Castrevenford school is preparing for Speech Day and English professor and amateur sleuth Gervase Fen is called upon to present the prizes. However, the night before the big day, strange events take place that leave two members of staff dead. The Headmaster turns to Professor Fen to investigate the murders.
While disentangling the facts of the case, Mr Fen is forced to deal with student love affairs, a kidnapping and a lost Shakespearean manuscript. By turns hilarious and chilling, Love Lies Bleeding is a classic of the detective genre.
Erudite, eccentric and entirely delightful - Before Morse, Oxford's murders were solved by Gervase Fen, the most unpredictable detective in classic crime fiction.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.62(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Love Lies Bleeding
By Edmund Crispin
Ipso BooksCopyright © 1948 Rights Limited
All rights reserved.
The headmaster sighed. It was, he recognized, a plaintive and unmanly noise, but for the moment he was quite unable to suppress it. He apologized.
'The heat ...' he explained, and waved one hand limply in the direction of the windows, beyond which a good-sized lawn lay parching in the mid-morning sun. 'It's the heat.'
As an excuse, this was colourable enough. The day was torrid, almost tropical, and even in the tall, shady study, its curtains half drawn to prevent wood and fabric from bleaching, the atmosphere was too oppressive for comfort. But the headmaster spoke without conviction, and his visitor was not deceived.
'I'm sorry to plague you with my affairs,' she said briskly, 'because I realize that your time must be completely taken up with the arrangements for speech day. Unfortunately, I've no choice in the matter. The parents are insisting on some kind of investigation.'
The headmaster nodded gloomily. He was a small, slight man of about fifty, clean-shaven, with a long, inquisitive nose, sparse black hair, and a deceptive mien of diffidence and vagueness.
'It would be the parents,' he said. 'So much of one's time is spent in trying to dissipate the futile alarms of parents ...'
'Only in this case,' his visitor replied, keeping with decision to the matter in hand, 'something really does seem to have happened.'
From the farther side of his desk, the headmaster looked at her unhappily. He invariably found Miss Parry's efficiency a little daunting. He seemed to see, ranked indomitably behind her, all those bold, outspoken, competent, middle-aged women whose kind is peculiar to the higher levels of the English bourgeoisie, organizing charity bazaars, visiting the sick and impoverished, training callow maidservants, implacably gardening. Some freak of destiny into which he had never enquired had compelled Miss Parry to forsake this orbit in search of a living, but its atmosphere still clung about her; and no doubt her headship of the Castrevenford High School for Girls was calculated rather to confirm than to mitigate it ... The headmaster began to fill his pipe.
'Yes?' he said non-committally.
'Information, Dr Stanford. What I most need is information.'
'Ah.' The headmaster removed some vagrant strands of tobacco from the bowl of his pipe and nodded again, but with more deliberation and gravity. 'You'll permit me to smoke?' he asked.
'I shall smoke myself,' said Miss Parry decisively. She waved the proffered box firmly though not unkindly aside, and produced a cigarette case from her handbag. 'I prefer American brands,' she explained. 'Fewer chemicals in them.'
The headmaster struck a match and lit the cigarette for her. 'It would probably be best,' he suggested, 'if you were to give me the facts from the beginning.'
Miss Parry blew out a long stream of smoke, rather as though it were some noxious substance which must be expelled from her mouth as quickly and as vigorously as possible.
'I need hardly tell you,' she said, 'that it has to do with the play.'
This information struck the headmaster as being, on the whole, more cheering than he had dared to hope. For some years past, the Castrevenford High School for Girls had cooperated with Castrevenford School itself in the production of a speech day play. It was a tradition fruitful of annoyances to all concerned, the only palliating circumstance being that these annoyances were predictable and ran in well-worn grooves. Mostly they consisted of clandestine embraces, during rehearsals, between the male and female members of the cast – and for such incidents the penalties and remedies were so well tested as to be almost automatic.
The headmaster's spirits rose. He said, 'Then this girl is in the play? I'm afraid I haven't been able to give it much attention this year. It's Henry V, isn't it?'
'Yes. The choice didn't please my girls very much. Too few female parts.'
'Doubtless the boys were disappointed for the same reason.'
Miss Parry laughed, sincerely yet still briskly; as if to imply that humour, while essential to cultivated intercourse, must not be allowed to usurp the place of more important matters.
'Very distressing to all parties,' she said. 'Anyway, this particular girl is playing the part of Catherine. Her name is Brenda Boyce.'
The headmaster frowned as he lit a second match and applied it to the bowl of his pipe. 'Boyce? Are they local people? A boy of that name was here up to about two years ago. A rather worldly boy, as I recall.'
'That would be a brother,' said Miss Parry. 'And you might describe the whole family as worldly. The parents are of the expensive, cocktail-party-and-chromium kind.'
'I remember them.' The headmaster deposited the spent match delicately in an ashtray surmounted by a silver elephant. 'Quite likeable, I thought ... However, that's not relevant at the moment.'
'The parents are relevant in a way.' Miss Parry sat back and crossed her sturdy, uncompromisingly utilitarian legs. 'That is to say that their sophistication offers some clue as to what this problem is not. Brenda, as you might expect from her upbringing, is rather a fast little baggage – she's sixteen, by the way, and due to leave at the end of this term – and a pretty child into the bargain. She is not, therefore, likely to be upset by any demonstration of – um – youthful erotism.'
Here Miss Parry gazed at her host with marked severity. 'Go on,' said the headmaster. He was aware that Miss Parry required no encouragement from him, but conversational silences, even when motivated by the mere necessity of drawing breath, must out of ordinary courtesy be bridged somehow.
'As you know,' Miss Parry proceeded, 'there was a rehearsal of Henry V in the hall here yesterday evening. And when Brenda got home from it at about half past ten, she was, according to her parents, in a very peculiar state of mind.'
'What do you mean exactly?'
'Evasive. On edge. Yes, and frightened, too.'
They could hear the headmaster's secretary typing in the little room next door, and the fitful buzzing of flies on the window panes. Otherwise it was very quiet.
'Of course,' said Miss Parry after a moment's pause, 'they asked her what was the matter. And – to be brief about it – she would give no explanation at all, either to her parents or to me, when I questioned her this morning.'
'The parents telephoned you?'
'Yes. They were evidently worried – and that, Dr Stanford, is what worries me. Whatever their faults, they aren't the sort of people to make a fuss about nothing.'
'What did the girl herself say to you?'
'She implied that her parents were imagining things, and said there was nothing to explain. But I could see she was still upset, and I'm tolerably certain she was lying. Otherwise I shouldn't have troubled you about it.'
The headmaster meditated briefly, scrutinizing as he did so the familiar objects of the room: the rich blue Aubusson carpet, the reproductions of Constable and Corot on the walls, the comfortable leather-covered armchairs and the big flat-topped desk at which he sat. He said thoughtfully:
'Yes. I see why the upbringing is relevant. You mean that even if someone had – ah – made a pass at this young woman —'
He paused on this mildly plebeian mode of expression, and Miss Parry completed the sentence for him.
'It would not have distressed her. Exactly. In fact, it would probably have had just the opposite effect.'
'Indeed.' The headmaster appeared to be brooding over this evidence of female precocity. 'Then you think,' he said presently, 'that it's something more serious than that?'
Miss Parry assented. 'In a way.'
The headmaster eyed her with some apprehension; they had spoken of sexual matters before, but for the most part in general and hyperbolic terms, and at the moment directness seemed called for.
'Seduction?' he murmured uncertainly.
Miss Parry volleyed courageously. 'I had thought of that,' she admitted – and then leaned forward with a gesture almost of impatience. 'But I'm inclined to rule it out. You'll allow me to speak frankly?'
'I should welcome it,' said the headmaster gallantly.
Miss Parry smiled – a small, nervous smile so out of keeping with her habitual candour that it was a kind of revelation to him; he realized suddenly that she found such topics objectionable not out of prudery or obscurantism, but because their discussion was a real derogation of some unacknowledged ideal of decency to which she subscribed. He liked and respected her for it, and he smiled back.
'There are two possibilities,' she said. 'A rape, which she couldn't help; or a seduction, which she regretted afterward.'
Miss Parry hesitated. 'I know it's unpalatable,' she went on, 'to talk about a girl of sixteen in terms like that, but I hardly see how it can be avoided ... If it is a rape, then I scarcely imagine that one of your boys is responsible ...'
'Agreed,' said the headmaster. 'To my knowledge, there isn't a boy in the school who'd have the nerve.'
'And as to seduction ... Well, in the first place, Brenda is a self-possessed and knowledgeable child, quite capable of taking care of herself. And in the second place —'
'In the second place, I asked her outright this morning if anything of that sort had occurred. Her only reaction was surprise – and I'm positive it was genuine.'
'I'm greatly relieved to hear it.' The headmaster pulled a handkerchief from his breast pocket and dabbed perfunctorily at his forehead. 'But in that case I don't understand what upset the girl – or why she should be so secretive about it.'
Miss Parry shrugged. 'No more do I. As far as I can see, sex is out of it, and although there are a good many conceivable alternatives, there's no actual evidence for any of them.'
'Then how can I help you?'
'All I want is to establish, as far as possible, that nothing untoward happened during the rehearsal, or on the premises here. My responsibility ends with that.'
'I see. Well, that should be easy enough. I'll speak to Mathieson, who's producing the play ... If you like, I'll do it now. I believe he's teaching this period, so I can easily get hold of him.'
'There's no immediate hurry.' Miss Parry rose and stubbed out her cigarette. 'The whole affair is probably an ignis fatuus. Perhaps if you could telephone me later on ...'
'By all means.' The headmaster, too, had risen. He pointed to a statuette of Aphrodite which stood on a rosewood side table by the door. 'I'm very glad,' he said, 'that that woman isn't responsible. When we have trouble with the play it's generally safe to assume that she's at the bottom of it.'
Miss Parry smiled. 'The Platonic halves ...' she said.
'The Platonic halves,' said the headmaster firmly, 'are best kept apart until they've left school. Apart from anything else, a little enforced abstinence makes the eventual impact much more violent and exciting ...' He became belatedly aware of the duties of hospitality: 'But won't you stay to lunch?'
'Thank you, no. I must be back by the time morning school finishes.'
'A pity. But you'll be at the – ah – celebrations tomorrow?'
'Of course. Who's giving the prizes?'
'It was to have been Lord Washburton,' said the headmaster, 'but he's fallen ill, so I've had to get a last-minute substitute – the Oxford Professor of English, who's an acquaintance of mine. He should be interesting – in fact, my only fear is that he may be too interesting. I'm not quite sure that he's capable of the sustained hypocrisy which the occasion demands.'
'In that case I shall come to the speeches. As you know, I avoid them as a rule.'
'I only wish I could,' said the headmaster. 'Not in this particular instance, but in general ... Well, well. I suppose these crosses helped to justify my three thousand a year.'
He showed Miss Parry out, and returned to the correspondence which lay on his desk. A Mrs Brodribb, it appeared, had much to say on the subject of Henry's School Certificate results – a matter on which the headmaster himself was only imperfectly informed. There was to be a meeting of the Headmasters' Conference in a fort-night's time. Someone wished to endow a prize for the best yearly essay on The Future of the British Empire ... The headmaster groaned aloud. There were far too many prizes already. The boys wasted too much of their time competing for them, and the masters wasted too much of their time setting and correcting them. Unluckily, the donor in this instance was too eminent to be offended; the only gleam of comfort was that with tact he might be induced to read the essays, and award the prize, himself.
The headmaster glanced rapidly at the remaining letters, and then put them aside. The problem of that lasciva puella, Brenda Boyce, had aroused in him a mild curiosity – and since the matter had to be dealt with, it might as well be dealt with now. He went to a dark green metal filing cabinet and investigated its contents; they revealed the fact that Mathieson was at present teaching English to the Modern Lower Fifth. The headmaster picked up his gown and mortarboard and, carrying them under his arm, made for the door.CHAPTER 2
Find out Moonshine
'For I have learned,' said Simblefield, a small, spotty, cowardly boy, 'to look on nature not as in the hour of thoughtless youth but hearing oftentimes the still sad music of humanity nor harsh nor grating though of ample power to chasten and subdue.'
He paused, and an expression of pleasure appeared on his unprepossessing features. Simblefield's highest aim, in the recitation of poetry, was to get through his allotted portion without actually omitting any of the words; and this he had succeeded in doing. That there were subtleties of interpretation beyond and above this simple ambition he was, of course, vaguely aware, but in the flush of his present triumph he held them of no account.
In the silence which followed his breathless intoning, Mr Hargrave, the school's most savage disciplinarian, could be heard in the next room booming Latin at his cowed and sycophantic form. Simblefield looked expectantly at Mr Mathieson, who was gazing with folded arms out of the classroom windows. Being an exceptionally naive and stupid boy, Simblefield supposed that Mr Mathieson was seeking for words adequate to commend his performance; but in this diagnosis Simblefield was mistaken, for in fact Mr Mathieson had fallen into a transient and inchoate daydream, and was momentarily unaware that Simblefield had finished. He was an untidy, heavily built man of middle age, clumsy in his movements; and he wore an ancient sports coat with leather pads sewn to the elbows, and a pair of baggy grey trousers.
The sound of fidgeting aroused him, and his reverie merged discouragingly into the austere reality of the classroom. It was a large, box-like place, the lower reaches of its walls liberally decorated with ink and fingermarks. The master's desk, ponderous and antiquated, stood on a dais beside a pitted and pock-marked wall blackboard. There were a few cheerless pictures of indefinite rustic and classical scenes. A thin film of chalk covered everything. And some twenty boys sat behind wilfully collapsible desks, occupying their brief intermission in various more or less destructive and useless ways.
Mathieson observed that Simblefield was no longer giving tongue, but was, instead, gazing at him with much complacency.
'Simblefield,' he said, 'have you any notion at all of the meaning of this poem?'
'Oh, sir,' said Simblefield feebly.
'Just what is our attitude to nature in our thoughtless youth, Simblefield? You must be well qualified to answer that question.'
There was some laughter of a rather insincere kind. 'Potty Simblefield,' said someone.
'Well, Simblefield? I'm waiting for an answer.'
'Oh, sir, I don't know, sir.'
'Of course you must know. Think, boy. You don't take much notice of nature, do you?'
'Oh, yes, sir.'
'No, you don't, Simblefield. To you, it's simply a background for your own personality.'
'Yes, sir, I see, sir,' said Simblefield rather too readily.
'I have grave doubts, Simblefield, as to whether in fact you do see. But some of the others may.'
There was an instant clamour. 'I understand, sir.' 'Only a fool like Simblefield wouldn't understand.' 'Sir, it's like when you go for a walk, sir, you don't really notice the trees.' 'Sir, why do we have to read Wordsworth, sir?'
'Quiet!' said Mr Mathieson with determination. An uneasy hush ensued. 'Now, that is precisely the way in which Wordsworth did not look at nature.'
'Wordsworth was a daft fool,' someone said sotto voce.
Mr Mathieson, after briefly considering tracing this remark to its source, and deciding against it, went on, 'That is to say that for Wordsworth nature was more than a mere background.'
'Didn't Wordsworth nearly have his head cut off in the French Revolution, sir?'
'He was certainly in France shortly after the Revolution. As I was saying —'
'Sir, why do they cut people's heads off in France and hang them in England?'
'And electrocute them in America, sir?'
'And shoot them in Russia, sir?'
A further babel arose. 'They don't shoot them in Russia, you fool, they cut off their heads with an axe.' 'Sir, is it true that when they hang a man his heart goes on beating long after he's dead?' 'Oh, Bagshaw, you idiot.' 'Yes, you fool, how could he be dead if his heart was beating?'
Mathieson banged on his desk.
'If anyone speaks again without permission,' he said, 'I shall report him to his housemaster.'
This was at once effective – being, indeed, an infallible specific against any form of disorder. At Castrevenford, to be reported to one's housemaster was a serious affair.
Excerpted from Love Lies Bleeding by Edmund Crispin. Copyright © 1948 Rights Limited. Excerpted by permission of Ipso Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Contents1 Lasciva Puella,
2 Find out Moonshine,
3 Thieves Break in and Steal,
6 Loves Lies Bleeding,
8 The Death of a Witch,
9 Love's Labour's Won,
10 Meditations Among the Tombs,
11 Reasoning but to Err,
12 A Green Thought in a Green Shade,
13 A Sennet: Enter Second Murderer,
14 Exit, Pursued by a Bear,
17 Peace Indivisible,