The impending charge against Vicomte Montvaste was murder of that scoundrel food critic, and it threatened to wreck the ’32 season. On our first night, no less. We who journeyed to the chateau each October by train, boat, and Bugatti should have savored the famed Sanglier a la Montvaste, a roasted boar served at its pinnacle here and only here. Now the Vicomte was in custody, that critic Bale found knifed and bobbing facedown in the Loire shallows. Bale. What should have launched a fortnight of the highest cuisine risked blazing out faster than the traditional cherries flambée.
“Madame Feubert?” the Sûreté Inspector said. It was my turn for a rude questioning in the gallery. Duplanche was his name, a past-his-primer down from Tours, and in a suit rather shabby for the Chateau Montvaste. The young Vicomte might have switched entertainment from a chamber orchestra to his phonograph, but like his forebears he insisted on evening wear.
Duplanche stood poised with a pencil and notebook. “Might I confirm that you discovered Mssr. Bale beside the dock?”
That interloping Bale and his ignorant drivel. For centuries we refined palates feasted on this very land. Land passed down from Montvaste to Montvaste, feast to feast. Neither that Napoleon business nor the Great War broke our chain, though in both instances certain Hapsburgs were disinvited briefly for obvious reasons.
“From the veranda,” I said. “Ghastly. I told this to that man of yours, should you bother to check.”
“Mere procedure,” Duplanche said. “And Mssr. Bale offended Vicomte Montvaste in some manner?”
I glanced for wine service. The Vicomte had reached his limit on insult. It surprised me this required explanation.
“That clown,” I said, “had not sufficient decency even to smear the Sanglier in private. No, he announced it to the entire chateau.”
“That medieval boar was unsuited to au courant reader tastes?”
Despite the strain and late hour, I seethed at reliving it: Bale, an uncultured philistine from a Londoner society magazine, whining nasally over his filthy train ride into the forest and a persistent stink of donkeys. Grand noir donkeys, in fact, descended from Eleanor of Aquitaine’s gift of a breeding pair.
“A mausoleum with a barn,” I said. Unimaginable, to overlook Chateau Montvaste’s gallery parquet and boar’s head motif once so often profiled in publications far more respectable than Bale’s gossip sheet. “That Brit actually called Chateau Montvaste a mausoleum.”
“I find it best to keep silent with ill opinions.”
Mercifully, my glass of Chinon rouge arrived. “No, one should not harbor brainless opinions. He praised only Pilon’s taxi service from the village platform. Better than Mayfair, Bale said. Mayfair? Good riddance.”
“Madame, you seem pleased that Mssr. Bale is dead.”
“Only a savage roots for violence. We lovers of the Sanglier, well, we are hardly savages. I rode the hours here from Paris in a cloche and corset, did I not?”
Duplanche wrote down my every word, as well he should. In truth, I could not wholly blame the Vicomte, not given Bale’s slander. Vicomte Montvaste committed simple murder in hot blood. That Britisher fool committed high crimes against civility.
“Bale did not even try the Sanglier,” I said. “Not a morsel, regardless how we prevailed upon him. Bale pronounced it dusty old game and asked for perch.”
“I too enjoy a fine fish.”
“The Vicomte would roast upon his own spit before he served perch in October.” I appraised this shabby notetaker. “You have heard of the Sanglier? A la Montvaste, so we have no misunderstanding.”
Duplanche did not glance up. “Indeed, Madame. I have had a modest version, in Tours.”
What unacceptable lack of conviction. Surely, he had been served a pale imitation on Place Plumereau. “Then are you a strip loiner or a tenderloiner?”
“If you experienced a proper Sanglier as you claim, you will prefer the vigor of its strip loin or magnificence of its tenderloin. Our dispute, you would know, has raged since Pepin the Short.”
“Mssr. Bale leaves instead of retiring to a room upstairs. The guests do not stay at the chateau?”