Patrick said.
‘Yes. Nothing special to you, is she?’ Humphrey asked, not that it made any difference.
‘No, not at all. Not my type,’ said Patrick promptly.
But what was his type? That was one of his problems.
‘It’s so difficult,’ Humphrey sighed. ‘One meets these alarming brilliant girls – all so young—’ He did not finish. He was referring to their female pupils. ‘How old would you say she is? Tessa, I mean?’
‘Oh – twenty-six – maybe more. A capable girl.’ Patrick thought of the homely tea.
‘And not stupid. Yet not too clever,’ Humphrey said. Then he lost heart. ‘Still, that happens – you meet a girl like that just once. Never again.’
‘I’ve met her several times,’ said Patrick. ‘Three, in fact.’
‘But I lack your panache in these matters,’ said Humphrey. ‘I don’t know how to proceed.’
‘You mean you want to see her again?’ Patrick, negotiating a narrow lane, could not spare an eye to glance at his companion. ‘Do so, then. Drop in, as we’ve just done. Or ask her out.’
‘But it might be a mistake. I might find I was wrong about her,’ said Humphrey, who in the past had often failed to put things to the test.
‘Well, no harm done. At least you’d have discovered.’
‘She might expect—I don’t know.’ Humphrey fidgeted with the buckle on his seat-belt.
‘You could take her out to dinner. She’d expect no more than a good free meal,’ said Patrick stoutly.
‘She might refuse to come.’
‘She might. If so, you could go and see her and try again, said Patrick.
‘She never asked why we’d come today.’
‘No. I expect she’s quite used to people wanting to see her.’
They drove on in silence for a while, and then Patrick spoke again.
‘Jane’s quite right, you know,’ he said. ‘My sister. She say’s we’re too sheltered – too much protected from life’s buffetings. We retreat into the safety of our towers.’ And there, battened down, they fed their egos with scholastic triumphs and finicky feuds with their colleagues.
‘Women and so forth interfere with one’s work,’ said Humphrey austerely. ‘And one hasn’t a pushful nature. One wouldn’t have chosen a scholar’s life if one was aggressive.’
‘Perhaps one wouldn’t.’
At what point had he decided on a scholar’s life, himself, Patrick wondered. It was really because he had the opportunity, and nothing more attractive beckoned.
‘She probably thought us awful fools, acting that scene from the play,’ said Humphrey.
‘Not at all. She’s used to real actors declaiming all over the place. She liked us both,’ said Patrick firmly.
‘She felt safe with us, just as she does with that young actor. We must seem antique to her,’ said Humphrey.
‘Speak for yourself,’ said Patrick.
‘At least you’ve kept your hair.’
‘That’s true.’ Smugly, Patrick ran a hand over his dark hair, which was still very thick and showed no thread of grey. ‘But you’re not really bald, Humphrey. You’ve a receding hairline. And it needn’t be a handicap. Plenty of women go for bald men. Think of Kojak.’
Humphrey did, and was not consoled.
Patrick had grown tired of this lonely-hearts talk, and changed the subject.
‘You did well over the pictures,’ he said. ‘I wonder what the police will do now. If they investigate the gallery, they’ll have to pick up Gulliver. They’ll be lucky if they find any real evidence – or the master-mind behind it all.’
‘What are we going to do about it ourselves?’ Humphrey asked.
‘We’re going to look up another young friend of mine – male this time – and make some more enquiries. You aren’t in a hurry to get back to Oxford, are you?’
‘No—not at all. I’m enjoying myself,’ said Humphrey.
‘You should get out and about more often,’ said Patrick kindly.
By the time they reached Stratford, the office staff had left the theatre and the audience for the evening performance was starting to arrive. Patrick stopped at a telephone box and looked up Denis Vernon’s address in the directory. Soon they were ringing the bell of his flat. As they waited for it to be opened, Humphrey said: ‘I don’t know how you do it. All this dropping in on people, uninvited. I couldn’t. They’d be fed up at finding me on the doorstep.’
‘Not at all. Why should they be? You’re perfectly civilised,’ said Patrick.
‘I envy you your confidence,’ said Humphrey.
‘I have an aim, you know. I’m not dropping in without a reason. I’m pursuing information,’ Patrick said, and then, ‘Ah, Denis,’ as the door was opened.
Denis Vernon stood revealed, wearing only a pair of bright orange slacks. Sparse matching hairs adorned his naked chest. He looked surprised to see them.
‘Oh—Patrick—come in. I wasn’t expecting you,’ he said, with some emphasis upon the last word.
Humphrey shot Patrick an ‘I told you so’ look, but Patrick was undismayed.
‘Sorry if we’re barging in. I want to ask you something,’ he said, stepping across the threshold. ‘You remember Humphrey Wilberforce, of course.’
‘Yes – hullo,’ said Denis, accepting the inevitable and opening the door widely to admit them.
Humphrey was racking his brains to dredge up some memory of the young man. Patrick’s description of him had rung no bell, and nor did the actual person. This often happened, he had found; luckily quite a lot of undergraduates he had known were totally forgettable.
‘I am expecting someone – we’re going to a party,’ Denis said. ‘Still, never mind. What can I do for you? I was having a shower when you rang.’
‘Finish your ablutions, Denis. We can wait,’ said Patrick.
‘Oh, all right. Find a seat.’
Denis waved them onwards, vanishing himself, and they sank gingerly down on steel-framed chairs with hessian seats which looked fragile, but, once tested, proved comfortable. The flat was very small; the outer door opened into an L- shaped living-room on whose walls hung several surrealist oil paintings of geometric design. There was a stereo record- player and a tape-recorder, and there were two low bookshelves filled mostly with paperbacks.
Humphrey sat back and relaxed. Patrick soon rose and inspected the bookshelves. Then he looked at the paintings and tapped one.
‘Not another dummy, surely?’ Humphrey said.
‘I think not,’ said Patrick.
Humming under his breath, he paced about, musing. Humphrey’s remarks in the car had surprised him; his social life, or lack of it, was something that Patrick had never thought about. They were colleagues, undemanding friends in the way of men who share a common interest and very often, too, a viewpoint. Each would have described the other as a sound man, one whose support might be sought on some project favoured by the other because they were likely to agree. Now, Humphrey had disclosed a genuine diffidence and Patrick felt vague concern. He must not forget what he had learned.
Denis reappeared wearing a flowered shirt, a pendant round his neck, and smelling of
‘There, that’s better,’ he said. ‘Now I’m ready, when she shows up.’
‘We won’t keep you long, Denis,’ said Patrick.
‘Can I give you a beer?’ Denis asked.
‘Yes, please,’ said Patrick. If he could spin their stay out, Denis’s girl friend might arrive; she could be an actress who would know either Sam, or Joss Ruxton, even both of them. ‘She’s coming here, is she? Your—er—whoever you’re going to this party with? You’re not picking her up?’
‘She lives miles out in the country. Someone’s bringing her in, and I’ll take her back.’ He grinned in anticipation. ‘Roll on midnight,’ he said, and went off to the kitchen, which was a narrow slit alongside the bathroom, reappearing promptly with their drinks.