The Very Thought of Murder

Love, marriage, and murder collide while Beverly Chase is spending a weekend at the old ancestral home of her childhood friends, Camelia House. Before the weekend can even begin though, one of the guests dies unexpectedly in a car accident. But how much of an accident was it? And, more importantly... who knows more than they're letting on?


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2. Chapter One

3rd August, 1934

 

The well-dressed woman in blue sighed as she looked out of the taxi window. It was so good to be here once again. Camelia House, named thus for its multitude of camelia bushes in the surrounding grounds, always looked like something out of a fairytale. Tall and imposing, it stood alone in almost thirty acres of greenland, counting amongst its possessions a beautiful lake, three acres of woodland, and a small patch of farmland that was always welcome for the villagers to come and take what they pleased. The house itself; well, as has been mentioned, one might have thought that one was stepping into a fairytale, and yet fairytale does not do justice to this formidable abode. It was almost Snow White’s palace, scaled down to size for the English countryside. Towers and turrets adorned the four corners of the five storeyed mansion, and traditional sash windows were open on every floor to let in the light and the healthy country air. The huge double doors at the front of the house, just ahead of these marvellous wrought iron gates, had once terrified Beverly Chase. Now, she associated them, not with fearful nightmares, but with grandeur and beauty.  

“Your bags, ma’am.” said the taxi driver, a stout little man with a moustache à la mode and a jaunty little cap.

“Thank you.” Beverly replied. She picked up her suitcases and shrugged her handbag further onto her shoulder and strode, with false confidence, towards those magnificent doors. She paused momentarily in front of them, almost on the point of running back after the taxi and begging him to take her back to the station so she could go home again. But she hardened her resolve; after all, this had been her second home once, and there was no reason why it could not be thus again.

 

Stepping into the drawing room, after the butler had taken her bags and coat, she found that she was the very last person to arrive for this weekend of fun. Lady Philippa Hartling sat near the fire in her armchair. Just turned fifty seven, she sat straight and tall, a smile always on her face and a welcoming glint in her eyes.

“Beverly Chase! Is that you I spy, hiding near the door? Come in, child, and let me look at you!” Lady Hartling exclaimed, in her lilting manner. Beverly stepped cautiously into the room, surveying the company. Most faces she recognised, but there were two that she did not know at all. Lady Hartling stood and took Beverly’s hands in her own.

“My, how you’ve grown, my dear. I remember when you were just a small girl, running in and out of these rooms as you pleased. Your mother was a great friend of mine. I was very sorry to hear of her passing.”
“Thank you, my lady. I know she valued your companionship in her later years, and I’m sure she would be wondrously happy to look down on me now, here once again.”

Phillipa smiled softly, reaching her hand up to touch Beverly’s cheek. “Ah, my dear, you look just like your mother. Now, let us see, who do you know here? You of course remember my son, Andrew, and my daughters, Louisa and Jane.”
“Of course. How do you do, Andrew? Or do I call you Lord Hartling now?”
“Andrew is just fine.” He laughed. “Just so long as you don’t call me Andy.”

“Of course not, you’re all grown up now!” Beverly laughed along with him. “Louisa, Jane- it’s been far too long. How have you both been?”
“Oh perfectly well, thank you, Beverly.” Louisa responded cheerfully. Jane remained silent, staring into the fire.

“Jane? How are you?”

Lady Philippa sighed. “She hasn’t been speaking to anyone since her sweetheart died. An automobile accident two months ago, I’m afraid.”
“It wasn’t an accident, Mother, I know it.” Jane spoke forcefully, before turning abruptly and exiting the room with not another word, her brown hair floating behind her.

“Well. Beverly, I don’t think you’ve met Mr and Mrs Clare- Jacob and Lillian. Jacob is a lawyer in London, Reacher and Son?”

“I know them well- they just won a huge case.”
“Ah yes, that was in fact my case. A delight to meet you, Miss Chase. I’ve heard so much about you from Andrew. We were at university together, you understand.” Jacob Clare was tall, and thin, with greasy blond hair and dark eyes. His wife, standing like a statue of a disdainful Diana beside him, was dark haired and grey eyed. Almost matching him in height, she was as formidable as the house itself, and Beverly found it hard to believe that she was younger than her.

“Miss Chase, it’s charming to meet you.” Mrs Clare held her hand out to Beverly, and she took it, shaking it carefully.

“Likewise, Mrs. Clare.”

“Oh no, please, call me Lillian. We’re to spend so much time together this weekend, it hardly seems right that you should address me so formally.” She laughed, and it sounded like bells. Her husband laughed next to her, but his laughter was forced, not filled with mirth, and his supposed smile never touched his eyes.

 

The afternoon progressed into evening, and dinner time approached. The seating plan seemed to have been arranged rather strangely. Mr. Clare was sat next to Louisa, while Andrew took the seat next to Lillian. Beverly was in between Andrew and Jane, while Phillipa sat at the head of the table. Beverly could not quite discern why Phillipa had arranged the table thus, though it had become clear to her over the afternoon that the Clares were far from happily married. Perhaps it was a blessing then, that they had not been seated together. The dinner was delicious- that much must be said, and everyone congratulated the cook on her wonderful fish pie. On the return to the drawing room, Andrew sat at the upright piano and played a few popular tunes. He had always been wonderful at the piano, there was nothing strange about that. It was when Lillian volunteered to sing a song with him that Beverly saw that nothing was quite right. Lillian’s honeyed soprano slid over the velvety notes of the new Al Bowlly song, and when Andrew joined in in the second refrain, Beverly caught more than a glimpse of the very real love they shared that was not limited to the song.
 

The mere idea of you,

The longing here for you

You’ll never know

How slow the moments go

Till I’m near to you

I see your face in every flower

Your eyes in stars above

It’s just the thought of you,

The very thought of you my love.

 

They stared into each other’s eyes the entire time, and Beverly could not see that this was lost on anyone. The only person who seemed not to have noticed, was Mr. Clare himself, who was eagerly chatting to Louisa about his practice, his hand on her knee.

“As entirely fascinating as I find this conversation, Jacob, I’m going to steal the piano from Andrew now. Who wants to sing the new Cole Porter song with me?” Seeing Mr. Clare’s eyes on her, Beverly quickly volunteered. She knew her voice was not quite as wonderful as Lillian’s, but she could carry a tune, and if it would save her from a conversation with the insufferable Jacob, she would certainly try it.

 

In olden days a glimpse of stocking

Was looked on as something shocking,

But now, God knows,

Anything Goes.

 

All while she sang, standing behind Louisa, she kept her eyes on the crowd gathered in the room. The only person paying the remotest bit of attention to the two musicians was Mr. Clare. Lillian and Andrew had eyes only for each other; they were curiously close to one another, and Andrew’s hand was inching nearer and nearer to her knee. Philippa seemed to be focused simultaneously on the couple by the fire and on Mr. Clare. Jane had retreated to bed early, claiming a headache. Beverly cast her eyes once more over the company before bursting suddenly into the last notes.

 

As the music ended abruptly, their audience burst into applause, broken from their tableau as a painting come to life. Beverly smiled and bowed, following what Louisa did, but she could not shake off an uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach. Everyone retired shortly after the song- it was, after all, nearing midnight. Beverly, changed now into her nightgown, was dimming the lights in her room when she heard the car engine. She hurried across to her window, peering into the pitch blackness in an attempt to see what was going on. The darkness was so complete that even the moon was obscured, and the stars offered little light. Night had changed the world into shadows. All she could see was one of the three cars from the driveway trundling through the huge gates before that too was lost in the night.

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