In "The Eyes Have it," Lord Darcy must figure out who killed the taciturn playboy, the Count D'Evreux.
In the political thriller "A Case of Identity," Lord Darcy picks apart the disappearance of the Marquis of Cherbourg, especially mysterious considering the escalating cold war with Poland.
Lord Darcy and Master Sean investigate a body coated in blue paint already occupying a coffin built for the late Duke of Kent in "The Muddle of the Woad."
Literary humor is at the heart of "In a Stretch of the Imagination," where the head of an important publishing house commits suicide under suspicious circumstances.
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The Eyes Have It
Sir Pierre Morlaix, Chevalier of the Angevin Empire, Knight of the Golden Leopard, and secretary-in-private to my lord, the Count D'Evreux, pushed back the lace at his cuff for a glance at his wrist watch — three minutes of seven. The Angelus had rung at six, as always, and my lord D'Evreux had been awakened by it, as always. At least, Sir Pierre could not remember any time in the past seventeen years when my lord had not awakened at the Angelus. Once, he recalled, the sacristan had failed to ring the bell, and the Count had been furious for a week. Only the intercession of Father Bright, backed by the Bishop himself, had saved the sacristan from doing a turn in the dungeons of Castle D'Evreux.
Sir Pierre stepped out into the corridor, walked along the carpeted flagstones, and cast a practiced eye around him as he walked. These old castles were difficult to keep clean, and my lord the Count was fussy about nitre collecting in the seams between the stones of the walls. All appeared quite in order, which was a good thing. My lord the Count had been making a night of it last evening, and that always made him the more peevish in the morning. Though he always woke at the Angelus, he did not always wake up sober.
Sir Pierre stopped before a heavy, polished, carved oak door, selected a key from one of the many at his belt, and turned it in the lock. Then he went into the elevator and the door locked automatically behind him. He pressed the switch and waited in patient silence as he was lifted up four floors to the Count's personal suite.
By now, my lord the Count would have bathed, shaved, and dressed. He would also have poured down an eye- opener consisting of half a water glass of fine Champagne brandy. He would not eat breakfast until eight. The Count had no valet in the strict sense of the term. Sir Reginald Beauvay held that title, but he was never called upon to exercise the more personal functions of his office. The Count did not like to be seen until he was thoroughly presentable.
The elevator stopped. Sir Pierre stepped out into the corridor and walked along it toward the door at the far end. At exactly seven o'clock, he rapped briskly on the great door which bore the gilt-and-polychrome arms of the House D'Evreux.
For the first time in seventeen years, there was no answer.
Sir Pierre waited for the growled command to enter for a full minute, unable to believe his ears. Then, almost timidly, he rapped again.
There was still no answer.
Then, bracing himself for the verbal onslaught that would follow if he had erred, Sir Pierre turned the handle and opened the door just as if he had heard the Count's voice telling him to come in.
"Good morning, my lord," he said, as he always had for seventeen years.
But the room was empty, and there was no answer.
He looked around the huge room. The morning sunlight streamed in through the high mullioned windows and spread a diamond-checkered pattern across the tapestry on the far wall, lighting up the brilliant hunting scene in a blaze of color.
Nothing. Not a sound.
The bedroom door was open. Sir Pierre walked across to it and looked in.
He saw immediately why my lord the Count had not answered, and that, indeed, he would never answer again.
My lord the Count lay flat on his back, his arms spread wide, his eyes staring at the ceiling. He was still clad in his gold and scarlet evening clothes. But the great stain on the front of his coat was not the same shade of scarlet as the rest of the cloth, and the stain had a bullet hole in its center.
Sir Pierre looked at him without moving for a long moment. Then he stepped over, knelt, and touched one of the Count's hands with the back of his own. It was quite cool. He had been dead for hours.
"I knew someone would do you in sooner or later, my lord," said Sir Pierre, almost regretfully.
Then he rose from his kneeling position and walked out without another look at his dead lord. He locked the door of the suite, pocketed the key, and went back downstairs in the elevator.
Mary, Lady Duncan stared out of the window at the morning sunlight and wondered what to do. The Angelus bell had awakened her from a fitful sleep in her chair, and she knew that, as a guest of Castle D'Evreux, she would be expected to appear at Mass again this morning. But how could she? How could she face the Sacramental Lord on the altar — to say nothing of taking the Blessed Sacrament Itself.
Still, it would look all the more conspicuous if she did not show up this morning after having made it a point to attend every morning with Lady Alice during the first four days of this visit.
She turned and glanced at the locked and barred door of the bedroom. He would not be expected to come. Laird Duncan used his wheelchair as an excuse, but since he had taken up black magic as a hobby he had, she suspected, been actually afraid to go anywhere near a church.
If only she hadn't lied to him! But how could she have told the truth? That would have been worse — infinitely worse. And now, because of that lie, he was locked in his bedroom doing only God and the Devil knew what.
If only he would come out. If he would only stop whatever it was he had been doing for all these long hours — or at least finish it! Then they could leave Evreux, make some excuse — any excuse — to get away. One of them could feign sickness. Anything, anything to get them out of France, across the Channel, and back to Scotland, where they would be safe!
She looked back out of the window, across the courtyard, at the towering stone walls of the Great Keep and at the high window that opened into the suite of Edouard, Count D'Evreux.
Last night she had hated him, but no longer. Now there was only room in her heart for fear.
She buried her face in her hands and cursed herself for a fool. There were no tears left for weeping — not after the long night.
Behind her, she heard the sudden noise of the door being unlocked, and she turned.
Laird Duncan of Duncan opened the door and wheeled himself out. He was followed by a malodorous gust of vapor from the room he had just left. Lady Duncan stared at him.
He looked older than he had last night, more haggard and worn, and there was something in his eyes she did not like. For a moment he said nothing. Then he wet his lips with the tip of his tongue. When he spoke, his voice sounded dazed.
'There is nothing to fear any more," he said. "Nothing to fear at all."
The Reverend Father James Valois Bright, Vicar of the Chapel of Saint-Esprit, had as his flock the several hundred inhabitants of the Castle D'Evreux. As such, he was the ranking priest — socially, not hierarchically — in the County. Not counting the Bishop and the Chapter at the Cathedral, of course. But such knowledge did little good for the Father's peace of mind. The turnout of his flock was abominably small for its size — especially for weekday Masses. The Sunday Masses were well attended, of course; Count D'Evreux was there punctually at nine every Sunday, and he had a habit of counting the house. But he never showed up on weekdays, and his laxity had allowed a certain further laxity to filter down through the ranks.
The great consolation was Lady Alice D'Evreux. She was a plain, simple girl, nearly twenty years younger than her brother, the Count, and quite his opposite in every way. She was quiet where he was thundering, self-effacing where he was flamboyant, temperate where he was drunken, and chaste where he was —
Father Bright brought his thoughts to a full halt for a moment. He had, he reminded himself, no right to make judgments of that sort. He was not, after all, the Count's confessor; the Bishop was.
Besides, he should have his mind on his prayers just now.
He paused and was rather surprised to notice that he had already put on his alb, amice, and girdle, and he was aware that his lips had formed the words of the prayer as he had donned each of them.
Habit, he thought, can be destructive to the contemplative faculty.
He glanced around the sacristy. His server, the young son of the Count of Saint Brieuc, sent here to complete his education as a gentleman who would some day be the King's Governor of one of the most important counties in Brittany, was pulling his surplice down over his head. The clock said 7:11.
Father Bright forced his mind Heavenward and repeated silently the vesting prayers that his lips had formed meaninglessly, this time putting his full intentions behind them. Then he added a short mental prayer asking God to forgive him for allowing his thoughts to stray in such a manner.
He opened his eyes and reached for his chasuble just as the sacristy door opened and Sir Pierre, the Count's Privy Secretary, stepped in.
"I must speak to you, Father," he said in a low voice. And glancing at the young De Saint-Brieuc, he added: "Alone."
Normally, Father Bright would have reprimanded anyone who presumed to break into the sacristy as he was vesting for Mass, but he knew that Sir Pierre would never interrupt without good reason. He nodded and went outside in the corridor that led to the altar.
"What is it, Pierre?" he asked.
"My lord the Count is dead. Murdered."
After the first momentary shock, Father Bright realized that the news was not, after all, totally unexpected. Somewhere in the back of his mind, it seemed he had always known that the Count would die by violence long before debauchery ruined his health.
"Tell me about it," he said quietly.
Sir Pierre reported exactly what he had done and what he had seen.
"Then I locked the door and came straight here," he told the priest.
"Who else has the key to the Count's suite?" Father Bright asked.
"No one but my lord himself," Sir Pierre answered, "at least as far as I know."
"Where is his key?"
"Still in the ring at his belt. I noticed that particularly."
"Very good. We'll leave it locked. You're certain the body was cold?"
"Cold and waxy, Father."
"Then he's been dead many hours."
"Lady Alice will have to be told," Sir Pierre said.
Father Bright nodded. "Yes. The Countess D'Evreux must be informed of her succession to the County Seat." He could tell by the sudden momentary blank look that came over Sir Pierre's face that the Privy Secretary had not yet realized fully the implications of the Count's death. "I'll tell her, Pierre. She should be in her pew by now. Just step into the church and tell her quietly that I want to speak to her. Don't tell her anything else."
"I understand, Father," said Sir Pierre.
There were only twenty-five or thirty people in the pews — most of them women — but Alice, Countess D'Evreux was not one of them. Sir Pierre walked quietly and unobtrusively down the side aisle and out into the narthex. She was standing there, just inside the main door, adjusting the black lace mantilla about her head, as though she had just come in from outside. Suddenly, Sir Pierre was very glad he would not have to be the one to break the news.
She looked rather sad, as always, her plain face unsmiling. The jutting nose and square chin which had given her brother the Count a look of aggressive handsomeness only made her look very solemn and rather sexless, although she had a magnificent figure.
"My lady," Sir Pierre said, stepping towards her, "the Reverend Father would like to speak to you before Mass. He's waiting at the sacristy door."
She held her rosary clutched tightly to her breast and gasped. Then she said, "Oh. Sir Pierre. I'm sorry; you quite surprised me. I didn't see you."
"My apologies, my lady."
"It's all right. My thoughts were elsewhere. Will you take me to the good Father?"
Father Bright heard their footsteps coming down the corridor before he saw them. He was a little fidgety because Mass was already a minute overdue. It should have started promptly at 7:15.
The new Countess D'Evreux took the news calmly, as he had known she would. After a pause, she crossed herself and said: "May his soul rest in peace. I will leave everything in your hands, Father, Sir Pierre. What are we to do?"
"Pierre must get on the teleson to Rouen immediately and report the matter to His Highness. I will announce your brother's death and ask for prayers for his soul — but I think I need say nothing about the manner of his death. There is no need to arouse any more speculation and fuss than necessary."
"Very well," said the Countess. "Come, Sir Pierre; I will speak to the Duke, my cousin, myself."
"Yes, my lady."
Father Bright returned to the sacristy, opened the missal, and changed the placement of the ribbons. Today was an ordinary Feria; a Votive Mass would not be forbidden by the rubrics. The clock said 7:17. He turned to young De Saint- Brieuc, who was waiting respectfully. "Quickly, my son — go and get the unbleached beeswax candles and put them on the altar. Be sure you light them before you put out the white ones. Hurry, now; I will be ready by the time you come back. Oh, yes — and change the altar frontal. Put on the black."
"Yes, Father." And the lad was gone.
Father Bright folded the green chasuble and returned it to the drawer, then took out the black one. He would say a Requiem for the Souls of All the Faithful Departed — and hope that the Count was among them.
His Royal Highness, the Duke of Normandy, looked over the official letter his secretary had just typed for him. It was addressed to Serenissimo Domino Nostro lohanni Quarto, Dei Gratia, Angliae, Franciae, Scotiae, Hiberniae, Novae Angliae et Novae Franciae, Rex, Imperator, Fidei Defensor, ... "Our Most Serene Lord, John IV, by the Grace of God King and Emperor of England, France, Scotland, Ireland, New England and New France, Defender of the Faith, ..."
It was a routine matter; simple notification to his brother, the King, that His Majesty's most faithful servant, Edouard, Count of Evreux, had departed this life, and asking His Majesty's confirmation of the Count's heir-at-law, Alice, Countess of Evreux as his lawful successor.
His Highness finished reading, nodded, and scrawled his signature at the bottom: Ricardus Dux Normaniae.
Then, on a separate piece of paper, he wrote: "Dear John, May I suggest you hold up on this for a while? Edouard was a lecher and a slob, and I have no doubt he got everything he deserved, but we have no notion who killed him. For any evidence I have to the contrary, it might have been Alice who pulled the trigger. I will send you full particulars as soon as I have them. With much love, Your brother and servant, Richard."
He put both papers into a prepared envelope and sealed it. He wished he could have called the King on the teleson, but no one had yet figured out how to get the wires across the channel.
He looked absently at the sealed envelope, his handsome blond features thoughtful. The House of Plantagenet had endured for eight centuries, and the blood of Henry of Anjou ran thin in its veins, but the Norman strain was as strong as ever, having been replenished over the centuries by fresh infusions from Norwegian and Danish princesses. Richard's mother, Queen Helga, wife of His late Majesty, Charles III, spoke very few words of Anglo-French, and those with a heavy Norse accent.
Nevertheless, there was nothing Scandinavian in the language, manner, or bearing of Richard, Duke of Normandy. Not only was he a member of the oldest and most powerful ruling family of Europe, but he bore a Christian name that was distinguished even in that family. Seven Kings of the Empire had borne the name, and most of them had been good Kings — if not always "good" men in the nicey-nicey sense of the word. Even old Richard I, who'd been pretty wild during the first forty-odd years of his life, had settled down to do a magnificent job of kinging for the next twenty years. The long and painful recovery from the wound he'd received at the Siege of Chaluz had made a change in him for the better.
There was a chance that Duke Richard might be called upon to uphold the honor of that name as King. By law, Parliament must elect a Plantagenet as King in the event of the death of the present Sovereign, and while the election of one of the King's two sons, the Prince of Britain and the Duke of Lancaster, was more likely than the election of Richard, he was certainly not eliminated from the succession.
Meantime, he would uphold the honor of his name as Duke of Normandy.
Murder had been done; therefore justice must be done. The Count D'Evreux had been known for his stern but fair justice almost as well as he had been known for his profligacy. And, just as his pleasures had been without temperance, so his justice had been untempered by mercy. Whoever had killed him would find both justice and mercy — in so far as Richard had it within his power to give it.
Although he did not formulate it in so many words, even mentally, Richard was of the opinion that some debauched woman or cuckolded man had fired the fatal shot. Thus he found himself inclining toward mercy before he knew anything substantial about the case at all.
Richard dropped the letter he was holding into the special mail pouch that would be placed aboard the evening trans-Channel packet, and then turned in his chair to look at the lean, middle-aged man working at a desk across the room.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Murder and Magic"
Copyright © 1979 Randall Garrett.
Excerpted by permission of Jabberwocky Literary Agency, Inc..
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
The Eyes Have It,
A Case of Identity,
The Muddle of the Woad,
A Stretch of the Imagination,
Also by Randall Garrett,