Authors: Georgette Heyer
Mrs. Haddington is found strangled in the exact same spot where one of her daughter's many suitors had also been strangled.
There were several promising-looking letters in the pile laid on Mrs. James Kane's virgin breakfast-plate on Monday morning, but, having sorted all the envelopes with the air of one expectant of discovering treasure-trove, she extracted two addressed to her in hands indicative either of illiteracy or of extreme youth. One was tastefully inscribed in red ink; the other appeared to have been written with a crossed nib trailing a hair. Both were addressed to Mr. and Mrs. James Kane, but the incorporation of her husband's style with her Own Mrs. Kane very properly ignored. Both missives would undoubtedly open with the formula: Dear Mummy and Daddy, but any share in their contents to which Mr. James Kane could lay claim would be indicated by the words: "Tell Daddy". Such information as was conveyed under this heading would be of a sporting nature. Urgent needs, ranging from money for the defraying of unforeseen and inescapable expenses to the instant forwarding of possessions only to be found after several days of intensive and exhausting search, would be addressed, with rare prescience, to Mummy.
So it had been since the grim day of Master Silas James Kane's departure, at the age of eight, to his preparatory school in the West; so it was on this Monday morning in February, although Master Silas Kane was beginning to take more than an aloof interest in such trials of knowledge as the Common Entrance Examination; and his junior, Master Adrian Timothy Kane, had been for several terms pleasurably employed in upholding the tradition set for him at St Cyprian's of throwing himself wholeheartedly into all the more violent athletic pursuits, baiting unpopular masters, and doing as little work as was compatible with physical comfort. Had she been asked to do so, Mrs. James Kane could have supplied the enquirer with a very fair paraphrase of either of her elder sons' letters, but this circumstance in no way detracted from the avidity with which she searched through Monday's post, or the satisfaction with which she perused the two documents that made Monday a redletter day.
Neither contributed much to her knowledge of her offspring's mental or physical well-being. An anxious question addressed to Master Adrian on the subject of an unidentified pain which might, or might not, turn out to be a grumbling appendix had been left unanswered, together with an urgent command to Master Silas to Find out from Mr. Kentmere when half-term will be so that Daddy and I can make arrangements to come down. Both young gentlemen would have been much distressed by a failure on the part of their parents to put in an appearance at this function, but thus early in the term their minds were preoccupied with more pressing matters, chief amongst which was the need to replace the bath sponge of one Bolton-Bagby, "which', wrote Master Adrian Kane, "got chucked out of the window of Big Dorm."
Mr. James Kane, regaled with this passage, grinned, and said: "Young devil! What's Silas got to say?"
Mrs. James Kane, in loving accents, read aloud the letter from her first-born. It opened with a pious hope that his parents were enjoying good health; adjured her to tell Daddy that "we had a match against St Stephen's, we won 15-nil, they were punk'; requested the instant despatch of an envelope containing such examples of the stamp engraver's art as were known to him as "my swops'; and informed his mother that owing to the thievish habits of some person or persons unknown a new pair of fivesgloves was urgently required. A disarming bracket added the words: if you can manage it, and a postscript conveyed kindly words of encouragement to his sister Susan, and his infant-brother William.
"So they're all right!" said Mrs. Kane, restoring both these interesting communications to their envelopes.
Mr. Kane did not ask her on what grounds she based this pronouncement. Since his post had contained a demand from the Commissioners of Inland Revenue which anyone less well-acquainted with this body of persons might have supposed to have been an infelicitous essay in broad humour, his son's request for new fivesgloves fell on hostile ears. He delivered himself of a strongly-worded condemnation of his wife's foolish practice of bringing up her children in the belief that their father was a millionaire. When she grew tired of listening to him, Mrs. Kane said simply: "All right, I'll tell him he can't have them."
Mr. James Kane was a gentleman of even temper, but at these wifely words he cast upon his helpmate a glance of loathing, and said that he supposed he would have to see to it himself. He then passed his cup to her for more coffee, adding bitterly that Silas grew more like his half uncle Timothy every day.
"Talking of Timothy," said Mrs. Kane, returning to the perusal of a letter covering several sheets of paper, "I've got a long letter from your mother."
"Oh?" said Mr. Kane, sufficiently interested to suspend the opening of the newspaper. "Does she say how Adrian is?"
"No, she doesn't mention him - oh yes, she does! "Tell him I am relying on him to help me to spare Adrian any unnecessary anxiety. He is frailer than I like, and this wretched weather is doing him no good."'
Mr. Kane held his stepfather in considerable affection, but his response to this lacked enthusiasm. "If Timothy's up to mischief again, and Mother thinks I'm going to remonstrate with him, there's nothing doing!" he said.
"Darling Jim, you know perfectly well you'll have to, if he really is entangled with some frightful creature. I must say, it does sound pretty dire!"
"My dear girl, I've already heard all about the dizzy blonde from Mother!" said Mr. Kane, opening The Times. "Mother doesn't like her style, or her background, or anything about her, and I daresay she's quite right. But why she has to go into a flap every time Timothy makes a mild pass at some good-looking wench is something I shall never fathom." He folded the paper to his satisfaction, and began to fill a pipe before settling down to a happy ten minutes with Our Golf Correspondent. "Your're just as bad," he added severely. "You both of you behave as though Timothy were a kid in his first year at Cambridge. Well, I don't hold any brief for young Timothy, but I should call him a pretty hard-boiled specimen, myself. What's more, he's twenty-seven, and if he can't protect himself from designing blondes now he never will."
"Anyone would think, to hear you, that you didn't care what became of him!" remarked Mrs. Kane. "Besides, it isn't the blonde: it's another girl."
"Fast worker!" observed Mr. Kane.
Mrs. Kane paid no heed to this, but went on reading her mother-in-law's letter, a frown slowly gathering between her brows. She looked up at the end, and said seriously: "Jim, really this isn't funny! He's going to marry her!"
"Timothy?" said Mr. Kane incredulously. "Rot!"
"He told your mother so himself."
"But who is she?"
"That's just it. Your mother says she can't discover who she is. She doesn't seem to have a single relative, or any sort of a background. Her name," said Mrs. Kane, consulting Lady Harte's letter, "is Beulah Birtley. Your mother says that she hopes she isn't a snob - yes, all right, there's no need to make that noise! It isn't being snobbish to want to know what sort of people your son's wife springs from! ,.Anyway, she says she wouldn't mind if only she knew something about the girl, or even liked her."
"Has Mother actually met her?"
"Yes, at Timothy's chambers. She says she can't imagine what Timothy sees in her, because she isn't in the least his type, hasn't any manners, and is obviously yip to no good. In fact, she says Adventuress is written all over her."
"Good lord!" said Mr. Kane. "But, look here, this is cockeyed! Not a month ago Mother was having the shudders over the blonde beauty, and telling us what hell Timothy would have with Mrs. Haddington, or whatever her name was, for a mother-in-law. When did he pick up this new number?"
"At the Haddingtons'. She's Mrs. Haddington's secretary. Your mother says that she found her definitely hostile, and she's convinced that there's something thoroughly shady about her. She says she hasn't said a word about it to Sir Adrian, because the girl is just the type he would dislike, and she won't have him worried. Apparently the engagement isn't official yet. Here, you can read her letter for yourself!"
Mr. Kane laid aside The Times, and read through five close-written pages with what his wife considered maddening deliberation. He then folded the letter and handed it back to her.
"Well?" she said impatiently.
"I can't say it sounds good," he replied. "However, you've only got Mother's word for all this, and if you've seen the damsel she thinks worthy of Timothy I can only say I haven't."
"No, but don't you think it's odd for a girl meeting her future mother-in-law not even to mention her own parents?"
"May have been shy."
"Nonsense! There's something fishy about her, Jim, and you know it!"
"I don't know any such thing, and if I did, what the hell do you think I can do about it? I'm not Timothy's keeper!"
"No, but you're years older than he is, and you know how he's always adored you, and looked up to you!"
"My good girl," said Mr. Kane revolted. "I may have been a hero to Timothy when he was a kid - not that he ever gave much sign of venerating me - but that's years ago!"
"Of course I didn't mean he still looks on you as a sort of demigod, but he's awfully fond of you, Jim!"
"He'd need to be if he was going to put up with me barging into his affairs," said Mr. Kane grimly.
Jim, you must try to do something! You can't pretend you want Timothy to make a muck of his life! It's no use saying he's hard-boiled, and old enough to take care of himself: being a Commando doesn't make a boy worldlywise! If you don't care, I do! Obviously he's making a fool of himself, but I shall never forget how angelic he was to me all through that ghastly Dunkirk time, and how he gave up two whole days of his leave to come and see me in that disgusting place I took the children to when you were in Italy. He tried to teach Silas to catch a ball, too, which was quite futile, because the poor sweet was far too young!" She added in a besotted tone: "He did look such a pet!"
"Now, look here!"
"Not Timothy: Silas, of course! Anyway, you can't just do nothing, Jim! You ought to try and find out something about this girl. Couldn't you go up to London, and see them?"
"I am going to London next week, and the chances are I shall look in on Timothy, but as for doing any private sleuthing - I suppose next you'll be wanting me to set a detective agency on to the unfortunate wench!"
"Well, if you thought there really was something fishy about her…" said Mrs. Kane dubiously.
At this moment, and before Mr. James Kane could put his indignation into words, they were interrupted by the entrance of Miss Susan Kane, Master William Kane, and the despot who ruled over the entire Kane family.
"Good-morning, Daddy and Mummy!" said this lady, apparently speaking for all. "Here we are, come to kiss Daddy and Mummy good-morning!"
So saying, she dumped Master William Kane upon his mother's lap, for she was not one to grudge parents a share in their children, and smiled indulgently upon Miss Kane's demand for a canard. She then swept up the hearth, straightened a chair, and said in a voice of unabated cheerfulness: "I'm afraid we've got some bad news for you this morning, Mummy, for I said to Winnie as soon as I heard, there's no sense in worrying Mrs. Kane before she's had her breakfast, I said, and we all know Daddy likes to have his breakfast in peace, don't we?" Here she caught sight of The Times, which Mr. Kane had allowed to slip to the floor, picked it up, refolded it, and laid it down well out of his reach.
Mr. Kane, engaged in the matutinal duty of trying to teach his ecstatic daughter to balance a lump of sugar on her nose, paused to cast a sneaking glance across the table at his wife. Mrs. Kane smiled in what she hoped was a soothing way, well-knowing that at the earliest opportunity she would be informed that she might take her choice between That Woman and her loving spouse. In moments of acute stress, Mr. Kane had been known to threaten to take matters into his own hands, saying that he failed to see why he should be treated in his own house as if he were a cross between an imbecile and a two-year old. He added that if the infernal woman called him Daddy once more he would not be responsible for the consequences. Fortunately for the smooth-running of the house he was either too much in awe of Nanny to put his threats into execution, or too well-aware of the irreplaceable nature of her services. For Nanny, a tower of smiling strength in time of war, rose to fresh heights when the horrors of peace sapped what little vitality was left in her employers. The Kanes, returning to take up their interrupted residence in one wing of a mansion inherited by Mr. James Kane from his grandmother, prohibited by excessive taxation from giving employment to the eight or nine persons necessary for the upkeep of the house and its grounds, found in the highly-trained and starched ruler of their nurseries a Treasure whose brassy cheerfulness rose triumphant above every domestic crisis. If the cook left, having heard that she could earn three times her present wages in London without being obliged to prepare more than two dinners in the week, London employers being easily terrorised into eating most of their meals at expensive restaurants, Nanny would laugh in a jolly way, say that what could not be cured must be endured, and if Mummy would give an eye to the children she would see what could be done. If Winnie, who was the house-maid, and mentally defective, but not (said Nanny bracingly) so as you would notice, became incapable through the agony caused by one of the teeth which she obstinately refused to have drawn, Nanny would sit up all night, ministering to the sufferer. Unresponsive to new ideas, Nanny, having listened with at least half an ear to the progressive doctrine of Maximum Wages for Minimum Work, dismissed it by saying That was as might be, but Talk wouldn't get the silver cleaned. It spoke volumes for her personality that the exponent of this noble doctrine only expressed her contempt for such retrograde ideas by a sniff, and a flounce, and then applied herself to the burnishing of spoons and forks.