Why Shoot a Butler?

by Georgette Heyer

"Shall I find you a partner, Mephistopheles?"

Amberley was watching a girl at the other side of the ballroom. "Will you introduce me to the contadina?" he asked.

Joan glanced in the girl's direction. "Yes, of course, but I don't know who she is."

"Kitty Crosby, isn't it?" said the sheik.

"Oh, was it she? It might be Miss Halifax. No, I don't think it is, though."

Joan looked up at Amberley. "That's the fun of it. Do you know, I didn't recognize one of my oldest friends? Come on, I'll introduce you."

She led him to where the contadina was standing. "May I introduce Mephistopheles?" she said, smiling.

The contadina's eyes gleamed through the slits of her mask. She bowed and cast a fleeting glance up at the scarlet-clad figure before her.

"Shall we dance?" said Mr. Amberley.

"I should like to," she replied.

He drew her out into the room and took her in his arms. She danced well, but showed no desire to talk. Mr. Amberley guided her through the maze of shifting couples and said presently: "I wonder whether you are Miss Halifax or Miss Crosby?"

The red lips curved. "Ah!" said the contadina.

"Or neither?" pursued Mr. Amberley.

The hand in his moved slightly. "You will see at the unmasking, Mephistopheles."

"I wonder?" said Mr. Amberley. He was aware of her gaze searching his face and smiled down at her. "A bit of a mob, isn't it?" he said. "Do you think the Fountains can really know everyone here tonight?"

"Oh, but surely!"

"In these days of gate-crashing..." murmured Mr. Amberley.

"I don't think that is done in the country," she said.

"I expect you know much more about it than I do," he agreed politely.

The music came to an end. Mr. Amberley did not join in the clapping, but led his partner to the door. "You must let me get you something to drink," he said. He nodded towards a sofa in an alcove of the hall. "Will you wait for me there?"

The contadina appeared to consider, then she shrugged. "Very well."

He found her seated on the sofa when he returned with two glasses. "You haven't run away," he observed, and handed her one of the glasses.

"Why should I?" she said coolly.

"I thought you might have grown impatient. There's a bit of a barge round the refreshments." He sat down beside her. "You remind me so much of someone I've met," he said thoughtfully. "Now who can it be?"

She sipped her hock-cup. "Funny," she said. "I don't seem to know you at all. You don't live here, do you?"

"Oh no!" he replied. "I'm merely a bird of passage. I'm staying with the Matthews'."

"Yes? For long?"

"No, just till I've cleared up a little matter that's interesting me."

She inclined her head. "I see. It sounds most intriguing."

He looked down at her. "Somehow I don't think you can be the girl I had in mind."

"No? Who is she?"

"Oh, nobody you would be likely to know. Rather a callow young thing."

She stiffened. "Really, I can't pretend to be flattered."

"But didn't I say I felt sure you couldn't be her?" he said. "Let's talk of something else. Are you fond of shooting?"

"I have never done any," she replied in a voice of dangerous calm.

"No? It's an odd thing, but nine women out of ten would rather have nothing to do with firearms." He offered her his open cigarette case. "You occasionally find an exception to the rule. I met a girl the other day who carried a businesslike automatic about with her. Fully loaded."

She took a cigarette from his case; her hand was quite steady. "In these days it's probably wise to carry a gun after dark," she said.

He paused in the act of striking a match. "Did I say it was after dark?" he asked, surprised.

"I assumed that it must be," she replied rather sharply. "Wasn't it?"

He held the match to the end of her cigarette. "As a matter of fact it was," he admitted.

She exhaled a long spiral of smoke and turned her head slightly so that she could survey him. "I'm trying to place you," she said. "I have a feeling you are probably a newspaper reporter."

She saw the flash of his teeth as he smiled. "Aren't you going to tell me why you think that?" he suggested.

She shook her head. "I shouldn't like to be rude," she said sweetly. "Are you a reporter?"

"No, fair lady. I'm a barrister."

He guessed that she was frowning.

"Oh!" she said. "A barrister."

"In the criminal court," nodded Amberley.

She got up abruptly. "That must be most interesting. I must go back to the ballroom; I'm engaged for this dance." She paused and he saw her lips curl scornfully. "May I compliment you on your costume? It suits you to perfection."

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