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Murder Goes Mumming
A Madoc and Janet Rhys Mystery
By Charlotte MacLeod
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1981 Alisa Craig
All rights reserved.
Detective inspector Madoc Rhys was a happy man. He had a four-day Christmas holiday by official ukase from RCMP Headquarters at Fredericton, New Brunswick, and he was about to take Miss Janet Wadman to dinner.
Rhys had been seeing a good deal of Miss Janet Wadman since she'd returned to her job in Saint John this past September, though not so much as he would have wished. The nature of his own profession tended to require his presence at the scenes of mysterious malefactions whose perpetrators never bothered to consider that it would have been kind of them to commit their crimes closer to Miss Wadman's temporary abode.
Janet was lodging in a furnished room with a widow lady of high principles and suspicious nature. Madoc Rhys had been allowed into that room for the first time this same afternoon, and then only because he'd brought his mother with him. He smiled at the memory as he adjusted his tie.
He'd phoned down from Fredericton and told Janet he was coming to meet his mother who was on her way to join his father in London. Being Janet she'd replied, "I can't ask her to supper in this room, because I have nowhere to cook it, but if you'd like to bring her for a cup of tea, she's welcome. I do have an electric kettle."
Madoc's mother was not used to being entertained in bedsitters by farmers' daughters working as stenographers. She'd been a trifle starchy at first, but Janet's scones and lemon cheese tarts had soon thawed her out. When she'd exclaimed, "I do so wish we had a bakery like yours at home," Janet had turned bright pink and primmed her lips.
Madoc, being a truly astute detective, had at once realized why. "What did you do, Jenny?" he'd asked. "Get up at five o'clock and swipe your landlady's oven?"
"Well, you can't serve boughten pastry to a person's mother," she'd replied.
Moments later, Janet had addressed that mother as Mrs. Rhys and had to be told that Mrs. Rhys was in fact Lady Rhys, wife of Sir Emlyn Rhys the noted choral director, mother of Dafydd Rhys the famous operatic tenor, and of Gwendolyn Rhys the rising young clarinetist. Furthermore, Lady Rhys herself had once sung "Ah, sweet mystery of life at last I've found thee" in front of the Queen Mum before she'd sacrificed her own musical career to those of her distinguished husband and her gifted children, and for goodness' sake hadn't Madoc explained?
Far from being overawed, Janet had observed wasn't that just like Madoc and offered Lady Rhys another lemon cheese tart for the road. On the way back to their hotel, Lady Rhys, who had always found her renegade second son a sore trial, had remarked that the Wadmans must be a very decent family and thank heaven Madoc had shaved off that God-awful moustache.
Without the drooping, reddish fringe on his upper lip, Detective Inspector Rhys looked less like an out-of-work plumber's helper and more like an aspiring young poet whose parents had a little money. He'd got his wavy, almost black hair cut by a barber who was not a lineal descendant of Sweeney Todd, bought some decent clothes for a change, and begun having a different sort of trouble with his female suspects than he was accustomed to.
Tonight Madoc was wearing the dinner jacket he'd acquired as a hand-me-down from Dafydd when he was eighteen because his mother insisted one never knew whom one was going to meet and one owed it to one's father's position. Lady Rhys had tactfully given Janet to understand that a dinner gown was not absolutely de rigueur. Janet had been astonished that anybody could even think she owned a formal gown, much less would wear it out in public unless to a Grand Installation of the Loyal Order of Owls or some such overwhelmingly solemn event. She did have a long red velvet skirt she'd bought because it was warmer around the legs than a short one. Lady Rhys said the skirt sounded perfect. Madoc thought it sounded rather dressy for a Saint John restaurant but had sense enough not to say so, knowing he himself was stuck with Dafydd's old suit in any case and not wanting to upset the applecart, which was trundling along so delightfully. Besides, he wanted to see how Janet looked in red velvet.
Janet was no longer the hagridden, desperately courageous little creature Rhys had met last August and managed to keep from becoming corpse number three in one of the most bizarre cases of multiple murder he'd ever handled. He hadn't quite realized how much she'd changed until he'd seen her beside his own mother this afternoon, quite at ease and blooming like an out-of-season rose.
He took a taxi to the rooming house and recklessly kept it waiting while his adored one put on the finishing touches and came down. Janet's landlady, who had been wont to eye Rhys as a potential seducer and betrayer and hadn't put any real stock in that yarn about his mother's coming to tea, was sufficiently awed by the splendor of Dafydd's old suit to attempt a smile and hope Mr. Rhys's mother was enjoying her visit to Saint John.
"I'm sorry I didn't get to meet her," she added rather pointedly.
"Yes, well, I'm sure Mother would have enjoyed meeting you, too," Rhys answered because his profession required him to do a considerable amount of lying anyway and it was, after all, the season to be jolly. "Ah, there you are, Jenny. Right on the button."
"I didn't want to keep Lady Rhys waiting."
Janet gave her now open-mouthed landlady a pleasant nod as she swept out of the house in her skirt and the beaver cape her sister-in-law Annabelle had insisted on lending her because Annabelle was no fool and had seen which way the wind was blowing as soon as Janet had started bringing Madoc up to the farm for weekends. The cape had in fact belonged to Annabelle's grandmother but was well preserved because the Duprees always bought quality and took good care of it. An attached hood and a fat little barrel muff completed as captivating a costume as was ever flaunted before an infatuated male.
"You're straight off a Christmas card," said Madoc, helping himself to an extra kiss as he put her into the taxi. "I suppose you realize Mother's crazy about you. While we're on the subject, so am I."
"I'd begun to have a feeling you might be." Janet snuggled up close and let the hood fall so that her soft bronze-brown hair rested against his cheek. "That makes it cozy all around."
Unfortunately, they had only a short ride to the hotel. Lady Rhys was waiting for them in the lobby, doing Sir Emlyn proud in black velvet and diamonds. She was chatting with some Very Important Person whose name she couldn't recall.
"My son Madoc and his fiancée, Janet Wadman," she introduced airily.
The Very Important Person observed in all sincerity that Madoc was a fortunate young man and took his departure. Madoc protested, though with no great violence.
"Mother, Janet hasn't said she'd marry me yet."
"Madoc, don't be silly. You two are obviously besotted with each other and Janet is hardly the sort to go in for anything silly like those young nitwits Dafydd is always hopping in and out of bed with. I've got to leave Saint John airport on the stroke of midnight to connect with my overseas flight from Halifax, and I have no time to waste on pussyfooting."
Lady Rhys took off a relatively modest but still impressive diamond. "This was my own grandmother's engagement ring. I decided long ago that I'd pass it on to whichever of my children got married first. Janet, I should be greatly honored if you'd let Madoc give it to you now."
Janet started to say, "Oh, I couldn't," then caught Madoc's eye, which was both besotted and beseeching, and decided she might as well. Shortly thereafter she shed her cape and muff, fixed her hair, which had got disarranged from all the kissing and hugging, and swept into the dining room between her betrothed and the distinguished lady who was so determined to be her mother-in-law. She looked so radiant in her red velvet skirt and little red vest with a white ruffled shirtwaist under it that any number of diners turned to stare and Madoc nearly exploded with pride.
He ordered champagne, expressing the courteous hope that the bubbles wouldn't get up Janet's nose and make her sneeze the way his moustache had done the first time he kissed her. Janet blushed an even more dazzling shade of rose and told him that was a fine way to talk in front of his mother. Lady Rhys wondered if perhaps they shouldn't have the wedding at St. Gregory's. Janet replied politely but firmly that the wedding would be held in the Pitcherville Reformed Baptist Church and that her brother Bert would give her away.
"In his Loyal Order of Owls regalia?" Madoc teased.
"If it makes him happy," she replied. "And we'd be delighted to have you sing 'Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life,' Lady Rhys, if you will. We're all very fond of the Queen Mum back home."
That struck Lady Rhys as hilarious. She laughed until she had to blot away the tears with her napkin because she owed it to her husband's position to present a decorous countenance before his great Canadian public.
"I haven't had so much fun in ages. I do wish I could take darling Jenny to London with me. She'd take the starch out of a few stuffed shirts. By the way, Madoc, what are you two planning to do for Christmas?"
"Oh, I thought we might just sit on a bench in King Square and hold hands," her son replied. "Actually I haven't had time to think about it much. Do you want to go up to Pitcherville, Jenny?"
"Not particularly. Annabelle's brother and his tribe are coming down from Rivière-du-Loup and her folks will be up, too. The house will be popping at the seams. I don't know where they'd put us, unless we bunk over at the Mansion with Marion Emery."
"Scratch Pitcherville, then."
Rhys had been forced to spend a couple of nights at the Mansion when he'd first gone there on official business and had no desire to take further advantage of Marion's hospitality. "Perhaps I'll keep my room here at the hotel and we can see a couple of movies or something. Your landlady might even let me come up for another cup of tea, now that we're on the verge of making it legal."
He was trying to kiss the back of Janet's neck, and she was telling him to behave himself when another Very Important Person stopped at their table.
"Here's a merry party. How nice to see you again, Lady Rhys. What brings you to Saint John?"
"Mr. Condrycke, what a pleasant surprise! Won't you join us for a glass of champagne to celebrate my son Madoc's engagement? This is my new daughter-in-law to be, Janet Wadman. Isn't she lovely?"
"She is, indeed. Congratulations, Rhys. Miss Wadman," he looked a trifle puzzled as he took the hand she held out to him. "Is it possible we've met somewhere?"
"Not to say met," Janet replied. "I was the one who took in the tea at your board meeting day before yesterday when Miss Perse was laid up with flu. You were the only one who bothered to say thank you."
Mr. Condrycke threw back his handsome blond-gray head and laughed. "That goes to show politeness always pays. One never knows whom one's going to meet where these days. So you're another of those liberated ladies who go in for careers? You must meet my daughter. Valerie's determined to break into television, don't ask me why. And you're a musician, I suppose, like the rest of your distinguished family. Eh, Rhys?"
"No, I'm the black sheep," Madoc admitted. "I was born with a tin ear."
"Madoc works for the Canadian government. In research."
Lady Rhys glared at her son, daring him to say her nay. He had no wish to do so, not because he wasn't proud to be a Mountie but because he often found it prudent not to advertise the fact.
"Computers and that sort of thing, I suppose," Mr. Condrycke said not very interestedly. He took the chair Lady Rhys indicated and the glass the waiter filled for him. "To your very good health and happiness, Mr. and Mrs. Rhys. And a Merry Christmas to all. What are your plans for the holidays?"
"We were just talking about that," said Lady Rhys. "I'm off to London tonight to meet my husband. He's doing the Messiah for the Royal Family. Dafydd's singing the tenor and our daughter Gwendolyn will be in the orchestra so it's quite a family affair, except for Madoc. He claimed he couldn't get the time off to join us and now I understand why."
She gave Janet an indulgent smile. "It's a pity these two couldn't have got their plans together a bit sooner. Janet's people are having a big house party and don't have room for them, so it looks as if they'll be all by themselves right here in Saint John. Can you imagine anything more deadly?"
She was joking, of course, but Mr. Condrycke seemed to think she wasn't. "That's terrible! Can't be allowed. Excuse me one moment, I'm going to get my wife."
"Who's this Mr. Condrycke?" Madoc asked as the man left the table.
"He's a patron of the arts," Lady Rhys replied rather grandly. "One meets them at benefits and receptions. I believe Dafydd took the daughter out once or twice when he came here to sing in a Community Concert."
"That is quite possible," said Rhys. "There are not many families whose daughters Dafydd has not taken out. Or in, as the case may be."
"Really, Madoc! What will Jenny think?"
"I hope she'll think she was lucky to meet me instead of Dafydd, though that is a great deal to hope. Jenny love, what do you know about Mr. Condrycke?"
"He's the one member of the board everybody seems to like, is all I can tell you. His first name is Donald, not that I've ever got to use it, needless to say. He's not around the offices much, and I've never had any personal contact with him except that one time with the tea. We've been shorthanded these past few days. You know how people tend to come down with mysterious ailments around the holidays. Anyway, Mr. Condrycke speaks to people in elevators and that sort of thing, and always looks good-natured, which makes him conspicuous among the top brass."
"Has he been with the company long?"
"Forever, I believe, though I haven't been there long enough myself to say for sure. It's my impression the Condryckes were among the founding fathers."
"I shouldn't be surprised," said Lady Rhys. "He looks like old money."
"Mother, what a snob you are," cried Madoc.
"No, dear, just aware of who's good for a decent-sized donation and who isn't. Music is so often a grace and favor sort of business, you know. Do stop detecting and try to act like a gentleman for once. Ask that waiter to bring us another chair for Mrs. Condrycke, and another bottle of bubbly."
"I shall need a decent-sized donation to pay for this meal if you insist on turning it into a formal reception."
"Nonsense, Madoc. You know Aunt Oldrys Rhys-Brown left you pots of money."
"Not pots, Mother."
"Well, a good deal more than she left the rest of us. Aunt Oldrys always hated music. I strongly suggest you two find yourselves a decent house straightaway instead of going into lodgings. Jenny will be leading much the same sort of life I've had to, I expect, either trailing around after you to heaven knows where or else at home with the babies wondering whether your plane's crashed or your lead soprano's having a temperament. Though with you I expect it will be bullets and burglars. In any event, she must have a place of her own. There's always so much bother about a house that it keeps one's mind off what one's husband may have got himself into when one's not around to look after him. Mrs. Condrycke, how very nice to see you again. Are we taking you away from a party?"
"Yes, but it's a company affair and quite frankly I'm delighted at the excuse to slip away. You see, Miss Wadman, I'm throwing myself on your mercy not to repeat that. Donald tells me you're a member of the firm, too. Though soon to become an ex-member?"
Mrs. Condrycke's manner was just gracious enough, her smile just the right degree arch as she glanced with proper respect at the fine heirloom diamond gracing Janet's left hand.
"I hardly qualify as a member of the firm," Janet replied with, Madoc was amused to note, the perfect mixture of modesty and amusement. "And I expect I shall be leaving before I've managed to scrabble my way out of the stenographic pool."
"Shall you miss it, do you think?"
"With all respect to the firm, not a bit. I like keeping house, and I think office work is a bore."
"Then you must have a heart-to-heart chat with my daughter Val. Which brings us, as that other bore who's making the speech back there is probably saying about now, to the true object of our meeting. My husband and I are hoping we can persuade you and Madoc to come up to Graylings with us."
Excerpted from Murder Goes Mumming by Charlotte MacLeod. Copyright © 1981 Alisa Craig. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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