Read Seeing is Believing Online
Authors: E.X. Ferrars
Frances and Malcolm Chance, the retired headmaster of a minor public school, now live quietly in the village of Raneswood in well-deserved and long-awaited peace. However, this rural tranquility is rudely shattered when their next-door neighbor, Peter Loxley, is shot to death in his own home while his wife Avril is in London.
At first suspicion falls automatically on Fred Dyer, the red-haired local handyman, who was not only seen entering the Loxley house, but has also been suspected of three sex crimes in another village. Dyer provides an alibi, however, and the case against him begins to look distinctly weaker, especially with the possibility that the killer was wearing a red wig.
When it is discovered that Avril's marriage was floundering and that Avril herself was the object of another man's desires, it looks as though those with a motive for murder are almost as numerous as the passions that have been seething under the surface of an outwardly calm village life.
A HOBBY OF MURDER
THY BROTHER DEATH
ANSWER CAME THERE NONE
BEWARE OF THE DOG
SLEEP OF THE UNJUST
SMOKE WITHOUT FIRE
TRIAL BY FURY
A MURDER TOO MANY
COME AND BE KILLED
THE OTHER DEVIL'S NAME
I MET MURDER
THE CRIME AND THE CRYSTAL
ROOT OF ALL EVIL
DEATH OF A MINOR CHARACTER
SKELETON IN SEARCH OF A CUPBOARD
THINNER THAN WATER
EXPERIMENT WITH DEATH
FROG IN THE THROAT
WITNESS BEFORE THE FACT
IN AT THE KILL
LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT
ALIVE AND DEAD
HANGED MAN'S HOUSE
NO PEACE FOR THE WICKED
MURDER MOVES IN
When Malcolm Chance, my husband, retired at the age of seventy, from being headmaster of Granborough, a coeducational, slightly freakish school in the village of Bolding, near to the little town of Edgewater, we had to make up our minds where we would like to settle. Not that we had not been discussing this for the last few years. We knew that we should have to leave the Headmaster's House, where we had lived comfortably for the last ten years, and were torn between a desire to remain in some other house in Bolding, where, after all, we should be amongst most of our friends, and the thought that it would be best to move some considerable distance away, the advantages of which would be that Malcolm need not be continually troubled by seeing the changes that his successor was sure to be making in the running of the school, and that it would really be fairer to him if Malcolm was not close at hand to cast his shadow over him.
The fact that his successor was going to be Brian Hewlett, who had been second master almost as long as Malcolm had been headmaster, and who was a close friend, did not affect our feelings; in fact, in some ways it only made the argument stronger for moving well out of Brian's way, and in the end this was what we decided to do. We bought a pleasant old house in the village of Raneswood, about sixty miles from Edgewater, and after the expected festivities in the way of dinners and presentations that had occurred on our departure among
children and staff, we said goodbye to them all and moved away.
It was more painful to go than either of us had honestly anticipated, but our house and Raneswood had been a lucky choice. The village was small enough for its activities to have remained intimate in character, and we found ourselves welcomed into them with a pleasant friendliness. Malcolm soon made his mark, in spite of his age, in the cricket eleven, and in helping to organize the village Produce Association; while I became involved in local dramatics. It was on account of the dramatics that Avril Loxley came to see me one Friday morning, bringing with her, it need not be said, her three dogs: a black, curlyhaired retriever, a Labrador and a Belgian shepherd, without which I had very seldom seen her. Though they were all rather large dogs, they were well-trained and by then were used to me and my house, so that although they seemed to take up a considerable amount of space in our sitting room, they were not really much in the way, when Avril got to work, trying on my costume as Juliet's nurse, in the modern dress production of
Romeo and Juliet
that we should shortly be presenting in the village hall.
We were rather proud of ourselves for having ventured on modern dress. It made us feel progressive and intellectual, but since we had, I could not really understand why I need not wear one of my everyday dresses. But Avril had insisted that I must be dressed like a real nanny of the upper classes, and being a clever dressmaker, with not enough to do to fill her time, she was enjoying running up a pale blue cotton dress for me, and making me a rather fanciful little cap. There was a large quantity of theatrical gear of all kinds in a cupboard in the village hall left over from earlier productions, for we were a very active group, and Avril was in charge of these, but this time they would not be needed except for a few things such as rapiers and a lute or two. But she managed to keep pretty busy, inducing us to exchange clothes with one another
whenever she thought the characters required this, and so succeeding in keeping nearly as fully occupied as she would have been if we had been producing the play in full Elizabethan grandeur.
‘I'm going to London tomorrow,’ she remarked, crouching at my feet as she pinned up the hem of my blue cotton dress. ‘I'm having lunch with my cousin, Lynne Denison. You know she's my cousin, do you?’
She looked up at me questioningly as she said it. Of course I knew it. The whole village knew it. Ever since Lynne Denison had been awarded an Oscar for her performance in
, a particularly gruesome murder story, we would have had no chance of escaping knowledge of the relationship. Like her cousin, Avril had started a career in films, but either had not had the talent, or the dogged capacity for hard work that would have been necessary for even modest success, and had given it up in favour of marriage.
She was quite as good-looking as her cousin; tall, slender, and with a natural grace in all her movements, fair hair that she drew back almost austerely from her oval face, wide-spaced blue eyes, and delicate features. She was thirty-five and married to a man about seven years her junior, but seeing them together, this would not have occurred to anyone. Peter Loxley was very good-looking too, in a dark, muscular, slightly formidable way which tends to look older than it should in youth, but not so very much older twenty years later. He was a junior partner in the publishing firm of Loxley Matthews, which had been founded by his father, from whom he had inherited the dignified old Queen Anne house in which he and Avril lived. They were our next-door neighbours.
Perhaps at this point I should say a few things about myself. I was sixty-seven at the time of which I am writing: small, weighed eight and a half stone, had hair that had once been dark and curly, but had long ago gone grey, and as it had turned grey it had also rather
mysteriously lost its curliness and become almost straight. I wore it cropped short, which I had never thought of doing while it waved about my ears and forehead. I have a square sort of face, dark eyes and undistinguished features.
I had begun life as a nurse, which perhaps made my part in our production of
Romeo and Juliet
most appropriate, though I seldom thought about those early days now, as I had been married to Malcolm for nearly forty years. He had been teaching in a conventional public school when we first met, and it had never occurred to me then that I should end up as the wife of a headmaster, and of a place like Granborough. I had never tried to be a headmistress, but I had always been a good deal involved in the life of the school, and had had to entertain a fair amount because there had always been a steady stream of parents visiting the place, old Granborough pupils, and sometimes notabilities who happened to be interested in our ideas of education, or who came to give us lectures on sometimes very obscure subjects, or otherwise to entertain us. So I confess that for a time I found life in Raneswood rather quiet, but after a little while came to recognize that this suited me very well. I sometimes thought of the old life with nostalgia, but would not have gone back to it even if I had ever had any opportunity of doing so.
‘So she's come over to England, has she?’ I said, as Avril sat back on her heels, studying the hem of my dress and frowning slightly as if she were not quite satisfied with it. ‘Is she staying long?’
Lynne Denison had lived in Hollywood for some years.
‘She hasn't told me,’ Avril answered. ‘She arrived last weekend and we've only spoken on the telephone … No, I think it ought to be at least an inch longer. Just turn round, will you? I'll start again from this seam at the back.’
I was growing a little tired of standing still in the middle of the room, and thought that if only Avril would take a
tape-measure to the job it would be finished in a few minutes, but she preferred to rely on her own eyes.
‘How long is it since you last met?’ I asked.
‘About three years. In fact, I haven't seen her since she became really successful. I hope it hasn't changed her much. I always knew she was headed for success, of course, and when we were young I used to be furiously jealous of her. But she was too nice for me to keep it up. If she's staying long enough in England, I'm going to try to persuade her to come down here for our
Romeo and Juliet
. She might be able to help us quite a lot.’
‘She won't do that,’ I said. ‘She's a professional, and if there's one thing that the professional actor or actress hates and despises, it's an amateur. And that isn't true only of stage people. Most real professionals in any line have no use at all for the amateur. Take scientists, and chefs, and writers, and politicians — oh, any kind of people where there's a real distinction between the ones who have learnt to work at the job for a living, as against the ones who only do it for fun.’
I felt a slight twinge of conscience as I said this, because a few weeks before, Malcolm had started to write his autobiography. He had never yet written a book, though he had written enough lectures and papers to make one, and I thought it sure to be obviously the work of an amateur, like the autobiographies of so many elderly people who are afflicted by the desire to write about their lives in the days of retirement. If they have always been writers, the results may be interesting; but if they have merely been people of general talent and intellect, they are only too likely, however interesting their lives have been, to produce something boring and flat. I had come across a number of such things, which had made me try to dissuade Malcolm from attempting to write his life story, but as it happened, at that very moment he was upstairs in his little room that we called his study, working away at it.
‘Well, I'm going to do my best to persuade her to take an interest in us,’ Avril said, and looking down at her as she crawled round me, I recognized the stubborn expression on her face that I had often seen there. It could change her calm and gentle-looking face to something hard and determined. ‘After all, a lot of her success has been luck. If she hadn't met Walt Denison when he was on the way up himself, she'd never have had her first chance.’
‘Is she still married to him?’ I said.
‘Oh no, there've been two since then. I'm not sure what the situation is at the moment, but no doubt I shall hear tomorrow … There, I think that looks about right.’ She stood up and took a step backwards to look at her handiwork. ‘That's very nice, though I admit you may have been right that Juliet's nurse wouldn't have been wearing a uniform. After all, Juliet was fourteen, wasn't she — a bit young to be having a passionate love-affair, but a bit old to have a nurse.’
‘When I was young myself,’ I said, ‘I used to think it was absurd that she should be so in love at her age and I thought that Elizabethans must have been very strange people, but times have changed recently and if you'd seen what I did at school, you wouldn't think there was anything strange about it. And the young Montagues and Capulets were just the kind of gangs who fight each other nowadays, though ours mostly have motorbikes.’ I knew the idea was not original, but it pleased me. ‘But at least they don't seem to have had trouble with drink and drugs.’