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Authors: Carola Dunn

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BOOK: Mistletoe and Murder
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Daisy laughed. “Don't count your villains until they're catched,” she said. “I'll leave you to your fingerprints. Shall I tell the children you'll want theirs?”
“Better not. I shan't take 'em without the Chief's sayso, so best wait till he gets back.”
“Right-oh,” said Daisy.
As she turned away, she saw Captain Norville approaching along the path from Brockdene Quay.
“I've been down to the pub for a pint and some 'baccy,” he said, “and came back the long way to stretch my legs. I always take a morning constitutional around the deck at sea.” He looked enquiringly at Tom.
“This is Detective Sergeant Tring, Captain, my husband's assistant. Captain Norville, Sergeant.”
The two big men gave each other assessing stares, wary as a pair of strange dogs. Then the captain offered his hand and Tom, after a barely perceptible hesitation, shook it.
“Happy to make your acquaintance, Sergeant. This is a nasty business, whichever way you look at it. I hope you and Mr. Fletcher are going to find enough evidence to hang the young wretch.”
“If there's evidence, we'll find it, sir, never you fear,” said Tom, a trifle ambiguously. “I'm after fingerprints right now.”
“He'll surely have been wearing gloves on a December night. The lack of prints won't spoil the case, will it?”
“Not at all, sir, but finding them would help no end.”
“Yes, of course. Well, carry on. Are you returning to the house, Mrs. Fletcher? If you don't mind, I'll walk along with you.”
“Do,” Daisy invited, and they set off.
Glancing back she saw Tom gazing after them with a frown on his boundless forehead. Doubtless he was concerned about her going off with a man who must remain a suspect until Cedric Norville was arrested. Daisy was not at all fearful. Victor Norville was no homicidal maniac. Though he might conceivably have killed Calloway in a fury if the clergyman had refused to give his testimony, he hadn't any reason to be angry with Daisy.
She waved to Tom and he raised a hand in acknowledgement.
“I'm glad I met you, Mrs. Fletcher,” said the captain. “Have you any notions as to how I can help my niece?”
“Felicity? Yes, actually, but I must make sure she likes the idea before I broach it to anyone else. And I'm not at all sure her father would approve.”
“God's an obstinate fool!”
“I'm not at all sure you'd approve, either, or her mother or grandfather, or grandmother, come to that. Or Miles, even.”
“Well, well, we'll have to see about that,” said the captain, taken aback. “But if it's just Godfrey who stands in
the way, I won't let him spoil Felicity's chances. I've been trying for years to make him accept enough to make the family comfortable.”
“That's very generous of you.”
“Not a bit of it. When I mentioned a nice little nestegg—well, it's not so little after all these years. I've done pretty well for myself, and I've no rent to pay nor wife and kiddies of my own to keep. There was a girl once, but a seafaring man's seldom home and whether it was that or the doubt about my birth … But never mind that. What it comes down to is God's family is my family, and old Tremayne and I between us are quite able to keep them, not to mention young Miles's help in a year or two. But it was a fight to persuade God to let Tremayne pay for Miles's schooling, so he's bound to kick against the pricks whatever's proposed for Felicity.”
“I see,” said Daisy. She understood Godfrey's position, having been in much the same situation herself. After all, she had refused to let herself be beholden to Cousin Edgar, though he was perfectly willing and able to support her in a comfortable life of leisure. She wondered if Godfrey's pride was the cause of the brothers' quarrel in the Hall, overheard by Jemima.
“So don't hesitate to propose whatever you think is best for Felicity, Mrs. Fletcher,” said the captain earnestly. “Leave God to me.”
They were nearly at the tunnel under the lane when Alec, followed by Piper, emerged. “Daisy, is Tring at the chapel?”
“Yes, darling, we left him fingerprinting away like mad.”
“I hope he's finding something,” Alec said grimly. “Cedric Norville has an excellent alibi for Christmas Eve. We're
going to have to start over from the beginning.”
“What?” cried the captain, going very red in the face. “Felicity's young man didn't kill the Reverend? That means, I take it, we're all under suspicion again!”
“T
hat's right, someone at Brockdene murdered Calloway.” Alec's appraising scrutiny of Captain Norville's face told him only that the man was angry. If he felt any guilt or fear, it was well hidden.”Piper, go on to the chapel and tell Sergeant Tring to come back to the house directly he's finished with the fingerprinting.”
“Yes, sir! Er …”
Daisy took Piper's arm and pointed out the way to him, leaving Alec to concentrate on the captain, who burst out, “An alibi! Aren't alibis made to be broken?”
“I'm afraid you read too much detective fiction, Captain. Mr. Cedric Norville has sound corroboration for his presence elsewhere at the time of the murder.”
“Where was the young whippersnapper then, dammit, and who says so?” Obviously the captain was not going to cooperate without the whole story.
Alec had warned Cedric that his secret would probably have to come out. “He and his family were guests of Lord Westmoor at Tavy Bridge from late afternoon on Christmas Eve until the evening of Christmas Day.”
“Near Tavistock? He could easily have motored back to murder the Reverend!”
“He didn't know Mr. Calloway would be in the chapel,” Daisy pointed out.
“Obviously he came to see my niece and met the Reverend by chance.”
Alec shook his head. “A tree weakened by the gale fell across Lord Westmoor's drive that evening. Several dinner guests were unable to leave and had to stay the night. The obstruction wasn't cleared until the following morning. I telephoned from Helstone and spoke to Lord Westmoor …”
“He's protecting Cedric” the captain roared. “Doesn't want another scandal in the family. Don't tell me you believe him just because he's an earl!”
Alec shook his head, frowning at Daisy, who showed signs of springing to his defence. “Lord Westmoor is going to have another scandal in the family whether the murderer is a Helstone Norville or a Brockdene Norville. It's only thanks to your isolation here that we haven't already suffered a reporter or two sniffing around. But I also rang up a couple of the dinner guests—the earl's butler gave me the names—who confirmed everything, as did the butler. Believe me, Cedric Norville did not kill Calloway. And the same applies to the rest of the Helstone Norvilles.”
The captain deflated. “A tramp?” he offered halfheartedly.
“Most unlikely. The knife was a stumbling-block where Cedric was concerned, unless Miss Norville was involved …”
“She wasn't!”
“But the chances of a tramp getting hold of it verge on
nil—assuming it's proved to be the one the children found.”
“Sergeant Tring found their fingerprints,” Daisy said. “At least, he's pretty sure they're children's. He wants to take Derek and Bel's fingerprints to match up, darling, but he wouldn't do it until you got back.”
“Well, I'm back, and I'd better get cracking. I've wasted a whole morning thanks to that young fool's notions of chivalry.”
Alec returned through the tunnel, followed by Daisy and Captain Norville. Though he was glad to have had a chance to assess the captain's unguarded reaction to the news of Cedric's innocence, he wanted the same opportunity with the rest of the family. How could he prevent the captain warning them? He suspected that Victor Norville, if not himself the murderer, would prefer not to find out who was.
Emerging into daylight, the captain appeared to be brooding. “Fletcher,” he said abruptly, as they started up the terrace garden, “I don't like this business one little bit, but I suppose if it's not cleared up pretty quick, before it gets into the papers, the cloud will hang over us forever. The young people have enough reefs in the offing already. Count on me to give you whatever help I can.”
“You realize that it's highly unlikely to be one of the servants? That the murderer is a member of your family?”
“I know. But not only is killing a defenceless man a horrible crime, whoever did this was betraying Mother, betraying the whole the family.” His brow furrowed. “I don't understand it. I don't understand it at all.”
Alec wished he did. “Very well,” he said. “All I ask at the moment is that you don't reveal to anyone that Cedric
is proven innocent. I'll get everyone together and make an announcement.”
“After lunch, darling,” said Daisy. “Let them fortify themselves for the shock.”
He didn't want his suspects fortified for the shock, but on the other hand, they would be more relaxed after lunch and the shock would be the greater for the delay. The children's presence at table should deter the others from pressing him for information.
“I'd better let Belinda and Derek know Tring wants their fingerprints,” he said. “Where are they?”
“Upstairs washing, I hope. It's nearly lunch-time, they're bound to be starving, and they're filthy, as usual, having been out all morning searching the woods for clues for you. We didn't tell them not to go to the woods this morning.”
Alec grimaced. “I ought to have searched the woods myself, if I'd had the time and the men. Apart from the difficulty of rounding up a horde of village bobbies, their tramping all over the place would be as likely to destroy evidence as to discover it.”
“The children found the most amazing assortment of stuff. You will be nice, darling, and not tell them it's all rubbish, won't you?”
“Who knows,” said Alec, “they may actually have come up with something useful.”
“I think you're about to find out,” said the captain. “Here they come.”
“Still filthy,” Daisy sighed.
Derek, Belinda, and, needless to say, Nana raced towards them along the top terrace.
“Daddy, Uncle Miles told us you'd come back. We were waiting for you.”
“Uncle Alec, will you please come and see our clues,
please
? Now. They're in Nana's scullery. It won't take a minute. We'll still have time to wash before lunch, Aunt Daisy,
promise.”
The captain consulted his pocket chronometer. “Twenty-one minutes,” he announced. “May I come, too?”
Alec shot him a swift look, but agreed, and the children were eager to show off their finds to anyone at all. They all went off together. Daisy went into the house and upstairs. At the top, she was startled to hear her mother's carrying voice coming from old Mrs. Norville's sitting room.
“I do sympathize, Mrs. Norville, I assure you,” the Dowager Viscountess said condescendingly. “Girls have no idea of duty to the family these days, no consideration whatever for their parents. I'm sure I would never in a thousand years have contemplated such disgraceful behaviour.”
Mrs. Norville's soft voice said something Daisy could not make out.
“Yes,” said Lady Dalrymple, “your granddaughter has been isolated here with few opportunities to meet eligible young men. But one can hardly regard that as an adequate excuse for secret meetings with a murderer. I can quite understand your feelings, and those of your daughter-in-law. I myself was utterly distraught when I discovered my own daughter was—in the vulgar phrase—keeping company with a policeman.”
“Mother!” Daisy burst into the room. “You can't compare Alec to a murderer. Really, you mustn't! I'm sorry to interrupt, Mrs. Norville. I was passing and I simply couldn't let it pass.”
“Of course not, my dear.” Mrs. Norville gave Daisy a
sad smile. “We must remember that Felicity, however wrong her actions, had no way of knowing the young man was going to commit so dreadful a crime.”
“True,” said the dowager judicially. “Indeed, had it not been for the secrecy, Miss Norville's behaviour was infinitely to be preferred to Daisy's. After all, Miss Norville had the sense and discrimination to pursue the next heir to an earldom.”
“I hope that was not her first consideration,” Mrs. Norville said with quiet dignity. “I hope she loved him, and I hope that discovering his true character will not break her heart.”
Daisy was frightfully tempted to tell her that Cedric was not the murderer after all, but Alec had been adamant on the point. Not that Mrs. Norville was a suspect, but she'd be bound to tell someone else. Besides, the news would be cold comfort. While relieved for Felicity's sake, she could only be aghast at the return of suspicion to her family.
Daisy could, however, and did relieve her by removing the dowager. “Mother, could I have a word with you, please?”
“I shall see you at luncheon, no doubt, Mrs. Norville,” said Lady Dalrymple with a regal nod, and followed Daisy out. “What is it, Daisy?” she asked testily, as Daisy shut the door firmly behind them.
“I wondered if you'd mind reading my article this afternoon,” Daisy invented rapidly, “to make sure I haven't said anything that might offend Lord Westmoor. It's such a delicate situation.” Not that she had mentioned the current residents.
“By all means. I never expected such a proper sentiment of you.”
“And I never expected to find you chatting with Mrs. Norville.”
Her mother gave her an impertinence-depressing stare, but said, “She may be black, but it would appear that at least she was properly married to Albert Norville. Eva was quite wrong. I can hardly wait to set her right.”
“Ah, I see!” All was now plain. “Well, I'd better go and get ready for lunch.”
“Where is my grandson?”
Daisy waited.
“And my granddaughter,” her mother added grudgingly. “Where are they?”
“Helping the police with their enquiries,” said Daisy, and she bolted into her room and closed the door.
Alec joined her a few minutes later. “Bel and Derek are washing and changing,” he reported. “Little ragamuffins.”
“Belinda's always clean and neat at home. I don't suppose anything they found seemed significant?”
“Not at first sight. I told them to keep it all, you never can tell.”
“Bless you, darling!”
“I gather they're planning to resume the hunt this afternoon. They can't do much damage, and it will keep them out of the way.”
“You're getting everyone together after lunch to tell them about Cedric?”
“Yes, immediately after. In the library, I think. What about Felicity?” he asked. “Is she fit—physically fit, I mean, not emotionally—to come down?”
“I don't know if she's coming down to lunch, but I expect she could make it, with help. Only I'm not sure you
ought to trust her reaction to the news. She is pretty fragile, and confused, emotionally.”
“I'm not surprised. You've taken her under your wing, haven't you? There's always someone.”
“What about you and Miles?” Daisy demanded indignantly. “If having him help you catch Cedric isn't taking him under your wing, I don't know what is!”
“Don't you like Miles?”
“Yes, I like him very well, and Felicity, and the captain, and Godfrey's been extremely helpful, and old Mrs. Norville's a sweetie. And Dora's done her best for us, and I've nothing against Mr. Tremayne. But Miles could have killed Calloway, even with only one arm.”
“I don't deny it, love,” Alec soothed her. “At the time I asked his help, it seemed obvious that the heir about to be dispossessed must be our villain. I still can't see what motive Miles could have had.”
“Nor can I,” Daisy admitted. “But none of the others had either, except … Blast, there's the gong. I hope the children are ready.”
“I deputed Miles to chivvy them,” Alec confessed, laughing. He straightened his tie and ran a brush over the dark, crisp hair which never seemed to get disarranged.
“Darling, you won't try to keep me away when you tell them about Cedric, will you?” Daisy asked urgently. “Another pair of eyes might pick up someone's reaction you'd otherwise miss.”
“Yes, I think you'd better be there,” he said, to her surprise and delight. “Are you ready? Let's go.”
When they reached the landing, Derek and Belinda were already halfway down the stairs, Miles about to start down.
Turning to Daisy, he said, “You'd better not mention the possibility of going to London to Flick. My father's dead against it.”
“Because he won't accept any favours from Captain Norville?”
“In part, but he sees it as rewarding her for consorting with the enemy. As a matter of fact, he's still furious with both of us for not telling him about Lord Norville's death.”
“Oh, dear! I won't say anything then. Is Felicity coming down for lunch?”
“I just asked her. She says she simply can't face either food or the family. I don't blame her, poor girl. It's not just Father. The whole situation with regard to Cedric is perfectly beastly for her, even if he hasn't actually been arrested yet.” Miles looked enquiringly at Alec.
BOOK: Mistletoe and Murder
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