Authors: Vera Caspary
AFTERWORD BY A.B. EMRYS
Published in 2012 by the Feminist Press
at the City University of New York
The Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue, Suite 5406
New York, NY 10016
First Feminist Press edition
Copyright Â© 1945 by Vera Caspary
Afterword copyright Â© 2005 by A.B. Emrys
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, used, or stored in any information retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission from the Feminist Press at the City University of New York, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Published in 1946 by Sun Dial Press Reprint Edition, by special arrangement with Houghton Mifflin Company.
Cover and text design by Drew Stevens.
Cover photo: Margaret Lockwood in Bedelia. Courtesy of Eagle-Lion Pictures / Photofest, Â© Eagle-Lion
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Caspary, Vera, 1904-1987
Bedelia / by Vera Caspary ; afterword by A.B. Emrys.
p. cm. â (Femmes fatales : women write pulp)
ISBN: 978-1-55861-706-3 (ebook)
1. Women murderersâFiction 2. Serial murderersâFiction. 3. HusbandsâCrimes againstâFiction. I. Title. II. Series.
For I. G.
HIS WIFE CAME INTO THE ROOM AND CHARLIE turned to watch her. She wore a dark-blue velvet dress whose sheath skirt was slit to show her pretty ankles and high-heeled bronze pumps.
The Yule log caught fire. Flames licked the crusty bark. This was a great moment for Charlie. He had cut the log himself and had had it drying in the shed for a whole year. Bedelia, perceiving his pleasure, flashed him a smile and skipped across the Orientals to the love-seat, perched beside him, and rested her head against his shoulder. He took her hand. The Yule log cast its ruddy glow upon them. At this moment, ten minutes after five on December twenty-fifth, 1913, Charlie Horst believed himself the luckiest man in the world.
This was to be his wife's first Christmas in Charlie's house. They had been married in August. She was a tiny creature, lovable as a kitten. Her eyes were lively, dark, and always slightly moist. In contrast with her brunette radiance, Charlie seemed all the more pallid, angular, and restrained.
In the bow window from which the love-seat had been removed stood a tree whose boughs were festooned with tinsel, hung with colored globes and spirals, flannel angels, paper-machÃ© reindeer, gingerbread Santa Clauses, cardboard houses, and peppermint canes. Underneath it, instead of the usual glaring white cotton sheet, was an arrangement of fir boughs upon green paper, simulating the floor of the forest. On the dining-room
table was another of Bedelia's clever arrangements. The centerpiece of white narcissus seemed actually to be growing out of a bank of holly and laurel leaves.
She had been working for days on the preparations for the party. Platters and trays were heaped with a variety of cakes, and Charlie's grandmother's silver shell dishes were simply loaded with home-made fondant, marzipan, and salted nuts. On the buffet a dozen eggnog cups waited in line, and for those who liked stronger drinks there were the pewter mugs to be filled with Charlie's special hot rum toddy. And besides there was a profusion of salted and spiced delicacies, canapÃ©s of
, smoked oysters, sardellen butter, anchovies, and thin crackers spread with a delicious paste that Bedelia had made of a combination of cheeses.
Charlie's Christmas present to his wife had been an antique gold ring twisted into a bow knot and set with garnets. She wore it on the fourth finger of her right hand and at intervals held it at arm's length and cocked her head to study the effect. Her hands were plump and dimpled, the fingers tapered to the tips of pointed nails which were polished until they shone like pink gems.
“How my little jackdaw loves finery!” Charlie said. The metaphor was literary. Charlie had never seen a jackdaw. Brought up on English literature, he preferred such allusions to the commoner symbols of his own experience. When he was a small boy his mother had sung:
“Things are seldom what they seem,
Skim milk masquerades as cream,
Jackdaws strut in peacock feathers,
Highlows pass as patent leathers.”
His wife accepted the criticism with her usual grace, curving her red lips and showing her dimples.
“You do really like it?” he asked anxiously.
“Better than platinum and diamonds.”
“That was your reason for giving me this, wasn't it?” Bedelia spoke shyly.
“Looks like snow,” Charlie said.
To the west of the house, below the terrace, the river tumbled over great rocks, chattering ceaselessly. Their house was only a little way out of a big manufacturing town, but the country around was too rocky to be worth cultivating, and the woods and stone-strewn fields were as wild as when the first white settlers had come to Connecticut.
The doorbell rang. Straightening her new apron, Mary ran through the hall. At the door she stiffened, arranged her ruffles and, as she let the guests in, cried, “Hello, Mr. Johnson. Merry Christmas, Mrs. Johnson.”
Bedelia hurried to greet them. As usual Wells Johnson became awkward in her presence, mumbled a greeting and shifted the gold-sealed, tissue-paper package from one mittened hand to the other. Lucy Johnson took the box from him and handed it to Bedelia.
“Oh, you shouldn't have.”
“Wait till you see it before you say anything. You may think I'm crazy.”
“I love presents,” Bedelia said.
“How are you, Charlie-Horse?” said Wells Johnson.
“Never felt better in my life. Let me take your coat.”
Gravely Bedelia studied the size and shape of the package, the neat wrappings and elaborate seals. “We're not opening anything until all the guests are here.” She placed the Johnsons' gift in a bare space under the tree.
The bell kept on ringing, guests pouring in: greetings and laughter growing louder, the air thickening with the smells of rice powder, toilet water, rum, and spices. The heat of the house and the exertion of making and passing drinks made Charlie sweat. Bedelia's ivory-tinted skin continued to look as fresh and cool as the white rose she had pinned in her sash.
The rose had been one of a dozen brought by their new friend and neighbor, Ben Chaney.
“You're too kind,” Bedelia had said, offering Ben both hands and smiling to show her dimples. “You'll spoil me with all your attentions.”
“Spoil you? Impossible!” Ben said.
Charlie and Ben shook hands.
“Oh, Charlie,” Bedelia said, “you know about Ben and cider brandy.”
Both men laughed. Bedelia had made it sound as if Ben and cider brandy were immortal lovers. As Charlie poured Ben's drink, Bedelia offered a tray of canapÃ©s. He selected one spread with the cheese paste.
“You've got Gorgonzola in it,” he said with an air of smugness. “Now I know you were thinking of me.”
“She thinks of everyone,” Charlie boasted.
At six o'clock the guests had had enough of everything, of food and drink, of greetings, gossip, and examination by the women of holiday garments. Bedelia proposed that they open the gifts. For her this was the party's climax, the moment she had been awaiting like a gay and nervous child.
“Everyone's here but Ellen, and if she can't manage to get here on time, I don't see why everyone else should wait.”
“She's probably been kept at the office.”
“Newspapers are printed on Christmas, you know.”
Bedelia looked around the room anxiously, measuring the temper of her guests. “All right, dear, we'll wait a little longer.”
Doctor Meyers had overheard. “If there's a gift for me under the tree, I'd better collect it now. I'm due at the hospital in a little while and I'll have to take Mama home first.”
“Now, Papa,” his wife said, “what makes you think anybody's giving Christmas presents to an old man like you?”
Bedelia sought Charlie's approval. He saw how much she wanted to open the packages, and gave in like an indulgent father.
“Open yours first, Bedelia.”
“It wouldn't be fair. I'm the hostess, mine should come last.”
Judge Bennett suggested that they alternate. First a guest would open a package, then Bedelia, then another guest. They voted that Charlie play Santa Claus, read the labels, hand out the packages. This made him self-conscious. There was nothing of the actor about Charlie. But as he saw that his friends were more interested in the gifts than in his playing of the role, he became comfortable and even jocose.