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'Murder at the Brightwell' Chapters 3 & 4


spinner image illustration of well-dressed man and woman sitting next to one another in 1930s-style train car
Illustration by Dongkyu Lim

 

Chapter 3   

 

I HAD OUR DRIVER drop me at the station early the next morning. I’d had a wire from Gil saying that he would take the morning train from London and meet me when I changed trains at the next stop so we could ride down to the coast together.

I hadn’t expected Milo to see me off , but I was a bit disappointed that I saw nothing of him before I left. Then again, I hadn’t anticipated a fond farewell. My comment about the state in which our ravaged marriage had left my pride had been rude, if true.

Of course, he had taken it in stride. He had laughed and said in that terribly cool and indifferent way of his, “Very well, darling. Do as you wish.” And then he had risen and left the room, and that had been that.

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I stopped on my way to the station to bid farewell to my cousin Laurel and to explain to her the reason behind my sudden departure. Laurel and I had grown up together and were the closest of friends. She was the single person in whom I felt I could freely confide.

“A trip to the seaside with Gil Trent?” she asked, brows raised as we sat in her parlor. “I didn’t think you had it in you, Amory.”

“I may just surprise us all,” I answered. “Perhaps I have a reckless streak none of us has foreseen.”

We were joking, of course, but her final assessment of the situation was accurate. “Helping an old friend or not, this certainly can’t improve things between you and Milo.”

“I sometimes wonder if anything will,” I said.

The thought troubled me as I reached the station, but I did not allow myself time for further reflection as the train moved over the landscape. First and foremost, I was to help my friend. Gil was depending on me. My marriage woes had lasted this long; they could wait a bit longer.

I switched to the southbound train at the Tonbridge station, and a few moments later Gil found me in my compartment and dropped onto the seat beside me as the train set back into motion. 

“Hello,” he said. He smiled then, brightly. “I’m glad you’ve come, Amory.”

“I told you I would come, Gil.”

He removed his hat and tossed it on the empty seat facing us, brushing his fingers through his hair. “Yes, I knew you had every intention of coming.” He spoke ruefully. “But one must never underestimate the persuasive powers of Milo Ames.”

“Let’s not talk about Milo, shall we?”

“I have no desire to talk about your husband,” he said. “But I don’t want you to be hurt. Was he angry with you?”

“No,” I answered with a sigh. “Milo doesn’t get angry. I don’t think it much matters to him that I’ve gone.”

Gil was silent for a moment. “Have you left him?” he asked at last.

“I hadn’t realized how inclined to melodrama men are,” I said. “No, I haven’t really left him. Not completely, I suppose. I told him I was taking a trip.” 

“Did you tell him you were going with me?”

I picked up the magazine I had been reading and flipped it open to a random page, ready to be done with this conversation. “Milo’s very clever, really. He just pretends to be glib because others find it charming. Naturally, he made the connection between your visit and my going away.”

“And he didn’t try to stop you from coming?”

“No. He didn’t.”

Gil shook his head and smiled wryly. “Then he really isn’t as clever as you believe him to be.”

 

***

 

The train pulled into the station that afternoon, and the weather was lovely. The sun shone brightly, and the warm air smelled of sea and salt. Standing on the platform, I breathed deeply and felt, for just a moment, that sense of well-being I had felt as a small child at the seaside, perfect happiness and contentment.

“Here’s the car.” Gil led me to the sleek blue automobile that the hotel had sent to collect us. We pulled away from the station and followed a road that led gradually upward, passing through the thriving village as we went.

“There it is,” Gil said a moment later, pointing to the top of the hill.

The Brightwell Hotel sat on a cliff overlooking the sea. It was a lovely white building, sprawling, sturdy, and somehow elegant at the same time. There was something stately yet welcoming about the place. It looked as though it would be equally suited to princes or pirates, the sort of place one could be proud of visiting without being perceived to be too fond of squandering one’s money. These days, a good many people frowned upon unnecessary lavishness.

Gil and I emerged from the car and moved together up the walk, stepping through the door into the hotel. The interior was as pleasing to the eye as the exterior had been. The lobby was a large spacious room with a desk directly facing the doors. The floors were of gleaming white marble, and light filtered in through the numerous windows, bouncing off the yellow walls, infusing the room with a warm glow. There was a good deal of furniture in white and various shades of blue scattered artfully about with very deliberate carelessness. A potted plant or two, strategically placed, added to the overall effect.

As Gil collected our room keys, I felt I could spend quite a happy week in this place. “Why, if it isn’t Amory Ames!” A high, almost shrill voice called out across the lobby. I turned and saw a woman in an outrageous hat and brightly colored clothes soaring toward me like a parrot in flight.

“Oh, dear,” said Gil and I in unison.

Yvonne Roland, terror of London society, descended upon us. “Amory, Amory darling!” She clutched my arms and brushed kisses an inch away from each of my cheeks, the scent of talcum powder and roses enveloping me. “It’s been ages ... Since before my last husband died, I think ... Or maybe just before ... Poor dear Harold ... And how are you, dearest?” 

She didn’t wait for me to answer before turning on Gil. “And Gilmore Trent! How delightful to see you. But you’ve come together.” She turned to me, grabbing my hand. “How delightful.”

A thought suddenly seemed to strike her. Her eyes narrowed and darted from me to Gil and back again. “But, my dear, I thought you had married ... What was that fellow’s name? The wickedly good-looking one?”

“I’ve just come to visit the seaside with some friends,” I said vaguely.

A rather sly smile crossed her face. “Ah! I see. Well, you can count on me as the soul of discretion ... If you only knew the secrets I’ve kept ... never revealed I knew all about Ida Kent, even after she’d run off with that butcher.” She wrinkled her nose in distaste. “Sordid business ... but you and Gil? I’m delighted. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m taking tea on the terrace. I’ll be seeing you both later.” She winked ostentatiously and was gone.

“Good heavens,” Gil breathed.

I nodded. Mrs. Roland was a wealthy widow who flittered about society like a flamboyant and excessively chirpy bird. She had been widowed three times, accumulating successively more wealth as each husband faded beneath her bright and tiresome exuberance. I was inclined to believe her husbands had gone to the grave for the sheer peace of it. Still, she was harmless enough.

“At least things won’t be dull at the seaside,” I said with a smile. “Mrs. Roland may not exactly be with us, but she will certainly be among us.”

“Well, then,” he said, lightly touching my elbow, “I suppose we may as well go up and prepare ourselves to join Mrs. Roland and the others for tea on the terrace.”

I followed him to the lift, which sat to the left of the front desk. We rode up in silence to the first floor, both of us lost in our own thoughts. 

As we stepped out of the lift, Gil turned to me and handed me the key to my room. As his hand brushed mine, I suddenly felt that there was something rather clandestine about all of this. Separate rooms or no, we had just checked into a hotel together, and I felt a bit unsettled about the fact.

We looked at one another. I wondered if the thought had occurred to him as well.

“My room’s just three doors down,” he said. “I’ll meet you here in a quarter of an hour?”

“All right.”

He left me, and I entered my room. It was good-sized and decorated in an understatedly elegant manner: gleaming wooden floors with thick rugs, silk flocked wallpaper, and smooth, heavy bed linens, all in pale, tasteful colors. The sitting area had a fashionably modern sofa and two silk-upholstered chairs. A writing desk sat against the wall. As in the lobby, the furnishings seemed to say, “Don’t mind us. We will just sit here and be expensive.”

I took off my hat and gloves, dropping them on one of the chairs, and went to the window. My room faced the sea, and I pushed aside the filmy, ivory curtain, admiring for a moment the smooth expanse of blue. It was a decidedly romantic view, and, coupled with the vague feeling of wrongdoing I had experienced in the hallway, I began to wonder if I had made the right choice in coming. I quickly pushed the doubts away; there was nothing wrong in it, after all.

I changed from my tailored dove-gray traveling suit into a flowing white and red flower-printed chiffon dress with a soft belt that tied in a loose bow at my side. I then went to the bathroom and splashed cool water on my face, reapplied what little makeup I had worn, and combed my hair, smoothing the dark waves that were a little mussed from the journey. Putting on a white, lightweight cloth hat with a jaunty brim and red grosgrain ribbon, I was ready to take tea with Gil’s sister and whoever else was in the party.

The sudden realization that I had very little idea who exactly was sharing our holiday made me feel a bit silly. Undoubtedly, I had rushed into this seaside trip with very little forethought, but I supposed it was too late to do much about it now. 

Gil met me in the hallway at the designated time. He had freshened up as well, and we made a handsome pair walking down the long, golden hallway together. For a briefest of instants, I wondered what life might have been like had I married Gil. Would we have been happy? It was impossible to know.

“I would rather have had a good nap,” he said as we entered the lift. “But I suppose tea is as good a time as any to make our entrance.”

“Indeed,” I answered. “It will give the scandal time to build until dinner.”

He smiled, but I could sense his hesitation. “You don’t mind a bit of scandal, do you, Amory?”

The last of my doubts dissipated, and I returned his smile. “What’s a little scandal? One only lives once, after all.”

We exited the lift and walked across the gleaming lobby, through a comfortable sitting area, to French doors on the west side of the building. Stepping out into the bright light, I admired the spacious terrace. Gil explained that it extended all along this side of the building, wrapped around across the south side, overlooking the sea, and then continued around the east side. There was another terrace, he told me, a short way down the cliff, accessible by a winding fl ight of white wooden stairs. “It’s rather a scenic spot, but the wind is high today,” he said. “I expect most of the guests will have tea on the main terrace.”

“Gil!” We looked to see Emmeline Trent waving to us from a bit farther down. With Gil’s hand at my elbow, we made our way to where she had risen from her seat to greet us.

Emmeline hugged her brother, then turned to me. Like Gil, Emmeline seemed to have changed very little since I had seen her last. A thin, pretty girl, she shared her brother’s coloring, the dark blond hair and brown eyes. She smiled brightly as she extended her hand to squeeze mine affectionately. “Dearest Amory. I’m so happy to see you again. I didn’t know you would be here. How delightful.” 

“It was something of a last-minute decision. It’s lovely to see you, Emmeline.”

She turned then, her eyes alight with happiness and pride, stretching out her hand to the gentleman beside her. “You’ve met, I think? You remember my fiancé, Rupert Howe. Rupert, Amory Ames.”

The young man standing by her side was as I remembered him: tall, handsome, and impeccably groomed, with dark brown hair and eyes to match. Bright teeth formed what seemed a practiced, too-polite smile. There was no warmth in his eyes, not for me, and certainly not for Gil.

“Charmed, Mrs. Ames,” he said.

I was not at all charmed. I could tell at once that he was too polished, too aware of his own appeal. Perhaps he did not remind me of Milo so very much, after all.

As if our thoughts had taken different routes to the same location, Emmeline asked, “Is your husband here?” I paused, allowing a slightly awkward silence to settle in our midst.

“No,” I said at last. “No, Milo and I are ... well, I’ve come at the invitation of your brother.”

Emmeline colored. “Oh, I’m sorry.” She gave her brother a rap on the arm. “You didn’t tell me, Gil! Do forgive me, Amory. I didn’t realize ...” 

“Think nothing of it,” I said lightly. “All water under the bridge.”

I noticed then that Rupert Howe watched me speculatively. I had no time to guess what he was thinking before a voice spoke from behind us.

“It’s too windy to take tea out of doors.”

We turned to see Olive Henderson, a young woman I had known for many years more than I cared to. She was the daughter of a well-known banker, and we had frequently come into contact with one another at social occasions, though we really weren’t well acquainted. I had always taken her for a thorough little snob, though she was pretty when her smile warmed green eyes and softened her naturally petulant expression.

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“It would have been much better in the indoor sitting room, I’m sure,” she said. “I’ve just had my hair waved.”

“Calm down, old girl,” said Rupert. “It won’t blow you away.”

She looked at him through narrowed eyes as she patted at her perfectly coiffed dark hair but said nothing further. I was prepared to greet her, but she shot a glance at Gil and me before she sat down without speaking to us.

Slowly the party began to collect, and I found that the Trents’ friends were none of the same group with which we had often associated five years before. I supposed I couldn’t have expected that things would remain the same, but I still found that I was vaguely disappointed. 

“Amory, meet Mr. and Mrs. Edward Rodgers,” Gil said, introducing me to a couple that just reached our table. They greeted me, and I was struck by the contrast between them, which was, visually, something akin to a cinema star on the arm of a parish priest.

“How do you do?” Mr. Rodgers said unenthusiastically. He was young and solemn, a solicitor by trade I would later learn. His brown eyes scanned me in a cursory way, and he appeared to have found little to interest him, for he soon seated himself and poured his tea.

Anne Rodgers was a platinum blonde, and though her features were somewhat plain, she possessed a way of moving that had attracted the attention of every man in the vicinity when she had walked out onto the terrace in a dress of clinging rose-colored silk.

She greeted me warmly, her eyes moving over me in an appraising yet not unfriendly manner.

“I adore your dress. Schiaparelli, isn’t it?” she said, sinking down into a chair beside her husband and stirring four sugars into the cup he set before her. “Thank you, darling,” she told him, reaching to pat his hand, and he smiled warmly at her. They seemed something of an odd pair, but I was far from an expert on what made a happy marriage.

Next to arrive at the terrace were Nelson Hamilton and his wife, Larissa. They walked directly to where Gil and I stood, Mr. Hamilton’s quick strides leaving his wife behind. As Gil made the introductions, I tried but failed to recall ever having seen them at any events in London.

“Pleasure, Mrs. Ames,” Mr. Hamilton said, grasping my hand in his very warm one. He gave me a thorough going-over with his eyes, and I felt justified in examining him in turn. He was older than the others of our party, perhaps in his midforties, with graying dark hair, a ruddy face, and a well-groomed mustache. He was the jovial sort, I perceived immediately, with a ready smile and an easy, almost too friendly way of talking to people. He was, I thought, the sort of person one liked at once, but for whom the fondness fades after a short time.

“My wife, Larissa,” he said, gesturing perfunctorily to the woman who stood a bit behind him. That introduction deemed sufficient, he moved off to engage Rupert in an earnest conversation about some business deal, the particulars of which soon became lost in the jumble of conversation. Mrs. Hamilton’s gaze followed him for just a moment before returning to me. 

“I’m pleased to meet you, Mrs. Hamilton.”

“And I you,” she replied.

As so often happens, Mr. Hamilton’s vibrant personality had attracted a partner without his effusive joie de vivre. Larissa Hamilton was quiet and soft- spoken. She was at least fifteen years younger than her husband and attractive in an unassuming way, pretty without realizing that she was. There was something forlorn about her, and I was unaccountably reminded of one of Water house’s Ophelia paintings. She had a nice smile that warmed her expression but not, it seemed, a great deal of confidence. She was, if I judged correctly, thoroughly cowed by her husband. More than once, I saw her start when his hearty laughter broke out behind us.

Another gentleman approached our cluster of tables, and I recognized him at once as Lionel Blake, a rising star of the British stage. His Hamlet had caused quite a stir and was perhaps the most talked-about interpretation of the character since John Barrymore had come over from New York to play the role several years before. He was very good-looking, with dark hair and piercing eyes that were an unusual shade of green.

“I’ve long planned on attending one of your performances,” I told him when we had been introduced. “I’ve heard you’re marvelous.”

“You’re too kind, Mrs. Ames,” he said. “But I’m afraid the reports may be exaggerated.” He pulled out my chair for me, and I sat. There was an easy grace in his movements that I would imagine translated well to the stage, and I noticed that he spoke carefully, as if pronouncing lines.

The last to arrive was Veronica Carter, a woman I knew by reputation, if not by actual acquaintance. She was the daughter of a well-known industrialist, and, despite rumors of cracks in the family’s financial empire, my impression of her was that she fed on her father’s wealth and had no further aim in life than her own amusement. A vibrant redhead, she was dressed flashily and excessively made up, overemphasizing a beauty that would have been more striking had it not been so heavily accentuated. She made a name for herself in the gossip columns, the most recent scandal, so the story went, involving a very married member of Parliament. Nothing I had heard of her gave me any incentive for liking her.

She did not take long in cementing my initial impression. As we all settled down to drink our tea, she fastened me in her cold blue eyes, which matched the china of her teacup. “Miss Ames, is it? Your name is familiar. Have we met before?” 

“Mrs. Ames,” I corrected. “And no, Miss Carter. I don’t believe we have.”

She bit her scarlet lip artfully, as if in contemplation. “Where have I heard that name? Let me think. I’m sure I ... Ah, yes. I met a gentleman called Ames only last month. On the Riviera. A deliciously handsome gentleman.”

“My husband, Milo.” If my tone sounded bored, it was because I truly was. It was embarrassingly obvious that she was attempting to create some sort of awkward scene, as though I would be surprised to learn Milo had been behaving badly.

“Oh,” she said, a thin, penciled brow arching, her features conveying mock surprise. “Excuse me. I didn’t realize he was married.”

I smiled coolly. “You mustn’t feel bad; he sometimes forgets it himself.”

There was a moment of silence. Veronica Carter looked genuinely astonished at my flippancy. No doubt she had expected a harsh reply from a jealous wife. Gil cleared his throat uneasily, and Lionel Blake openly smiled.

Conversation descended into trivialities and generally pleasant small talk as we were lulled by the sounds of the sea and the clinking of china. Nevertheless, there was a strange sort of tension in the group, despite the fact that these were people who spent a good deal of time together, people who had willingly agreed to meet at this seaside hotel for a mutual holiday. Then again, perhaps it was just that none of them liked each other very much. That was the way it often was with the affluent: birds of a feather did flock together, friends or no. Such a gathering was by no means my ideal way in which to pass a week, but I was doing it for Gil. And, really, it was always nice to spend time at the seaside.

We all sat on the terrace, enjoying our tea and tolerating one another’s company. None of us realized, of course, that within twenty- four hours, one of our party would be dead.   

 


Chapter 4

 

THE HOTEL WAS AGLOW that evening. Dinner at the Brightwell Hotel was, it seemed, quite the affair, with black tie, dancing, and champagne all par for the course.

I wore a fitted gown of mauve silk with sheer flutter sleeves and flowing tulle panels inset into the skirt, the cut quite flattering to my thin, tallish frame, if I may say so myself. Gil looked dashing in his dinner jacket, slim and broad-shouldered. He was of that class of men that was bred for evening wear.

The dining room was both elegant and elaborate, without any accompanying flashiness. The walls were a striking shade of salmon with settings that managed to walk a surprisingly successful line between formal Victorian and sleek, modern art deco. The round tables, clothed in white silk, glittered with crystal, silver, and silveredged porcelain.

There was no formal seating arrangement, and Gil and I sat at a table with Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton on my left, and Emmeline and Rupert on Gil’s right.

Emmeline bore all the markings of a woman madly in love. Her bright eyes followed Rupert Howe’s every motion. She touched him at every opportunity, brushing her shoulder against his, her hand pressing his arm. She was clearly proud that this handsome, charming man was hers. Lovesickness was a disease whose symptoms I knew well.

For his part, Rupert seemed to pay her the majority of his attention. He would smile at her, lean and whisper things in her ear. Yet, for all that, there was something restless about him. He seemed slightly ill at ease, as though his heart wasn’t entirely in the performance. I wondered how deep his feeling for her truly ran.

“Lovely evening, isn’t it?” said Larissa Hamilton in a soft voice beside me. I turned to greet her. Her light-blue gown with ruffled skirt and sleeves was lovely, and I told her so.

“Thank you. Nelson picked it out,” she said, smoothing the skirt. “He’s got quite an eye, really.”

I had noticed as much. At the moment, his eye was on Anne Rodgers as she sauntered into the room in a beaded lavender gown that was cut just high enough to avoid absolute scandal. Mr. Rodgers followed, apparently oblivious to the effect his wife’s appearance was having upon the gentlemen present.

“Nice crowd here tonight, eh, Rupert?” Mr. Hamilton asked when the Rodgers had reached the table and seated themselves. He pulled a cigarette from his pocket.

“Very nice, indeed,” Rupert agreed, offering Mr. Hamilton his lighter, before turning his attention back to Emmeline and adding in a tone still loud enough to be heard by half the table, “Though it would be nicer if it were just the two of us. I look forward to the days when we can travel alone.”

Emmeline blushed and smiled, and Gil stiffened ever so slightly beside me. He tried to hide it, but it was perfectly apparent how little he cared for Rupert Howe.

“Nelson likes blue, but I love the shade of your gown,” said Mrs. Hamilton, suddenly picking up our conversation where it had dropped off several moments ago.

“Yes, you look quite stunning, Mrs. Ames.” It was Lionel Blake who spoke as he approached and took his seat at a neighboring table.

“Thank you, both. And call me Amory, please. I wish you all would.”

“Anne-Marie. Such an uncommon name,” said Veronica Carter from across the table, looking at me through the smoke of the cigarette she held carelessly between two fingers. It was the first time she had spoken to me since I arrived at dinner, and the mispronunciation, combined with the somewhat sneering tone in which she said it, led me to believe it was not a mistake that she had misheard my given name.

“It’s Amory,” Gil corrected her.

She did not reply but descended again into silence, a sulky expression marring her pretty features.

“Amory Ames. Such a striking name,” said Mrs. Hamilton. “There is almost something musical about it. What a happy coincidence your husband’s name so complemented your Christian name.”

I began to give her the long answer but decided against it. “Thank you,” I replied simply.

The truth was that I didn’t take Milo’s name, per se. In actuality, I was born Amory Ames. I had met Milo Ames, who was no relation of mine, and had been amused by the coincidence. We married, and I had been stuck in limbo, bearing a name that was not entirely my own yet not truly my husband’s. It was, somehow, strangely indicative of our entire relationship.

Dinner was delicious: light soups, impeccably cooked sole, roast lamb with mint sauce, a fresh salad, followed by a pudding that melted in the mouth and cheese and crackers with sweet, rich coffee. Conversation was light, superficially pleasant. Afterward, everyone began breaking off into pairs for dancing.

In the style of many of the more prestigious London hotels, the Brightwell had engaged an orchestra for the summer. As they struck up the opening strains of “All of Me,” Gil stood and held out his hand. “Dance with me, Amory?”

“I would love to.”

He led me to the dance floor. There was an instant of hesitation before he pulled me toward him and our bodies touched. For a moment, my mind drifted back to one of the last times we had danced together: our engagement party. I had been so in love that night, so very sure of the future. What fools the young are, so full of confidence and blissful ignorance.

The orchestra was really very good, and the music flowed sweetly over the room, the lyrics of this particular song hauntingly appropriate. We did not speak but danced, lost in our own memories. I felt oddly happy, happier than I had for a long while.

The dance came to an end, and Gil and I stepped apart, but only just. Our eyes lingered. “Amory ...” he began.

“Do you mind, old boy?” It was Rupert who had ambled over to us. He turned to me and held out a hand, brows slightly raised in inquiry.

I took his hand as Gil stepped out of the way, annoyance barely perceptible in his eyes, and I allowed myself to be pulled into Rupert Howe’s arms.

The music started up again, and a young man stepped to the microphone and began to sing. Rupert, as much as I hated to admit it, danced beautifully.

“The music is very good,” I noted, to break the silence.

“They’re no Henry Hall and his orchestra, but they’re passable,” Rupert replied. “Something to dance to, at any rate. I’ve seen the men here looking at you, Mrs. Ames. You’re going to be a popular partner tonight.”

“I can’t imagine why I should be,” I answered, immune to his flattery, “with so many ladies from which to choose.”

Rupert let out a short laugh. “Thorough bores, most of them. The married ladies are dowdy frumps.” He smiled. “Yourself excluded, of course. Mrs. Rodgers fancies herself a society beauty, but she’s well past her prime, and Mrs. Hamilton is too much of a mouse to make any long-lasting impression. As for the unattached ladies, Veronica Carter is not so grand as she thinks she is, and Olive ... well, let’s just say Olive and I don’t get along as well as we used to.”

So discreet, I thought irritably. If he and Olive had a past, it was unkind of him to flaunt it, especially given the circumstances. I glanced at Olive Henderson, who had been sitting quietly at our table, making very little conversation throughout dinner. I certainly didn’t know her well, but it seemed to me that something was troubling her. Perhaps her tender feelings had not been forgotten as effortlessly as Rupert’s apparently had.

“And what of your charming fiancée?” I inquired.

The briefest flash of something crossed his eyes, as though he had momentarily forgotten Emmeline. Then he smiled, and I was surprised at the warmth in it. “It goes without saying that I adore Emmeline.”

“Do you?” I asked breezily. “I should think you would. She’s a lovely girl.”

“Very lovely,” he replied, unaffected by my pointed remarks. “How nice that you find the same admirable qualities in her brother”

So it was to be a game of verbal sparring, was it?

“Gil and I have been friends for a very long time.”

“And more than friends, I understand,” he went on. “It’s admirable, really, that you have been able to remain on such good terms ... despite your unfortunate marriage.”

I smiled, unwilling to be bated by his audacity. “We are not all possessed of your good luck in finding a mate.”

The music ended, and I stepped back. He leaned slightly forward, a smirk marring his handsome features. “It was a pleasure, Mrs. Ames.”

I found myself unable to return the compliment.

 

***

 

I was spared the overbearing charms of Rupert Howe for the rest of the evening. I danced in turn with Mr. Rodgers, Lionel Blake, and Mr. Hamilton.

I learned that Mr. Rodgers was a solicitor, the majority of his experience in criminal court. He talked unenthusiastically of his work while we danced, and he seemed to find his stories as dull as I did.

“Not many imaginative crimes these days,” he said as the dance came to an end. “Mainly stupid people doing stupid things.”

“Really?” I asked. “I somehow thought that criminals were getting cleverer as time went on.”

“Nonsense. It’s almost impossible to get away with things these days, with all the modern advancements. Take the Crippen case. Even twenty years ago, the fellow couldn’t escape the law. Caught him by wiring the ship he was trying to get away on. Things are far more advanced now. You would think criminals would learn, but they don’t. I suppose that’s because it’s as I said: stupid people doing stupid things.”

I danced next with the polite and very well-behaved Lionel Blake. His natural gracefulness translated well to dancing, and I had the fleeting thought that he might have a career in musical cinema should he tire of the stage. As we moved around the floor, he told me of the play in which he was soon to appear, a murder mystery set in a country manor.

“I’m afraid it’s not a terribly good play,” he said with a rueful smile. “But the chief backer is rather a good friend of mine. When he asked me if I would do it, I felt that I could not really refuse.”

“The play may not be very good, but you’ll be wonderful,” I said encouragingly. “I’ve heard marvelous things about you. I’m certain the play will be a great success with you in it.”

His eyes dropped from mine, as though he was embarrassed by my compliment, and he quickly began to speak of the weather. This apparent timidity was not at all what I expected of a handsome actor, especially not one as well-received as Mr. Blake. But perhaps I was unfairly typecasting.

Mr. Hamilton was my next partner. He was his jovial self, and I noticed his gaze travel admiringly down my neckline more than once.

“Have you known the Trents long?” I asked, in an attempt to draw his eyes upward.

“We got chummy with Rupert and Emmeline in London. It seemed we were always turning up at the same events. Rupert is from my part of the country, you know. Mr. Trent I don’t know well. What I do know is that he and Rupert don’t care much for one another. That’s always been apparent.” He laughed, as though he had a made a joke. I had not, it seemed, been the only one to notice the tension between Gil and Mr. Howe.

“Have you been to the Brightwell before?” I asked, as his eyes wandered once again.

“No, never. We came at the invitation of Rupert and Emmeline. When they invited us to join them, we thought it sounded nice. Larissa’s got some foolish fear of the sea, but I told her that was all nonsense. I knew she’d enjoy it once she got here.”

I glanced at Mrs. Hamilton and saw her watching us. She didn’t seem to be enjoying herself much at all to me. I couldn’t help but wonder how aware she was of her husband’s wandering eye. I hoped that she would begin to relax and have a nice evening, but a moment later I saw Rupert Howe asking her to dance, and she looked as uncomfortable as ever.

“You look simply divine this evening, Mrs. Ames,” cried Mrs. Roland, as she appeared beside me from out of nowhere. She was dancing with a gentleman perhaps a foot shorter than she, but they were managing to keep an excellent rhythm to the orchestra’s rousing rendition of “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Roland,” I said. “You look quite striking yourself.” It was true. She wore a long gown of bright blue bedecked with silver beads that clicked together as she swayed to the music.

“So many handsome gentlemen here, don’t you think?” she asked me with a wink, before her partner whirled her away. “I shouldn’t wonder if there was a trail of broken hearts left after this week.”

I hardly thought that likely. From what I had seen thus far, it was only Emmeline who was in danger of being brokenhearted.

Our dance seemed to have worn Mr. Hamilton out, for back at the table, he wiped his face with his handkerchief before he pulled a cigarette from his pocket. Rupert Howe, returning to the table with Mrs. Hamilton, offered him his lighter, and Mr. Hamilton puffed contentedly on his cigarette, his gaze traveling from one attractive woman to the next while his wife sat silently beside him.

The night was spent pleasantly enough, but as the evening drew to a close, I was more than ready for bed. It had been a long day, and I was tired in mind as well as body. I bid everyone good evening, and Gil accompanied me to my room.

“I’m happy you’re here, Amory,” he said, as we stopped outside my door. The hallway was deserted, and we were alone in the soft yellow glow cast by the sconces against the striped, yellow-papered walls. There was something intimate about the setting, and I felt that I should avoid what Gil was leaving unsaid as he looked down at me with those warm brown eyes.

“I think you’re right about Rupert Howe,” I said, by way of a subject change. “He doesn’t seem at all trustworthy. There is something about him ...”

“Yes, I’m glad you noticed.”

“You’ll need more than a feeling to convince Emmeline, I’m afraid. I can tell she’s rather taken with him.”

“I wish there was some way to send the fellow packing,” he said, his eyes flashing suddenly.

“I’ll have a heart-to-heart with her tomorrow,” I said, “tell her the woes of married life to serve as a warning.”

His eyes met mine, both sympathetic and hopeful. “Do you think it will do any good?”

“I don’t know.”

He nodded, suddenly brusque. “Well, I guess we shall find out. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Good night, Gil.”

I entered my room, shut the door behind me, and stood there for a moment, lost in thought. I had a feeling that Emmeline Trent was not going to be convinced by me or anyone else to give up Rupert Howe. His charm was transparent enough, but the veil of love could do wonders to even the most reprehensible character. It was, as I had predicted, a lost cause. I think Gil knew it, too. But I admired his wanting to try.

Sighing, I moved into the bedroom, kicking off my shoes as I went. The thick rug was soft beneath my feet.

I stepped out of my dress and threw it over the back of a chair, then peeled off my stockings, letting them fall where they lay. They would keep until morning. I would tidy up the room then. For the most part, I was enjoying not having a lady’s maid at the moment. Even if I had had the time to find a replacement for Eloise before my trip, I should have hesitated to submit my current movements to a near stranger’s scrutiny. There was too much potential for gossip.

I put on my black satin nightgown and pulled a loose negligee over it. I found, despite my weariness, that I was not exactly sleepy. I picked up a book and moved to a chair near the window. Pushing the window open to feel the breeze and better hear the sound of the sea, I began to read.

The chair was comfortable, and the lulling noise from outside combined with sodden prose to do just the trick. I drifted off to sleep but awoke suddenly a few moments later to voices below my window.

“I mean what I say.” I recognized instantly that the hushed, angry whisper belonged to Gil.

“I have no doubt you do. But what do you expect me to do about it?” The languid insolence convinced me that the second voice was that of Rupert Howe.

I realized that the two men were likely standing at the corner of the building, their voices carried up and into my room by the wind. Closing the window would only draw unwanted attention, so I sat very still, attempting not to listen but doing a very poor job of it.

“I want you to leave my sister alone. Get out of here and don’t come back.”

This was met with a harsh, disdainful laugh. “You really think I would do such a thing?”

“Oh, I’m sure you would. Men like you always have a price.”

“Save your breath ... and your money. I’m not going anywhere.”

“I’m warning you ...”

“And I’m warning you,” Rupert interjected smoothly. “I have those letters you’ve written me, trying to get me to break it off, threatening me with direst consequences.” His voice dripped with mockery. “I’m sure Emmeline would be very interested to see them.”

“Howe ...”

“And as for the charming Mrs. Ames, I’m sure she’d be interested to know a thing or two as well.”

“Leave her out of this.”

“It’s you that brought her into it, not I.”

“She’s none of your business ...”

The voices stopped suddenly, and I surmised another hotel guest had appeared on the terrace, perhaps a couple taking a stroll in the moonlight. Rupert and Gil must have walked away then, for the conversation faded into the wind.

I found their exchange to be troubling, to say the least. No doubt Gil had been trying his best to help his sister, but I was not certain that I would have chosen that exact method. He had sounded so very harsh. Then again, there had been something very ruthless in Rupert Howe’s tone, and they did say that fire was often best fought with fire.

I waited a few minutes to be sure they had gone and then pulled the window closed and switched off the light, still lost in thought.

I made my way to the bed, removed my negligee, and slid between the smooth sheets. I lay there for a long while, turning their words over and over in my head. What had Rupert Howe meant when he said there were things I would be interested to know? Matters were becoming increasingly perplexing, and I couldn’t shake the sensation that there was more to this seaside holiday than I had originally assumed. Despite the sensation of uneasiness that had settled over me, my exhaustion eventually won the day, and I drifted off into a fitful sleep.

NEXT: CHAPTERS 5 & 6

 

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