Singers and musicians are gathered for a weekend course in folk music at the impressive neo-Gothic country mansion Follymead. Most come only to sing or to listen, but one or two have nonmusical scores to settle. When brilliantly talented Liri Palmer sings “Black, black, black is the colour of my true-love’s heart,” she clearly has a message for someone in the audience. And as passions run high, there is murder brewing at Follymead.
Among the music students are Dominic Felse and his girlfriend, Theodosia. When not one, but two, members of the group go missing from the hall, Dominic calls upon his father, Detective Inspector George Felse, to help him solve this most perplexing mystery.
Black Is the Colour of My True Love’s Heart is the 6th book in the Felse Investigations, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
About the Author
Ellis Peters is a pseudonym of Edith Mary Pargeter (1913–1995), a British author whose Chronicles of Brother Cadfael are credited with popularizing the historical mystery. Cadfael, a Welsh Benedictine monk living at Shrewsbury Abbey in the first half of the twelfth century, has been described as combining the curious mind of a scientist with the bravery of a knight-errant. The character has been adapted for television, and the books drew international attention to Shrewsbury and its history.
Pargeter won an Edgar Award in 1963 for Death and the Joyful Woman, and in 1993 she won the Cartier Diamond Dagger, an annual award given by the Crime Writers’ Association of Great Britain. She was appointed officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1994, and in 1999 the British Crime Writers’ Association established the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger award, later called the Ellis Peters Historical Award.
Read an Excerpt
Black Is the Colour of My True Love's Heart
The Felse Investigations: Book 6
By Ellis Peters
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1967 Ellis Peters
All rights reserved.
The girl with the guitar-case was standing alone at the Belwardine bus-stop when Arundale parked the car before the station entrance, and went in to collect the records Professor Penrose had left behind. She was still standing there when he came back and stowed the battered box under the bonnet of his grey Volkswagen. She had the green-railed enclosure to herself. She didn't know it, but the Belwardine buses were independents, and waited for neither man nor train, and there wouldn't be another for more than half an hour.
Arundale was not a man who went out of his way to offer people lifts. It was the guitar-case that stirred his sense of duty; but for that he would hardly have been aware of her at all, for only one woman really existed in his life, and that was his wife. This girl was perhaps nineteen or twenty, tall, slim, and of striking appearance. Her face was thin, richly coloured, with long, fine-drawn features and large, calm, fierce eyes as blue as steel. Her great fell of heavy brown hair coiled and spilled round her face with a dynamic life of its own, and was gathered into a waist-long braid as thick as her wrist, interwoven with narrow strips of soft red leather, as though only tethers strong enough for horses could confine it. She had a duffle bag slung over her left shoulder, and wore a duffle coat carelessly loose over a charcoal-grey sweater and skirt of deceptively plain but wickedly expensive jersey. She stood carelessly and splendidly at ease, but her face was intent and abstracted. She looked like a fate in the wings, imperturbably waiting for her cue; and that was what she was. But all he saw was a long-haired girl with a guitar, and an inescapable and rather tiresome duty. He had delegated this course to his deputy; it was annoying that he should be obliged to ferry in the strays.
She looked at him, and found him looking at her. Without hesitation and without mercy, as the young will, she took all decisions out of his hands.
'Excuse me,' she said in a voice unexpectedly cool and limpid, the voice of a singer off-duty, 'could you tell me how often these buses run?'
She could pitch that superbly soft and confident note clean across the station approach at him, but he had to move nearer in order to reply without a sense of strain.
'I'm afraid they're not very frequent. In the evening there's a forty-minute interval. Perhaps I could be of service to you. I'm going that way myself.'
'I've got to get to a place called Follymead,' said the girl, measuring him without haste or prejudice. 'It's a sort of musical college, they're having a weekend course on folk music. Maybe you know the place.'
'I know it,' he said. Who could know it better? But for some reason, or for no good reason at all except lack of interest in her, he didn't tell her how closely he was connected with that curious foundation. 'I can take you there with pleasure. It would be much quicker than waiting for the bus.'
She gave him the quick scrutiny wise girls do give to middle-aged gentlemen offering lifts, but it was a mere formality; his respectability, his status, and the store he set on keeping it, were all written all over him. He was fifty-five, and still an impressive figure of a man, even though his frequent games of tennis and squash could no longer keep his weight down as low as he liked it. He had a businessman's smooth-shaven face and commanding air, but a don's aloof, quizzical, slightly self-satisfied eyes and serious smile. He thought well of himself, and knew that the world thought well of him. She couldn't be safer.
'Really? I shouldn't be taking you out of your way?'
'Not a yard, I assure you.'
'Then thanks very much, I'll be glad to accept.' And she let him take the duffle bag from her, but she held on to the guitar-case, and herself stowed it carefully on the rear seat of the car before she slid into the front passenger seat with an expert flick of long legs. 'My train was late. I only made up my mind to come at the last moment.'
'You're not actually taking part in this folk-music course, then?' he asked, casting a glance behind at her instrument as he started the engine.
The girl followed the glance with a thin, dark smile. 'Oh, that! I just happened to have it with me when I made up my mind to come. No, I'm not on the programme. Just one of the mob.'
'You came to study the form?' he suggested helpfully. He was surprised, all the same, for the guitar-case was old and much-carried, and her speaking voice promised a singing voice of quality.
The small smile tightened, burned grimly bright for an instant, and vanished. 'That's about it,' she agreed, her eyes fixed ahead. 'I came to study the form.'
'But you are a folk singer?'
'I'm a ballad singer,' she said, with the crisp and slightly irritable intonation of one frequently forced to insist upon the distinction.
His eyebrows rose. Rather dryly he said: 'I see!'
'I'm sorry,' she said, softening, 'I didn't mean to sound touchy, but it's a sore point with me. I've never claimed to be a folk singer. I'm not even sure I know exactly what a folk singer is, and I'm dead certain too many people use the term to mean whatever they want to persuade the world they are. About a ballad singer you can't be in much doubt, it's somebody who sings ballads. That's what I do, so that's what I call myself. How far is it to this Follymead place?'
'Nearly five miles. We'll have you there in a quarter of an hour.'
The streets of Comerbourne slid by them moistly in the April dusk. Neon-lit shop-fronts, all glass and chrome, gave place to the long, harmonious Georgian frontage of Crane Place, and that in turn to the two smoky lines of hedges streaming alongside like veils, just filmed with the green of new leafage, and the sinewy trunks of beeches, trepanned with metal reflectors. April had come in cold, angry and wet, trampling and tearing the heavy late snow with squalls of rain, and bringing the flood-water rolling down the Comer brown and turgid from the hills of Wales. But this evening had fallen quiet and still, with a soft green afterglow in the sky, and a hazy, glow-worm look about the first sidelights wavering along the road.
The girl gazed ahead steadily, her fine brows drawn together, her profile intent and still. She watched the budding hedges swoop by her, and the compact villages come and go, and made no comment. Her mind, somewhere well ahead, grappled already with the unknown realities of Follymead; but when it came it was none the less daunting.
A deep half-circle of grass swept inward on their left, the tall grey-stone wall receding with it. The drive swung in towards huge, lofty gate-posts that almost dwarfed a tiny hexagonal lodge. The wrought-iron gates stood wide open, and on either side, on top of the yard-thick posts, an iron gryphon supported a toppling coat of arms. Beyond, acres of park-land stretched away in artfully undulating levels that owed very little to nature.
'This is it?' asked the girl, staring out with astonished eyes at the monsters pole-squatting ten feet above the roof of the car.
'This is it.' He had already turned the car inward towards the open gates.
'Oh, just drop me here at the entrance. I can walk up to the house.'
'With your luggage? It's nearly a mile. In any case, this is where I'm going. I should have told you before,' he said, condescending rather complacently towards apology. 'My name's Arundale, Edward Arundale, I'm the warden of the college.'
'Oh?' She turned her head and gave him a full, penetrating look, probing with candid curiosity, and some distrust. 'I see! Then it was you who arranged this course?'
'Not exactly, no. My deputy's running this one. I've got some outside engagements that are going to take me away for most of the weekend. In any case, this isn't really my field. My wife's the enthusiast for folk music. And your lecturer is a don from our parent university, Roderick Penrose. No, I'm staying strictly in the background. Penrose forgot a case of recording tapes at the station, that's why I offered to run in and fetch them for him, otherwise I shouldn't have had the pleasure of offering you a lift. The guitar, you know. As soon as I saw it, I thought you must be headed for Follymead.'
'Lucky for me,' said the girl, 'that professors live up to their reputation for absent-mindedness.' She peered out unbelievingly at the fantasies of Follymead unrolling along the drive. The dusk softened their outlines and colours, but there was no missing them. In a clump of cypresses on top of a hill too artfully rounded to be natural, the pallor of a Greek temple gleamed, a hotch-potch of Doric, Ionic and Corinthian in flaking plaster. Distant on the other side of the drive the tamed park gave way to a towering wilderness of crags, with the mouth of a cave neatly built in at a high level, no doubt for the hermit without whom no Victorian poetic landscape would be complete. A coil of river showed in angry silver among the folds of greensward, an arched bridge where certainly no bridge had been necessary before the landscape gardeners got busy. Somewhere ahead, on a still higher viewpoint, the jagged outline of a ruined tower posed self-consciously against a sky now darkening to olive-green.
'No pagoda?' said the girl disapprovingly; and suddenly there was the pagoda, prompt to its cue, peeping out of the trees behind the heron-pool. She laughed abruptly and gaily. 'Who in the world built this place? Beckford?'
'It was built by a highly-respected family named Cothercott.' The tone was a reproof, for all its forbearance, and all the chillier because she had surprised him by knowing about Beckford, and had got the period exactly right. Follymead was within ten years or so the same vintage as Fonthill Abbey and Strawberry Hill and all its neo-Gothic fellows; and she hadn't even seen the house yet. 'They had more money than was good for any family, and spent it on building their private world, as so many others were doing. And like most of their kind they dwindled away for want of heirs, and the last of them left Follymead to the county, about twenty years ago. With a very good endowment fund, luckily, or it would have been impossible to use it. As it is, by charging a fairly economic fee for board and tuition, we can contrive to keep out of the red. The place is considered a very fine example of its period,' he said forbiddingly, lest she should be in any doubt where he stood, 'and the grounds are justly famous.'
The girl was as capable of delighting in fantasy as anyone else, but she had not, until then, been disposed to take Follymead seriously. She took a sidelong look at the regular profile beside her, the austere cast of the lips, the smoothset, humourless eyes; and she saw that Edward Arundale took it very seriously indeed, perhaps not for its own sweet sake, perhaps because it was an appurtenance of himself, and sacred accordingly.
'So they turned it into a residential music college,' she said. 'I shouldn't have thought there'd be enough demand for that sort of thing.'
'There wouldn't be, locally, but from the beginning I've made it my policy to turn the place into a national asset. We draw on the whole country. We've got adequate space for conferences and festivals, as well as providing our own courses and recitals. It's taken a few years to establish us properly, but I think I can say we've achieved national recognition now. International, even.'
His voice had taken on the smoothness and richness of an occasion; she felt herself acting as audience to a lecture, and remembered the time-table:
5.00 p.m. to 5.30 p.m. Students assemble. Tea will be available on arrival.
5.30 p.m. Conducted tour of the house, optional.
6.45 p.m. Assemble for dinner. The warden, Dr. Edward Arundale, M.A.,F.R.C.M.,
will welcome artists and students to Follymead.
She wondered if it was always the same address of welcome, suitably modulated, or if he ever made allowances for the sceptics, and admitted to the possibility that this kingdom he inhabited was a monstrosity. And yet, was it? She found herself almost tempted to enjoy a fantasy so uninhibited, as somebody had enjoyed creating it. Not reverently, like the warden, but exuberantly, with all the abounding energy and ingenuity of the eighteenth century, no holds barred. And who cared what a plethora of turrets might be jangling overhead, as long as the acoustics in the music rooms were right?
'It was particularly suitable to use it for music,' said Arundale, unbending a little. 'It so happens the Cothercotts were a musical family, and they left us a very fine collection of instruments with the house. We had to restore the organ, but the other early keyboard instruments are splendid.'
Clearly this was his field; he still sounded like a lecturer, and perhaps he always would, but at least there was the warm flush of enthusiasm in his voice now. But he didn't enlarge; she was merely one of the folk-singing clan, he could hardly expect her to be interested in the Cothercott virginals and the perfect little table spinet by Holyoake. And in any case, the car was just rounding the final, planned curve of the long drive, and the house would be waiting to take the stranger's breath away, as it had been designed to do.
Here came the curve. The bushes shrank away on either side, the great, straight, levelled apron of lawn expanded before them, and the house, nicely elevated on its three tiers of terraces, soared into the dusk and impaled the sky with a dozen towers and turrets and steeples and vanes, tapering from steep gables above row upon row of mullioned windows silvered over with the faint afterglow, as calculated and stunning as some monstrous stage-set at curtain-rise. There were tall, glazed oriels, rounded rose-windows, tight, thin arrow-slits; there were battlements, and pediments and conical roofs, and galleries, and even gargoyles leaning darkly from the corners of the towers. It was so outrageous as to be almost beautiful, so phoney that it had its own kind of genuineness. For one thing, it hadn't happened by mistake, or through sheer over-enthusiasm. The effect it produced was the effect it had been made to produce, and no chance horror. And it had been built well, from a lovely light-grey stone, and with a certain assured symmetry. There had been a mind behind its creation, as well as money, and an individual, cool and sinister mind at that. The owner or the architect?
The girl sat silent, staring in fascination and disbelief tensed in resistance, as the car approached along the pale ribbon of tarmac between the planed acres of grass, and the pile of Follymead grew taller and darker and vaster with every yard.
'Impressive, isn't it?' said Arundale, aware that she hated being impressed by mere stone, mortar and glass; he could feel how furiously she was bracing herself against it. 'Walpole stayed here several times. He described it as a house where drama was a permanent upper servant, eccentricity a member of the family, and tragedy an occasional guest.'
'And comedy?' said the girl unexpectedly. 'They named it Follymead, not Nightmare Abbey. Maybe it took them by surprise, too, when they saw it finished.'
He drew the car round to the foot of the sweep of stone steps that led to the terrace. Lights winked on, one by one, along the great glazed gallery on the first floor, running the whole length of the house-front. Through the windows they saw a gaggle of people passing slowly, peering round them with stretched necks; earnest elderly ladies, bearded, shaggy young men with pipes, ascetic students in glasses, broad-barrelled country gentlemen with time on their hands and a mild musical curiosity, eager girls peering through their curtains of limp long hair.
'They're just taking parties round on a tour of the house,' said Arundale, opening the door for his passenger. 'Leave your luggage, I'll bring it in when I've run the car round to the yard. You just trot in and join them. Formalities later.'
She reached in again for her guitar, all the same, and straightened up to look at the lighted windows above them. The party passing had halted for a moment, all their faces turned up to some painting hung very high on the inner wall. Only their guide faced the windows as she went through her recital; a very young girl, surely no more than fifteen or sixteen, slight and pale, with wings of mouse-brown hair framing a serious and secretive face, a face full of doubts and hesitations and flashes of uneasy animation, as early-April as the weather outside, and her own difficult season. Something in the fine, irresolute features, the set of the eyes and carriage of the head, made the newcomer turn and look again at Arundale; and she was not mistaken, the likeness was there, allowing for the years and the toughening and the entrenchment, though maybe he'd never possessed the possibilities of passion which the girl in the gallery certainly had, and didn't know yet what to do with.
Excerpted from Black Is the Colour of My True Love's Heart by Ellis Peters. Copyright © 1967 Ellis Peters. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A good but not great offering by Peters, but definitely worth reading. Very different from Brother Cadfeal, obviously in history and scope, but still good work from this author.