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Authors: Carola Dunn

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BOOK: Mistletoe and Murder
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She had to admit it was damp underfoot here, slippery in places, and when she passed through the gate into the woods, the trees, even leafless, created a chilly shade. Though she hadn't the least expectation of ill consequences, she could understand why someone susceptible to catching cold would avoid the place.
Noticing several holly bushes laden with bright berries, she hoped the peculiarities of the household would not prevent Christmas decorations. Belinda and Derek were of an age to be well and truly pipped at any deficiency in the festivities.
Daisy came to the chapel, a tiny, very plain stone building half hidden by laurels and rhododendrons. A sign over the door told of Sir Richard's clever escape. Inside, she found only two pairs of pews facing each other and a small wooden altar, simply carved.
She walked around the chapel to the edge of the cliff and looked down on the river where the first baronet had
thrown his cap. His enemies must have been close behind him; otherwise the cap would have sunk or been carried away by the current and Sir Richard's clever trick would have been wasted.
A rustle in the bushes behind her startled Daisy. Instinctively she jumped backwards, away from the edge.
She wasn't dressed for swimming. Besides, it was a long way down. One would hit the water hard enough to hurt if one fell over—or was pushed.
Pushed? What put that possibility into her head? It was only Jemima in the bushes, walking away now up the track. The child was surly, but Daisy had no reason to suppose her malicious, let alone murderous.
Daisy returned to the house. Godfrey Norville was waiting to give her a tour of the interior.
“Just a quick look now, if you don't mind,” she said. “I left London awfully early this morning and I'm getting a bit tired, and Mrs. Norville invited me to join her for tea at half-past four. Perhaps you could point out the most interesting items. I'll make a list; then I can investigate further tomorrow.”
With some chivvying, she got him through the main part of the old house. He wanted to tell her the story of every weapon, every coat of arms, every piece of furniture, every tapestry—and practically every wall was hung with tapestries. Her list was much too long, as she had to placate him by writing down everything he considered particularly noteworthy, but she could easily cut it down to a manageable length. By half-past four they were back in the Hall.
Jemima met them there. “Mummy says we're having tea in the library, not Granny's room, because you're Lord Westmoor's guest,” she announced scornfully.
“The library?” Daisy couldn't remember seeing a library.
“In the East Wing. I've got to show you the way.”
“Thank you.” Ignoring the girl's ungraciousness, Daisy thought gratefully of her stepdaughter's excellent manners and eagerness to please. Perhaps the contrast would reconcile the Dowager Viscountess to Belinda.
On the other hand, perhaps Daisy could stop her mother coming in the first place. A carefully worded cable about the difficulties of the journey and the earl's not being expected might do the trick. Following Jemima into the entrance hall of the East Wing, she glanced around for a telephone.
Even as she looked, she realized that while photographing the exterior, she hadn't noticed any wires. Brockdene had no electricity, as was to be expected in this rural fastness, but now she came to notice it, there was no gas either. Like the old house, the East Wing was lit by oil lamps and candles. Her hope of finding a telephone faded. The nearest telegraph office was no doubt in Calstock, two miles away by a muddy footpath.
Lady Dalrymple would just have to come and make the best of it, not a character trait for which she was noted.
Suppressing a sigh, Daisy entered the room her guide pointed out. Library was a misnomer, for only the far wall had bookshelves, and only halfway up, on either side of a curious little door no more than four feet high. The room was furnished as a sitting room.
Jemima had vanished, but a scrawny woman with fading fair hair jumped up from one of the massive Victorian sofas, dropping a stocking she was darning. She came to greet Daisy.
“Mrs. Fletcher, how do you do!” She spoke with a sort
of impetuous eagerness which had something slightly artificial about it. Her front teeth brought to mind a pet rabbit Daisy had once owned. “I'm Dora Norville, Mrs. Godfrey Norville. How delightful to have you come to stay.”
“Yes,” drawled a girl of perhaps nineteen or twenty, coming up behind her, “The Pardon has actually offered to bring our tea! I'm Felicity Norville, Mrs. Fletcher. How do you do?”
Felicity was the epitome of the modish “bright young thing.” Her blonde hair was bobbed, lips scarlet, eyebrows and lashes darkened. Her boyish figure was emphasized by a wide sash around her hips, such as Daisy would never have dared to wear. Her mauve frock had beaded embroidery all down one side, rather overdoing it for afternoon tea in the country. Mrs. Godfrey wore a much more appropriate tweed skirt, with a hand-knitted cardigan and a modest string of pearls.
Their greetings answered, Daisy went on, “I'm thrilled to be able to write about Brockdene. In fact there's so much to write about I don't know where to begin. What a marvellous place!”
“You wouldn't think so if you had to live here,” Felicity muttered.
Daisy flashed her a smile of sympathy. The isolation must be hard on a young girl dying to try her wings, though presumably whatever local society existed was more accessible in the summer. Still, perhaps Felicity longed for the bright lights of London. From what Daisy had observed, she was unlikely to get there. The “poor” in “poor relations” seemed pretty accurate, while Westmoor apparently
had little regard for the relationship, beyond giving the family a home.
“It's a privilege to live at Brockdene,” said Dora Norville brightly. “I've always admired it, since I was a girl.”
“You grew up in this district?”
“In Calstock, just up the river. Ah, here's Mother. You've met my mother-in-law, haven't you, Mrs. Fletcher?”
Mrs. Norville trotted in, spry as a sparrow, followed by Jemima bearing shawls. Mrs. Godfrey jumped up and went to fuss over the old lady. She settled her by the stone fireplace, where a cheerful fire burned beneath a fanciful wooden mantelpiece carved with lions, dragons, cherubs, and musicians.
“Are you warm enough, Mother?” Mrs. Godfrey enquired anxiously, swathing her mother-in-law in shawls.
“Quite warm, dear. Where is my crochet work, Felicity? That's it. Thank you, dear. I shall have it finished for you in time for Christmas.”
“Thanks, Gran darling.” Felicity handed over something lacy in lilac artificial silk, and kissed her grandmother's dark-skinned cheek.
“Has my son shown you the old house, Mrs. Fletcher?”
They talked for a few minutes about the house. Dora Norville grew more and more anxious, and at last said, “Perhaps Jemima and I had better fetch the tea after all.” She jumped up, but the door opened before she reached it and Mrs. Pardon and a maid came in. Daisy was pleased to see bread and butter and a good selection of cakes and biscuits as well as the tea things. She was ravenous.
“Golly!” exclaimed Jemima.
Mrs. Pardon pursed her lips. No one else spoke, except
Mrs. Norville to thank her, until the servants left.
“What a spread,” Felicity drawled. “All in your honour, Mrs. Fletcher. Not that we're starved, but the menu tends to be spartan.”
“That's enough, Felicity,” snapped her mother. “Milk and sugar, Mrs. Fletcher? Jemima, pass the bread and butter.”
Tea and conversation proceeded on more conventional lines. Being well brought up, Daisy did not utter the myriad questions which assailed her, but she vowed to herself to try and get Felicity on her own and pump her. She looked like the best bet to provide a few answers.
And answers Daisy must have, or she was going to die of curiosity.
O
utside, the short winter day had ended by the time they finished tea. Inside, too, it was pretty dark, in spite of oil lamps and candles.
Daisy's candle flame flickered in the draughts as she found her way back to the Hall. Shadows danced about her, and she recalled Jemima's mention of a ghost. She wished she had brought an electric torch. These days the arrival of electricity tended to banish ghosts, but here the shadowy centuries pressed close. Her footsteps echoed from the stone walls. She caught herself glancing nervously over her shoulder.
She had intended to take a look at the other chapel, the one in the house, but that struck her as altogether too spooky for comfort. By the feeble light of her candle, she wouldn't be able to see much anyway, in any of the rooms. She needed a torch or a good lantern.
Eyeing the bell-pull, she wondered whether anyone would come if she rang. It was worth a try.
As she raised her hand to the cord, light footsteps sounded behind her. She swung round with a gasp.
“It's only me.” Felicity's smile had a touch of mockery. She set on the table her candle and the unlit lantern she was carrying. “I thought you might need this. Sorry, did I make you jump?”
“Yes,” Daisy confessed. “I'd just remembered that your sister mentioned a ghost. Do you know the story?”
“Do you want it for your article? I can tell you, but it's not frightfully interesting. No one bricked up in a wall to die or discovered with a lover and thrown from the Tower. It's not even very ancient.”
“What happened?”
“Actually, it was rather like
Mansfield Park.
In the late eighteenth century, a poor young cousin was brought to Brockdene to be companion to a dowager countess. She got used to living comparatively well; and when the old lady died, she didn't want to go home. I don't think she actually killed herself, but she didn't live long after being sent away. She came back to haunt the place where she was happy, you see.”
“Spiffing!” said Daisy, scribbling madly. “At least, I'm sorry for her of course, but it'll add a bit of spice to my article. Presumably she doesn't go around rattling chains?”
“No, she's just a young girl, about my age, I suppose, dressed in white, wandering from room to room. Not that I've ever seen her,” Felicity disclaimed hurriedly. “I don't believe in ghosts.”
“Nor do I,” Daisy said, with the more vehemence because a few minutes ago she almost had believed. “Thanks for bringing the lantern, Miss Norville. I was just going to ring for one.”
“I dare say someone might have answered the bell,
knowing you're staying. But please, call me Felicity, won't you?”
“And I'm Daisy. I also wanted to ask Mrs. Pardon whether there's a vehicle available for my mother when she arrives on Sunday. My sister, too—she's expecting an addition to the family and it's quite a hill up from Brockdene Quay.”
“There are farm carts.” Felicity's lips quirked at Daisy's dismay. “Or the pony-trap. It's not used much in winter because of the state of the roads, but I expect they'd bring the pony in from pasture for a dowager viscountess. That's what your mother is, isn't she?”
Daisy laughed. “Yes, and my sister Violet is Lady John.”
“Let me tell the Pardon,” Felicity begged. “It would be too frightfully amusing to give her an order she couldn't refuse.”
“Oh, right-oh.”
“You must think we're all mad. You see, we're poor relations, like the girl in white, only here on suffrance. Except Gran, that is. The sixth earl's will gives her the right to live at Brockdene all her life. When she dies, the rest of us get booted out.”
“What a beastly position to be in.”
“Oh well,” Felicity said with indifference, real or assumed, Daisy wasn't sure, “I expect I'll be married by then, and Miles will be qualified. Gran may be tiny but she's healthy as a horse, good for years yet. My parents take very good care of her, I can tell you, though otherwise they bury their heads in the sand. Miles is really the only sane one among us.”
“Miles?”
“My brother. He'll be home to dinner. He's an articled clerk in my grandfather's office in Calstock. Grandpapa is a solicitor. I suppose he and Miles will have to support the parents and Jemima sooner or later. He put Miles through school, and we couldn't get by without the dress allowance he gives Mother. The annuity the sixth earl left Gran doesn't go far these days. Not much of the so-called ‘dress' allowance gets spent on clothes, I can tell you.”
“What beautiful work your grandmother does, though,” Daisy said diplomatically.
Felicity looked down at her dress. “Yes, too clever, isn't it? Her knitting, too. She tried to teach me, but I haven't the patience for it. Which doesn't get me out of my share of the mending. Jemima's not bad at knitting, for a kid. At least, Daddy will wear what she produces.”
“The green waistcoat,” Daisy guessed.
“Most of its sins are hidden by his jacket,” Felicity said with a grin. “I'm so glad you came to stay, Daisy. Most of the people Westmoor drops into our midst are musty old historians. Sometimes I think I'd do absolutely anything to get away from this place! Just having someone to talk to … I'm actually looking forward to Christmas!”
“So am I,” said Daisy, with partial truth. Derek and Bel and Derek's little brother would be fun; her mother and Alec's would just have to be borne. “But I've got to get some work done before the others arrive. Are there spills to light the lantern?”
Felicity found spills by the fireplace. The lantern improved visibility no end, and Felicity had learnt enough from her father to give Daisy quite as much information as she needed. They went around the Hall examining crossbows and wheel-lock pistols, breastplates and lobster-tail
helmets, Indian sabres and a Zulu shield, a whale's jawbones and the head of an albatross.
“And there's the squint,” said Felicity, holding the lantern high when they reached the west wall.
“Squint?”
“Never tell me Daddy didn't show you his pride and joy!” She pointed at a hole in the wall above their heads.
“I did rather rush him around. What is it?”
“A peephole. It's in a niche behind the arras in the South Room, which used to be part of the solar—the mediaeval family's living quarters. The lord of the manor could look down on his retainers and make sure they were behaving themselves. There's another one giving onto the Chapel, so that the lady of the manor could attend services without having to mix with the men.”
“Positively mediaeval!” said Daisy, and they both laughed. “That's interesting. I'll have a look from up there tomorrow. I think I'd better go and type out my notes now. What with the rotten light and all, I probably shan't be able to read them tomorrow. Thanks for your help.”
She found the fire made up in her bedroom, and an oil lamp already lit. By its light, she managed to do her typing, but she was glad she didn't have to hunt and peck. Her secretarial training certainly came in handy, however much she had hated her brief stint as a stenographer.
Felicity Norville ought to be preparing to earn her own living, Daisy thought. It was all very well hoping to be married before her grandmother died, but with so many young men killed in the War … Although perhaps in Felicity's case it wasn't just wishful thinking. Perhaps she was already engaged. Odd that she hadn't mentioned it, though, if she was. Most engaged girls could talk of nothing else.
Daisy washed—at least the plumbing was Victorian rather than mediaeval—and changed for dinner. When she went down to the library, she found a slender young man in a dinner jacket leaning against the mantelpiece, staring into the fire.
“Hello,” she said, advancing. “You must be Miles Norville.”
He turned his head towards her. He looked older than she had expected, several years older than Felicity. Then he turned completely, and she saw the empty sleeve pinned across his chest. Old enough to have gone to war.
“Hello.” He had a charming smile. “Yes, I'm Miles. You're Mrs. Fletcher, of course. How do you do? May I get you a drink?” He gestured at the little door between the bookshelves which had intrigued Daisy. “The cellar doesn't run to much, I'm afraid, but there's some quite decent sherry.”
He coped admirably with the bottle and glass. Daisy restrained herself from helping. When she was working in that hospital office the last years of the War, she had learnt the importance of letting injured men do things for themselves.
“Is that a wine cellar?” she asked.
“We keep our few bottles there. No one seems to know what it used to be used for, not even my father. It's just a small, windowless room with a small but very solid door.”
“A dungeon?”
“Right next door to the library?” Miles queried. “My ancestors may not have been great readers, but still … !”
“No, perhaps not.” Glass in hand, Daisy scanned the shelves. “These all seem to be fairly light reading. You must keep your books elsewhere—I hear you're going into
the law? My husband's in another branch. He's a policeman.”
“Mr. Fletcher? But I thought your mother was … Oh, I beg your pardon!”
“Yes, my mother's the Dowager Lady Dalrymple,” Daisy said ruefully, “but I married a Scotland Yard detective. Lord Westmoor didn't mention it? If the others don't know, please don't tell them. Alec much prefers to be incognito when he's on holiday.”
“Of course. He's at Scotland Yard, is he? There's not much criminal law in our practice.”
They talked about different aspects of the law until Godfrey and Dora Norville and Jemima came in. Old Mrs. Norville and Felicity soon followed, and they all went along to the dining room.
A maid waited on them, with Mrs. Pardon hovering in the background to direct her. It was obvious the maid was not accustomed to waiting at table. It was equally obvious that the Norvilles were not accustomed to being waited on. Jemima even got as far as stacking several empty soup plates before Felicity noticed and said, “Don't do that, you little ass!”
“I'm not an ass! I'm not, I'm not! Mummy, tell her not to call me an ass.”
“That was uncalled-for, Felicity. Jemima was just being helpful. Now that's enough from both of you. What will Mrs. Fletcher think of your manners?”
Mrs. Fletcher studiously ignored the fracas, turning to Godfrey Norville with a question about the variety of swords, sabres, and rapiers hanging in the Hall. With excursions into halberds, pikes, spears, partisans, and still more exotic pole-arms, these kept her busy throughout the
meal. He gave her far more information than she could possibly use about the various implements chosen by different eras and nations intent upon slaughter. She was glad she hadn't brought her notebook, or she wouldn't have managed a single mouthful.
The meal was “good plain cooking.” Presumably Lord Westmoor employed the cook to feed his servants, not the relatives for whom he showed so little regard. The ingredients were all fresh, though, produced on the Brockdene farm, a treat in themselves compared to the limp offerings of London shops. In any case, after living on eggs, cheese, tinned soup, and sardines during her years of independence, Daisy was not inclined to be fussy.
After the meal, Jemima was sent to bed and the others returned to the library for their coffee. Daisy asked about the Brockdene farms and the lime kilns down at Brockdene Quay. Mr. Norville knew nothing about them and obviously wasn't interested.
“I can explain the workings of the kilns,” said Miles. “They used to fascinate me when I was a boy. As I'd never seen a factory, they were my idea of ‘dark, Satanic mills.'”
“They are rather dark and Satanic, aren't they?” Daisy agreed.
“And I used to help on the home farm in the summer, but that was before the War, so I'm afraid my information's a bit rusty.”
“I expect things haven't changed much. What do they grow, or is it mostly animals?”
“I remember bottle-feeding lambs in the spring,” said Felicity.
They talked for a while; then Miles excused himself to study some papers he had brought home. Mrs. Norville
took up her crochet-work. Mrs. Godfrey suggested bridge.
That should please the Dowager Viscountess, Daisy thought. Before she had to confess that she did not play (she had, in fact, carefully avoided learning), Felicity said, “Oh no, Mother, I think I'll go for a bit of a stroll. I could do with some fresh air.”
“It's December; you'll catch your death.”
“Bosh! It's a beautiful night and I'll change into something warm.” Without further ado she went off.
Mrs. Godfrey watched her with a frown. “Girls!” she said to Daisy. “Always moody. I'm sure I never had such trouble with Miles.”
BOOK: Mistletoe and Murder
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