By Martin Pearson
“They’ll probably blame the Chevins”
“And that’s totally fine with me.”
The two eldest Washwell brothers viewed, with some satisfaction, the obscenities that they had daubed, in bright red paint, on the front door of Les Demoiselles School of Dance.
Hubert and Egbert Washwell were angry young men. They felt put upon, mainly because their youngest brother, Septimus, had become romantically attached to the choreographer, Mirielle D’Illay, and taken up dancing. That, in itself, would have been just about bearable, but since Septimus had started something of a trend among his peers of both sexes, who also wished to learn La Danse Apache, this had resulted in Les Demoiselles having to look for larger premises.
As related in last week’s tale, ‘The School of Dance’, they found a new home in what had once been the establishment known as Madame Evadne’s Lodging House for Discerning Gentlemen. The building had been empty for some time, and the surviving décor was not to everyone’s taste. In fact, ‘taste’ was not a word that immediately sprang to mind when describing the surviving furnishings and ornamentation found in the Lodging House. Without hesitation, or indeed, consultation, Seth Washwell had volunteered the services of his remaining six sons and the facilities of his sawmills and foundry, in order to get The School of Dance up and running.
“After all,” he reasoned, “we’re practically family these days.”
His generous gesture and clannish claims, however, were not necessarily shared with his true family, especially Hubert and Egbert. The whole enterprise had taken time and effort, which they both begrudged. ‘All that work, and for what purpose?’ they asked, both having the view that dance was an unnecessary distraction, and male dancers foppish time-wasters. As far as they were concerned, the fact that their youngest sibling bore a fancy-dancy Latin name had always placed him firmly in the ‘Foppish Time-Wasters’ corner.
This was why, under the cover of darkness, the elder Washwells had anonymously vandalised the door. It was a small gesture, but one that made them happy for a few hours… but only for a few hours.
Seth Washwell took off his cap and scratched his head.
“Why would anybody want to do that?” he asked.
Mirielle shrugged, too upset to answer.
“It’s not a problem,” said Seth soothingly. “I’ve got some red paint at home – just about the same shade, I reckon. The best thing to do is paint the door red all over. I’ll get a couple of the boys to come along and do it this afternoon.”
It was a few hours later when Hubert and Egbert found themselves standing, once more, outside the School of Dance, clutching a can of red paint. This time, however, they were temporarily on the side of the angels. Their father, unaware of their part in desecrating the door, had given them the task of painting it.
“The mindless vandals who do that sort of thing need a good thrashing,” said Seth angrily. “I’d bet my boots that the Chevins had something to do with it.”
Hubert and Egbert were glad that the blame was resting firmly with the Chevin family, as they had predicted, but they felt cheated.
“We need to do something big,” said Egbert.
“Yes,” agreed Hubert. “Something that we can’t be blamed for, or be expected to put right.”
“Something that gets so damaged that it can’t be mended,” added his brother.
The pair looked at each other for a few seconds, then, exclaimed together,
The more than life-sized statue had stood in the courtyard of the building that was now the School of Dance for more years than any could remember. No one, these days, had any idea, exactly, who Madame Evadne had been, but the legend on the plinth called her a public benefactor, and that was enough for the people of Hopeless to regard her effigy with great affection. Hubert and Egbert figured that the statue’s destruction would bring a great deal of wrath down upon the (for once) blameless heads of the Chevin family and, with any luck, The School of Dance, for allowing such a thing to happen.
The full moon, shrouded in mist, afforded little light as the two eldest Washwell brothers made their way to The School of Dance. The silence of the night was broken only by the distant roar of the sea and a solitary, muffled, chime from the church clock. One o’clock. Intent on destruction, they were confident that there would be little chance of discovery; with very few exceptions, only the Night-Soil Man dared to brave Hopeless at this hour, and he was on the far side of the island.
Both were startled by the figure that loomed out of the fog. It took several seconds for them to realise that they had reached their goal, for the shape before them was that of the statue which they planned to reduce to rubble. They laughed uneasily at their mistake; she looked so lifelike. Privately, each brother began to question the wisdom of their mission. The statue seemed larger than either remembered, and looked as though it had been hewn from Maine granite. Suddenly, the foundry hammers, which they had purloined for the purpose, felt light and puny in their hands.
Not to lose face, Hubert hefted his hammer and struck the statue a ringing blow. While the statue stood, undamaged, Hubert’s arms felt as if they had been bludgeoned. That was when the moon managed to break through the clouds, bathing Madame Evadne in a pool of ice-white light. To the young men’s horror, the statue opened her eyes, to reveal two ghastly greenish-yellow orbs which seemed to bore deeply into them. They screamed in unison as slowly, solemnly, she stepped from her plinth and raised a great stone arm, as if to smite her assailants, who by now were frozen to the spot.
“If ever you try to damage me again,” she intoned, in a strangely accented voice, which was as hollow and dark as a tomb, “or threaten my building, or those within it, I will drag you to your own private Hell myself. Do not doubt me.”
By the time they were able to summon up enough courage to move, the statue had returned to the plinth. As they made their hurried way home, Hubert and Egbert had no doubts that the granite lady would carry out her threat. This was just as well, as the stripped and agonised soul of one Tobias Thrupp could testify. Many years before, she had consigned Thrupp to the vampire-haunted caverns, deep beneath the island. The inhabitants of those caverns were more than adept at keeping their prey alive for a long time. A very long time indeed.