With Me Forever
prompt: horror/an attic/a violin
Inspector Juste Dupreux opened the heavy door and entered. The attic, high and open from one end of the house to the other, was lit by the pale winter sun coming in the two large dormer windows in the southern face. The purpose of the space was evident, despite the dust and chill. A large worktable stood in the center of the room, a heavy work light strung from the joist above. It was cluttered with clamps, wood blocks, stained rags, and aging pots of glue and varnish. Around the edges of the room stood cabinets and shelves holding a collection of violins in various states of repair or construction. Bins of different wood occupied one of the dormers. The second dormer held a smaller workbench and stool, clearly arranged for finer, more exacting craftsmanship. Next to this workbench, occupying a place of obvious importance, sat a glass case containing a remarkable violin.
“Everything is as he left it,” Mme. Jordan said, following Juste into the room. “After old M. Thiebaut passed, we tried to contact his wife. She’d left him years ago to live with her sister in Saint-Louis. But when I spoke to the sister, she said Eugenie had never lived with her. All these years, where could she be? She can’t be in Cernay. We’d know.”
Juste had to agree. Cernay was busy enough in summer when tourists came to shop and sample wine but it was still a small village. It would be hard to be a year-round resident and be unknown to the others.
“What can you tell me about Mme. Thiebaut?”
“Oh, she was a beauty, was Eugenie,” said Mme. Jordan with a sigh. “Such a smile! Teeth like stars. Her hair was pale as oats, but so long and thick! I braided her hair for her wedding and it was long enough that we had to pin it up so it wouldn’t catch when she sat. I trimmed it with wildflowers and she looked like a spring goddess. She had a voice as sweet as any of Martin’s violins, too. We all wondered why she tied herself to old Martin when she could have had any of the young men her age.”
“M. Thiebaut was older, then?” asked Juste. That was interesting. Older man, young, beautiful wife… He frowned.
“At first, when she left, I thought she must have gone off with Everard Bastionne, but there he was at market and there was Martin Thiebaut saying Eugenie had gone to live with her sister.” Mme. Jordan shook her head. “Now, I don’t know what to think.”
It was unlikely to be so mysterious, Juste knew. The most likely answer was that Eugenie Thiebaut had, in fact, gone off with a man, just not one from Cernay. That made the chances of finding her much smaller. Yet, something about it bothered him as he looked around the attic.
“Mme. Jordan, would you have thought M. Thiebaut would let his wife go off without trying to bring her back?” he asked.
“Never in the world,” said the woman. “Martin was a miser. Held on to whatever was his and that’s what Eugenie was. His. He locked himself away here and was hardly seen after she left. Only left to fetch supplies or deliver instruments. But we’d hear him playing weird, sad music some nights.”
A chill ran up Juste’s spine as his gaze fell on the violin in the case. He lifted it and its bow from the cushion and carried it to the table at the dormer window. He’d never seen anything like it. The instrument felt unnaturally heavy while the bow seemed oddly light. The light color of the matte ivory pegs, chinrest, and tailpiece against the darkly stained wood gave it a bizarre negative image look. M. Thiebaut had inlaid highly polished dots and tiny flowers of ivory into the scroll and the ebony fingerboard. The effect was garish yet, strangely compelling.
Juste drew his finger along the tailpiece and over the chinrest. It was an odd choice of material when ebony was the general preference. The inlay, too, was puzzling as one never saw such work except on the fretboard of guitars and the like. The glass case was another peculiarity. Other instruments were left on open shelves to gather dust while this singular piece was shut away in a case specially designed for it. Gently, he placed it back on the velvet.
On the opposite end of the workbench sat a cabinet of drawers like one might see in an old apothecary. Juste opened the drawers, one by one. As expected, they contained the fittings, tools, and detritus associated with woodwork. One drawer held shims and pegs of various sizes. Another contained some of the smallest wood planes he’d ever seen.
Juste hesitated a moment before slowly pulling out the first of the bottom row of drawers. He was sickened, yes, but not truly surprised. Not really. He pulled open the other drawers along the row, confirming his suspicion. Mme. Jordan gave a startled gasp. Juste caught her as she swooned and eased her to the floor. He turned back to the drawers, where lay the answer to whereabouts of Eugenie Thiebaut and the explanation for the unusual violin.
A drawer of delicate metatarsal bones next to another with sections of larger bones spoke volumes. A small collection of teeth, shining like polished ivory, nestled in a coil of long, oat colored hair bundled and cut in uniform length. Another drawer held strands of brittle gut string that Juste knew would not to be cat. The last held a small diary written in a masculine hand.
She wants to be free of me but I cannot live without my beautiful Eugenie. I could not bear to think of other hands combing through her silken hair, other eyes drinking in her starry smile. But I have solved it all. She is free yet I shall hold her here with me forever.